Friday, January 30, 2015
Stephen Fry is a hero of mine on a par with Christopher Hitchens. Maybe half a rung higher. In any case, what he says above is exactly what I've said for years: if there is a creator of this universe he's a selfish egomaniac, heartless and cruel, or shockingly incompetent. In no way could he be the god of the Bible; which is to say a being who's all-knowing, all-powerful, and all-loving. Simply incompatible with what is observable all around us. Bone cancer in children. As good a starting point as any. Or this, which I wrote many a year ago, and which got mostly angry and outraged comments.
I've also said that if I'm wrong, and I were standing at the gates, I hope I'd be honorable and ethical enough to say exactly that, and decline the opportunity. (There was a movie a few years back, The Rapture, which was touted and loved by Christians because it seemed to confirm all their beliefs about, well, the rapture, among other things. To me it was notable for three things: two of them were Mimi Rogers breasts; the third was her refusal, in the end, to join her daughter in heaven because she couldn't forgive god for making her (Mimi) kill her (the daughter) as an act of faith. Not my kind of god, she demonstrated. To me, that was the point of the movie.)
Lastly, I've also said that if any theology makes any sense, is compatible with what we see of how this world works, it's the sort of polytheism in which no god is all powerful, and most of them are screw-ups and pranksters, and not a little devious and nasty. Seriously, it's the only view of our planet that works, if you want to invoke deity.
Bonus: here's a favorite video involving Mr Steeven Fry. Lovable in all ways.
Thursday, January 29, 2015
Whether writing here or in my formerly weekly and now occasional newspaper column, I've often mentioned the antipathy today's Rs have for education; their unapologetic denigration of expertise at "elitist;" their country-wide efforts to defund public education. And, of course, I've gotten plenty of denialist pushback when I've said such things.
Here's a situation so obvious that I can't see any way to deny it. In North Carolina, the sine qua non of modern teabaggeristic insanity, they've just summarily ousted the Dean of UNC, about whom no one seems to have anything bad to say, even those who showed him the door:
... Intriguingly, this mysterious dismissal of a guy whose enemies insist was fired because he was doing such a great job (or something) has been accompanied by a widely held suspicion that Pope wants the job for himself. (Shades of the "autonomy" that is proposed in Wisconsin as part of a deal with Governor Scott Walker.) Part of the reason that this suspicion exists is because no other reason for firing Ross makes sense, especially not the ones offered up by the people who actually fired him.
Right-wing pundits have accused people who were understandably confused by the decision to fire Ross and asking about Pope replacing him of being conspiracy theorists - which is the height of irony considering the circumstances. A politically appointed board unexpectedly fires a popular and respected president with no notice or no explanation and nobody even owns up to pushing for him to resign. The head of the board then insists that it wasn't politics that prompted the president's dismissal, and says his age wasn't a factor either, and then proceeds to talk about the incredible job the president is doing...
... But it doesn't take much sleuthing to uncover the Republicans' distaste for the centers and institutes dotting the UNC landscape that were created to explore issues of poverty, civil rights, the environment and energy policy. Places like the Center for Work, Poverty and Opportunity at UNC-Chapel Hill and N.C. Central University's Institute for Civic Engagement and Social Change. The board of governors has 34 such centers under scrutiny.
Why? The explanation is found in a paper published two weeks ago by conservatives at the John William Pope Center for Higher Education Policy—a nonprofit named for Art Pope's father. The paper is entitled "Renewal in the University," and it sings the praises of academic centers which "restore the spirit of inquiry.
But not centers that look into poverty. No, they are the problem, writes author Jay Schalin, because they threaten "thousands of years of Western thought."
What we need instead, Schalin argues, is to replace such disruptive centers with new centers paid for by rich people like Pope—"privately funded academic centers" that reinforce for students the traditional values of "liberty" and "free-market economics." ...
Admittedly I don't know all the ins and outs of NC politics, other than to have noted their legislative tendencies have gone so far over the edge as to be unretrievable any time soon. But this seems a pretty clear demonstration of what's at the heart of R actions against all levels of public education: creating informed people is the last thing they want, for obvious reasons. And it's not just N. Carolina.
