Wednesday, April 27, 2011

A Red Letter Day

Mark this day down, April 27, 2011, because it’s the day that Barack Obama release his long form birth certificate and made lots of people look foolish.

Donald Trump immediately “took credit” for making it happen thereby making himself look even more foolish.

Will this shut up the birthers? I doubt it. Evidence has never influenced True Believers before whether they be birthers, or 9/11 conspiracy types, or creationists, or homeopath users, or moon landing hoax wackos, or dowsers, or Fundamentalist Christians.

I’m sure they will rationalize the new evidence away and simply expand the conspiracy. Anything other than admitting they were wrong all along.

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Prop 8 Judge was Gay

Yes, we know that. It isn’t a surprise that Vaughn Walker, the California judge that overturned Proposition 8 is gay. But now, since Walker revealed a 10 year relationship, proponents of Proposition 8 have filed a motion to toss out Walker’s decision claiming that he should have recused himself.

I don’t think so. That would imply that black judges couldn’t rule on racial discrimination cases and females judges couldn’t rule on sex discrimination cases. This idea would work us back toward a tiered society where some people can’t do certain things simply because of their color or race or having green hair for all I know.

Walker has stated that he does not believe his sexual orientation impacted his ability to render a decision and constitutional law experts appear to agree with him.

The 9th Circuit Court is already reviewing the ruling, let’s leave it in their ballpark for the moment shall we.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Iranians and Dogs

I always thought that the U.S. political process spent a ridiculous amount of time with inane issues. Well the Iranians appear to have us beat.

Doggies, they’re worried about doggies being kept as pets. We’re not talking about Pit Bulls, Dobermans or other potentially dangerous breeds either. We’re talking about your average, run of the mill pet dog.

Apparently, according to the Iranian mullahs, the keeping of pet dogs is a particularly depraved and un-Islamic vice.

Up until now the practice has been tolerated although government radio and TV lectures Iranians about the diseases spread by canines. Now it looks like the end is in site for Iran’s pet dogs. Lawmakers in Tehran have proposed a bill in parliament that would criminalize dog ownership and formally define its punishment within the country's Islamic penal code. The bill warns that that in addition to posing public health hazards, the popularity of dog ownership "also poses a cultural problem, a blind imitation of the vulgar culture of the West."

Now what was it Mitt Romney said a few years ago about “freedom needing religion?” Like I said then, freedom is undoubtedly far better off without religion. Show me a theocracy that is free.

Dogs are un-Islamic? That’s because by custom dogs are considered “najis or “unclean.” Muslims who come in contact with “najis” things are put into a state of ritual impurity and must undergo purification (that’s washing up to you and me) before performing any religious duty such as saying daily prayers.

Clearly the whole “najis” and purification business is a primitive attempt at addressing the problem of bacteria. Primitive peoples may not have known about germ theory but they could observe cause and effect and, over time, mitigation actions would emerge. I suppose that tying these actions to religion helped insure compliance. I guess if you don’t have an answer to the question of “why,” and they probably didn’t, saying “because God said so and you’ll burn in hell if you don’t listen” worked as a pretty good substitute.

Hey, I’m all for cleanliness. Washing your hands after any number of activities, and certainly before handling food, is usually a pretty good idea. But to attribute the necessity to some imaginary Sky Daddy is just silly in this day and age. Outlawing dogs, when any diseases they might spread just by being around are easily handled by run of the mill hygiene, is utterly ridiculous.

Tell me again why religion hasn’t outlived its usefulness?

Arizona Governor Vetoes “Birther” Bill

Arizona Governor Jan Brewer vetoed the so-called Birther Bill which would have required all Presidential candidates to demonstrate that they were natural born American citizens eligible to be president.

Well that’s a bit of a surprise and may sound the death knell for similar measures in other states. Four states have already rejected similar measures in the legislature.

According to the AP Brewer said in her veto letter that she was troubled that the bill empowered Arizona's secretary of state to judge the qualifications of all candidates when they file to run for office. "I do not support designating one person as the gatekeeper to the ballot for a candidate, which could lead to arbitrary or politically motivated decisions."

She also took a bit of a swipe at the legislature saying "In addition, I never imagined being presented with a bill that could require candidates for president of the greatest and most powerful nation on Earth to submit their 'early baptismal circumcision certificates' among other records to the Arizona secretary of state. This is a bridge too far."

The baptismal certificate was among a list of alternate evidence that could be presented if for some reason the birth certificate was unavailable.
Critics of the bill had pointed out that this could give Arizona another black eye to go with the one it has from the immigration bill last year and no one likes to look foolish.

Well good for Governor Brewer. Like I said before, I was a bit concerned about the potential of 50 different procedures that would just tie up time and money but I could have lived with some sort of common requirement such as a certification from the state of birth.

Oh well, here’s hoping this is the last we’ll hear of this nonsense, but I doubt it.

