Saturday, February 28, 2015

Sorry, If You Get Your Politics From Jon Stewart It Doesn't Count!

It seems within weeks of the Boston Globe proclaiming there absolutely was no "deflategate" they've since asserted Comedy Central guy Jon Stewart "shaped the cultural attitudes of a generation".  Which leads to the question: Was it for better or worse?

We already know, for example, that according to author Mark Bauerlein (The Dumbest Generation), the under-30 crowd are foregoing knowledge-based maturity to wallow in a self-confected, solipsistic, social media mirror world of their own egos and selves. The fallout includes their not even meeting basic standards of knowledge for employment, far less earning a degree that actually means anything. (A survey and test several years ago found even a majority of Harvard grads flunked a basic test on American History.)

The entire mental superstructure was revealed in the words of one girl quoted (p. 137-38) when asked by a journalist if she wasn’t worried that she was denied a more in depth  picture of the world by  confining attention to Facebook. Her illuminating retort:

I’m not trying to get a broader picture, I’m trying to get what I want”.

But this may also account for why the same demographic (a good majority of them anyway) gravitates to Stewart's show as a kind of ersatz medium by which to pick up political insight. After all, he's delivered terrific zingers at the likes of the Fox News morons, including Bill O'Reilly as well as the goobers in Congress.

But zingers, or as one critic put it, "shits and giggles",  doesn't make the cut for serious, in depth political news or reporting. I maintain, as I have for many years, that if you don't read newspapers you can't get a handle on the political news. (TV news doesn't cut it either). Even more important, if you don't read widely outside the mainstream media, you will be in no position to master deep politics which now undergirds our political system. Is Jon Stewart going to  bring you into deep politics? Hell no, because he barely touches the normative form.

Bloomberg columnist Clive Crook perhaps put it in plainest terms when he noted "the generation in question relies on a comedy show for its news and engages with politics mainly through jokes"

Adding, that "perhaps I am missing something but that seems less than ideal."

In fact, it not only seems so but is. It proclaims we're incepting a generation of know-nothing goof balls who don't even vote consistently (as in the critical mid-terms) and need the excitement of a personality to grab them. I call them political dilettantes and woefully uneducated on this nation's most pressing issues. Jokes then, don't cut it.

Yes, I also like to watch Bill Maher's Real Time and get some laughs, but I don't believe it's a substitute for reading newspapers and more importantly parsing the PR and distinguishing it from substantive news within them. The latter is enabled by also reading books, on deep politics (including Naomi Klein's 'Shock Doctrine') as well as Howard Zinn's "A People' History of the United States')

It is this reading which amps up one's vocabulary to the point of ably mastering more difficult books, sources and which then confers deeper political and historical insights. By contrast, how can the Jon Stewart followers assimilate a factual basis when the language to describe much of what is happening in the world’s most critical domains exceeds the language difficulty level to which they’re accustomed?

Just take what is happening in the world of global finance right now, with events in Greece - regarding repaying  its debt -  that could affect all of Europe and even the U.S.  (Say if Greece leaves the E.U.) Do the Tweeters and such even know why oil prices recently fell and why they are climbing now? Do they know what's behind the events in Ukraine? How many of the Twitter-Facebook generation are aware of any of this? How many even think it’s relevant to their lives?

As for 'The Daily Show', as Crook points out:

"The problem was the program's fans began to take it seriously, and academics with nothing better to do began to take it seriously, and worst of all the show began to take itself seriously".

Which is to say it became a parody of itself and at that point no longer relevant. (Maybe why Stewart decided it was time to depart, along with wanting to spend more time with family. In other words, he realized that family time superseded the value of the content time on  'The Daily Show')

The trouble is that while political comedy can be entertaining it provides no ballast. Just as no sane person would consume the juicy looking steak depicted in the corner of a cardboard menu in place of the genuine article, so also no sane person should consume comedy and theatrics believing it's the real deal, It isn't.

But perhaps the problem is too many brains have now been so gutted by PR and fake news that the owners can no longer discern what is a serious issue and what isn't.  Hence, the insipid spectacle of millions of  people engaging in a stupid "debate" about the color of a dress sent via Tumblr.  "It was black and blue! No dammit, it was white and gold!"

No people in a serious, politically stable nation would do such a thing - waste their time on such trivial idiocy. But perhaps this is the point most of us have devolved to. Consumers only capable of raising a hue and cry over the color of a dress, but not over our political fabric (or physical infrastructure) and how both are coming apart.

In the end, I suspect false attention to trivial bullshit will only amplify so long as people remain uneducated and unread. (And merely possessing a college degree doesn't ensure this!) More willing to waste time in spurious social media realms with assorted 'likes' and posting images of their kitties boxing doggies than reading and learning about the world they inhabit. As Mark Bauerlein notes (p. 138):

“For education to happen, people must encounter worthwhile things outside their sphere of interest and brainpower. Knowledge grows, skills improve, tastes refine and conscience ripens only if the experiences bear a degree of unfamiliarity.”

What that means, as he further observes, is one must move through and beyond the initial knee-jerk reaction: “I don’t get it! That’s not for me, not my cup of tea!”  Because the intellectual effort in making it your ‘cup of tea’ will then be intellectually rewarding.

In the same way moving beyond the infantile "familiar" world of political jokiness requires a mature temperament, but the required intellectual effort in moving to real politics and deep politics means one can finally emerge as a citizen, as opposed to a consumer.

At that stage, there is a significant intellectual reward, which also serves the interests of one's nation in the best way possible. As Thomas Jefferson put it in his 'Notes on Virginia':
"Every government degenerates when trusted to the rulers of the people alone. The people themselves therefore are its only safe depositories. AND TO RENDER THEM SAFE, THEIR MINDS MUST BE IMPROVED."
Jefferson understood that a citizen "depository" of false beliefs and misinformation would ultimately destroy the Republic on account of the regression of citizens' minds,  not improvement. He understood that citizens to attain this improvement needed to read widely and in a focused fashion and not believe anything without supporting evidence. He might also have added, they ought not substitute frivolous comedic fare for actual knowledge of history, governance and related matters.

Friday, February 27, 2015

No - You Don't Need A Million To Retire!


It has been pointed out before by various finance skeptics, but needs to be again (contrary to the worrywarts), that people do not need $1 million to retire. Yet to many this has almost been adopted as a norm, which ought not be challenged.  Thus, it was encouraging, to see in the MONEY magazine investment issue (Jan-Feb, p. 48) , that the authors also are trying to steer the masses away from the idea that stock investment is the only solution and one needs a minimum of one million bucks to achieve any degree of comfort.

A repeated trope that is 99 percent balderdash.

Indeed, author Michael Lewis, author of The Big Short, has noted it was all "built on quicksand, and people who invest in stocks are not paying serious attention to the underlying fundamentals."  Instead they're being mesmerized by flickering numbers on crawl screens, and carried away by temporarily inflated share prices and think this will net them compile a hearty retirement nest egg. Hardly, because if this bubble bursts as I believe it will, many will lose even more of their nest eggs - especially 401ks- than they did three years ago.

Apart from that,  monies accrued in stocks are never real until actually redeemed. This is why we refer to it as "phantom money". You can't build a secure income stream around it because it's variable. - from day to day and week to week. Apart from that it's been estimated ('Surviving the Coming Mutual Fund Crisis') that only 5 % of mutual fund holders manage to redeem their shares in time to reap gains.

The authors of the MONEY piece cite the finding that "more money makes you happier, but once you amass a comfortable nest egg, the effect weakens".  This according to Wes Moss, author of 'You Can Retire Sooner Than You Think: 5 Money Secrets of the Happiest Retirees'. Moss, in his survey study found that yes, the happiest retirees had the highest net worths, but the happiness quotient diminished after a net worth of $550,000. In other words, that amount was quite enough to fund a comfortable retirement.  As Moss put it, cited in the article:

"Once you reach a certain level, more money doesn't buy a lot more happiness".

