Sunday, December 28, 2014

As I Was Saying

America has managed to construct an entirely one-dimensional political system. There’s no discernible difference left between left and right, other than in spin language pre-cooked for the sole purpose of faking the concept of elections. There’s very right and ultra right. America is living proof that once money is allowed into politics, the accumulation of it, and of the power it can buy, will and eventually must fully control a democratic system, which in the process, of necessity, suffocates and dies a painful death.

What once was a proud American democracy has been turned into a circus that rolls into town every four years, filled with clowns that pretend to fight each other with over the top grotesque contraptions, but sleep in the same bed once the show is over and the audience has gone home.
Reminds me of my continuing theme, which will be called upon now far more frequently since the networks won't find anything interesting between now and November 2016 except the charade we call the presidential election.

Here's the source of the quotation above.

Wednesday, December 24, 2014

Munch, Munch

In terms of child poverty, the United States ranks 36th out of the 41 wealthiest nations. There are 2.5 million homeless children in the US, an all-time high. 65% of US children live in a home that receives aid from the federal government. 45% of US children belong to low income families. 45% of African-American children in the US live in “areas of concentrated poverty” (slums). The average American is 40% poorer today than before the recession, and 20% of US households will be able to eat Christmas dinner thanks to food stamps, about that many more courtesy of various food banks and charities. (source)
Happy holidays, y'all!

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Let's Go Sailing

And what will we see? The ugly footprint of what we've done to the oceans is what. I tell you, the more I think on it, the more disgusted I've become with what we humans have done to the only planet we have.

A walk on the beach in Mumbai
What you see here in the photo is the shit you can see. What you cannot see nobody but deep-diving deep sea drones can see. And that is a universe of plastic on the sea floor. In recent years the production of plastic has quadrupled, so scientists expected to find much much more of it at the surface than they did.

That's because it's not there. It's down at the bottom of the oceans and seas.

The discovery of microplastic in such remote marine habitats raises new questions about the potential for plastic debris to contaminate the food chain. Scientists have already documented that fish, birds, turtles, and other marine animals eat plastic. Thompson and his team found an even greater accumulation of plastic than previously suspected. The more plastic there is, he says, the more potential for toxicity to marine life.

In the study, Thompson and his team concluded that every square kilometer of deep ocean contains about four billion plastic fibers—most are two to three centimeters in length and as thin as a human hair. The fibers are four times more abundant in the deep sea than in surface and coastal waters.

"Our results show evidence for a large and hitherto unknown repository of microplastics," Thompson wrote. "The prevalence of microfibers in all sediment cores and on all coral colonies examined suggests this contaminant is ubiquitous in the deep sea." source
 Isn't this wonderful news?

Monday, December 15, 2014

As a Public Service . . .

I present what I consider to be a treasure trove of information that almost anybody can find something in that's useful.

What are the most productive ways to spend time on the Internet?
All the below is by /u/Fletch71011-
  • No Excuse List - Includes sources for everything you can want. I included some more popular ones with brief write-ups below. Credit to /u/lix2333.
  • Reddit Resources - Reddit's List of the best online education sources
  • Khan Academy - Educational organization and a website created by Bangladeshi-American educator Salman Khan, a graduate of MIT and Harvard Business School. The website supplies a free online collection of micro lectures stored on YouTube teaching mathematics, history, healthcare and medicine, finance, physics, chemistry, biology, astronomy, economics, cosmology, organic chemistry, American civics, art history, macroeconomics, microeconomics, and computer science.
  • Ted Talks - Talks that address a wide range of topics ("ideas worth spreading") within the research and practice of science and culture, often through storytelling. Many famous academics have given talks, and they are usually short and easy to digest.
  • Coursera - Coursera partners with various universities and makes a few of their courses available online free for a large audience. Founded by computer science professors, so again a heavy CS emphasis.
  • Wolfram Alpha - Online service that answers factual queries directly by computing the answer from structured data, rather than providing a list of documents or web pages that might contain the answer as a search engine might. Unbelievable what this thing can compute; you can ask it near anything and find an answer.
  • Udacity - Outgrowth of free computer science classes offered in 2011 through Stanford University. Plans to offer more, but concentrated on computer science for now.
  • MIT OpenCourseWare - Initiative of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology to put all of the educational materials from its undergraduate- and graduate-level courses online, partly free and openly available to anyone, anywhere.
  • Open Yale Courses - Provides free and open access to a selection of introductory courses taught by distinguished teachers and scholars at Yale University.
  • Codecademy - Online interactive platform that offers free coding classes in programming languages like Python, JavaScript, and Ruby, as well as markup languages including HTML and CSS. Gives your points and "level ups" like a video game, which is why I enjoyed doing classes here. Not lecture-oriented either; usually just jump right into coding, which works best for those that have trouble paying attention.
  • Team Treehouse - Alternative to Codecademy which has video tutorials. EDIT: Been brought to my attention that Team Treehouse is not free, but I included it due to many comments. Nick Pettit, teaching team lead at Treehouse, created a 50% off discount code for redditors. Simply use 'REDDIT50'. Karma goes to Mr. Pettit if you enjoyed or used this.
  • Think Tutorial - Database of simple, easy to follow tutorials covering all aspects of popular computing. Includes lots of easier, basic tasks for your every day questions or new users.
  • Memrise - Online learning tool that uses flashcards augmented with mnemonics—partly gathered through crowdsourcing—and the spacing effect to boost the speed and ease of learning. Several languages available to learn.
  • Livemocha - Commercial online language learning community boasting 12 million members which provides instructional materials in 38 languages and a platform for speakers to interact with and help each other learn new languages.
  • edX - Massive open online course platform founded by Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Harvard University to offer online university-level courses in a wide range of disciplines to a worldwide audience at no charge. Many other universities now take part in it, including Cal Berkeley. Differs from most of these by including "due dates" with assignments and grades.
  • Education portal - Free courses which allow you to pass exams to earn real college credit.
  • uReddit - Made by Redditors for other Redditors. Tons of different topics, varying from things like science and art to Starcraft strategy.
  • iTunes U - Podcasts from a variety of places including universities and colleges on various subjects.
  • Stack Exchange - Group of question and answer websites on topics in many different fields, each website covering a specific topic, where questions, answers, and users are subject to a reputation award process. Stack Overflow is used for programming, probably their most famous topic. Self-moderated with reputation similar to Reddit.
  • Wikipedia - Collaboratively edited, multilingual, free Internet encyclopedia. Much better source than most people give it credit for, and great for random learning whenever you need it. For those looking for more legit sources for papers and such, it is usually easy to jump to a Wikipedia page and grab some sources at the bottom.
Back to sane mode.
  • Ninite - Something I myself can personally recommend, its a safe download site with no toolbars and malware. Any software you need will be there, and I have discovered a lot of software there. (DELETED)
  • Free Electronic Component Samples from Texas Instruments - OP just had a $15 voltage regulator delivered for free. You need to create a free account, and then you get something like four free samples a month. This is incredibly useful for some harder to find parts. Plus they're good quality, as far as I know, and they ship fast using FedEx. (/u/LXL15)
  • The First Row - semi ILLEGAL site to watch sports events, proceed at your own risk. Many sports events are available there. (DELETED)
  • Pixlr Editor - Basic picture editor that will irritate people using Photoshop, but its easy and free, and if I'm using a crappy computer without any software (like I am now) I'd go there. (/u/xCry0x)
  • Mint- get your finances firmly under control. Downloads and categorizes transactions from your Debit and Credit accounts, and even tracks Mortgages and Car Loans. It allows you to set budgets for expenditures of certain types and then tracks those on a month-to-month basis and will nag you when you're spending too much on something. (/u/icyliquid)