Wednesday, January 28, 2015
In arguments here and with people I know in the flesh and blood world, I've repeatedly said what I've known to be true: housing loans made to poor people weren't the reason our economy tanked. In fact, I've pointed out, loans made under the CRA were less likely than "regular" loans to default and more likely to stay with originating banks as opposed to being turned into the unregulated investment instruments of the sort that did play a huge role in the recent unpleasantness.
So here's an article that makes me sound like a damn genius:
... Irresponsible lending might have been one of the many causes of the financial crisis -- but not just irresponsible lending to poor people, according to a new study.
"The large majority of mortgage dollars originated between 2002 and 2006 are obtained by middle- and high-income borrowers (not the poor)," the authors write. "In addition, borrowers in the middle and top of the distribution are the ones that contributed most significantly to the increase in mortgages in default after 2007." Rich people tend to take out larger mortgages, of course, but the fact is that the amount of money poor borrowers failed to pay back was just never that significant, as this chart from the paper shows...Well, what's done is done. Money under the milk. But it'd be nice if there were something to be learned from it all. Oh, it's not that there's nothing to learn; just that those who need the lesson aren't in class. Pesky facts get in the way of their preferred self-serving and dishonest narrative, so they prefer to tell tales out of school.
In a world where facts mattered and where there were enough people who preferred solving problems over denying or ignoring them, one might think this sort of information would be useful. Maybe it'd make people reconsider; the ones trying their hardest to undo what meagre regulations followed the crash. I think I might have lived in that world for a little while, maybe the first two or three decades of my life. As I recall, things were moderately hopeful, way back then.
The only cause for hope nowadays is that Congressional Rs will continue to shed all pretense of rationality, to an extent that even the Foxified will start to recognize that their agenda is inimical to having a future.
Sadly, though, because that's the only scenario which might provide reason to hope, there really ain't much cause for it at all.
So Mike "Way, WAY holier than thou" Huckabee has written a book (God Loves Me But Not Likely You, Gunning for the job, Grit your teeth before reading, and Whistling past the Gravy!), which means, of course, he's running. Evidently his platform will be "Do with the Constitution as we do with the Bible: pick and choose."
If you don't agree with a court ruling, sayeth the Huckster, if you don't like a law, feel free to disobey it. This, from a guy who, presumably, would like us to pick him to upholdeth the Constitution of the United States of America. That document in which the independence and function of the judiciary is pretty deeply embedded.
Well, I suppose if he were to take the oath, he'd do it with his hand on the Bible, which, to today's Christian right, is the same as crossing your fingers behind your back. Still, it's pretty damn amazing that a person, a former governor! (because they're nothing if not sensible and coherent), who yearns to be the highest law-enforcer of the land, would actively suborn criminal behavior. Would seek votes from those who claim Barack Obama tramples the Constitution, to place him in office, based on sedition.
But look at that smile, would ya? Affable as a wrinkled suit, is Mike. While arbitrating which laws to follow, he also has a little parenting advice regarding which performers he approves, while thumping his bass (is he a hep cat, or what?) behind the odds-on favorite for the Most Despicable Human On The Planet award.
To me Mike Huckabee is the worst of the lot. Rick "It's not an IQ contest" Perry doesn't even try to hide his stupidity; Rick Santorum is an unapologetic theologue and proud homophobe, but doesn't pretend otherwise; Mitt Romney waves his willingness to say anything to any audience like a pair of clean underwear; Bobby "My god can beat up your god" Jindal is a caricature, too far gone to be taken seriously; Jeb Bush seems a little embarrassed by having to be an asshole to get the nomination. (Not gonna mention Sarah again, because who cares?) But Mike. Mike. Mike Huckabee embraces sleaze the way the La Brea tar pits embraced dinosaurs. He smiles, he jokes, he haw-haws and aw-shucks while saying the most vile things and pretending butter wouldn't melt if he sat on it. Mike Huckabee is a human Ponzi scheme. He's a nasty smiler, a deceiver, he's the Benny Hinn of presidential candidates. The America he "loves" is one of his very selective choosing, not the one that is.
That much, of course, is true of the lot of them. Mike Huckabee just does it in a way that gives me the creeps and scares the hell out of me. Choose your laws, people. It's a grab bag.
