Friday, April 27, 2012

Sandra Fluke announced her engagement, so Monica Crowley of Pox News tweeted, "to a man?"  When the comment was criticized, she added, "I love exposing the Left’s total lack of a sense of humor." You're wrong again, Ms. Crowley.  The problem is that you lack basic manners and common human decency.

Thursday, April 26, 2012

A response to Bobby's complaint about the noisy city

I know what you're missing!  The deep desert silence.  The vast stillness..except for the owls, but owls are soothing. And the frogs, which are not soothing, actually the frogs are awfully irritating.  And the coyotes howling that damned weird wailing howl all night, sometimes right in your own yard...which sets all the dogs to barking, unless they're also howling at the sirens rushing to St. Mary's.  But then the sheriff's helicopter comes sweeping over and all you can hear is the chop  choping of the rotors and the rattling of every loose thing in the house.  But, hey, the skunks are silent.  You'd would never know they're here if it weren't for the gut churning stench wafting in on the quiet desert zephyrs. Yeah, the city must be frustrating.

Sunday, April 22, 2012

Human health vs. corporate secrecy

From the LATimes:

Once again, Republican dominated state government is choosing concealment and protection for multi billion dollar corporations over the health of human beings.  A new law in Pennsylvania makes doctors fear to seek information on the chemicals to which their patients have been exposed.

-- The law compels natural gas companies to give inquiring healthcare professionals information about the chemicals used in their drilling and production processes — but only after the doctors or nurses sign a  confidentiality agreement.
  "I just want to make my patients healthy," (Dr.) Pare said, adding that she might sign an agreement. "And I  can't do that if I don't know what it is that's making them sick."
Supporters of the Pennsylvania law —- including the gas industry, Republican Gov. Tom Corbett and many legislators — said it was designed to help healthcare providers. Environmental groups and opposing  lawmakers said the provision was not in the natural gas law's original version and was slipped in behind  closed doors at the last minute by industry-friendly legislators. --

So the law's defenders say it will "increase disclosure," even as it prevents doctors from treating their patients effectively.  Yes, it helps doctors in not treating their patients.  What could be better than that?  Although, it does sound a lot like doublethink from the dystopian novel, 1984...

 -- "Right now, any physician reading the law would not go anywhere near the issue, because the language of the law has a very chilling effect," said Dr. Bernard Goldstein, former dean of the University of Pittsburgh  Graduate School of Public Health and an expert on possible health effects of natural gas development. "I  very much hope that the regulations permit" information sharing, he added.

Dr. Mehernosh Khan, who has filed suit against the state over the provision, (complained.... ). "The law sets up a precedent for doctors not  being able to practice medicine properly." --

But at least the corporation can continue keep secret the chemicals they're pumping into the environment.  That's so much more important than the health of Pennsylvanian families, isn't it?

Saturday, April 21, 2012

Rehabilitation or Protection?

In a report about the accused Norwegian right wing terrorist Anders Breivik. the LATimes reported:

-- If declared sane, Breivik could face a maximum 21-year prison sentence or an alternate custody arrangement that would keep him locked up as long as he is considered a menace to society. If found insane, he would be committed to psychiatric care for as long as he's considered ill. --

I find this especially interesting, as I have long suggested that we need to rethink our attitudes in regard to the purpose of the criminal justice system.  I do not oppose the idea of rehabilitation, but feel that the idea of clearing a dangerous violator of his crime by "paying his debt to society" is absurd.  Depending upon the seriousness of the crime and of theoretical threat to society. I contend that if an individual has committed a genuinely damaging act, and if that person constitutes a  continued danger, they should not be released from custody. If rehabilitation can be reasonably shown to have occurred, then the danger is eImitated and the offender can be released.  
However, the idea of releasing an individual who constitutes a serious danger to his fellow citizens when he is currently safely held in custody, seems to me to be irrational.  I prefer the Norwegian "alternate custody arrangement that would keep him locked up as long as he is considered a menace to society."

Remember that this only applies to dangerous individuals convicted of serious crimes. It should not be applied except in the most serious is cases.