Sunday, December 14, 2014

Andy Bacevich Again

Consider the following claims, each of which in Washington circles has attained quasi-canonical status.

* The presence of US forces in the Islamic world contributes to regional stability and enhances American influence.
* The Persian Gulf constitutes a vital US national security interest.
* Egypt and Saudi Arabia are valued and valuable American allies.
* The interests of the United States and Israel align.
* Terrorism poses an existential threat that the United States must defeat.

For decades now, the first four of these assertions have formed the foundation of US policy in the Middle East. The events of 9/11 added the fifth, without in any way prompting a reconsideration of the first four. On each of these matters, no senior US official (or anyone aspiring to a position of influence) will dare say otherwise, at least not on the record.

Yet subjected to even casual scrutiny, none of the five will stand up. To take them at face value is the equivalent of believing in Santa Claus or the tooth fairy — or that John Boehner and Mitch McConnell really, really hope that the Obama administration and the upcoming Republican-controlled Congress can find grounds to cooperate.

Let’s examine all five, one at a time.

The Presence of US Forces: Ever since the US intervention in Lebanon that culminated in the Beirut bombing of October 1983, introducing American troops into predominantly Muslim countries has seldom contributed to stability. On more than a few occasions, doing so has produced just the opposite effect.

Iraq and Afghanistan provide mournful examples. The new book Why We Lost by retired Lieutenant General Daniel Bolger finally makes it permissible in official circles to declare those wars the failures that they have been. Even granting, for the sake of argument, that US nation-building efforts were as pure and honorable as successive presidents portrayed them, the results have been more corrosive than constructive. The IS militants plaguing Iraq find their counterpart in the soaring production of opium that plagues Afghanistan. This qualifies as stability?
America’s New War in the Middle East

And these are hardly the only examples. Stationing US troops in Saudi Arabia after Operation Desert Storm was supposed to have a reassuring effect. Instead, it produced the debacle of the devastating Khobar Towers bombing. Sending G.I.’s into Somalia back in 1992 was supposed to demonstrate American humanitarian concern for poor, starving Muslims. Instead, it culminated in the embarrassing Mogadishu firefight, which gained the sobriquet Black Hawk Down and doomed that mission.

Even so, the pretense that positioning American soldiers in some Middle East hotspot will bring calm to troubled waters survives. It’s far more accurate to say that doing so provides our adversaries with what soldiers call a target-rich environment — with Americans as the targets.

The Importance of the Persian Gulf: Although US interests in the Gulf may once have qualified as vital, the changing global energy picture has rendered that view obsolete. What’s probably bad news for the environment is good news in terms of creating strategic options for the United States. New technologies have once again made the United States the world’s largest producer of oil. The US is also the world’s largest producer of natural gas. It turns out that the lunatics chanting “drill, baby, drill” were right after all. Or perhaps it’s “frack, baby, frack.” Regardless, the assumed energy dependence and “vital interests” that inspired Jimmy Carter to declare back in 1980 that the Gulf is worth fighting for no longer pertain.

Access to Gulf oil remains critically important to some countries, but surely not to the United States. When it comes to propping up the wasteful and profligate American way of life, Texas and North Dakota outrank Saudi Arabia and Kuwait in terms of importance. Rather than worrying about Iraqi oil production, Washington would be better served ensuring the safety and well-being of Canada, with its bountiful supplies of shale oil. And if militarists ever find the itch to increase US oil reserves becoming irresistible, they would be better advised to invade Venezuela than to pick a fight with Iran.
Does the Persian Gulf require policing from the outside? Maybe. But if so, let’s volunteer China for the job. It will keep them out of mischief.

