Saturday, April 30, 2011

Why Some People Need to Refrain from Writing Science Content (1)

Just in the past two days, I've seen two extreme examples of people writing on science issues when they've no business doing so - because their scribblings are totally baseless and effectively nonsense. Yet for some reason, any Joe Schmoe - who may never even have taken a General Science course (far less a physics course)- thinks he can write about any old science topic that strikes his fancy. These folks need a definite reality check!

Now, am I saying here that no one who isn't formally qualified in science (say with an advanced degree) can write about a science topic? No! A person who's never seen a physics book in college can still write on a physics topic, but it's incumbent on him to first do his research! If he's going to expound on special relativity, then carefully read about it before making wild claims. The same applies for anyone purporting to write on topics such as evolution or climate change. Thus, merely because these topics happen to be 'hot wire' political issues doesn't mean anyone can just write whatever he or she wishes. Science has laws and principles, as well as technical definitions, and if these are flouted then the content is useless.

Anyway, the first example of pseudo-scientific blather appeared in the Letters section of the recent Mensa Bulletin. In a way, this is more or less excusable because editors of magazines, even Mensa's, aren't trained to parse the accuracy of content before printing it. Thus, any guy can write all kinds of tripe on special or general relativity and get a hearing.

In this case, letter writer Neil Slater really goes out for the long ball, with his sundry whacks mainly at Einstein's special theory. He claims first that:

The time was ripe for any number of physicists to publish the Special theory. Einstein just happened to be at the right place in history."

In a way, he's correct because Einstein's resolution of the contradiction in the Galilean addition law for velocities, e.g. u(x)' = u(x) - v, had to await the Michelson-Morley experiment and its negative results, i.e. showing the speed of light c was the same whether a light source approached the Earth or moved away from it. Whereas, by the Galilean form, the person would conclude the relative velocity is greater when the source is approaching and less when it is receding, by analogy with classical relativistic mechanics on Earth.

Thus, if a car is moving at 40 mph toward another car that is moving opposite to it, also at 40 mph, then we conclude each car is approaching the other at: 40 mph + 40 mph = 80 mph. In like manner, if Earth and a light source are approaching, with Earth moving at 66,000 mph in its orbit, and light moving at 669,600,000 mph toward it then we expect the result to be the addition of the two speeds. But the Michelson-Morley experiment showed this was not the case, and that the relative speed was still the velocity of light - no addition of Earth's velocity to it!

This then is the experiment that had to transpire before a resolution of the Galilean velocity addition law could arrive. Before the M-M experiment, no one would have been able to resolve it, neither Fitzgerald, or Lorentz or anyone else. Einstein's resolution was remarkably simple and became known as The Principle of relativity
"All the laws of physics are the same in all inertial reference frames" Or to put a more specific touch to it:

The speed of light is the same in all inertial refefence frames.

It was this principle, ultimately traced to the negative result of the Michelson-Morley experiment, which enabled Einstein to forge his particular set of transformations. This then led to the unified entity of space-time or the space-time continuum, which was his singular breakthrough. The essence of the concept is displayed in Fig. 1 and is based upon on an invariant quantity called interval denoted as s. We see then that for two different frames of reference f1(d, it), f2(d' it')the interval is exactly the same, hence invariant for all observers. In each case we have: s^2 = d^2 - c^2t^2. Note that d' corresponds to contracted length and hence to expanded time (it').

Let's now go on to Slater's next comment which is:

"In simplest form one cannot be sure where or when any object exists"

But this is palpable nonsense. If this were true, then we'd never be able to measure precisely the path of muons for example, or show they were subject to time dilation! We wouldn't, in effect, know where or "when" they are so wouldn't be able to compare them! Consider then, the case of a muon formed high in the atmosphere and travelling at 0.99c for a distance of 4.6 km before it decays: e.g.

muon -> (e-) + neutrino + (anti-neutrino)

How long does the muon survive as measured in its own rest frame, and how far does the muon travel as measured in its own frame? If time dilation applies, we expect that the time in its own rest frame will be significantly longer than for a stationary observer (e.g. on Earth's surface) observing it. We also expect its distance traveled will be much shorter! Given a proper time, t': and t = t'/ y

where y = [1 - v^2/c^2]^1/2 then t' = ty

So the proper time t' = t, where t = x/c = (4.6 x 10^3 m/s)/ 2.98 x 10^8 m/s)
= 1.55 x 10^-5 s

which is the muon lifetime relative to an observer on Earth.

and so: t' = ( 1.55 x 10^-5 s) (o,141) = 2.18 x 10^-6 s or ~ 2.2 us (micro-seconds)

which is the commonly observed lifetime for muons in their frame of reference.

The distance traveled is: L = x/y = (4.6 x 10^3 m) (0.141) = 649 m

Using only L, one might suppose the muons would never reach Earth's surface since the path length is too short. But it is precisely time dilation that accounts for the fact a large number DO reach the Earth and are detected. Hence, Slater is incorrect because he hasn't factored in time dilation for the frame of reference and object, which is exactly what enables us to assay "where" and "when" an object exists! That muon path lengths can differ then, vis-a-vis the frames observed in, discloses Slater's take is pseudo-scientific nonsense.

The same principle as the above can be used to ascertain potential space journeys for any astronauts traveling to other planets at near light speeds. Consider, for example, two astronauts traveling to Proxima Centauri at 4.2 Ly distance. If their craft manages to travel at 0.95c nearly all the way, then:

How much time would elapse on the clocks of Earth observers?

Well, this would be: (4.2 Ly)/ 0.95c = 4.4 yrs.

However, the astronauts would disagree -- so how much actual time would elapse on THEIR clocks? Well, for the traveling twin (A),the time elapsed is:

t(A) = t(B)[1 - v^2/c^2]^1/2 = (4.4 yrs.) [1 - (0.95c)^2/c^2]^1/2 = 1.37 yrs.

This also refutes the next claim of Slater's which was:

"It doesn't take a lot of imagination to see the passing of time appears to be interrelated with an increase in the rate of time and an increase in distance/

However, we already showed this is false via the above Twin A and B example for ostensibly traveling the same distance to Proxima Centauri but ending up with different travel times. Thus, the rate of time passage is not so simply related to distance. not unless one factors in putative length contraction in one frame of reference relative to the other, and hence factors time dilation also!

More nonsense from Slater follows:

"Also it isn't hard to show that two or more items can coexist in time and space, as can be observed by any outside party"

Really? Then I'd like him to please prove to me that another entity (e.g. alien?) is occupying the same time and space coordinates as I am. He can't. Moreover, it's total nonsense, because that effectively would mean a ZERO interval (e.g. s = 0 ) shared by reference frames! If s = 0 then we have no relativistic transformations and can't compute any dimensional differences! The whole basis for special relativity is that the interval s is non-zero and hence Slater's rumination is plain poppycock.

But when one is spouting nonsense he's usually on a roll. Slater again:

"At a distance accelerate away from an object and you will move into what you perceive is the past. This might let you become contemporaneous with your great, great grandmother (at a distance)"

But no matter how fast one accelerates "from an object" there is no way one is going into the past. Ask the Shuttle astronauts now prepared to accelerate from Earth on the last Shuttle mission. There is no way they will travel into the past or meet their great great grandmothers! The reason is that simple displaced acceleration isn't enough. One must be able to traverse from an event in current time, t, to the past light cone of the event (see Fig. 2). So how in hell can one do this? One way is by using the same twin paradox format.

For the case of a total trip to return to Earth, we therefore see (keeping all assumptions in place) the total time as measured by the Earth twin will be:

2 t(B) = 2 (4.4 yrs.) = 8.8 yrs. While for traveling twin A:

t(A) = 2 t(A) = 2 (1.37 yrs) = 2.74 yrs. or call it 2.7 years.

Thus, on returning home, the traveling twin (A) will be: 8.8 yrs - 2.7 yrs. = 6.1 yrs. younger than the twin that remained on Earth. This calculation, note, is totally consistent with the one we did to work out the time for muons' duration in their rest frame if they completed a path of 4.6 km. It can also easily be worked out, again from the muon example, that the distance to Proxima as computed by the twin A will be 1.31 Ly. (Since L(A) = 1.31 Ly/0.95c = 1.37 yrs)

Thus, on the Twin A's arrival back at Earth one would have the putative evidence for his traveling (partially) into a past light cone, since this would yield an age 6.1 years younger than his stationary twin. More technically, A moves from his past light cone (conferred by virtue of his travels) to a future light cone shared with his twin B. (See Fig. 3). The time differential (in their ages) is what gives away the light cone divergence in their frames of reference.

Are Dems Doomed to Shoot Themselves in the Behind?

One must ask this question, when one beholds news stories emerging on how some lily-livered Democrats (who I refer to as 'DINOS' - Democrats in name only) who now seem prepared to side with Repukes in the budget cutting frenzy that appears to have seized the D.C. Beltway as its hijacked brains. One wonders if these idiots, or weaklings, really understand the only reason most people vote their way is on account of their difference from the Republican, pro-corporate and business party. The only way to describe this behavior is a willingness of a party to shoot itself in the ass to try and gain what it (falsely) believes is some political advantage amongst "moderates" while alienating their base ....that got them there!