And 550k is that level, at least according to Moss' findings.

But the MONEY authors add that where your money comes from is as important as the amount of savings you amass. As Moss finds (ibid.):

"Retirees with a predictable income - a pension, say, or rental properties - get more enjoyment from using those dollars than from a 401k or IRA"

Well, of course, given 401k and IRA monies are generally invested in mutual funds which are subject to variation as phantom money, as I noted. Hence, you cannot be sure that the IRA money you use (say in a yearly redistribution) won't go down the next year because of the underlying stocks plummeting. Thus, you are gambling with your IRA nest egg and you know it.

By contrast, getting regular, steady income - say from a pension or immediate annuity- means you can regularly budget for some enjoyment, e.g. holiday trips, and know how much you still have left.  This is confirmed as the MONEY piece notes:

"A Towers Watson happiness survey found that retirees who rely mostly on investments had the highest financial anxiety"

Again, not surprising since that anxiety will naturally arise given there is no predictable income stream on which to base financial projections or even basic budgeting, say for trips, special treats - nights out for a couple, or even buying a new car.

Lacking a pension income? You can still generate a "pension" equivalent by buying an immediate fixed annuity. As an example cited in the piece, a 65-year old man who puts $100,000 into an immediate fixed annuity (NOT a variable annuity!) will receive $500 a month throughout retirement.

Those who wish to check on the annuity which can be purchased for a given amount can go to this site:

http://www.immediateannuities.com/

Of course, to achieve even modest amounts for immediate annuity purchase requires diligent saving, which too many Americans haven't done. But if they ever do, they ought to know they don't need a million to retire and don't have to risk savings in the stock market.

Thursday, February 26, 2015

Social Security Expansion: Americans Need It NOW !


I just received in the mail yesterday news on a Social Security Expansion bill (S. 567) which I believe is desperately needed. But more on the reasons why a bit later. (Which I only learned about myself from a new book on Social Security I've been reading,   )

This expansion bill called the "Strenghthening Social Security Act" was actually introduced in the last congress by Sen. Tom Harkin. This landmark legislation would:

1) Gradually increase benefits by approximately $70 a month by changing the way the Social Security benefits are computed.

2) Ensure all retired Americans get a fair and larger Social Security COLA - one that truly reflects the cost of living, including medicines, food and fuel.

3) Extend the long term solvency of Social Security by almost two decades simply by finally making millionaires pay their fair share into this program (since most millionaires still demand their own .S.S. cut).  The change would be to the payroll tax cap and would mean someone making $3 million a year would pay the same percent as an ordinary bloke earning $30,000 a year.

Why the need for this expansion? Because we are already suffering from cuts that are working their way toward rendering every ordinary senior on a track to cat food. I wasn't aware of this until reading the book, Social Security Works by Nancy J. Altman and Eric R. Kingson.  A few of the findings that blew my mind (pp. 60- 61):

1) The 1983 Social Security enactment -amendment effectively phases in a two year increase in the full retirement age from 65 to 67 and has already lowered benefits by about 6.5 percent.  When fully phased in, the delay of 2 years to defined "full retirement"  will effectively cut the benefits to those born in 1960 or later by around 13 percent.

2) It does not matter whether you claim benefits at 62 or 70 or somewhere in between you can never 'catch up" and the cuts will wreak their havoc over time year by year.

3) Decisions made in 1983, 1993 to treat a growing portion of Social Security benefits as taxable income will effectively lower benefits by 9.5 percent in 35 years.

The last is especially nasty. Prior to 1983, Social Security benefits were tax free. Since 1984, up to 50 percent of Social Security benefits have been counted as taxable income for individuals in excess of $25,000/ yr. and couples in excess of $32,000/ yr.

Since 1993, additionally up to 85 percent of Social Security benefits have been taxed for some individuals with incomes in excess of $34,000, $44,000 for couples. It is almost as if the benefits are given with the right hand and taken away with the left hand of gov't!

Worse, because the above thresholds are not adjusted for inflation,  the reduction in benefits increases over time. The effective cut was, on average,  6 percent in 2012  and will be 8.8 percent by 2030 and 9.5 percent by 2050.

Did you know about any of these existing cuts? I didn't - other than the first threshold for benefits cuts via taxes.

How bad it can get was recently described in an article in MONEY magazine (March, p. 42). They use the example of a retiree in the 15% tax bracket who is taxed 50 % on his Social Security. If he earns another $1,000, his "combined" income rises that much too, subjecting another $500 of Social Security to income taxes. So, the tax bill on that $1,000 will not be $150 (15 percent of $1,000) but $225 or an effective tax rate of 22.5%.

All of this in concert screams for an expansion of Social Security and the sooner the better. Otherwise seniors will be subject to an ongoing "race to the bottom" - and that's assuming the billionaires like Peter G. Peterson don't get their way in cutting it further via a "chained CPI".

GOP Brinksmanship & Homeland Security Funding: Is Boehner Going to Cave To Radicals?

One thing you have to hand to the Reepos they have perfected the art of "collateral language", i.e. misusing language or narratives to attempt to "mind fuck" our  weaker-minded citizens. They are trying again by withholding funding for Homeland Security (unless another poison pill amendment is passed, this to do with scotching Obama's executive orders on immigration).  But they would have the gullible believe it is the Democrats who are playing fast and easy with protecting citizens - even after a terror group last weekend invited attacks on the Mall of America!

Let's get it clear here, in case any have fog on the brain or are suffering the early entry of dementia, that it is the Reeps who are to blame by attaching the poisoned amendment to what was a clean bill. If the Dept. of  HS isn't funded in a timely fashion then, and malls are attacked by lone wolf terror nuts or ISIS zombies, then we must be able to lay the blame on the House GOP as terrorist sympathizers. Because even when they knew the potential consequences of their ill-advised actions, they refused to move forward on a clean bill. Insisting their 'Tea Party' ideology prevail.

Fortunately, the Reeps in the Senate  have come to their senses. Sen. Mitch McConnell, now tired of posturing and grandstanding (after a number of Dem filibusters and the Al Shabbab threats last W/E) has finally separated the disgusting poison pill amendment from the Dept. of HS funding bill per se.

But Boehner and the House Reeps, still cluttered with Tea Baggers, are not ready to move anytime soon. They are determined to teach Obama a lesson, even if the result may well be nasty for the country and a calamity for their party. Especially, in the latter case,  being labeled as terror sympathizers in perpetuity.

Post script:

Incredibly, the bald chutzpah of conservatives knows no bounds in terms of their brazen hypocrisy. In a recent column, conservo hack Charles Krauthammer actually insisted the Reepo leaders in the Senate adopt the "nuclear option."  and thereby prevent any more filibusters by the Dems. This, after the Reeps in the last session of congress used the filibuster over 450 times during Obama's tenure,  breaking a record.  Go figure.  Looks to me like it's one rule for the Gooprs, another for everyone else!

See also: http://www.salon.com/2015/02/26/gops_amazing_shutdown_debacle_doomed_dhsimmigration_strategy_enters_final_throes/

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Another Fake Climate Scientist Exposed: Willie Soon


Thanks to Chris Hayes in a segment on his  Monday might 'All In' for exposing yet another paid hack climate denier posing as a climate scientist and "astrophysicist". This would be none other than Willie Soon, whose dubious history regarding climate science precedes him.  This concerned a spurious paper in a joint 2003 effort by Soon and Sallie Baliunas with a graphic misuse of statistics. Reference to it may be found at: http://www.sciam.com/article.cfm?articleID=0007A664-3534-1F03-BA6A80A84189EEDF

The methodology used by Soon and Baliunas was terrible, and any proper referee versed at all in statistics would've tossed most of their analyses out in a heartbeat. Especially their deliberate  use of 50-year data periods, increments when the IPCC scientists had already disclosed anthropogenic warming appears at 30 -year levels. In effect, Baliunas and Soon employed what we call a 'selective effects filter' to cull the data they preferred not to have to deal with. As serious climate critics pointed out in the aftermath of the paper, by using much wider 50 year periods one essentially whitewashes the signal right out of the data.

