Saturday, May 28, 2011

Tornado Season: A Little Perspective Please

There are certain people who always like to trumpet something as being worse than it is. And we are getting that from some environmentalists who are using the tornado season to once again hype their claims. This year's tornado season has been the "deadliest" on record but, and this is a big one, NOT REALLY. It all depends on how you want to look at the numbers.

The sad death toll this year is 520, the highest confirmed total previously was in 1953 ,when it was 519. Notice the use of the word "confirmed." Records indicate previous years with higher death totals, but in the past numbers were always estimates. For instance, in 1917 they estimated 551 deaths, 540 in 1927, and 552 in 1936. In fact, if those estimates are close, then 2011 was not the deadliest year, but the fourth deadliest year. And even that is not quite accurate.

What people are forgetting is that the population of areas hit by tornadoes is much larger than it was at any time in history. Consider an imaginary town called Tornadoville. In 1953 the town is wiped out and every single resident, within a one square mile area is killed. In 1953 the population might be 100 people. By 2011 that same square mile might have 300 people living there. If another tornado hits the town and kills 150 people it is the "deadliest" year but the death rate went down from 100% to 50%.

The more people there are in area, the greater the likelihood of some deaths, not because the tornadoes are necessarily worse, but because the population density is higher, making it more likely that some people will be in the wrong place at the wrong time.

By comparison let us take 1953 and compare it to 2011. The US population in 1953 was 160,184,192. Today, it is estimated to be 307,006,550. That is almost double what it was in 1953. The number of deaths per million in 1953 was almost twice as high as it is today. In reality the number of people killed per year by tornadoes has been declining if you take into account the greater number of people who live in the path of tornadoes. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration has put together this chart showing the death rates from tornadoes, normalized to take population factors into account.

You can click on it to enlarge it if you wish. Here is how they explain it:

The purple points are the annual death rates, the red line is a simple smoother, the solid black line is a long-term trend in two sections (1875-1925, 1925-2000) and the cyan lines are estimates of the 10th percentile and 90th percentile from 1925-2000. Brooks and Doswell (2002) have an extensive discussion of the record and its possible implications.
But life is always more complicated that it appears on the surface. The death rate can decline simply because we have better houses to protect people, more advanced warning systems, better ability to evacuate an area, faster communication, etc. What about the number of tornadoes? Are they increasing due to evil climate change? Some would want you to think so, and openly claim that is happening. And, once again, on first glance it could look convincing. Consider the chart below, also from NOAA, about the number of tornadoes per year since 1950. It shows a clear increase.

Yet again, life is not so simple. NOAA says: "The number of tornadoes increased dramatically in the 1990s...." Now, some want you to think it was global warming. NOAA, however, finishes the sentence thusly: " the modernized National Weather Service installed the Doppler Radar Network." They also "began the Warning Coordination Meteorologist program increasing partnerships with media and Emergency Management across the United States." This included "the training of storm spotters" across the country. NOAA writes, "With more people trained to relay information on storm activity to the Weather Forecast Office and improved communication and digital technology, more tornadoes could be reported."

Consider a tornado in 1900. It might be a very lonely thing, spinning around in the middle of some rural county. Local folks would see it. It might even hit a farmhouse or two. They'd talk about it and the cow that went missing as a result. If the area had a local newspaper it might get mentioned there as well. No one would phone it in and to a central agency. They didn't have phones. Aunt Edith might write her sister about it. But certainly the weather forecaster on the local TV station didn't catch it, there were none. Neither did the radio, it wasn't really around either. Methods for reporting such things were scarce, and that reduced reporting. In some cases a tornado could briefly touch down and no one even realized it. Today, the radar systems pick them up, even if no one actually sees the damn thing.

Joshua Wurman, of the Center for Severe Weather Research admits the frequency of reported tornadoes has increased but says "there's pretty good evidence that it's due to improved reporting efficiency." In the end, since we are using better technology, and have better reporting, we report more tornadoes than our parents, or grandparents did. We don't actually have any evidence that tornadoes are more frequent, only that we are more likely to catch them when they do occur.

But, there is one more fallback for the alarmist: the level of intensity for the tornado. We have a system called the Enhanced Fujita Scale (EFS), which is used to determine storm intensity. And while it tries to include factors like wind speed it also relies heavily on "damage indicators." That means "the type of structure which has been damaged." Since the number and type of buildings damaged, along with the degree of damage, are used to determine the EFS rating, there are some drawbacks. As Wurman noted: "I've seen strong tornadoes going through open fields, and they don't really do a whole lot of damage."

Along with population growth, which increases the raw number of deaths, you get an increase in the number of buildings. More buildings mean more structural damage, which would tend to push up EFS scales. Wurman's tornado in an empty field couldn't easily be rated high on the EFS scale. Two years later a similar tornado, hitting a newly built shopping mall, would register on the scale in ways the previous tornado did not.

Life can be a bitch, a very complicated bitch. It is surely much easier to claim that tornadoes are more frequent, we are all at risk, and global warming is to blame. That at least, will help sell papers and improve broadcast ratings.

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Wednesday, May 25, 2011

The one candidate I can support.

I've heard Gary Johnson speak three times and meet with him twice. He's the real thing when it comes to being a libertarian. I reiterate my view that he is the ONLY libertarian running in the Republican race. He is good where Ron Paul is good. He is good where Ron Paul is absolutely shitty. And, unlike Ron Paul, there is no kooky conspiracy theories or associations with racists and fringe scary groups. In addition, unlike Ron Paul, Gary Johnson, as governor, actually has balanced budgets. He has executive experience and doesn't come across like someone's elderly, eccentric uncle.

Here he is telling conservatives why drug legalization has to be on the table. I've heard him tell people we have to cut the military budget and can cut it substantially. He wants the US out of Iraq, Afghanistan, and Libya. He understands the vitality that immigration brings to a country.

Here is Gary having a good time on National Public Radio.

And Gary talking to Reason before he declared his candidacy.


Monday, May 23, 2011

Update on the Brisbane attack. Who to believe?

The Christian Right group, Operation Five Thirteen, is now portraying themselves as victims instead of attackers. I reported on OFT and their attack on rally for same-sex marriage a couple of days ago here.

