Wednesday, September 30, 2009

A Bowl Game in New York City?

They’re going to put a college bowl game in New York City? Are they out of their minds?

I was at the last bowl game, the Gotham Bowl, in December of 1962 at the old Yankee Stadium. We got into the bleachers free by showing our high school Government Organization (GO) cards. Actually, we didn’t even have to show them, the guys at the gate just took the word of the 100 or so kids there that we were told we would be let in free.

Nebraska beat Miami 36 to 34. It was a damn good game but there couldn’t have been more than 500 people in the stands and we froze our asses off the whole time. Except for the freebies in the bleachers, it was probably all relatives of the players.

There are two very good reasons not to have a college bowl game in New York City. The first is that it’s usually too freaking cold and the second is NOBODY in NYC cares a whit about college football.

You MIGHT get a few thousand in from New Jersey if Rutgers plays or a few thousand from upstate New York if Syracuse plays.

Oh yeah, I forgot to mention, it will be a team from the Big East against a team from the Big 12. I can, sort of, understand the rationale of the Big East. They consider New York home turf, but what the hell is the Big 12 thinking?

I predict two years at the most this fiasco will survive. That’s how long the Gotham Bowl lasted, 1961 and 1962.

This is NOT Good

I got an e-mail from the Giants that they need to talk to me about my PSL Ticket preferences.

I’ve been trying to contact the guy that sent the e-mail with no success so I’m starting to climb up the walls. Bend over because you are about to get screwed.

This can’t be good news. I figure it’s one of two things. Possibility number one is I managed to make the perfect preference selection that guaranteed me no tickets. If that’s the case, I’ll have some extra discretionary income to spend next year.

Possibility number two is I’m not going to get my first preference, the cheap seats, and can either go for more expensive ones or revert back to possibility number one.

This sort of sucks, I’m torn between saving the money and having the tickets. There are plusses and minuses to both options. Ah well, if I ever get a hold of this guy we shall see what we shall see.

Update at 11:12 AM

It was possibility number two but with a bit of a twist.

They explained why they couldn’t accommodate my first two choices and then offered me either of my 3rd or 4th choice, plus the option to go under the limited overhang to stay out of the rain, plus the option pay out the PSLs over the next couple of years.

Overall, I’m going to pay more for both the PSLs and the tickets than I had hoped, but less than if I’d stayed where I am. The seats I’ll probably get (nothing is final yet) look pretty good and I’ll get to participate in a twice in a lifetime event. I was there at the opening of Giants Stadium as well.

Actually the seats look better than the more expensive ones, but we shall see. I can still back out in November.

Now assuming my wife doesn’t kill me…

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Corzine vs. Christie

Since I live in New Jersey I’m sort of faced with having to choose between Jon Corzine and Chris Christie for governor.

Corzine has been an absolutely lousy governor. The only thing I can think of that he did right was sign the death penalty abolition bill.

But that doesn’t mean I’m going to vote for Chris Christie. I wouldn’t vote for a Republican if you held a gun to my head.

The problem is that you don’t just vote for one man versus the other. You also drag along the whole party philosophy. I don’t trust the Republicans with my civil liberties; I don’t trust the Republicans not to sell out to big business; I don’t trust the Republicans not to move towards a Christian Theocracy.

These things mean more to me than a possible marginal difference in governing competency. I’m voting for Jon Corzine.

Unfortunately it don’t look good for Jon. Intrade is predicting a Republican win with about a 68% probability and Intrade is usually right.

Culture Shock

What is Culture Shock? Typically it is defined as the anxiety associated with adjusting to a new culture or lifestyle. Its most easily recognized when one moves from one country to a very different country. The language, food and customs can all be radically different.

But it can also occur within the borders of a large complex country like the U.S. Despite the homogenizing effects of the mass media, there are still substantive differences between different parts of this country.

It’s not nearly as pronounced as it was 40 or 50 years ago, but it still exists. I think we all sort of assume, at the subconscious level, that everywhere is just like where we live or at least only marginally different. When it suddenly becomes undeniably obvious that’s not the case, there is a sort of an immediate defense mechanism that relegates “them” to an aberration. When it becomes clear that YOU may be the aberration rather than “them,” I think the immediate reaction is to try and re-establish what you view as the natural order of things.

I believe the recent spate of vitriolic political exchanges are sort of related to this phenomenon. How often recently have you heard someone on the right wing ask “what happened to my country?”

How often did you hear a similar sort of question from the left while Bush was in the oval office related to “what happened to my civil liberties?”

The fact of the matter is that there are two wings to this country and then there is the great meandering herd in the middle that ebbs and flows with the times. When the herd “leans right,” the left moans; when the herd leans left, the right cries.

It used to be conventional wisdom that only a moderate could win the oval office. This conventional wisdom doesn’t appear to be working recently. The reason it no longer works is that the two parties have shifted dramatically left and right. Liberal Republicans and Conservative Democrats went extinct a while back.

This means that the choices for Fearless Leader are getting to be more and more at the extremes. That means the moaning and crying becomes screaming and yelling.

I think this is a serious problem. If this continues, it sort of means that at any given point in time a reasonably large segment of the population is going to feel like strangers in their own country. Worse, it tends to also split among geographic boundaries. The South is by far the most conservative bastion, the Northeast and West Coast tend to be more progressive minded and the Midwest sort of gets caught in the middle.

As long as moderation prevails, this arrangement is sort of manageable. But I’d hate to be in a teeter-totter situation where the ruling junta swings back and forth between far right and far left. I don’t think that situation is stable.

It would be only a matter of time before one side or the other manages to elect a president that is totally unacceptable to the other side. I think the election of a black man strained the boundaries a bit. Racism is never far below the surface nor far from a conservative’s heart. The election of an openly fundamentalist Christian, bent upon dissolving the wall of separation between church and state, might well be an intolerable situation for the secular Northeast and West. The election of an atheist might be one for the Christian South.

Luckily I see no atheist on the horizon threatening to take the reins of the Democratic Party. Unfortunately I do see fundamentalist Christians looking to step to the head of the Republican Party.

When the second civil war comes, it will be fought over the interpretation of the first amendment. It will be fought between those defending the separation of church and state and those looking to end it.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Random Thoughts on the First Day of Autumn

I got a new IP desk phone at work. They spent an hour and a half explaining all the neat features. I’ll probably use at most four of them. Why do I suspect this is a plot to wring more productivity out of us? The damn thing is almost as smart as my cell phone.

Getting old sucks. It’s extremely unsettling when you begin to realize that you’re missing things and making mistakes that you never would have missed or made in the past. I also find it annoying that it’s quite likely that irritating new pain I’m feeling is never going away. I’m also a little disappointed that I seem to be getting more sensitive to mistakes and criticism. Things that I would have laughed off in the past now seem to bother me. I always thought as you got older you got thicker skin. I wonder if it’s because I suspect that my abilities are deteriorating?

