Friday, January 31, 2014

Who Was Ronald Reagan's Infamous Welfare Queen?

Remember when President Reagan used to go on about a woman who “used 80 names, 30 addresses, 15 telephone numbers to collect food stamps, Social Security, veterans’ benefits for four nonexistent deceased veteran husbands, as well as welfare. Her tax-free cash income alone has been running $150,000 a year?" It turns out that the woman was very much real after all.

Small problem, though. She wasn't a lazy black woman from the ghetto as the story morphed into over the years. She was Linda Taylor, master con artist and feared criminal. President Reagan left out that part about how she was a kidnapper, baby trafficker, and possible murderer. Apparently, she also once impersonated a heart surgeon. Read the entire piece and see that she was far more than the poster child for government abuse that Reagan made her out to be.

Essentially, it was like saying that government is bad because Al Capone was a tax dodge.

Economy Gearing Up

From the Wall Street Journal...

A potent mix of rising exports, consumer spending and business investment helped the U.S. economy end the year on solid footing. Gross domestic product, the broadest measure of goods and services churned out by the economy, grew at a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 3.2% in the fourth quarter, the Commerce Department said. That was less than the third quarter's 4.1% pace, but overall the final six months of the year delivered the strongest second half since 2003, when the economy was thriving.

Many economists see the U.S. economy moving into a higher gear. Federal Reserve officials, in further pulling back on a bond-buying program meant to spur growth, noted this week that the economy has shown "growing underlying strength." Consumer confidence is rising, and manufacturers are getting busier to meet increased demand. A big driver of growth in the fourth quarter was a rise in consumer spending, which grew 3.3%, the fastest pace in three years. Consumer spending accounts for roughly two-thirds of economic activity.

Really great news.

Take a look at this graphical representation of the Obama years.  Note the downward trend of government investment (i.e. spending).

Considering this is the Wall Street Journal, will anyone believe the BS being peddled by the Right about how awful the president is for the economy and how he is a big government spender? 

Another 1 Percenter Comes Around

As I have previously predicted, the wealthy are starting to come around on inequality. Bill Gross, the most powerful bond manager of his generation and co-head of a $2 trillion investment management firm, has joined Nick Hanauer and other members of the 1 percent on the perils of this much inequality.

"We're not just experiencing a new Gilded Age, but a Bitcoin Age," says Mr. Gross, referring to the digital currency. "Artificial money, corporate K Street, and Wall Street interests are producing one world for the rich and an entirely different world for the working class," says the founder and co-chief investment officer of PIMCO in Newport Beach, Calif. "It can't go on like this, either from the standpoint of the health of the capitalist system itself or the health of individuals and the family," he adds.

Why not, Bill?

"For the past 10, 20, 30 years, capital has moved away from labor and towards corporations and investors," Gross says. "I'm not sure capitalism can thrive in a system in which ... [labor] has a declining interest, in terms of percentage of the pie. Then ultimately the pie itself can't grow, because consumption can't be supported."

Exactly right. Capitalism can't thrive, most lose their percentage of the pie and the pie itself can't grow. And to think someone as wealthy and knowledgeable about finance as Gross is saying the same things I am...what on EARTH is going on??!!??:)

So what do we need to do?

When Gross highlighted many of these trends and others in an investment outlook piece posted on his company's website in late October, he told his peers that maybe they should be willing to pay higher taxes. More provocatively, he challenged the orthodoxy on capital gains taxes, saying they should be taxed at rates as high as that for income.

Oh no he DI INT!!!

Based on some of the other testimonials in the article, it seems like we have finally turned a corner and that makes me very happy.

One other part of this piece I found interesting...

Just over two years ago, growing inequality was the rallying cry of the "Occupy" movement. Its "we are the 99 percent" slogan has since become part of the cultural lexicon, and many of its members have moved on to fast-food strikes and protests calling for a higher minimum wage.

Again, just as I have been saying..

Thursday, January 30, 2014

Burning a Million Dollars a Day

Across the country there's been a lot of controversy over opening up new natural gas fields to fracking, as the technology makes it possible to extract gas from places not feasible till now. Drillers have been madly opening up new fields, often without regard to environmental consequences or if they can make a profit in a market flooded with cheap natural gas.

Meanwhile, in North Dakota oil drillers are flaring off a million dollars a day worth of natural gas:
"People are estimating it's about $1 million a day just being thrown into the air," says Marcus Stewart, an energy analyst with Bentek Energy. Stewart tracks the amount of gas burned off — or flared — in the state, and his latest figures show that drillers are burning about 27 percent of the gas they produce.
Natural gas is frequently associated with oil deposits (you see methane flares at oil drilling sites all the time), so this shouldn't have been a surprise. 
Part of the problem is the energy industry's focus. As drillers arrived to tap the riches of the Bakken shale formation under western North Dakota, they were looking for oil, not natural gas.

Now that they've found gas, it's taking time and money to build the pipelines and processing plants to use it. Meanwhile, infrastructure for the oil rush needs to be built, too, and oil prices are relatively high, while natural gas prices are really low. That means companies are investing in oil infrastructure first.

"Where would your emphasis be?" asks Ron Ness, president of the North Dakota Petroleum Council. "If you've got a barrel of oil that's worth $95 and you've got [1,000 cubic feet] of gas ... that's worth $4.25, which infrastructure would you build first?"
The oil companies are being sued by mineral rights owners who should be getting royalties from this natural gas. They could simply wait until they developed the necessary infrastructure to handle all the gas and oil. But instead they're pumping oil out as fast as they can, shipping it in completely inadequate rail cars that explode in giant fireballs.

In their haste to get that oil out right now, the oil companies don't care that they're screwing mineral rights owners out of millions of dollars in royalties. They don't care that they're pumping millions of tons of CO2 into the air, completely wasting natural gas at a time when utilities are advising customers to turn their thermostats down to 60 degrees and avoid using gas appliances. They don't care that people are dying and towns are burning because their oil can't be safely transported.

And these same oil companies are telling us that global warming isn't real, that climate scientists are promoting climate change theories in order to get research grants. Through their dark money channels conservative groups like the Koch brothers and Exxon Mobile are spending a billion dollars a year denying the facts of climate change. This completely dwarfs the research budgets of all climate researchers the world over.

But I guess they have the money to burn.

The Nazi Attack on the 1 Percent

I guess recent attacks on the wealthy are just like the Nazis. Look out!!

 "Writing from the epicenter of progressive thought, San Francisco, I would call attention to the parallels of fascist Nazi Germany to its war on its 'one percent,' namely its Jews, to the progressive war on the American one percent, namely the 'rich,'" he wrote, opening a letter to the editor of the Wall Street Journal. This is a very dangerous drift in our American thinking. Kristallnacht was unthinkable in 1930; is its descendent 'progressive' radicalism unthinkable now?" he concluded.

Yes, Tom, it is just like Kristallnacht. Just the other day I saw my wealthy friends being hauled off to the local internment camp for reprogramming, experimentation, and ultimately execution. Good grief, what a fucking moron...

Wednesday, January 29, 2014

A Dying Party

Half of Fox News' Viewers Are 68 and Older

Pay attention to Fox over the next few years and watch how their content shifts to favor younger viewers. They are in the ratings business after all and if they are losing younger viewers, they will change or lose advertisers.

How Many Conservative Responses Were There To The State Of The Union?


I guess there was the official one from Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers (R-Wash.), Senator Mike Lee from Utah delivered the Tea Party response and then Rand Paul delivered the double awesome super duper Tea Party response.