Now OFT claims that they were peacefully minding there own business "some distance" from the rally when those nasty homosexuals attacked them. And, of course, the rally on the other side has a different story; which is why I didn't pay attention to either of them. I paid attention to what a reporter on the scene said happened. The reporter said the fundamentalists "interrupted" the rally and and "used a microphone to yell abuse at marchers." That does not correspond with what OFT claims.

OFT claims that police are charging a gay person with assault and another charged with theft, for supposedly taking an OFT sign. The Brisbane paper says police told them that no one has been charged with anything.

OFT alleges that video they took proves their claims. The problem has been that no such video has been release that I can find. The Christian sites that repeat OFT's claims don't show the alleged video. Neither does OFT. Raw, unedited video might help but with us approaching the two week mark since the incident one has to wonder what happened to the video. It should have been released immediately, before anyone had time to selectively edit scenes or distort context. But that has not happened. If it does eventually get released the length of time since it was taken, until its release, is certainly long enough to allow editing that changes the context.

Let me tell you why I am highly skeptical that OFT is telling the truth. As I have noted before, I know this religious tradition well, having gone to their schools and churches. I know they routinely exaggerate, distort and lie. I am sorry to say that such things are routine. They hold to their faith and try to bend facts to fit their religion. I've seen this up close and personal. I have written of numerous examples of this tendency among fundamentalists but will have to do a major piece on it sometime.

Let me give a few brief examples. During the Prop 8 campaign they produced television commercials which routinely twisted facts and lied in order to push their agenda. One example was their invented "facts" about a school allegedly forcing kids to attend a gay wedding. I outlined what they claimed and what the facts actually were here. Another piece I wrote looked at what one religious right group claimed were the ten worst cases of Christians being persecuted in America. I researched every single one of them and found that none of them even came close to be what they claimed it was.

Not all the lies are intentional. Some are just delusional or wishful thinking. An example from OFT is found on their own website. There is a fad called planking, where individuals lie rigid on top of something like a plank of wood and have their picture taken. It is pretty much senseless and mostly harmless unless one is incredibly stupid. A preacher from OFT wrote that he was preaching when "a few young blokes who had been listening to my message for a bit decided that one of them should plank beside me."

This "evangelist" did not know who the man was. And the fad is a world-wide thing with videos and pictures being posted all over the place. That was on Saturday, May 14th. One day later a young man stupidly tries to plank on the railing of an apartment balcony and falls to his death. As I said, it is safe unless one is incredibly stupid. But the OFT evangelist immediately jumps to the conclusion "that the young man who planked beside me was very likely the same man who fell off the 7-storey building to his death just hours later." Why is it "very likely?" Given how widespread this fad currently is, it is only possible that it was the same man, not "very likely." He says it is very likely because that makes a good story. And he uses it about how that young man heard him preaching and ignored the gospel and was dead just a few hours later and could be burning in hell right now because he ignored what the evangelist had to say. Maybe it was the same guy but odds are against it. This is just wishful thinking on his part.

In many cases these fundamentalists report what they wish were the facts, instead of what are the facts. And they are quite capable of convincing themselves that they are true. Often they just regurgitate accusations from other fundamentalists without bothering to check the facts. The "facts" fit their fundamentalist world-view and thus "have" to be true and are reported as such. When evidence arises to the contrary they ignore it, much as they do daily to maintain their fundamentalist faith.

Recently Louis Marinelli, the man who organized the anti-marriage whistle-stop campaign for the National Organization for (sic) Marriage, announced that his time on the road, meeting gay couples wanting to marry, and watching his own side protest this, convinced him that he was wrong. He said he was changing his mind about marriage equality even thought he is still a very conservative individual. Marinelli is now talking about the tactics he was told to use, which included distorting the facts about gay counter-protesters at NOM rallies. He wrote that NOM crusade is "all about image" and that means "painting them [gay people] in a negative way."

Marinelli wrote of one incident when some supporters of marriage equality stood silently on the sidelines with their backs turned to the NOM rally. But NOM's blog said they were "intolerant, inconsiderate bullies who down and insult anyone who disagrees with them, including women and children." (Why are women in the same category as children here?) But Marinelli, who organized the rally, said the protesters were actually silent, not shouting down anyone.

Marinelli claimed that NOM said counter-protesters in Rhode Island were "crazy" and that they had photos to prove it. Marinelli writes that some of the "pictures depicting their actions do make them appear that way" and that he was the man who took the photos. He also noted he was instructed by NOM's national office "to specifically take 'crazy' photos of gays and lesbians." The exact words used by NOM's head office was "I need crazy pictures of our opponents." Marinelli says his job included taking photos that would distort the facts about the counter-protesters. He says this backfired as NOM supporters then feared attending the rallies and they ended up with very small groups supporting them. He was then instructed to take different kind of photos.

The new photos had to "focus on the positive... We want happy people, people clapping, families, speakers shaking hands with people. We want to still capture the protesters (especially if they do something exceptionally crazy), but that will not be the main focus." Marinelli was told to take photos to make their crowd "look as big as possible." Now they wanted to distort how positive their side looked instead. But in both cases Marinelli was encouraged to distort the facts.

This is old stuff for the Religious Right. I well remember covering a rally of Moral Majority which was called to support legislation that would make homosexuality a felony crime in the state of Indiana. That was the purpose of the rally and Jerry Falwell, along with Anita Bryant, were the key speakers. Falwell got up and endorse the legislation to make being gay a crime. One week later he was at a press conference in Chicago and told reporters that it was simply untrue that either he or the Moral Majority want to strip gay people of any rights—the complete opposite of what he was calling for one week earlier.

Now maybe OFT will be able to produce video evidence that has not been edited that proves the Brisbane Times falsified the facts and that they really were victims. But as days continue to tick by without them doing so I have to wonder. Maybe they got left behind the video was raptured out instead?


Yes, millionaires can collect food stamps.

Food stamps are a welfare program which allegedly helps poor people eat, who otherwise can't afford food. Leroy Fick, however, while on food stamps was out buying lottery tickets.

Now you might wonder how it is that a man who can't afford his own food can afford to gamble. Apparently the Michigan welfare bureaucracy didn't wonder and didn't care. I have seen people in line buying groceries using their welfare cards. They carefully use the state funding to get bread and the like. Then they have a second pile of items including booze, cigarettes, trashy gossip newspapers and the like, for which they pay cash. I am sure there are people who wouldn't be able to eat but for food stamps, but there are a lot of welfare recipients who merely spend their own money on other things and then pretend they don't have enough for food.