Football is fun to watch. I’ve been an NFL fan since 1958 when I attended my first Giants game. I was never a big College Football fan but recently I’ve begun to appreciate it more. Maybe that’s because it’s pretty much evolved into almost a professional game.

My cable company keeps trying to get me to put my phone service on their cable along with my television and internet access. They keep telling me how it’s going to save me money. Last night my cable service went out. How would I have called the cable company to report the outage if my phone was on the same service? Don’t say my cell phone because cell phone access at my house is spotty. I remember once having to go to a pay phone to tell the phone company that my telephone was out. Find a working pay phone these days.

I find these lists that keep being published of companies or brand names that may soon disappear depressing. On lists I read today were Macy’s, Hertz, Old Navy and Dodge.

Working sucks. I guess the only thing worse is not working. I’d really like to retire but I don’t think I can afford it. I’d like to get the two kids still at home out on their own, sell my house and move into a nice condominium somewhere. I know selling the house is going to be painful. It’s going to be painful physically, emotionally and financially. Physically because I’ll have to clean out 25 years of accumulated stuff, emotionally because this was the house my children grew up in and financially because I will probably sell it for well under its value simply to get it over with.

Trying to lose weight isn’t so great either. I’m by no stretch of the imagination fat BUT according to the Body Mass Index (BMI) metric I’m slightly overweight. How much do I weigh? Good question. Somewhere between 199 and 204 appears to be the range. It varies by day of the week, time of day and the scale that I use. That’s a BMI between 26.3 and 26.9. Since 25.0 is the cutoff, it means I’m overweight. I’d have to get down to 189 lbs. to be normal. That would be a loss of 10 – 15 pounds. I’d have to be marooned on a desert island to manage that.

I keep hearing people talk about the good old days. What good old days? THESE are the good old days. I’m especially amused when people wax nostalgic about the 50’s or 60’s. I was there and looking back I realize that they sucked big time. We just didn’t know any better back then. The only thing good about them was that I was young. I wouldn’t mind being 20 again, but I don’t want it to be 1968 again.

I was wrong about Michael Crabtree. I though he would come to an agreement with the San Francisco 49ers. Apparently I was wrong and he’s still holding out despite being offered $20 million. All this because Heywood-Bey was drafted first and is getting more from the Oakland Raiders. I think this young man is getting terrible advice and is making a very big mistake.

It’s unfortunate that there probably isn’t a God. Having God exist would be nice. I’d like to know that ultimately justice will prevail, that there’s something after we kick the bucket, and that we’re more than a temporary accidental biological smudge in the cosmic scheme of things. Unfortunately, I doubt it.

If you detected a sliver of hope and doubt about God in the previous thought, you’ve got that right. However that doesn’t change my opinion of religion. If God does exist, he (she? it?) most likely thinks religion is as absurd as I think it is.

Death Penalty Update

I stopped doing these because they were depressing and it was like banging your head up against the wall. The Death Penalty is second only to politics in being able to demonstrate the idiocy of the human species.

But we have two, not one, but two, stories that make you want to howl at the moon.

The first story comes from Texas (where else?). Remember Charles Hood? If not, that’s the guy I wrote about in August of 2008. Hood was convicted of murder and sentenced to be executed despite the fact that the judge and prosecuting attorney were having an affair during his trial. This was in clear violation of the Texas Constitution which prohibits a judge from sitting on a case that has either “affinity or consanguinity” with any of the parties.

A district court judge agreed that this potentially jeopardized the fairness of Hood’s trial. However, the Texas Court of Criminal Appeal ruled 6-3 that Hood can’t have a new trial because he should have raised the argument that the love affair tainted his trial in earlier appeals!

What planet do you suppose that the people in Texas associated with the criminal justice system come from? How about the planet of let’s look for a nice dry legal issue to order a new trial and push the dirty sex laundry under the table? While turning down this appeal the court agreed to consider an appeal on the same case related to issues with jury instructions.

This smacks of politics and politics don’t belong in the courtroom although we all know it has a place of honor there. We all remember Bush v. Gore don’t we?

While the Texas fiasco has all the earmarks of a poorly scripted comedy, the story from Ohio would make the worst Hollywood horror flick look tame.

Romell Broom was scheduled to be executed at 10 AM on September 15. That’s bad enough, but what followed was a litany of confusion that resulted in multiple botched attempts at carrying out the execution while the intended victim was left quivering and not knowing what hour would be his last.

The Cleveland Plain Dealer has put together a timeline of the events.

5:08 a.m.: Broom awakens for the day.
5:51 a.m.: Broom is escorted to the shower.
6:27 a.m.: Broom eats breakfast of cereal.
8:07 a.m.: The chemicals used in Ohio executions -- thiopental sodium, pancuronium bromide and potassium chloride -- are delivered to the death house.
9:31 a.m.: Execution preparations put on hold while the 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals weighs a last-minute appeal request.
12:28 p.m.: Broom eats a lunch of creamed chicken, biscuits, green beans, mashed potatoes, salad and grape drink.
12:48 p.m.: The 6th Circuit says it will not review the appeal. Execution scheduled to begin at 1:30 p.m.
1:24 p.m.: First round of lethal drugs is destroyed.
1:31 p.m.: Replacement drugs are delivered to the death house.
2:01 p.m.: Medical team enters holding cell and begins trying to insert IVs.
2:30 p.m.: Unable to find a usable vein, team leaves the cell to take a break.
2:42 p.m.: Team members back in cell trying again.
2:44 p.m.: Prisons director Terry Collins tells the medical team to take another break.
2:49 p.m.: Broom wipes his face with a tissue, appears to be crying.
2:57 p.m.: Broom asks that his attorney, Adele Shank, be allowed to watch. Around 3 p.m.: Tim Sweeney, a Cleveland attorney also representing Broom, sends a letter to Ohio Supreme Court Chief Justice Thomas Moyer asking the court to stop the execution on the grounds that Broom is suffering cruel and unusual punishment.
3:04 p.m.: Shank speaks with prisons lawyer Austin Stout, who informs her execution policy doesn't allow lawyers to have contact with inmates after the execution process has started.
3:11 p.m.: Execution team members say they are having problems keeping a vein open because of Broom's past drug use.
3:33 p.m.: Shank is taken to the witness viewing area.
4:07 p.m.: Collins consults with Ohio Gov. Ted Strickland and the Ohio attorney general's office.
4:24 p.m.: Strickland issues one-week reprieve.
5:59 p.m.: Broom eats a dinner of veggie nuggets, lima beans, bread, cookies and juice.

According to the AP, after an hour of failing to locate a vein for the IV by the medical staff, Broom himself tried to help!

“…the correctional officers encountered so much difficulty in finding a suitable vein for the lethal injection that, after an hour, Broom attempted to assist them by moving on his side, sliding the rubber tubing up and down his arm, and flexing his fingers…The executioners attempted to use the veins in his legs and he grimaced. One of the team patted him on his back. Finally, the executions gave up their attempts, indicating they needed a break.”

They needed a break? They needed a break!!!