Sadly, it seems Soon hasn't learned his climate lessons. But mayhap he's being paid too much as a shill for the denial lobby to do so. Hayes led off the segment with a pie chart showing 97 percent of published climate papers agree global warming is happening and humans are the primary cause. This elicits the question: 'Who makes up the other 3 percent?'

Hayes' immediate response was that these minority climate change deniers (I disdain misuse of the word 'skeptics' as Chris does) are not all they appear That is, objective researchers in pursuit of scientific truth. Such is the case with Dr. Willie Soon, ostensibly based at the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics, until one digs beneath the surface. (And btw, when one is praised by the most infamous climate change denier - James Inhofe - one knows he's hit new lows and is really a bottom feeder scientifically.)

Hayes then went on to cite the truth about Soon using a clip and excerpt from the New York Times. e.g.

"Though often described on conservative news programs as a 'Harvard astrophysicist', Dr. Soon is not an astrophysicist and has never been employed by Harvard."

More technically, Soon is actually a part-time employee of the Smithsonian which jointly runs  the Center along with Harvard. More to the point, Soon is only there because he brings in his own funding. What exactly this translates into wasn't known until Greenpeace submitted Freedom of Information Act requests for Soon's grant correspondence. What they found also appeared in the Times' piece on 'Deeper Ties to Corporate Cash for Doubtful Climate Researcher (e.g. http://www.nytimes.com/2015/02/22/us/ties-to-corporate-cash-for-climate-change-researcher-Wei-Hock-Soon.html?_r=0)':

"He has accepted more than $1.2 million in money from the fossil fuel industry over the last decade while failing to disclose that conflict of interest in most of his scientific papers."

Can anyone say 'paid whore' for the fossil fuelers? I can!   Especially as Soon, according to the Times:

described many of his scientific papers as “deliverables” that he completed in exchange for their money. He used the same term to describe testimony he prepared for Congress.

So can Hayes. As he put it:

"There are now one point two million more reasons to doubt his work."

Which, let's face it, would already be doubt worthy given how he earlier played with statistics to wash out the actual global warming signal from his paper.

Maybe Soon needs to very soon click on the link below to see the more rapid melting of ice caps and glaciers, which we're actually seeing in real time, showing climate change-global warming is happening as I write:

http://video.pbs.org/video/1108763899

The preceding ought to get even the most blinkered global warming denier's attention, as well as http://www.salon.com/2015/02/26/scientists_stick_it_to_climate_deniers_study_provides_direct_evidence_that_human_activity_is_causing_global_warming/

See also:

http://www.theguardian.com/environment/2015/feb/21/climate-change-denier-willie-soon-funded-energy-industry

http://www.washingtonpost.com/news/morning-mix/wp/2015/02/23/the-favorite-scientist-of-climate-change-deniers-is-under-fire-for-taking-oil-money/

And more documents on Soon's deplorable brand of science can be found here:

http://www.climateinvestigations.org/willie-soon-harvard-smithsonian-documents-reveal-southern-company-scandal

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

'Citizen Four': An Oscar-Winning Documentary Every Citizen Needs To See

Image result for Citizenfour

Though it's been nearly two years, most alert and aware Americans still can recall the brouhaha that erupted after Edward Snowden exposed how we were all being tracked relentlessly by the NSA. Tracked using programs with cryptic names such as XKeyscore and PRISM. Tracked via our telephone calls, emails and our web wanderings - including even terms we'd googled and all the websites visited.  Of course, in the wake, the Neoliberal machine  and its 'evil sister' Neocon War-Security state,  exploded with self righteous indignation - questioning who exactly was this "traitor" (with only a high school education) that brought these things to light.

Those of us who are real Americans applauded Snowden's courage in outing the vile violators of our Constitution's Fourth Amendment, which reads:

The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.”

Clearly showing that only individual warrants are acceptable and one cannot have mass warrants issued out of laziness, disrespect for the Constitution or mere expedience and efficiency provided by technology. Moreover, Snowden was ultimately vindicated when a  300-page report     was released last year by a commission appointed by Obama himself (who was finally backed into a corner after NSA spying on foreign heads of state was made public in one release)

All this came out at the time, but what is less known is the backstory on how Snowden accomplished his file access and then made contact with the journalists who he would entrust with the actual file release. That incudes documentary film maker Laura Poitras who - with Glenn Greenwald (then journalist for the UK Guardian) took home the Oscar for the Best Documentary Feature on Sunday night.

Watching the film last night on HBO, Janice and I were both spellbound as the movie - though totally factual - had the aura of a John Le Carre spy novel. We see the first encrypted messages between Poitras and Snowden and then the instructions she needs to follow to ensure the spooks aren't listening in. As I mentioned to Janice (barely one tenth of the way in), the guy may only have a high school degree but he's absolutely brilliant as well as skilled - something the idiot corporate media downplayed when they tried to make the story about him.

The scene in his Hong Kong hotel when he needs to upload a set of documents to Greenwald's laptop is intriguing in itself, including all the sundry precautions taken to ensure electronic spying eyes or ears don't compromise the transfer. Greenwald and another Guardian journalist are then charged with releasing the files using their best judgment since Snowden didn't want his personal bias reflected. He also wanted to delay his identity being outed so the story could be about what was done to his fellow Americans, as opposed to making him the story. (Which eventually happened thanks to our Neoliberal media elites.)

Two of the more appalling scenes which made us want to chew nails, showed NSA honcho Keith Alexander and then James Clapper lying through their teeth before congress when directly asked (by Sen. Ron Wyden, in the case of Clapper) if any  phone calls of ordinary Americans had been scooped up by the NSA. (After some prodding the turkey explained it might have been done "accidentally")
James Clapper at Senate
Clapper lying to congress.

In another scene that soon follows, where the NSA's mass surveillance of  (Verizon) phone records is being challenged,  we see a Justice Dept. lawyer trying to argue the federal court hearing the case has no real standing and besides, "national security would be affected" if the mass seizure of phone records was stopped.

The documentary then follows Snowden's crisis after his name is released, and we see here this is what he wanted as he didn't wish to be perceived sneaking around "in the shadows".  From the CNN broadcasts the media learns he's holed up in a Hong Kong hotel and it soon becomes clear he needs to leave or risk possible extradition. He's then helped by Julian Assange and his group to make it to Russia and we see only occasional communications with Poitras keyboarded onto the screen - he's obviously taking great precautions.

The issue of the sort of justice Snowden might face (if he returned to the U.S.)  then comes up for discussion and it's noted he'd be prosecuted under the 1917 Espionage Act as a spy, just like other whistleblowers. There would be no comeback and no fair trial because the court and jury proceedings would be entirely weighted ab initio for Snowden's guilt as a spy.  The preservation of the amendments of the Constitution would be totally irrelevant. All of which points up the fact that those yahoos who yelp about Snowden returning and "facing justice" are idiots.

This segment also had our heads ready to explode given that Obama is a former Constitutional lawyer and essentially betrayed all his (early) promises of governmental  "transparency". What makes it even more wretched is how those doing the truth telling,  whistle -blowing have been put behind bars while the torturers and Constitutional violators have been allowed to roam free and even appear on TVs .... as opposed to being shot or turned over to the International Court in the Hague.

The segments dealing with the NSA's overstretch in spying on Brazilian leaders is also gripping, with Greenwald delivering testimony in Portuegese before the Brazilian parliament. And then William Binney, former NSA technical director, testifying before the German parliament to do with NSA's mass  spying on Germans.

The final scenes show Snowden and his girlfriend (American, who joined him in July, 2014) seen through the window of their Moscow apartment.