But, you might say, at least if the guy wins the lottery he'll be off of welfare. Nope, that's not the case either. Fick actually won $2 million dollars a year ago. But he still gets welfare because lottery winnings are called a "liquid asset" and not income, and only income counts. The state of Michigan says Fick can continue collecting welfare no matter how many millions he has in the bank, provided his actual income is below a certain amount.

Fick isn't talking, but he does have a paid attorney who speaks on his behalf, who says Fick is within the law. The only statement from Fick was: "If you're going to try to make me feel bad, you're not going to do it." The man has no shame or decency.

Photo: That's Leroy the Parasite in the middle the night he won $2 million dollars.


Sunday, May 22, 2011

Their sad, sick obsession continues.

Evangelical Christians, who once proudly called themselves fundamentalists, but who tend to shun the term today, have been very busy in their holy jihad this week. Yesterday I mentioned one fundamentalist minister invited by the Republican Party to open the Minnesota legislature with prayer. He lectured them by falsifying history, he implied that Obama is a Muslim, and he made it clear that his idea of non-denomination, excludes everyone who isn't a Christian.

He was there the same day that the Republicans were scheduled to spend hours of legislative time debating new anti-gay measures. The Titanic is sinking and Republicans are making sure gay people don't get life preservers. You really have to give the Republicans credit for getting their priorities right. The country may in an extended depression but Republicans are going to spend all their time gay bashing, at the behest of the shrinking Religious Right.

In Tennessee the Republicans have spent days debating legislation that would make it illegal for any school teacher to even mention that gay people exist. The bill literally makes it a crime to mention the existence of homosexuals. Once again the Republican Party has their priorities in line. Remember Tennessee is the state that held the Scopes trial for teaching evolution, so the control fundamentalists have had over education there is long-standing. No doubt this explains why Tennessee is such an intellectual powerhouse in the West!

Just yesterday, in Brisbane, Australia the same thing happened except the Christians acted even worse. According to the Brisbane Times a rally in favor of marriage equality was "interrupted by violence" when "a small group of evangelicals used a microphone to yell abuse at marchers." The Times reported that scuffles broke out when "members of the small Christian minority tried to snatch same-sex marriage placards and flags from marchers' hands."

Last week at a gay rally in Adelaide, Australia a coven of born again bitches marched on the attendees, insulting them, screaming at them and even pulling one woman out of a wheelchair that she needed.

The depth of their hatred is astounding. I can understand why oppressed people would spend a lot of time to fight for their freedom. I just can't fathom why others would be so obsessed in preventing it. As for the Republicans: what the hell is wrong with them? This country is an extended depression. Every measure that Bush and Obama used to "solve" the problem were measures that failed in the past and which have shown themselves to extend the economic downturn. The solutions that have been tried merely keep the malaise alive and lingering. And what do the Republicans concentrate on? They spend their time bashing gays.

Photo: Evangelical Christian, in T-shirt from the "ministry" Operation Five Thirteen, tries to rip sign advocating marriage equality from woman at the Brisbane rally.

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Republicans throw red meat to their bigot base.

The Minnesota legislature is spending a lot of time debating how evil gay people are because the Republicans, who control the legislature, are convinced that is what the leader of the GOP, Jesus, wants them to do. Apparently they missed the rapture just like everyone else.

On the very day they were to vote on embedding the state Constitution with an anti-gay clause demanding second class citizenship for deGays, they brought in a moronic fundamentalist minister to open the session in prayer. Here is the video tape. Like the typical fundamentalist he couldn't resist the opportunity to turn the opening prayer into a tirade reflecting the paranoid, bigoted views of the fundamentalist mind-set. He argues the God is the founder of the country and by not letting God run the country we created problems. As he says, we all know (a clear sign they will make something up) that the problems of the country weren't here in 1776 but only arose when "we" thought we could run the country. A few million slaves might disagree about the utopian nature of 1776. But, those people don't count. He mentions "Father" and "Father-God" repeatedly as he reads his "prayer." But it isn't a prayer, it is a fringe far-Right lecture to the legislature by a man who doesn't know better than dress in what looks like a track suit when he opens the legislature.

He then talks about the soldiers who died in the various wars, though he gets Iwo Jima wedged between Korea and Vietnam and he seems to say these soliders "ratified" the Constitution. As bad as his lecture was at the start his closing got worse. I quote:

"I know this is a non-denominational prayer in this Chamber and it’s not about the Baptists and it’s not about the Catholics alone or the Lutherans or the Wesleyans. Or the Presbyterians the evangelicals or any other denomination but rather the head of the denomination and his name is Jesus. As every President up until 2008 has acknowledged. And we pray it. In Jesus’ name."

Clearly he doesn't understand what non-denomination means, he seems to think it has only to do with Christians and that all other religions don't count. His idea of non-denomination is invoking Jesus, which many Jewish citizens might question. We will ignore Muslims, Buddhist, humanists and others since we know they don't have any rights at all. But the theocrats in the Republican Party do claim a "Judeo-Christian" heritage but throw the Jews under the bus anytime they find it convenient.

In addition he publicly accuses Obama of not being a Christian, probably implying he is a Muslim. He pretends every President "up until 2008" has acknowledged Jesus as the head of their denomination. Not quite, but then he thinks soldiers at Iwo Jima ratified the constitution. But since Obama was elected in 2008 he is quite clearly attacking the president as not being a real Christian. He also said, as the bottom youtube link proves, that Obama allegedly said "we are no longer a Christian nation, we are a Muslim nation." Listen for yourself, if you don't believe me.

This intentional insult to President Obama, and this misuse of the opening prayer, caused something of a kerfuffle in the chambers. Republicans scurried to cover-up the entire things. They pretended that Rev. Dean had not been there and started the session over again, with the House chaplain giving a new prayer. They also removed from the incident from the house journal so it is as if the prayer never happened.

Rev. Dean has previously made remarks that sounded quite sympathetic to the idea of executing gay people but now claims he was misquoted. But he told reporters he does want it to be a crime to be gay, so he apparently he only wants them in prison. But what he said indicates he is lying now. He said: "Muslims are calling for the executions of homosexuals in America. this just shows you they themselves are upholding the laws that even in the Bible of the Judeo-Christian God, but they seem to be more moral than even the American Christians do, because these people are living about enforcing their laws. They know homosexuality is an abomination." Dean went on:

If American won't enforce the laws, God will raise up a foreign enemy to do just that. That is what you are seeing in America. The bottom line is this... they (gay people) play the victim when they are, in fact, the predator. On average they molest 117 people before they're found out. How many kinds have been destroyed, how many adults have been destroyed because of crimes against nature?