The .xxx Domain

Well, it’s official. The Internet Corporation for Assigned names and Numbers (ICANN) has taken the .xxx domain live to join other Top Level Domains (TLD) such as .org, .com and .edu.

The .xxx domain is a voluntary domain that is dedicated to pornography. It’s voluntary today, but there are those who fear it may become mandatory tomorrow.
Of course having all pornographic sites under a common TLD makes it very easy to filter out or censor such sites.

So what do you folks think? A potential threat to freedom of speech or a welcome means of protecting children from inappropriate internet sites?

Personally, I think it’s a great idea and the sooner it’s made mandatory the better.

If you, as an adult, want to go the pornography route, that’s up to you, but I think it’s reasonable for schools and parents to be able to easily prevent access to such sites by minors in their charge.

Friday, April 15, 2011

The Nails from Jesus’ Cross?

Simcha Jacobovici is at it again. This is the guy that a few years ago claimed to find the family tomb of Jesus, now he’s claiming he has two of the nails used in the crucifixion.

His evidence? The nails were found in the tomb of Caiaphas, the high priest when Jesus was crucified. Caiaphas was only involved in one crucifixion, that of Jesus, therefore these must be the nails used.

Wow, that has so many holes I’m actually shocked I’m bothering to write about it. Let’s list a few shall we.

(1) Is the tomb actually that of Caiaphas? According to the Israeli Antiquities Authority, that’s not at all clear.

(2) How unusual is it to find nails in an ancient tomb? Again, according to the Israeli Antiquities Authority, it’s quite common.

(3) Were these nails used in any crucifixion? Not every ancient nail found in Palestine was used in a crucifixion. As a matter of fact, I would think only a very tiny percentage were.

(4) Who says Caiaphas was involved in only one crucifixion? Two other men were supposedly crucified with Jesus and this was a common Roman execution method. Who’s to say Caiaphas wasn’t involved in other crucifixions?

(5) Were nails even used in Jesus’ crucifixion? The only gospel that mentions nails is John in John 20:25 and that’s the story of doubting Thomas not of the crucifixion itself.

(6) Was Jesus crucified? We have the gospel account and Josephus mentions the cross but no other contemporary historian mentions the crucifixion. Tacitus only says that Pilate had him put to death.

(7) Did Jesus even exist? Obviously the ultimate argument. If Jesus was a myth, then there was no crucifixion and these are just ordinary rusted nails.

The chances of these being the nails used in the crucifixion are about as close to zero as you can get. I’m not impressed with the so-called evidence. Sounds more like wishful thinking.

“Birther” Bill Approved by Arizona Legislature

What the bill would do is require all presidential (and I assume vice presidential) candidates to prove they’re natural born U.S. citizens.

I don’t have a problem with the concept behind the bill, as a matter of fact I think it’s a good idea, I am a little unsettled about the potential of 50 different processes.

I (Heart) Boobies?

That was the message on bracelets worm by two middle school girls in Pennsylvania meant to raise breast cancer awareness. The school district, took a dim view of the fairly obvious sexual double entendre, and banned the bracelets. The two girls defied the ban and wore them on their school’s Breast Cancer Awareness Day. The school district suspended the girls for defying the ban.

Of course the girls, with the support of the ACLU, sued claiming an infraction of their right of free speech.

On April 13th, 2011, a federal court in Pennsylvania agreed with the girls saying that the bracelets were not lewd or vulgar and can’t be banned by school officials that found them offensive. The court ruled that the school district had not demonstrated that the bracelets would be disruptive.

Already I can hear the howls of “double standard” and hypocrisy considering that a few years ago the courts decided that a school was correct in forcing a student to remove a T-Shirt saying that homosexuality was shameful that he was wearing in a counter to the GLSEN “Day of Silence.”

Interestingly enough, the ACLU was on the losing side in that debate.

So what do I think of this? To be honest, I suspect that the school has a better handle on what could be disruptive that a federal judge. The school had no issue with the concept of supporting breast cancer awareness, just with the way the concept was being expressed. If were up to me, I think I might have gone with the school’s judgment on this one.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Brain Shape and Political Views

I’m going to start by providing the quote.

“Scientists have found that people with conservative views have brains with larger amygdalas, almond shaped areas in the centre of the brain often associated with anxiety and emotions.

On the other hand, they have a smaller anterior cingulate, an area at the front of the brain associated with courage and looking on the bright side of life.”

The conclusions are the result of scanning the brains of 90 college students. Of course since the scans were done on adults, it’s impossible to tell whether the political view shaped the brain or vice versa.

That conservatives are more prone to fear doesn’t particularly surprise me. Many conservative positions have at their root, fear. Fear of what they don’t understand, fear of people different from themselves and fear of change.

9th Circuit Upholds Blocking of Arizona Immigration Law

Remember that controversial Immigration Law that Arizona passed a while back? Well, the most controversial provisions of it were blocked by a federal judge and Arizona appealed. The 9th Circuit Court of Appeals held yesterday that the lower court was correct.