Arab Allies: It’s time to reclassify the US relationship with both Egypt and Saudi Arabia. Categorizing these two important Arab states as “allies” is surely misleading. Neither one shares the values to which Washington professes to attach such great importance.
For decades, Saudi Arabia, planet Earth’s closest equivalent to an absolute monarchy, has promoted anti-Western radical jihadism — and not without effect. The relevant numbers here are two that most New Yorkers will remember: 15 out of 19. If a conspiracy consisting almost entirely of Russians had succeeded in killing several thousand Americans, would US authorities give the Kremlin a pass? Would US-Russian relations remain unaffected? The questions answer themselves.
Meanwhile, after a brief dalliance with democracy, Egypt has once again become what it was before: a corrupt, oppressive military dictatorship unworthy of the billions of dollars of military assistance that Washington provides from one year to the next.

Israel: The United States and Israel share more than a few interests in common. A commitment to a “two-state solution” to the Palestinian problem does not number among them. On that issue, Washington’s and Tel Aviv’s purposes diverge widely. In all likelihood, they are irreconcilable.
For the government of Israel, viewing security concerns as paramount, an acceptable Palestinian state will be the equivalent of an Arab Bantustan, basically defenseless, enjoying limited sovereignty and possessing limited minimum economical potential. Continuing Israeli encroachments on the occupied territories, undertaken in the teeth of American objections, make this self-evident.
It is, of course, entirely the prerogative — and indeed the obligation — of the Israeli government to advance the well being of its citizens. US officials have a similar obligation: they are called upon to act on behalf of Americans. And that means refusing to serve as Israel’s enablers when that country takes actions that are contrary to US interests.
The “peace process” is a fiction. Why should the United States persist in pretending otherwise? It’s demeaning.

Terrorism: Like crime and communicable diseases, terrorism will always be with us. In the face of an outbreak of it, prompt, effective action to reduce the danger permits normal life to continue. Wisdom lies in striking a balance between the actually existing threat and exertions undertaken to deal with that threat. Grown-ups understand this. They don’t expect a crime rate of zero in American cities. They don’t expect all people to enjoy perfect health all of the time. The standard they seek is “tolerable.”

That terrorism threatens Americans is no doubt the case, especially when they venture into the greater Middle East. But aspirations to eliminate terrorism belong in the same category as campaigns to end illiteracy or homelessness: it’s okay to aim high, but don’t be surprised when the results achieved fall short.

Eliminating terrorism is a chimera. It’s not going to happen. US civilian and military leaders should summon the honesty to acknowledge this.

My friend M has put his finger on a problem that is much larger than he grasps. Here’s hoping that when he gets his degree he lands an academic job. It’s certain he’ll never find employment in our nation’s capital. As a soldier-turned-scholar, M inhabits what one of George W. Bush’s closest associates (believed to be Karl Rove) once derisively referred to as the “reality-based community.” People in Washington don’t have time for reality. They’re lost in a world of their own.  Source

Saturday, December 13, 2014

Forever War

War thrusts power into the hands of those who covet it. Only the perpetuation of war, whether under the guise of “keeping us safe” or “spreading freedom,” can satisfy the appetite of those for whom the exercise of power is its own reward. Only war will perpetuate their prerogatives and shield them from accountability. … War is the health of the state. Headline-grabbing scandals involving the national security apparatus come and go. Today’s is just one more in a long series extending back decades. As long as the individuals and entities comprising that apparatus persist in their commitment to permanent war, little of substance will change.” Andrew J. Bacevich.  Source

Saturday, November 22, 2014

Sigh . . .

Friday, November 21, 2014

I'm Back with some Observations

. . . for a little while at least. Went to Florida over the past weekend and it's taken me a couple of days to recover from the good times my two sons showed me . . . and from the household with eight cats I stayed in in Valrico, FL, before the wedding.

It snowed while I was gone from Oklahoma. That's news. November before Thanksgiving is pretty early for that. It's gone now, and I loved the sandals and shorts routine every day in Florida. Makes me remember what I miss. And all the birds. I miss all the sea birds that are everywhere down there. I miss veggie and fruit stands year round by the side of the road. I miss the young chickadees in halter tops and shorts. Don't miss the traffic.

Glad to be home, but Susan has talked me into launching again next week for Louisiana. Will be gone another week.

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Out of this World

It's 300 million miles away!

How can we be such idiots on the face of the earth? I mean all the useless killing, the king's ransom countries pay for weapons and killing instead of for human needs, the heedless pollution of our planet, and our determination to destroy ourselves by continuing to heat up the Earth until it cooks us all. And then one day the news tells you that human beings have succeeded in landing a craft on the surface of a comet speeding towards the sun at over 34,000 mph. Landing a craft from an orbiter of the comet which has been there for a number of weeks. An orbiter that took ten years to rendezvous with this comet. This kind of thing truly takes my breath away. How is it that creatures who can do this--and not just do it, but have a burning desire to do it--cannot figure out how to live in peace with their fellow man on the only home we have?

This mission, carried out by the European space agency, promises to provide tons of information we don't have now about the composition, makeup, and behavior of these plenteous citizens of the solar system. They hold keys to the origins of the universe itself. Wow. Stupendous.