Do the math yourself. There are around 15 million gay people in the United States, possibly more, but 15 million is a conservative estimate. If they "molest" an average of 117 people that would be 1.7 billion people. But there are only just over 300 million people in the United States. Apparently that explains why gays go on vacation, they've molested every single American, perhaps several times over and have to move on to other countries. Do you really think that this is even possible? But hatred makes people say stupid things, and if the people aren't that smart to begin with, they say spectacularly stupid things.

Dean dismissed the problems he created saying: "I said a prayer. If a prayer starts a firestorm, so be it." Actually praying seems to be the last thing he doing, he is preaching under the guise of praying.

The Republican who invited Dean to "pray" backtracked and said he knew nothing about the man and his view, which he likened to "radical thinking—that kind of thinking, I think back to Nazi German...I don't agree with that." House Speaker Kurt Zellers said, "That kind of person will never, ever be allowed on the House floor again." Even the Catholic Conference said the prayer was turned "into a polemic and his words divided rather than brought people together."

Republicans delayed a vote on the anti-gay amendment as a result, but will reschedule it and insist they intend to pass it regardless.

Rev. Dean is a favorite of one of the worst anti-libertarian Republicans around, Michelle Bachman.

Below you can hear Dean saying the very things he now denies ever saying. Lying for Jesus again.

By the way Rev. Dean has been given, free of charge, display booths at Republican conventions to push his agenda. Dean said: "They invited and they gave us a free table. Amen." He has also received money from a major Republican candidate, Tom Emmers, who has run for governor and Congress as a Republican. Republicans want to keep the "base" of fundamentalists happy but not get tainted by the poison that is fundamentalism. That is not an easy task.

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Saturday, May 21, 2011

In honor of the Rapture (which is later today) or not.

Some of you many be aware that a group of fundamentalist Christians are absolutely convinced that today is the Rapture and that Jesus will take the Christians out of the world. Okay, I can live with that. I see a definite upside to that proposition. In honor of that here is a short clip from the series Six Feet Under. It does have its own hilarity to it. I know some born-again Christians will not be amused. But, in my defense: first, I know they are frequently unamused and don't care anymore and two, they may not be around to be offended by it anyway. So for those left behind, enjoy.

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Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Secret Service Interrogates Kid Without Parental Knowledge

What the hell is going on in this country when any government department takes a child, without parental permission or access to legal counsel, and interrogates the child?

In this case 13-year-old Vito Lapinta had posted on his Facebook page that the assassination of bin Laden could inspire retaliations and that Obama ought to be concerned about that. That is hardly earthshaking, Obama own people said pretty much the same thing.

But Vito was taken out of his classes by a Secret Service agent, apparently with the full cooperation of the school officials. The Secret Service are police agents, albeit of a special kind. And no police agent has the right to interrogate children without parental permission. Even kids have rights to legal counsel.

In this case the Secret Service said he was fine and released him. But his innocence is not relevant to issue that his rights were violated. What if he had said something that sane people, that is people who are not part of the political hysteria, would deem to be threatening? Anything he said could result in criminal charges being filed against him.

It is the possibility that criminal charges may result which is the reason that government thugs have no right to interrogate children without parents, or legal counsel, there to protect the rights of the child.

Vito says he was scared and that he will now be more careful about what opinions he expresses. That is sad, that is precisely the sort of response that government thugs want, but it the opposite of what we need in a free society. No child should be afraid to speak his mind, no adult either. Civil libertarians should be outraged.

I also feel it necessary to remind people that government schools are branches of the government. You can not expect government bureaucrats to protect your children from other government bureaucrats. Quite the contrary in fact. Every teacher and administrator has to be considered an agent of the state and it has to be assumed they will put the interests of the state ahead of the interests of your child. The great immorality of state education is the relationship it creates between educators and government. It makes them opponents of the best interests of the child, which ought to be their first concern.

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So what?

The media seems to be in another feeding frenzy that Arnold Schwarzenegger father a child with a woman other than his wife and that the child is now a teen.

My take on it? So what? It's really none of our business.

It isn't that Arnold ran for office as a moralistic busy-body. He didn't do that. There was no violation of his promises to the voters, at least not because of this. If had been one of these Religious Right lunatics, anxious to use the state to ram "biblical morality" down our throats, then I'd say skewer away.

His now-separated wife, Maria, has a right to feel betrayed. To a smaller degree his kids do as well. But I have no interest in the matter and neither does the media.

Privately Arnold had the obligation to help care for his son. All the reports have indicated that he has done so.

My view is that this, at most, ought to have been a two-minute story and that the media has better things to do.

My advice is for the press to stay out of it. Arnold and Marie have issues to resolve, we don't. As for the Schwarzenegger's children my only advice is to remember that their half-brother is not responsible for any of this. He did nothing and is as much an innocent by-stander as you are. He is your half-brother, embracing him as such is not condoning anything that happened.

The real scum in this matter may prove, once again, to be the gutter tabloid papers that brainless housewives buy at the checkout line in the grocery store. There are claims that these papers are offering high bounties for anyone who gives them a photo of the child. These people have no decency. This kid has done nothing! Leave him alone. And anyone who feeds that depravity by purchasing those papers deserves the lowest rungs of hell.

If you want to go after Arnold go after him for his failure to reign in the California budget.


Sunday, May 15, 2011

I could go for this.


Saturday, May 14, 2011

Why bother with research, we know we're right.

Chrystian Freeland write a book review for the New York Times, apparently without knowing the facts behind the statements she makes. The book in question is Roger Martin's Fixing the Game: Bubbles, Crashes and What Capitalism Can Learn From the N.F.L.

