Saturday, October 30, 2010

Friday, October 29, 2010

Have you heard of Donald Henderson? How about Donald Trump?

Two white males named Donald, more or less the same generation. Everyone has heard of the second man. He is famous for being rich, tacky, and not very admirable in any way.
What do you know about Donald Henderson? Did you know he has saved millions of lives? No, he doesn't bomb or picket abortion clinics. His work saved real breathing human beings with names and lovers and children, and dreams for the future. He battled the most devastating scourge of humanity, placing himself at constant risk, in dangerous parts of the planet. He didn't do this alone. Unlike Mr. Trump, he worked with many other people, for small pay, no fame, and few comforts, to save humans from a foe that literally flays people alive.
Have you ever heard of smallpox?
There's a book out called "The Demon in the Freezer" by Richard Preston.  It's worth reading.
It might make you think about the kind of people we celebrate in this country, and why.

One trillion dollars and counting...

That is how much the (official appropriations) wars in Iraq and Afghanistan have cost us - on the books - so far. That doesn't take into account the medical costs, the loss of labor, the financial toll paid by families, and the opportunity costs.  Suppose we had invested one tenth of that amount in 1975 -when the OPEC oil countries began to exert their power and control the flow of oil. Suppose 100 billion dollars had been set aside for conversion to a sustainable economy based on renewable non-polluting resources.
Conservatives will say "it can't be done." That's what they always say. And then progressive leaders go ahead and get it done. Too bad we didn't have progressive leaders in the 80's when we could have avoided all this oil-fueled warfare.
I hope for our children's sake, we get some real progressive leaders soon.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

The fastest and cheapest way to save the planet

Every expert (no - not you Dick Cheney) tells us that energy conservation is the fastest and cheapest way to reduce our consumption of fossil fuels. Yet energy efficiency research garners a tiny fraction of the budget for our energy policy. Nuclear energy, requiring massive investment, and posing many dangers receives over half the energy budget. Why is that?

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

What happened to all that enlightenment?

The 1700's saw the birth of the United States of America. It was the age of enlightenment, the age of reason. People were religious, some of them, and others were not so much (Thomas Paine and Thomas Jefferson for example). But all agreed that the US should NOT be a theocracy, that religion should be separated from government by a "wall of separation." (Thomas Jefferson's words).
Now this yahoo, this tea-party fringe nut Ken Buck from Colorado comes right out in public and says that he wants the government to be a religious government - or religion to be a part of government or something. What the heck does that mean?  Whose religion does he choose for us? We could have a Mormon president some day. Is Ken Buck OK with Morman law for us all? I'm not!! I don't care what they believe as long as it isn't in the laws which govern my life. Why do these people want to undo all the progress human civilization has made in the past thousand years? Why?Why? It really wasn't better when   you had to attend  church or be fined, or when no one could get a divorce, or people were being burned at the stake because they were Catholic, or Protestant, or heretic in another way.  It's really better now.

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Big Government jackboots or We the People?

The right-wing likes to portray the US government as comprising jack-booted thugs coming to "help" and make a mess of everything.
But as Abraham Lincoln reminded us, American government was unique when it was created and defined by the Constitution. It is a government of the people, by the people, and for the people. A list of accomplishments credited to the US government, paid for by US taxpayers includes winning WWI and WWII, developing nuclear energy from theory to bomb, creating the interstate highway system that allowed for unprecedented business growth and opportunity, putting the first human on the moon, eradicating smallpox, and decoding the human genome.
It's downright unpatriotic to be scornful of what Americans working together for the general welfare can do. How many people really want to keep an extra 50$ a month in taxes, but have to go out and work  on maintaining the road in front of their house when potholes develop? Do you really want to keep an extra hundred dollars a month and watch your elderly relatives eat catfood, or have to come live with you to survive?
What would life be like today without satellites, the internet, and all the amazing technology derived from government funded research?
The right-wingers are very very good at directing the dialog using images and clever soundbites to get in power. It's all bologna - meaningless words that are meant to trigger emotional responses, and kill critical thinking.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Separation of Church and State?