As an example we have the media's fixation on "the Gang of Six", a band of three Dems and three Repubs who are allegedly finessing a budget solution to appease all. Not so fast! First, the Democrats, by allowing three Rs to have equal say are already guilty of compromising beyond belief. They pulled the same crap with the Affordable care Act, allowing its cost-controlling public option feature to be beaten to smithereens in a committee composed of 6 Ds and 6Rs which is why we ended up with no public option (which would have kept the insurance companies honest).

Do any of the brain dead Dems that allowed this health travesty, as well as the 3Ds on the "Gang of Six" have any remote notion of the power they've ceded? Do they believe that if the Reeps had control of the Senate they'd allow a "Gang of Six" with three Dems on it? What are they, nuts? All of these "gangs" (since the Gang of 14 which allowed the devastating nominations of Sam Alito and John Roberts to the Supreme Court) are all about political capitulation and posturing. They don't serve real bipartisanship but only prove once more that the Dems are always ready and willing to submit to political date rape. Give them power, real power to govern, and they back away and yield a major fraction to their opponents!

The latest news making the rounds is that "a growing number of Democrats are threatening to defy the White House over the national debt - joining Republican calls for deficit cuts as a requirement to lift the debt ceiling" (The Denver Post, 'More Democrats Balk at Raising U.S. Debt Ceiling', April 27, p. 12). Are these people nuts? JOIN the Repuglicans? What the hell are they drinking? If they are serious about a solution to the debt ceiling they need to have the balls to cajole the Repukes into raising revenue, e.g. TAXES, not cut more spending. As recent Financial Times reports have made clear, the cuts that have already passed have had an adverse effect on economic growth - more than halving it over the last month. This is no mystery, since we are still in a demand side crisis, with not enough money circulating. The way to solve a demand side crisis is not to cut money but to pump more in! Either via higher revenues or more stimulus! The guilty party here is the Republican party for signing "oaths" (sponsored by anti- Tax terrorist Grover Norquist) never, ever to raise taxes. This is an inbuilt recipe for fiscal disaster yet the dumbass Dems go along with it!

The article goes on to note:

"The tension is the latest illustration of how the Tea Party infused GOP is driving the debate in Washigton"
But WHY? The Teepees are in recession, retreat! Their influence is WANING! Their numbers attending rallies, conferences are barely one hundredth of the numbers in 2009. The only ones feeding them any gravitas are the Washington press corps and their lackeys! WHY then let these morons drive the debate, and worse, allow the Goopers to use them to beat Dems over the head to accept more spending cuts - when any idiot knows money -much more money - is needed to run this country! As Financial Times columnist Steve Rattner ('Only Tax Increases Can Fix America's Budget Mess', April 26, p. 7)notes:

"Those (Bush) tax cuts were not justifiable when introduced, and at a cost of about $3 trillion over 10 years, and they are not justifiable now. Tax rates during the Clinton era were still among the lowest in modern American history. The economy boomed and all workers saw their incomes rise. What's so bad about that?"

Indeed! But try to drill that into the craniums of the pussified Dems, who are only about political posturing and re-election rather than the national welfare. One of the imps is Kent Conrad (one of the 'Gang of Six') who along with his compadres has said he wants 'a real and meaningful committment to debt reduction". Fine, Mr. Conrad, then RAISE TAXES and tell your Repuke compadres in the "Gang" (especially Tom Coburn who was recently attacked by Norquist merely for suggesting an end to government ethanol subsidies) to break their odious "oaths" and get with the program. You have at least half a brain so you know damned well that cuttting spending isn't going to be enough! Taxes will have to be raised and not only on the rich but the middle class too! They can't be continued to be tax -sheltered and expect to collect their future benefits in Social Security and Medicare! Tell them it's one or the other!Be HONEST for once!

Another traitor Dem is none other than Sen. Claire McCaskill of Missouri (much like one of her predecessors, Sen. Carnahan in 2001 - who voted for the original deficit creating Bush tax cuts) who now wants to join up with Republican Bob Corker of Tennessee in a pie-eyed, cock-eyed, half-baked scheme to "save $7.6 trillion over 10 years." How? By capping federal spending at 20.6 percent of gross domestic product within a decade. That’s down from 24.3 percent now. And that's despite an expected increase in population of more than 15%. What the hell is she drinking?

As a recent report put it, "this is the Ryan plan with lipstick". The Ryan plan puts spending at 20.25% of GDP in 10 years. By comparison, spending under Republican President Ronald Reagan from 1981-1989 averaged 22 percent of GDP at a time when no baby boomers had retired and needed their Social security and Medicare. But this year alone we have more than 13 million boomers ready to collect benefits. WTF is wrong with this picture? What's wrong is we need HIGHER TAXES to pay for the continued benefits to over-65's not spending cuts!

As the report put it:

"As a result, Corker/McCaskill would have the same dire result as the Republican plan: According to an analysis by the Washington-based Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, Corker/McCaskill would require 'enormous cuts' in Medicare and Medicaid and other programs, and likely force similar policy changes to the entitlement programs that Ryan has proposed.

The reductions would total more than $800 billion in 2022 alone — which would be the equivalent of eliminating the entire Medicare program or the Defense Department"

Well, if that's the choice offered, let's at least eliminate the Defense Dept.! (In fact, this is hyperbole, big time. With inflation, the weapons portion of the DoD would be about $800 billion and there have been excellent cases made to cut that anyway. The DoD would still exist and be able to conduct multi-faceted operations, especially if we are out of Iraq and Afghanistan, which we should be by then.) But to expect seniors on fixed income to be thrown to the dogs is something I never expected a D-senator (even from Mizzou) to propose. It shows the degree to which the debate has become debased and perverted.

Paul Van de Water, a health-care expert at the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, correctly observes that the Corker-McCaskill plan "at first blush may sound sort of benign, but the effects on real people in many cases would be extremely dire.". In other words, dying in the streets. Seniors infected with Bird flu pneumonia or a superbug, say, unable to even enter ERs at hospitals, because they'd be without any coverage, period. Well, not unless they're wealthy enough to afford personal physicians! We would effectively return to the early 1930s when many seniors (as my dad recounted for me) simply went to roadsides to die alone, and in sickly agony. They were no better off than deathly sick dogs. Is this what it's come to? is this what a serious Democrat could really propose? Are they that much in bed ideologically with the repukes?

Van de Water goes on to remark also on the vile stealth nature of the Corker-McCaskill plan:

"The Ryan plan is at least quite explicit about the changes that are proposed to be made in specific programs,"

And for that we must thank Ryan, though his plan is still 'Nazified' through and through. But, much much worse than an explicit Nazi who is marching an old guy or lady to the gas chambers, is the stealth Nazi, who smiles and says "Enjoy! It is only a shower and will do you good!"
As we near the debt ceiling vote, we need to get on board, get organized and get active as the recent In These Times noted. The time for civility is over. It is now our lives on the line, and if our own supposed reps are ready to cave on this, we will have to take to the streets and do...whatever. Maybe even fierce, European style and scale protests with more than 5 million clogging the streets.

Tea Party influence? Fuck! We will show these hacks what real influence looks like! Maybe Alan Simpson was correct in the remark he made back in December about "blood in the streets". We will see!

Friday, April 29, 2011

Super-Bugs are Super-BAD!

The issue of antibiotic -resistant superbugs has more and more entered the repositories of the mainstream media, and well it should. Right now, we may stand on a precipice of wholesale generation of these bugs if we carelessly continue down the path we've been on - stupidly using anti-biotics for every little thing (as well as for viral infections like the common cold and flu) as well as stuffing antibiotics into our food supply.

In this light, it has been calculated that nearly four-fifths of the antibiotics used in America are given to livestock. There is nothing wrong with these animals, the antibiotics are administered totally out of capitalist obsession with profits and naked greed. Thus, they are administered to force healthy animals to grow faster, and more pounds means more money at the supermarket. The trouble is this activity provides enormous opportunities for the spread of superbugs. (See, 'The Spread of Superbugs' in The Economist, April 2, p. 73).

Two of the most ravaging superbugs are MRSA, an especially nasty form of staphylococcus that is resistant to many antibiotics, and clostridium difficile, or "c. diff." which actually arises when too powerful forms of anti-biotic kill the normal bacterial flora in the gut leaving only this nasty form to proliferate. Both of these are generally picked up while spending time in hospitals (one reason people shouldn't get too comfy in a hospital, and need to do their level best to leave asap). But this isn't always the case.

My run up with a superbug occurred indirectly, back in December of 2006. At the time my wife had been suffering from a severe sinus infection which had already gone on for two weeks. I was also suffering from severe nasal and chest congestion. She suggested we both see the family doctor and get an antibiotic to knock the infections out, but I told her I'd prefer to fight it on my own. In another week, after lots of coughing up loads of nasty stuff and inhaling from nebulizers nearly every night, I was through with it. Meanwhile, she opted to go for an amoxicillin prescription, given her by the Nurse assistant.