Leave out Oscars' host  Neil Patrick Harris' idiot snipe about 'treason'(after the award), most real Americans know that Snowden is a hero, a Constitutional protector and defender, and if this film doesn't convince you (assuming you don't believe it currently) well,  you need to admit you're just like the Good Germans. That lot who were quite happy to have the Gestapo looking over their shoulders, and were more than elated to turn their neighbors in on the slightest pretext.

Monday, February 23, 2015

San Fran Priests Gives Kids Sex Pamphlet to Use for "Confession": What Were They Thinking?

Two San Fran Padres,  Rev. Joseph Illo and Rev. Patrick Driscoll, are real pieces of work, and dumb ones at that. Evidently distributing a sex pamphlet to 8- 11 year olds as a means by which they might consider their "sexual sins". What were these boneheads thinking? Wait! They weren't! Padres (most) don't think, they just blindly follow some antiquated noisome moral "orders".  It was then left for many parents to complain (from the 'Star of the Sea' Catholic school) and erupt when they saw what was in the stupid pamphlet.

Driscoll, trying to be a good little RC padre,  distributed the pamphlets for the kids at the private RC school that they might better make "an examination of conscience" before their first confessions. The incredibly explicit  pamphlet (thank goodness he didn't include images) asked kids:

- Whether they had "engaged in impure acts with themselves" (masturbation) or others (adultery, fornication, sodomy)

- Whether any of the students or "their spouses" had practiced artificial birth control or been "sterilized" via tubal ligation or other means (e.g. vasectomy for males).

- Whether they "had an abortion" or "encouraged someone else to terminate a pregnancy".

-Whether they had accessed any nasty internet porn or passed on links to others.

Naturally, most of the parents on seeing this went batshit crazy and were rightly infuriated. Some even opined that the priests had actually created "occasions of sin"  for the kids. Many of the teachers, to their credit and sanity, realized on first inspection what incendiary crap the padres had allowed in and wisely withheld the material from their innocent charges. (And as most of us know - especially those who grew up RC and sex stupid, when you see sex terms like the ones in the book, your curiosity is triggered and you want to find out what it all means.)

Of course, all Catholic kids have to endure the "examination of conscience" ritual prior to making a first confession and what one often recalls in retrospect is how ridiculous the preparation can be, especially with  the notorious Catholic obsession with "impurity".   In my own case, at age 7, I had to go through a "prep" with Sr. Vivina along with classmates at St. Leo's Parochial School in Milwaukee.

Like all RC's (and the SF padres) she also was obsessed with "sins of impurity" and doggedly belabored each of us to recall exactly what we did. We knew we had to have done something, so we could as well spit it out when we got to confession. Harangued for over a week by the good nun, I finally admitted what I did to Fr. Kosciuscko: "I farted in my pet cat's face three times!"

But often, things aren't so funny, especially when one grasps that Catholicism has deep Manichean roots in which the body and all things to do with it, especially yielding any kind of pleasure, are viewed as "Satanic" or "sinful" because of being bound to the "flesh".  So it is not surprising that a common thread throughout RC Church history is an unhealthy obsession with common sexual acts. These are what we call the "pelvic prohibitions" and they include masturbating, fornicating, oral sex and many other expressions of intimacy because well.... the popes and padres and their bureaucracy of fossils all view humans as fallen angels as opposed to risen apes - which is what we really are.

Ever see males apes masturbating at the zoo? Well, then you know it's a fairly common primate act, and under no conditions a "sin". Besides which the whole concept of sin is bogus anyway. I mean, how can an allegedly omnipotent being be affected in any way by a puny mortal human's deeds or misdeeds? It's laughable!

Getting back to the harping on "impure actions and thoughts" it was left to a former RC priest, Fr. Emmet McLoughlin to document the extent of this RC  sexual obsession and its ill effects on the minds of Catholic youth in his book: 'Crime and Immorality in the Catholic Church'   (Lyle Stuart Books, 1962) in which he detailed using statistics the extend of seeding sexual paranoia in kids' minds leading them into precarious mental states. These mental states often incepted great emotional suffering and shame, and in extreme instances, confinement to psych wards. Often the affected kids -usually teens- would literally be terrified of going to sleep lest they die having forgotten some "impure act" or other and ending up roasting in Hell.


In one of his chapters ('Let the Statistics Tell Their Tragic Story', pp. 189-214) ) McLoughlin documents how relentless hectoring about "sexual fantasizing" (which every normal male does, at least 200 times a day)  led dozens of students at an RC school to be hospitalized for depression or acting out. Many others, too terrified by the prospect of their "sins" - willingly turned themselves into eunuchs for the padres and whatever pope at the time - despite most sexual experts (e.g. Dorothy Baldwin) warn of the dangers of teens not ejaculating regularly.

Now, recently to the rescue we have Sister Margaret Farley, who in her 2006 book,  Just Love.      has shown how the Vatican has overstepped the bounds in its sexual ethics and how sanity can be brought to bear. Those interested in the details can check out my earlier post,

http://brane-space.blogspot.com/2012/04/vatican-sics-bishop-enforcers-on-nuns.html

For the rest of us who've left the RC's for sanity, or to quote George Carlin in one of his routines, "once we reached the age of reason", we never look back.

Those interested in how bad this crap was can watch a video,  reported by KNTV-TV

Saturday, February 21, 2015

Will the Academy Engage in Narcissistic Navel Gazing - Or Deliver A Real 'Best Picture' Award?

A recent article on salon.com by Andrew O'Herhir observed:

If “Birdman” wins best picture on Sunday – and that’s where the smart money is coming down – that would be, to quote the inestimable Mark Harris in Grantland, “the third time in four years that people who make movies have given top honors to a movie about people who make movies.” (In case you’ve forgotten, and if there is any mercy in heaven you probably have, the earlier examples are “The Artist” and “Argo.”)

Self-regarding movies about the greatness and craziness and triumph and tragedy of those who make movies have become the new Oscar norm, replacing the suddenly outdated Oscar norm of comic-sentimental British costume drama draped over anodyne messages. The producers of “The Theory of Everything” and “The Imitation Game,” a pair of pictures conspicuously molded to that old Oscar-bait template, evidently hadn’t gotten the memo.

REALLY? So I guess my take that 'Imitation Game' was a shoo -in, e.g.

http://brane-space.blogspot.com/2015/01/the-imitation-game-shoo-in-to-win-best.html

was a bit premature. Well, that's too bad. Because if the Academy is now on a navel-gazing bender it is likely to discredit their choice of  'Best Picture' and demean it as a less than objective selection. Just reading the passage above ought to send off alarms that while you (in the movie business) can be forgiven awarding top honors to a movie about people who make movies - you can't make it a habit. We refer to this as "artistic incest."

The Academy, then, needs to be more serious in its take this year. While Keaton is a good actor, and 'Birdman' is probably worthy of top honors I say the Oscar ought to go to Richard Linklater's film 'Boyhood',  (certainly if  'Imitation Game' is out of the running.) Why 'Boyhood'? Let's start with being 12 years in the actual making - an uncommon achievement for any film nowadays. Imagine the editing alone that had to go into cutting those millions of hours of film down to 2 hours and 45 minutes. 

Watching the film (which we did on pay per view last week) was an experience in itself, seeing all the characters aging naturally - including female lead Patricia Arquette. The kids' characters also age by those 12 years and their experiences are melded seamlessly into the whole. The effort alone - not to mention the acting - is Oscar worthy.

I therefore tend to agree with O'Herhir when he writes:

I can’t get super exercised about “Birdman’s” likely victory, honestly. As Harris has noted, it speaks to a widely shared experience in Hollywood, the attempt to create something beautiful and meaningful that runs off the rails into the swamp. It’s “a movie about someone who hopes to create something as good as ‘Boyhood,’” a reading both barbed and generous, and right on the money.