From the sound of things, and I have not read the book, it sounds as if they are writing about modern, politically-manipulated markets and not markets free of political rigging. Certainly the term "Fixing the Game" implies as much. But don't assume they don't want the rules of the game being "fixed," that is precisely what is being sought. As the review notes:

Mr. Martin’s unifying metaphor — and here I do see a reach for the best-seller list — is a comparison with the National Football League. The league’s commissioners, he argues, are constantly tweaking the rules of the game to ensure the right collective outcome. When a brilliant coach or player devises a technique to strengthen defense, for instance, the commissioners alter the rules to offset that advantage. Capitalism’s rule makers, Mr. Martin believes, must be likewise perpetually alert to these sorts of business innovations — the kind of thing lionized in the traditional business advice best seller — and change the rules of the game to neutralize their impact.

Do you get that? Every time a new innovation comes along government should change the rules of the game to "neutralize" it. This is demanding constant, unending political manipulation of markets by the politically connected. This is precisely how Big Corporations used politics to screw over working people and taxpayers. This is how they transfer wealth from people who have less, to people who have more. This is the dream of the big corporations, the ability to make money through political connections and NOT in a competitive marketplace where you can't trust consumers to buy your product. Better to force them to buy your product, or force them to subsidize you in one of hundreds of ways that politicians invent to hide the real redistribution of wealth and rights.

Wealth and rights have constantly been redistributed in America—just not in the direction that most people believe. There is precious little redistribution of wealth from the wealthy and powerful to the poor and powerless. The bulk of redistribution is the other way around. And the Republicans want to keep it that way—but so does Obama and the Democrats. All of them are in cozy relationships with the powerful, wealthy classes who are the true beneficiaries of government redistribution. Fixing the game is precisely how they manage this slight-of-hand.

Freeland claims that Martin's approach is quite radical, when in reality it is the continuation of the policy for well over a century. But she also writes: "The central insight of his book is that rules of capitalism aren't about God-given rights à la Hayek, Ayn Rand or the Tea Party." Back that up for a second!

First, both Hayek and Rand were atheists, neither believed rights came from a god. The Tea Party, is an amalgam of all sorts of people, most with confused, contradictory premises about politics. They want smaller government except when they don't. They have government programs except when they love them. They want less regulations except when they want more. They are fundamentally, unprincipled, unthinking conservatives who are mad about things in general but don't really want change, other than being in control of the things they don't like.

Most the Tea Party types would be god-addicts who thinks invoking a deity answers every serious question in life. Rights are not that simplistic.

But certainly neither Hayek nor Rand believed in god-given rights. This is part of the unthinking, uninformed, stereotyping the Left uses all the time.

I will accept that Left-wing stereotypes tend, for the most part, to not be as vicious and cruel as those on the Right. Though they do become unhinged emotionally and mentally when discussing Rand and will lie through their eye-teeth about her. I have watched them completely invent stories, or rip comments so out of context as to reverse their original meanings.

Now, Freeland is "global editor at large" for Reuters, a major news wire service. You would think that someone in a position like that would have learned a thing or two about not attributing views to people who don't hold those views. She might have even been told to do a bit of research before making claims. In this case she did neither. She appears to have been looking for some way to attach Hayek and Rand to the Tea Party crowd. Sure, the TP movement have latched onto books by Hayek and Rand but I would bet you that most have never read them. And those who did probably didn't understand half of what they said.

For Hayek they latched onto his book The Road to Serfdom, which doesn't really lay out Hayek's views on the nature of a free society. But then reading The Constitution of Liberty would be beyond most of them. They couldn't get past the first chapter. And while Atlas Shrugged is easier to read it is prone to misinterpretation by people who impose on it what they want to find.

And it isn't only the Left that invents meanings for the book that are not there. I remember one occasion when poor Ayn was being questioned by some loony-Bircher type who insisted the novel was the master plan of the secretive Illuminati conspiracy to take over the world. Ayn truly had no idea what the woman was talking about. Others have taking that view and added in that she was the mistress of a Rothschild in a Jewish plot to take over the world. All of it nonsense, but people love nonsense. On a discussion board for Atlas Shrugged, the movie, I read conservatives who insisted that Ayn was not an atheist, or tried to claim that atheism had nothing to do with her philosophy.

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Atlas Shrugged and Homos are Destroying America

Yep, I know, that's a pretty hilarious combination of threats to the American way of life. But, if you take professional hysteric, former Nixon operative, full-time fundamentalist loon Chuck Colson, as a fount of wisdom, then you have to be worried. I just can't figure out who he hates more: Objectivists or gays. And you gay Objectivists had better steer clear of old upChuck.

Unfortunately blogger is not sophisticated enough to share with you the actual recording of Olson breathlessly warming Americans and the deadly and dangerous group known as "daGays." But deGays are destroying the religious freedom to impose godly beliefs on others. Colson does so by embellishing the facts. Hey, if you can make up a virgin birth and dead people resurrecting then embellishing a few facts is nothing.

Colson's first example, of THE THREAT, regards King & Spalding, a law firm hired by Republicans to try and defend the Defense of Marriage Act against any legal challenges. A conservative lawyer at the firm signed a deal to defend the case but a few days later the firm said it was not going ahead with the case. Right-wing pundits salivated, foamed and started screaming about deGays and their AGENDA. Colson claimed the firm had acted unethically.

Pity the facts were something different. The lawyer, Paul Clement, had said he would take the case. But there is a committee at the firm which has to approve very contract BEFORE the case is taken on board. Clement neglected to show anyone the contract until four days after he announced they had taken the case. When the committee read the contract the Republicans insisted they sign, they balked. Among the terms was a gag order on every employee of the firm, which is hundreds of people in 12 cities, forbidding any of them to speak in favor of marriage equality, even if they had nothing to do with the case. The contract, by the way, would be illegal in numerous states. Instead of noting the illegal and ethically dubious nature of the contract, and that it had never been vetted according to firm protocol, the Colsons of the world launched into another plot by deGays.

Next Colson misstates the facts about an immigration case. According to Colson "The Obama administration stopped the deportation order for a gay immigrant because the Justice Department feels that the man could be considered a spouse of another man under U.S. immigration laws." This is simply not the case. There are numerous cases where spouse of gay Americans are being deported, something that would not happen to people legally married in heterosexual relationships. These couples are legally married but the Republicans wish to use a federal definition and ignore the wishes of the states in this matter. They call that protecting the states' rights to define marriage.

In fact, each case is still proceeding. And the Obama administration deserves no credit for doing the right thing here. I wish they had. Instead they made it clear that will continue the deportations of legally-married spouses in gay relationships. This one case was delayed because the Justice Department said that other factors, unrelated to the status of marriage, were not considered but should have been. They issued a letter at the time stating this had nothing to do with recognizing gay marriages. Maybe if Olson read something other than the Old Testament he would have been familiar with the facts.