Ok, look, Broom is very likely a really bad dude and he did some really bad stuff, but right now he’s totally helpless. No human being should have to go through this kind of crap.

The U.S. District Court has issued a restraining order until midnight September 28th. The District court has also scheduled a hearing at 9 AM that same day to hear additional arguments from Broom’s defense attorneys. The Columbus Dispatch reported that the State of Ohio “decided not to oppose the delay to give prisons officials more time to ‘review the unique circumstances in this case’ and offer recommendations on how to proceed.”

There have been 38 executions in 2009. That is already one greater than the 37 in 2008. 18 of those executions have been in Texas. 36 of the executions have been in the South. The only state outside of the South that has executed anyone in 2009 has been Ohio, the state that just botched the Broom execution.

There have been 1,174 executions since the Death Penalty was re-instated in 1978. 969 of those executions have been in the South, 134 in the Midwest, 67 in the West and 4 in the Northeast. 440 of those executions have been in Texas.

Uzbekistan and Kosovo eliminated capital punishment in 2008.

Monday, September 21, 2009

The Cowboy’s New Stadium

Wow! Ok, look, I’m not easily impressed, but wow! If it looked that good on TV, what must it be like in person? The Giant’s new stadium looks nice, but Jerry Jones appears to have outdone himself.

Well, you know what they say about everything being bigger in Texas. They had 105,000 people there including some 20,000 that paid $30 a head for access to a standing room only area. Having large areas where people can just wander around while watching the game on massive TV screens appears to be one of the new things.

The really good news however is the Giants spoiled the party by intercepting three Tony Romo passes for a 33-31 win.

Speaking of the new Giants and Jets stadium, I should be finding out where my new tickets are in the not too distant future. Since I refused to pay $5,000 a pop for lower tier “premium seats,” I’ll be in the nose bleed section. The only questions are, how high up and how lousy a viewing angle?

I’ve had Giants tickets at Giants Stadium for 35 years and didn’t know until the Personal Seat License (PSL) nonsense that I had “premium seats.” What I’ll miss the most is being under the overhang and out of the weather. We’re going to roast in the summer and freeze in the winter up in the cheap seats. Oh well, it’s better than not being able to go at all. This of course is assuming that I don’t somehow end up getting screwed out of tickets altogether.

Friday, September 18, 2009

Center for Inquiry – The Faith Based Rule allowing Discrimination in Hiring

We’re working on removing the stains of the Bush years; we’re not quite there yet, but we’re working on it.

I just received notification from the CFI that they have joined with 57 other groups in a petition to the Justice Department to rescind a Bush era legal memo, issued from The Department of Justice Office of Legal Counsel (OLC) in June of 2007, which argued that the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA) grants religious organizations leeway to discriminate, as they see fit, on religious grounds when hiring staff in taxpayer-funded programs.

In a joint letter sent to Eric Holder, the Obama Attorney General, the Bush administration’s interpretation was cited as “far-fetched” and the argument made that there is no justification for such a blanket override of all of the nondiscrimination provisions in all of the federal statutes.

In other words, they’re asking the federal government to remove a religion’s right to discriminate, at least when tax dollars are involved.

This should be an interesting one.

The RFRA addresses religion neutral laws which nevertheless may have a negative impact upon the free exercise of religion. A perfect example of this is a 2006 case in which a Brazilian Church in New Mexico had its sacramental tea confiscated because it contained an illegal substance.

The church sued under RFRA, seeking not only the return of the confiscated tea but a guarantee safeguarding future shipments. The U.S. District Court, the 10th Circuit Appeals Court and the Supreme Court all agreed with the church.

The money clause in the law is (a)(3) which states “…governments should not substantially burden religious exercise without compelling justification…”

This is what the Bush Administration decided allows a religious organization to discriminate in hiring for programs that are tax-payer-funded. Notice that we’re not talking about non-taxpayer-funded situations where religion would still be allowed to discriminate. Actually I could simplify this one immensely, don’t give taxpayer funds to faith based groups.

Since that’s not going to happen any time soon, clearly this rule should be rescinded. Religions don’t deserve a special privilege to discriminate and this applies especially in programs supported by tax dollars. If I’m good enough to have my tax dollars used to support your program, you shouldn’t be able to discriminate against me in hiring practices.

Let’s see if the Obama Administration has the guts to do what should be done. I’m not all that hopeful because the Justice Department is still fighting the effort to get the Christian Cross memorial off of federal park land.

ACLU Online - Christianity in Mississippi and the Repeal of DOMA

My semi-regular ACLU Online Newsletter arrived and two items caught my attention.

The first is related to a case the ACLU is helping to bring against the state of Mississippi in Federal Court in order to get them to stop pitching Christianity in the state’s abstinence-only-until-marriage program.

Things apparently came to a head last year at a summit that included overtly religious messages and a long presentation about the 10 Commandments. A link was included to a clip showing the Mississippi lieutenant governor essentially admitting that Christianity was part of the program, but claiming that’s ok because they weren’t establishing a religion.

Well, we all know that Mississippi is a different planet altogether and routinely ignores the separation of church and state, but it’s the justification that I want to focus on.

This is the danger inherent in a literal interpretation of the Constitution. The first Amendment to the U.S. Constitution may well be the most powerful statement ever made in the English language. In a mere 45 words the entire foundation of the American ideal is established.

“Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.”

It’s the first clause that is at issue here, “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion…”

The first thing to remember is that the 14th Amendment extended the prohibitions applied to Congress in the Constitution to the states, “No State shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States…”

The second thing to remember is the difference between “de facto” and “de jure.”

Granted, the State of Mississippi is not establishing a religion de jure, but it is doing the same thing de facto. By supporting a religious message the state is effectively placing a stamp of approval upon one religion. Even if it attempted to include ALL religions, it would still be supporting religion over non-religion.

This effectively establishes a religion, creates a segmentation of the population into insiders, those belonging to the established religion, and outsiders, those not belonging to the established religion. This abridges the “…privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States…”

The words mean more than what they literally say. One needs to understand the intent; there is such a thing as the spirit of the law which exists in addition to the letter of the law.

It will be interesting to see where this one goes.

The second article was related to a bill introduced in the House of Representatives to repeal the Defense of Marriage Act passed in 1996. The new bill is called the Respect for Marriage Act and would re-establish the principle of the Federal Government deferring to the states to decide who is married and who isn’t. This would immediately make same sex couples, in states which recognize same sex marriage, eligible for all of the federal benefits available to married couples.

All I can say is “Let the Games Begin!” If this puppy doesn’t die in committee, sacrificed on the altar of political expediency, it should be one hell of a fight.

I can just hear all of the right wing “states rights” types already changing their tunes. The ACLU is looking to get this one on the fast track. I’m not that optimistic but we shall see what we shall see.

Mary Travers

It’s another empty chair from my youth. Mary Travers, of Peter, Paul and Mary, has passed away. We used to listen to PP&M records while playing bridge back in high school. That was in an America that never existed in the mid-1960’s, before things went all to hell and the soft melody of “Blowing in the Wind” got replaced by harsher tunes.