Thomas Jefferson is one of those founding fathers who make conservatives profoundly uneasy. He was adamantly opposed to religious bigotry and outspoken in  support of the wall of separation between church and state. He had three accomplishments engraved on his epitaph. It reads as follows"Here was buried Thomas Jefferson, author of the Declaration of American Independence, of the Statute of Virginia for Religious Freedom, and father of the University of Virginia."  
The Statute for Religious  Freedom is summed up in the words "...  but that all men shall be free to profess, and by argument to maintain, their opinions in matters of Religion, and that the same shall in no wise diminish, enlarge or affect their civil capacities."
 No wonder the Texas conservatives who brought us George W. Bush want to write him out of our history.

The Tea Party and Social Darwinism

Tea Party philosophy seems to be that people  are unsuccessful because they are lazy, unfit, and contribute nothing to society. Therefore society owes them nothing and if they die, tough luck. This is social darwinism. It has nothing to do with the theory of evolution. Yet, how many "Teapartiers" will acknowledge that they believe in social darwinism? I bet most of them would call themselves Christians and claim to follow the teachings of Christ - who advocated socialism in its purest form.

Saturday, October 16, 2010

Immigrant culture vs American culture

Research from the Centers for Disease Control indicate that people in the US with a Latino background live longer than any other ethnic group, despite having lower levels of education and income, and relatively high levels of diabetes and obesity. Why?
A couple of hypotheses come to mind. It may be that just the healthiest subset of Latinos tend to migrate away from home in search of opportunity. It may be that Latinos with a history of unregulated food and drink, poor public health care systems, and poor sanitation, have stronger immune systems - the survivors at least. There is some evidence that our overly sanitized and sterile environment may not be the best environment for our immune systems which have evolved to deal with higher levels of  germs and parasites.
My guess is that Latino culture in general is a much healthier way to live. Latinos tend to have a lifestyle that resembles pre-WWII life in the US. They eat more meals together at home with the whole family. The main meal in Mexico is what we would call lunch, and people take off from work to go home and eat together. The food is fresh from the market, fruits and vegetables all year round. And people live together, many generations in one house because most people are too poor to move out and live separately. Their year is punctuated by many festivals and excuses for big parties. They value family, while modern American culture values things.
I despise American culture as represented by television. TV commercials take up nearly half of broadcast time and many programs are thinly disguised advertisements. Think Glen Beck preaching economic doom and shilling for sleazy gold purveyors. I hate commercials where things are worshiped like precious treasures while family members are ignored.
The best thing about the current Latino immigration may be the culture they bring with them. Let's hope they don't become contaminated with our shallow brand of consumerism instead.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Daffy Duck gets it!

We always had our secret suspicions that the right-wing nuts are really cartoon characters. Really, Ann Coulter, Rush Limbaugh and now Beck? They are caricatures of themselves. And now Glen Beck has found his true calling.....

Sunday, October 10, 2010

The Elephant in the corner

I just watched Meet the Press - or as much of it as I could stand. All the talk is about the size of government, and how tax cuts will create jobs (wait, haven't they tried that already? 10 years ago?) and how the deficit is so dangerous. NOT ONE single person even made a mention of the cost of two wars. Or did they? Did I miss it while trying not to puke with anger?

Thursday, October 7, 2010

The perfect hypocrite- Ken Cuccinelli

Running on the Republican party platform of small government, fewer intrusive regulations, and strict constitutional interpretations, he also believes that abortion clinics should have more regulations, that the government should spend hundreds of thousands of dollars overseeing science and prosecuting scientists whose work is threatening to business, and  that the constitutional mandate to promote the general welfare means nothing.
How is it that someone who professes to believe in individual freedoms, can support laws such as the infamous Arizona immigration laws requiring every person to have proof of citizenship on them at all times? How can someone believing in small government say that personal sexual preferences should be monitored and regulated by the government? How can he justify forcing women to endure unwanted pregnancies? And does he really believe that elected politicians are best qualified to evaluate scientific research? The clear pattern is that government regulations and control of private lives are fine and even desirable as long as they support the "conservative" agenda. Doesn't he know that the founders were political liberals?
What a bloody hypocrite. If the second amendment means that no local government anywhere can regulate guns in any manner (despite the clear mandate for regulation in the introductory clause) then surely the preamble of the constitution means that the federal government CAN in fact collect taxes to promote the general welfare.