Within three days of beginning her course of amoxicillin, she was going to the toilet nonstop. We aren't talking about normal movements and with normal consistency, we are talking about cholera-like episodes accompanied by agonizing abdominal spasms, with the stools bearing the consistency of watery gruel. And we won't even get into the odor! By the fourth day she was so dehydrated, after running 22-25 times to the toilet each day, she went back to see the family dr. He immediately took a sample and the lab report came back: c. diff. He prescribed the antibiotic flagyl to off it (I know this sounds counter-intuitive but once c. diff. gains traction in the gut the only way to knock it out is via more powerful antibiotics!) Alas, after nearly a week, it didn't work, she was worse than ever and I had to rush her into the ER again, where they immediately put her on a drip.

Now hospitalized, but forced to share a room with another, I questioned the nurse about this, pointing out she was probably highly infectious. (Indeed, hospital studies on the distribution of c.diff. show it's only controlled by continual cleaning of all surfaces with bleach, every day and all the advisories insist patients have their own rooms to prevent the spread of c. diff. spores.) But the most the nurse would do is prevent her from using the general patients' lavatory, and restrict herself to a tiny "porto-potty" instead. It was humiliating for her and totally wrong.

After much more intense lobbying and complaining she finally got her own room where she was able to recover in comfort. She was also placed on the only remaining antibiotic with the strength to knock out c.diff. - vancomycin- which is why the doctors always save it for last, the final arrow in their quiver of protection. As one doctor told me, "Once the vancomycin goes, a lot of people will die." Fortunately for my wife, she was out of the hospital in another four days.

But our work at home had only begun, including disinfecting all her bedding and clothing, and washing them in high concentration bleach detergent. Then, going all over the house and wiping all the surfaces down with nearly 80% bleach solution, including telephone, and tables, chairs, tv, and everything else with which she'd come into contact. This was done every other day for a week, under doctor's orders.

What frightened me about the incident is how close she came to dying. Most patients with c.diff. die because the intensity of the explosive bowel movements causes the large intestine to rupture (from severe colitis and toxic megacolon). This is partly owing to the fact the bacteria 'spike' into the gut lining to force it to release vast amounts of water accompanied by spasms, as they destroy the mucosal lining. But a smaller segment die from dehydration, as with cholera. She came close to the last and that was why I fought like a Tasmanian devil to see that not only did she get to the ER but was expedited through it after the initial antibiotic failed.

This is but one story, but I'd strongly suggest people - readers recall it the next time they're tempted to have an antibiotic prescribed. It might be better, in the end, to just tough it out! For more on the benefits of the latter, please consult the work of University of Antwerp microbiologist, Hermann Gossens and his trials of 2007. He found that those subjects exposed to throat streptococci and given only a placebo were the only ones showing no signs of drug-resistant strains of streptococcus. The others, taking azithromycin and clarithromycin, did. Go figure!

Thursday, April 28, 2011

Can the Moonbat Birther Crazies Now Get a Frickin' Life?

This is a reasonable question to ask. Despite dignifying the psychotic birther fringe idiocy, President Obama has complied with their demands and produced his long form birth certificate which any halfwit can now see is valid, as he always claimed (and is fully consistent with the short form). But will the moonbat morons who now make up 45% of the Repuke party (according to a recent poll) finally get a clue, and get a life? If you're looking for that, then you have no conception of what these lunatic nuts are about and why they all deserve to be shipped off to Mars' Olympus Mons volcano (preferably under expedited shipping!)

Here's one thing you need to know: even as Obama was delivering the goods to satisfy these screwballs, they were coming up with new distractions to make hay, including related to his passport, his college credentials, and his selective service registration(forcing MSNBC host Lawrence O'Donnell to cut off Orly Taitz last night when he demanded an apology to Obama and she launched into a selective service non-issue). The fact is that these fringe racist lunatics aren't the least invested in facts or truth, their sole aim is to try to de-legitimize a democratic President, who also happens to be the first African -American President. Thus, all this distraction - whether to do with birth certificates, passports, college records, or selective service, is merely the thinnest cover for a vile undercurrent of racism. The bastards can't handle the first black President but they lack the cojones to admit their issue is race, opting for proxy diversions. They are COWARDS, in other words!

And so we have the ignoramous Trump, who having been presented with Obama's long form birth certificate (see photo)now wants to investigate Obama's academic creds and how he gained entrance to Harvard. The subtext is that his entry wasn't based on merit but Affirmative action and hence yields a classic racist slant that the other birther numbnuts have now adopted as their new rallying call (while other screwballs, e.g. including a talk show host in Denver, claim the birth certificate that all serious folks accept is a "fake"). No wonder we are the biggest laughing stock of the whole freaking world! As Lexington recently put it in his 'Economist' column (April 23, p. 38)

"In American politics, as in the theater, it can help to suspend your disbelief"

Disbelief in this case, that so many in a country can be so backward, ignorant and plain stupid. And can follow a clown like the 'Donald' as he now leads them on another merry goose chase and futile tilting at windmills of his own febrile mind. As Mike Littwin put it in his column in today's Denver Post ('Barking Moonbats and the Long form')
"For Birthers, it was 'who ya gonna or your lyin' eyes. For the rest of America, though, it was a national humiliation. Is THIS who we really are?"

Well, not all of us to be sure, but a diehard core of loonies who never seem to go below 25% in the polls. The same bunch of looney tunes that never found Gee Dumbya Bush to have launched an illegit war, and believed Sarah Palin was a true contender for the office of Veep, and would make a fabulous prez if Ragin' McInsane crapped out at the wrong time (while also believing McInsane would have been a superior prez to Obama). Well, I have news for these idiots, if he'd been elected we'd be in the throes of a depression now with over 44% unemployed and most banks shuttered!

Markos Moulitsas, a liberal blogger (of Daily Kos), wrote yesterday - in regard to the response of many of these psychos, “What better way to show how out of touch and irrational Republicans are than to rub this in their face?” Indeed! However, the New York Times editorialized today ('A Certificate of Embarrassment') that:

"If there was ever any doubt about Mr. Obama’s citizenship, which there was not, the issue was settled years ago when Hawaii released his birth certificate. The fuller document that Mr. Obama had to request contains some extra information, including his parents’ signatures and the name of the hospital where he was born, but it was unnecessary to show his legitimacy.

So it will not quiet the most avid attackers. Several quickly questioned its authenticity. That’s because the birther question was never really about citizenship; it was simply a proxy for those who never accepted the president’s legitimacy, for a toxic mix of reasons involving ideology, deep political anger and, most insidious of all, race. It was originally promulgated by fringe figures of the radical right, but mainstream Republican leaders allowed it to simmer to satisfy those who are inflamed by Mr. Obama’s presence in the White House."

The Editorial also accurately noted:

"It is inconceivable that this campaign to portray Mr. Obama as the insidious “other” would have been conducted against a white president.
Indeed, it would not. But because Mr. Obama is African-American, has an exotic persona, the middle name 'Hussein' and speaks for a change in complete grammatically correct sentences, he is fair game. We hope this much is true: that if the Repukes and their fringe crowd of Moonbat crazies continue down this tawdry path they will forever be marginalized by next year as a fringe party....and finally go the way of the Whigs...and never be missed, except by their batshit crazy followers and useless hangers-on.

'ATLAS SHRUGGED' - And Movie goers shrugged!

The news concerning the box office malaise of the new movie Atlas Shrugged has not been sanguine for Ayn Rand acolytes and the breed of libertarian who worships at her feet. It must seriously depress the likes of Rand disciple Alan Greenspan, for example, to behold the low level of attention from the hoi polloi. Rand, for those unaware, was a Russian emigree who became the foremost voice for capitalism, extoling the need for "selfishness" (in her Virtue Of Selfishness)then penning two thick novels: The Fountainhead (which became a forgettable Gary Cooper vehicle in the 40s) and Atlas Shrugged.

Most of the semi-educated morons that diss atheists and praise capitalism also aren't remotely aware that Rand was one of the most outspoken pro-capitalist atheists, though this may be too much cognitive dissonance for menial minds. For example, in her 'Virtue of Selfishness' she wrote (page 38):

"There is no greater delusion than to imagine one can render unto reason what is reason’s and unto Faith what is Faith’s…..Either reason is an absolute to a mind, or it is not- and if it is not, there is no place to draw the line, no principle by which to draw it, no barrier faith cannot cross, no part of one’s life faith cannot invade.

Faith is a malignancy that NO system can tolerate with impunity, and the man who succumbs to it will call on it in precisely those issues where he needs reason the most."

So are these squalling bratskies prepared to call Rand a "filthy atheist"? Well, probably not, because she's a strong proponent of the type of elitist capitalism proffered in 'Atlas Shrugged' (yet they bellyache about Dem "elitists" and beg for one -party states, unaware they'd most likely be the serfs in such states and getting no benefits from anywhere!) But I digress.

Anyway, the new film's producer, John Aglialoro, who spent $20 million of his own money to finally put Rand's vision on the big screen, is giving up on Atlas' wider dissemination. The film will not now expand to 1,000 screens (as originally projected) nor will any further parts of the intended trilogy be produced or filmed. (N.B.: The second part is where hundreds of people die horrifically of asphyxiation, and the best part for Randites is that they all totally deserved it for being "looters", e.g. parasitizing the work of the creators.) As for Part III, doubtful anyone will miss a three hour long monologue!) So this is it! Finito! And who's to blame? Why those creepy, nasty "libber" film critics who never gave it a fair chance! Or so claims Aglialoro as he whines:

"Why should I put up all of that money if the critics are coming in like lemmings?I'll make my money back and I'll make a profit, but do I wanna go and do two? Maybe I just wanna see my grandkids and go on strike."