Tuesday, January 27, 2015
Really? Who was it that said, "Sincerity. If you can fake that, you've got it made?" Well, Mitt's working on it:
If he runs again in 2016, Romney is determined to re-brand himself as authentic, warts and all, and central to that mission is making public what for so long he kept private.Rebranding authenticity. Gotta love it. The guy puts the moron in oxymoron.
My predictions might actually come true. When Rs took control of Congress, I've said, it'll become apparent how crazy they've become. Believing that the majority of the 38% electoral turnout went to them because most Americans agree with them (they don't; and the Ds in the Senate got twenty million more votes than the Rs, even as they lost their majority), they'll brazenly let their freak flags fly. They have been. Changing the way budgets are scored. Preventing experts from advising the EPA. And those are just warmups, letting the engine run a while in the cold, waiting to mash the accelerator.
The latest revelation, to be filed under "duh", is that since the previous eight investigations of Benghazi, Benghazi, Benghazi have turned up zilch, this time around they'll make damn sure they get the results they want:
WASHINGTON -- From the Department of Predictable Outcomes: The House select committee investigating the 2012 attacks on the U.S diplomatic compound in Benghazi, Libya, appears to be falling apart.
At issue are two complaints from committee Democrats. The first is that they have been systematically excluded from at least five witness interviews, and only discovered that Republicans had conducted those interviews after the fact through press reports. The second complaint is the committee chairman, Rep. Trey Gowdy (R-S.C.), is downplaying or disregarding interview testimony that contradicts assumptions about the night of the attacks...
But this one -- THIS ONE! -- will be different. Because, breeding true from their change-the-math, ignore-the-science, silence-the-expert genes, they'll do lots better than thumbing the scale: There'll be no scale at all.
Monday, January 26, 2015
I'm told the Miss Universe pageant was this past weekend and that the above is the winner's acceptance speech.
Seriously, if anyone can listen to the whole thing without wondering when the fk John McCain will admit his mistake (probably right after he admits war isn't the answer to everything), or, for that matter, without puking on his/her shoes, I'd like to meet them. Or maybe not.
And as awful and embarrassing as that salad of words was, I'd bet she thinks she knocked it out of the cornfield; and that the audience did, too.
If she were to run for president, it would only be based on the calculation that she'd lose after raising tons of money and getting lots of spotlight time. Because that's what she's about. There's nothing I'm more certain of than that she doesn't want to BE president, because that would require a lot of work. And learning stuff. Two things to which she's as adverse as Patriots are to inflated footballs.
Tuesday, January 20, 2015
Monday, January 12, 2015
Here's my latest column in the local newspaper, in case anyone's interested. (For a lesson in irrelevant and/or missing-the-point and/or refusal to address the point, the online responses are instructive, and tend to confirm the pointlessness of the entire exercise. And, for that matter, this blog.)
People ask what a dog would do if it caught a car. We’re finding out. For the last six years Republican legislators have been content to complain, accuse, threaten, and block. Neither required nor expected to do anything useful, they could luxuriate in laziness, run to the always-welcoming arms of Fox “news,” whipping up anger and paranoia, never to worry about the consequences. Now, having routed Democrats across the land, the tire is in the other mouth. In the majority in both houses of Congress, Republicans are faced with the prospect of letting the dog out of the bag. Which they’ve done, on day one. For those who value honesty, it’s not looking good.
Ignoring history and the real time lessons of such laboratories of failed Reaganomics as Wisconsin and Kansas, Rs want, yet again, to inflict upon us the never-worked and never-will policies of trickle down economics. This time, however, they have a plan: since the math doesn’t work, they’ll ditch the math. As soon as teeth got to tread they announced their intention to dump the current head of the CBO, the heretofore impartial budgetary evaluator of legislation, and to replace him with one that’ll adopt something called “dynamic scoring” which, far as I can tell, is a way of deciding whether a budget will do what it says it will by assuming it’ll do what it says it will. tinyurl.com/p39owoh
Reminds me of my college days, when a friend and I, who were very competitive with one another, were playing darts. I kept hitting the bull’s-eye, and he kept hitting about six inches above it. So he moved the target up six inches and declared, “It’ll be better for both of us.”
That’s not all. They’ve already voted to cut Social Security. And they approved the Keystone Pipeline, even before the official studies of it were complete, and before Nebraska (which, for some reason, seems to have a say in it) decided its position. So much for Federalism, and so much for substance vs. symbolism.