Wow. They are really fucked, aren't they?

State of the Union A Go Go

As is usually the case, the president delivered an excellent speech in front of the nation calling for action in multiple areas of our society that would improve our nation a great deal. His main focus was inequality, citing multiple areas in which we could improve the disparity between the very wealthy in this country and everyone else. He spoke of his health care law, tech hubs, improving the tax code, immigration, and a whole host of other issues, ending with a very poignant and moving tribute to a wounded Afghan vet named Cory Remsburg.

But cynicism is the rule of the day presently in Washington and with good reason. We still have a Congress full of Republicans who will never allow the president to succeed on anything. Their maturity level (see: 12 year old boy) simply can't stand that someone they don't feel is befitting of the office of president will be viewed positively in any way. They are so insecure that even a small degree of success somehow translates into a boiling pit of sewage for them. The only possible movement we might see this year is on immigration and that's because GOP leaders know they are fucked in the election if they don't do something. The Latino vote has become far too important to disregard any longer. So, I suppose I should happy for at least that.

Yet I am not. We used to be a nation that got things done and strove for higher ground. We weren't held back by petty adolescents whose only conviction was their vanity. People who were..well...nuts didn't win elections. People like Rep. Michael Grimm (R-NY).

Or people like Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC), who said after the SOTU speech last night that "The world is literally about to blow up." Boiling pit of sewage indeed.

Or people like Fox News analyst and retired Army general Paul Vallely who have called openly for a coup d'etat.

Seriously, what a fucking clown show. And there are millions of people that fall for this shit?

The political press and beyond have talked extensively over the last week or so about how important this speech was for the president if he hopes to tread water in the 2014 elections and not lose any ground. Given the jack wagons on the Right and their behavior, I'm wondering how long it will be before the dam bursts and we can finally be rid of the right wing blogger mentality that seems to overshadow the GOP these days.

Honestly, it can't come soon enough.

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Scuhmer V The Cult

Senator Charles Schumer has a great piece up on the Tea Party which is a nice front loader to the SOTU tonight. Here are some of the highlights.

The tea party elites -- with little rebuttal -- have been able to make "government" the boogeyman. They have convinced too much of America that government is the explanation for their ills. Even though most Americans and even most tea party adherents like much of what the government does, the tea party elites proclaim that everything that is wrong, even non-economic and private sector problems, can be blamed on the government.

Yep, it's all the government. And don't you forget it, mister!! In fact, I think it's somehow the government's fault that conservatives have such poor relationships with their parents:)

So, how why are they really like this?

The first and most important force is a phenomenon that Democrats have recently begun to address: the decline in middle-class incomes. It's time we deal with the reality that, for the first time in American history, middle-class American incomes have declined for almost a generation. If middle-class incomes continue to decline, we will have a dramatically different America, a less optimistic, more sour America. 

The second deep-seated force that fueled the emergence of the tea party is the rapid pace of change in America's cultural, technological and demographic makeup. Tea party adherents see an America that's not reflective of themselves, and the America they have known, and they just don't like it. We have entered "the second machine age," a transformation of work, leisure, and life that wouldn't have been recognizable when Reagan entered the White House. The distribution of power is changing to include more women, more African-Americans, and more Latinos.

Those two issues have created the atmosphere we have today. As Senator Schumer notes, we are doing something about the first point. Of course, the resistance to his first point speaks volumes. Take away this inequality and you take away what little raison d'etre the leaders of the conservative movement have. The second point is where the fear comes from. They just can't accept change of any kind and the new world is very, very frightening to them. Schumer draws a correlation to the shift from an agrarian society to a industrial one and I think he is right on the mark here.

Look for the president to hit inequality hard tonight in his speech, touching on the points that Senator Schumer mentions in this piece.

Sign O' The Times

Monday, January 27, 2014

A Better Solution to the Abortion Debate

It's good that Mark is searching for a compromise on abortion. However, his plan will not work. In the first place, the anti-abortion crowd will never accept anything except a total ban, with "life beginning at conception," because they've already set that stake in the ground. For reasons I'll go into below, we've probably already arrived at the compromise position on abortion, and there is likely very little wiggle room for more restrictive abortion bans than the viability test that the Supreme Court has blessed.

As a practical matter, your proposal of six weeks would essentially outlaw abortion. Many women do not have periods regularly enough to know they're pregnant at week six. I knew a girl who once went 98 days between periods (I'm not sure why she shared that with me since we never had sex; I guess it was a matter of pride).

Athletic women frequently suffer from amenorrhea, which means it's not unusual for them to go without periods for months. Unless they have some kind of other physical indication of pregnancy, such as morning sickness, they'll never have a clue they're pregnant until they have significant weight gain. Some women have even gone to term without realizing they're pregnant.

Rather than just picking numbers like six and ten out of a hat, we should base limits on abortion on something meaningful.  What difference does it make whether the heart is beating, or there is a brain? Earthworms have brains and beating hearts. The real question is whether the fetus is a person.

We have standards for determining whether someone is alive when they've suffered brain trauma. We call it brain death, but it's really a test of personhood. What it boils down to, is there enough brain function that something of that person still remains? Do they still have their memories and their personality? Can they breathe on their own? Can they recognize and communicate with loved ones? Can they still think?

Many religious people reject outright the notion of brain death. They want to keep brainless corpses on life support forever, in the vain hope they'll wake up some day. Certainly there are instances of people who are in a coma, or locked in silence, who are still in there. We should do everything we can to help them recover. But brain scans will reveal whether there is any chance of recovery. If there is no brain activity, you are dead. The recent case in Texas in which a hospital was keeping a brain-dead woman on life support because she was pregnant with a non-viable fetus is an example of how misguided these "pro-life" laws can be.

The anti-abortion crowd's stance that life begins at conception is demonstrably false. Life begins before conception. Egg and sperm cells are as alive as any fertilized ovum: sperm cells can swim! For centuries the Catholic Church held that every sperm was sacred; man was the source of the child, he planted the child in the woman. Her womb was just an incubator, and man was the creator of life, just like god.

It was only when we understood the science that they had to back down, admit the primacy of the woman's role in childbearing. Men produce sperm by the millions; almost all of them just die off in the epididymis if you're celibate, or elsewhere if you're not. The woman's egg and womb provide everything for the fetus; the sperm is tiny compared to the egg, providing just a squirt of DNA. The male of the species can be totally dispensable: some complex creatures can reproduce by parthenogenisis (virgin birth), including snails, some reptiles and sharks, and even a few turkeys.

If you look at a fetus at various stages of development, it's clear that a zygote is not a person. It's just a blob of stem cells. As it develops the fetus resembles various creatures: worm, tadpole, possum, salamander. At 44 days the fetus still has a sizable tail. It's not until 60 days that the human fetus actually looks like a human.
Pig, bull, rabbit and human fetuses
We have known that human fetuses are almost indistinguishable from animal fetuses for centuries. In the late 1800s Ernst Haeckel raised the ire of the Catholic Church with a series of drawings comparing fetuses at various stages of development, showing humans and animals to be indistinguishable to the layman.

Some of Haeckel's drawings were inaccurate, and claims that human and animal fetuses were "indistinguishable" were false: there are extremely subtle differences that more astute observers could discern. Haeckel used these comparisons as evidence for Darwin's theory of evolution. Anatomical comparisons have also been used for the same purposes (humans and horses have pretty much all the same bones in their bodies, they're just rearranged.)