Colson says gays, protesting about anti-gay policies, "are coercing corporations, and no law firms." Odd. Speech, even boycotts, are not coercion. But legal bans using the force of government ARE coercion. Theopublicans like Colson want to use government force and violence and they call that "law" while anyone criticizing such use of state power is charged with using "coercion." Republicans have an odd definition of coercion.

If you think deGays are dangerous, and what right-thinking, born-again, Bible-believing, revivalist doesnt, then what do you make of those evil, dangerous people who read Atlas Shrugged? Colson issued a fatwa on Atlas Shrugged that he called a "two-minute warning." But Rand is so dangerous that it actually took 3 1/2 minutes to denounce this spawn of Satan.

This time I can share the hysterical warnings about Ayn Rand.

I guess Objectivists are at least one level more dangerous than deGays because Olson warns about the Atlas Shrugged movie twice over. "Not only should you stay away from the film, you ought to stay away from anybody who wants to see the film." Fundamentalists have previously warned Christians to never be friendly with a gay person, because they discovered that people who gay people don't tend to hate them the way Jesus wants. But I've never heard them warning people to stay away from people who know gay people. In fundamentalist terms this is known as "secondary separation."

Fundamentalists are supposed to have little to nothing to do with non-fundamentalists. But some insist that even if the people you associate with are born-again crazies you still have to shun them if they don't separate from "worldly" people and other such sinners. So, you separate from the sinners and from the people who associate with them.

Mr. Colson is your typical fundamentalist, finding evil enemies under every bed and behind every bush. Sad stuff, really.

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Friday, May 13, 2011

Outrage on Michelangelo's David

In most the Western world Michelangelo's David is considered one of the greatest pieces of art ever chiseled from stone by the hand of man. In Abilene, Texas it is considered offensive and causing a neighborhood to take up arms.

A new family moved to the neighborhood and they brought with them a knock-off of David with them, which they placed in front of their home. And now the good people of Abilene are having the vapors, fanning themselves with a fury to avoid fainting, and considering how to make these people remove the offending statue.

One woman was complaining because, "It's there. It's right there." Another told reporters that art belongs in museums, not someplace where people will have to look at it.

One horrified matron of decency says the statue caused her child to ask "Mom, what is that, uh...what can you tell a child if you haven't talked about sex yet?" I should point out that this mother apparently has an incredibly stupid child, in the next sentence she referred to the child as "him." Apparently her son doesn't know what a penis is, which, no doubt, make urination something of a challenge. I guess the poor boy spends hours pointing his ears at the urinal, or perhaps bending over the toilet with his mouth open.

I should also note the mentality of these people in that they automatically equate nudity to sex. Clue: most people are not having sex while nude and one can have sex without being nude. Though I suspect such things would be illegal in the Theorcratic Republic of Texas.

Even the comment about leaving art in museums is disingenuous in Texas. Ms. Sydney McGee had been teaching art for 28 years. She organized a trip to the Dallas Museum of Art for students. In all 89 students, 5 teachers, 12 parents and one lecturer from the museum accompanied the children. Guess what? One of the poor, pure, little darlings saw a nude statue and was corrupted for eternity, gave their soul over to Satan and rushed out to rape illegal immigrants of the same sex, while marrying 32 wives and fornicating with sheep. Okay, maybe he just saw the statue and told his hysterical, brain-dead parents.

The next day Ms. McGee was verbally bashed by the principal. A few days later the school board suspended her. And then they sent out a notice to the lynch mob, I mean the parents, saying that she would not be allowed to transfer to any other school, nor would her contract be renewed, in addition a new art teacher will be hired, presumably one that will not allow the children to actually see art. School officials won't reveal who complained or which piece of art got their heart beating so violently. After the sacking became news school officials started retroactively finding reasons for termination that were unrelated to the "statue" incident.

In Lubbock, Texas police arrested eight members of the Chippendales dancers. Police attended their performance and waited until a dance routine included a "pelvic thrust," which was then described as "simulating sex."

In Texas a clerk who sells a dildo and actually calls the item a dildo can be tried, and if convicted, forced to register as a sex offender. However, if they sell the same item and call it a "safe sex demonstration device" then it is legal. Really! Do we want a sex offender's list that includes dildo clerks as people that appear on flyers warning the neighbors to protect their kids. For some of the antics that comes out of a fundamentalist controlled state view the excerpt below. Oh, and by the way, I saw two news stations in Texas cover the store about the David statues. Both felt it necessary to have the groin of the statues blocked from view.

To illustrate how the fundamentalist Christian thinks, or doesn't, let me turn to well-known fundamentalist writer Tim LaHaye and his poison pen book The Battle for the Mind, which allegedly exposes the humanist conspiracy to turn Americans into perverts and communists. LaHaye wrote about Michelangelo's David. I quote him:

The giant replica of Michelangelo's magnificent David stands nude, overlook that beautiful city. Quite naturally, this contradicts the wisdom of God, for early in Genesis, the Creator follow man's folly by giving him animal skins to cover his nakedness... The Renaissance obsession with nude 'art form' was the forerunner of the modern humanist's demand for pornography in the name of freedom. Both resulted in the self-destructive lowering of moral standards.

I guess that is where I part company the most with the moralistic pricks in Christian fundamentalism. For them "moral standards" are defined by things like nudity and what people do with their genitals in private. For me moral standards are defined by who you treat others, whether you respect their rights to their own lives, liberty and property. So I don't get upset by statues of David, even cheap concrete knock-offs but I do get upset when people hurt one another. Fundamentalists don't mind hurting people, its sexual pleasure that offends them. I wish they would crawl back into the caves from which they emerged, and take their theology and petty, tyrannical, mythological Jehovah with them.

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Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Why Bullying Remains a Problem

Michael Milczanowski has been bulled constantly at his high school. He says: "It was ever-constant, never changing, ongoing harassment—that's all it was." We hear constantly, when some poor kid finally takes his life to end the torment, that the schools "did all they could" to end it. We are told that they try to address such issues but that they don't know about many of the cases. Kids in the schools regularly contradict the school authorities. They say that the teachers turn a blind eye to the problem. Rarely have we had such dramatic proof.