I remember in college PP&M were looked upon with some disdain. One girl I knew dismissed them as “fake folk singers.” What she meant was they didn’t have an axe to grind or a cause to support with their music. But is that really so bad?

I shared a plane ride with Ms. Travers from Los Angeles to New York once. She sat near the window in a black dress and black veiled hat. I sat on the aisle and got to growl at the gawkers that couldn’t leave the poor lady in peace.

Man, this has been a tough summer. They say that when the icons of your youth pass away it makes you face your own mortality. Ah well, that day will come, but it’s not today.

So long Mary, I’ll always remember that “…the answer my friend is blowing in the wind, the answer is blowing in the wind.”

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Spanking Causes Aggression

A new study published in “Child Development” claims that spanking children leads to aggression and reduced cognitive development.

Why doesn’t this surprise me?

A study of low income families showed that when children were spanked at age 1, they exhibited increased aggression at age 2 and scored less on measures of thinking ability at age 3.

Low income families were chosen to counter a claim by some researchers that when spanking is “culturally normative,” in other words expected, the negative effects of spanking may be reduced. Spanking is far more common in families with a low income than those with a higher income.

Verbal punishment, on the other hand, exhibited no negative effects.

There is apparently a growing body of research that indicates that spanking children is a bad idea. I will admit that I never struck any of my kids, ever. I did yell on occasion, but I never hit them. I suppose the fact that they were girls might have had something to do with that.

My father only hit me once. As a teenager I told my mother to shut up and he walloped me. Luckily he did it with an open hand or I think he would have knocked me silly. As it was the world blurred for a moment or two. My mother on the other hand, used to regularly beat the hell out of me with her hands, wooden spoons, metal spatulas and the occasional poorly thrown shoe. I don’t think she ever actually hit me with the shoe. Her aim wasn’t very good and I was too quick. I used to be pretty good at avoiding the worst of the spoons and spatulas too but I do remember once she broke a spoon on my leg.

So how does this line up with the studies? Well, clearly I didn’t pass on my mother’s beatings to my kids and they didn’t hurt my cognitive skills unless my skills would have been even better. Perhaps they made me more aggressive. No one has ever accused me of being a pushover, but I don’t have any way of knowing if I would have been less aggressive if my mom hadn’t swung a mean wooden spoon.

Generally I frown upon hitting kids if for no other reason than adults, especially males, don’t always understand their own strength. The whole idea strikes me as a bad bet.

Yet there are still those that praise physical punishment. Fundamentalist Christians tend to favor spanking because of a number of cultural and biblical reasons.

Fundamentalist Christians are largely in the South and in the lower income brackets and culturally these groups tend to do more spanking. They also believe that Proverbs 13:24, He who spares the rod hates his son, but he who loves him is careful to discipline him, means that God is in favor of spanking children.

There is a similar admonition in Proverbs 23:13, Do not withhold discipline from a child; if you punish him with the rod, he will not die.

The question however is exactly what do these passages mean? That they recommend discipline is obvious. Only a complete fool would argue that children don’t require discipline. But do they recommend physical punishment?

Most Christian ministries say yes. One enterprising pair even used to sell a 20 inch thin nylon rod to be used. Do you have any idea how much that would hurt? Other’s interpret the passages differently. Pointing out that the “rod” was at the end of a shepherd’s staff and used to gently guide sheep. Therefore one should gently guide a child with discipline.

One interesting interpretation I’ve seen is that the word translated as “rod” is “shebet” which is used in much of the Hebrew Bible to refer to God’s authority. Therefore somehow these passages apply to the application of God's authority. Unfortunately I’m not all that sure how one punishes with “authority.” It just doesn't seem to fit.

There were approximately 1,200 deaths of children from physical abuse in 2007 in the United States. Granted a whack on the rear is a long way from child abuse but it doesn’t help to avoid accidents when physical punishment is considered an acceptable form of child discipline.

Like I said before, adults often don’t know their own strength. If you want additional evidence that the physical punishment of children is a bad thing, the Family Research Council and James Dobson approve of it. That means it has to be a bad idea.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Evolution and the Bible

I haven’t done one of those random biblical topics in a while and since this is my diary blog, I’m now going to do one.

The Theory of Evolution and the Bible should not be in conflict.

The Theory of Evolution is a painstakingly developed modern synthesis that is the foundation of the science of biology and the key to the development of the drugs and vaccines that keep pestilence away from our front door.

The Hebrew Bible is the history, collected wisdom, philosophy, legends and fables of an ancient nomadic people. They recorded their hopes, fears, victories and catastrophes. It is an absolutely amazing document.

The so-called New Testament I divide into three parts, the gospels, including the Book of Acts, the Epistles and the Book of Revelation. The gospels are a blend of biography, philosophy and a moral synthesis that combines both traditional Hebrew and Greek ideas. The Epistles give us a flavor of the thoughts, hopes and fears of a people almost 2,000 years removed in time. The Revelation saves for us an example of a type of apocalyptic literature fairly common in the first century.

However the bible is neither the literal word of God nor any other kind of word of God. It is no more divine, and perhaps somewhat less so, than Plato’s Dialogues.

Allow me to suggest that if you do not accept that the Earth is around 4 billion years old and that the Theory of Evolution is fundamentally sound, then either you do not understand the evidence or you are engaging in wishful thinking.

That is not to say that the Theory of Evolution is perfect. It’s not. It’s got a lot of questions related to “how, when, where and why” but there is no serious doubt about “if.”

I’m not going to get into the errors and contradictions in the bible. It’s a waste of time. Christian apologists have come up with arguments and rationalizations to cover almost everything. Sometimes they’ve even come up with contradictory explanations for the same thing. Believers don’t care about how “probable” an explanation may be. If it’s even remotely “possible,” that’s good enough for them. I applaud their creativity. I don’t find their arguments terribly persuasive but they are creative.

The bottom line is that if you believe the bible is the inerrant word of God, then you haven’t read it objectively. There are several passages in the bible that scream out to me that it was written by men. No passage convinces me more than Deuteronomy 22:13-21.

Deuteronomy 22:13 If a man takes a wife and, after lying with her, dislikes her 14: and slanders her and gives her a bad name, saying, "I married this woman, but when I approached her, I did not find proof of her virginity," 15: then the girl's father and mother shall bring proof that she was a virgin to the town elders at the gate.

16: The girl's father will say to the elders, "I gave my daughter in marriage to this man, but he dislikes her. 17: Now he has slandered her and said, 'I did not find your daughter to be a virgin.' But here is the proof of my daughter's virginity." Then her parents shall display the cloth before the elders of the town, 18: and the elders shall take the man and punish him.

19: They shall fine him a hundred shekels of silver and give them to the girl's father, because this man has given an Israelite virgin a bad name. She shall continue to be his wife; he must not divorce her as long as he lives.