So why give the top award to a 'wannabe good' flick as opposed to giving it to the actual article? It would make no sense at all. But from past choices (e.g. 'Hurt Locker' over 'Avatar' a few years ago - despite Cameron's film setting new cinematic standards) we know the members of the Academy aren't always committed to acting sensibly. Politics, as Harvey Weinstein noted in an interview on CBS Early Show a month ago, also plays a huge role - and who knows how many Academy members can be bought off at the last minute by sundry blandishments and perks? (Including extra $$$ in those 'swag bags')

Let us hope they are this time!

On another note, the Best Actor Oscar ought to go to Eddie Redmayne for his incredible portrayal of physicist Stephen Hawking in 'The Theory of Everything' which we saw last night. The performance, including meticulously manifesting every one of Hawking's movements (and speech) as he develops ALS, is as worthy of Oscar glory as Dustin Hoffman's portrayal of an autistic in 'Rain Man'. If Hoffman merited an Oscar for his performance, so does Redmayne now!
--------------------------

Footnote: After watching 'Birdman' my assessment stands as given. Way too much obsession with acting kitsch and one guy's drama in attaining (Broadway)acting perfection following the end of his Hollywood career. Too much navel gazing, in other words. Janice, in fact, was ready to ditch the viewing after barely a half hour - so tired did she become at the over the top acting rehearsals and 'character exploration' rituals. The ending was also way too esoteric, and some of the scenes with Riggan flying around Manhattan (with his 'Birdman' persona) absoluotely surreal, like out of some LSD'ers bad dream. 

Friday, February 20, 2015

"Sharing Economy"? Thanks, But No Thanks!

To paraphrase Robert Reich from a recent article on the "sharing economy" at salon.com
"What's wrong with a country where robots do everything that can be predictably programmed in advance, and almost all profits go to the robots’ owners?
Meanwhile, human beings do the work that’s unpredictable – odd jobs, on-call projects, fetching and fixing, driving and delivering, tiny tasks needed at any and all hours – and patch together barely enough to live on."

Well, this is the world of "on demand" - Johnny on the spot workers, where you get paid by the hour and have to be ready to go do your thing at a moment's notice. Formerly, temping was the precarious downside of corporate office work, and adjunct teaching the bargain basement for many college profs. Now, work on demand is the new normal for even more workers. They include Uber drivers, Instacart shoppers, and Airbnb hosts.

Also:  Taskrabbit jobbers, Upcounsel’s on-demand attorneys, and Healthtap’s on-line doctors.

There are also  Mechanical Turks.
As Reich puts it:
"The euphemism is the “share” economy. A more accurate term would be the “share-the-scraps” economy."
At its heart, as Reich observes,  are  "new software technologies embedded in assorted apps that allow almost any job to be divided up into discrete tasks that can be parceled out to workers when they’re needed, with pay determined by demand for that particular job at that particular moment".Customers and workers are matched online. Workers are rated on quality and reliability
Everyone seems to be raving about this  "sharing economy" but I suspect it's mostly bloviation and PR since  the big money goes to the corporations that own the software while only scraps go to the on-demand slaves......errrr,  workers.

SO pardon me if I want no part of it. Take Airbnb, started in 2008. Now why in the hell would I let out my home to strangers I don't know from Adam, just to make a few bucks? It's asinine and nonsense. Why the hell would I leave my house to strangers to pick and snoop over - as well as possibly damage or steal assorted goods? It's totally a downside. The only people I'd remotely consider doing such house renting with might be nieces, or other family members (assuming they are on the right side of me)

Then there's 'Yertle" where you supposedly offer assorted items you no longer want for sale or trade with others. Again, why would I want to trade my stuff for theirs? I took many years to accumulate a certain aggregate of collectibles for which I still place value, such as vintage sports cards, as well as old stamps and books and even some World War II memorabilia (and old coins)  left by my dad.. I would not trade these for the simple reason there's nothing others have that would entice me to part with any item.

 Yertle thus offers no benefit to me so there's no reason to use it, to "share'.

The same goes for all the other manifestations of the sharing economy such as 'TaskRabbit' where people auction off their services or 'Fiverr.com, where people are paid $5 each to write jingles or write press releases for some Neoliberal rag or other. I am not interested because there's no amount of money I can think of (say less than ten grand) that would entice me to trade my time for such fleeting labor.

One of the worst aspects of the on demand job world is how it destroys workers' ability to plan, whether for simple budgeting, taking holidays, or a simple thing like day care for a child. As one woman noted on CBS Early Show yesterday, what if she gets a job but it only lasts for an hour or two. She still has to call a babysitter to mind her kid, but then if the job ends after an hour (or less) she's already at home and didn't need the day care.

Those who aspire to become little "task rabbits" at the end of assorted app tethers to jump through hoops to do some little task or other for a "fiver" or trade for junk, are of course welcome to do so. Whatever floats your boat. Just count me out!

And if you do partake of the "share economy" bear in mind how you are helping to prop up a system for serfs - which the grandees at Davos (recent confab) want to expand!

Thursday, February 19, 2015

SETI Should Avoid Actively Beaming Messages to Possible Aliens


The alien species we invite to Earth - and which actually reaches us -  may not be warm, fuzzy and benign like "ET".

I said it before in numerous newspaper articles as well as other (academic) papers, that if we humans have any sense at all we will keep our galactic location a secret and not actively attempt to advertise our presence to whatever alien civilizations might be out there (and there are probably thousands in our Milky Way galaxy alone).

For example in one article I did for the Barbados NATION newspaper back in 1978, e.g.


I cited Sir Martin Ryle's warning that any advanced aliens out there could already have assembled a complete picture of our technological and defense capabilities simply from the electromagnetic waves already dispatched, incidentally, as part of our media broadcasts.

Earlier, in 1972 - at a conference on potential interstellar contact- physicist Freeman Dyson warned that the first species we are likely to encounter is going to be technologically advanced and also highly aggressive - not ready to merely become easy friends- but more likely our worst predators.

More recently, Stephen Hawking has sounded similar warnings comparing the aliens that are most likely to visit Earth (because of stupidity on our part, i.e. in actively beaming messages) to the first colonizers of the New World - who decimated native populations for resources and territory.

All the above bears on some current plans by a group of astronomers (many connected to the SETI project) that we should no longer just sit passively at radio telescopes waiting to hear from "ET" but instead "actively beam messages into the void and invite the closest few thousand worlds to chat or visit." ('Calling the Cosmos', Denver Post, Feb. 15, p. 10A).

TO which I and others (e.g. Stephen Hawking) reply 'bad idea'. Hawking goes so far as to call it 'crazy' (I say it's irrational) and that "instead of sweet and gentle ET we might get the aliens from Independence Day.)

This isn't as far fetched as it seems. Any race able to mount the technological ability for interstellar travel is likely to be aggressive and possibly even conspicuously territorial and warlike. Look no further than the conquering empires on Earth which developed the most advanced tech abilities - say for space travel and going to the Moon, or Mars - they are also the most aggressive. The U.S.- which actually landed men on the Moon, has also engaged in 248 armed conflicts in 153 locations since the end of World War II. It is also responsible for 41 percent of the world's military spending according to a paper in the American Journal of Public health available as a free PDF here.

So there is good preliminary evidence using examples from our own world that high tech and aggression go together. We would be foolish to believe it's any different in the stellar void at large, and believing in fantasy motion pictures as an alien template is as foolish as believing human virgins can give birth or that Lee Harvey Oswald killed JFK. 

Some astronomers like Douglas A. Vakoch - director of interstellar message composition at SETI- don't buy this hesitaton or the arguments for exercising an abundance of caution.  They're convinced that actively "calling out" may be the only to find out if we are alone.  Hence,  we need not fret about too many negative speculations, particularly just "letting sleeping aliens lie". But those of us adhering to the precautionary principle would remind these contact Pollyannas  of the monstrously aggressive sorts that Freeman Dyson once described as a "technological cancer in the galaxy".

