Sunday, November 27, 2011

Fight The Power

Music by the Isley Brothers, used without permission.


Thursday, November 24, 2011

A nation of victims

Susan Jacoby has an excellent piece in the WaPo about the Republican's recent Iowa Thanksgiving Family Forum in which she notes the tendency for politicians nowadays to call attention to their hardships as a simplistic means test for the office of president.  A family member's affliction or a personal trauma can be presented as a totem that qualifies one for president, and of course, there is a heavy dose of hardly believable religiosity.

Jacoby points out that both Democratic (John Edwards) and Republican candidates do this, in sharp contrast to, say, FDR, who went to great lengths to downplay his disability in public appearances, yet he championed the cause of the less fortunate in public policy.  Jacoby: 
The Iowa forum was a triumph of the union of psychobabble and public religiosity that has come to dominate American politics. President Obama’s refusal to engage in this kind of faith-infused psychological exhibitionism is one of the main reasons why the media (and not only conservative media) have tagged him as a cool professorial type who does not know how to make a connection with ordinary people. Jon Huntsman and Mitt Romney, who were not present at the faith-and-suffering group therapy session, are also bad at exploiting whatever sorrows lie in their past to advance their candidacies. That’s probably one of the reasons Republican voters aren’t enamored of Romney and barely register Huntsman in their polls.
To really get the full flavor of the Iowa Family Forum, you have to watch the video, complete with 36 minute introduction containing religious and patriotic claptrap.  Then the candidates-- Perry, Gingrich, Paul, Santorum and Bachmann-- amble onstage to bare their souls of their deepest, most meaningful personal traumas, failures and triumphs.  I cried...I almost cried...I DID cry!  Read Jerry Coyne's site (contains embedded video) for another excellent review.  I got through the video of the freak show but not without some personal trauma myself...I'll have to tell Frank Luntz about it the next time we're both in front of a camera.
Nothing new was learned.  These people are not like me; they are so unlike anything that would appeal to me that I don't know that I would hire them to change a furnace filter let alone run my country.  Such histrionic appeal to the lowest common denominator, simplifying complex coping skills, and belief in supernatural bogeymen and saviors, all seem counterproductive to tackling any remotely involved job, especially that of president of the United States, which is, as Rick Perry says, "the most difficult job in the whirl."
I don't have a problem with individuals trying to sort out their problems, but is it necessary to do it with Frank Luntz in front of millions of onlookers? 

Saturday, November 19, 2011

UC Davis: Assault and battery?

I'm no lawyer, but this looks like a felony.

via KagroX:  "UC Berkeley's policy on tear gas & pepper spray says: Use of tear gas or a tear gas weapon, EXCEPT in self-defense, can be a felony."

Friday, November 18, 2011

Barry's righteous rant

From Barry Ritholtz' Big Picture, an excerpt

In America, we are too busy dropping the kids off at soccer, running around looking for sales and bargains, racing to keep our heads above water. We seem to forget to get outraged. Our control over our once Democracy — the one we had a revolution against a monarchy dictating decisions from afar — slips away from us. Not with a bang, not even with a whimper, but with a 1000s acts of gradual ceding of power to the new Monarch. We have given up hard won rights to a coordinated attack from all three branches of government; Our Congress has become the legislative branch of eBay — Congressmen are auctioned off to the highest bidder; they even have a Buy It Now button to get specific legislation passed. The executive branch has fallen under the sunk cost fallacy, afraid to prosecute banks because we spent so many billions bailing them out. It turns out that even our once venerable Supreme Court is just as corrupted, with lobbyists partying with Justices and backdooring ethics by hiring their wives.

In short, our new overlords are enormously well funded, well connected, relentless and perhaps most of all, patient. This new King was not appointed by primogeniture, or even Divine Right, but by acquiring enough profits in the free market that they can buy control over society, even as they thwart that free market ideal for their own ends. We have become, in short, a Corporate Monarchy.
The right question isn’t why am I angry, sad and outraged. The proper question is, why aren’t you?

Go read the whole thing, and the comments, too.  And for the full discussion, read his excellent book Bailout Nation.

Thursday, November 17, 2011


"First they ignore you, then they laugh at you, then they fight you, then you win." 
--- Mahatma Gandhi

Occupy Wall Street:

Evolutionary Tree of Life

For a larger gif, go here.

Newsflash: You are ALREADY mandated to buy health insurance

From the NYT:

But not only is there a precedent for this, there is also clear support for it in the Constitution. For decades, Americans have been subject to a mandate to buy a health insurance plan — Medicare. 
Except that this health insurance is for other people, and the 65 y/o version of yourself.  So it is the hallmark of insanity to buy this necessary product for other people but not for yourself.  Would you buy an iPad for every senior citizen but not for yourself?

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Links to Drink By: Wednesday AM

I know this is the lazy man's way to blog, but this is what I'm reading:

Newt Gingrich took $1.6 million from Fannie and Freddie.  What, you mean it's not Barney Frank's fault!!?

Six reasons why young people leave Christianity, especially in Ireland...

God's power presented graphically.

Businessweek: Americans won't do dirty jobs.

"Fathoming Amazon"

Charles P. Pierce: 2012 election field is an embarrassment to democracy

Jimmy Fallon as Jim Morrison

Monday, November 14, 2011

Links to Drink By

Irish billionaire goes bust: the biggest individual loser of the current financial meltdown.  Why didn't he just buy bonds and retire 20 years ago?