But the key point is that the brain in all these fetuses is tiny. Our immensely huge brains give us the capacity to be persons. Until the brain is sufficiently developed, a human fetus simply does not meet the criteria by which we judge someone to be a person.

Thus, the question is not "What is life?" but rather "What is a person?" The answer to that is a human with a functioning brain. (Though that question may become cloudy if we ever develop self-aware computers.)

The general test for whether an abortion should be legal has been whether the fetus is viable outside the womb. The chance for survival is zero percent at 21 weeks or less. It rises to about 50% at 24 weeks. The reason is clear: before that the fetus is not an independent organism; it has human DNA, but it is not a separate person in any meaningful way. It is totally dependent on the mother for providing oxygen, nutrition, antibodies and waste disposal through the umbilical. It is essentially another organ, an egg that has taken up residence outside the ovary.

Some day preemies may survive being born even earlier. That would require artificial wombs that provide sustenance through the umbilical, rather than the primitive incubators we have today. This technological development would require new legal definitions: it should be based on brain development. A fetus is a person when it has a brain that is sufficiently large enough to function as a person's brain.

This is the inverse of being brain-dead. A fetus has no memories, no personality, no emotional connection to other people. There is really nothing there to call a person. At some point, however, it will have a large enough brain to be capable to form memories and a personality, even though it may not have one yet. At that point I would call the fetus a person, and would accept an abortion ban at that stage.

I don't know what week of development this equates to; that requires research. Premature babies can suffer permanent brain damage (causing autism among other things) because brain development is interrupted. That may suggest that the 20-24 week period is the turning point in fetal brain development. Which means that the current viability deadline may just happen to coincide with brain development.

Some states have passed laws banning abortions at 20 weeks because fetuses can feel pain. This is a bogus argument. Animals feel pain, yet we slaughter them by the billions. Inmates on death row can feel pain, but many anti-abortionists have no problem killing them. The "innocence" of the fetus is also cited frequently. But many abortion opponents favor stand-your-ground laws, where you can get away with shooting anyone who you think might harm you, even if that person is completely innocent. They call killings of innocent victims by gun-toting fraidy cats "unfortunate accidents."

The motivation behind abortion bans has nothing to with the personhood of the fetus. The tone of Mark's post shows what's really going on: it's moral outrage against people perceived as promiscuous and lazy. People want to hold dagger at women's throats to force them to be more careful. They want women to pay for their mistakes. They want women to be more responsible.

But getting pregnant is not just a matter of being forgetful, lazy, licentious or irresponsible. The pill can fail. Condoms can tear. Diaphragms can slip. Vasectomies can fail and men can lie about having them. Men get women drunk and have sex with them while their judgment is seriously impaired or they're unconscious. Women are forcibly raped.

Responsible women can get pregnant through no fault of their own. Why do we want to force them to bear children they don't want?

In the final analysis, having an abortion when you're in no condition to raise a child is being responsible.

The Solution to the Abortion Issue

With the passing of another anniversary of the Supreme Court decision on Roe V Wade, it occurred to me that solution to the abortion issue is really not all that difficult. Unfortunately, the two deeply entrenched sides make it seemingly impossible move on the issue. As I have gotten older, this issue has crept up my priority list and I think our nation needs to change the law as it stands today. There are still far too many abortions that happen every year (mostly by single women in their 20s) and this sad fact illustrates that people are being horribly irresponsible with sex. So how do we shift the paradigm?

The first thing that needs to happen is we need to tackle the demand side of the equation. Why do so many women in their 20s get abortions? Do they not know about birth control? Are they stupid? Part of this may be that sex education programs two decades ago were not what they are today. Teenagers today are taught that sex should only happen in loving, committed relationships with serious attention paid to birth control and family planning. The falling teen pregnancy rate shows that kids are abstaining until they are older or using birth control effectively and that is a good thing. A young person's mind isn't fully developed until they are 25 anyway. Honestly, I don't think people are ready to be parents on just about every level until they are 30. Younger parents are part of the reason why we have the problems we do today (see: The Michael Jordan Generation). So, single women in their 20s need to be targeted with marketing, community support, and social pressure to practice healthy sexual habits. That would eliminate some of the demand.

We can also look at the supply side of abortion and curtail it more than we are doing right now. We shouldn't outlaw it completely as that would give rise to a criminal element that would raise more problems, cost more money, and essentially create a whole new series of headaches. A woman's womb should not be a ward of the state. An embryo does not have 14th amendment rights. Here is where the question of "what is life?" needs to be answered. Prenatal development shows us that the heart isn't even beating until week 6. There is no brain function until week 7. It really isn't even a fetus until week 10. Given these facts, I'd say all abortions should be completely illegal after week 10 at least. I'd go as far back as week 6 if it means gaining concessions from the pro life crowd (more on that in a bit). In sum, it's not a human being without a functioning heart and brain.

With abortion legal only up until week 6 period, most people would pay more attention to their sexual habits and be more careful. I realize that Democrats would be loathe to embrace this but if they are truly the party of making laws that prevent people from hurting themselves or others, they should fall in line with this. Of course, they won't be the only ones that should concede on the issue. If the Right truly wants to be pro life, they should put their money where their mouths are and raise Medicare taxes to include free coverage for every child under a certain age. If changes to the abortion law were implemented as I describe above, there would inevitably be more unwanted children. We already have too many now so steps would have to be taken that these kids were taken care of outside of the womb as well. Aid could be given out based on salaries via Medicaid if need be but women who would have had an abortion because they couldn't afford to care for their kid will need some kind of assistance...certainly more than we have now.

I think that if all these steps are taken, our country would see abortion rates fall dramitally. Perhaps we would eventually see demand drop to such a point that few places would even offer them anymore. Take away the demand, you take away the supply. People would be forced to think more seriously about their sexual choices. But if mistakes are made, if a woman is raped, has sex with a family member, or is in a life threatening situation, they should have some sort of an option that won't detrimentally alter their life (and the life their child) forever. There is a way we can ALL be pro life and I sincerely believe the path I have outlined here is the best option.

It's not completely foolproof and perfect but it's better than what we have now which is, quite simply, a tragedy being perpetuated by hubris filled ideologues.

Some Art To Warm You Up

Second from the left is my favorite.

Something to warm you up for another frigid day (and the 4th cancelled school day) in the North Woods.

Sunday, January 26, 2014

Good Words

"There is no sin past, present, or future that has more power than the cross of Jesus Christ. No one alive has the ability to out-sin the grace of God. No one in this room celebrates that we pulled ourselves up by our bootstraps. That's not what we believe at a fundamental level."  (Matt Chandler, Pastor, The Village Church)

Another Big Boom Means Minnesotans Will Be Shivering Tonight

The mad rush to drill every cubic foot of natural gas in the ground has lead to rock-bottom prices for natural gas, making the entire industry a money-loser. But suddenly the price of natural gas is shooting up.
The price in the futures market soared to $5.18 per 1,000 cubic feet Friday, up 10 percent to the highest level in three and a half years. The price of natural gas is up 29 percent in two weeks, and is 50 percent higher than last year at this time.