Which raises the empyrean question: what, exactly, do the Republican majorities plan to do with their power? Mitch McConnell has declared that the adults are back in charge. (He also credited the recent election with the economic recovery that’s been underway for six years.) So far, that’s meant fudging numbers and taking a meaningless vote to annoy liberals. And a bit of an “oops” on homeland security. tinyurl.com/mr8xpso
But maybe they just had to get it out of their system, and now they’ll set about doing the people’s work. (And maybe the planet will start cooling on its own.) If, as they avow, they believe in America, which began with and can’t function without compromise, they have a chance to show it. Now they’ll have no problem getting legislation out of Congress and onto the president’s desk. But if they intend, finally, to govern by producing ideas that have a chance of becoming law, they’ll have to write them in such a way as to get a presidential signature; and the only way that will happen is if they’re willing to go a third of the way toward the middle. (Foxolimbeckibagger asseverations to the contrary, President Obama has shown, on every major initiative, that he’s willing to move at least half way, leaving his left wing disappointed and angry. He did it again with the most recent budget.)
So, we’ll soon learn: will they return to legislating like America always has, or will their only aim be to force vetoes and complain? Or, as they just did in a vote that might open the eyes of all but the fully Foxified, will they drop all pretense and show us who they really are, as they just did in voting to ban experts from advising the EPA, while allowing the polluters to. tinyurl.com/okjvkmu Absent a lobotomy, it’s hard to be optimistic.
And now, in response to a couple of recent letters: Yep, I’m a logophile. I get a kick out of learning and intercalating new words. It ameliorates the anguish. And, no, I’m not angry. Depressed, more accurately, by insanity like the aforementioned. It’s like Harry Truman once said: “I never gave them hell. I just told the truth about them, and they thought it was hell.”
I was watching "Real Time" when the panel, which included Salman Rushdie, who should know a bit about the subject, and Carly Fiorina, who has an iron-clad case against her plastic surgeon, discussed the desire of radical Islam to take the world back a few centuries, impose their perverse view of their religion on everyone, eliminate all but their form of education, deny science, consider women nothing more than vessels. And I wondered if at some point they'd get around to the obvious. They didn't, of course, and I probably shouldn't, either.
Is it possible to say this without implying equivalence? Because I don't. I don't equate the Islamists who are able to rationalize their murderous inhumanity on the basis of their religion with those in the US who'd take us back a few centuries, impose their perverse view of their religion on everyone, eliminate all but their form of education, deny science, consider women nothing more than vessels. It's been a long time since they killed anywhere near as many people, and it's unlikely they ever will again. Not as long as they can continue to impose their views via the voting booth, aided by the deceptions and distractions of their "news" media.
But it's not as if there are no similarities; in motivation, if not in method. Not in spilled blood, of course; but, were they to succeed, in danger to progress, freedom, diversity, curiosity, invention. And, clearly, there are similarities in the kind of mentality that sees otherness as a threat; whose need for certainty, based, presumably, on an undeniably human fear of the unknown and of facing life as it is, is so strong that even knowing there are those who don't see things their way threatens to unfloat their moat. And, it might be said, who feel set upon and persecuted whenever other-believers push back and demand respect. That mindset, which manifests itself to a greater or lesser degree along a broad spectrum of intolerance, is something shared by some people of many faiths.
If the need for certainty can lead to intolerance in believers of all religions, it's undeniable that at this time in history Islam leads the world in committing violence in its name. I wonder if the Christianist politicians in the US are, on some level, happy about that, as it keeps us distracted from the extent to which they're trying to do the same thing, with less horrifying methods but not entirely less worrisome implications.
And I wonder if and when, like the millions of people who just rallied in Paris, including many thousands of Muslims, Christians in the US who don't share dreams of an American theocracy, and who likely outnumber those who do, will feel the need to vote them out of office. And do it.
Friday, January 9, 2015
From the NYTimes:
An unusual method for producing antibiotics may help solve an urgent global problem: the rise in infections that resist treatment with commonly used drugs, and the lack of new antibiotics to replace ones that no longer work.