John Corzine is another case for the rich just buying municipal bonds and retiring: now Corzine's fortune is up for grabs.

John Feinstein: Paterno is not the victim, and...

Jeffrey Pollard: What Paterno could do now to promote healing

Former Vice-Chair of the Federal Reserve Alan Blinder: The Folly of the Flat Tax

Sunday, November 13, 2011


Um, no, we aren't.

I've read a lot of opinions on this scandal but none is more chilling than Christopher's at the conservative Catholic website Christopher's Apologies.  He made a video drawing the accurate analogy between this child abuse scandal and the Catholic Church's priest abuse scandal, and he makes a mild leap to the Gosnell case where a doctor was killing newborn infants and calling it abortion.  Okay, a gratuitous, albeit obtuse and inaccurate, jab at abortion, but I'd agree that Gosnell's office was also a similar hierarchy that eschewed outside oversight and covered up crimes.  Fine.

Christopher, for some unknown reason, goes on to draw a direct line from anal intercourse with a 10 year-old  to consensual sex between adults, as in the Tiger Woods and... wait for it... the Bill Clinton peccadilloes.  Bill Clinton analogies never get old for conservatives.  But Christopher gets whacky when he equates failing to report child sex abuse to keeping an extra hamburger that was mistakenly placed in your McDonalds bag.  Is this what goes for Catholic morality these days?

If Christopher is to be believed, we are all Penn State, we are all lax in our duties as citizens and human beings.  Not!!!  I was trying to imagine how graphic the image would be of witnessing an adult male raping a 10 yr-old in a shower, especially witnessed during an otherwise ordinary day at work.  The graduate assistant, Mike McQueary, had seen such a thing in 2002 when he was 28 years-old, certainly an age of knowing right from wrong.  Is it really within reason to merely report such an occurrence to Joe Paterno and then go about your career within the coaching hierarchy of a university for another nine years, never questioning why the cretin Sandusky is not just out of prison, but still working at the university!?

McQueary's grand jury testimony says that he told Joe Paterno the graphic details of the incident and then went about his career.  Paterno, for his part, told the athletic director but found nothing untoward about Sandusky, his long time former assistant, continuing to work at the university.

There are surely enough WTF moments in this saga to boggle the mind.  At no time did any member of the Penn State University athletic department or administration have empathy for the victims and future victims of this pedophile.  Does this sound familiar?  Is the Catholic Church's priest abuse scandal analogous?  You bet it is.

Nittany Lion
And the common denominator is that both institutions are examples of top-down hierarchies with little or no outside oversight.  One law enforcement officer in Pennsylvania remarked that nobody from the coaches to the athletic director to the university president himself-- nobody-- ever thought to notify the police of the crimes that were being witnessed and discussed.  Protection of the university and Coach Sandusky's reputation became paramount, with no apparent consideration for the victims.  Even JoePa's final statement "I wish I had done more" seemed more a plea for his own personal reputation than for any justice or empathy, echoing similar sentiments from various bishops.

Anyone who could for a minute analogize child abuse to keeping an extra nickel of change from a restaurant, as ersatz Catholic moralists seem to be doing, needs to do some re-evaluation.

Thursday, November 03, 2011


Ridicule is the only weapon that can be used against unintelligible propositions.
Ideas must be distinct before reason can act upon them.

– Thomas Jefferson

Your health care dollars hard at work

I'm sure this guy is worth it.  Not.

Fortune magazine lists the highest paid executives under 40 years-old, and there are the expected wunderkinds of the tech world, or communications or entertainment, but then there are the guys (and almost all are guys) in the insurance business, and specifically the health insurance industry. What possibly can a 39 yr-old, or anyone really for that matter, do in health insurance to earn $6.5 million per year? Did he invent a magic weight loss pill or figure out how to cure cerebral palsy? No. More likely he came up with some novel foolproof approach for denying claims on necessary medical care.

I can truly understand paying individuals who add value to a product or create wealth within society or can play shortstop, but health insurance executives do none of this. They are useless middlemen who shuffle money around and take a huge cut. I know of no highly trained physician who comes close to making a tenth of this Howdy Doody look-a-like's salary.  Atrocious.

Wednesday, November 02, 2011

Catholic theologian relents and allows release of video [UPDATE]

[UPDATE]: The video is up at the Gaines Center site.  I guess I don't really see the point of Dr. Haught's drama.  Dr. Coyne was vociferous, but polite and on point.  He makes the case that Christianity and science are not compatible and having read one of Haught's book (The New Atheists), I can say that his talk was similar in style, obtuse and without any substantive claims.  His Christianity is emotional, ie, an emergent phenomenon of his material being. Coyne's site has some comments to read as well.


Under pressure from the blogoshpere, John Haught has agreed to the release of the video of his recent debate with evolutionary biologist Jerry Coyne.  The kerfuffle ensued when the sponsor of the event, the University of Kentucky, announced that it would honor Haught's unilateral request to nix the release of the video.  Coyne's website has been abuzz with comments which have boiled over to reddit and other sites, and even an on-line petitionHaught himself has provided a comment as to why he initially vetoed the video's release.

My own personal experience is consistent with this high sensitivity of the faithful when their beliefs are challenged.  I agree with Coyne's approach that our society-wide deference given to religion should be challenged with facts and reason at every turn.  Now, we must wait and see if the video really is released.