Believe me, these characters will find us soon enough, so why press our luck? Haven't we enough to worry about with climate change now on the verge of the runaway greenhouse effect - without adding aggressive, voracious aliens to our troubles?

SO it was good that this dispute broke out last Thursday and Friday in San Jose, CA at a convention of the American Association for the Advancement of Science. We need to get this out in the open and hope to hell that cooler, more rational heads prevail.  Thanks also to Elon Musk (of Space X fame) and Geoff Marcy for starting a petition cautioning against actively sending out such messages since it's impossible to predict whether extraterrestrial life will be benign or hostile.

The idea they oppose is one called "active SETI". While it is true we've been passively , incidentally sending out radio and TV messages for 70 years - these lacked the strength and power that a directly beamed and focused message would possess as part of active SETI.

Vakoch has described this potential  coordinated, sustained million dollar a year effort as "an attempt to join the galactic club". Fair enough, but what if that "club" is only composed of the most territorial and consumptive species in the galaxy - who give no quarter - and might regard planets like ours as fodder for their machines? (They might even argue that given how we're wrecking the planet anyway with fracking we don't deserve to have a say in how or whether it is preserved).

My pessimism is shared by astrophysicist David Brin (also a scifi author) who thinks inviting aliens here is a bad idea. Even if there's a low risk of nasty creatures arriving (see image) the consequences would be horrific if in fact they do. As he puts it:

"I can't bring myself to wager my grandchildren's destiny on unreliable assumptions about benevolent aliens".

Well put, and I agree!

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Get A Look At Our Sun In A Time-Lapse Movie: Celebrating the Solar Dynamics Observatory

It's past time to celebrate the Solar Dynamics Observatory which saw it's five year anniversary on Feb. 11th. Over 200 million images have been taken (at the rate of just over 1 per second) and actually compiled into a compressed time lapse movie which you can view here:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GSVv40M2aks


Pay attention especially to the magnificent loops of plasma: the coronal loops which are structured such as shown in the detailed diagram below, and occur in solar active regions,


And also the bursting loops associated with solar prominences, which are some of the most energetic and stupendous sights visible on the Sun.

One such giant prominence which exploded some years ago is shown in the image below:



















The physical basis for these prominences has been known for some time and can best be explained by reference to the diagram shown below:


This shows the motion - tied to the plasma flow - relative to the local magnetic or B-field.  The key point to note is that the flow's cutting action on the field line triggers a change in the magnetic flux and an induced current.  The only way for the plasma to avoid the unrealistic situation we call "infinite conductivity" is for it to be constrained to follow the B-field lines rather than to cross them. This is what is meant by "field freezing" and if you look carefully at the SDO movie you will spot a number of instances where this occurs!

Yes! A 4-Year College Degree Should Be Required of Presidents!

The topic for discussion at the end of Chris Hayes' 'All In' last night was whether or not Presidents - and hence Presidential candidates  - ought to have 4-year college degrees. Hayes played some clips from the usual clowns on 'Fox n' Friends' that rejected the idea as "typical liberal elitism"  and one of the Fox dunderheads actually cited "Jesse Ventura, Barbara Streisand, Mark Zuckerberg and Steve Jobs" as not having 4-year college degrees.

Yeah, but none of those luminaries or celebs will ever have their hands on the nuclear football! Sorry, but call me a "liberal elitist" - I want  a person to at least have that qualification before assuming the highest office in the land.

The Fox clowns also cited the fact that "31 million Americans left college before getting their degree" - a point Hayes also reinforced while playing Devil's advocate. But again, none of those 31 million would be contending for the highest office in the land anyway. So the point is irrelevant.

One of the other guests acknowledged that the issue probably comes to down to whether you want a "President you can have a beer with" or a "President who knows a thing or two about a thing or two". Well, since neither I (or anyone else) would ever have a chance of having a beer with any Prez, it's immaterial - hence a foolish barometer by which to judge Presidential caliber. About as foolish as using John Stewart as a medium to get your political information. (About which I will have more to say in a coming post).

I'd like to refer once more to the take ('The Myth of Higher Education') offered by Dr. Steven B. Mason in an issue of Integra (No. 9, Oct.  2010) the journal of Intertel.  As he writes:

"the bottom line regarding a well -rounded education is that it has nothing to do with any kind of bottom line. Its value (non-monetary) is to be found in the quality it adds to one's life. It allows one to better appreciate music, art, history and literature. It contributes to a better understanding of language and culture, nature and philosophy. It expands rather than limits horizons and replaces faith and belief with reason and logic"

This is totally germane to any person who aspires to the Presidency. Especially the last two sentences on contributing to a better understanding of language and culture, and expanding horizons while replacing faith and belief with reason and logic. These are exactly the ideals or ideal attributes which the citizen ought to demand in his President. (Of course, a President could still turn into an illogical dummy or ....more commonly.....might be known to be such before election, as Dumbya Bush was in 2000. But that's on a Supreme Court that shoehorned him into office, as well as his then FLA governor brother (Jeb), who with his Secretary of State put tens of thousands of African -Americans on felons' rolls so they couldn't vote).

Chris Hayes also raised the point that Scott Walker, for example, had already finished 3 1/2 years at Marquette University - a "fine private school" (to use Chris' parlance)  just like Loyola which I attended for two years before moving on to Univ. of South Florida where I could specialize in astronomy and astrophysics. Chris, again as Devil's advocate, asked why that can't be enough.

Well, here's the deal, almost getting a degree, irrespective of university, isn't the same as actually getting it!  One has to carefully plan and apportion courses - required and electives- semester by semester, with the credit hours needed, and which are specifically demanded by the particular department. This is not that easy and often courses or credit hours can come up short - showing poor oversight or lack of planning. But one of the traits we want in Presidents is precisely attention to detail when a particular objective is in sight and also competent planning toward that end.

Scott Walker's failure to get his degree - never mind his excuse of going to "work in Chicago"-  still doesn't let him off the hook. And to that end, if he wants to remain Governor of Wisconsin, fine (though I do object to his right wing politics) but not to become President. Scott's three and a half years and lack of finishing is ok for the state job, but not getting near to the nuclear football -with the ability to launch nuclear missiles, at Russia say.

I want a person who's gone the whole way and finished what he started, demonstrating foresight and planning capabilities. The degree doesn't have to be from Harvard or the Ivies but it ought to be from a real, certified school - preferably not an online school.  (But GRE scores can always be required from  the latter types to validate quality.)

Chris asked if this should be a "deal breaker" and in my mind, yes it should. All other things being equal - and hey, if we suspect they aren't - we can always demand to see the potential President's GRE scores in history and political science!

See also:

http://www.salon.com/2015/02/26/the_rights_fear_of_education_what_i_learned_as_a_former_conservative_military_man/

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

The "Neoliberalism Frankenstein" - If You're Against It You Should Be Rooting for Greece and Russia!

Is it true as salon.com author Patrick L. Smith opines in a recent piece,

http://www.salon.com/2015/02/12/neoliberalism_is_our_frankenstein_greece_and_ukraine_are_the_hot_spots_of_a_new_war_for_supremacy/

 that we Americans have all become supine and surrendered to the mind -fucking U.S. media, and so are unable to discern truth from propaganda any more? Smith observes:

"Americans have by now surrendered to a blitz of propaganda wherein Russia and its leadership are cast as Siberian beasts, accepting as truth tales the National Enquirer would be embarrassed to run"

 It seems so, as polls disclose too many of us are siding with the Neoliberal media machine in two of the last arenas where Neoliberal world supremacy is at stake: Greece and the Ukraine. In the former a 'gun' is being held to the country's head to pay up all its owed debts despite the fact most level-headed people familiar with the structuring know it can't work. Putting the Greeks and their new PM in a hopeless, losing wicket position.   As Smith points out:

"At writing, Yanis Varoufakis, Greece’s imaginative new finance minister, has just made his first formal effort to present European counterparts with new ideas to get foreign debts of €240 billion ($271 billion) off the books and the Greek economy back in motion. These ideas can work. Even creditor institutions acknowledge that Greece cannot pay its debts as they are now structured. But at a session in Brussels Wednesday, the European Union’s arms remained folded."