20: If, however, the charge is true and no proof of the girl's virginity can be found, 21: she shall be brought to the door of her father's house and there the men of her town shall stone her to death. She has done a disgraceful thing in Israel by being promiscuous while still in her father's house. You must purge the evil from among you.

There are all kinds of things wrong with this passage.

Let’s start with the question of why would God care if the bride is a virgin? The typical answer usually revolves around something related to the importance of sexual purity. Funny how that only seems to be an issue for the female of the species isn’t it? Marriage is an institution developed by men. You will notice that God never performed a marriage ceremony for Adam and Eve.

Let’s continue with the observation that there is a difference between what is true and being able to present evidence that it is true. God would know this. I also find it disturbing that the burden of proof is placed upon the accused girl, or at least the parents of the accused girl, the person in the weakest position.

Let me ask you this one, what happens if hubby drank a little too much at the marriage feast and then couldn’t get it up? Ignore the idea of love as far as marriage is concerned at this place and time. That’s not usually the way it worked. Marriages were typically arranged by families for various reasons. A bride price called a mohar was typically paid by the father of the groom to the father of the bride.

Ignore the idea of the involvement of mature adults as well. Virgin brides were typically very young, around 14 or 15 years old. The bridegrooms were either almost as young or older men entering into a second marriage. Just to further complicate the situation, marriage worked a little different in those days. It was a two step process. First came the erusin, the betrothal, and then came the nissuin, which was the actual marriage ceremony.

The woman was legally married as of the betrothal and it’s at that time that the bride price was paid, but she remained in her father’s house until the actual marriage ceremony. At that time she moved in with her husband, who most likely was still a member of his father’s household, and the marriage was consummated. The bible doesn’t mention what happens to the bride price should a problem arise with the bride’s virginity, but I think it’s safe to assume it would have to be returned.

If you think about it a bit, the whole situation has the potential for a number of unfortunate scenarios that have absolutely nothing to do with the virginity of the bride. I'm not saying things went wrong with any frequency, it's the potential for disaster that I'm concerned with. I'm sure God could have come up with a better system.

Let’s then move on to the totally absurd unevenness of the punishments. If the girl can’t prove her innocence she gets stoned to death. If she’s falsely accused the bastard receives some unspecified “punishment” and has to pay 100 shekels to the girl’s father. As a bonus the girl gets the dubious pleasure of having to stay married to the guy that tried to get her stoned to death.

You will notice that it’s the father that gets compensated because apparently it was the honor of his house that was stained. The whole thing reeks of patriarchy run amok, a world view where women are considered little more than property. Does any intelligent person believe that’s what God has in mind?

The typical argument here is that somehow the girl’s crime was greater than the guys. Why? Because not only did she engage in sexual relations while still in her father’s house, but then she tries to get married under false pretenses and adds the sin of false witness to the sin of impurity.

That’s pretty sneaky for a 14 year old child that has absolutely no education beyond how to perform simple household chores. I’m sure someone consciously trying to work a deception like that would figure out a way to prick her finger to supply the expected evidence as well.

The excuse I’ve heard for the lightness of the punishment for the guy is that it wasn’t all that light. Some translations say whip rather than punish and a whipping could be rather harsh. It’s still not anything like getting stoned to death though.

The justification for having her stay married to the fink has been cited as now he has to provide for her for the rest of her life. There are two really big problems with this idea. First of all, how pleasant a life do you think that’s going to be for the girl especially in a society where wife beating was most likely acceptable or at least ignored? Second, if one considers passages like Deuteronomy 24:1-5, divorced women getting married again wasn’t all that unusual.

The most interesting justification for this passage that has ever been given me is that it’s essentially a bluff. I’ve gotten the same justification for the command to stone a rebellious son in Deuteronomy 21:18-21. Supposedly the two passages are bluffs that were never intended to be used. Both passages are there to keep the kiddies in line but are not to be applied.

My reaction to that is please, give me a break. This ranks as the number one rationalization I’ve ever heard. Like I said, they’re creative, unconvincing, but creative.

I rank Deuteronomy 22:13-21 as the most absurd passage in the bible but there are plenty of others. When you have a rational explanation as to why God would issue such commands, give me a call.

Friday, September 11, 2009

Obama’s Health Care Plan

Once again the antics of a clown are threatening our ability to have a rational debate. The sad part about it is I’ll bet the idiots in South Carolina that elected Representative Joe Wilson are applauding his making a fool of himself.

The speech provided a justification for Health Care Reform and a lot of promises. I got the why and the what, but, to be honest, it was a little short on the how.

I was actually glad to see some tough talk. He should have held up a picture of Sarah Palin when Wilson yelled out liar and said “oh, you mean her?”

He’s trying. Unfortunately the Republicans will probably figure out a way to crucify him for the effort and take the credit for anything useful that emerges.

In parallel with the speech I got an e-mail from the White House summarizing the promises and asking me to nudge my congressional representatives. I did nudge them but I already know that Scott Garret isn’t voting for any Health Care bill that he can’t put a price tag on.

The summary includes a lot of assertions. If all the assertions are true, it would be a wonderful thing. Unfortunately I see no evidence that all, or even most, of the assertions are in fact true. Here’s the list, with commentary.

If You Have Health Insurance, the President's Plan:

Ends discrimination against people with pre-existing conditions.
So who ends up footing the bill? Ignoring humanitarian considerations, pre-existing conditions pretty much guarantee the insurance company will lose money by insuring this individual. Someone has to pay for that red ink. The only way to make it up is to raise premiums for everyone else. It may be the right thing to do, but it will cost everyone else money.

Limits premium discrimination based on gender and age.
I have the same observation here as for pre-existing conditions. Actuarial facts don’t change and the only way to make up the difference is by raising everyone’s premiums. Nor am I really sure that in this case it’s the right thing to do. Why shouldn’t those with a higher statistical cost expectation pay more for health care insurance?

Prevents insurance companies from dropping coverage when people are sick and need it most.
Aha, the typical nefarious insurance company gambit. There are rules today that they manage to get around and I’m sure there will be similar situations tomorrow. Still, making some of the more obvious ploys illegal would be a good thing.

Caps out-of-pocket expenses so people don’t go broke when they get sick.
I don’t understand how this would work. Who pays once the cap is reached?

Eliminates extra charges for preventive care like mammograms, flu shots and diabetes tests to improve health and save money.
Preventative care makes good health sense but it probably doesn’t save money. Regular testing of everyone for everything costs more than the cost of the actual cases because usually only a tiny percentage of people actually contract any given illness. If you don’t pay a premium for elective care, guess who ends up paying for it? Do you notice a trend here?

Protects Medicare for seniors.
From what I’ve heard much of the funding is going to come from eliminating Medicare waste. While no one would argue that no waste or inefficiency exists in Medicare, it has been my experience that any time there is an attempt to eliminate waste and inefficiency, invariably there are some unintended negative impacts as well.

Eliminates the “donut-hole” gap in coverage for prescription drugs.
To be honest, I’m not sure what this means.