Monday, April 16, 2012

Altruism, an adaptive trait

From an interview with E. O. Wilson by Charlie Rose, quoting from the New Yorker magazine:  "Wilson's larger point is that, to the extent that altruism exists, it isn't an illusion. Instead, goodness might actually be an adaptive trait, allowing more cooperative groups to outcompete their conniving cousins. In a field defined by the cool logic of natural selection, group selection appears to be the rare hint of virtue, the one biological force pushing back against the obvious advantages of greed and deceit."

From Science News, April 7, 2012:  Cheney relays the story of Ruby, a young, low ranking but gregarious baboon who lost all her kin in a leopard attack.  Because kin are the lifeblood of social support in female baboon society, a low-ranker such as Ruby night might be left with little access to food and other resources.
 Despite lacking the skills to set up a Twitter account, likable Ruby managed to build a network of followers by taking advantage of the social opportunities.  She spent hours grooming one particular high-ranking baboon, Sylvia, and managed to climb up the hierarchical latter, gaining access to the best food in the most desirable resting places.

More and more proof of the natural, evolutionary nature of altruism and cooperation is being uncovered by biologists, geneticists, neurologists, and other scientists.  Yet the Radical Republicans continue to insist that science and Christian belief are wrong.  They declare that all humans are naturally and completely selfish.  Only the Social Darwinism of Ayn Rand and the most extreme beliefs of Friedrich Hayek can be trusted.  Ideology trumps reality every time.  


Sunday, April 15, 2012

The Bailout

From the LATimes:

-- WASHINGTON — The Obama administration probably will make a profit on all the bailout money spent to prop up
 banks and other companies, as well as struggling homeowners, devastated by the Great Recession, according  to the latest federal projections.
   Over the next 10 years, the taxpayer-funded bailouts could produce as  much as $163 billion in profits, in a best-case scenario, from repayments, stock sales, dividends and interest paid by banking and
 insurance firms, auto companies and mortgage finance companies. --

More facts for the Radical Republicans to deny.

Saturday, April 14, 2012

Gingrich on guns

From the LATimes:  Gingrich on guns:

-- And, displaying the outsized thinking for which he is known, he said he would work to get  the United Nations to recognize the right to bear arms as a universal right.    "The right to bear arms comes from our creator, not from our government,” he said, to cheers. “It is one of the inalienable rights alluded to in our Declaration of Independence." --

Yes, as Jesus said, "Blessed are the gunmen, for they shall get shot."

Or, as Groucho put it, "They got guns, we got guns, all God's Chillun Got Guns",   There are those who say Groucho was spoofing  warmongers and racists.  Nonsense!  He was as serious as Gingrich!

It's the American Way, Instant Justice, just add guns!

Since so many people in the world laugh at America's obsession with, I mean dedication to, armed vigilantes roaming the streets looking for crimes to solve with gunfire, we must  force them to accept the guns and the gunmen they do not want.    Only then can every place be like Afghanistan.

Thursday, April 12, 2012

Man, the Beneficent

Democrats & Republicans Don’t Care Much About Each Other’s Physical Distress

Aren't we just the most wonderful creatures?

What piece of work is a man, how noble in reason,
how infinite in faculties, in form and moving,
how express and admirable in action, how like an angel in apprehension,
how like a god!

Yes, what a piece of work is man!

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Big Bang Theory

I was just watching my recording of the latest Big Bang Theory.  I couldn't help being amused by the ongoing conflict between Sheldon and Leslie Winkle.  As demonstrated in an earlier program, the key source of contention is loop quantum gravity versus string theory as a method of reconciling quantum physics with Einsteinian physics.  The reason this is so amusing is because in reality there is exactly such a sharp and often bitter conflict between the two groups. 

It actually is not unusual for scientists who hold conflicting opinions to get emotional over the issues involved.  This particular area, however, is especially hot. The reason is that for very long time those adhering to string theory got all the attention and all the research grants (that's money to us nonscientists) and were  insistent that loop quantum gravity believers were inherently wrong, largely because they insisted on there being 11 spatial dimensions in our universe. Obviously, insisted the string theory believers, there were only 10!  Okay, I admit this sounds pretty abstruse and uninteresting, but to those involved in the argument it wasn't just important; it was personal.

In more graphic terms, string theory was and is sexy.  Loop quantum gravity is your grandmother kissing you goodnight. When string theorists attacked loop quantum gravity theorists over the correct number of dimensions, it was like the first string football team teasing the chess club.