Arizona governor Jan Brewer is considering whether or not to appeal to the Supreme Court.

This is an important issue especially for states in the southwest that consider themselves under siege by illegal immigrants. Even though I sometimes find the decisions of the current Supreme Court questionable, I think it is necessary to bring the case to the court in order to get a final resolution.

Japan Raises Nuclear Accident Level

Japan has raised the rating of the nuclear power plant accident caused by the earthquake and tsunami a month ago to 7, the highest rating on the International Atomic Energy Agency’s scale. The rating implies major radioactive contamination and places the incident on the same level as the Chernobyl incident.

Obviously this is not good news although a number of experts say the new rating is something of an exaggeration and the problem in Japan is nowhere near the seriousness of Chernobyl. Still, this is another example, along with the BP oil leak, that demonstrates what can happen when technology gets out of control.

I’m not proposing we limit technology by any means, I’m just thinking that we might want to step up the precautions a bit. Even a nuclear incident is a relatively local disaster but imagine what could happen if a genetic experiment got out of control.

Tuesday, April 05, 2011

The House Budget Committee Plan Part 2

Ok, now I’ve seen a few more of the details. It’s all Republican magic with mirrors and fun with numbers. Always beware of any politician who quotes a number WITHOUT JUSTIFYING THAT NUMBER but especially beware of Republicans holding tax reform proposals.

Here are the total nonsense portions of the plan that I’m aware of:

Save $1.4 trillion by repealing the Health Care Plan.
I guess Ryan wasn’t copied on the memo sent to Boehner in January from the CBO pointing out that repealing Health Care would cost an estimated $230 billion in additional deficit.

Save $1.8 trillion by reductions in mandatory spending not related to health care or social security.
The problem is the plan doesn’t say FROM WHERE and this is an area of the budget that has been historically very difficult to cut. Where could the cuts come from, these savings could come from cuts in unemployment funding, food stamps and agricultural subsidies. Even if this were possible, it would be immoral. This number is just wishful thinking.

Tax Reform REDUCING the MAXIMUM tax rate for corporations and individuals to 25%.
And how is this going to not drive us into a revenue debacle? they’re going to close unspecified “loopholes.” I TOLD you they were going to somehow reduce taxes for the rich and corporations. How about we close the “loopholes” and go back to the maximum tax rates before the Bush cuts?

Save $735 billion by converting Medicaid to block grants.
The problem with this approach is it may very well encourage, or force, states to further restrict eligibility to this program. So who gets hurt? The poor and the handicapped.

Save $389 billion by shifting Medicare to a defined-contribution voucher plan.
The AARP appears very skeptical about this both in terms of its savings and its negative impact on health care for the elderly.

So let’s be very clear about this. The Republican plan asks the elderly, the poor, the handicapped, the unemployed, farmers and those without medical coverage to shoulder the total responsibility for reducing the deficit and the federal dept while corporations and high income individuals GET A TAX REDUCTION!

What is wrong with this picture?

But let’s continue shall we?

Ryan’s plan also assumes higher growth rates than any recent projection has indicated and is claiming, based upon a Heritage Foundation projection, that unemployment would be reduced to 4% by 2015. That would be a pretty good trick since it hasn’t been that low since the Clinton administration and 5% is considered about normal. In order to get to 4%, someone would have to come up with around 7 million jobs and people currently out of the work force, would have to stay out of the work force.

So, as usual, the Heritage Foundation has its head firmly up its posterior.

This is the old nonsense about reduce corporate taxes and the taxes of the wealthy and someone that translates into new infrastructure, new jobs and the trickling down of prosperity to us less fortunate ones.

I have a better idea. Cut taxes for the working and middle classes, then we'll go buy more stuff, which will drive demand and then prosperity will bubble up.

Monday, April 04, 2011

The House Budget Committee Plan

The House Budget Committee is looking at the 2012 budget. This is the place where almost every economist says we need to get serious about cutting the deficit and the national dept. According to Rep. Paul Ryan, chairman of the House committee, the plan would cut $4 trillion over the next decade.

Well, at least we’re talking about the right kind of numbers. The question is how. The plan won’t be released until Tuesday so I suppose we’ll have to wait for details until then but, according to Ryan, the plan (1) addresses Medicare and Medicaid increases, (2) returns discretionary spending to 2008 levels and caps it based upon GDP and (3) pro-growth tax changes.

I don’t have a problem with (1) and (2) but (3) is often Republican jargon for increasing taxes on the working and middle classes while decreasing them for the rich and corporations under the Supply Side fiction that this will create jobs.

Demand grows the economy not supply. How come Republicans believe in Capitalism when it means taking away nickels and dimes from the poor but not when it means subsidizing corporations and the rich with $10s and $20s?

Still, I think I’ll reserve final judgment until I see the details.