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Ayn Rand capitalism in action

A man in Tennessee watched his house burn to the ground and his pets die while firefighters stood by refusing to act. Why? He hadn't paid his 75$ 'subscription fee'.
This is Ayn Rand capitalism exemplified. No body owes you nothin'. You can sink or swim, pay to play, it's all about the cash in hand.  This is the world the tea-party wants to create.
Back when the Mafia was doing such things, we called it extortion and said it was bad.

Sunday, October 3, 2010

Collective intelligence

Collective intelligence, group think, cooperative learning - what ever you call it really does work. If we put our resources, and our brains together to solve problems, we all live better.
Unfortunately, under conditions of war and crisis, there are always a few people who can become fabulously well off in comparison to the rest of us. And studies show that we humans would rather be better off than our neighbors, even if it means doing less well in the long run. When those people get in positions of power, we end up with war and crises. (Yes Dick Cheney, this means you.)

Saturday, October 2, 2010

Is it conservative to wait and see?

Conservatives are famous for disliking change. The slogan sent round on fb and twitter and other such progressive media went something along the lines of " you keep the change, I'll keep my guns". So why are they so comfortable with global climate change?  Is it because these ideas arise from science? Science has a well-known liberal bias. It's all about learning new things, and different ways of thinking.
That must scare them even more than the prospect of destroying civilization with our unsustainable use of rapidly depleting fossil fuels.
How weird.

There but for the grace of God....

One important difference between  conservatives and liberals is the recognition (or lack thereof) of randomness.
Conservatives have a need to feel in control, and therefore they believe that everything good that happens to them is a result of their actions, their virtue, and strength of character. They also believe that bad things happen to other people because those other people are lazy, shiftless, and choose their misfortune.
Liberals tend to have the attitude that bad things happen to anyone and we all may suffer from events beyond our control. So liberals are OK with the idea of helping others, and sharing the fruits of their own good fortune.
The evidence is strong that randomness plays a huge factor in our lives. None of us can control the kind of home into which we are born, the kind of parents we have, or the genetics we inherited.
Sure some people, by virtue of random good luck, can overcome difficulties to become enormously successful. But for every Oprah, there are millions of people who are just as hard-working as she who didn't get the lucky breaks she did.
This article about why Neanderthals went extinct illustrates this idea.  We like to believe that modern humans outcompeted Neanderthal humans because we are naturally smarter and better suited to survive. Well, maybe so, but pure luck also played a huge role. It always does. Even Bill Gates acknowledges that he was fortunate in having rare access to computer technology when he was a young kid. The amazing success of Microsoft was due to his hard work, his intelligence, and quite a few lucky breaks.
We need to recognize that luck and randomness affect all of us. But one thing that can improve the odds for all of us is working together. Yes it means some people  have to give up a part of the vast fortunes they might earn or inherit. But ultimately, the progressive motto " A rising tide floats all boats" is true. When more people have the opportunity to develop their gifts and talents, we all benefit.

Friday, October 1, 2010

Government programs can be great or awful. Just like private programs.

The mantra from the right-wing is that government is always bad. Ronald Reagan was famous for saying that quote about the scariest words - I'm from the government and I'm here to help you.
That's a funny line. But it don't mean squat! Just because it's funny doesn't mean it's true!
When catastrophes hit people really do want the government to help. But no one wants to pay for it. And especially no one wants to pay if someone else is likely to benefit.
But government programs, if run by competent honest hard-working men and women are far far more efficient and effective than a for-profit program. And it turns out that President Obama's stimulus program is an example.

Who's that funny man behind the curtain?

I wonder if teapartiers ever ask themselves why powerful interests like these are bankrolling the "movement".  Do they think Fox "News" is really just reporting the news in a fair and balanced way? Doesn't it occur to the average Joe the Plumber type that he really isn't going to benefit from laws that allow him to keep an extra 2,000 dollars in taxes, yet take away his safety net in case he gets sick, old, injured, or can't find work? Would those people support the teaparty movement if they knew it was just another name for social Darwinism?