And then things got really fun.  After years of this ongoing series of Sheldon versus Leslie Winkle style confrontations between highly intelligent and superbly educated scientists, an announcement was made. It seems that there had been a problem with string theory--there were too many string theories. Depending on how you did the math, a variety of different outcomes were possible, each contradicting the others. They all seemed appealing, but when it comes mathematics you don't want a long line of competing outcomes. You want an answer. You want the answer.  

It seemed that string theory was hopelessly mired in a mass of uncertainty. But then a string theorist had a brilliant insight! He discovered that all these apparently contradictory results were actually different facets of one bigger result which brought everything together, resolved the conflicts, and saved string theory.  All you had to do to make everything work, he said, was to add an 11th dimension!

At this point you must remember that the string theorists had spent years and years sneering at the loop quantum gravity theorists because they insisted on 11 dimensions when there were obviously, absolutely, and totally undeniably only 10.

Loop quantum gravity theorists were not amused.

The resentments on both sides continue to this day.

Monday, April 9, 2012

The South Shall Fail Again!

The South is at it again.  Having failed to secede from the union, they've been trying secede from reality ever since.  I suppose I must say it again, but I am deeply spiritual person.  I feel the need to repeat this often because there are so many who insist that you can't be spiritual and also believe in the accuracy of science.  There actually is no such conflict. The problem arises because of basic differing worldviews which are pilososphic more than religious.

Now, try not to let your eyes glaze over because this actually is more interesting might sound at first.  The issue is actually not about believing or not believing in the existence and nature of God. It is, rather, about the nature of knowledge.  Epistemology is the philosophic consideration of what can be known, how we know it, and how much we can trust that knowledge.

Essentially, it comes down to a question of what we consider to be the most dependable and reliable source of knowing what is real.

The problem between those who accept the findings of science and those who insist that science and religion are eternal enemies lies in where the two different groups place their trust.  Those who insist that science is in fact accurate and factual place their confidence in a belief that the world is empirical. That is, one can determine the nature reality by testing and experimentation.  Those who reject science anytime it disagrees with their opinions, believe that the ultimate reality is what is contained in the Christian Scriptures. The source of conflict is obvious once you realize this basic fact. Obviously, the two groups have a totally different view what is real and what is not.

But there are Christians who believe that the objective world is real.  So, in fact, the conflict is not between science and religion. The conflict is between the worldview that there is an objective reality and the worldview that objectivity does not matter since what the Scriptures say is the only thing that is real.

In other words, only some religious views are inherently opposed to science. Many are not. Which is why many scientists do hold both religious and scientific beliefs. Which is why I hold both religious and scientific beliefs.

It isn't that the conflict doesn't exist. It does. But it exists only for a small group. Science does not automatically oppose religion except in the minds of a very small number of scientists. And religion does not negate the accuracy of science, except in the minds of a very few members of the religious community.

It's all just a matter of epistemology.

From the LATimes:

-- The Tennessee measure does not require the teaching of alternatives to scientific theories of evolution, climate change, human cloning and "the  chemical origins of life." Instead, the legislation would prevent school administrators from reining in  teachers who expound on alternative hypotheses to those topics.

...The measure's primary sponsor, Republican state Sen. Bo Watson, said it was meant to give teachers the clarity and security to discuss alternative ideas to evolution and climate change that students may have picked up at home and want to explore in class.

...On its website, the council says the bill is needed because "in many classrooms, Darwinian evolution is currently taught in a completely one-sided manner, with most students never learning anything about  growing scientific controversies

...Biologists say there is no scientific controversy over evolution, only a political one. --

I must give Tennessee credit for one point, however.  it is true that science is currently taught in a completely one-sided manner in our schools. So is mathematics. It's about time for math teachers to tell students that 2+2 might equal four. At least some mathematicians say so. But then again it might just equal 79. It's up to you to decide.

Sunday, April 8, 2012


Easter is a good time to remind any who read this that while I spend a fair amount of blog space criticizing extremists on the religious side of American politics, I also find time to criticize atheist extremists as well. This is largely because I am an avowed enemy of all extremism, but anyone who wants to understand me also needs to know that I am deeply spiritual. I have been distant from God of late for a variety of reasons, but I intend to return to meditation and seeking the ecstasy known only to those who have been one with God. The Buddhist meditator says one with everything, the atheist meditator says one with the universe. We all feel the same ecstasy. We interpret it differently.