Milczanowski does not return the punches. He is not complicit in the assault in any way. His math teacher stands there watching and says a few words but otherwise does NOTHING. Milczanowski said: "I expected him to physically intervene to keep that from happening, but I guess I was wrong." The victim has dropped out of high school because he is afraid to go back.

The parents of this Texas town, as Texans are known to do, are attacking the victim. I have read dozens of hateful comments from parents saying that Milczanowski is violent. Odd that the "violent" student is the only one not trying to take punches?

As for the "poor" teacher that they are all lamenting about, well it appears he has allowed fights in his classroom before. And one of them was video taped as well. The second video is instructive. In the video the fight continues until the teacher says: "Okay, that's enough." I'm sorry, but that appears as if he allows them to punch each other until he decides they've had "enough" and only then does he step in.

With two videos of students fighting in the same classroom, with the same teacher, it is much harder to feel sorry for the teacher. This is especially true given that he seems to have a policy to allow the fighting to go on. In the Milczanowski case he stood by allowing it to happen even as the attacks pummels Michael, who does not attempt to fight back.

I regret having to say it but Texas is a place that decent people should avoid. The fundamentalist mind-set of the state is well-known. It is hateful state. This is a state where you can be arrested for selling a dildo, that executes innocent people in its rush to punish sinners, and that hates gay people. It is also one of the most heavily Southern Baptist states in the country. I do not think that a coincidence. Fundamentalism is a hateful religion and turns out hateful people.

But we also have the problem, in this case, of a governmental school system that tends to be, of the teachers, by the teachers, for the teachers. The teacher's unions put teachers ahead of students. And the politicians allow it because the unions make sure they get re-elected and teachers, being independent thinkers, tend to follow instructions from the unions. What we have is a system where teachers get attention while students don't. Teachers' unions treat teachers the way the police treat their own: they deny wrong doing unless absolutely forced to face reality.

If this teacher had not been caught on video ignoring a bully attacking another student, I can assure you he'd still be in the classroom. As is, various bureaucrats are defending him. The assumption from government employee unions is that their members are a sacred bunch whose interests must always come first—even when they are complicit in bankrupting states like California. Politicians who dare touch the sacred band of political parasites are pummeled, much the way Milczanowski was pummeled in the government-owned, government-controlled educational prison.

The whole rotten system has to go. I stand by the reform that all funding should follow students and that the funding should be allowed to go to private school as well. We here people whining about monopolies all the time and then defending the education monopoly. The government school system is a coercive one. It exists entirely because it has the ability to force people to fund it, force parents to send their children there, and because the unions have such a powerful hold over the politicians.

We have crappy, violent schools because they don't have to be better. They have a captured audience and captured funding. Only when a blatantly awful thing happens, and can't be ignored, does it get attention. Otherwise it is business as usual. It takes a video tape of a student being assaulted in full view of a do-nothing teacher to get attention. It takes kids around the country going home and hanging themselves, or putting a bullet in their brain, before anyone pays attention. Even then the hateful types come out and blame the victims.

The sooner the educational monopoly collapses the better.

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Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Yes, Sometimes They Just Make It Up!

Caroline Spelman is the Environment Secretary in the British government. As such it is her job to invent new catastrophes to justify the existence of her position. Global warming is the perfect disaster for those seeking new political controls. And since global warming can cause everything, and everything is proof of global warming, it is theory that can not be falsified.

Spelman has warned that global warming could disrupt the economy and one of the looming disasters is, "high temperatures disrupt Wi-Fi signals." Now, this was reported in the news so I went and double-checked the official government report and it does list high temperatures disrupting wireless signals as something that the government has to spend money correcting. Time magazine said: "Here's a side effect of global warming no one saw coming: it could negatively affect Wi-Fi signals. A report from the British Government's environmental department suggests that higher temperatures as a result of global warming will reduce the range of wireless signals." The Guardian reports: "Wi-fi internet access and other communications are at risk from global warming..." They even note this is example of how "climate change" would hit the developed world harder than developing nations.

The Guardian quotes Spelman as saying: "If climate change threatens the quality of your signal, or you can't get it because of extreme fluctuations in temperature, then you will be disadvantaged, which is why we must address the question." Remember in politics that "address the question" means spend billions of taxpayer funds on politically lucrative, but scientifically dubious, projects.

For a moment consider the worst-case models predicting global warming. Even the worst of them are nothing compared to normal temperature variations that already exist on the planet. I've lived in places where winter temperatures can average lower than Moscow and in places where summer temperatures go over 100 on a daily basis. The natural variations on the planet regularly surpass anything projected by the doomsayers.

Considering that Spelman was howling about doom in England lets use that country as an example. If the average temperature rose even by the absurdly high projection of 5 degrees this would make visits a lot more pleasant. According to the chart of average temperatures, put out by a London tourist department the average high in London doesn't go much about 70. According to the highest average day temperature is 73.4.

That is our average temperature for April. Next month our average will be in the mid 80s, then the mid-90s in June and then around 100 for July and August. So all our wireless signals operate in a climate that varies from a winter low of below freezing to a summer high above 100. Those fluctuations take place within a few months time year in and year out and all wireless signals continue to operate fine.

We have real life examples of wireless signals working in all sorts of temperatures. Those of us in desert communities don't have to worry about having the signals constantly calibrated to take temperature fluctuations into account. And the temperature variations we face are far greater than the relatively small fluctuations predicted by warming models. If the average temperature in the UK rose by 5 degrees average there highest average day would be well below our typical spring high and well over 20 degrees below our summer average high.

But then, maybe, English wireless signals operate on different principles than do the signals in the American West. But somehow I doubt it.


How did we survive childhood?

I have to wonder how it was that I managed to survive my childhood. Not just me either, but my brothers and all the kids I knew.

The typical summer day would see us run outside early in the morning. We’d find our way home for lunch and then disappear again. We hiked through woods, and fields. We caught snakes and used them to terrorized girls who dared follow us. We were outside the view of any parent for much of the time. And, in a utopia without cell phones, our parents couldn’t call us every 15 minutes or use a GPS system to track our moves.

If they wanted to reach us they had to stand on the front porch and call out our names. And, if we felt like it, we answered. But, truth be told, we often heard them and didn’t answer

We just played. The rule was: Come home when the streetlights turn on. Otherwise we were free to wander the neighborhood and nearby forests at will.