BWAAAHAHHAAWAAWAA! No one likes me or me film! The tragedy is that this codswallop is what these Randians really think: that we (liberals who argue on behalf of social safety nets and a decent welfare state) hate them because they're great and we deliberately sabotage their grandiose ideas because they'd create a society in which we wouldn't be able to achieve success with our paltry little intellects. HORSE FUDGE!

In fact, even in her prime Rand was damned near a psychotic and certainly a certifiable neurotic like most of her crazy Libertarian-Objectivist followers, who evidently now have even infested the high IQ societies like Mensa and Intertel. One of the latter group with whom I have had run-ins (Kort Patterson), was actually featured in several blogs from 2009.

Most noteable was a re-printing of my piece, 'The Tattered Illusions of Knowledge', which examined in depth the basis for what were called "toxic assets" in the wake of the 2008 financial meltdown. I specifically addressed Patterson's claim that there was no such thing and that the term "toxic assets" amounted to a travesty of language. To rebut him I merely had to cite a number of FORTUNE pieces noting the havoc wrought by "$55 Trillion" in credit default swaps absorbed by banks (which event Patterson evidently never heard of.) In his rejoinder to my original piece Patterson insisted that I'd evinced little demonstration that I knew what Libertarianism was or how it worked. Then and there I had to correct him in a subsequent article.

I informed him that I regarded Libertarianism (after its main progenitor, Ayn Rand) as little more than an economic creed and roughly the political-economic equivalent to creationism. Worse, they have come to their "Objectivism" and its application more by a process of accretion (of different authors, voices) than formulation of a coherent, self-consistent philosophy. The truth is there are so many assorted Libertarian voices of the past and present, one never knows who speaks for most current day followers. One can perhaps look at Ayn Rand, in her treatise ‘The Virtue of Selfishness’, but I’ve had freethinker Libertarians at cocktail parties tell me in no certain terms I shouldn’t use her as the standard for their econ credos. Rand herself once insisted she was “not a Libertarian”. So who else?

Well, how about Charles Murray writes in ‘What it means to be a Libertarian’ (p. 6):

“It is wrong for me to use force against you, because it violates your right to control of your person....I may have the purest motive in the world. I may even have the best idea in the world. But even these give me no right to make you do something just because I think it's a good idea. This truth translates into the first libertarian principle of governance: In a free society individuals may not initiate the use of force against any other individual or group”

Of course, this is also undoubtedly where the pet Libertarian canard that “taxes equal theft" comes from. But looking at it objectively this is arrant twaddle and illogical to boot. I mean “libertarian principle of governance”! This is an oxymoron! Governance presumes and demands the non-passive act of governing, which means someone is actively setting standards of expected action, and also providing the means to uphold and enforce them. Else, what’s the point? It’s all an exercise in mental masturbation. In other words, unless someone (coercively) enforces governance, it will be meaningless. Now, maybe there IS a docile libertarian principle of “governing suggestion”- but this in no way is the same as “governance”!

Anti-statism is a central tenet of libertarianism, but it rests on no foundations, other than the so-called libertarian principles babbled by Murray and others. For example, Frank Chodorov, quoted by David Boaz of CATO Inst. in ‘Libertarianism: A Primer’, goes so far as to write:

“Society is a collective concept and nothing else; it is a convenience for designating a number of people... The concept of Society as a metaphysical concept falls flat when we observe that Society disappears when the component parts disperse”

Boaz himself joins in on what the “individual” means:

“For libertarians, the basic unit of social analysis is the individual.... Individuals are, in all cases, the source and foundation of creativity, activity, and society. Only individuals can think, love, pursue projects, act. Groups don’t have plans or intentions”

But, as Prof. Ernest Partridge puts it in his (2009) blog piece on ‘Liberals and Libertarians’ cited in my earlier article:

“Now consider the implications of this denial of the 'independent existence' of 'the public and society.' If there is no 'public,' then there are no 'public goods' and there is no 'public interest.' If there is no 'society,' then there is no 'social harm,' or 'social injustice' or 'social (and public) responsibility.' It then follows that government has no role in mitigating 'social injustice' or promoting 'the public interest,' since these terms are fundamentally meaningless. Poverty and racial discrimination, for example, are individual problems requiring individual solutions”.

I assured Patterson and his brethren that if Boaz’ concept held sway and government force was not used in Alabama in September, 1963 (JFK federalizing the Alabama National Guard to enforce school integration) we’d still be a segregated nation, with blacks sitting in the back of the bus, ‘colored’ water coolers and restrooms, and the rest. Only someone totally divorced from history and reality would claim individual African-Americans at the time could have obtained their civil rights with mere individual effort and no government input.

Meanwhile, The Libertarian Party Principles state:

“We hold that all individuals have the right to exercise sole dominion over their own lives, and have the right to live in whatever manner they choose, so long as they do not forcibly interfere with the equal right of others to live in whatever manner they choose.”

Again, this is more inherently contradictory twaddle and piffle. Interference with the lives of others is permitted, so long as it’s not “forcible interference”. Anti-coercion libertarians do not simply oppose coercion they also claim to legitimately define it. Their definition excludes much that others would see as coercion. To me, the TABOR law in Colorado, because it continuously and aggressively scales back tax support for the public domain (based on the past year’s population and growth) is coercion and very vicious besides. Right now, thousands of disabled people across the state stand to lose their services thanks to TABOR and controls like it. All with the best intentions of course, that we not “take by force” those hard-earned gains of the filthy rich bastards ensconced in one of several of their 45,000 square foot mansions in Aspen! As one critic has put it (to do with Libertarians’ convoluted principles):

“Libertarians make exceptions for defense of property and prosecution of fraud, and call them ‘retaliatory force’. But retaliation can be the initiation of force: I don't need force to commit theft or fraud. This is a bit of rhetorical sleight of hand that libbies like to play so that they can pretend they are different from government”.

Libertarianism clearly posits initiation of force for what it identifies as its minions’ interests and calls it righteous retaliation, and uses the big lie technique to define everything else as “evil initiation of force". (As they would certainly call JFK’s nationalization of the Alabama National Guard in ’63 to force school integration) They support the initial force that has already taken place in the formation of the system of property (e.g. the seizure of Native American lands and violation of umpteen treaties), and wish to continue to use force to perpetuate it and make it more rigid. It is this inchoate ethics that translates into the system’s weakness and exposes Libertarians as true hypocrites, maybe a slight cut under the fundagelicals and their Repuke cohort.

The long and short of it is every belief system has its evangelical “scriptures”, designed to help proselytize the unwashed masses to their cause. The Campus Crusade for Christ uses Josh McDowell’s ‘Evidence That Demands A Verdict’, Scientology uses Ron Hubbard’s ‘Dianetics’, and Libertarians use ‘Libertarianism in One Lesson’ (I am also cracking up just writing the words)

In the absence of counterargument all these tracts are semi-convincing. However, they can all be easily rebutted because of their weak, exposed flanks: the many exceptions that must be omitted in order for their so-called principles and dogmas to be convincing.

I warrant Libertarianism and its fanciful world of minimal force might work in a fantasy universe where all citizens are equally educated and have equal access to facts and information, and equal opportunities to advance their social-economic station. But that is emphatically not the world we inhabit, whether Kort concedes it or not. This is why Libertarianism will remain the province of the very few, though it is disturbing to behold all the inroads it’s made into the high IQ societies like Mensa and Intertel lately. To read some of the assorted letters and articles is almost like witnessing a collective mind-virus unleashed, by people whose “bible” is ‘Atlas Shrugged’. So in that sense, I am elated that the movie has effectively flubbed at the box office, at least not to make any further instalments worthwhile. The less this mindrotting meme circulates the better for us all. But the film going public itself appear to have delivered the final verdict and essentially shrugged its collective shoulders.

Finally, we are in a position to answer a plaintive letter writer's complaint to our local libertarian-infused rag. He wrote in yesterday's paper:

"You are all about people that make a 6-7 figure income, but lambast people that make a 5 figure income and tell us we have to make sacrifices for the good of all. We shouldn’t complain if our income and pension are cut or taken away all together, but if anyone says anything about taking something away from the rich you come unglued.

We are all contributing to the economy. People with a 5 figure incomes are contributing more than the rich. Our income goes to mortgages, gas, car payments, groceries, clothes, health insurance, restaurants, movies, etc. Businesses haven’t been doing much lately for the economy. Many big businesses have been sitting on their money or hiring people from overseas, not here.

I’m tired of your continually telling me I have to sacrifice, but the wealthy shouldn’t be asked to contribute. You don’t ask them to reduce their income or lose their benefits or perks. Why are they so special but the ordinary worker is expected to sacrifice what they have worked for all their lives?”