Saturday, November 8, 2014

The Eternal Divide: A Broken Record

Some things I encounter have to be put out there in toto, or much of the point is lost. When once the country rolls over and dies because of the disparity of wealth, such pieces as this will seem prescient. Every single one of these points is telling (not to mention outrageous), but I'm absolutely convinced that no one in this country is the least bit concerned. We're more intent on fiddling while the country falls down about our ears.
This article--and it's not included in its entirety--appeared on the Alternet blog. It's just variation on a theme that's been echoing through the nation's consciousness for several years now. But it doesn't seem to be striking any chords.
 A recent posting detailed how upper middle class Americans are rapidly losing ground to the one-percenters who averaged $5 million in wealth gains over just three years. It also noted that the global 1% has increased their wealth from $100 trillion to $127 trillion in just three years.
The information came from the Credit Suisse 2014 Global Wealth Databook (GWD), which goes on to reveal much more about the disappearing middle class.
1. Each Year Since the Recession, America's Richest 1% Have Made More Than the Cost of All U.S. Social Programs
In effect, a reverse transfer from the poor to the rich. Even as conservatives blame Social Security for being too costly.
Much of the 1% wealth just sits there, accumulating more wealth. The numbers are nearly unfathomable. Depending on the estimate, the 1% took in anywhere from $2.3 trillion to $5.7 trillion per year. (All numeric analysis is detailed here.)
Even the smaller estimate of $2.3 trillion per year is more than the budget for Social Security ($860 billion), Medicare ($524 billion), Medicaid ($304 billion), and the entire safety net ($286 billion for SNAP, WIC [Women, Infants, Children], Child Nutrition, Earned Income Tax Credit, Supplemental Security Income, Temporary Assistance for Needy Families, and Housing).
2. Almost None of the New 1% Wealth Led To Innovation and Jobs
In 2005, for every $1 of financial wealth there was 66 cents of non-financial (home) wealth. Ten years later, for every $1 of financial wealth there was just 43 cents of non-financial (home) wealth.
What happens to all this financial wealth?
Over 90% of the assets owned by millionaires are held in low-risk investments (bonds and cash), the stock market, and real estate. Business startup costs made up less than 1% of the investments of high net worth individuals in North America in 2011. A recent study found that less than 1 percent of all entrepreneurs came from very rich or very poor backgrounds. They come from the middle class.
On the corporate side, stock buybacks are employed to enrich executives rather than to invest in new technologies. In 1981, major corporations were spending less than 3 percent of their combined net income on buybacks, but in recent years they've been spending up to 95 percent of their profits on buybacks and dividends.
3. Just 47 Wealthy Americans Own More Than Half of the U.S. Population
Oxfam reported that just 85 people own as much as half the world. Here in the U.S., with nearly a third of the world's wealth, just 47 individuals own more than all 160 million people (about 60 million households) below the median wealth level of about $53,000.
4. The Upper Middle Class of America Owns a Smaller Percentage of Wealth Than the Corresponding Groups in All Major Nations Except Russia and Indonesia.
The upper middle class in the U.S., defined as everyone in the top half below the richest 20%, owns 11.9 percent of the wealth. Indonesia at 10.5 percent and Russia at 7.5 percent are worse off, but in all other nations the corresponding upper middle classes own 12 to 27 percent of the wealth.
America's bottom half compares even less favorably to the world: dead last, with just 1.3 percent of national wealth. Only Russia comes close to that dismal share, at 1.9 percent. The bottom half in all other nations own 2.6 to 10.2 percent of the wealth.
5. Ten Percent of the World's Total Wealth Was Taken by the Global 1% in the Past Three Years
As in the U.S., the middle class is disappearing at the global level. An incredible one of every ten dollars of global wealth was transferred to the elite 1% in just three years. A level of inequality deemed unsustainable three years ago has gotten even worse.
 This is the bad news, and it's surely bad enough, but if you continue to read the article, it goes on to suggest that a so-called transaction tax could be used to get the richest to contribute their fair share towards the cost of everything. They don't pay anywhere near that now, you can be sure.

Thursday, November 6, 2014

Pretty Much It

I'm no undying fan of the Democratic party, but compared to the alternative, it's far preferable. Basically I think money calls the tune in American politics, and it doesn't give a damn which party is in power. But money likes Republicans better. The Republicans like business, they like large concentrations of wealth, they hate regulation of just about any kind especially of business and industry. The Democrats--well, they're another story. They are more flexible, more in tune with the population that has to work for a living and all of their problems. I know all generalizations are unfair and not even true if there is but one exception, but I would contend that the Democrats tend to be more compassionate in their desire to have the greater society through the agency of the government tend to people's needs when they are in need. For all these reasons and a bunch more I have not enumerated, the Republican sweep in Tuesday's elections is disheartening. The common wisdom says the voters were expressing their disgust with Washington, with Obama, and the status quo, so they voted against the Democrats. But it seems to me that putting the lunatics in charge of the asylum is not quite the right move. There's more than a little truth in the cartoon below.

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

One Bright Spot

The one bright spot amidst the carnage wreaked on the Democrats Tuesday was the thumbs up given in several states for various marijuana initiatives. Two states--Oregon and Alaska legalized weed outright, and the District of Columbia legalized possession of up to two ounces. That, brothers and sisters, is a lot of hemp. 58 percent of Florida voters approved medical marijuana (but it takes 60 percent to pass there.) In New Jersey reformed the bail system to allow low level possession arrestees out much more easily. California reclassified possession of small amounts of grass from a felony to misdemeanor. And so on. This is a train that's not going to be stopped. And this is a good thing.

Full story here.

Tuesday, November 4, 2014

Not So Fast

As somebody commented, let's not rush into anything. Let's see if this is actually going to last.

Monday, November 3, 2014

The Winning GOP Strategy

Ain't this the truth?

Doesn't this just about sum up politics and indeed life in America? I cannot believe I've actually heard Republicans flapping their jaws about "restoring funding to the military"!! Words fail me.

Sunday, November 2, 2014

God Only Knows

My absolute most favorite Beach Boys song ever. Leave it to the BBC to make it even more fetching. Awesome stuff.

Saturday, November 1, 2014

Map of World Wealth

Where the Fat Cats Are

The map of world wealth

This is a map of the world weighted not by land mass or navigation lines but around how much wealth each country has. As you can see, North America and Western Europe balloon to enormous proportions — even after adjusting for purchasing power, 46 percent of global wealth in 2002 was in their hands. The horror of this map is the shrunken husk of Africa. That’s a lot of people living with very little.