Record amounts of natural gas are being burned for heat and electricity. Meanwhile, it's so cold that drillers are struggling to produce enough to keep up with the high demand. So much natural gas is coming out of storage that the Energy Department says supplies have fallen 20 percent below a year ago -- and that was before this latest cold spell.
To add to these troubles, there was a massive natural gas pipeline explosion in Canada yesterday
A fire is out after burning for more than 12 hours at the site of a natural gas pipeline explosion near Otterburne, Man., about 50 kilometres south of Winnipeg. But officials say there are now natural gas outages affecting as many as 4,000 people in nearby communities, where temperatures dipped to near -20 C overnight.
The explosion did not just affect local Manitobans. Xcel Energy is asking people in three states to curtail their natural gas consumption because of the explosion:
“As a precaution and to maintain system stability, we are asking all natural gas customers to turn their thermostats down as far as possible — unless doing so would pose a danger to their health or safety — and to avoid running natural gas appliances,” said Kent Larson, Xcel Energy’s senior vice president for operations, in a statement. “We expect to know more by midday Sunday.”

It suggested a temperature of 60 degrees for homes, and asked businesses to conserve, too.

Sixty degrees! Man, that is cold. And fossil fuels are supposed to be so reliable.

This shortage comes as debate rages about shipping North Dakota crude on trains in flimsy cars that are not designed to carry flammable liquids:
Far more toxic products are shipped on trains. But those products, like chlorine, are transported in pressurized vessels designed to survive an accident. Crude oil, on the other hand, is shipped in a type of tank car that entered service in 1964 and that has been traditionally used for nonflammable hazardous liquids like liquid fertilizers.

Safety officials have warned for more than two decades that these cars were unsuited to carry flammable cargo: their shell can puncture and tears up too easily in a crash.
People who live near railroads and pipelines are justifiably afraid:
Adrian Kieffer, the assistant fire chief [of Casselton, ND, where an oil train recently exploded], rushed to the accident and spent nearly 12 hours there, finishing at 3 a.m. “When I got home that night, my wife said let’s sell our home and move,” he said.

Keystone XL pipeline supporters use the railroad troubles to justify putting in a pipeline. But as the people in Manitoba and San Bruno can attest, pipelines have their own problems.

It's going to be 20 below in Minnesota tonight. So, just when we need natural gas the most, we're suffering from a catastrophic shortage.

That's the usual knock against renewable energy such as wind and solar: they won't provide electricity when you most need them. This is not strictly true: the highest demand for electricity in Arizona and Nevada is when it's hot and sunny -- perfect weather for solar. In Minnesota high winds often accompany weather systems that bring extreme cold and extreme heat -- perfect weather for wind turbines.

Fossil fuels suffer from exactly the same sorts of supply disruptions that big oil says renewable energy suffers from. Every time a major refinery shuts down for repairs or switches production from winter to summer grades of fuel, or political upheavals detonate in the Middle East, there are  shortages of gasoline or wild price swings.

Shipping highly explosive materials long distances can have deadly consequences. Sure, we can use our ingenuity to come up with safer modes of transport. But those cost a lot of money, money that railroads aren't willing to invest because the need for all that safety infrastructure is going to be relatively short-lived: after the oil in North Dakota peters out all those expensive bullet-proof rail cars the NTSB is recommending will languish in junk yards, rusting.

Doesn't it make more sense to invest more ingenuity and money in infrastructure for localized energy production that will never become obsolete?


My family recently watched the M. Night Shyamalan film, Signs. The film tells the story of an alien invasion and how one rural family copes with the incursion. Really, though, it's about one man's journey back to his faith after his wife is killed in a horrific car accident. It's about the signs that God gives us to show us that He exists and loves us.

I have seen the film many times and love it more with each viewing. I'm not a knee jerk M. Night hater like the Internet has decided must be the case if you are to be "cool" (whatever the fuck that means). This recent viewing made me think about my nearly 35 year friendship with John Waxey, the all too infrequent poster here at Markadelphia. I met John the first day of school in 7th grade and we have been best friends every since. We talk at least once a week and hang out at his cottage in Wisconsin with our families in the summer. We try to see at least two bands a year live either here or in Madison where he lives.

In addition to being the owner of a private manufacturing firm in Wisconsin, John is also an archaeologist so his views on God are somewhere between atheism and agnosticism. He does not believe in the Christian God nor does he believe that Jesus was the Son of God. He wonders if Jesus ever existed. Yet, he is morally more Christian than most Christians I know. He lives by Jesus' commandment to love one another, treating everyone with more kindness than I certainly have ever done. He is faithfully devoted to his wife of 20 years and their three children. He has never killed anyone, stolen anything or lied in his entire life.

Despite his secular approach to life, I believe God sent him to me for a reason. It was a sign of His love for the people of this earth. Our friendship of over three decades is proof positive that not only His existence but of Christ's core command that we love one another. He usually rolls his eyes when I relate this to him (and I do frequently) and replies by saying that he does try to follow the moral teachings of Jesus but just can't quite believe the spiritual side of it. I remind him that it's all connected and then we invariably have one of our long and most cherished conversations about the meaning of it all.

Isn't it ironic that a sign for me of God's love is an atheist? He does indeed work in mysterious ways!

Saturday, January 25, 2014

Mitt Slow Jams With Jimmy

Pretty fucking hilarious...

From the Iowa GOP Facebook Page

Pretty much sums up their maturity level. And this.

I guess it was taken down rather quickly:)

Friday, January 24, 2014

Guess Whose Bedroom This Is?

It's Rush Limbaugh's.



I thought it was Liberace's.

And he's taking the president to the mat for not letting his imaginary son play football?

How Will The GOP Shoot Itself In 2014?

Just like this.

"God is angry. We are provoking him with abortions and same-sex marriage and civil unions," she added, blaming natural disasters like tornadoes and diseases including autism and dementia on recent advances in the LGBT movement. "Same-sex activity is going to increase AIDS. If it's in our military it will weaken our military. We need to respect God."

This is why the Democrats should just give these folks a microphone and let them talk:)

The Beauty Of The Free Market

While the right wing blogsphere and its devout followers continue to deny the settled science of climate change, the free market is moving on. They don't really have a choice.

After a decade of increasing damage to Coke’s balance sheet as global droughts dried up the water needed to produce its soda, the company has embraced the idea of climate change as an economically disruptive force. “Increased droughts, more unpredictable variability, 100-year floods every two years,” said Jeffrey Seabright, Coke’s vice president for environment and water resources, listing the problems that he said were also disrupting the company’s supply of sugar cane and sugar beets, as well as citrus for its fruit juices. “When we look at our most essential ingredients, we see those events as threats.”

Threats, indeed. All the bloviating from the hubris brigade amounts to absolutely nothing in the face of the power of the free market. If industry decides that climate change is a clear and present danger, than it is. As the article notes, even the coal industry is being ignored and it's not just Coke.

Nike, which has more than 700 factories in 49 countries, many in Southeast Asia, is also speaking out because of extreme weather that is disrupting its supply chain. In 2008, floods temporarily shut down four Nike factories in Thailand, and the company remains concerned about rising droughts in regions that produce cotton, which the company uses in its athletic clothes. “That puts less cotton on the market, the price goes up, and you have market volatility,” said Hannah Jones, the company’s vice president for sustainability and innovation. Nike has already reported the impact of climate change on water supplies on its financial risk disclosure forms to the Securities and Exchange Commission.

What about a carbon tax?

Although many Republicans oppose the idea of a price or tax on carbon pollution, some conservative economists endorse the idea. Among them are Arthur B. Laffer, senior economic adviser to President Ronald Reagan; the Harvard economist N. Gregory Mankiw, who was economic adviser to Mitt Romney’s presidential campaign; and Douglas Holtz-Eakin, the head of the American Action Forum, a conservative think tank, and an economic adviser to the 2008 presidential campaign of Senator John McCain, the Arizona Republican. “There’s no question that if we get substantial changes in atmospheric temperatures, as all the evidence suggests, that it’s going to contribute to sea-level rise,” Mr. Holtz-Eakin said. “There will be agriculture and economic effects — it’s inescapable.” He added, “I’d be shocked if people supported anything other than a carbon tax — that’s how economists think about it.”

