Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Vacation Time

I go on vacation and neglect my diary here. It’s traditional. Besides it’s been a boring week or two.

The “big” stories have been that so-called “terrorist plot” to blow up an airliner, the custody battle over a nine year old boy between his New Jersey father and his mother’s family in Brazil and the Senate Health Care bill.

On the “terrorist plot,” I’m leaning toward it was one disturbed dude acting on his own. If it had been a “plot,” multiple attacks would have occurred simultaneously I suspect.

On the custody battle, at first it looked like the dad had gotten his son back but now I see that the family in Brazil intends to raise a new challenge. Lots of luck getting a U.S. court to order his return regardless of what the Brazilian courts decide.

The Senate managed to pass the 100% partisan Health Care bill. I haven't read it but I understand it's quite different from the House bill including no public option. I'm uncertain what gets accomplished without a public option but I'll wait until the House and Senate iron out the differences before wading through the thing.

I am disturbed by how national politics continues to become more, and more defined along party lines.

Oh yeah, one more thing. Some nut job tackled the pope during Christmas mass. Grabbed him by the front of robe and pulled him down. You would think, if nothing else, people would be more respectful of a man in his eighties.

Friday, December 18, 2009

Idiot America

I’m reading “Idiot America” by Charles P. Pierce. Pierce is a journalist who claims he reached the breaking point when he saw dinosaurs with saddles at the Creation Museum.

I’ve only gotten through the first two and a half chapters or so but already Pierce has triggered something that has been rattling around in my brain for a while now.

The founding fathers really had no idea how the government they were creating was going to develop. It’s familiar to us now but back then it was a radical experiment built loosely upon the principles of the Enlightenment.

By no stretch of the imagination was it built upon “Christian Principles” although to a great extent it is difficult to ever separate western civilization from the moral foundations of Christianity. Still, men like Madison and Jefferson would have been horrified at the idea that they were creating a Christian Nation.

What they were creating was an environment in which ideas, even totally crackpot ideas, were free to be expressed, developed and even possibly to acquire a following. Consider Mormonism and McCarthyism for example.

About the last thing Christianity wants is an environment where new and radical ideas can be expressed and explored.

The danger of course is things going completely off the hinges if there aren’t sufficient safeguards to prevent it.

Allow me to suggest that somehow the “many safety valves” that Madison thought sufficient in a letter to Lafayette to be a “relief against the infirmities from which the best of human Institutions cannot be exempt” appear to have failed.

Congress has degraded into a strictly partisan affair. The welfare of the country is irrelevant. Politics have become paramount. The Republican obstructionism on health care is the perfect example. Rather than working to resolve problems and deliver badly needed reform, they appear to be simply interested in preventing anything from being accomplished. Apparently the 30 million Americans without health insurance can just go to hell for all they care.

The press is tied up in the absurdity of insuring “balanced reporting.” They have forgotten that not all sides of an issue are equal. Some sides are just total nonsense. In the interest of this misguided notion of “balanced reporting” they have abdicated their responsibility to help keep the electorate informed and they have allowed propaganda machines masquerading as journalism (Fox News? Who said Fox News?) to be far more effective than they should be.

Even the Supreme Court appears to be more interested in politics than law and justice. Just consider the farce of Bush v. Gore and the idiotic positions often expressed and taken by Scalia and Thomas.

I suspect Madison assumed that the Intellectual Elite would keep things from getting out of hand. The problem is that the Intellectual Elite is no longer in control. When we politely, and seriously, consider the ramblings of people like Rush Limbaugh, Anne Coulter, James Dobson, Tony Perkins, Pat Robertson and Glenn Beck instead of laughing in their faces and telling them to STFU, something has gone terribly wrong.

Yes, they are entitled to their opinion and they are entitled to express that opinion. However, the rest of us are most certainly NOT required to treat those opinions with respect when they are total crap nor are we obligated not to flat out criticize them as total crap. Politeness and “balanced reporting” be damned. All opinions are NOT equal. All ideas are NOT equal. Assholes are entitled to their own opinions but they not entitled to their own facts; they are NOT entitled to deference; they are NOT entitled to respect.

Pierce points out the idiocy of a Zogby poll in August 2004 that discovered that 57% of the undecided voters would rather have a beer with George Bush than John Kerry. As Pierce points out not only was that an inappropriate questions for a nation of serious citizens it was even an inappropriate question for a nation of drunkards.

Do we really want our drinking buddies in the White House? Apparently the Sarah Palin supporters are thinking along those lines when they say "oh, she's just like us, that's why we support her."

You will excuse me, but personally I'd like someone a lot more intelligent, a lot better educated and a lot more even tempered than me as President and I'm a hell of a lot more intelligent and better educated than the yokels showing up for Palin's book tour.

I’m not terribly optimistic about the future of this country. I’m not even certain it can maintain its cohesion through the remainder of the century. I probably won’t live to see the disintegration of the American Republic but it may well be an issue for my children.

Friday, December 11, 2009


Apparently the Climate Research Unit (CRU) at the University of East Anglia (UEA) got its e-mail server hacked. This led to the publishing of a number of excerpts from the e-mails. These excerpts implied that the CRU fudged Global Warming data to make the case stronger than it really was and conspired to keep dissenting opinions from being published.

These are serious charges and strike right at the credibility of the scientific community in general and Global Warming related research in particular. Clearly they should be investigated by the university and anyone that relies on data from the CRU.

However, that being said, I don’t understand the apparent venom associated with this topic. Scientists associated with the e-mails supposedly received death threats. Death threats? WTF? What makes Global Warming such a volatile topic for its skeptics?

I could almost understand Global Warming supporters being volatile. In their view delaying doing something about this could place themselves or their children at risk. But it’s the other side of the debate that is so vehement.

I guess it’s easy to become violent when you have your head up your ass.

I’ve read the excerpts and I don’t think there is anything which undermines the validity of the scientific conclusions. There are some things that probably never should have been said in an e-mail and it’s even possible that some things were done which shouldn’t have been done.

Always remember this young Padawan, NEVER write down, especially in an e-mail, anything you wouldn’t be comfortable with having published for the entire world to see.

Clearly an independent honest investigation is warranted. Unfortunately I just know that regardless of the findings we’ll be hearing about this one from the under 80 IQ right wing trailer park crowd for the next 10 years. Nebraska Man, move over, we have a new champion.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Christmas Season in North Jersey

Well, actually River Vale and Westwood. I live in River Vale and need to travel through the center of Westwood in order to get to the Garden State Parkway so these are the two towns that I’m most familiar with.

Westwood has a main shopping street along Westwood Avenue which is decorated with miniature white lights in the trees and wreaths on each lamppost. The wreaths are lit mostly with white lights but occasionally with multi-colored lights.

At the eastern end of the main street is Five Corners and the small wedge shaped Fireman’s Park. The park has a silver statue of a fireman near the point of the wedge and facing Westwood Avenue. Further back is a stone structure with a fire bell.

At Christmas time the park gets a spotlighted large crèche between the statue and bell and two large white lighted wreaths on the front and back of the fire bell structure.

At the western end of Westwood Avenue is Memorial Park. Memorial Park in Westwood is classic Norman Rockwell Christmas atmosphere. There is a 25 foot live tree decorated yearly with multi-color lights; the gazebo is typically decorated as well; the train station is right along the park and the war monument stands in silent tribute. There is also a large Menorah placed at the most prominent corner near the train station which, to be honest, spoils the atmosphere slightly. It looks out of place and something of an afterthought.

River Vale isn’t as classic, but it has a decorated town center at Four Corners and additional holiday decorations near town hall a little ways north on Rivervale Road (one of the great mysteries of life is why the town name is River Vale but the street is Rivervale Road).

In River Vale the telephone poles have miniature white light outlined snowflakes; the light poles and shrubs in the center of town have miniature white lights wrapped around them and a red lighted “Season’s Greetings” banner is hung over Westwood Avenue which runs east and west through Four Corners to Rivervale Road’s north and south. To be honest, I could do without the “Season’s Greetings” banner. It looks kind of dull.

There is also a Menorah and tree with red, blue and green lights set up by the clock at Four Corners. The Menorah is scheduled for lighting on December 15th.

I caught an announcement for the “Holiday Tree” lighting at town hall on December 4th on the town bulletin board but the town web site called it a Christmas Tree lighting. The tree at town hall is lit with multi-colored lights, there is a crèche right next to it and two reindeer outlined in white lights a short distance away.

Another great mystery of life is how roads get their names in New Jersey. Westwood Avenue extends west from a T with Washington Avenue in Old Tappan. It runs through River Vale and on the town’s western edge is intersected by Cedar Lane. If you turn left off of Cedar Lane you’re on Westwood Avenue. If you turn right you’re on, SURPRISE, Cedar Lane! There are no other options.

About 200 feet west Sand Road terminates at and apparently annihilates Cedar Lane because after the intersection it’s Harrington Avenue. Harrington Avenue runs northwestward through Westwood and dies at Five Corners. But before you get to Five Corners you’re forced to turn right along the 50 foot back of Fireman’s Park on a tiny road called Park Place as Harrington Avenue suddenly becomes one way when it reaches Fireman’s Park. You then turn left in order to continue through the center of Westwood. The road you turn west onto is, Westwood Avenue! But this is not the same Westwood Avenue as the street that morphed into Cedar Lane.

If you follow this 2nd Westwood Avenue as it flows northeast it changes, without any noticeable warning, into Demarest Avenue. You got all that? Oh yeah, one other thing. If you follow Westwood Avenue through the center of Westwood and cross the railroad tracks you discover the road has now become Washington Avenue, but not the same Washington Avenue that the other Westwood Avenue terminated on back to the east in Old Tappan. And they wonder why people get lost in eastern Bergen County.