I wish a blessed and joyful Easter to all! Whatever you believe, or do not believe, I say, " Peace on earth, to men of good will."

God be with you, one and all!

Saturday, April 7, 2012

The Joys of Privatized Health Care

From theLA Times:  Our 7-year-old daughter awoke screaming and could not be comforted or touched. We took her to the emergency room.
  Now our insurance company is denying the visit, saying that  it wasn't medically necessary for her to be seen in the ER. Yet the emergency room physician considered a spinal tap to rule out meningitis. How could this visit not be necessary?

What's not to love about private insurance? No government rationing of care, just money grabbers rationing of care.  7 year olds don 't need medical care, and they csn't pay for it anyway.  They just mooch off their parents.  Little socialists!

Friday, April 6, 2012

A Never Ending Story

In a comment that I added to a recent post, I referred to the controversy over whether evolution benefits individuals only or can directly affect the survival of groups.  I noted that Richard Dawkins takes the traditional view, that evolution can benefit individuals only, and that any benefit gained by a group is coincidental and accrues through the individual benefits.  On the other side, saying that both individuals and groups can benefit from natural selection, are Niles Etheridge and the late Steven J Gould.

I was quite surprised to discover that E. O. Wilson, of evolutionary psychology fame, also believes that both individuals and groups can benefit from the process of natural selection.  A book review in this month's Scientific American magazine looks at his recent publication The Social Conquest of Earth, and makes the point.

The topic of the book actually refers to kin selection, an idea which Wilson was championed in the past, but is now rejecting. I find this particular controversy, that is, the one regarding group versus individual benefits resulting from natural selection, highly interesting.  It shows that science continues, as always, to evolve and develop.  It is this constantly changing nature of science that makes this area of human knowledge so appealing to me. I consider science as a constantly evolving mystery novel which never actually has a climax, final resolution, or denouement. The story simply keeps on evolving and changing. Each mystery solved creates new mysteries.  It truly a Never Ending Story.

Oddly, it is this very nature which so deeply offends those who are becoming deniers of science. They want answers--perfect, complete, absolute answers.  This is something which science cannot give. All science can give you is the best possible answer available at this moment in time.  The fact that this answer is almost always correct doesn't avoid the difficulty its critics perceive– –it may be correct, but it isn't absolute, perfect, and unchanging.

Absolute, perfect, and unchanging, are so important to them that they are not troubled if their answer is wrong; as long as it is perfect, absolute, and unchanging.

I have explored this problem before, commenting that it is an attitude which has destroyed many great civilizations. I remain an optimist, our civilization is not on the verge of being destroyed.  Nevertheless, there is no doubt in my mind that there are forces, very powerful forces, which are attempting to do unto Western Civilization that which was done unto China, the Islamic empires, and numerous other once great societies. I am confident they will fail in their assault on our success. However, even if they fail, they seriously wish to create a world in which reality is no longer real. A world in which facts are not important.  They strive to build a world in which their dreams, fantasies, and whatever makes them feel good is accepted as the ultimate reality. They want facts that are better than facts, reality that is realler than real. They want it their way.

They have succeeded in the past.  We must not let them dismantle our achievements and bury Western Culture in the midden of history.

Thursday, April 5, 2012

The Constitution and Me

The Supreme Court's involvement in the healthcare issue has become very interesting side show. One is tempted to say freak show.  Extremely strange and utterly irrational arguments are  being made even by the justices themselves.  I'm certain that everyone is heard the broccoli argument. Apparently, many otherwise rational people think that providing for health care for Americans is the same thing is ordering them to buy broccoli.  One is tempted to say that this argument is idiotic. However, it is more than that.  It is borderline insanity.

The argument only makes sense if one assumes that the government is not a necessary evil, but an unnecessary and even cancerous evil.  One can only assume that the radical right-wing justices believe in anarchy.  This would explain their irrational fear of government.

It should be noted here that I have said all along that the radical right-wing of the Republican Party is wrong to state that Obamacare, as they refer to it, is unconstitutional.  A law of this nature is new, so the question is open. 