If You Don’t Have Insurance, the President's Plan:

Creates a new insurance marketplace — the Exchange — that allows people without insurance and small businesses to compare plans and buy insurance at competitive prices.
Can’t they do this today? Any number of sources exist that allow comparison shopping. Is it that this would make it easier? Sounds like a good idea but who pays for maintaining and managing it? Do insurance companies pay a fee to be included? Do companies or individuals pay for using it? Is there a sort of “finders fee” if someone buys insurance from the Exchange?

Provides new tax credits to help people buy insurance.
Again, somebody has to pay for this.

Provides small businesses tax credits and affordable options for covering employees.
I hate to sound like a broken record, but again, someone has to pay for this.

Offers a public health insurance option to provide the uninsured and those who can’t find affordable coverage with a real choice.
This is far and away the trickiest part of the whole idea. If this is a true option of last resort that no one in his right mind would chose when there are other options, then it might work. The biggest potential problem that I see here is that businesses on the edge can’t be allowed to drop health care, or water it down so much they force their employees to prefer the public option, in order to cover some of their red ink. This is dangerous, but probably necessary.

Immediately offers new, low-cost coverage through a national “high risk” pool to protect people with preexisting conditions from financial ruin until the new Exchange is created.
This sounds very similar to the “high risk” auto insurance pools. But, two points, first people insured by the high risk auto insurance pools pay massive premiums and still the insurance companies lose money on the pools. Would you like to guess who makes up for the red ink? You got it, all the rest of us.

For All Americans, the President's Plan:

Won’t add a dime to the deficit and is paid for upfront.
Sorry Barack, as much as I love ya man, I don’t believe this at all. This conclusion could only be reached by looking at the issue through special rose tinted Washington D.C. glasses. None of us that live in the real world are buying this one.

Requires additional cuts if savings are not realized.
Additional cuts where?

Implements a number of delivery system reforms that begin to rein in health care costs and align incentives for hospitals, physicians, and others to improve quality.
Any cost improvements usually take a while to be realized. In the short term this probably means cost will go up before it goes down. Still, it’s probably the right idea in the long run assuming the system reforms actually work.

Creates an independent commission of doctors and medical experts to identify waste, fraud and abuse in the health care system.
Oh boy, another coffee klatch of bureaucracy. No, only kidding. Actually this might make a lot of sense.

Orders immediate medical malpractice reform projects that could help doctors focus on putting their patients first, not on practicing defensive medicine.
This is definitely a good idea. How about we break this one loose and pass it on its own so we don’t have to wait until the rest gets ironed out?

Requires large employers to cover their employees and individuals who can afford it to buy insurance so everyone shares in the responsibility of reform.
I agree with the rationale behind this idea. It’s like requiring auto insurance. It protects everyone else from having to foot the bill because someone is trying to play the system.

So what’s the bottom line? The bottom line is there is no question in my mind that this is essentially a Socialist policy intended to spread the costs for the few among the many. Personally I don’t see a problem with this for two reasons.

First, it’s simply the right thing to do. Period, end of discussion, we’re not talking an enormous amount of money that would have to be chipped in per family because it would be spread among so many. If it costs me an extra $100 a year or so to help those who need help, then so be it. If helping out our friends and neighbors who, for whatever reason, can't get adequate health care on their own is Socialism, then so be it. Just make damn sure that you don’t degrade my health coverage while we’re at it.

Second, I don’t like being ranked 37th in health care by the World Health Organization. That’s just above Slovenia and just behind Costa Rica. Yes, you heard that right Virginia, Costa Rica is ranked ahead of the United States in health care. That’s despite the fact that we spend the most on health care per capita. Yes, that’s right; we spend the most money on health care and end up in 37th place.

Would you like worse news? One of the major factors taken into account in considering the adequacy of health care is the rate of preventable deaths per 100,000 people. In a recent study of 19 industrialized nations supported by the Commonwealth Fund the United States placed dead last. Allow me to repeat that, dead goddamned last.

Now here’s one more for you. Let’s talk about infant mortality rate. You know, that thing that’s such a big problem in third world countries? Well the U.S. is ranked 46th according to the CIA World Factbook.

Would you like a list of some of the 45 countries that do better? How about Cuba at 44th, Portugal at 30th, Slovenia at 19th, the Czech Republic at 14th, Hong Kong at 5th and Singapore at #1.

I’d like to also point out that this is not a matter of a fraction of a percent here or there. The U.S. has 6.26 infant deaths per 1,000 births. Singapore has less than half that many at 2.31. Cuba, goddamned Communist Cuba run for 50 years by a frustrated baseball pitcher, has an infant death rate of 5.82. WTF guys? What is wrong with this picture?

The next time some right wing yahoo claims that our health care system is the envy of the world and Obama is trying to destroy it, tell him to STFU and check the facts.

Reform is necessary. Get that through your heads. “Do nothing” is not an option here. As for the Republican Party, how about you guys stop being obstructionist and help get the job done? I don’t trust the Democrats to come up with a plan this complicated and expensive without adult supervision.

Tuesday, September 08, 2009

The Execution of an Innocent Man in Texas

In May of 2006 I wrote a post about a report sponsored by the Innocence Project that a man executed in Texas for the arson deaths of his three children in 2004 may have been wrongfully convicted. In fact, based upon a study by forensic fire experts, each and every one of the factors identified as evidence for arson meant “absolutely nothing” and were consistent with indicators “routinely created by accidental fires.”

That was over three years ago. Since then the Texas Forensic Science Commission has been investigating the case. The Chicago Tribune reported in late August that a study for the commission by a nationally renowned fire scientist has reached the exact same conclusions as the pro bono Innocence Project report that essentially there was no evidence that the fire was arson and not simply a tragic accident.

The report stated that the state fire marshal on the case had "limited understanding" of fire science and that he "seems to be wholly without any realistic understanding of fires and how fire injuries are created." The marshal's findings, the report added, "are nothing more than a collection of personal beliefs that have nothing to do with science-based fire investigation."

The only other evidence against Cameron Todd Willingham was the testimony of a jailhouse snitch. A snitch that the New Yorker reports suffers from mental disorders, has tried to recant his testimony and is now no longer sure what he heard.

The Texas Commission says it will get a response from the fire marshal and then write its own report.

Let’s see, what do you think the odds are that the fire marshal is going to agree that he didn’t know what he was talking about? I’d say someone between almost non-existent and not a snowball’s chance in hell.

What do you think the odds are that the Texas Forensic Science Commission will side with the fire marshal rather than have to admit that an innocent man was executed? I’d say somewhere between you can take that to the bank and absolutely guaranteed.

What else would you expect from a state that thinks it would be just peachy-keen to teach creationism as science alongside REAL science like the Theory of Evolution?

C Street House

Yes Virginia there really is a fundamentalist Christian conspiracy to take over the United States.

The House on C Street in Washington is working on the first of the Seven Mountains of Culture identified as needing to be claimed by Christian fundamentalism in order for it to succeed.