Monday, October 27, 2014

The New Brutalism

Fascinating article today in "Truthout" by Henry Giroux. About the "new historical conjuncture" of:
attacks on higher education as a democratic institution and on dissident public voices in general - whether journalists, whistleblowers or academics - are intensifying with sobering consequences. The attempts to punish prominent academics such as Ward Churchill, Steven Salaita and others are matched by an equally vicious assault on whistleblowers such as Chelsea Manning, Jeremy Hammond and Edward Snowden, and journalists such as James Risen. (1) Under the aegis of the national surveillance-security-secrecy state, it becomes difficult to separate the war on whistleblowers and journalists from the war on higher education - the institutions responsible for safeguarding and sustaining critical theory and engaged citizenship.
These attacks have been labeled "the new brutalism in academia."

This is far too good and lengthy piece for me to try and summarize. Suffice it to say, it's a cogent critique of what our deification of the market has done to us not only in the educational sphere but also in just about any others that matter. It's taken anti-intellectualism in America to undreamt of depths.

Sunday, October 26, 2014

Ebola: A Poem

No Stranger to Anyone

 My latest:


Spawned of muddy puddles and ditches
in the shady green gloom and heat of
a savage, peace-starved chunk of continent,
a thin jungle meander that switches anon to
the Mongala and miles ahead, worlds away,
arced steamy Congo, king of rivers.

Another place, another time, fates might
have been more kind. Let you be a candy
bar, well-known snack brand or healthy nut,
or designate some precious gem unearthed
near your bank, glistening pink in palest light.
You might have been a princess’s name or
whole line of royalty: Ebola IV, Castle Builder,
All-Conquering Spear. Or cloak with
glory some natural splendor: Ebolian sunsets
touching the fronds and creepers with fire,
postcards in the gritty shops of Kinshasa.

But here in this place Cain’s curse smears your winding
coils with rancid ordure, puke, and pain. And
so suffuses your soul with venom the Mantra 
of our Age is all you know: 
Kill, Kill, Kill, Kill, Kill

Thursday, October 23, 2014

The National Pastime

And no I don't mean baseball, even though we're in the midst of what might be a real interesting World Series. I mean the national pastime of pretending that college athletics is not riddled with fraud and cloaked with lies from the top of its (mostly empty) head to the soles of its $300 sneakers/cleats/whatever footwear. This is all over the news today:  
Tarred Heels: For 18 years athletes at the University of North Carolina have been guided into classes in the Department of African and Afro-American Studies which do not meet, have no professors, and give A's and B's to everyone, especially football and basketball players. The theory is that no one in the University's administration knew this was happening, and no one above the rank of water-boy in the Athletic department had a clue either.
OK, so a prestigious university--it was invariably described on TV news as one of the great paragons of learning in the US--has been cheating by falsifying the academic attainments of its athletes at least since 1993. So what else is new? Can you tell me with a straight face that you think the majority of college athletes are "student athletes"? As in, working for a degree while they play sports? Can you honestly believe that these coddled providers of unholy amounts of revenue for their schools are not in some privileged and special category when it comes to anything academic, such as classes, tests, grades, and GPA? You think UNC is the only place something like this is going on? And that everyone in university administration or with the least bit of connection to the athletic departments in all these schools doesn't know what's going on? [Insert audible derisive scoff here.]

The thing that gets me is, this fiction that these largely underprivileged kids are "in school" while they're playing football or basketball and probably other things too (but the big money-makers are the ones named) is embraced (I cannot believe it's believed) by millions and millions of people. Its one of the great lies that's gained national assent and it takes its dishonorable place daily among a number of other lamentable nationwide delusions.

We are a doomed people.       

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Process Theology

It is really interesting and exciting stuff, but you cannot get from here to there on it in a hundred words or less. Our little tiny congregation church of progressive Christians had fully 14 people attend the first book club discussion on a book by John Cobb and David Griffin entitled Process Theology: an Introductory Exposition. (To give you an idea of what kind of congregation this is, on a good Sunday we will have 25-30 people attend services. So that means about half the people in the church will first of all read a heavy, academic assignment, and then come out on a weeknight for a 90-minute discussion.)

 Here's the scoop in only the most general terms: it's a 20th century attempt to apply the concepts of Alfred North Whitehead's philosophy to our thinking about God. It is dense and fun stuff. Its chief progenitors are John B. Cobb, Jr. and Charles Hartshorne. And it is seminal in the thinking of progressive Christians, although most of us may not even be aware of origins, we embrace the main ideas. I'll be writing about this some more, but for now let me lay out the concepts of God that process thinking rejects. You cannot but notice that these ideas are foundational in traditional unitheistic religions. So we will not take as our starting point the following assumptions about God:
  1. God as cosmic moralist, that his fundamental concern is the development of moral attitudes. Which makes such attitudes intrinsic to the basic importance of human beings. No.
  2. God as the Unchanging and Passionless Absolute. God is not really related to the world, that his influence upon the world is "in no way conditioned by divine responsiveness to unforeseen, self-determining activities of us worldly beings." No.
  3. God as controlling power who determines every detail of the world, even down to deciding who dies in natural disasters, finding a parking place, or who wins a football game. No.
  4. God sanctions the status quo. The previous three notions set the stage for this one. Cosmic moralist = primary interest in order; unchanging absolute = God has established an unchangeable order for the world; controlling power = God wills the present to exist. Therefore obedience to God is preserving the status quo. No.
  5. God is male. He is the archetype of the "dominant, inflexible, unemotional, completely independent (read 'strong') male. No.
More on all this later. As you might imagine, if you start with the rejection of these age-old notions of the nature of God, you're definitely not in Kansas anymore.

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Just for Edification

Military budget.  List of countries by military expenditures (in billions of US dollars):
Source: Here

As has been observed time and again, the U.S. outspends the next nine biggest military spenders combined. This country spends almost 37 percent of all the money spent by the entire world for military purposes. With our country coming apart and falling down, doesn't this seem like the basest stupidity? And to think: we've got idiots in Congress saying we don't spend enough.