This statement should be: We do not know if the law is constitutional or unconstitutional. We must test it in court and find out. 

I consider this law to be appallingly bad.  Since it is a radical right wing Republican law designed and created in one their private little think tanks, this is not surprising. Radical Republicans believe there is a private solution to every problem, but it is economically impossible to create an effectively functioning health care system which actually provides healthcare using a for-profit model. Private enterprise simply cannot perform this function.

Not long ago, Mr. Santorum was asked a question regarding our current system.  A college student was the questioner. The student said he didn't "think God appreciates the fact that we have 50,000 to 100,000 uninsured Americans dying due to a lack of healthcare every year," citing a 2009 study out of Harvard University.

"Dying?" Santorum answered before going back and forth about the validity of the study.  After all, who cares if tens of thousands of Americans die every year? At least, it doesn't matter as long as you can pretend that they didn't die. The game of pretend is utterly essential to the Republican worldview.

In spite of Mr. Santorum's reaction, I think most people would agree that Harvard University is not noted for its extremely inaccurate, politically motivated distribution of misinformation.

If those tens of thousands of Americans had had the good luck to have been born in Germany, Japan, Canada, or any other wealthy nation in the world, they would be alive today.  Sadly, they were born in America, a nation too poor to provide a national healthcare system to its citizens.

It ain't easy being poor. I guess we Americans better just get used to it.

The Nonexistent

By believing passionately in something that still does not exist, we create it. The nonexistent is whatever we have not sufficiently desired.
Franz Kafka...Schocken Books

The motto of the Republican Party and Fox News!

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Professional Malpractice

If it were up to me, I would ban the use of standardized tests in education except for the purpose of psychological evaluation. These tests are not designed for the evaluation of school compared to school or even individual student progress. Their use for such is professional malpractice.

This then, leads to the question, why do we misuse them?  The answer I think, lies in the fact that very few people have any understanding of exactly what a standardized test is. Unless you are a trained educator, and unless you are an educator particularly trained in the use of tests and measurements, it is unlikely that you have even the vaguest notion of what the term means.

Most people assume that the word standardized means that the test has been made standard. That is to say, that it is the same test given to all the children so that the results will be the same matter where the test is given across the country. This is not what it means.  A standardized test is a test which has been carefully designed to create a particular statistical distribution of all the people who take that test.  The results must be a bell shaped curve and only a bell shaped curve. Any other distribution of results means that the test is flawed and inaccurate.  It is not properly standardized and its results are not reliable. 

This means that if we accept standardized testing as the methodology by which we judge how well our schools, teachers, and students are performing, certain statistical consequences are inevitable.  Standardized tests will always, let me emphasize ALWAYS result in 25% of our schools being rated excellent, 25% of our schools being rated substandard, and 50% of our schools being judged as falling in between those two extremes.

This means that if American teachers, parents, and students do a miraculous job of teaching and of learning so that all American fourth-graders were reading at a 12th grade level, the standardized test results for that year would show that 25% of those gifted fourth-graders would be reading at an excellent level, 25% of those gifted fourth-graders would be reading below an acceptable level, and 50% of those gifted fourth-graders would fall in between those two extremes.

But if fourth-graders are actually reading the 12th grade level, and if the tests are fair, 100% of those fourth-graders should be shown as reading at an excellent level. Well, not if you're taking a standardized test. A standardized test always places 25% of test takers in the substandard category, 25% of the test takers in the exceptional category, and the other 50% of test takers as falling in between those extremes. That's what makes it  "standardized".

Now let's take a look at the opposite possibility. American teachers, apparently crazed by union membership, decide to do nothing at all in class all year long. American kids, being incredibly lazy, spend all their time in class sleeping. And American parents, not caring about their kids' education, don't do anything about it.  Things are so bad that not a single American fourth-grader can recognize all the letters of the alphabet.  What would the standardized test results for that year show?

That's right! You got it!  The standardized test results for that year would show that 25% of those ignorant fourth-graders would be reading at an excellent level, 25% of those ignorant fourth-graders would be reading below an acceptable level, and 50% of of those ignorant fourth-graders would fall in between those two extremes.