This is refreshing because it comes from an ordinary working guy who actually gets it! He gets that the system is draining the resources of those like him as it extends massive tax benefits to those who least need them! His differentiating the 5- and 6-figure incomes shows that he understands that it's spurious to talk of both sets of earners as if they're in the same wealth class. He is smart enough to know they aren't, and hence ought to be in proportionately distinct tax classes. Thus, a $250,000 earner ought to be taxed at least at three times the rate, e.g. 45% (and preferably four) of a $45,000 earner. Now as to answering his question, from a Randian-Libertarian point of view which the paper would take: "Those people (with 6-figure incomes) are special because they are likely the wealth-makers and job creators. The workers simply benefit from them, by having jobs at all. Hence, stop whining and keep giving those tax breaks to them to make more jobs!"

Of course this is utter BS. If it was so then why are these supreme "creators" of wealth sitting on more than $2 trillion instead of creating jobs for our citizens? Why are they not creating more wealth for us all by actually keeping jobs in the U.S. instead of sending them to Bangalore, and even constructing $1 billion job centers there? Why are they not repairing the infrastructure (the least you'd expect a grandee creator to be able to do) instead of leaving it for later generations who'll have far fewer resources to work with as the rich capitalists (INCLUDING THE CHINESE, WHO ARE NOW INTO CAPITALIST FRENZY!) squander what we have.

Inquring minds want to know, but don't expect the Randian lackeys or their clueless savants and slaves to tell you!

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

The Ultimate in Socialism: See 'Nature'!

Despite all the bad mouth blabbering of anti-Socialists, it remains the system most able to secure the lives and welfare of the most people, bar none. It does this because it erects and sustains a common good in which all contribute according to their resources, thereby ensuring no one ever falls through the safety net. I saw this when I lived under the governance of Milwaukee's last Socialist Mayor Frank Zeidler, and also when I lived in the democratic socialist nation of Barbados for 20 years.

The notion circulated that 'Socialism is against human nature' and one must 'suffer to survive' is the usual type of addle-pated bilge circulated by free market fundamentalists and their lackeys in the corporate media. But tested against actual human experience the claims don't hold water. As the authors of Capitalism vs. Capitalism have noted, the Rhine economies (with large doses of socialist behavior) actually exceeded American cowboy capitalism in productivity for most of the 70s, 80s. Evidently, some ethic of redistributive sharing works.

Meanwhile, Matt Miller in his The Tyranny of Bad Ideas has pointed out that all the so-called European "welfare state" economies (e.g. Denmark, Norway, Sweden etc.) fared much better than the neo-liberal, market dominated U.S. during the recent recession. They provided the resources for their citizens to be more resilient, and also their higher formal tax structures prevented the sort of macro-scale deficiencies we still see in the U.S. where infrastructure is crumbling, public pensions are under-funded and people are being told they're "wealthier" because the stock market is higher. Think again! That higher market share value is all based on vapors. It's all variable phantom money which can just as easily plunge tomorrow (say from a new Middle East oil shock) as rise. People who base any wealth on stock share value are basing their security on financial quicksand.

In Barbados, meanwhile, the endemic socialist, communitarian structure promotes a healthy growth of the social commonweal and the belief that what is done for the benefit of one, or a few, redounds to the benefit of all. Hence, the imperatives for government subsidized low cost housing, national health insurance for all, free education through college. All of these are paid for via higher taxes overall, and a progressive scale that begins with 60% rates on the wealthiest with zero loopholes confected by an entrenched system of political bribery and lobbies.

In the U.S. capitalist system, it is more rank commercialized competition that prevails - and that engenders a perpetual creative destruction that ravages precious resources. In Barbados, with few resources, each must be maximized. There isn't the quantity to allow duplication or other squandering in wasteful competition. In the U.S., the exact opposite holds. Huge amounts of resources are yearly squandered in competitive games- that have only one or a few 'winners'. In effect, the 400 billionaries counted in this country have emerged at the expense of vast finite resources being destroyed forever. The waste, in fact, is unimaginable. Meanwhile people here without critical thinking skills or adequate education are led to believe they can also become rich, hence their ongoing antagonism against higher taxes which would actually more likely secure their futures!

In Barbados, by contrast, the bulk of people accept higher taxation as the price to have free education, easily accessible health care (without going broke), nationalized housing co-ops and a genuine prescription formulary that doesn't see them entering "donut holes" and so forth. The citizens are mature and smart enough to understand that the odds of attaining these things on their own steam are slim and none. Hence, the support of the commonweal.

Now, in nature we have a stunning example of the principle of collective security as well, in none other than the fire ants. (See photo) Evidently when these creatures are swept up by a flood, they save themselves by joining forces and connecting to each other to form a raft. They pile together, locking arms and legs and can survive for months this way, or at least until dry land is encountered. Alone, as individuals, none of them would make it. (Investigations by Nathan Mlot at the Georgia Inst. of Technology, show when individual fire ants are dropped into water they struggle, flail about then drown) Like the Bajans and other socialist-inclined humans, they have the basic sense to understand that survival of each depends on survival of all. No one of them is foolish enough to communicate to the others, "Hey, I wanna do this on my own. I ain't part of any nanny raft!"

Would that most Americans had the innate sense of these tiny insects!

Paul Ryan’s Solution: Death Markets, not Death Panels

Nowhere are Repukes exposed as bigger hypocrites than in the current deficit spending cut struggle which their new budget has hyped as the be-all and end-all of ”saving America” (mainly by killing Medicare). People may recall they are the ones who kept screaming “Death panels!” when Obama’s health reform was first unveiled, but they appear to turn a blind eye to their own Budget Maestro’s (Paul Ryan’s) Death Market Policy! What the hell is wrong with their brains, anyway? Where is their reasoning ability? How about the ability to even have one rudimentary thought?

The bunkum put forward by these morons (who must take most Americans for morons) is that they offer a “market solution”. Thus, their Medicare voucher plan will work because it will force dozens of health insurance companies to compete for senior health dollars, thereby lowering costs for all. Thus, seniors will be able to purchase more affordable packages of health care in the private markets, while government spending will be cut enormously since the government will no longer be the payer of last resort

Of course this is all horse pockey. First, NO health insurance companies are going to compete for senior health care! They only do it now because the Medicare Advantage plans are paid more for their services than the government pays in standard Medicare. Hence, contributing to the standard program’s insolvency. Leave out the government’s higher payments-premiums, and merely give people vouchers (pathetic at that, at only $15,000/yr.) and the reimbursement factor is much less than standard Medicare so there’ll be essentially no incentive to take any elder patient. Worse, why compete for a pool of citizens which is basically going to be sickly most of the time? This is self-evident. Even now health insurance companies factor in the medical loss ratio (the ratio of unhealthy subscribers to the healthy ones that support them via fees, costs) as the most important in getting continued profits. That means they already know that any private plans for seniors on the open market would have vast medical loss ratios meaning the proportion of insurers' profits would be next to nil. Thus, seniors will clearly be shut out, translating to a no win situation for them. (No Medicare, and no private insurer to take them)

Secondly, competition per se doesn’t mean prices coming down. This is a myth that capitalists repeat over and over but there’s precious little evidence to support it. See all those gas stations out there competing with each other, ostensibly? You see any of them lowering their prices significantly more than any others in their vicinity? I don’t!

How about prescription drugs? Despite the number of pharma companies do you see the costs of these drugs going down? Say for statins, or even simple positive ion meds like aciphex, which I have to take for gastro-esophogeal reflux? Hell no! Indeed, my meds just went up in cost by over 33% in the past year! That's despite all the supposed and alleged "competition"! Where do you think all the PhrmA profits are being allocated? On research for new drugs? You're dreaming! All the drug makers do is make tiny, incremental adjustments to existing drugs to warrant new patents! Their profits are pouring into the thousands of drug ads which blare over the TV networks each week! Drug costs, even including many generics, are now rising from 9-14% a year despite so-called competition!

How about cable TV companies? You see them lowering their rates compared to their competitors? Hell no! And why is this? Because the 1996 Telecommunications Act actually encouraged more consolidation and as we know that is antithetic to lowered prices. Why do you think your cable bill has continually risen the last ten years or more?

As a recent TIME columnist pointed out (‘The Market Can’t Cure Medicare’, May 2): “Nowhere in Adam Smith’s rule book does it say prices have to come down every time competitors show up”.

And what about health care? Well, first it isn’t like buying a car, or i-pod or TV. The elements of objective and cool rational choice aren’t available mainly because the time when people most need health care is when their lives may be on the line: after a serious auto accident or fall, or appendicitis, or contracting pneumonia. Then, they simply need care and cost may not factor into it given that we know costs vary across large geographical regions. They’re not standardized as in the case of most common consumer products. For seniors this is even more greatly exacerbated, often because they're included in one large risk pool with many of the same problems (cancers, hip fractures, etc.) THIS is exactly what has led Yale School of Management Professor Fiona Scott Morton to call out Ryan’s plan for exactly what it is: a demand shedding plan. As she puts it, “there’s no evidence many companies will be rushing in to provide health coverage to ailing boomers with competition that ought to lower any premiums”


“The Republican plan is not solving the problem. It’s solving the problem of the cost of government health care. You have people who can’t afford it and they’ll just die. Economists call that demand shedding”.