The method, which extracts drugs from bacteria that live in dirt, has yielded a powerful new antibiotic, researchers reported in the journal Nature on Wednesday. The new drug, teixobactin, was tested in mice and easily cured severe infections, with no side effects...
The research was paid for by the National Institutes of Health and the German government (some co-authors work at the University of Bonn).Which is ominous, in view of this:
House of Representatives Budget Chairman, Paul Ryan (R-WI), released a 10-yearspending plan on Tuesday. The plan claims to balance the federal budget within the next 10 years, through deep cuts of roughly $4.6 trillion, which is more than the entire federal budget for FY 2012. The plan imposes extreme cuts to non-defense discretionary programs, which include line-items such as the National Institutes of Health (NIH), Head Start, education, and air traffic control.Republican economics could, quite literally, be the death of us all.
... One bill — pre-filed in the state House — would create a Second Amendment Awareness Day to be held on Dec. 15 each year in all state schools, complete with a poster or essay contest centered on the theme “The Right To Bear Arms: One American Right Protecting All Others.”
Students — at every grade level — would receive at least three weeks of education on their gun rights based on a curriculum chosen by the state Department of Education and approved or recommended by the National Rifle Association.
“Zero-tolerance policies have squelched any discussion of the Second Amendment in schools,” said Rep. Alan Clemmons, R-Myrtle Beach...[Image source]
Thursday, January 8, 2015
It's here. Our "Christian" "conservative" "brethren" in the US aren't (yet) at the point of murdering (mostly) people who disagree with them. But, flying the flag of faux persecution (i.e., the anxiety that not everyone in the US agrees with them in all things at all times in all ways), their aims aren't much different from those Mohammed-muddled murderers in Paris. In the minds of each, there's no room for non-believers.
As he always was (non-god non-rest his non-soul) Hitch is exactly right. They may recoil (largely) from the violence (to a degree), but there are those in all religions who enable the sentiment, the distorted view of humanity that allows such violence and stems from a universal trait among religions: the hijacking of normal human tendencies, and turning them upside down. Suppressing them deliberately.
I think of my infant grandson, of his curiosity, of how easy it is to evoke laughter; of his need for comfort and love and trust, and his nascent ability to return them. I think of his dad, when he was young, in a multiracial daycare with not a thought in his head that the colors made any difference. No, as the song goes, you have to be carefully taught to hate like those horrible monsters in Paris. And there's no system on earth with the commitment and effectiveness to do the teaching, other than religion.
Looking at that adorable grandson, thinking of how it's possible that those men in Paris could do what they did, considering it avenging their god, it seems to me that teaching a child religion of nearly any sort, closing his or her mind off to so much of what's out there to be learned, hijacking his instinct for knowledge and using it to instill prejudice and hatred while calling it truth; stifling curiosity, suppressing the natural sense of empathy evolved over so many eons for so many reasons of benefit to humankind -- doing all that is no less abusive than putting out his eyes or deafening his ears.
Were we to know of parents who did such a thing, we'd jail them; we'd accept without a moment's arguing that they'd deliberately ruined their kids. Isn't it only a matter of degree? In fact, if all they did was damage their eyes and ears but left their minds intact, might it even be less horrible than many forms of religious indoctrination?
This comes at a time when the implications of the US's steady move toward theocracy, facilitated by silence and suppression and false claims of persecution and deliberate distractions from the sub-rosa agenda, is much on my mind. So I suppose I overreact. I don't claim that there's no differences among or within religions; it's clear that radical Islam is far worse (at the moment and hopefully forever) than the Christian radicals in the US. No offense intended, not me!
But there are those who wish to keep their minds open, who value learning with no end-point, who don't fear but rather welcome the unknown, who see commonality among all human beings; and there's everyone else. The latter group is much larger, and is characterized by deep commitment to one religion or another. The former group does contain religious people, of course, but not fanatics. Not people who'd impose their beliefs on others or who see the differing beliefs or non-belief of those others as a threat to the shaky wall they've erected between themselves and reality.
So whereas the sickness and horror I feel at the events in Paris is greater than my concern over my country's drift into religion-based denialism and bible-based theocracy, I'm only a little less concerned about it. I'm not very worried about people bursting into my home and murdering me for the glory of their god, but I am very concerned about their ability to legislate away my rights and those of my fellow men and women, and to threaten the life of my grandson by ignoring the reality of the world around them.