During the school year I walked to grade school every day. It was about half a mile each way. But I wasn’t alone. All the kids walked, except for a handful. And none that I can remember were accompanied by parents.

There were parks nearby that we could play in. We went when we wanted and didn’t tell our parents where we were. We played on jungle gyms and slides without kneepads and rode bikes without helmets.

By the time I reached sixth grade I was at boarding school. On weekends I could, and did, leave campus. I would walk about a mile, perhaps two, to the local mall where they had a McDonald’s and a movie theater. I would usually see whatever film they were showing. I was entirely on my own from after breakfast until just before dinner.

Here’s the thing: Crimes against children have been declining. But the safer we get the more paranoid we, as a society become. From 1990 to now substantiated cases of child sexual abuse has dropped in half. Cases of physical abuse have dropped in half as well. Assaults on teens have also dropped by about 50%. In some states the declines were closer to 80-90%. (Alaska, Arizona, Georgia, Idaho, Montana, South Dakota, Washington)

But as kids have become safer parents have become more paranoid, a paranoia that politicians are always ready to exploit. In the world of politics the best problems to address are the imaginary ones, you always succeed at slaying monsters that don’t exist.

USA Today reported that:

Today's kids may never know the no-cares times of innocence, exploration and imagination that their parents recall about childhood.

Many parents rarely let their kids roam the neighborhood, use public transportation or walk to school alone. Play and sports are organized into play dates and teams, and extracurricular activities eat up kids' free time.

Experts say all this structuring and control is destroying childhood. It increases stress, anxiety and depression and destroys any sense of independence. It is, in reality, turning out kids who yearn for Big Brother to take care of them in every way, even at the cost of freedom.

One parent was quoted as saying that while she had a free childhood she can’t allow her children, including one 13-years-old, the same freedom because: “There’s a possibility of someone taking them. There’s too many things that could happen today.” The woman, I fear, is rather dense. Since she was child, and free, the risks have declined, not increased. Her kids today have even less of a chance of being hurt than she did. It is more likely that she would win the lottery than one of her children being kidnapped by a stranger.

Prof. Frank Furedi, author of Paranoid Parenting, said:

"I've been examining this culture of fear for seven years and every year the situation gets worse. Things that weren't a problem three years ago are today.

"Before, it was argued that it was unsafe for kids to play outdoors on their own. Then they were unsafe playing indoors, so kids were encouraged to sit at a computer. Now there is the risk of pedophiles lurking in chatrooms.

"Whatever kids do, there's a health warning. I passed a park play area recently and for every child on the swings or monkey bars, there were about two adults watching to make sure they didn't get hurt.

"There was no chance for the kids to play around and have an adventure because they were under constant surveillance.

"We no longer think of them as being robust - we now see them as vulnerable and at risk. We think there must be constant adult supervision. But youngsters also need to be taught to be self-sufficient."

The risks I faced in life were greater when I was child, than what children face today. Yet parents today are blithering idiots compared to the parents of my generation. Sure child abuse takes place, more often from parents than from strangers, mind you. In the UK, for instance, the number of child murders has remained steady at about 70 per year; but strangers commit only 11 of them. Parents are the greatest threat to children today, not strangers in raincoats with lollypops. Parents are more likely to kill their child than strangers are, more likely to physically abuse their child, more likely to sexual abuse their child, and even more likely to kidnap their child, usually during a custody dispute.

Statistically kids are safer playing outside alone, than staying in the home with their parents. It used to be that one really had to only worry about the damage done by bad, abusive parents. But today “good” parents are damaging their children.

The incident that comes to mind was when I was sitting in an airport waiting for a flight. Due to our exaggerated fear of terrorism I had to arrive hours early just in case the TSA molesters were acting up. I sat near the window and was reading. Nearby a woman was standing with her young daughter. The young girl walked to window to watch the planes. She was literally about 10 to 15 feet away and directly in front of the mother.

But mom had looked away for a second and then looked at where the girl had been standing. Instead of just looking around and seeing where she was, the mother started screaming for her. The girl ran to her mother who continued berating the child with comments about how the airport is filled with strangers and strangers could take her away and hurt her. I wanted to slap the mother, instilling this sort of paranoid delusion into her child. What sort of harm is done when kids are terrorized by the world around them?

I fear the harm is not just to these children, who are emotionally traumatized by the dangers of having “good” parents, but our entire culture is harmed. I fear what sort of world paranoid children will demand when they grow up. If they have been reared on a steady diet of fear and paranoia, what sort of government will they want to control the imaginary dangers they face? Parents need to wake up and let go, let the kids be kids and stop being paranoid jerks.

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Monday, May 09, 2011

They really are clueless.


Sunday, May 08, 2011

Fuel for the soul

The other day, when looking at various injustices that I see going on around me, I was rather depressed. Usually I get angry and that motivates action. But when I get depressed about what I see being done to others I sometimes fall into a depression that quiets me.

At that time I wrote: "When life seems like a load of crap, when the world seems inside-out, when justice is nowhere to be found, I take refuge in the talent of others."

I really do. When I see another person accomplishing something that they only dream of, it feeds my soul. I sometimes cry for them, with joy. I can find great pleasure in the accomplishments that others achieve. I sometimes feel I can take greater pleasure in their accomplishments than in my own, perhaps because we are all taught to play down our own talent, perhaps because exhibiting talent makes one a target.

I had never heard of Jack Vidgen, but I suspect I'll hear more about him as time goes by. And now, in England, another boy has stepped out of the shadows to show a talent that I doubt many of his friends even recognized he had. Ronan Parke astounded me. He's two years younger than Vidgen and seems to be just a small boy, lost on a very huge stage. His absolute terror at what he is about to do is apparent. He does it anyway. And I'm thankful he did. Watch this.

You can see his knees shaking with nervousness. But his life is now completely different. He has been flooded with television requests and numerous people comparing him to Justin Bieber. He told one reporter he doesn't want people thinking "there goes another Justin Bieber." He said: "I want to be myself. I don't want people to think 'That's the new Justin Bieber', I want them to think, 'That's Ronan Parke'." Amen. And he got good advice about school, don't bother going back. I seriously mean that. His success would be enough to spur on the envious hatred of the school bullies. He's better off concentrating on his career and getting schooled at home or with a tutor. Trust me, he'll be able to afford a tutor.