This may sound nuts but it’s not as bad as western Bergen County. There are two Wyckoff Avenues there and they cross. That gives you the intersection of Wyckoff Avenue and Wyckoff Avenue.

But I digress.

The question I meant to ask is “are the two crèches” legal?

I have no idea. I suspect probably not but I don’t think anyone really cares. The decorations celebrate the holiday season. I don’t believe the Nativity Story. I’m convinced that it’s a fable, but it’s a good story in the same way that Santa Claus and Rudolf the Red Nosed Reindeer are good stories.

The Evangelical Church in River Vale has a simple pine needle decoration lit with miniature white lights framing its door. St. Andrews church in Westwood has its usual “Keep Christ in Christmas” sign but no other decorations.

The teachers at Roberge School in River Vale are buying gifts and assorted other goods for the children of a family in town that has fallen on hard times. My youngest daughter arrived home last night with a bag full of toys to drop off at the annual “Toys for Tots” campaign sponsored by the Marine Reserve at Sunday’s Giant’s game.

The last two are the real Christmas decorations. Peace on earth, good will toward men is still a good idea. Merry Christmas everyone.

Wednesday, December 09, 2009

Gallup Ethics Survey

The latest Gallup Survey on how various professions are viewed with respect to honesty and ethics was released today.

As usual Nurses topped the list of 22 professions with 83% of people viewing them as having High Ethics. They were followed by Pharmacists (66%), Doctors (65%), Police Officers (63%) and Engineers (62%).

Clergy came in at 50% (*cough, cough*). Dentists (57%) and College Teachers (54%) completed the list of those that 50% or more viewed as having High Ethics.

At the bottom of the list were Car Salesmen (6%), HMO Managers (8%) and Congressmen (9%).

However, Congressmen, with 55%, had more people say they had Low Ethics than any other group. The only other group that more than 50% said had Low Ethics was Car Salesmen.

Senators did slightly better than Congressmen with 11% saying they had High Ethics and 49% saying they had Low Ethics. Governors did even better than that with 15% saying they had High Ethics and 35% saying they had Low Ethics

Nurses were also at the top when considering groups that the fewest people viewed as having Low Ethics with 2%, followed by Engineers (4%), Pharmacists (5%) and then Doctors and Dentists (7%).

More people thought Chiropractors (34%) had High Ethics than either Psychiatrists (33%) or Journalists (23%).

Journalists appear to have a definite image problem as more people (31%) viewed them as having Low Ethics than High Ethics. I’m not sure if it’s an ethics thing as much as Journalists in this country have abdicated their responsibility to keep the public properly informed. Then there is Fox News, a propaganda machine masquerading as legitimate journalism. They sure don’t help the Journalist’s ratings.

I’m a bit surprised that regular Teachers rather than only College Teachers aren’t included. I’m not sure how 97% of people can have an opinion about College Teachers when only about 54%, according to the 2006 American Community Survey, have at least had some college experience.

These kinds of surveys tend to verify what you sort of figured already. Which raises a question as to whether people are saying what they really believe or what they think they’re supposed to say?

Tuesday, December 08, 2009

Witch Hunter sues CFI

CFI is the Center for Inquiry. It’s a global secular humanist organization that can at times get quite belligerent. In May of this year CFI launched a concerted campaign against the persecution of alleged child witches in Africa.

The campaign must be having some effect because now Leo Igwe, the CFI representative in Nigeria, is being sued by a “witch hunter” who is the head of the Liberty Gospel Church.

The “witch hunter,” Helen Ukpabio by name, is alleging religious discrimination on the part of Igwe because he has criticized her claims that many Nigerian women and children are witches.

Aside from the obvious idiocy associated with the charges of witchcraft, this is an attempt to silence criticism of religious practices. Practices I might point out which include the burning, with fire or scalding water, of children as young as 3 that are accused of being witches.

According to Ukpabio, the CFI anti-superstition campaign unlawfully and unconstitutionally interferes with her practice of Christianity and restricts her religious freedom to believe in “God, Satan, witchcraft, Heaven and Hell fire.”

She should move here. She’d fit right in with American fundamentalists. I think we should carve out Kansas as a stomping ground for all Christian fundamentalists. Let them kill themselves off for all I care. Besides, there’s nothing of importance in Kansas.

Global Warming

When the hell did Global Warming become a left wing conspiracy? WTF is wrong with these people that reject all of the indicators based upon political philosophy?

That the earth is warming is a fact. Just check the average temperatures and the glacial retreat. Whether this is a short term natural trend, a long term natural trend or driven by human activity is a bit harder to figure out. However, slowly, but surely, the consensus seems to be shifting toward accepting that human activity is at least partially responsible.

Ok, so now what? Clearly we can introduce regulations to reduce carbon emissions. Are these going to have any benefit? Are these going to cause economic hardships and send us right back into a global recession? Are the potential costs worse than the potential benefits?

I honestly don’t know. What I do know is that we should be trying to sort out these questions using rationale scientific methods and not slinging around philosophical opinion.

When did uninformed opinion become a viable substitute for expert analysis?

I can’t believe some of the things I’m hearing from these morons. Allow me to articulate why it’s becoming more and more obvious to me that conservatives have their heads up their asses. Here are some arguments from the lunatic fringe.

Conservative Argument #1 – The earth has stopped warming and now it’s cooling.

This argument is generally the result of using relatively short term data to predict long term events. Specifically it comes from using 1998, the warmest year on record, as a reference. You’ll hear the statement that “global temperatures have dropped over the last 11 years.” All that really means is that relative to 1998, the hottest year ever recorded, average global temperatures have been less. Never mind that 2002, 2003 and 2004 were the 2nd, 3rd and 4th hottest years on record and the 2000’s the warmest decade ever recorded.

Conservative Argument #2 – It’s a socialist conspiracy to redistribute wealth.

This emerges from the fact that it is the industrialized nations that will have to curtail their carbon emissions and the unindustrialized nations that will probably benefit the most from that curtailment.

I find this argument utterly fascinating. It’s sort of like cutting off your nose to spite your face. While this may be a side effect of bringing emissions under control, it’s certainly not the primary objective and doesn’t change the necessity. You’re worried about saddling you children with debt? What about saddling them with flooded coastlands, severely reduced food production and increasingly violent weather patterns?

Conservative Argument #3 – Man cannot affect what God created.

In other words everything is under control, don’t worry. If the rejection of evolution didn’t convince me that fundamentalist Christians were wackos, this one would. How god damned stupid can you get? When the hell did ignorance and stupidity become virtues in this country?

To be fair, there are legitimate skeptics on Global Warming. Unfortunately rationale debate is getting shoved aside by the idiots that think political ideology is the way to come to conclusions on technical issues.

Thursday, December 03, 2009

Failure in New York

As anticipated, the gay marriage bill failed in the New York Senate. That probably dooms the effort for the next few years in New Jersey as well.

The days of the long march have begun. The forces of light may be slightly battered and bloody, but they are unbowed and the fight is far from over. The retreat is simply to gather strength and prepare for the battles yet to come.

Victory is certain. The only questions are how long will it take and what will be the cost.

Wednesday, December 02, 2009

Gay Marriage in New York

And the war continues.

The current battle front is in the New York State Senate. The New York Assembly has passed the Gay Marriage bill for the third time in as many years but its fate in the Senate is uncertain.

The bill’s sponsor in the Senate believes that he has the votes to get it passed but opponents claim it will fall short by a significant margin. Governor Paterson is a supporter and will most likely quickly sign the bill into law if it passes.

If it passes, at least five Republican votes would be needed in the Senate to make that happen.

An impromptu and unscientific poll at the Daily News web site says, by a margin of 54% to 45%, that the Senate should pass the bill.

Meanwhile in New Jersey the issue has taken on some urgency as the Republican Governor-elect Chris Christy, may his eyelashes fall into his eyes and cause excruciating pain, has said he will veto any same sex marriage bill. Jon Corzine, the outgoing Democrat has promised to sign any such bill but it doesn’t look likely the issue has the support it needs for passage this year.

That means that, barring a unexpected change this year or massive Democratic gains in the New Jersey legislature in the coming years, the issue is dead for at least four years in New Jersey.

That’s too bad. It would have been nice to give Maggie Gallagher, president of the National Organization for Marriage which marshals conservative forces against gay marriage, an in-you-face kind of response to the loss in Maine in the state, much to our chagrin, that NOM has its headquarters.

I’m not terribly optimistic about the chances in New York either. I don’t think there are five Republicans with that kind of integrity in the entire country never mind in the New York Senate.

Tuesday, December 01, 2009

White House Party Crashers

I look at this on two levels. On one level I find it amusing that the snobbish aspect of Washington society has had this kind of comeuppance. One can sort of chuckle and shake ones head over it. You have to admit it took guts since they had to know they were going to eventually get caught. As a matter of fact, I suspect getting caught was the whole idea.

On the other hand, one has to wonder WTF the Secret Service is doing to earn its salary. It’s a good thing these were publicity hounds and not right wing wackos.

The SS clearly needs to clean up its act but I think calls for the criminal prosecution of the couple are way out of bounds. The way I look at it we should be thankful they exposed the weaknesses in the system. Let’s take it as a lesson learned and move on.

Monday, November 30, 2009

The Political Compass

Just to complicate things a bit, the latest idea floating around is that the old Left vs. Right political spectrum is too limiting so enter what is called the Political Compass.

