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.