Laffer? So it ain't so, Art...

Responsible Gun Owner?

Florida man mistakenly shoots himself during road rage incident

According to the Orlando Sentinel, the man said he had been driving toward Orlando on Interstate-4 when another driver allegedly flashed a weapon after the two had some type of altercation. To protect himself, the man brandished his own handgun, causing it to discharge into his leg.

I thought that good guys with guns saved the day and were very careful with their firearms.

Thursday, January 23, 2014


Dinesh D'Souza indicted for violating U.S. election law

Well, I guess "Obama's America" will be happening in a different way for Mr. D'Souza. Sorta reminds me of my assertion that conservatives are right...the END is coming but not in the way they think:)

I have to keep reminding myself that I need to be patient with jack wagons like this. Sooner or later, they get exactly what they deserve.

Legalizing Pot Won't Turn Everyone into a Dope Fiend

Since recreational pot use became legal in Colorado on Jan. 1, there's been a whole slew of people admitting to marijuana use in their youth, including columnists David Brooks and Ruth Marcus. Both are still opposed to legalization, mostly on the grounds that it will increase the number of users and affect teenagers whose brains are still developing.

The president then entered the fray, saying in a New Yorker interview that he thought marijuana wasn't any worse than alcohol, and that rich and middle-class white kids smoke dope all the time and get away with it (as Brooks and Marcus can hypocritically attest), but minority kids get arrested and jailed much more frequently for exactly the same offense.

Now Texas governor Rick Perry has chimed in, saying at a conference in Davos, Switzerland that he's for decriminalization of pot. Not legalization, but softening the punishment, eliminating jail time for minor possession offenses.

It's good to hear Perry is moving toward reason, but "decriminalization" doesn't solve the problem. Cops will still waste their time chasing down pot smokers, only to send them to pointless rehab sessions. The drug wars between dealers and the cops, and various multinational narco-trafficking gangs will continue unabated. Weed, cash and guns will continue to be smuggled both ways across the US-Mexico border. Our courts and prisons will continue to be flooded with tens of thousands of low-level dealers caught with relatively small quantities of weed, costing billions of dollars annually. The quality of the pot distributed illegally in this country will be highly variable, frequently adulterated, possibly toxic and potentially dangerous because of the illegal sources.

I don't smoke pot. I don't drink. Never have. Never will. Both vices are a waste of time and money. Drinking causes many health problems (brain cell destruction, high blood pressure, heart disease, stroke, cirrhosis, anemia). Pot appears to be less immediately destructive than alcohol, but may be linked to cognitive impairment and cancer for heavy smokers.

Yet I still advocate making marijuana legal. Legalization would eliminate the problems associated with outlawing a popular product that is no worse than alcohol. By any measure, pot prohibition has failed totally: the laws have been no deterrent against pot use.

But Perry's and Brooks' and Marcus' fears are unjustified: making marijuana legal won't make everyone go out and start smoking up a storm.

Cigarettes have always been legal. The surgeon general's 1964 report established the link between smoking and heart and lung disease; if we based our laws on the dangers to health, tobacco should be more illegal than pot because there's so much more hard data about its effects. But Americans have been listening: in the 50 years since that report, tobacco use in the United States has plunged by 50%. People used to smoke cigarettes anywhere and everywhere: in their homes, in their cars, in their offices, in restaurants, in bars, even in movie theaters. By the 1980s separate smoking sections were established in restaurants. By the 1990s smoking was banned in workplaces in many states. By the 2000s smoking was totally banned in restaurants in many states.

Now, in the 2010s many states have banned smoking even in bars. Smokers have been chased outdoors to smoke, and many workplaces have even banned smoking outside their entrances. Many smokers voluntarily avoid smoking in their own homes and cars, particularly if they have children. It's a dirty, disgusting, expensive habit, and most smokers wish they could quit.

Legal marijuana should be subjected to the same restrictions as cigarette smoking, as it is in Colorado. Though there's some argument over it, smoking marijuana poses many of the same health risks as smoking tobacco (breathing any kind of smoke is just plain bad for you), and should have the same restrictions for the same reasons.

It's perfectly fine for Marcus and Brooks and Perry to express their moral outrage at pot smoking. I encourage them to let people know how utterly foolhardy it is to smoke: let the anti-pot opprobrium flow across the land; I hope it discourages broad use. But the American people have shown that they can listen to reason and wean themselves in large numbers from addictive substances like tobacco, so I trust they will do the same with pot.

We should wasting our tax dollars and law enforcement's and the courts' time to enforce moral indignation over drugs that are no worse than any number of substances that are already legal.

Mea Becka

I pretty much fell out of my chair when I saw this.

Couple this with his recent insistence that homophobes have no place in this country and I think it's safe to say that we have finally turned a corner. Ironic, considering the question I posed earlier this morning. Perhaps the Right is finally starting to get the message. They need to change and be more reflective like this or they are going to become extinct.

Five Big 2014 Questions

CNN has five big questions that face the political scene in the US this year. They pretty much echo the same ones I have discussed here. My answers, in order, are:

No, because the conservative caucus that is motivated are the ones that are moonbats.

Yes, because the Right is going to trot out more candidates like Todd Akin and Richard Murdock. They just can't help themselves:)

A huge effect. Even with GOP leaders trying to get something done, they still have a caucus of xenophobes to contend with and that will continue to be a problem. They will lose seats in the House that they should have won because of their obstinance.

Supporting the minimum wage. Republicans are going to alienate many voters who are poor with both of these issues.

The amount of money spent doesn't really matter. 2012 proved that once and for all. Republicans spent a billion dollars and they still couldn't beat the president or the Democrats. In the end, it's a simple recognition of reality and positivity that wins elections.

Who wants to vote for a party that is angry, hateful, irrationally afraid of nearly everything, spiteful, insecure, obsessive, and incredibly negative?

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Onward, Christian Airmen

For years there have been reports of unwanted Christian proselytizing at the Air Force Academy.

In 2005 the Washington Post reported:
A military study of the religious climate at the Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs found several examples of religious intolerance, insensitivity and inappropriate proselytizing on the part of Air Force officers and cadets, but a report issued yesterday at the Pentagon concluded that the school is not overtly discriminatory and has made improvements in recent months.
How much improvement was made? In 2010 CBS reported that 41% of non-Christians were still being harassed with Christian proselytizing, and overall 19% were subjected to proselytizing. More than 2000 cadets (almost half) participated in the poll.

In 2013 some staff members at the Academy still think they have the right to proselytize to anyone they damn well wants to, even Jews who don't want to hear it.

So, what has the effect of Christian proselytizing been on the ethics and morals of the Air Force?

An Air Force general who oversaw three wings of ICBMs was recently fired for a drunken bender in Moscow. He was also "spending time" with two foreign women, a serious security breach.
Cheating is rampant in the Air Force Missile Corps. The men who control our nuclear arsenal give each other the answers to questions on tests that are supposed to make sure that these men don't make any mistakes. The officers complain that the standards are too high, and the penalties for failure are unreasonable.