Thus the “market solution” proffered by Ryan is NOT to engender market competition to "lower health premiums for seniors", but to shed market demand (by seniors) so they'll be unable to enter or access any private health care, period. And since no government help or insurance will be available (other than a meager voucher to try and purchase private insurance in an open market with seniors the only and largest risk pool) the senior will have no choice but to die. Anyone who disputes this is either an incompetent fool, a twit divorced from economic reality or some combination thereof.

Thus, we have a death policy and there's no gaming it with euphemisms or trying to put any lipstick on this pig. Seniors now confronting Ryan in his town hall meetings have every right to be angry and voice fulminations, even call this imp a damned liar. He is deceiving them if he tries to peddle his "death plan" as something for their benefit and the nation's. Ultimately, the only way to ensure seniors' long term health security and that of future generations, is to raise taxes as Steven Rattner pointed out in his Financial Times column yesterday ('Only Tax Increases Can Fix America's Budget Mess'). And these need not even be ginormous increases, merely rescinding all the Bush Tax cuts next year, and adding a higher level (of about $250k) to the FICA-payroll tax threshold. As Rattner notes:

"Those (Bush) tax cuts were not justifiable when introduced, and at a cost of about $3 trillion over 10 years, and they are not justifiable now. Tax rates during the Clinton era were still among the lowest in modern American history. The economy boomed and all workers saw their incomes rise. What's so bad about that?

What people need to ask Herr Ryan at his Town Hall meetings is why he's prepared to confer even more riches on the wealthiest via these same tax cuts, while he's in effect prepared to toss fixed income and poor elderly to the dogs for bone meal.

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

A Repug Candidate who Out-Clowns the Donald

And for that reason alone, I believe all repuke voters and those tending that direction, ought to give my illustrious bible-pounding bro some consideration. I mean, hell, if we're going to enjoin candidates who travel and trade in 'la'la' land theories and whacknut, conspiratoid conjectures, why not go the whole hog as they say? Why settle for just 'the Donald' when my bro is clearly available and wants the job? (Well, I'm not sure any atheists like me want him in the job, nor would we necessarily be able to ensure his safety from our brethren if elected). Anyway, for the sake of some light comedy here is his "platform":

"ANY American born citizen , with NO criminal record , would be allowed to carry any firearm(s) of their choosing in any way they so choose - and anywhere they so choose - no permit would be required! Just produce your VALID USA BIRTH CERTIFICATE and a criminal background check conducted by any law enforcement agency .

- I would allow states to bring back the REAL chain-gangs in their prisons , as well as going back to HARD LABOR - LITERALLY for the CONVICTS ! There would be NO tv , radios , free college , certain types of "religious" meals , etc. If the convicts didn't like their bread and water or the occasional bologna and cheese sandwiches and wanted to go on a hunger strike - FINE! When they die , it'll be just one less miscreant to care for , hence , saving that state $$$

- I would abolish "Affirmative Action" as well as all other RACIST programs. As I said before , all they do is move discrimination from one class of people to another!

- Gays / lesbians would NOT be allowed in the U.S. Military - and if already in and found out - they would receive a DISHONORABLE DISCHARGE with loss of ALL veterans benefits! Ditto with ATHEISTS!

- Women in the military would NOT serve in combat!

- ALL atheists would be required to register with the FBI and CIA , and their pictures , home addresses and phone numbers would be made available on the I-net - just like convicted child molesters. And.. if they lied about their atheism and were later found out , it would be considered TREASON , hence...they can get ready to meet SATAN in HELL!!

Did I miss anything , my friends? As I said , the above are not all-inclusive. So , if any of you TRUE CHRISTIAN AMERICANS have any other suggestions , by all means let me know.

See more at:

Another Genealogical Find

Well on top of the genealogical discovery of a bible-punching great great grandfather, I now have to add the find of a great grandfather (mother's side) who actually served in WWI under the Austro-Hungarian empire. As readers may know, World War I was triggered when the Archduke Franz Ferdinand was assassinated in June, 1914. The attached image from 1915 shows great grandfather Anton (left) with a friend, about a year after hostilities with Serbia had gotten underway. Of course, the U.S. still wasn't involved.

Ironically, as I learned on perusing old family documents, many compiled by my cousin Barbara, Anton might not have had to fight at all (he eventually attained a rank analogous to captain in the Austro-Hungarian Army). Evidently, a baker by trade, he set out to find his fortune in America in 1905. He came alone (his wife Magdalen remained behind) and found immediate employment in Pennsylvania. While there he regularly sent money home and also managed to save enough for his wife's passage.

Unfortunately, being a staunch Catholic, Magdalen realized the passage couldn't be made because the money wasn't adequate for her and her children. (Joseph, my grandfather, and sister Julia). Thus, Magdalen refused to leave her children, and so Anton returned home in 1907. Meanwhile, during Anton's absence, Joseph had been keeping up the bakery from the age of eight. He'd start the bakery oven at midnight and then help his mother with the baking of the rolls and bread until 5:00 a.m. After they were ready, he would deliver them across five to six square miles carrying them on his back. Only when he reached the age of 12 did Anton permit him to use the wagon and team of horses to deliver the baked goods.

In the course of doing business with the neighboring towspeople, Joseph learned their languages, including German, Hungarian, Bohemian, Russian(Serbian) and Polish.

As the threat of war heated up between Austria -Hungary and Serbia, Anton encouraged Joseph to leave the homeland, to avoid conscription into the Hungarian Army. Thus, Joseph - under Anton's watchful eyes- left Cabuna, Croatia at the age of 15, on March 19, 1914 - buying a ticket in Zabreb, then traveling by train to a port in Antwerp, Belgium (on the vessel Kroonland) which then docked at Ellis Island, New York, on Good Friday, April 12, 1914. This was barely two months before the trigger to the first World War: with the assassination of the heir to the Austro-Hungarian throne, the Archduke Franz Ferdinand on June 28, 1914, at the hands of Gavrilo Princip, a Serbian nationalist. This resulted in Austria-Hungary's declaration of war against the Kingdom of Serbia.

Anton was ensnared in it, but fortunately, his son Joseph escaped, and found lodging with his father's brother (his Uncle Wenzel) in Milwaukee. The rest, as they say, is history.

Bullied at Brown?

One of the most ghastly cases of bullying in recent years was the case of 15-year old Phoebe Prince, whose family came over from Ireland (hence she was a resident of the UK) and attended Boston's South Hadley High. There she was bullied mercilessly until she finally could take no more and hung herself. See, e.g.

Now the news is circulating that former Harry Potter star Emma Watson ("Hermione Granger") has been "bullied" out of Brown University, an Ivy League enclave where she'd been majoring in History. The story first emerged out of an April 21 piece in The New York Daily News, not exactly a font of wisdom and judicious journalism on a par with The Financial Times, but not The National Enquirer either. According to the piece, unnamed sources reported that Watson "didn't shy away from class participation and often would "answer something in class and get it right," calling the 21-year-old actress "really smart." Bad idea!

As Richard Hofstadter made clear in his book, Anti-Intellectualism in American Life, Americans may tolerate a smarty-pants for brief durations but not over any consistent, extended time frame. Press them too hard, by showing up too often, and they will take it out on your hide. And nothing rankles many American college kids more than a feisty Brit girl with an "elitist" accent showing them up for the idle ipodders they are, and doing it day after day, class after class. Of course, this is bad enough in most high schools, what with the 'nerd-geek' persecution meme still running, but can also appear in colleges, even of the vaunted "Ivy League" (which recent studies, such as reported in The Atlantic, have shown are no better at generating academic stars than public universities.)

Author David M. Potter in his book, Freedom and its Limitations in American Life, Stanford University Press, 1976, cannily observed that people of most other nations understand freedom to be wide ranging and to include freedom to express opinions contrary to the majority, or the societal "norms" and even engage in active dissent. Also, for a university student, to chime in any time on any issue during a class lecture without being looked upon as a smart aleck by peers. However, in the parochial American mind, freedom doesn't extend that far.

To the typical American (p. 7) "freedom" is not so inclusive or expansive but is limited to two concepts: "free and independent" and "free and equal". The first implies "freedom to avoid dependence" , e.g on any higher authority, thereby to attain true independence. This "freedom" is what the wingers incessantly use to pursue the ultimate goal of "every man for himself" and no "nanny state". In essence, setting the path to potential personal ruin and no state support to help. Potter notes that the other concept, "Free and equal" imples the essence of freedom is:

"Not being different from other people, but rather on a par with other people".

THIS was the lesson one suspects that Emma Watson never did learn. I could see it before she barely began her classroom experience over a year ago. One network appearance may have thereby sealed her fate even long before any class participation. In a spot on Regis Philbin's Morning, show soon after being enrolled at Brown (still have the tape), she matter of factly informed her host that students at Brown came up to her and complained about her British accent, saying: “You have twenty points advantage in IQ on us just by opening your mouth”. It would be na├»ve to believe no Brownies saw this interview, or the word didn’t get around through the university grapevine (every college has one). The consensus from then may well have been, ‘Hey, what are we anyway? Chopped Yankee liver?”