Monday, October 20, 2014

Ubiquitous Stalker

Have you checked the newspapers lately? Magazines? And most of all cable TV? Have you noticed that there's growing terror about Ebola? Some ridiculous figure like 41 percent of Americans fear a serious outbreak of the disease in the United States? You cannot escape the "continuing coverage" of this story. You may be getting to the point where you can't stand to hear the E-word any longer, but the media is salivating, masturbating over just about anything remotely connected with Ebola. Stories about "Mr. Duncan," the Liberian victim of the disease, who died in a Dallas hospital about 2 weeks ago. And stories about the couple of health care workers he had who have come down with the disease. Aren't we getting tired of seeing people in plastic space suits carrying stuff out of cheap Dallas apartments? Aren't we tired of seeing that NIH doctor talking to yet another talking head about what he talked about yesterday and five times already today?

I wonder how often I have to observe the ignorance and stupidity of the American people. Indeed, I could probably start another whole blog and organize it around that theme. Ever since 9/11 the country has been victimized by a ubiquitous stalker who's name is Fear, surname Unreasoning. I think somewhere in all this clutter I learned that you have a much better chance of being struck by lightening than you do of contracting Ebola in this country. That should be more than enough perspective for most people to apply their brains to. But it ain't.

Sunday, October 19, 2014

Our Biggest Public Program

The United States’ biggest public program of the past 75 years, now outstripping the rest of the world combined, is war preparations. The routine “base” military spending, not counting spending on particular wars, is at least 10 times the war spending, or enough to totally transform the world for the better. Instead it’s used to kill huge numbers of people, to make the United States less safe, and to prepare for wars that are — without exception — lost disastrously. Since the justification of the Soviet Union vanished, U.S. militarism has only increased. Its enemies are small, yet it does its best to enlarge them. U.S. Special Operations forces are actively, if “secretly,” engaged in war or war preparations in over two-thirds of the nations on earth. U.S. troops are openly stationed in 90 percent of the nations on earth, and 100 percent of the oceans. A majority of the people in most nations on earth consider the United States the greatest threat to world peace. Source
 The cost of this madness is beyond astronomical; it's almost beyond calculation. We had a presentation in church this morning about the numbers of LGBT kids who are on the streets homeless because they have been thrown out of their homes by their parents. And how the Congress of the United States is cutting to the bone federal funds for providing housing and care for the homeless. We are now engaged in yet another war in the Middle East that's going to suck more of our fast-diminishing sustenance from us for who knows how many years? I cannot for the life of me understand what the American people are thinking about allowing their government to so misuse the citizenry of this country, who have desperate life-threatening needs being ignored so we can play emperor of the world. Take that back: I think if I try real hard, I can understand how the people have been duped into supporting our imperialism. What I cannot understand is how long it is taking the country to get wise to being consistently violated by the mad rapists in the Pentagon and their pimps in the Congress and the Executive department.  

Friday, October 17, 2014

I'm Getting Inspired

 . . . to write a poem about Ebola. I'll post it here when it's done. Yeah, yeah. A gruesome subject, but life is poetry, and something surely should be made over this killer disease which we're hearing about more and more every day. Tell you the truth, I'm finding it hard to get out of mind, which is a sure sign there's a poem in it. And the news is getting more and more horrific as befits a disease that is simply brutal on its victims. And the numbers they're talking about are really getting scarey. I'm wondering when the rest of the world is going to get serious about what's happening in West Africa. Yes, we are our brothers' keeper, and something terrible is afoot there. We--that is the rest of the world--needs to step up to this crisis, or it will arrive soon at their own door steps.
Logistics: There's a reason that armies spend a lot of time, money and attention on the little details involved in fielding troops – if you don't have solid logistical support, the mission fails. For example, the WHO is estimating that by December there will be at least 10,000 new Ebola victims a week. Never mind how many trained medical personnel, hospital beds, isolation wards and such will be needed, think about what to do with 7,000 corpses a week when there are only 50 safe-burial teams in the region. The CDC says, worst case, there will be 1,370,000 infected by mid January, which means that at current rates there will be about a million dead by mid February.

Thursday, October 16, 2014

Another One

A second nurse who helped take care of Ebola victim Robert Duncan in Dallas has come down with the disease. Now, I'm not among the panic stricken here that see an outbreak occurring in the U.S. at any minute, but this news does give me pause. For I seem to recall a couple of weeks ago how one of the big wigs at the Dallas hospital was telling us that the "U.S. is not West Africa" and that everything here was in hand. You could not escape the impression that this ebola case was an aberration, and that our technology and general excellence would more than be enough for this virus. Just one question: what do you say to this now? Especially since you realize it's quite likely that the second shoe hasn't even dropped yet.

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

"Life is Tragic . . . " James Baldwin

Life is tragic simply because the earth turns, and the sun inexorably rises and sets, and one day, for each of us, the sun will go down for the last, last time. Perhaps the whole root of our trouble, the human trouble, is that we will sacrifice all the beauty of our lives, will imprison ourselves in totems, taboos, crosses, blood sacrifices, steeples, mosques, races, armies, flags, nations, in order to deny the fact of death, which is the only fact we have. It seems to me that one ought to rejoice in the fact of death—ought to decide, indeed, to earn one’s death by confronting with passion the conundrum of life. Quoted here.
I'm not so sure it's all about the denial of death, when so much human activity, a large part of Baldwin names, seems to affirm death, not deny it. Is this just semantics?

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Where Have You Been?

Don't ask. I've been around. You all know the dismal world news . . . my personal news isn't all that thrilling, but at least it should not send you into depression. A week ago I was winding a clock on my mantel and fell off a stool right onto my tail bone. Tell you what: it hurts like hell even today. I could not get to doctor till tomorrow (I was out of town Thursday and Friday--oh, the joy of riding in an airplane with a wounded tail--on yourself, not the plane.). Everybody says they will tell me there's nothing they can do. I'd settle for some pain meds that actually work. I'm wondering if I'm not getting inured to those things. I don't recall the Oxycodone I was given after my operation last February being all that effective, but maybe that's just lingering nightmare.