It's sort of weird that these guys to whine about making little mistakes: they're working with nuclear missiles! The penalties for making those same mistakes with the real missiles could be instantly annihilating themselves with a nuclear detonation, starting a nuclear war with China and Russia,  destroying all of civilization, and maybe even killing off humanity.

Perhaps the real problem is that the nuclear mission is obsolete, according to Bruce Blair, of Princeton. The Cold War ended 20 years ago, and these nuclear weapons seem kind of pointless, making morale in the nuclear officer corps very low. Most of our nuclear weapons are pointed at Russia and China, and the chance that we will go to war with those two countries seems increasingly remote in this highly interconnected world economy.

The only countries that want nuclear weapons are nut jobs like North Korea, and countries that want to pump up their self-image and status like Pakistan and Iran.

The rest of us would just as soon be rid of the damned things.

Lynch Him!

Florida House candidate Joshua Black calls for hanging of President Obama

As Americans honored the memory of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. on Monday, a Republican candidate for Florida House District 68 said President Barack Obama should be hanged for war crimes. "I'm past impeachment," Joshua Black wrote on Twitter. "It's time to arrest and hang him high."

I suppose it was only a matter of time.

Cheese or Lutefisk?

There seems to be an awful lot of comparing and contrasting going on between Wisconsin and Minnesota these days. I've talked about it recently and they are both excellent, real time cases as to which ideology, conservative or liberal, is most effective. This recent piece in the Times is the most in depth that I have seen as it addresses the fundamental differences in ideology with how each state is governed. There is also a video that goes along with it.

It's a pretty even handed report with criticism spread around evenly as one can see.

I'm wondering if the problems with Wisconsin's economy mean that Scott Walker won't really be a serious candidate for president in 2016.

Left Wing Fantasies (Or Why I Am A Moderate)

Jesse Myerson's piece in Rolling Stone on the five economic reforms millennials should be fighting for starts out just fine but then descends into the usual fantasy we hear far too often from the far left. The first point makes sense. There are a lot of things that need to be done in this country so there should be no shortage of work. There are also plenty of people that need jobs and want to work so let's get going.

The second point is where he starts to lose it and it just gets worse from there on out. Social Security is fine for those people that spend their lives working and paying in to the system but not for people who don't. Some people simply won't "get a life" and the labor force would be greatly diminished. The third point is simply socialism and a complete load of shit. The fourth point is communism and the fifth point is ridiculous.

Like the libertarian land where unicorns fart out gold, this vision of America is pure fantasy. It's a great example of why I am a moderate. My takeaway from this piece is that is in such a small minority that there shouldn't be any real concern. Unlike the Tea Party who is substantial wing in the GOP, there is no socialist wing of the Democratic party. There's just Bernie Sanders and even he isn't this bad.

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

The FTC Stakes a Vampire through the Heart

There was a foul, blood-sucking creature stalking the land, preying on the innocent and the naive, draining the life from the elderly and the infirm. This creature stole into the homes of the vulnerable, with soothing words and false promises, only to latch onto the throats of its victims and suck them dry. But a brave woman tracked this foul demon back to its lair in a dank swamp and staked it through the heart.

No, I'm not talking about Buffy the Vampire Slayer. I'm talking about Jessica Rich, director of the Federal Trade Commission's Bureau of Consumer Protection. At the request of Rich and the Florida Attorney General, the US District Court, Orlando Division has frozen the assets of Credit Voice, the company behind a scam to defraud the elderly and annoy the hell out of anyone with phone.

Credit Voice inundated the country with robocalls. The one we got the most was some guy shuffling through papers said something like, "Hi, it looks like someone in your family ordered you this medical alert monitor. They already paid for it, so press 1 to arrange delivery."

It was all a lie, of course: the real service provider, Medical Alert, gives the monitor away because they make out like bandits on monthly fees. Credit Voice would start charging the victims immediately, whether the device was activated or not. The scammers have received $13 million in commissions since March, 2012. The court has ordered restitution, but good luck with that. Credit Voice will declare bankruptcy any day now, and the principles will abscond to some island tax haven.

I'm extremely glad the calls have stopped., but this took an awfully long time to resolve. We would get this call two, three, four times a day for months on end.  I went to the FTC's Do Not Call website, made sure we were on the list, and reported the calls. When that didn't stop them, I seriously considered canceling my landline just to avoid these completely illegal robocalls. A year ago North Dakota issued Elite Infosystems (one of Credit Voice's aliases) and Michael Hilgar (the scumbag behind this scam) a cease and desist order to stop making fraudulent robocalls. The authorities have known about these bastards for a long time, but it took two years to shut them down.

The company that may be ultimately responsible for this fraud is Medical Alert, because they appear to have paid Credit Voice a commission while turning a blind eye to the scammers' methods. Medical Alert provides a device -- free of charge! -- that hooks into your landline. They give you a waterproof button on a wristband or pendant. You press the button if you fall down and can't get up. (Falling an extremely common proximate cause of death in the elderly.) The button signals the device hooked into the landline, which calls Medical Alert. They call you back to hold your hand and find out if you really need 911 service. All for the low-low price of just $29.95 a month (plus the cost of your landline).

That sounds kind of pricey for something with such limited utility. For not much more you can get a mobile phone that you can use for all sorts of things, including calling 911 and GPS tracking. Calling 911 yourself has the advantage of not having to wait for an operator making minimum wage or working in a foreign country to call you back. And I've got to wonder: if you've fallen down and broken your hip how will you get up to answer the phone? If you've fallen because you've lost consciousness from low blood pressure, diabetic shock, stroke or heart attack, you won't be able to press the button in the first place. And if you fall while taking your daily constitutional in the park, you're out of range of the device and it's useless.

I have a hard time believing these devices are all that useful. One purportedly helped Daniel Schorr, the veteran newsman, who had a similar system from Philips Lifeline. But the account of his accident highlights the limitations of these systems: if Schorr had fallen unconscious after hitting his head, he wouldn't have pressed the button. If his wife hadn't been there to answer the phone, the emergency response would have been delayed while the operator called around to ensure it wasn't a false alarm. And Schorr had a wife, who would have found him within minutes when he didn't come down for breakfast.

Don't get me wrong. I think there's a need for something like this. The elderly population of the United States is growing. People do better physically and psychologically if they stay in their own homes rather than being warehoused in nursing facilities. Independent living is cheaper, even when the elderly require in-home services like housecleaning, medical monitoring and meals. Technology is an obvious solution to monitor their well-being at a lower cost.

But the Medical Alert system doesn't seem to be the answer: it's a half-assed kludge that takes a big monthly bite out of an elderly person's Social Security check. A better solution would be a small, rugged, GPS-equipped, water-proof mobile phone that charges by induction, so that the phone can simply be placed on charger by the bedside at night (the elderly have a hard time plugging in tiny USB connections). It needs a 911 call button on the front. It should be able to monitor pulse and respiration, and blood sugar levels for diabetics. It should detect falls and conditions like heart attack, stroke, and diabetic coma, and call 911 automatically.

Do systems like Medical Alert save cities and counties money by vetting distress calls from the elderly? Or is it just another big-business ripoff of the elderly, at best preying on their fear and charging them 30 bucks a month for a false sense of security, and at worst delaying emergency responders who would get there faster with a direct 911 call?

75,000 New Democratic Voters in West Virginia?

Sharon Mills is a great example why the Democrats should take Reince Priebus's advice and "stamp Obamacare to their foreheads."