Exactly the same results that we would get if all students suddenly turned into super geniuses. If this sounds crazy to you, then you don't understand how standardized tests work. The entire purpose of a standardized test is to compare where a person places on a bell shaped curve. In terms that Americans unfamiliar with statistics, tests, and measurement might better understand, it's grading on the curve gone insane.

Standardized tests are very useful under certain circumstances. For example, in evaluating where a person falls in the range of intelligence or some other specific trait.  However, they are 100% totally ineffective and inaccurate for judging how well a teacher is teaching, how well a student is learning, or how well a school is performing.

I repeat: These tests are not designed for the evaluation of school compared to school or even individual student progress. Their use for such is professional malpractice.

But this still leaves the question unanswered, why do we misuse the tests in this manner?  It isn't surprising that average Americans don't know much about standardized tests. Why should they? This is specific expert knowledge.  But mathematicians, psychologists, psychometrists, teachers trained in tests and measurements, and many others do know these facts. So why aren't they speaking up and questioning the way in which these tests are being misused?

I don't know. It simply makes no sense to me. They know this is true. They've been taught this is true. So why are they silent? I still don't know. You'll have to ask them.

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

The straight tax proposal

When she was still a candidate, Michelle Bachmann pointed out that America can no longer afford the welfare state. Amazingly, I agree with her! It is time we stop giving welfare to the wealthy.

1470 households with an income of $1 million or more in 2000 paid zero federal income tax. Source: the IRS

The average federal income tax rate of the wealthiest 400 Americans is 18%. Source: the IRS

Hedge fund managers and private equity funds pay 15% capital gains rates and have no payroll taxes . Source: the Associated Press

We need a straight tax.  That is a tax which is exactly what it says it is.  No loopholes, no credits, no legal evasion possible.  To those who feel that the government must give assistance to Americans who have children, or buy a home, or have great wealth, I say, OK, give these groups a government grant.  Giving them a tax exemption seems cost free when it is not.  Giving them a government grant is open and honest in declaring its cost to the revenue stream of the US.

I expect few tax payers who support, say, head of household exemptions would support a  government grant for having children!  But that is exactly what the exemption is, only it is in disguise.  Even fewer would support grants to the wealthy or to huge corporations.  That's why we will never get a straight tax.

Monday, April 2, 2012

The US Senate

A joint study of CBS news and the National Journal reports that, based upon congressional voting records, the US Senate elected in 1982 had 60 -- that's 60 -- moderates whose voting records could not be predicted by simple party affiliation. By 1994, there were only 36 moderates in the Senate. After the 2002 elections, there were only nine moderates in the Senate. And finally, in 2010, there were no moderates in the US Senate. Say, you know, I wonder if that might have something to do with the problems this country is facing in getting the government to govern ?

Sunday, April 1, 2012

The separation of church and state

Responding to an LA Times article on religious displays in a public park for Christmas. An atheist group demanded and recieved space for their message, which consisted of insults to the religious beliefs of their fellow citizens.

Once again, as a religious person, I believe in the separation of church and state. I am convinced it protects religion far more than it impedes it.  However, I think it is interesting to note that the religious displays in the park are intended to suggest peace on earth, harmony, and joy to all.  The insulting and sneering reference to myths placed by the atheists however, can only be regarded as confrontational, rude, and intended to bring discord.

While some symbols of the season are clearly religious others are not so clear. Are Christmas trees religious symbols or secular? Depends on who you're asking. Is the Iron Cross a religious symbol? Is it a symbol of Germany? Is it a Nazi symbol?  A symbol of honor and bravery? It all  depends on who you're asking.  As a deeply religious individual, I do believe the separation of church and state protects religion, but I don't think we should get obsessive-compulsive about it.

But the Pox Propaganda Channel is right on this one!  Everyone, whatever their religious persuasion, should be legally forced to say Merry Christmas! Since the word Christmas derives from Christ's Mass this will declare the holiday is indeed totally Catholic, of, by, and for Holy Mother Church.  And who could argue with their opposition to the word holiday? That word derives from holy day. And therefore, by opposing the use of this word, the Pox Propaganda Channel is taking the position that Christmas is not a holy day and that it is morally wrong to suggest that there is anything holy about the birth of Christ. Go FOXNews , go!