You can take a test to see where you fall here http://www.politicalcompass.org/. My results on are the diagram.

As you can see the Political Compass diagram adds a Libertarian vs. Authoritarian axis which measures social values to the Left vs. Right axis which measures economic values. Someone who champions laissez faire Capitalism, but is rather progressive on social issues, would be a Right Wing Libertarian. Nelson Rockefeller comes to mind as possibly fitting this category.

On the other extreme, we have the Left Wing Authoritarian. Think Stalin. Gandhi, may well have been as leftist as Stalin but didn’t have an authoritarian outlook so he would be in the Left Wing Libertarian quadrant. Hitler, along with most Evangelical Christians and Republicans, fits in the Right Wing Authoritarian quadrant.

Hitler would be barely over the axis on the right but pinned up against the top of the authoritarian axis while our homegrown fascists in training would be further right, or more capitalist, but lower down, or less authoritarian. Hitler had little interest in economics as long as his authoritarian political goals were achieved.

I’m in the Left Wing Libertarian quadrant along with Gandhi. No real surprise there other than I was further left than libertarian and I thought it would be the reverse.

I recognized many of the questions in this quiz from the F Scale quiz which attempts to measure personality susceptibility to Fascism. I scored a 2.3 on that quiz which branded me a “liberal airhead.” Apparently the “normal range” for Americans is between 3 and 4.5 with above 5.5 indicating you goose step when you walk.

No New Minarets in Switzerland

Apparently the Swiss, by a 57%-42% popular vote, have approved a constitutional ban on the construction of Mosque Minarets.

All I can say is wow! The American electorate isn’t the only one that doesn’t understand the concept of equal protection under the law.

This is the most extreme example of the growing concern over the ever increasing Muslim minorities in many European countries. Amnesty International called the vote a direct violation of Religious Freedom and anticipated that it would be overturned by either the Swiss Supreme Court or the European Court of Human Rights. The vote doesn't affect the four minarets which currently exist in the country.

I don’t know anything about the Swiss Supreme Court but the ECHR doesn’t have a very stellar track record in protecting religious freedom for religions other than Christianity.

I guess we shall see.

Jesus and the Iron

According to the AP some lady in Massachusetts has discovered a picture of Jesus on the bottom of her iron.

And I thought the Jesus picture on the grilled cheese sandwich was bad.

I might point out that the image could just as easily be interpreted as the Sphinx, Mick Jagger or any long haired female. To me it looks like one of those old English judges with the long curly wigs.

Humans are good at pattern recognition. This trait was undoubtedly important when traipsing through the forest in order to avoid predators and locate prey. Someone who couldn’t differentiate well between a deer and a bear probably didn’t get to pass on his genes. That’s Natural Selection at work.

Unfortunately when you combine our instinct to constantly look for patterns with a vivid imagination or wishful thinking, you get Jesus in the residue on the bottom of an iron.

And they probably let her vote. Luckily she can’t do much harm in Massachusetts

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Lou Dobbs for President?

It’s not as crazy as it sounds.

On his last CNN program Dobbs attacked the current political culture in the United States as defined by “partisanship and ideology rather than by rigorous, empirical thought and forthright analysis and discussion."

That should strike a chord in anyone that has been paying attention.

Personally I think this is truer on the Republican side but the Democrats certainly don’t have clean hands either. I’m probably prejudiced because I tend to disagree with most of what the Republican Party appears to stand for these days. I can accept the premise that both parties are sacrificing the good of the country for political capital.

And if that’s the case, we should boot them all out on their butts and elect people that WILL apply “empirical thought and forthright analysis and discussion” to the problems facing the country.

If nothing else perhaps we can get the two major parties to re-assess their current behavior.

Monday, November 23, 2009

Republican Roadblocks

The Republicans in congress increasingly appear to be more interested in blocking any Democratic effort at Health Care Reform and less worried about getting the right Health Care Reform passed.

I suspect there are exceptions but it’s hard to pick them out. All I can say is WTF?

I guess you could make the argument that no reform is better than what the Democrats are proposing but I don’t think that’s the issue.

The issue is that I suspect the Republican Party is following part of its base and concluding that it would be better to let the country burn than to give Obama a legislative success.

They need to get things back in perspective.

They’re supposed to be working for the good of the country and not just for the good of the party. I believe that the Republican Party has utterly lost its focus and is rapidly degrading into a philosophy that you make yourself look good by making the other guy look bad rather than outperforming him on merit.

That philosophy doesn’t do the country any good and may well do it a great deal of harm and yet they call themselves Patriots.

Such a philosophy might succeed politically in the short term but would have disastrous consequences for the health of the country in the long run.

By the by, the Democrats aren’t anywhere near squeaky clean in this regard either but the Republicans seem to be abandoning all else at the moment as long as Obama doesn’t succeed.

And they say racism is dead.

I’ve had it with the negative perspectives. Rather than competing on how bad the other guy is how about trying to campaign on how good you are?

Personally I would rather win than have the other guy lose.

Going Rogue yer Ass

Personally I think the following cartoon says it all.

I'm not going to get into the accuracy of Palin's claims. I wasn't there and I can't say one way or the other but it certainly sounds like this lady likes to just make things up.

I find it frightening that there is actually a part of the electorate that thinks she could handle the job of president. Ronald Reagan was an intellectual lightweight as well BUT, and this is the big but, Reagan was a good judge of talent and understood his limitations. He munched jelly beans and let the talent to the real work. Palin isn't that smart.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Things I am almost absolutely certain about

Let’s move on to the things I’m almost absolutely certain about. It’s a slightly longer list and not nearly as maudlin. It contains four items.

I’m almost certain that I am capable of reaching accurate conclusions due to my intelligence and my ability to reason.

This is sort of the fundamental requirement isn’t it? I’m not absolutely certain because I acknowledge that I may in fact be drawing conclusions dictated by what I have been taught or for strictly emotional reasons.

It’s possible, but it’s not very likely. That I’m intelligent is supported by a fairly wide range of evidence. That I’m using that intelligence to reach logical and objective conclusions is more debatable. It’s possible I’m a victim of my education, my environment or my emotions, but I doubt it.

I’m almost certain that the scientific method works.

Is it perfect and are its conclusions always correct? No, of course not, scientists can jump to unwarranted conclusions and misinterpret data just like any one else. But it tends to be self correcting, seems to eventually get around to repairing errors and its track record is impressive. The question I can’t answer is does it have a limit?

I’m almost certain that the Theory of Evolution is correct.

This sort of goes along with my confidence in the scientific method, but stands on its own merit because I’ve acknowledged that science isn’t always right in the short term. The doubt creeps in because I’m having a hard time accepting the mathematics associated with going from a single cell amoeba to the broad spectrum of life on planet earth.

I don’t care how many billions of years we’re talking about; random mutation and natural selection strike me as inadequate. I suspect that we don’t yet fully understand all of the mechanisms involved in evolution.

The doubt associated with the mechanisms of evolution is what leaves the door open for the existence of God.

I’m almost certain that Christianity is nonsense.

The problem with a statement like this is that Christianity covers a very wide spectrum, from Conservative Christianity, to so-called Liberal Christianity, to Mormonism to the weirder fringe sects like Jehovah’s Witnesses.

Some parts of that spectrum I’m surer about than others. What one needs to do is ignore the religious dogma and focus on the core doctrines. So what are they? To my mind there are only four. In priority order they are God, Jesus, the Atonement and the Resurrection. Everything else is window dressing.

Allow me to explain.

Does God exist is the single most important question. Either there is a God or there isn’t. If there isn’t, then Christianity is by definition nonsense. The best argument for God is that there exists something. The universe certainly exists. God could have created the universe or he could have come into existence when the universe did. Perhaps he is the life force of the universe and will cease to exist at its heat death.

Christianity’s concept of God’s nature need not be accurate as long as he exists in some form. He need not even necessarily be benevolent and that is a thoroughly frightening thought. The concept of a malevolent God sort of short circuits the so-called problem of evil doesn’t it?

Either Jesus is God, or was sent by God, or he wasn’t. Notice that it’s sort of irrelevant to my mind if Jesus was God or God’s messenger other than the former possibility is far more awe inspiring.

My primary objection to this doctrine is why did God choose to send his message of salvation only to a third rate province of the Roman Empire? Was he operating on a limited budget or what? Why did he ignore the rest of humanity? Why didn’t he chose a more effective approach such as smacking Tiberius in the back of the head and saying “Yo, we have to talk.”

Either Jesus’ death atones for mankind’s sins or it doesn’t. This is the doctrine I have the most trouble with. No one has ever been able to satisfactorily explain to me WHY this was necessary. The whole concept strikes me as an extension of the ancient practice of blood sacrifice to appease the gods.

Either Jesus was resurrected or he wasn’t. This is sort of the money doctrine isn’t it? This is the old “what’s in it for me” answer. Men fear death. The Resurrection of Jesus is supposedly God’s promise that if you follow the rules you will have eternal life.

The problem of course is beyond that “promise” things get a little murky. Does it happen right away or do you have to wait for judgment day to be resurrected? How many will actually be saved? Some branches of Christianity claim almost everyone; others claim very, very few.

What is the nature of heaven? What is the nature of hell? Do these places even exist? If so, WHERE do they exist?

Keep in mind that your body undoubtedly consists of molecules that were once part of the bodies of deceased individuals. The fact of the matter is that our bodies get recycled. Are we going to get our old bodies back or some spiffy new models?

If our old ones then are the fat, the ugly and the dumb still going to be fat, ugly and dumb? If you had a genetic deformity will you still have it? Will you still be able to suffer pain, be tickled, get hungry or get tired?