#1 - The Mountain of Government, "where evil is either restrained or endorsed"
#2 - The Mountain of Education, "where truths, or lies, about God and his creation are taught"
#3 - The Mountain of Media, "where information is interpreted through the lens of good or evil"
#4 - The Mountain of Arts and Entertainment, "where values and virtue are celebrated or distorted"
#5 - The Mountain of Religion, "where people worship God in spirit and truth, or settle for a religious ritual"
#6 - The Mountain of Family, "where either a blessing or a curse is passed onto successive generations"
#7 - The Mountain of Business, "where people build for the glory of God or the glory of man."

At C Street they’re working on government but that’s not to say others aren’t also hard at work attacking some of the other areas. You remember that controversial film “The road to 911” which essentially blamed Bill Clinton for everything? Well that came from film makers specially trained by the same group, called “Youth with a Mission,” that runs C Street. They’re working on changing Hollywood from the inside. That’s the fourth mountain.

This is serious stuff. These people want to tell you what to think, what to do and how to live. They want to shove their beliefs down your throat because they’re working for the Kingdom of God and they know what’s good for you.

Like I’ve said before, fundamentalist Christianity is the greatest threat to the survival of American Democracy that has ever existed. If you’re not ready to fight, I suggest you get ready. I’m quite confident that I’m going to die fighting. When the next civil war comes, I’ll fight. It’s going to be a religious war of fundy Christians against the rest of us. Even if I have to use my walker to attack tanks driven by fundies, I’m going to fight.

The Last Truck

The Last Truck is an HBO documentary about the closing of the GM plant in Moraine Ohio. Like many of HBO’s recent documentaries this one is presented almost exclusively in the words of the people affected. Sometimes this approach works, and sometimes it doesn’t. This is one of the times where it worked.

The film covers the last few months of the plant as the closing date gets closer and closer. There is no struggle here. The end is a foregone conclusion and there is nothing anyone can do about it. The title of the show comes from the last SUV to come off the line on the last day. As each person performed his or her task for the last time, they followed the truck down the line until, when it was completed, there were 15 or 20 people assembled and taking pictures.

It was a sad show. Many of the people focused on had essentially worked at the GM plant their entire working careers. Most had developed a knowledge base and skill set that really wasn’t easily transferred. Many had believed they would ultimately retire from the same job.

When the plant closed 2700 GM jobs disappeared and probably three to four times that many in the general area that either did business with the plant or catered to the workers from the plant.

So what’s the bottom line here? It’s not the first major factory to close and it probably won’t be the last. I remember the Ford assembly plant in Mahwah N.J. that closed in the mid-seventies. It had always been a major landmark on trips to the parks in southern New York and then one day it was just gone.

So who’s the villain here? There is none really. This is just how a Capitalist economy operates. You have to prune the unsuccessful branches. Unfortunately, often that means people get hurt.

According to the Right Wing numb nuts, if we would only deregulate and give Free Enterprise free rein, those kind hearted Capitalists would take care of everyone by letting prosperity trickle down to the riff raff.

Yet, according to those same numb nuts, if the government introduces a public health care option, those hard hearted Capitalists will dump health care for their employees and force the public option into over subscription.

So which is it? Well, actually it’s both.

Henry Ford said something to the effect that the role of the industrialist is to make the best product possible, at the lowest cost possible while paying the highest wages possible. However what Henry glosses over is that first and foremost a company needs to be profitable because, if it’s not profitable, it goes out of business and everyone loses.

Making a profit is good and the workers that produce that profit deserve to be compensated fairly. When greed takes over and those in control use their position of authority to carve out an unreasonable share at the expense of others, that’s when things start to go sour. The problem of course is defining things like “fairly” and “reasonable.”

Clearly the major executives of a corporation, the individuals responsible for its health and viability, deserve to be paid more than an assembly line worker. Similarly, if things go unusually well, they are entitled to a larger share of the windfall through bonuses. The question is how much more?

In my opinion the degree of income inequality that exists in the United States today is a serious issue and a serious problem. Conservatives disagree and argue that the disappearance of the middle class is more statistical than real. The Conservatives, as usual, have their heads up their asses; 71% of Economists believe that income in the U.S. should be more equal and 81% believe that income redistribution is a legitimate roll of government. Yes Virginia, they’re talking about Socialism.

The numbers don’t lie. In 1967 the 95th percentile in median household income was $88,000. The 20th percentile of household income was $14,000 and the median, 50th percentile, was $33,000.

In 2003 the 95th percentile in median household income had increased to $154,000, the 20th percentile had increased to $18,000 and the median had increased to $43,000. That’s an increase of 73%, 28% and 29% respectively and things have gotten much worse since then.

Granted median household income can be misleading because some households may have multiple wage earners but still I think there is a clear indication here that something unhealthy is occurring.

A review of salaries indicates the same sort of thing. As of 2005, the average salary in the U.S. was $42,000. So how much should a CEO make?

In 1970 the average CEO made $700,000, this was 25 times the average production worker. By the year 2000 the average CEO salary had jumped to $2.2 million or 90 times the average production worker. If you toss in stock options, bonuses and other benefits, the average CEO makes about 500 times what the average production worker makes.

You will excuse me, but that is utterly ridiculous.

A Teacher makes around $60,000, an Engineer $72,000, an auto mechanic $37,000 and a doctor $132,000. The CEO of a successful company should probably make more than all of these but should he really be making almost 40 times what the average Teacher is making in salary alone before factoring in all the other goodies? My wife is a teacher and the only bonus she gets is getting to work into the night on lesson plans.

The dumb part about it is the yahoos that are yelling the loudest about “Socialism” are the ones that would benefit from it the most. I doubt anything could have helped those folks at the GM plant but the rapidly increasing disparity between what the top makes and what everyone else makes is an issue that needs to be addressed.

I really don’t care if you have a massive house, a sports cars and a BMW or two in the garage, a yacht and can vacation first class anywhere you damn well please. If you are making the right decisions, turning a profit and keeping thousands of workers employed, you probably deserve it. But, you don’t need a half dozen houses and a garage full of cars and, if you screw up, don’t expect a bonus while plants are closing and folks are losing their jobs.

The greed has to be reined in and if the Board of Directors or the Stock Holders won’t do it, then I say it’s perfectly ok for the government to step in and do a little income redistribution. If that’s “Socialism,” then so be it.

Tuesday, September 01, 2009

Socialism, Capitalism and Fascism

I love the way people throw these terms around during the Health Care arguments. The latest nonsense coming from the Right Wing is to equate Nazism, and the economic policies of the Third Reich, with Left Wing Socialism. In other words that Nazism was a Leftist phenomenon.

What’s the basis for throwing out 70 years of economic and political theory and history? There are two actually; one is at the under 80 IQ trailer park level and the other is a tad more sophisticated and advocated by George Reisman, a retired professor of economics from Pepperdine University.

The simple argument is that “Socialist” is part of the Nazi party name. Nazi comes from National Socialist German Worker’s Party. This is sort of like saying the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, sometimes known as North Korea, is a democratic republic of the people because it says so.