More importantly, her words may have sparked the ire of potential classmates in signaling she somehow believed she was smarter than they were, hence didn't believe herself to be "on a par with them", according to David M. Potter's take. From there, her repeated class participation may only have reinforced that original perception of Watson thinking herself exceptional, and being inclined to "show off". One single heckle or catcall with no effort on the part of the presiding TA or lecturer to quell it, may have been all it took to encourage more, and it soon became a kind of general, habitual mockery. According to the NY Daily News piece, the most popular heckle was "Three points for Gryffindor!" following on from the name of the Hogwarts' House to which "Hermione" belonged, when it faced off in Quidditch matches against other Houses (in the British system, all year groups, classes are organized into different 'Houses' which then face off against rival Houses in assorted competitions, not only games but academic).

As for the denial of “bullying”, well what would you expect? Of course Ms. Watson and her agents, press reps will deny it! (You want her to be tagged with the 'whiner' or 'squealer' epithet?) Besides, they may not have regarded heckling as being in the same class as outright bullying, say like Phoebe Prince received. Rather it was enough of a nuisance to justify her move from Brown to a place where she can continue to build new academic bona fides. As for one PR cover story that Brown lacks the history specialist areas Ms. Watson wants, that appears unlikely, as Brown is noted for among the best history specialists in the nation (including women’s history) and even publishes a student -edited and published history journal (‘Brown Journal of History’).

The other cover story that Watson left to “finish work on the last part of Deathly Hallows” also doesn’t wash, since all of that film was completed at one time last year, on account of the young cast's ageing beyond the limits of plausibility. (It was just decided to screen it in two separate halves). Watson ought to know that most Potter fans would have been aware of this, so it might have been better to just leave that reference out and admit to wanting to look for other film opportunities. Besides, she told Regis Philbin in that interview that she cut her hair short to make a "break with the film character, Hermione".

What might be of interest to know, if journalists could perform more research than gossip mongering, is how it was that Brooke Shields was able to get her degree from Yale, and Natalie Portman hers from Harvard, with little fanfare. The answer might also help other celebs considering going back to finish college, or even start it. Meanwhile, the NY Daily News reported Watson is considering possibly enrolling in the Gallatin School for Independent Study which may well be her best move, somewhat akin to heckled or bullied high schoolers being allowed to complete home schooling.

Monday, April 25, 2011

The Pathetic Dismal Science (2): The Jobs Myth

In the last blog (Dismal Science (1)) we examined the pathetic dismal science in terms of its failure to learn and make accurate predictions, particularly in terms of the 2008 credit meltdown and financial crisis. We also saw that a large part of this arose from dubious contributions of published academic economists (such as Glen Hubbard and Martin Feldstein, among others)who touted a specific paradigm (neo-liberal, free market domination predicated on low taxation) which was never fully tested, say on the level of claims made in physics. Because of this incestuous and closed-world of macro-economics, nothing was learned from the recent credit collapse, and indeed we are on our way to a new one if more stringent demands aren’t made on these purveyors of bunkum.

The latest disheartening take which is growing ever louder and more strident, is the meme that elderly people ought to easily be able to work to 70 and beyond. The same macro-economic propagandists that gave us the Ryan plan (or at least its basis) are now howling that people need to work much longer before receiving any benefits or as they like to put it, “entitlements”. Even the normally sober, and centrist Economist magazine has succumbed to this kool aid as they insisted in a recent (April 9) Editorial (’70 or Bust!’):

“Too many people see longer working lives as a worry rather than an opportunity- and not just because they are going to be chained to their desks. Some fret there will not be enough jobs to go around. This apprehension, known to economists as the “lump of labor fallacy”, was once used to argue that women should stay home and leave all jobs to breadwinning males. Now lump of laborites claim that keeping the old at work would deprive the young of employment. The idea that society can become more prosperous by paying more of its citizens to be idle is clearly nonsensical”

Now, where to begin with this farrago of butt-brained gibberish and codswallop? One is left to wonder if the Economist’s nattering nabobs even follow the employment news lately, or the chief job indicators including what the putative creators of jobs are doing with their capital. (Hint: They are sitting on nearly $2 TRILLION, and haven't created one damned job using it!) In fact, this clueless stream of foolishness shows more than anything else the extent to which modern economists (especially in the media, but also in academia) are incapable of realistic thought and argument.

First, the “lump of labor” argument may well have been a fallacy 60 or 70 years ago when the global population was half what it is now and Western citizens didn’t have to compete for jobs with 700 million Chinese, or 900 million Indians. But all that’s now gone by the backboards. We no longer live in that world (though the Economist’s editors appear to!), but one in which no country can keep up with population growth in terms of job production. Thus, we behold unemployment rates (and these are not gamed like the Bureau of Labor Statistics does in the U.S.) such as 31% in Trinidad, 44% in Guyana, 24% in Barbados, and 67% in the Ivory Coast and Guinea –Bisseau, Africa.

In all of those nations (and those are barely one twentieth of the total) the jobs production lags far behind the resident population's re-production, thereby creating vast pools of unassimilated labor supply or glut. We call this “surplus population” since it can’t be put toward any productive capacity because the nations involved haven’t devised the outlets for such capacity. Worse, the surplus population drags down remuneration because of the vast supply pool, and those under a certain age in Africa, often form the primary contingents of rebel and insurgent groups that destabilize governments, thus making job creation more difficult!

This is no less true in many European nations (including the Economist’s UK) and the U.S. For example, merely to keep up with population infusion in the U.S. requires the addition of 129,000 jobs each and every month. To date, the increase has never been more than about 260,000/month or about 130,000 above the monthly population growth rate. Even this isn’t much of a benefit since the credit meltdown and financial collapse saw more than 15 million jobs lost over 2007-2009. Over a year and allowing for +/- 25,000 variation per month (with more in the negative because of spiking oil prices) that translates to about 1.5 million jobs added above the population growth rate. This means it will take TEN YEARS at that rate of job addition to get back to where the U.S. jobs market was before 2007. Even if we put a happy face spin on it, and double the jobs addition rate, that is five years to get back to the pre-2007 status quo. That still leaves more than 9 million of the under-employed (including over 7 million in the 20-29 age range and many seniors) still looking for full time work.

In their great 1997 book, ‘The Judas Economy’, authors William Wolman and Anne Colamosca noted that the minimum unemployment rate among the post -60 population was over 20% and this was likely conservative. Certainly, ever since a 1996 Supreme Court ruling on a case dealing with age discrimination (the SC basically stated the claimant must bring proof and companies in any case were entitled to manage their finances however they saw fit) those numbers have spiked. This was made much worse after a 1996 Fortune 500 ‘white paper’ was leaked indicating that hiring people over 55 was a case of “diminishing returns” since they seldom justified a salary and benefits given their reduced labor capacity and output.

That was even before more than 11 million U.S. jobs were outsourced (since 1999) to Asian economies, via places like Guongdong, China, Mexico and Bangalore, India. Meanwhile, absolutely nothing has been done to discourage this trend! So how in Hades can a normally sage media source like The Economist claim the jobs are there and all seniors need to do is look for them? Moreso, how can they claim with straight faces the young won’t be negatively impacted when they already ARE? Can these editors be that clueless? Or are they under the grip of perverse PR? A first clue is when they cite sources at “the Peterson Institute” in Washington, yet another arm of the many-headed, Peter G. Peterson 'toss the elderly overboard and let 'em sink or swim' Hydra!

At least one column in the same issue did get it right, and warned about employers’ fears of hiring older workers, including “the nightmare that haunts many companies is older workers' rigidity”. This column by Schumpeter at least has the honesty to look at the very real barriers to hiring older workers and why the pie in the sky opinions expressed by the editors may not be all they’re cut out to be. (One must wonder what grog they were drinking when they wrote it!) He even cites a survey by the Sloan Center on Ageing and Work at Boston College which found that more than 40% of employers had a firm perception that older workers would impact their businesses negatively. This so upset former AARP president Bill Novelli that he wrote a book, 'Managing the Older Worker', attempting to rebut it. But the perception remains. Another survey of British employers also cited by Schumpeter found that only 14% were prepared to deal with an ageing workforce.

Thus, even in the selfsame magazine we behold a serious disconnect between the editors’ false notions and at least the realistic perceptions of their columnist. Then there is the case of that special subset known as poor seniors, who most may need work- say just to pay for all the things Medicare doesn’t cover. What’s to become of them? According to a recent Denver Post article (April 18, p. 6A) more than 75,000 poor seniors in all the states have been assisted to find work in their communities under the Department of Labor’s Senior Community Service Employment Program. The recently enacted and GOP-pushed budget bill, however, will slash the money for that program by 45%, meaning as many as 70% of the currently employed seniors will be thrown out of work – and, because of their age and low skill set, be unlikely to find employment elsewhere, even as burger flippers at Mickey D’s.

Finally, let’s examine the Economist editorial’s claim regarding “paying its citizens to be idle”. Well, last time I checked, most Western societies were paying tens of thousands of such citizens to do so, while living the lives of rentiers. These rich parasites – granted huge benefits from the Bush tax cuts for instance have parlayed that into idle (non-regular work) lives based on flash day trading, commodities speculation (driving up oil prices), hedge fund and ETF betting and buying, as well as living off stock dividends or reaping tons from capital gains breaks on their taxes. Yet I don’t see the Economist squallering about these misfits! No, they save their opprobrium for the poor elderly, the least likely to be hired anywhere (based on Schumpeter’s cited sources).