If new spiffy new models, are we all going to look like Adonis and Venus? If we look so different how will our loved ones recognize us? Will we all be as talented as Bach, Michelangelo and Michael Jordan or are we going to be stuck with the same talents we had on earth? Are these new bodies going to get thirsty, hungry, tired and horny?

Do we get to wear clothes or do we walk around bare ass all day? Who gets to choose what clothes we wear? I’m not all that enthusiastic about schlepping around in those robes people seem to think angels wear.

Is there baseball in heaven? How can there be competition if we all have perfect bodies and equal talents? What are the implications of a heaven where we are unequal?

A spiritual resurrection doesn’t have these kinds of problems but consciousness, our personalities and our memories, all of the things that make us who we are, are most likely provided by the physical bodily aspects of our brains. What good would an afterlife be that didn’t preserve these things?

That’s about it actually. I thought about including social value stuff such as a woman’s right to choose, gay rights, equal justice under the law and so on and so forth, but I realized that these aren’t core beliefs. They are conclusions reached as a function of my core beliefs.

I guess I could have included other strong scientific theories, such as gravity and relativity, but without a unifying theory and a better understanding of the implications of quantum mechanics, I’m not at all that certain we understand these areas as well as we think we do.

So that’s about it really. Not a very long list at all. What really frightens me is the number of people, a lot less intelligent than I am, that are so certain about so much.

Things I am absolutely certain about

This is a really short list. It contains only one item. The only thing that I am absolutely certain about is that I’m going to die.

That’s a depressing thought isn’t it? I’m not as concerned about being dead as I am about the process involved. The transition could be extremely unpleasant. The concept of a world without me is very strange especially considering that in 100 years no one will even remember that I existed.

I don’t have a problem with that. I don’t feel any particular need for fame or notoriety. I’ve been in highly visible positions and have discovered that it simply makes you vulnerable to criticism. I’ve learned not to bother unless it’s really important and worth the grief that is sure to be involved.

So, what about the idea of an afterlife? Nah, I doubt it, although you never know. My idea of the perfect afterlife would be one where I’m free of bodily restrictions and the restrictions of time and space. An afterlife that would allow me to explore all knowledge, go back and witness the great moments in history, and discover the secrets of the universe.

This would be an appropriately eternal task worthy of the eternity of creation. My only real regret in having to die is that there are so many things I still don’t know and so many things that I won’t be able to accomplish.

I’ll probably have regrets at the end. Like the 13th Warrior I’ll need to ask forgiveness for the things I should have done but have not done, for the things I should have said but have not said and, most distressing of all, for the things I should have thought but have not thought.

But I’m not dead yet and, like Phil Ochs said, I won’t be able to add my name into the fight when I’m gone so I might as well do it while I’m here.

Monday, November 09, 2009

The Health Care Reform Bill

I got an e-mail from my Congressman, Scott Garrett, with a link to the Health Care reform bill, HR 3962, and a list of specific areas he wanted to bring to my attention. Although he didn’t say so, I have to assume that these are areas of major concern to him.

Having learned a long time ago to NEVER accept anyone’s unsupported word for anything, I checked the references in the e-mail. This was probably the last thing Garrett expected anyone to do. To say that, in my opinion, most of Garrett’s descriptions were either misleading or flat out wrong would probably be fairly close to accurate.

Garrett has applied in his e-mail a number of propaganda techniques aimed at winning an argument on the emotional level without having to worry about little things like facts. The first is a time honored propaganda technique called “name calling.”

In “name calling” one attempts to attached labels with negative connotations onto a person, policy or idea. Garrett throws around terms like “bureaucrat-approved” and “job-killing” without ever justifying the assertions associated with the terms.

The second technique is an appeal to fear. He uses this technique when talking about abortion, jobs and Medicare, subjects guaranteed to be emotionally charged. Again without ever justifying the assertions, he implies the loss of jobs and a reduction in Medicare benefits.

The interesting part is that his assertions are not necessarily wrong, but I tend to be suspicious when someone appeals to emotion and fear rather than addressing the facts.

Garrett’s e-mail is also a classic example of “accurate but misleading.” The best way to illustrate this approach is with an example. Back in the dark days of the cold war there was a race between a Soviet horse and an American horse. The American horse won. The next day in the Soviet newspapers was the following perfectly accurate story.

“Yesterday, in an international horse race, the glorious Soviet entry finished second while the American horse finished next to last.”

Congressman Garrett’s list of sections of particular interest, complete with commentary:

Page 94Section 202(c) prohibits the sale of private individual health insurance policies, beginning in 2013, forcing individuals to purchase coverage through the federal government.

This is so misleading I’m having a hard time considering it accurate at all. Technically this is accurate if one accepts buying insurance via the proposed insurance Exchange as “through the federal government.”

The implication that individuals must buy a government issued insurance policy is flat out not true. There will be the public option available but private policies will be available as well.

Having individuals buy insurance through the Exchange actually strikes me as a very good thing for several reasons. Most individuals don’t have the expertise to know a good policy from a worthless one. Policies available through the Exchange would be screened for them by experts from the Department of Health and Human Services like drugs are screened by experts from the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and aircraft and airlines are screened by experts from the Federal Aviation Agency (FAA).

It also supplies a one stop shopping venue for individuals and companies. If the Exchange also issues guidelines and a Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ) area it could actually turn out to be quite valuable in helping people get the insurance they actually need rather than what the insurance companies want to sell them.

Page 110Section 222(e) requires the use of federal dollars to fund abortions through the government-run health plan—and, if the Hyde Amendment were ever not renewed, would require the plan to fund elective abortions.

This is accurate but misleading. What the bill does is require the government-run health plan to abide by whatever law is in place relating to what, if any, abortions may be funded by Federal funds. It places no requirements with respect to abortion on private health care plans nor does it place any restrictions with respect to abortions on private health care plans.

The Hyde Amendment restricts abortions that may be paid for via appropriations to Health and Human Services. Specifically it prohibits the use of Medicaid funds for abortion other than in the case of incest, rape and when the mother’s health is endangered. Section 222(e) REQUIRES the Public Health Option (PHO) to support the services allowed by the Hyde Amendment but it does not prohibit the PHO from covering services disallowed by the Hyde Amendment.

So it is true that if the Hyde Amendment were ever not renewed, then the PHO would be required to cover elective abortions. However the PHO may chose to cover these services regardless of what happens to the Hyde Amendment.

Page 111Section 223 establishes a new board of federal bureaucrats (the “Health Benefits Advisory Committee”) to dictate the health plans that all individuals must purchase—and would likely require all Americans to subsidize and purchase plans that cover any abortion.

Yes a Health Benefits Advisory Committee (HBAC) would be established but that’s about all that’s accurate with this statement. The HBAC would be an expert committee and what it would be chartered to do is “recommend benefit standards, and periodic updates to such standards.”

In other words the HBAC recommends adjustments to keep the health plan definition up to date with the latest best medical practices. It would be idiotic NOT to have an expert committee to review and recommend updates and changes.

The Secretary of Health and Human Services would decide what recommendations, if any, to accept and then only after the publishing of the recommendations and public debate.

They wouldn’t be “federal bureaucrats” either. According to section 223(c) the members would receive travel expenses and per diem but no additional pay. Section 223(c) also states that they are not to be considered federal employees purely as the result of being an HBAC member.

The second part is absolutely not true. As a matter of fact Section 222(e) clearly prohibits the Health Benefits Advisory Committee from recommending ANY abortion service, including those that may be legally funded by Federal funds, and prohibits ANY abortion service as being required for a Qualified Health Benefit Plan (QHBP).

Page 211Section 321 establishes a new government-run health plan that, according to non-partisan actuaries at the Lewin Group, would cause as many as 114 million Americans to lose their existing coverage.

This is an appeal to fear. Section 321 certainly establishes a public QHBP. How that would cause anyone, never mind a third of Americans, to lose their existing coverage is unclear to me. I scanned the Lewin Group report and I see no basis for the 114 million number. What the Lewin group does predict is that the number of individuals covered by employer insurance will decline by 7.3 million.

They estimate that 19.1 million workers and dependents will lose their employer supplied insurance (ESI) as the result of the employer dropping insurance when the expanded Medicaid and premium subsidy programs become available. They predict this would be offset by an 11.8 million increase in coverage by employers that want to avoid the penalties leaving a total of 7.3 million.

They also evaluated a different form of the bill. They evaluated the bill passed by the Senate Finance Committee.

One concern I have is I thought that any public option would be an option of last resort. This looks to me like they are setting up a competitive option. I’m not sure why the government would want to get into the Health Insurance business.

I would like to better understand the implications of the public option.

Page 225Section 330 permits—but does not require—Members of Congress to enroll in government-run health care.

Why would the bill want to “require” Members of Congress to enroll in the government-run health care plan? It’s not requiring anyone else to enroll in the government-run health care plan. This is an appeal to fear. The implication is that the public is being stuck with something so inferior that Congressmen themselves wouldn’t want any part of.

Yet apparently, according to the Republicans, this public option is going to be so good that those kind hearted capitalists we’re supposed to put all our trust in and wait for the “trickle-down” are going to choose to dump their employees onto it. Or it’s going to be good enough to drive insurance companies out of business.

Scott, a little consistency would be nice.

Page 255Section 345 includes language requiring verification of income for individuals wishing to receive federal health care subsidies under the bill—while the bill includes a requirement for applicants to verify their citizenship, it does not include a similar requirement to verify applicants’ identity, thus encouraging identity fraud for undocumented immigrants and others wishing to receive taxpayer-subsidized health benefits.