Why the obstinacy? Because if Greece is allowed to restructure so will Spain and likely Portugal too. This the Neoliberal debt mongers cannot afford to allow. (And let's note that Barbados too is under the neolib gun, after the most recent credit downgrade, as the vultures of the IMF circle getting ready to pick the country's bones.  In Bim's case, of course, it was a profligate gov't that allowed the situation to get out of control.)

Meanwhile, in the Ukraine - the West's Neoliberals have handed PM Petro Poroshenko an "offer he can't refuse" - a la the Godfather when he had his hit men chop that thoroughbred's head off and place it in the bed of the movie mogul who refused to cooperate (giving the Godfather's godson a movie role.) The West, featuring the EU and its U.S. ally as well as NATO puppets, want that Ukraine gem in their Neoliberal constellation - backed up right against Russia's border.  They refuse to allow it to be a buffer state  - which is exactly what's needed now.  Smith again:

"Also at writing, the Poroshenko government in Ukraine appears to have recommitted to a cease-fire signed last September in Minsk and promptly broken. It is not surprising given Kiev’s very evident desperation on all fronts. But neither would it be if Poroshenko once again reneges. There is a sensible solution on the table now, but these are not people who have so far been given to one."

Again, why not accept the sensible solution? Because that is not what Neoliberal supremacy is all about. Like a Frankenstein monster created by economic dimwits who believe in the deus ex machina of markets with humans as its cogs, they are all about absolutism. Solutions must therefore be all or none, with the 'none' being no Russian input that can be respected. Ukraine is therefore dictated to be a satellite in the greater NATO conglomerate and subject to Neoliberal debt rules.

Smith in his essay rightly puts it thus:

"There is something tragically irrational driving both of these crises. The genesis of each, at least nominally, is the question of whether markets serve society or it is the other way around. Economic conflict, then, has been transformed into humanitarian disasters. This is what Greece and Ukraine have most fundamentally in common.
 
It is in search of a logical explanation of the illogic at work in these two crises that something else, something larger, emerges to bring them into a coherent whole. Washington has so many wars going now, none declared, one can hardly keep the list current. But the most sustained and havoc-wreaking of them is unreported. This is the war for neoliberal supremacy across the planet. Greece and Ukraine are best viewed as two hot fronts in this war, a sort of World War III none of us ever imagined."

And he nails it right there! "World War III" going on right now,  yet most of us are somnolent, or better, comatose under the haze of Neoliberal puppet media propaganda. The barrage on the nightly news has been so effective, the poorly informed are left with their mouths agape as those brutal Russians (backing the separatists)  emerge with pretty well the same "evil" aura as ISIS.  No surprise that like the brainwashed denizens of Oceania - in the scene where the uber villain Goldstein is depicted on the giant theater screen - they go nuts clamoring for blood and action.  DO they not know that action more fully ensnares them as complicit bait in their future slavery and destitution  in a perpetual war state? Frankly, they no longer care. Having lost the ability to critically and logically think, thanks to the bastardized vocabulary of Newspeak, their brains have now been colonized by "Big Brother" to his own ends.

The people of Oceania were no longer authentic beings in their own right but mere extensions of Big Brother and his will to power, to keep grinding their bodies and state resources up in a never-ending war to attain global domination. SO it is with the "Neoliberal Frankenstein" and how it now seeks to grind Greece and Ukraine into more fodder for its misbegotten global ends.

Smith asserts that "Neoliberalism is our Frankenstein" and also says "it is profoundly undemocratic, never mind that the English and American variants of democracy are the mulch from which it arises." He also adds:  "It is also unrelentingly absolutist because it is intimately related to the myth of America’s providential exception, neoliberalism can tolerate no alternative".  His definition (formal) starts out:

"Neoliberalism denotes the revival since the 1970s, plus or minus, of English liberalism as expounded by Locke in the 17th century and numerous others in the 18th—Adam Smith and his “invisible hand,” most famously. John Stuart Mill and Jeremy Bentham, the utilitarian, are notable among 19th century apostles."

But then goes into a lengthy discourse comparing early and 18th century forms of  liberalism to the neo-mutant. Let's just cut to the chase here and give Smith's core definition:

"Classical liberalism in its neo phase denotes not thought but belief, ideological conviction. It is the ideology of radical deregulation, radical corporatization, radical privatization—prisons? water? kindergartens? human health?—maximal profit without regard to consequences, and the radical devaluation of any serious consciousness of the communities in which all individuals are suspended."

I would add to this columnist Jay Bookman's insight from a 1998 Baltimore Sun piece ('The New World Disorder Evident Here, Abroad'):

“The global economy has been constructed on the premise that government guarantees of security and protection must be avoided at all costs, because they discourage personal initiative."

And there is Henry Giroux's insight on Neoliberalism:

"As an ideology, it casts all dimensions of life in terms of market rationality, construes profit-making as the arbiter and essence of democracy, consuming as the only operable form of citizenship, and upholds the irrational belief that the market can both solve all problems and serve as a model for structuring all social relations. "
 
Thus we see where the yen to cut social insurance arises, and why profit is amplified for the richest, and  also how  the wealthier nations  especially benefit by placing newcomer additions in regimes of adversely structured debt. This is exactly why the West's Neolibs are determined to make Ukraine part of the Neoliberal imperative and orbit. It follows from this that the true liberal must inveigh against this mission and that means siding with Russia. At least to the extent that the Ukraine outcome ends essentially in a draw - translated to mean neither in the West's orbit or Russia's but a separate buffer state. (This was advocated by Ret. Col. Lawrence Wilkerson two years ago.)

But this may be difficult given as Smith writes:
 
"I was astonished many times as a correspondent to see how readily foreign leaders and their finance ministries drank the Anglo-American Kool-Aid. Here I single out Continental Europe as especially disappointing. A long social-democratic tradition notwithstanding, almost all European leaders—and every last technocrat in Brussels—went down like sticks of butter when neoliberals at State, Treasury and in the think tanks launched the post-Berlin Wall campaign."

Thus, the Europeans have now become puppets of the U.S. which let's face it, is the primary force bearer - the 'cop of the world' there to enforce Neolib standards. Hence, the threat to send lethal weapons to the Ukrainians - who will then get to actively fight for their own Neoliberal debt enslavement.

They may never have heard of FDR's famous words that "Necessitous men cannot be free men" but who knows, they may instead buy into the old Nazi saw "Arbeit Macht Frei" - the sign hanging over Auschwitz.

The same applies to the case of Greece, as Smith observes:
 
"It is preposterous. Greek debt can be efficiently restructured so that losses are minimized and properly shared. This is a European crisis in the final analysis, not Greece’s alone; behind every incautious borrower is an incautious lender. Yet there is no hint of open minds among Europe’s leaders, notably the Germans. What, we have to ask, is this all about?"

Again, what it's about is the Neoliberal imperative. The ability to structure debt in the most adverse way possible to convert nations into debt slavery states and their citizens into slaves for the Neoliberals.  How accomplished? Well, via the draconian conditions required by the EU and the IMF: the privatization of numerous state-held assets, including airports, rails and the entire port of Piraeus. Also,  divestment of the most profitable of these first.  Leaving the gov't impecunious and a beggar beholden to the Neoliberal empire.

If you consider yourself to have any skin at all in this ongoing war, you need to back Greece and Russia as bulwarks against Neoliberal advance. If not, then you are part of the problem not the solution and if the whole world turns into a slave state for the richest, you must share the blame.
 