Saturday, September 27, 2014

Yes, They Are What You Don't Want to Think They Are

Yes, Indeed They Are

What you see above are "cookies." These are cookies that a kid brought to her second grade classroom as the weekly reward for her classmates' good work. Her mother made them for the class. Her feminist, insane mother. She told the teacher that she thought it would be a good teaching aid for the second graders to learn about vaginas. (No, I am not making this up. How could anybody make up such a thing?) You can read the whole story from the teacher's keyboard right here. Including and not to be missed, the email from the mom to the teacher after the nasty shouting incident in the classroom in front of all the second-graders in which the word "vagina" was used in a loud voice at least 987,000 times, according to the teacher. The email which ended "I hope you end up with an abusive husband that beats on you every night."

We are a doomed people.

Thursday, September 25, 2014

Break a Leg!

Are you ready for this? Some guy in Portland, Oregon, had his leg broken in multiple places as the result of an altercation with employees of a Costco store. The dude, named Timothy Walls, is suing the story for $670,000. Apparently he took exception to an employee of the store grabbing his basket as he was leaving because he had not shown his sales receipt on his way out. (They do this at Sam's too, but with people who are so old they make me look young. One presumes it was the same in Portland, but we don't know from the news story.)  According to the report, another employee--not the one who performed the original stop--laid some sort of Ninja move that he learned in the military on Walls and that resulted in the multiple fractures to his leg. Walls claims the store did not have the right to detain him just because he had not shown his receipt.

I tell you this story not because it's surprising--who knows anymore in this country what can happen to you if you exhibit any kind of behavior outside the norm?--but because my sympathies are automatically with the shopper, and I wonder how you feel about it after reading the account.

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Same Formula, Same Result

Sign is from six years ago; the sentiment is timeless

Our Nobel Peace Prize winning president has launched us into another war in the Middle East. I don't know how much more cockamamie the reasoning has to be before somebody with some sense in Congress or anywhere else stands up and hollers "This is bullshit!" All of it. Every last scrap. Haven't we learned anything from the past ten years of war? Here we are embarking on another crusade for truth, justice, and the American way against enemies we've characterized as more evil than Satan. Wasn't this what we said about the communists? Al Qaeda? Every enemy we've ever had?

Now here we are again: committing the country to a war to solve a problem that from the beginning the administration and the Pentagon both say there is no military solution for. In what universe does this make sense? We've been here, we've done this. We're not even fully extracted from the disaster that was the Afghanistan war. And of course you've noticed that the administration and the generals are all being very careful to tell us that this action will not be of short duration. It will take years.

My God. How many more billions are we going to sink into the business of killing? We are an insane people to put up with this while our own country is falling down around our ears.

Here are some links of people who are as distressed as I am: no military solution; apocalypse now; real reason we're bombing Syria.

Monday, September 22, 2014

Cowardly Dissimulating Midgets

The wonderful phrase is James Kuntsler's from his angry blog this week entitled "Barbarism vs Stupidism" which begins thus: "In my lifetime, the USA has not blundered into a more incoherent, feckless, and unfavorable foreign policy quandary than we see today." Notice, he tells us, how the crisis in Ukraine has disappeared from the news and front pages. Why? Because:
The US-led campaign to tilt Ukraine to Euroland and NATO — and away from the Russian-led Eurasian Customs Union — turned an “intelligence” fiasco into a strategic humiliation for the Obama White House. . . . So, the reason that all this has vanished from the news media is that it’s game-over in Ukraine. We busted it up, and can do more with it, and pretty soon the rump Ukraine region run out of Kiev will go crawling back to Russia begging for a little heating fuel.
And this before he sinks his teeth into the incredibly insane policy we've just initiated in Syria.
Does any tattoo-free American adult outside the Kardashian-NFL mass hypnosis matrix feel confident about the trajectory of US policy regarding the so-called Islamic State (ISIS, ISIL)? First, there is the astonishing humiliation that this ragtag band of psychopaths managed to undo ten years, 4,500 US battle deaths, and $1+ trillion worth of nation-building effort in Iraq in a matter of a few weeks this summer. The US public does not seem to have groked the damage to our honor, self-confidence, and international standing in this debacle. . . .
We’ll look back on these weirdly placid years after the 2008 train wreck with amazement. These are the rudderless years of no leadership, of cowardly dissimulating midgets. A people can only take so much of that.  
Although I agree almost totally with Kuntsler, particularly in his disgust for the imbecility that passes for leadership of this country, I'm not sure I agree that the NLF-saturated, smug, overfed gullible idiots who allow their government get away with so many monstrous lies and to perpetrate an unending stream of outrages on common sense without taking to the streets in dudgeon right now will one day be stirred enough to register some massive protest to these crimes. I agree with the general proposition that people can only take so much, but don't you see? We're past the point of doing anything about it. We've let things go too far to get anything changed without a blood bath ensuing. We'll be gunned down like dogs if the national security state decides that we finally get it. And half of us, at least, will be right there with the storm troopers applauding the final crushing of American constitutional democracy, not that we're not well on the road already.

Sunday, September 21, 2014

It's Far Worse

"When I woke up today, I thought I knew roughly how much of a problem income inequality is in America. But then I saw this graph showing just how much the richest 1 percent make, and it shook me to my core so completely that I now realize everything I thought I knew is wrong: The bottom 70 percent of Americans are actually experiencing NEGATIVE growth since the year 2000. Down is really up! The richest 1 percent have tripled their money EVERY year since 2005." (Source)

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Tight vs. Not

Another Version of Red
Apologies for the cramped image. This was the best the software could arrange. You will find the source of this interesting view of the US here. (I should note here that the disappeared states of New Hampshire and Maine are the same color as their New England neighbors, i.e., not up tight.