This is accurate but ridiculously misleading. The bill clearly requires individuals receiving subsidies to be “lawfully present in a state in the United States.” It also has a provision for “Program Integrity” and requires the Commissioner to “take such steps as may be appropriate to ensure the accuracy of determinations” for subsidies.

Those “steps” would certainly include insuring that applicants were who they said they were. It just doesn’t specify how this should be accomplished. Identity theft is a crime. It is not the purpose of this bill to define how that crime should be guarded against.

This is also an appeal to prejudice. It establishes the totally unrealistic concern that somehow illegal immigrants will manage to figure out a way to essentially steal benefits. I might point out that would also be a crime, one that could earn someone a jail term and not simply deportation.

What are you trying to say Scott, that all illegal immigrants are crooks? Other than being here illegally, that hasn’t been my experience.

Page 297 - Section 501 imposes a 2.5 percent tax on all individuals who do not purchase “bureaucrat-approved” health insurance - the tax would apply on individuals with incomes under $250,000.

Here’s a little name calling. The “bureaucrat-approved” label is prejudicious and, as pointed out above, totally inaccurate. The initial definition of a Qualified Health Benefits Plan (QHBP) is in the bill and the HBAC (who I assume are the so-called bureaucrats) would simply recommend adjustments and updates.

This is the “prevent someone from playing the system” provision. This is the provision that prevents someone from not paying for coverage and then having YOU foot the bill when he gets sick because hospitals are prohibited from turning away uninsured patients. So guess who, in the long run, ends up paying for them? What’s the alternative to preventing these sort of games? Let them die?

The language also implies, incorrectly, that there is some choice other than an approved QHBP health plan. There wouldn’t be. That’s the whole point of reform. The exception, if you can call it that, would be grandfathered plans, plans already in existence which people choose to continue. Those plans and individuals would be exempt from this tax.

So if what you already have is REALLY better than a QHBP, you can stick with what you have. However allow me to suggest you compare them very carefully. I’d be very surprised if that turned out to really be the case.

Page 313Section 512 imposes an 8 percent “tax on jobs” for firms that cannot afford to purchase “bureaucrat-approved” health coverage; according to an analysis by Harvard Professor Kate Baicker, such a tax would place millions “at substantial risk of unemployment”—with minority workers losing their jobs at twice the rate of their white counterparts.

This one has all the propaganda elements. Name calling, the appeal to fear and it’s accurate but misleading. It’s not a “tax on jobs.” It’s a payroll excise tax of up to 8%. The 8% number only applies to companies with a payroll greater than $750,000. For companies with a payroll less than $500,000 there is no tax. Between $500,000 and $750,000 there are 2% steps every $85,000 dollars or so.

We’re not talking about the ma and pa grocery store here but we’re not talking Ford or Sony either. I think there is a right to be concerned about this provision but at least the bill is providing an option for those employers that chose, for valid financial reasons, not to provide health care.

To my mind the bigger concern is that, given the existence of the public option, many small employers will chose to pay the tax rather than provide the health care. I’m also concerned that the amounts do not appear to be indexed for inflation.

Page 336Section 551 imposes additional job-killing taxes, in the form of a half-trillion dollar “surcharge,” more than half of which will hit small businesses; according to a model developed by President Obama’s senior economic advisor, such taxes could cost up to 5.5 million jobs.

This is just flat out wrong. Section 551 imposes a 5.4% surcharge on “modified adjusted gross income” that exceeds $1,000,000 for joint returns or $500,000 for those not filing a joint return. Corporations are exempt.

This tax is really aimed at individuals. The 2009 tax tables tax income above $372,950 at a 35% rate. This section means that income above $1,000,000 would be taxed at 40.4%. You will excuse me if I’m not going to cry over this. The implication that somehow taxing the money being taken out of a small business as individual profit is going to cost jobs is an argument I don’t find particularly compelling. This is just another example of Republicans wanting to let the rich keep what they have at the expense of the rest of us.

Page 520Section 1161 cuts more than $150 billion from Medicare Advantage plans, potentially jeopardizing millions of seniors’ existing coverage.

This is an appeal to fear and a particularly disgraceful one at that. It attempts to frighten seniors into thinking that a huge number, $150 billion worth, of arbitrary Medicare cuts are being made that are going to take away coverage they depend upon.

These are adjustments made in an attempt to reform current Medicare issues. The $150 billion is an assertion not justified or mentioned in the bill itself. I’m not going to claim that these changes aren’t going to cause any problems. One can’t tell simply by reading the bill and that’s the key point.

I will say that virtually everyone has recognized that there are inefficiencies in Medicare and the American Association of Retired Persons (AARP) has ENDORSED THE BILL so it’s rather unlikely that any existing Medicare coverage is going to take a hit.

Page 733Section 1401 establishes a new Center for Comparative Effectiveness Research; the bill includes no provisions preventing the government-run health plan from using such research to deny access to life-saving treatments on cost grounds, similar to Britain’s National Health Service, which denies patient treatments costing more than £35,000.

The bill makes no provisions preventing the government-run health plan from using such research to develop procedures for torturing puppies either. This is another appeal to fear which attempts to resurrect the specter of “death panels” without using the term.

This is total bullshit that should be ignored altogether and Garrett should be ashamed of approving such a statement for publication.

Page 1174 - Section 1802(b) includes provisions entitled “TAXES ON CERTAIN INSURANCE POLICIES” to fund comparative effectiveness research, breaking Speaker Pelosi’s promise that “We will not be taxing [health] benefits in any bill that passes the House.”

This is also accurate but misleading. The implication is that the tax is on benefits which it isn’t.

The tax is on insurance policies and is based upon a per capita allocation. The tax is levied upon the issuer of the insurance policy and not the policy holder.

Yes, but, I hear you say; they’ll just pass it on in increased premiums won’t they? Well, perhaps. Would you like to know what the default amount is per policy? It’s a stinking $2. You lose more than this in dropped loose change you don’t bother to pick up.

Ok, enough throwing rocks at Scott Garrett. He honestly has concerns associated with out of control government spending and high taxes. I share the same concerns so I’m not going to criticize him on principle but I do think he could have done a more factual analysis without the innuendo and fear mongering.

Let’s get down to the bottom line shall we.

The bill clearly does some good things. It establishes minimum requirements for policies, establishes an advisory board, establishes the Insurance Exchange, extends dependent coverage, eliminates lifetime limits and protects health screenings and preventive measures.

It also adds a range of taxes the most difficult to assess being the payroll tax on employers that choose not to provide insurance. Couple this with the “public option” and the dynamics aren’t obvious.

Most employers, there are exceptions, but most employers, want to do what’s right for their employees. Let’s not forget however that staying in business is at the top of that list.

The bill broadens benefits. This might be offset in the long run by more people acquiring insurance but in the short term I suspect it’s going to drive premiums up. That could very well make providing insurance no longer tenable for some firms that are on the edge. The grandfathering clause will alleviate some of this but that grace period ends after five years.

It might actually turn out to be cheaper for some employers to terminate health care and pay the tax. As a matter of fact, for some really small businesses there wouldn’t even be a tax.

I have to believe that means that some Americans are going to lose the employer coverage they already have and be forced to buy individual coverage from the Insurance Exchange and I sort of suspect that coverage will be the bottom of the barrel with the Public Option at the bottom of the bottom. Most of these folks will be in the lower income brackets but I doubt they would see any premium increase because they will probably be eligible for subsidies.

On the other hand, millions of Americans that can’t afford insurance now will probably be able to acquire it.

For those of us that can afford insurance and have it, I suspect that our coverage will improve but our premiums, at least in the short term, will go up. The question is by how much?

Overall I think the bill is pretty good. I’m a little concerned about the penalty and public option dynamics but the Lewin Report has alleviated that to some extend. If you believe them, the upheaval isn’t going to be that great but of course they’re only predicting about 50% of the uninsured problem will be solved as well.

Should the reform bill ultimately pass, I suspect there will be tinkering and adjustments for years to come. Twenty years from now, as a Democratic Congress and a gay Hispanic President argue over the latest round of recommended updates and improvements, the Right Wingers will probably be screaming “don’t you dare touch my health care with your socialist policies!”

Thursday, November 05, 2009

The Greatest Threat to America

The greatest threat to America is a Republican Party dominated by the Christian Right.

The Christian Right opposes abortion access, opposes gay rights (not just gay marriage but gay rights, the battlefield has shifted since the days of Anita Bryant because they are losing), believes the U.S. is a Christian Nation, wants creationism taught IN PLACE OF evolution (let’s teach the controversy is merely a tactic toward the ultimate goal), believes the Christian version of the Ten commandments should be posted in public buildings, believes that Christian Prayer and the teaching of the Christian interpretation of the bible should be an official part of the public school system.

That fact that Christians themselves cannot agree on some of these things is, for the moment, irrelevant to the Christian Right.

The bottom line is that the Christian Right in the U.S. believes that the separation of church and state should be eliminated and that Christianity should be accorded special privileges simply because it is Christianity. For the moment they are willing to tolerate non-Christians as long as Christianity has its privileges and everyone else stands by quietly and respects that.

The Christian Right has managed to attract millions of followers who feel frightened and powerless; millions who feel that they have been abandoned or failed by the political process; millions who feel that, for them, the American Dream is no longer achievable. The Christian Right promises a magical world where Jesus will make everything ok. It extends a false promise of hope to those that feel disenfranchised by the ongoing economic upheavals the country is experiencing. The Christian Right is American Fascism wrapped in the flag and holding a bible just as Sinclair Lewis predicted it would be.