But again, the question must be asked concerning why this selective PR move is used, and places like the Peterson Institute are cited? The reason ought to be evident to anyone who’s followed my blogs: if the argument (however false) can be made that jobs are available but seniors just won’t take them, it is but a short step to claiming that they deserve no benefits at all. That is why we in the liberal-socialist progressive camp have to keep fighting like Tasmanian Devils to expose this tommyrot, and perhaps even soon take to the streets in fierce protests – if raising the debt ceiling is held hostage to Repuke economic terrorism.

Shocks and Surprises in Genealogy

After viewing the NBC series 'Who Do You Think You Are?' it was natural to go back to the well -known genealogical site, and do further digging into my family's background. What my wife and I turned up in the past year or so has been nothing short of astounding, but I must admit we wouldn't have made anywhere near this progress on our own. We have to thank my Uncle in Arizona (dad's brother) and also several other families on the site whose own family branches link with mine.

The discoveries we've made so far would fill most of a small library and we haven't even finished! This being the case, I will only mention one that struck me between the eyes: the discovery of a powerful evangelical Bible puncher (originally one of the group called "the Brethren") back in 1860s Kansas. This turned out to be (after numerous confirmations, both with other families and my uncle) none other than my great great grandfather (born May 12, 1812 in Rockingham County, Virginia) on my dad's father's wife's side. (They're the parents of my great grandmother's mother). Their image is shown in the accompanying ca. 1867 photo.

Why is this so astounding? Because an answer may now be possible to those who ask me: "How in the hell could you and your pastor brother have come from the same womb?" Well, an atheist and a rabid evangelical, you wouldn't necessarily expect that....but why not? After all many families have both liberals and coservatives in the clan and it's but a small step to extend this to religious liberalism (of which atheism is the most extreme example) and religious evangelical conservatism.

And as we know, the authors of the book Nature's Thumbprint have made quite an argument for the case that not only can physical factors be inherited, but also psychological, and personality. Who knows, there may even be more conservative family members who are yet to fall out of the family tree! In any case, it's interesting to speculate that these hyper religious genes may well have been at work for some time, just waiting for the right person or incarnation to pop back out again!

This also perhaps shows there might be a basis for greater tolerance. If as it seems likely, genes are what carry religious dispositions, tendencies and there's no getting around them or trying to force the issue (say by mandating "conversion") then maybe the best policy after all is simply to accept each other's positions and philosophies for what they are. (Which means accepting the religious or areligious personality for what it is, minus unproductive and judgmental opprobrium). Or at least accept the person holding them is a genuine person of good faith, and not a "devil".

Sunday, April 24, 2011

Fareed Zakaria: Embodying the Clueless Pundit

In his recent TIME column (April 18, ‘How Will Obama Handle RyanCare’? ) columnist Fareed Zakaria shows he is as clueless as all other yapping pundits out there on the issue of “entitlements” and particularly Paul Ryan’s non-plan for “saving Medicare”. As I noted earlier, Ryan’s plan offers nothing except a plan to unparalleled poverty and likely premature death for many older Americans that don’t have the benefit of great wealth.

Zakaria grumps that “the liberal establishment is in full fury over Ryan’s plan”, but why shouldn’t they be when the corporate media establishment’s ignorant goons, PR- delirious loons and nattering austerity nabobs are hyping it as “courageous” or some other nonsense when it is nothing of the sort. Any such plan that clobbers the most vulnerable seniors and leaves the rich and military alone is not courageous, but patently cowardly and worse, a fraud. And anyone who backs it, or even praises it at some level minus full backing, has to be considered as supporting a fraud.

Zakaria is correct that “it is an odd proposal from a man who seems genuinely committed to a comprehensive solution to the U.S.’s fiscal crisis”, but the key word here should be “seemed”. It is transparent to anyone with more than air between the ears that Ryan is now committed more to Peter G. Peterson’s plans (from his book, On Borrowed Time)to eliminate the sickly and poor elderly and to pump more money into the pockets of the do nothing rich via extending the Bush tax cuts. For that, he ought to be at least called out as a liar and fraud, but center-right pundits like Zakaria refuse to do so.

He merely says: “Ryan’s plan makes magical assumptions about growth and revenues” when in fact the assumptions of ALL trickle down, supply side theories (from Arthur Laffer’s original one to economist Glen Hubbard’s most recent) are all frauds and lies. The Financial Times in a devastating analysis of the Bush tax cuts (9-15-10) showed NONE of them have worked! In the words of the FT's own conclusion: "The stated goal of cutting taxes to spur U.S. capital investment was not achieved.”. Worse, the majority of benefits flowed overseas! In the FT's own words: “an increasing proportion of the benefits of U.S. monetary and fiscal policy are leaking outside the U.S.”. And why not realize that Ryan's idiotic plan would make foreign speculators laugh even harder on the way to their banks! So why not call a spade a spade, or a fraud a fraud? How much longer must we sustain and support this twaddle perpetrated on us that “tax cuts create jobs and reduce deficits”?
Even Zakaria can’t see through the pretense of Ryan’s plan! He states that “the theory behind Ryan’s plan is that if individuals have to pay for their own health care they will shop carefully and drive down costs”.

But that’s bogus! The truth is they will not have health care, period, because NO insurer will provide it to anyone 67 or older! Thus, it isn’t a question of “shopping carefully” but rather being deprived of any access because the private insurance market will not compete for elder health care dollars without the government mandating they do. It simply won’t happen! They don’t do it now! Seniors are regularly denied in the private insurance markets (unless they can get access to COBRA) and this has been known since the late 90s when dozens of private plans then in Medicare simply quit the program allowing more than 900,000 elderly to be left in the lurch and having to retreat to standard Medicare. Had that not been there, they’d have been left with no health care at all, which is exactly what the intent of Ryan’s plan is.

Then Zakaria exposes himself as a clear imbecile as he writes:
“Why do I applaud the Ryan Plan? Because it is a serious effort to tackle entitlement programs”

Errr….no, sir, it is not serious! It is an effort to eliminate a key health program (which as it is demands significant costs from participants) and thus drive ailing seniors into a ditch. It can’t be serious if it does nothing to generate revenue, while delivering more than $2 trillion in extra tax cuts to the wealthiest as it unimaginably increases the burdens on the most vulnerable and weakest. It also does nothing about the military budget despite the fact it is eating up nearly 58 cents of every dollar spent and could easily be cut in two with no momentous loss of capability.

Zakaria barks that "if Democrats don’t like Ryan’s plan they should propose their own", and I already have (though I am a Democratic socialist, not a Democrat per se). My plan entails the following
1)Allowing Medicare to bargain for the lowest cost prescription drugs like the VA does. This would solve the huge problem of exploding drug costs at one time. Given these costs are rising by 9-14% a year they represent a huge drain on the national budget. By putting Medicare and the VA bargaining in the same class, I estimate that up to $50 billion a year can be saved. Much of this could be enabled simply by switching the Medicare options to generics. For example, substituting lovostatin for regular commercial statins like Zocor.

2) Eliminating finally all the Medicare Advantage plans! This in fact was one of Obama's early targets in the health reform wars, and he needs to come back to it. These plans were inserted into the parlous 2003 Medicare Prescription Drug law as a means to bleed standard Medicare down, and they have. They consume nearly $12 billion more per year (according to the Government Accounting Office) than standard Medicare, and those costs have directly pushed the program closer to insolvency. Worse, those receiving only the standard benefit have been forced to pay higher premiums to support those on the Advantage plans. Eliminating them would save $120- 140 billion over the next 10 years.

3) Reinstating the FICA tax (eliminated for two years as a result of the December Bush tax cut extension agreement) and when resumed, increase them to at least 8.4% to make up for the two years of lost revenue (which funds both Social security and Medicare). After two or three years, the regular 6.2% rate can be resumed.

4) Consider seriously raising the FICA limits for higher incomes levels, at least to $250,000 to help pay for both Social Security and Medicare shortfalls. People at the upper end need to bear in mind they're part of this country too and need to help out. Remind them of John F. Kennedy's famous quote: "If a nation cannot save the many who are poor, it will not be able to save the few who are rich"

5) Allow ALL the Bush tax cuts to peacefully expire next year no matter how much political pressure the Rs exert (and we know they will exert a lot). As it is, the giveaway in December added nearly $900 billion to the deficit that could have been totally avoided - i.e. by allowing both the middle class and higher income Bush tax cuts to finally expire. As Froma Harrop noted in her recent op-ed piece, merely allowing this expiry will halve the deficit. The rest of the problem can be solved via steps 1-4, with no ungodly strain on seniors living on fixed incomes.

Zakaria’s most clueless and delirious remark is left for last:

“Why has the care and feeding of America’s elderly become the only cause of American liberalism?”

Well, maybe, Mr. Zakaria, because as the Rev. Martin Luther King put it: “The degree of a nation’s compassion is measured by the manner in which it treats its elderly”

If you even had to ask that question, it has to mean you don’t have a solitary clue what compassion means. As The New York Times editorial put it:

“Huge numbers of Medicare beneficiaries live on modest incomes and are already struggling to pay medical bills that Medicare does not fully cover. We should not force them into private health plans that would charge them a lot more or provide much skimpier benefits”

Or, more realistically,….NO benefits at all!