"According to the study, states with strict regulations in their communities — such as dry counties, frequent death penalty sentences, strict school discipline and gay marriage bans — are "tight." Everything from the numbers of cops per capita to rates of substance use to the availability and access to booze, were considered when classifying some states as "tighter" — meaning "strongly enforced rules and little tolerance for deviance" — than their "loose" neighbors, in this case meaning states with "greater tolerance for deviance."

There's considerably more that went into it, and reading the source that is referenced above will give you a fuller picture. I cannot say I'm very surprised by this.

Saturday, September 13, 2014

Neighborly Spirit in HI

I cannot believe stuff like this happens. I guess I'm just too old and naive. And she's got her little kid in the car. What's he going to turn out like? I cannot imagine acting like this in front of one of my kids under any circumstances. Lord help us all.

Friday, September 12, 2014

The Death of the Liberal Class

Chris Hedges talking about the main ideas of his book, The Death of the Liberal Class. The man makes a lot of sense.

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Making the World Safe from Sanity

It turned out so great last time . . . LET'S DO IT AGAIN!
The president got on TV tonight to tell us we're going to war again. But, as if this were just the peachiest news possible, we're not going to employ any American ground forces. What we will do is aid the "moderate forces" in Syria and those Arab states who choose to participate in the ground proceedings with our bombs and our gee-gaa technology. I've made a one of my periodic dips onto Facebook and I'm astounded--no, not really--with the vehemence and certitude of all the good ole American people rattling their swords. Can their memories really be that short? Can they not remember how just two weeks ago they were firmly against any kind of long-term commitment to the madness in the Middle East? I read that 71 percent of Americans are behind the president in his call for action against this latest enemy to civilization whom it's our responsibility to confront and defeat. I note that this time too, the Washington establishment is careful to qualify its call to war with the warning that this will not be a short job. No, we're signing on to possible years of conflict yet. Can anything be more insane? Forgive me if wonder just what in hell people learned from our last Middle Eastern excursion into war . . . you know, the one in Libya, which has fallen apart as a country; the one in Iraq which has spawned IS and thousands of deaths and fragmentation of the "democracy" we helped set up there; and of course, the one in Afghanistan that's not even over yet.

I'm not being crass or unfeeling or in the least bit disrespectful of the pain inflicted on the families and friends of the two Americans who were brutally beheaded by the IS fanatics. But it's interesting how the entire country can fly into bellicose outrage at the execution of two innocent Americans, but doesn't bat an eyelash at the literally thousands of innocent civilian deaths we have caused all over the Middle East with our drones, bombs, and artillery.  

It bears repeating, often and loudly: we are a doomed people. We don't have the sense God gave a grasshopper.

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

Football is Fleecing All of Us

The country, most of it, is going nuts once again. Football is back. College and pro. It's no news that this country is beyond enamored with football, and I would argue overly so, because as Gregg Easterbrook, the author of a recent book The King of Sports:Football's Impact on America, argues, the game is ripping us off right and left. If you pay taxes, you're being fleeced, even if you don't ever go to a game. Even if you don't like football. It's another manifestation of the power billionaires and millionaires have to shape and frame things to their own benefit via an ignorant public and a corrupted political process. (That last part was mine.)

Below is an interview with Easterbrook, only about 8 minutes long or so in which he delivers several telling blows against the way football has muscled into the education dollars and the absurdity of a law that declares professional football a non-profit enterprise.

It's really hard to believe that intelligent people would put up with this kind of abuse, but we do . . . and we glory in it.

Sunday, September 7, 2014

Freelancers Taking Over

 Ran across this interesting piece puttering around today.
A new report shows some 53 million Americans—or 34 percent of the U.S. workforce—are now working as freelancers in some capacity. "This is more than an economic change," asserts the report, a joint effort from the Freelancer's Union and freelance markeplaces oDesk and eLance. It's also "a cultural and social shift" that will "have major impacts on how Americans conceive of and organize their lives, their communities, and their economic power." 
That's more than a third of the workforce. I am one of these guys. I do freelance editing for a publishing house. And I fit easily into one of the demographics below. I don't need to do this work, but I like it, and it's nice it pays a little something in return. I'm not saying I'd do this without pay, but . . . well, you take my point.

Here's how the report breaks these 34 million people out:
  • Independent contractors (21 million). This group hews closest to our "traditional" idea of freelancing: individuals whose main source of employment involves working on a project-to-project basis in their field. They make up about 40 percent of freelancers.
  • Moonlighters (14.3 million). These are individuals who work regular full-time jobs and also do some amount of freelance work. This group includes 27 percent of freelancers. 
  • Diversified workers (9.3 million). These are our serious hustlers, the folks pulling in income from multiple sources, including traditional employment and freelance work. A diversified worker may have a 20-hour per week bartending or retail job and supplement her income with freelance graphic design work and some time as an Uber driver. This group makes up about 18 percent of freelancers. 
  • Temp workers (5.5 million). Temp workers are those working with a single employer, client, job, or project but on a temporary basis. This could be "a business strategy consultant working for one startup client" (the report's example) or a recent college graduate doing grunt or admin work for different companies each week through a temp agency. They make up about one-tenth of freelancers.
  • Freelance business owners (2.8 million). This group includes people employ between one and five others and who consider themselves both freelancers and business owners. They make up 5 percent of the freelance economy.
And there are some other observations:
  • 77 percent say they make as much or more money now than they did before becoming a freelancer
  • About half (53 percent) say going freelance was totally their preference; the rest say it was out of necessity. 
  • The main reason people take on freelance work is to earn extra money (68 percent), followed by the ability to have a flexible schedule (42 percent).
What the report doesn't address are the penetrating questions posed above, which all boil down basically to what's this doing to us? It's a major cultural and social shift, with major impacts, we're told. But you look in vein for what this might mean. Which upon reflection seems reasonable since analyzing and explaining major cultural shifts is something that gets done after they get done. Would be nice to know where we're headed though.