Ms. Mills, 54, who suffered renal failure last year after having irregular access to medication, said her dependence on others left her feeling helpless and depressed. “I got to the point when I decided I just didn’t want to be here anymore,” she said. So when a blue slip of paper arrived in the mail this month with a new Medicaid number on it — part of the expanded coverage offered under the Affordable Care Act — Ms. Mills said she felt as if she could breathe again for the first time in years. “The heavy thing that was pressing on me is gone,” she said.

And how many more people in West Virginia are there like her?

Here in West Virginia, which has some of the shortest life spans and highest poverty rates in the country, the strength of the demand has surprised officials, with more than 75,000 people enrolling in Medicaid. While many people who have signed up so far for private insurance through the new insurance exchanges had some kind of health care coverage before, recent studies have found, most of the people getting coverage under the Medicaid expansion were previously uninsured. In West Virginia, where the Democratic governor agreed to expand Medicaid eligibility, the number of uninsured people in the state has been reduced by about a third.

The question now becomes how many people will shift over to the Democrats as a result of the ACA. I think it's going to be far greater than people imagine because there are many poor people who have come to realize that conservatives are not helping them at all. This is a big reason why Mitt Romney lost the 2012 election. They are seen as the party of the aristocratic class.

Of course, we still do have plaque..

Still, even among those who most need insurance, there has been resistance to signing up. President Obama — often blamed here in coal country for the industry’s decline — remains deeply unpopular. Recruiters trying to persuade people to enroll say they sometimes feel like drug peddlers. The people they approach often talk in hushed tones out of earshot of others. Chad Webb, a shy 30-year-old who is enrolling people in Mingo County, said a woman at a recent event used biblical terms to disparage Mr. Obama as an existential threat to the nation. Mr. Webb said he thought to himself: “This man is not the Antichrist. He just wants you to have health insurance.”

How did the froth about the president get to be so thick? Honestly, it's a combination of many things. I think it begins with the fact that they are massively insecure, angry and hateful at someone else succeeding where they are failing. That's rooted in the adolescent behavior that I think is at the core of all of this. As I have mentioned previously, conservatives are also secret aristocrats who don't think Democrats deserve to run anything. Only members of the "club" should be at the high of a station. Race plays a part, of course as does pride and hubris in tandem with an extreme difficulty to admit error. But, as the article notes,

Eventually, though, people’s desperate need for insurance seems to be overcoming their distaste for the president. Rachelle Williams, 25, an uninsured McDonald’s worker from Mingo County, said she had refused to fill out insurance forms on a recent trip to the emergency room for a painful bout of kidney stones. “I wouldn’t do it,” she said. But when she got a letter in the mail saying she qualified for Medicaid, she signed up immediately.

Uh Huh:)


OXFAM International just released a staggering report on inequality in the world. Here are the highlights.

• Almost half of the world’s wealth is now owned by just one percent of the population.

• The wealth of the one percent richest people in the world amounts to $110 trillion. That’s 65 times the total wealth of the bottom half of the world’s population.

• The bottom half of the world’s population owns the same as the richest 85 people in the world.

• Seven out of ten people live in countries where economic inequality has increased in the last 30 years.

• The richest one percent increased their share of income in 24 out of 26 countries for which we have data between 1980 and 2012.

• In the US, the wealthiest one percent captured 95 percent of post-financial crisis growth since 2009, while the bottom 90 percent became poorer.

The world economy simply cannot be sustained with this level of inequality. Demand is not where it should be and this is exactly why. If this gap continues to widen, demand will fall and more people will have less money as smaller businesses collapse.

Check out this video clip below from "Morning Joe" which illustrates how this is no longer a left-right divide.


Joe sounds quite a bit like Ronald Reagan in that 1986 speech I cite often. Note that they discuss how it isn't simply one issue like the tax code or the minimum wage but many issues that have coalesced into a fundamental systemic failure.

Barack Obama came to Washington to change it and this could be just the issue to do it. My colleagues on the Right and in the Tea Party assure me that they loathe the political and aristocratic class and its rent seeking as much as I do. So, what are we going to do about it?

Socialist Windmills

The other day in class we were talking about the chemical spill in West Virginia by Freedom Industries (ironic name, no?) and that discussion led into the topic of renewable energy. I mentioned the windmills we see when we drive down to Iowa to visit my in-laws. That was right around the time a student name Billy chimed in. A little background first...

Billy clearly has very conservative parents who feed him a lot of disinformation. When we do current events, he always makes some sort of anti-Obama comment followed by right wing blogsphere nonsense. The rest of the class usually rolls their eyes (even the Republicans) and, invariably, a debate ensues. Billy is a good kid, though, and is a ton of fun.

When the subject of wind power came up, he asked, "You mean those socialist windmills?"

"What makes you think they are socialist?" I wondered.

"Because Democrats support them so that means they are socialist."

After a brief explanation of the differences between the Democratic Party and socialism, as well as assurances from me that wind power in Iowa is privately owned, Billy seemed to understand the nuance.

I have to wonder how much longer we are going to have to clean out plaque from these poor people...

Monday, January 20, 2014

Some Thoughts On Dr. King

The Friday before Dr. King's birthday, I always have students ask me what I think of Dr. King. As I invariably do, I ask them what they think. But this year, I had two freshmen pretty much pin me to the wall in the last five minutes of Civics class and tell me to (once and for all!) give my opinion. So, this is what I told them.

Like many figures in history, Dr, King is "heroified," to use a James Loewen term. To a certain extent, this transformation has done him a great disservice. My primary gripe is that he is consistently made out to be a more secular figure when it was Jesus Christ and His heart of peace and love that drove Dr. King to action. Certainly, he had a profound sense of civic duty for equal rights but we shouldn't mistake the origin of his passion. The other element of his personality I urged my two students to consider is that he was not a perfect man. I wrote about this two years ago and it is still very important to remember. He made mistakes just like anyone else. He had doubts just like anyone else. He had moments of weakness just like anyone else.

In the final analysis, however, our country today is something he would have broken down and cried over with tears of joy. I told the two young women in front of me, one black and one white and best friends since pre-school, that in so many ways his dream has been realized. We aren't perfect in terms of race or prejudice but we have come a very long way. My students children's generation...simply can't conceive of a time when people were treated differently because they were black. It's as foreign to them as a time when people didn't text or have a computer. They just don't grasp the concept and that means that a great stain has more or less been culturally eliminated. I then asked them what they think Dr. King would be doing today if he was around. They both said the same thing.

"Helping people who are sick and who are poor."

His dream continues to be fulfilled.

Sunday, January 19, 2014

Diamonds are Forever

Carl Sagan used to say that we are made of star-stuff. In his book The Cosmic Connection (1973) he wrote:
Our Sun is a second- or third-generation star. All of the rocky and metallic material we stand on, the iron in our blood, the calcium in our teeth, the carbon in our genes were produced billions of years ago in the interior of a red giant star. We are made of star-stuff.
We are recycled from material that was created when stars exploded billions of years ago. The carbon in our bodies has been recycled innumerable times, as it has gone from plants who drew it from the air, into herbivores who ate the plants, into predators who ate the herbivores, then exhaled by the predators, which was then inspired by other plants, which our ancestors ate, and we eat today.

As every kid who read Superman comics knows, you can make diamonds by exerting great pressure and heat on carbon. Synthetic diamonds are now made by high-pressure high-temperature processes in labs: they're harder and more reliable than natural diamonds. You can also make diamonds with a process called chemical vapor deposition, which allows diamonds to be used in heat sinks and electronics.