The Christian Right promises to turn back the clock to a time that never existed. It promises a childlike mythological world view where God has a wonderful plan for everyone. A world view which cannot tolerate honest intellectual inquiry; a world view which has no use for science, where opinions become facts and faith is confused with knowledge.

Should the Christian Right ever come to control the United States it will cease to be the United States. There are far too many Americans intelligent enough, and educated enough, to reject the empty promises of the Christian Right. It could never hope to achieve a position of power without a façade of respectability.

The Republican Party is the façade chosen by the Christian Right as its vehicle. It is only the combination that is dangerous. The Christian Right by itself is impotent and the Republican Party, if it would return to its fiscally conservative and socially moderate roots, has been a stalwart defender of democracy for 150 years.

With the Republican Party under its control, all that the Christian Right would need is a major economic crisis. If one won’t happen naturally, they’ll be quite happy to help manufacture one.

Today, in this country, the wealthiest 1% of the population has more wealth than the poorest 90%. The middle class, which has always been the bulwark against fascism and communism, is under assault as never before and is rapidly losing power, influence and confidence.

If we do not “redistribute” the wealth of that top 1%, we are headed for economic catastrophe. Yet the very people that would benefit from that redistribution have been convinced that redistribution is Socialism and that Socialism is un-American and un-Christian.

The wealthy of the Republican Party and the corporations cynically believe that they can control the Christian Right and use it to help them amass even greater wealth. The German industrialists thought they could control and use the Nazis as well.

If the Christian Right ever manages to gain control of the Republican Party, all that would be standing between the country and a slide into Christian Fascism is a loose and ineffectual coalition of the Democratic Party, the so-called Intellectual Left, Academia and the Media.

The Democratic Party is too beholding to the same wealthy class and corporations that the Republican insiders are to take anything approaching effective action. They write fine sounding bills establishing universal freedoms but then allow religion special considerations and exemptions. They’re even perfectly willing to kiss the ring of the Christian Right in order to get elected.

The Intellectual Left is always too worried about political correctness and offending someone. They don’t realize that the very people they are afraid of offending are sharpening knives special for them. They defend a woman’s right to choose and they defend gay rights. Allow me to point out that defense never won a war. One needs to go on the offensive to win. The rise of Militant Atheism may change all that, but the movement is still too small, and too scattered.

Academia has no stomach for any fight that might require it to abandon its private little ivory tower of comfort and prestige. Professors are happy to argue over the theoretical implications of real world activities in papers published in obscure journals, using even more obscure language and utterly inaccessible to the general public.

The Media has succumbed to the mistaken impression that even handedness somehow means not educating the public to the danger in its midst and not opposing those who would quite happily silence the press and all criticism.

We are therefore, if something doesn’t change, almost defenseless. I say almost because as ineffectual as that opposing coalition is, it has the power necessary to crush the Christian Right should it ever recognize that crushing is necessary.

There are days when I look around and chide myself for being paranoid. But then I remember that I live within a fortress of reason and culture. Outside the pockets of rational civilization in the Northeast, the West Coast and the Upper Midwest, the darkness is already taking hold.

In Indiana they begin legislative sessions with an appeal to Jesus. In the south Christian prayers are a normal part of the public school day. In Kentucky and Tennessee they teach Creationism in the public schools and organize school trips to the Creation Museum. Millions of children are home schooled by their Evangelical Christian parents and taught to reject science, reject rational thought and that they must re-establish the Christian heritage of the United States.

No, I’m not being paranoid, the danger is very real.

When the next civil war comes that ineffectual coalition will bemoan its missed opportunities to head it off. I’ll be right there leaning on my walker and swinging away with whatever strength I have left. I can’t think of a better death than while fighting the Christian Right.

Excuse me now while I go clean my AKM and check my supply of 7.62 mm ammo.

Wednesday, November 04, 2009

Election Day 2009

Ouch! It was a bad day for the forces of light. Corzine falls to Christie in New Jersey and Maine voters reject same sex marriage. In Washington R-71 had a razor thin lead with only 51% of the votes in and, at least so far, I’ve been unable to locate any updated information. The Republicans also swept the Virginia elections.

So what does this all mean? It’s always dangerous to draw conclusions because there are many varied and complex factors at work but I think a few things are fairly obvious.

The first obvious conclusion is that a reasonable portion of the American electorate is always going to vote for the other guy. Whichever party is in control gets most of the flak when things go wrong and people always focus on what’s wrong more than what’s right.

Except for unusual situations, it’s always the economy stupid and right now the economy still sucks.

New Jersey had some additional things going on as well. Corzine made himself unpopular in a number of secondary ways. His initial Attorney General appointment turned out to be a scofflaw and then there was the whole fiasco with the Rutgers women’s basketball team and his car getting into an accident at 90 miles per hour.

Then there are the real estate taxes in New Jersey.

The New York Times had comparison maps between 2005 and 2009 and Corzine lost support across the board. He even lost five counties he had won the last time around. In counties he won both times, he won by a smaller margin; in counties he lost both times, he lost by a wider margin.

Then there are the real estate taxes in New Jersey and that’s not to mention the latest round of corruption scandals. Clearly Jon had problems. Did I mention the real estate taxes in New Jersey?

Corzine was vulnerable but Christie was a really poor choice. I think you will see lots of regret very quickly. I’m not going to talk about Virginia because I don’t know enough about it.

As for Maine, this is another indication that while folks are willing to extend equal legal rights to gay couples they do not want to call it marriage. While accepting “Civil Unions” or “Domestic Partnerships” sounds like a reasonable compromise, let’s not forget that different is inherently unequal and divides the population into first class and second class citizens.

Is this really want we want in a country that supposedly claims that all men are created equal and are entitled to equal protection under the law?

This isn’t the end of the war, just a temporary setback. I was online in the “No on 1” chat room last night so trust me the fight isn’t over. As early as this morning I got an e-mail to that effect marshalling the troops. Yes it’s a disappointment, so you will excuse us as we get up, dust ourselves off and get ready for the next fight.

There was a silver lining last night and it may turn out to be more important than any of the other results. In New York’s 23rd district there was a special congressional election. The 23rd is a solid Republican District but there was a problem this year.

The party regulars put up Dede Scozzafave, a moderate Republican, and there was what was called “a grass roots revolt” among the extreme ring wing of the party. Basically they drove Scozzafave out of the election and swung their support to the Conservative candidate Doug Hoffman.

This was touted as the first major confrontation in the Republican Party that would prove, as people like James Dobson, Tony Perkins and Sarah Palin have been saying, that success lay in going further to the right and completing eliminating any moderate positions.

Well, Hoffman lost. The Democrat, Bill Owens, won with 49.3% of the vote because 5.5% of the voters voted for Scozzafave anyway even though she had withdrawn.

Hopefully this is a strong indication that moderate independent voters simply will not support extreme candidates and that includes both the extreme right and the extreme left. I would very much like to see the Republican Party go back to its fiscally conservative but socially progressive roots.

The Democrats need to take this as a wake-up call. They could easily loose control of the Congress in the next election and ultimately the 2012 Presidential election if they don’t figure out a way to get credit for what they’re doing right and correct what they’re doing wrong.

Monday, November 02, 2009

So you believe in the Bible huh?

You just know with a lead in like that I’ve got my tongue firmly implanted in my cheek.

I think the bible is an interesting document. Both the Hebrew Bible and the New Testament contain fascinating snippets of history and wisdom.

But to claim it’s “perfect,” and that’s it’s the infallible word of god that should be followed blindly, is absurd.

Typically, whenever one puts up a questionable passage, the apologists point out why it doesn’t really say what it plainly seems to say. This has always struck me as a contradiction to the principle of Sola Scriptura, which declares that the bible is clearly expressed and self interpreting.

So let’s talk about James 5:14-15.

It’s almost cheating to quote from the Epistle of James considering Martin Luther’s opinion that it was an “epistle of straw.” But Luther was referring mostly to James 2:20-24 which appears to contradict the whole concept of Sola Gratia (by faith alone).

I don’t think he ever raged about James 5:14-15 which says:

James 5:14 - Is any one of you sick? He should call the elders of the church to pray over him and anoint him with oil in the name of the Lord. 15- And the prayer offered in faith will make the sick person well; the Lord will raise him up. If he has sinned, he will be forgiven.

So how come all you Christians go to doctors? Hell, all you have to do is get the elders of the church together to pray for you and you’ll be as good as new. Already I can hear all of the rationalizations gearing up.

The word used for sick is the Greek astheneo. This word can mean spiritually weak but more often than not it means physically ill. Of course the ancients knew absolutely nothing about what causes illness. Physical injury was easy to understand and often there was a fairly obvious cause and effect, but why someone apparently strong and healthy suddenly became ill was often a complete mystery.

Like other things people didn’t understand there was always “blame the gods” to fall back on. Illness might be a divine judgment, but if god was just, then the person must have deserved it, therefore he must have sinned.

That piece of logic explains the “If he has sinned, he will be forgiven” phrase.

Think about this for a second, conservatively speaking, probably about 95% of sick people, even in those days, recovered all on their own. If all of them were prayed for, and lacking any other information, that’s pretty good empirical evidence of the effectiveness of prayer. The key there is “lacking any other information.” Add a control that no one prays for and it immediately becomes clear that 95% would have recovered without the prayer as well. In other words, the prayer is a total non-factor.