Religion, by its very nature and with few exceptions, takes the human mind from its natural state of curiosity and empathy and openness to others and deliberately, cynically, relentlessly, and extremely successfully, moves it along a line that ends with closed-minded rejection of knowledge, hatred of otherness, and fear of the unknown. Today, radical Islam has found the end of that line and wallows in it. The radical American religious right is back a ways on that line, but only so far. And they do cling to their guns, don't they?
Wednesday, January 7, 2015
Tuesday, January 6, 2015
Republicans have announced their intention to replace the head of the CBO with someone who'll play their game of deception. This article explains their con game, and the consequences:
... To make these models work, scorekeepers must arbitrarily assume either that we tax more and spend less today than is really the case — which is what they did for the Camp bill — or assume that a tax cut today will be followed by a spending cut or tax increase tomorrow. Economists describe such a move as “making counterfactual assumptions”; the rest of us call it “making stuff up.”
Further, the models are not a step toward more neutral revenue estimates, because they assume that, while individuals make productive investments, government does not. In reality, government spending contributes significantly to economic output. Truly dynamic modeling would weigh the forgone economic returns of government investments against the economic gains from lower taxes.
The Republicans’ interest in dynamic scoring ... comes from political factions convinced that tax cuts are the panacea for all economic ills. They will use dynamic scoring to justify a tax cut that, under conventional scorekeeping, loses revenue.
When revenues do in fact decline and deficits rise, those same proponents will push for steep cuts in government insurance or investment programs, because they will claim that the models demand it. That is what lies inside the Trojan horse of dynamic scoring.[Image source]
In the latest and quite possibly the greatest example ever of R hypocrisy, they're turning to their once-derided "activist courts" to do for them what they haven't been able to do legislatively. Only, of course, they don't call it "activist." They've got much better terms than that:
... “What they cannot win in the legislative body, they now seek and hope to achieve through judicial activism,” said Representative Gerald E. Connolly, Democrat of Virginia. “That is such delicious irony, it makes one’s head spin.”...
... Mr. Morrisey, a Republican, disputed the view of many liberals that conservatives are now looking for help from the activist judges they once derided. “Quite the opposite, it’s a call for adhering to the rule of law,” he said...Mr. Schumer added that the Republican definition of an activist judge was flexible. “They decry the courts’ overruling or implementing things they don’t like,” he said, “but are eager to have the courts implement things they like."
... Jay Sekulow, chief counsel at the American Center for Law and Justice, countered that conservatives were turning to judges more frequently because of Mr. Obama’s moves to enact sweeping policy on his own, and because gridlock in Washington had prevented Republican efforts to stop him.“The courts are the venue, really, to try to keep the presidential authority in check,” Mr. Sekulow said in an interview. “That’s why the conservatives are turning to the courts.”
For years, conservatives criticized liberals who sought judicial action on civil rights or social issues...
... Clark Neily, a senior lawyer at the Institute for Justice ... prefers to call for more “judicial engagement.”...
... Mr. Pruitt said state officials had no choice but to turn to the courts.“Is that activism?” he asked. “To me, that’s the opposite of activism. It is using the courts to make sure we go back to respect for the rule of law.”
Well, of this we can be sure: we ain't seen nothin' yet. Both parties, of course, have their share of hypocrites. But today's R party has taken it way, way past shameless to a form of high art. It's become a proud part of what they do, how they'll defend the indefensible, how they'll frame their pre-failed policies. But this, this is pretty rich.
Maybe the amusement I feel over this sort of stuff can, in some small measure, mitigate the sense of peril I feel over the rest of it.
Saturday, January 3, 2015
Yet another thing, along with acceptance of global warming, belief in evolution, and concern for the less fortunate that splits along party lines, but shouldn't. Especially, with regard to the above, when one party claims extra special relationship with and direct connection to Jesus.
The full NPR interview with President Obama isn't (yet) embeddable; but it can be seen here. It's worth the time. Haters still gonna hate, but it's hard to deny he's a thoughful, intelligent man capable of layered thinking. It's also an example of a good interviewer, maybe even a rarer bird than a smart president. Starting with the previous administration, anyway.
And I think it's entirely fair to say that an interview of this depth is unimaginable with George W. Bush.