What can you expect from people who believe the bible is the word of God because the bible says so?

The 25 Point Program, published by the Nazi Party in 1920, does include a number of socialist sounding economic points, including the abolition of non-earned income, the nationalization of corporations and profit sharing in large enterprises, but these were just words.

A stated aim of the Nazis was to appear to be all inclusive. It played up to workers at the same time it was cozying up to the industrialists and the military clique. Hitler completely ignored economics in Mein Kampf and generally looked upon it as secondary to politics. In other words, unlike socialism, which is first and foremost an economic philosophy, National Socialism was first and foremost a political philosophy. Like the man said, actions speak louder than words.

That brings us to the Reisman argument that effectively, through their actions, the Nazis implemented a socialist economy. That effectively the state, through its economic policies, controlled the means of production and private ownership was just an illusion.

Reisman is the sort of economist that thinks if only government would get out of the way and leave everything to those kind hearted businessmen, everything would be just wonderful. In other words, he’s not well grounded in reality.

Now, I happen to agree with his fundamental premise. The Nazi government did, for all intents and purposes, control what was produced. This became more and more of a fact of life as things moved from considering war, to actively planning war and finally to actively waging war.

However, socialism is much more than simply controlling production. Controlling production, for both the Nazis and real Socialists, is a means to an end and not an end in itself.

The end the Nazis had in mind was to benefit the state and provide the means to effectively wage war. The end Socialists have in mind is the distribution of wealth based upon some sort egalitarian compensation. The problems usually start when someone tries to define “egalitarian.”

Socialists want to spread the wealth among workers as well as industrialists. The Nazis couldn’t have cared less as long as their war machine was fed. Socialists support unions and collective bargaining. The Nazis outlawed both. The Nazis believed that the existence of separate social classes and class inequality was beneficial. Socialism has as one of its ultimate objectives a classless society.

In other words, while the Nazis utilized a tool similar to the tool advocated by Socialists, the objectives and methods applied were totally different. Claiming the Nazis were Socialists simply because they controlled production is like comparing a torturer utilizing a scalpel to a surgeon. Well, they both cut the skin and cause bleeding so they must be the same thing right? Yeah, right, Reismen treats controlling production as the ultimate objective of socialism while it’s actually only a means to an end. His whole argument ignores the objectives and focuses only upon one of the tools used to achieve those objectives.

The means by which control comes about is also totally different. Under Socialism it’s a legal transfer of private services into the public sector. Under Nazism, it started with a transfer of public services into the private sector and then the establishment of a “partnership” with government which allowed the establishment of monopolies, oligarchies and price fixing. All of this occurred under the protection of the state and for the benefit of the state and its war aims. Of course, the top corporate executives got rich as hell from the arrangement. Let us not forget the I.G. Farben Buna factory at Auschwitz which utilized an estimated 80,000 slave laborers.

In other words, Reismen’s argument is another example of accurate but misleading. Yes both Nazism and Socialism look to control the means of production, but they approach doing so in two different ways and they look to do so in order to achieve totally different objectives.

On the other hand, the Nazis weren’t Capitalists either despite any number of pronouncements about protecting private property and initiative. The fact of the matter is that fascism went with whatever economic policies it felt would advance its political goals and really has no place in the current Health Care discussion.

Capitalism versus Socialism, on the other hand, very definitely has a place.

Are Obama and the Democrats pushing a Socialist solution? You bet your ass they are. I’m not quite sure how Socialism became such a dirty word in this country. Certainly extreme Socialism, like extreme anything, including extreme Capitalism, doesn’t work.

Go back to the early industrial age and take a look at working conditions and the inequality of wealth distribution if you would like an idea of how bad pure Capitalism can get. On the other hand, try convincing John to do 80% of the work while he and Jim both get 50% of the pay. Also try to weed out good products from bad ones if the only ones choosing are some government bureaucrats at an economic planning meeting.

What does work is what is known as a mixed system and this is what we’ve had in this country, and virtually every other western democracy, for the past 100 years or so. Basically a mixed system is a combination of Capitalism and Socialism with different countries being at different places along the continuum. Some are more Capitalist and some are more Socialist. Think Germany and Sweden for example.

Traditionally the mixed system in the United States has tended to be Capitalism with government regulation and something of a social safety net. Typically the arguments have been over how much regulation and how strong a safety net.

The so-called “Public Option” for Health Care, assuming anyone can actually define what it is, may in fact be something quite different from anything else we’ve ever seen in this country.

If it is intended to be a viable competitor to private Health Care insurance, then it’s definitely a horse of a different color and of debatable viability. If the Public Option is better than what I’m getting from the company I work for, why shouldn’t I switch? If it’s competitive, why shouldn’t companies forego the cost of providing Health Care and let everyone go with the Public Option?

I don’t see how you can disallow the first option and even if you attempt to prevent the second through legal regulation, how do you prevent companies from watering down their in-house option until people flee voluntarily?

What it should be is something like Social Security; a minimum safety blanket that doesn’t prevent companies from offering pension plans and 401K options if they want to attract the people they need to succeed.

In other words, it has to be structured so that industry still has a compelling reason to offer Health Care benefits so insurance companies can still make money. It should be an option of last resort. Unfortunately, amid all the nonsense, I’ve yet to hear anything close to a coherent explanation of what’s being proposed.

Which gets me to this whole issue of not trusting government because it’s too inefficient, take my word for it, government is even more inefficient that the most right wing demagogue could possibly imagine. But one of the reasons it’s so inefficient is that private industry is constantly trying to take it to the cleaners!

Let’s remember that someone was getting paid the $400 the government was supposedly paying for those hammers.

Private industry has NOT resolved many of the issues facing the country today. It hasn’t resolved energy independence; it hasn’t resolved reducing human impact on global warming, nor even managed to figure out if there is an impact, and it certainly hasn’t reformed Health Care.

In the past it didn’t resolve child labor, unsafe working conditions or worker exploitation without the government ultimately establishing regulations and it’s not going to resolve today’s problems until those problems jeopardize the profits already being made.

By that time it will very likely be too late.

The gap between rich and poor is widening and the middle class is slowly but surely being absorbed down or up. Mostly down. We are headed toward a two class society consisting of a very small number of Haves and a very large number of Have-nots. This is a very unstable arrangement. You do remember from your college history days the conclusion that Marx was wrong because he never considered the emergence of a large middle class? Well, at the rate we’re going, the middle class is disappearing and Marx is about to be proven right after all. That will undoubtedly result in rather unpleasant consequences. Let’s all remember the French Revolution shall we.

On Bill Maher the other night they showed people, who believed they had adequate Health Care, being loud and raucous in their opposition to Health Care reform while those with inadequate care waited patiently for care from a charitable organization.

What’s wrong with this picture? The Have-nots are acting more responsibly than the Haves. How long do you think that’s going to be the case especially if things continue to get more and more inequitable? Ah well, so much for Christian charity.

My only hope is that when the revolution comes they hang all the priests first.