So what about the anointing with oil? Some apologists point to this and say aha, that means you should take medicine as well. In other words it’s a ready made excuse to let you go to a doctor and not depend solely on the prayer. The word that James uses is aleipho, which does refer to a medicinal rather than a religious anointing. The problem is that James 5:15 makes it abundantly clear that it’s the prayer and not the oil that cures. But if you insist, I’ll let the elders rub you down with any oil they want. Not a problem.

If you want to go beyond that, like having surgery or taking a pill, then it seems to me that you really don’t believe what your “scripture” is telling you. As far as I can tell, Health Care shouldn’t be a concern of yours whatsoever as you’ve got the big kahuna ready to take care of you with just a little prayer session.

You believe that the bible is inerrant and should be taken literally, then stop going to the doctor when you get sick. As a matter of fact, stop taking even over the counter cold remedies. James says all you need is a little prayer to feel better. And you get your sins forgiven as a bonus.

Until you’re ready to do that, don’t bother me because it means you are picking and choosing the parts you accept. Either accept it all or stop trying to force those parts of it you do accept on the rest of us.

Well, it’s November…

Yeah, it’s November, so now what?

Given the way the Giants are playing maybe I don’t want season tickets next year. Nah, I’m only kidding. Suffering with the Giants is just too much a part of what I am. It would be nice if they could play a little better though, looks like it’s going to be a frustrating year.

My daughters are preparing to once again participate in the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade. Last year my wife dragged me down to see it. Maybe this year I can convince her to watch from home. Convince her? Who am I kidding? All I can do is hope she decides, all on her own, to forego the “pleasure” this year.

Tomorrow is Election Day and the biggies are Prop 1 in Maine, which attempts to rescind the gay marriage law, R-71 in Washington, which tries to make domestic partnerships there legally equivalent to marriage, and the governor’s race in New Jersey. The best outcome would be a “No” in Maine, a “Yes” in Washington and a Jon Corzine victory in New Jersey.

R-71 appears headed for a win for the good guys while Prop 1 and the governor’s race appear to be running about even between the forces of light and the forces of darkness. If I had to pick one, I’d take the “No on Prop 1” in Maine. New Jersey would survive a Republican Governor for four years and something like R-71 is still short of where things should be anyway.

I was watching the movie “Milk” the other day about Harvey Milk and the struggles of gays in the late 1970’s. It’s sort of strange how it followed a similar pattern as today except back then the struggle was over civil rights and employment discrimination. Anyone proposing gay marriage back then would probably have been laughed out of the room.

Basically a city council would pass an ordinance outlawing discrimination based upon sexual orientation and the Right Wing Evangelical Christian types, in those days with Anita Bryant as the visible figure head, would get an initiative on the ballot to repeal it.

They were successful until Prop 6 in California where the tide finally turned.

That war isn’t completely over either. Only 21 states have laws outlawing employment discrimination based upon sexual orientation. Another four have laws protecting public employees.

At the Federal Level, the Employment Non-discrimination Act (ENDA) has been banging around since 1994. The bill prohibits discrimination against employees based upon sexual identity, gender identity and disability for civilian, nonreligious employers with greater than 15 employees.

Notice that religion would still be allowed to discriminate.

The bill actually has had two versions, one that includes transgender discrimination and one that doesn’t. Its current incantation, HR 3017, was introduced by Barney Frank and includes outlawing transgender discrimination. The bill has 189 co-sponsors in the House and at the moment is sitting in committee. A similar bill in the Senate, SB 1584, has been introduced by Jeff Merkley of Oregon.

The bill may have enough votes this time around. Obama supports the bill and will most likely sign it if it passes Congress.

Opponents cite what they call a potential conflict between sexual orientation discrimination and the need to accommodate religious bias against homosexuality as a part of religious freedom. Some opponents also insist that homosexuality is a choice and that the bill would create a protected subclass that promotes homosexuality.

One attempt to address the first issue is to widen the exemption to include anything even vaguely religious in nature such as Christian Book stores. Practically speaking, this is such a small fish in the large pond so it strikes me as a reasonable compromise. Let them wear their bigotry openly and see how much it helps their business as time goes on.

As for the second issue, I don’t know what to say. I’d like to ask the folks who think that why anyone in his right mind would choose a lifestyle that leads to public ostracism and the potential rupturing of family ties?

You would have to be out of your mind to choose a path that leads to the kind of family confrontation that homosexuality can lead to. If it’s a choice, how come reparative therapy has about a 0% success rate?

Here I am looking for logic from bigots. Will I never learn?

Tomorrow in Maine could turn the tide for gay marriage and provide momentum to ENDA and a dozen other equal rights initiatives around the country.

It would also royally piss off the Christian Right and I’m always in favor of that.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Fired Over God Button?

The AP is reporting a story about a cashier at Home Depot in Florida being fired for wearing a “One nation under God” button on his work apron. The cashier is suing Home Depot for religious discrimination.

According to Home Depot, the company has a clearly stated blanket policy that no pins or buttons, other than those provided by the company, can be worn on work aprons. The cashier was told to remove the button and he refused. That resulted in the firing.

It seems to me that the issue wasn’t what the button said; it was violating a company policy and then refusing a direct order to stop violating it. That will get you fired almost everywhere.

But, like Chris Hitchens says, religion poisons everything. If the button said “Beat Florida State” or some secular slogan no one would give the guy being fired a second thought. So why does simply having “God” on the button matter? He wasn’t fired over “God,” or his belief in God or his religion, he was fired for violating company policy.

Why do Christians think they live under a different set of rules from those of us that aren’t suffering from a delusion?

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Lucy’s Legacy

I went to see the “Lucy’s Legacy” exhibit in New York. It was, to say the least, fascinating especially since the fossil Ida was also there.

I didn’t know Ida was part of the exhibit so I’m bending over this display case thinking that I was looking at a replica. Then it began to dawn on me that I was looking at the real thing.

I can now say with absolute certainty that the fossils exist. They are certainly real. As to whether they are what they are purported to be, I can only accept the scientific consensus.

The key of course is the age. Lucy has been dated to around 3.2 million years. This date has been arrived at through both Argon-Argon and Paleomagnetic dating. The results have been published, peer reviewed, and accepted by the scientific community.

Then we have the question of the significance of the fossil.

The critical conclusion from Lucy is that she walked upright while still possessing a modest brain size. That conclusion pretty much settled a major scientific argument as to which evolved first, walking upright or a large brain.

Creationists of course can’t afford to accept either the age or the conclusion that Lucy walked upright and is in the evolutionary line that ultimately led to modern humans. Either of those two conclusions pretty much destroys biblical literalism and inerrancy which destroys the foundation of Evangelical Christianity.

So they pretty much wail and moan claiming everything from Lucy is a hoax to quote mining to making flat out untrue assertions.

If you assume everything said by a creationist is a misinterpretation, a distortion or flat out wrong, you’ll be on pretty safe ground.

Here’s the bottom line. The overwhelming consensus in the scientific community, based upon the research, the published papers and exhaustive peer reviews by the most intelligent and highly educated people in the world, is that Lucy is precisely what she is claimed to be, a human ancestor that walked upright on the Ethiopian plane some 3.2 million years ago.

Stick that in your Genesis and chew on it.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

The “No Standing” Decision

The recent tendency of appellate courts, including the Supreme Court, to accept arguments to the effect that a litigant has “No Standing” to bring the case before the court strikes me as undermining the integrity of the legal system in this country.

Granted, there must be some basis to keep frivolous law suits from clogging the courts but many of these decisions arise in cases where there is clearly a question to be resolved.

This strikes me as the difference between a question of law and a question of justice. As I’ve said before, the law is simply an imperfect attempt to secure justice and therefore must always take a back seat. If a rule of law prevents the administration of justice then it is a bad law and needs to be adjusted or abolished.

Just because the wrong litigant raised the issue shouldn’t provide an excuse for the court not to address the question of justice before it. The last I heard, the manner in which a criminal defendant is brought before the court doesn't prejudice the court’s ability to see justice done.

More often than not this sort of decision strikes me as being applied when the court knows damn well something is wrong but doesn’t wish to do anything about it.

Often this rationale is applied in cases in which religion figures in some way or another. A few years ago I wrote about a court decision which forbid the Indiana legislature from opening with a sectarian Christian payer and predicted they wouldn’t get too far with their intended to appeal to the 7th District Court.

Wrong again, the 7th District decided that the ACLU, which brought the case, had no standing to do so. You will excuse me but that is total horseshit. Clearly opening the legislative session with a sectarian payer shatters the intent of the Establishment Clause and it damn well should have been addressed.

Between political considerations and hiding behind “no standing” decisions, I’m losing all faith in our legal system. We’re no longer being ruled by laws but by partisan politics and private agendas.

Those spinning sounds you hear are Thomas Jefferson and James Madison realizing that the magnificent experiment they engineered is beginning to crumple at the edges because Presidents, Congressmen and Judges no longer have the courage to defend those principles upon which it was founded.

I’m rapidly coming to the conclusion that the American Republic no longer deserves to be the custodian of the Constitution that gave it birth.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

The Battles for Maine and Washington

In May the Maine legislature passed, and Governor Baldacci signed, a measure legalizing gay marriage in Maine. Opponents of same-sex marriage then launched a campaign to overturn the law based upon Maine’s People’s Veto process and we were off to the races.

The battle in Maine is roughly the equivalent of hand to hand combat. It’s a small closely knit state where personal relationships are paramount. I suspect there is more than a little annoyance with outsiders, on both sides, trying to tell them their business.

I’ve dutifully extended my support to the “No on 1” folks monetarily. I’m not going to personally campaign in Maine because I’m one of those outsiders.

I’m much more impressed with the list of people and organizations opposing the veto of the gay marriage law than I am with those supporting the veto and the governor, the legislature and the major newspapers in Maine all support the “No on 1” position.

The same anti-same-sex marriage folks that led the charge on Prop 8 in California are involved in Maine and they’re using the same sort of scare tactics. Despite loud protestations by everyone from the governor to the school custodial staff that it’s total nonsense, the “Yes on 1” crowd continues to pitch that somehow this will mean the indoctrination of school children as young as Kindergarten into the acceptance of the gay lifestyle.

Obviously this is a big one. A victory here would mark the first time an electorate has approved gay marriage. As usual the poll results are mixed and close. The key is probably going to be the ability to get out the vote.

In the meantime the State of Washington is fighting over domestic partnerships with gay marriage opponents attempting to overturn SB 5688 which grants equal marriage rights to gays through domestic partnerships. The ballot item there is called R-71.

This is one step behind Maine. In Washington the bigots are claiming domestic partnerships are going to cause devastating problems which hasn’t been the case anywhere else.

The zeitgeist never stands still. Either you push it forward toward the light or someone will be trying to push it back toward the dark ages.

Again the poll results are sort of mixed but appear to be leaning in the direction of accepting SB5688 and domestic partnerships. The problem is there appears to be a large number of people who are still undecided.

Wins in both Maine and Washington would be great. A win in Maine especially might free up what appear to be stalled initiatives in New York and New Jersey. It might also add momentum to the repeal of the Federal Defense of Marriage Act although, hopefully, that will occur in any event.

Victory is certain. The only questions are how long will it take and what will be the cost? Winning in Maine and Washington this Election Day would go a long way toward reducing both the time and the cost.

Friday, October 16, 2009

Jesus and the Adulteress

The story of Jesus and the Adulteress is in John 8 and is arguably the most famous of the Jesus stories. It’s certainly my favorite.

I’m not going to quote the bible; the story is in John 8:3-11. The Pharisees bring before Jesus a woman “caught in the act of adultery” and ask him to pass judgment. They figured he’s trapped and must either condemn the woman to death or release her in violation of the Law of Moses which clearly calls for an adulteress to be stoned.

Of course Jesus is too smart for them and pronounces the famous judgment “If any one of you is without sin, let him be the first to throw a stone at her.”

Obviously no one is without sin so the Pharisees and the crowd disperse. Jesus then asks the woman if anyone has condemned her and she answers no. Jesus then says “neither do I condemn you” and tells her to go and sin no more.

It’s a great story and the probability that it’s pure fiction shouldn’t be allowed to ruin it. Even if it didn’t happen, it should have.

The fact is that the story doesn’t appear in the earliest and most reliable manuscripts of John and Bart Ehrman, among others, has highlighted a number of problems with the story.

If the woman was in fact “caught in the act of adultery,” where’s her male partner? Leviticus 20:10 is very clear that both the adulteress and the adulterer are to be stoned to death.

Then there is the apparent contradiction between this event and Matthew 5:17 where Jesus claims that he has come to fulfill the law and not abolish it. Yet here he is clearly stepping around the law.

Another problem is if the crowd disperses “until only Jesus was left,” who was it that heard his final conversation with the woman in order to record it?

Apologetics is the art of coming up with explanations for objections of this sort and, make no mistake about it, Christian Apologists are pretty creative and their job is actually easier than you might think. They’re not in the business of convincing the skeptics as much as they’re in the business of re-assuring the faithful.

They don’t have to come up with a probable explanation, merely a possible one. Consider the problem of who heard the conversation between Jesus and the woman. Clearly it was the apostles because they weren’t considered part of the crowd but rather an extension of Jesus. When John says “until only Jesus was left,” that really included himself and the apostles as well.

Louis de Wohl, in his novel “The Spear” developed, quite inadvertently I’m sure, a story that accounts for the first problem and perhaps the second as well.

In de Wohl’s novel the girl that would eventually be brought before Jesus is the relatively new bride of a much older and very rich merchant. She’s about 16 if I remember correctly and has led a very sheltered life. Her husband’s family views her as a threat to their inheritance and they never pass on an opportunity to criticize her to her husband. Even the servants get into the act and constantly compare her unfavorably to the deceased first wife.

Needless to say she is absolutely miserable. She’s convinced she’s worthless and a great disappointment to everyone, and especially to her husband. After all, if a woman can’t be a good wife, what else is there for her?

The household is in the process of moving to Jerusalem for Passover when they’re accosted by bandits. Several of the servants are killed and the girl is absolutely terrified when, like the 7th cavalry, a Roman patrol, led by a handsome young centurion, rides over the hill and drives off the bandits.

Talk about culture shock. The young soldier is so far beyond the experience of the young girl it’s utterly ridiculous. The soldiers ride off, the household continues its journey toward Jerusalem and the girl is left to ponder the possibility that the world may be much broader and much different than she’s been led to believe.

As it turns out the bandit attack wasn’t random. The “bandits” were actually Zealots targeting the girl’s husband specifically because of his wealth and association with the Temple Party that collaborates with the Romans.

Jerusalem at this time is a restless city and rioting breaks out in the night. The Zealots use this as cover to make another assault on the husband’s household, set fire to the house and kidnap the girl intending to hold her for ransom.

Holy coincidence Batman, but the young centurion just happens to be leading a patrol in that sector to deal with the rioting, notices the girl being dragged away and chases the kidnappers while his troops help deal with the fire.

He catches them, kills them with his gladius, using stabs of the Roman Army approved three inch depth, and rescues the girl. Unfortunately they find themselves surrounded by a hostile mob taking a dim view of a Roman killing two Jews.

The soldier manages to barricade himself and the girl into a cellar where one man can defend against a crowd. There they’re forced to spend the night together, alone, which is a major violation of a whole bunch of cultural taboos. The girl finds herself under the overwhelming assault of darkness, fear, the smell of blood and the smell of the young soldier guarding her through the night. Clearly this situation is fraught with all kinds of possibilities and I’m sure you can guess where things end up.

The next morning the two are rescued by Roman troops and members of the husband’s family. The centurion is whisked off to make his report and the girl is brought back to her husband’s house under a cloud of shame and suspicion. This is a golden opportunity for the husband’s jealous family to get rid of her.

The husband is badly shaken by the situation but offers to forgive her if she swears that nothing happened between her and the soldier. The girl, perhaps unwilling to go back to her old life after a taste of what could be, confesses to having made love to the centurion.

She is immediately divorced and dragged by her gleeful brother-in-law before the priests who recognize an opportunity to trap that thorn in their side, Jesus.

The rest you know.

The story resolves the first problem because the girl’s male partner was a Roman and not subject to the Law of Moses. The fact that they were caught together in the basement is close enough to “caught in the act.” Jesus steps around the law because of the extenuating circumstances including the misery of the girl, the situation and the overwhelming effect that the soldier was sure to have. Jesus wasn’t violating the law; he was simply tempering it with mercy.

So what was the point of all this? Nothing really, I just felt like writing something on this topic. If you really need a point, let it be how easy it is to come up with a defense of the so-called contradictions and absurdities in the bible. This is especially true if you’re not particularly concerned about little things like feasibility and rationality.

You’ll also never find me arguing that the story of Jesus and the Adulteress isn’t true. Like I said before, if it didn’t happen, it should have.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

The FBI Crime Report 2008

I’m about to again ignore the FBI’s warning not to use their crime report for comparing different jurisdictions. I understand their concerns, but I think those concerns aren’t valid as long as I don't draw any conclusions.

Overall the violent crime rate in the U.S. decreased again from 466.9 in 2007 to 454.5 in 2008. The murder rate went down as well from 5.6 to 5.4.

The Northeast again had the lowest violent crime rate at 370.8; the Midwest was next at 400.1, followed by the West at 445.5 and then the South, bringing up the rear as usual, at 533.9. The good news is that the numbers in all regions were down from 2007 and, if the trend continues, next year the Midwest should join the Northeast with a violent crime rate of less than 400.

The Northeast also had the lowest murder rate at 4.2 but this was a slight increase from 2007 when it was 4.1. In all the other regions the rate went down. The Midwest and West were tied for second with a rate of 4.8 and, as usual, the South had the worst rate at 6.6.

The violent crime rate in my home state of New Jersey dropped slightly from 329.3 to 326.5. The murder rate dropped an eyelash from 4.4 to 4.3. Imagine if we didn’t have Newark and Camden as a part of the state? Newark had a violent crime rate of 950.7 and a murder rate of 23.9. Camden had a violent crime rate of 2332.5 and a murder rate of 70.8! Remove them from the mix and New Jersey’s violent crime rate drops to 287.1 and its murder rate drops to 3.0.

A sampling of major cities shows St. Louis with a whopping violent crime rate of 2072.7, Detroit at 1924.1, Baltimore at 1588.5 and Philadelphia at 1441.3. On the more modest side are San Diego at 475.5, Denver at 566.9, Seattle at 576.3 and New York City, that hive of scum and villainy, at 580.3. Los Angeles wasn’t far above New York at 689.5. There were no numbers for Chicago.

Don’t believe everything you see on TV and in the movies. While there are a few places in New York City one should definitely stay away from, most of it is a place where you can walk, soak up the culture and generally have a great time. Don’t die without seeing Times Square, Broadway and Greenwich Village.

My home town of River Vale had 3 violent crimes, one robbery and two aggravated assaults. That gives us a violent crime rate of 31. 0 and a murder rate of 0.0. That could change next year based upon the looks my wife is giving me about opting for the more expensive Giants tickets.