Diamonds hold a special place in American culture. Diamonds are a girl's best friend. Diamonds are forever. Diamonds are the usually the centerpiece of an engagement ring, symbolizing eternal love. Diamonds are the gift for the sixtieth anniversary (down from the 75th), an occasion that is exceedingly rare. Diamond was long the hardest substance known, but has recently been displaced by wurtzite boron nitride and lonsdaleite.

Diamonds made from the ashes of animals
Now you can have the carbon in the bodies of your loved ones turned into diamonds, so that they too can be forever. Companies in Switzerland and the United States offer services for turning cremated human ash into diamonds.

Depending on the size of the diamond, this can cost from $5,000 to $22,000. The diamonds are usually blue, because of the boron in the body. It takes about a pound of ash to create a diamond.

When we bury our dead or cast their ashes into the sea or a forest, their remains will ultimately return to the cycle of life. Their carbon will be be incorporated into the cells of bacteria and fungi, then plants, then animals and perhaps another person some day.

But if you turn your loved one's ashes into diamonds, their carbon will be locked up forever in a glittering gem, impervious to decay and corruption. Diamond sublimates at 6558ºF, which means diamonds may last until the sun bloats into a red giant in seven billion years, and may even survive that.

Is having your loved one turned into a diamond horribly creepy or hopelessly romantic? Is being a diamond immortality or an eternity of isolation?

Get In The Game

Michael Mann's recent piece in the Times is an excellent call to arms.

This is where scientists come in. In my view, it is no longer acceptable for scientists to remain on the sidelines. I should know. I had no choice but to enter the fray. I was hounded by elected officials, threatened with violence and more — after a single study I co-wrote a decade and a half ago found that the Northern Hemisphere’s average warmth had no precedent in at least the past 1,000 years. Our “hockey stick” graph became a vivid centerpiece of the climate wars, and to this day, it continues to win me the enmity of those who have conflated a problem of science and society with partisan politics.

The right wing blogsphere isn't scary at all. Threats of violence from men with titties don't mean anything. They are full of sound and fury and signify nothing. It's time for more scientists like Mann to recognize that and get into the game.

Interesting Thread

Check out this thread over at the Catholic answers forum. Look familiar?

And this was 9 years ago!!

Saturday, January 18, 2014

Good Words

Now that a 4-year-old has shot and killed another 4-year-old in Detroit, we’re going to again talk about gun control, with predictably the same results. To me, two things are true: (1) Gun advocates who want no registration and management of gun ownership are in fact afraid of their government, and (2) we as a nation have a competency problem when it comes to managing gun ownership. 

Every gun advocate argument I’ve heard that is against better management (not restriction) of gun ownership boils down to the individual or group being afraid any government control will lead to removal of their constitutional right. Until we solve that problem, gun control will only be a dream. Yet when a 4-year-old has access to a loaded rifle that is improperly stored or when a troubled high school student has access to military-grade weapons without military-grade training, oversight or certifications, we have proved ourselves unable to manage gun ownership. Identify the real problems, and perhaps we can together come up with real solutions. (Letter of the Day, Minneapolis Star Tribune)

Gun competency...indeed. Meanwhile, in responsible gun owner land..

Americans who accidentally shot themselves recently: A 31-year-old man, showing off his high-powered rifle to friends, shot off part of his face, Waterville, Maine (November). A 22-year-old woman, handing her brand-new assault rifle to her husband, shot herself (fatally) in the head, Federal Heights, Colo. (May). Two police chiefs shot themselves (Medina, Ohio, in April and Washington, N.H., in June). A 66-year-old firearms instructor, Winona, Minn., shot his finger while explaining to his wife that it was impossible to pull the trigger while the gun is holstered (April). Awkward Wounds: A Columbia, Mo., man shot in the "posterior" while removing his gun from his back pocket (May); a 23-year-old man, Charleston, W.Va., shot in the groin while holstering his weapon (August); a 43-year-old driver, Norfolk, Va., shot in the groin while waving his gun at bystanders who objected to his speeding (August). Waterville: [Morning Sentinel (Waterville), 11-8-2013] Federal: [KMGH-TV (Denver), 5-16-2013] Medina: [Medina Gazette, 4-18-2013] Washington: [WMUR-TV (Manchester), 6-3-2013] Winona: [Winona Daily News, 4-30-2013] Columbia: [KMIZ-TV (Columbia), 5-30-2013] Charleston: [Charleston Daily Mail, 8-28-2013] Norfolk: [WTKR-TV (Norfolk), 8-7-2013]

Lavatory Art

Saw this recently in a stall in NE Minneapolis Pub...

Friday, January 17, 2014

Landowners Only, Please

Aristocracy...just like I said...

Retractions, Please

The United States Senate has released its report on the Attack in Benghazi on September 11, 2012. Here are some key takeaways.

The late Christopher Stevens, the American ambassador, has been partially implicated for the failure of adequate security at the diplomatic compound in Benghazi. The report notes that Mr. Stevens was aware of all of the intelligence reporting on Libya, including updates on the increased risks of anti-Western terrorist attacks that had prompted the C.I.A. to substantially upgrade the security at its own Benghazi facility in June 2012.

At times, Mr. Stevens requested additional security personnel from the State Department in Washington. But the inquiry also found that in June 2012, around the time the threats were mounting, Mr. Stevens recommended hiring and training local Libyan guards to form security teams in Tripoli and Benghazi. The plan showed a faith in local Libyan support that proved misplaced on the night of the attack.

During an Aug. 15, 2012, meeting on the deteriorating security around Benghazi that Mr. Stevens attended, a diplomat stationed there described the situation as “trending negatively,” according to a cable sent the next day and quoted in the report. A diplomatic security officer “expressed concerns with the ability to defend post in the event of a coordinated attack due to limited manpower, security measures, weapons capabilities, host nation support, and the overall size of the compound.”

A C.I.A. officer at the meeting pointed out the location of approximately 10 Islamist militias and Al Qaeda training camps within Benghazi, according to the same cable. After reading the cable, Gen. Carter F. Ham, then the commander of the United States Africa Command, called Mr. Stevens to ask if the embassy in Tripoli needed additional military personnel, potentially for use in Benghazi, “but Stevens told Ham it did not,” the report said. A short time later, General Ham reiterated the offer at a meeting in Germany, and “Stevens again declined,” the report said. The same Aug. 16 cable had also promised that requests “for additional physical security upgrades and staffing needs” for the Benghazi mission would be submitted through the Tripoli embassy, but “the committee has not seen any evidence that those requests were passed on by the embassy, including by the ambassador, to State Department headquarters before the Sept. 11 attacks in Benghazi.”

The Senate reports notes that the CIA bolstered its security at the annex, located near the diplomatic compound and actually paid attention to these reports. Stevens and the people at the State Department in DC did not. The person at the State Department specifically responsible for security at diplomatic compounds was Patrick F Kennedy. Kennedy held a similar job in 1998 when two American Embassies in East Africa were bombed. Clearly, Mr. Kennedy is not capable of doing his job and should never be allowed to be responsible in such a capacity again.

Nowhere in the report do we see secret plots or cover ups that we have been hearing squeak from inside the right wing bubble. No evidence that Hillary Clinton or Barack Obama turned down additional security requests. This bloviation can be summed up quite simply as this. Sorry, folks, the president is better at foreign policy and international security than George W. Bush. Deal with it.

With this new information, I'm expecting some retractions from people who claim they can admit when they are wrong. Let's with Kevin Baker and his bullshit lying.