See also:

http://www.smirkingchimp.com/thread/eric-zuesse/60991/gallup-americans-fear-of-russia-soars

and:

http://www.smirkingchimp.com/thread/dean-baker/60995/greece-does-battle-with-creationist-economics-can-germany-be-brought-into-the-21st-century

and:

http://www.smirkingchimp.com/thread/eric-margolis/60987/putin-heads-off-a-us-russia-war

and:

http://www.salon.com/2015/02/16/ukraine_is_the_new_iraq_why_history_is_repeating_itself_in_eastern_europe_partner/

Another Train Explosion - Another Reason To Stop Fracking!


View image on Twitter
The scenes emanating from Fayette Co., West Virginia resembled iconic images of Dante's Inferno as portrayed in several works of art. Giant fireballs lurching into the skies, forcing the evacuation of two WVa towns as another CSX owned train, bound for Yorktown, Virginia suffered a derailment  (as several before) with the explosion of the kerogen it was  carrying.

This had originated in the Bakken oil shale fields of North Dakota and not the first incident to involve Bakken-crude, which kerogen is some of the most explosive stuff on Earth.  Recall last April another Bakken-carrying CSX train derailed near Lynchburg, VA. In December, 2013, a massive fireball erupted over Casselton, ND and in July, 2013, 47 people died after a train carrying Alberta kerogen crude derailed in the middle of a town in Qu├ębec.

In the current incident, the Governor of West Virginia has declared a state of emergency. Also,  some of the kerogen effluent poured into the Kanawha River, forcing the Montgomery, WVa water treatment plant to shut down because the river is the source of town water. No one in his or her right mind would want to imbibe kerogen-laced water.

What is kerogen? Richard Heinberg explained it in his recent book, Snake Oil: How Fracking's False Promise Imperils Our Future', page 110 ):

"Kerogen is not oil. It is better thought of as an oil precursor that was insufficiently cooked by geologic processes. If we want to turn it into oil, we have to finish the process nature started: that involves heating the kerogen to a high temperature for a long time. And that in turn takes energy- lots of it, whether supplied by hydroelectricity, nuclear power plants, natural gas, or the kerogen itself. "

Being an "oil precursor" means it's much more volatile and doesn't take much to explode, say from a collision or derailment. None of this has been taken into consideration by the National Transportation Safety Board in its paltry "recommendations" which are more a nod to the energy industry and train operators like CSX.

In fact, what the latest incident shows is that this crap shouldn't be transported at all. Period!  Indeed as one commentator observed on Chris Hayes' show it "ought to be left in the ground". It's too damned dangerous and the killing of those 47 forlorn Canadians ought to have proven that. If that had been an actual terror attack you can bet your sweet bippy no more trains would be running anywhere out of an abundance of caution. Yet because we are so brainwashed by the Neoliberal business before people model, our leaders turn a blind eye -- we must let those trains keep on rolling to keep the $$$ pouring in!

Oil shale fracking is a symptom of diminishing quality supplies of oil, that of high EROEI (energy returned on energy invested) not oil abundance. Anyone with half a brain would know that, which is why Richard  Heinberg  refers to it as "snake oil". It simply can't deliver the energy solution promised and in fact its continued use will result in ever lower quotas of useful energy- at ever higher cost.

As Heinberg adds - following the previous quote (ibid):

 "Therefore the EROEI in processing oil shale is bound to be pitifully low. According to the best study to date, by Cutler Cleveland and Peter O'Connor, the EROEI for oil shale production would be about 2:1. That tells us that oil from kerogen will be far more expensive than regular crude oil."

This compares to the average of 15:1 when we used "light sweet" crude - not this crap which is closer to coal tar. 

Folks, our energy response shows desperation, not any resourcefulness. This is what the Neoliberals won't tell you. They instead want you to believe we're on the verge of a "New Age" of energy bounty with little cost to the citizen. Do not buy it for a second! There are major costs - to our air, water, soil and now to whole communities which stand to be blown up and evacuated if one of the trains carrying this stuff happens to derail. Likely taking lives and towns' water supplies with it.

We wouldn't tolerate terrorists getting away with this shit and we shouldn't tolerate it from the damned frack-happy assholes seeking to send our country and its citizens into perdition. We need to hold our leaders to account on this too, and get rid of all those who put the oil industry's interests before ours!

See also:

http://www.smirkingchimp.com/thread/gaius-publius/61232/lying-pantsuit-lady


Monday, February 16, 2015

Powerful Allies Join Water Fight Against Frackers In Colo.


A frack well goes at it in Weld County, CO

It was heartening to read in the (Feb. 9)  Denver Post about a powerful new organization that includes civil rights groups, breweries and environmental activists united in demanding a fracking moratorium in Colorado. The organization (Don't Frack Our Water) vows to fight hard against plans to lease out hundreds of thousands of acres of federal land for fracking in the South Platte River - which is a major source for Denver metro drinking water.

The activists, which also include the Colorado Interfaith Alliance, Colorado Jobs with Justice and the Colorado Progressive Coalition, fear contamination from spills and they are right to do so. (Already some leases plan for frack wells within a quarter mile of Denver's northeast limits) Not only that, but the continued drain on Colorado's dwindling water supplies - given the state is in a high desert area.

We already know fracking can deplete and contaminate local water stores by the very nature of the process: injecting millions of gallons of water and chemicals into underground formations. But why should the fracking industries care, since they're not the ones who'll have to cough up the money for chemotherapy and other treatments for the poor victims. Thanks to a trio of diligent Democrats: Henry Waxman of California, Diana DeGette of Colorado, and Edward Markey of Massachusetts, we now know the extent of the pollution of our precious watersheds thanks to the hydro-fracking industry. We know, for example, the oil and gas companies injected hundreds of millions of gallons of carcinogenic chemicals into wells in more than 13 states from 2005- 09. In one spill in Pennsylvania, site of the photo below



tens of thousands of gallons of contaminated drilling water leaked from a well cap and flowed downhill onto a farm property, extirpating a 50' swath of forest and killing a pond - leaving not one single bass or even insect in all of it. Even after the accident, the frack pump remained running.


In the words of Diana DeGette:

"It is deeply disturbing to discover the content and quantity of toxic chemicals, like benzene and lead, being injected into the ground without the knowledge of communities whose health would be affected."

According to the report, the product of an inquiry by the House Energy and Commerce Committee in 2010-11, fourteen of the nation's most active hydraulic fracturing companies used 866 million gallons of chemical fracturing products, and more than 650 of the chemicals named in the report were known carcinogens, supposedly regulated under the Safe Drinking Water Act. (Which was rendered toothless for fracking by lobbyists) Among the most toxic of the chemicals used (11.4 million gallons in all) were: benzene, toluene, xylene and ethylbenzene.

As we know from Devra Davis' landmark book, The Secret History of the War on Cancer, the first two of these toxic chemicals have well known correlations to brain carcinomas and chordomas. The other two, to liver, breast and prostate cancers. Davis' book is critical in blowing away the smokescreen that organizations like the American Cancer Society (ACS) have used for decades, in blaming people's eating habits and foods for cancers rather than toxic chemicals in the environment.

The ruse is easy to understand since it follows capitulation to the fundamental attribution error (known from psychology) in assigning the burden of cause to victims, rather than a systemic, out of control toxic energy and chemical industry. This way, guess what? It makes it almost impossible to sue for any kind of monetary satisfaction or even to get a local or state moratorium!

None of this even touches on the extent to which the arid West's water supplies are being fracked right down, despite states like Colorado facing a water crisis.  It is downright criminal in this case, to continue dissipating our most critical resource just for a low-grade energy. After all, you can live without oil shale energy (most of which is shipped overseas anyway) but can't survive without water.

Thus, the anti-fracking ally we need has arrived none too soon!

See also: