Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Proponents And Skeptics

From Deep Freeze by Josh Marshall:

I've always been curious why it is that the big proponents of the theory of man-made global warming tend to be scientists and the big skeptics tend to be talk radio hosts and members of Congress.

Moving Along

From Chuck Lorre Productions, #248:

I believe that Newton's first law of motion is the reason we will emerge from our current economic woes. That law states that an object at rest tends to stay at rest and an object in motion tends to stay in motion with the same speed and in the same direction unless acted upon by an unbalanced force. How does that relate to the financial #$%*storm we're now cowering under? Allow me to explain. There are slightly less than seven billion people on this planet. Assuming that roughly half that number are either too young, too old, too lazy, or too loaded to work, that still leaves almost three and a half billion people getting up in the morning to chase the almighty dollar, the transcendent rupee, the zen yen,the dear ol' euro, the what's goin' on yuan, the... well, you get the idea. Now, call me crazy (and many have called me far worse), but I happen to think that three and a half billion motivated people is one big damn object in motion. And the only thing acting against that object is the friction caused by a small bunch of greedy, dumbass, screw-the-pooch, Ivy League pot stickers (the unbalanced force). I therefore assert that the unbalanced force (you know who you are, shame on you), will eventually be overwhelmed by the object in motion (three and a half billion people with pluck, aka pluckers), thus allowing the object in motion to continue its relentless journey forward, thriving and conniving until it is once again slowed down by other unbalanced forces, or a very large meteorite. Or a plague. Or fundamentalists with nukes. Or atmosphere-eating nanobots. Or a super volcano. Or Skynet. Or Cylons.

Sunday, March 29, 2009

Go To Hell

From In Dante's Footsteps by Alan Abelson:

Every since first reading Dante, we've been dying to visit hell, but while loads of people have told us to go there, no one ever provided reliable directions on how to get to the place.

The Predictions Of Experts

From Learning How to Think by Nicholas D. Kristof:

The predictions of experts were, on average, only a tiny bit better than random guesses — the equivalent of a chimpanzee throwing darts at a board.

“It made virtually no difference whether participants had doctorates, whether they were economists, political scientists, journalists or historians, whether they had policy experience or access to classified information, or whether they had logged many or few years of experience,” Mr. Tetlock wrote.

Indeed, the only consistent predictor was fame — and it was an inverse relationship. The more famous experts did worse than unknown ones. That had to do with a fault in the media. Talent bookers for television shows and reporters tended to call up experts who provided strong, coherent points of view, who saw things in blacks and whites. People who shouted — like, yes, Jim Cramer!

Mr. Tetlock called experts such as these the “hedgehogs,” after a famous distinction by the late Sir Isaiah Berlin (my favorite philosopher) between hedgehogs and foxes. Hedgehogs tend to have a focused worldview, an ideological leaning, strong convictions; foxes are more cautious, more centrist, more likely to adjust their views, more pragmatic, more prone to self-doubt, more inclined to see complexity and nuance. And it turns out that while foxes don’t give great sound-bites, they are far more likely to get things right.

This was the distinction that mattered most among the forecasters, not whether they had expertise. Over all, the foxes did significantly better, both in areas they knew well and in areas they didn’t.

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Palin's Picky Praying

From Palin's prayer remark angers former staffers by Peter Hamby:

Some of Sarah Palin's former campaign aides are frustrated with the Alaska governor for remarking in a lengthy, freewheeling speech that she had refused to pray with them before last October's vice presidential debate.

Palin told the story in a speech to a GOP dinner in Alaska last Friday.

"So I'm looking around for somebody to pray with, I just need maybe a little help, maybe a little extra," she said of the moments before the debate. "And the McCain campaign, love 'em, you know, they're a lot of people around me, but nobody I could find that I wanted to hold hands with and pray."

As the audience laughed, Palin noted that she meant no disrespect to the McCain campaign and that ended up saying a prayer with her daughter Piper.

A handful of the McCain campaign staffers who traveled with the former vice presidential nominee nearly every day for two months caught wind of Palin's remarks on Thursday morning — and they aren't thrilled with her quip.
Read the rest here.

Quote Of Note - Eliza Dushku

"You have a better chance of seeing God than seeing me naked." Eliza Dushku

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Who's Got The Power?

From Is The Hunter Being Captured By The Game? by Danny Schechter:

The mistake that many make is to confuse the trappings of symbolic power with the exercise of real power. Truth be told, real power is exercised mostly by unchecked private interests, lobbyists and our media. They have the power to obstruct policies, stir up controversies and orchestrate pressure to kill measures they don't like. They are well-funded minority and work skillfully in the shadows and through highly paid PR practitioners.

Every politician knows that these non-elected power centers often have more power than elected decision makers. They know that Congress is a swamp of competing interests catering to provincial needs.
Powerful lobbies from two private sector complexes and one country have disproportionate clout. There's the long-standing military-industrial complex, there's the financialized credit and loan complex and there are the bully boys of Israeli hegemony.

Friday, March 20, 2009

The Axis Of Drivel

From Three Blind Mice by Charles M. Blow:

The Republicans have reached a new low, literally.

According to the most recent NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll, the percentage of Americans who view the Republican Party positively is at an all-time low. Meanwhile, President Obama’s positive rating is at an all-time high, and the Democratic Party’s positive rating is near its high.

Why? Because the Republicans have dissolved into a querulous lot of nags and naysayers without a voice, a direction or a clue, and we are not amused.

And who has surfaced as their saviors? Bobby Jindal, Michael Steele and Rush Limbaugh — the axis of drivel.
Read the rest here.

“The axis of drivel” is a great phrase. I wish that I had thought of it.

The Bushisms Continue

"I'm going to put people in my place, so when the history of this administration is written at least there's an authoritarian voice saying exactly what happened." George Bush

Monday, March 16, 2009

AIG Bonuses

This all seems to be so absurd. Where would AIG be today without the bailout money? Would they go further into debt simply to pay bonuses? Would they even exist as a company? If they didn’t exist, would they still be “obligated” to pay bonuses?

From Obama Administration Must Stop Bonuses to AIG Ponzi Schemers by Miles Mogulescu:

It's time for some righteous populist anger from the Obama administration--not just in words, but in deeds--to stop the looting of the Federal Treasury by Wall Street executives using taxpayer money to pay bonuses to the very people who manipulated markets and were instrumental in bringing the international financial system crashing down on the heads of hundreds of millions of people in America and around the world. If the Obama administration doesn't stop AIG from paying hundreds of billions of dollars in bonuses, it will enable a popular uprising (led, unfortunately, by hypocritical Republicans posing as populist leaders) which will block the Obama administration from taking the actions necessary to save the financial system. It could destroy Obama's Presidency and lead to a decade-long depression.

Instead, while AIG prepares to use hundreds of millions of dollars in taxpayer money to pay bonuses to the very executives at AIG's Financial Products Unit who designed, managed and marketed the credit default swaps which were little more than a Ponzi scheme, the Obama administration sends out Tim Geithner, Austan Goolsbee, and Larry Summers to lamely express fake anger to the media while defending the payments on the grounds of the "sanctity of contracts". As Larry Summers timidly told George Stephanopoulos, "The easy thing would be to just say...off with their heads, violate the contracts. But you have to think about the consequences of breaking contracts for the overall system of law, for the overall financial system."
Read the rest here.

Saturday, March 14, 2009

Oh Jesus

God Has A Food Fetish

“He’s got a spoon full of Jesus.”

“…but how ‘bout the Virgin Mary in some salsa?”

“Is it a holy image, or a bucket of filth?”

“There’s a frying pan Jesus, from Texas.”

“This isn’t the only Jesus cheeto.”

“His name shall be Cheesus.”

“It’s a sign that people who ride motorcycles should believe in God.”

“Have you found Jesus in food?”

“Can you see Jesus in the sonogram?”

“I can see some John Lennon in there, but I can see Jesus as well.”

Friday, March 13, 2009

Still Lying After All These Years

Ari Fleischer on Hardball with Chris Matthews:

…I believe this still today, and of course you and I disagree with it, but after September 11th, having been hit once, how could we take a chance that Saddam might not strike again? And that’s the threat that has been removed, and I think we’re all safer with that threat removed.
Is Fleischer lying or simply ignorant?

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Barack vs Rush

If there were no Limbaugh dittoheads, would Obama have a 100% approval rating?

From Obama v. Limbaugh: Poll finds it's no contest by Steven Thomma:

The deepening recession is taking a slight toll on President Barack Obama's standing, but he's still twice as popular as archnemesis Rush Limbaugh, according to a new McClatchy-Ipsos poll.

The survey found that 65 percent of Americans approve of the way Obama is doing his job roughly 50 days into his presidency. That was down slightly from 69 percent a month ago.

At the same time, 29 percent disapprove of Obama's performance, a small increase from 26 percent a month ago. The poll of 1,070 adults taken last Thursday through Monday has an error margin of plus or minus 3 percentage points.

Still, the president's numbers remain high, roughly twice as high as his predecessor's in his final year in office and more than twice as high as those for Limbaugh, the right-wing radio talk-show host.

The poll found 30 percent of Americans with favorable opinions of Limbaugh, and 46 percent with unfavorable opinions. A solid 33 percent of all Americans have "very unfavorable" opinions of the talk show host.

The numbers help explain why Obama and his team relish a pitched battle with Limbaugh, a polarizing figure who's enormously popular with his fans but deeply unpopular with even more people.

A Tax Form Question

Why does line 1(d) of Schedule D say Sales price when a better term would be Proceeds or Proceeds from sale or Total proceeds?

Just wondering.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Madoff vs Mortgages

The last several months have been filled with reporting about Bernard Madoff. We’ve also heard a lot about mortgages. Many seem to want to crucify the people who took out a mortgage to buy a home and now are having trouble making their payments. Why are these people not considered to be victims of a corrupt system? Rick Santelli considers them to be “losers.” And why are the people who invested in Madoff seen as victims of a corrupt system? Why isn’t Santelli labeling them as “losers” as well?

The people who invested in Madoff should have known better. Perhaps there are many who invested in Madoff and didn’t lose all of their money. The news media does not tell us of these investors, however I assume that they exist. The news media does focus on those investors who lost everything with Madoff. Why did these investors do this? They broke several of the most basic rules of investing. They did not diversify (they put all of their money with Madoff) and they did not invest only money that they could afford to lose.

Don’t get me wrong, Madoff is a crook and deserves what is probably coming to him. I am simply wondering why these two groups of victims have been treated differently by the news media. Is it because one group is poor and the other group is/was rich?

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

“Oh, oh, a comedian is attacking me!”

From Jim Cramer fires back at Jon Stewart amid debate over financial coverage by Matea Gold:

The ongoing economic crisis has now spawned another contretemps: a full-blown media feud between “Daily Show” host Jon Stewart and CNBC pundit Jim Cramer.

As the two television personalities exchanged retorts on the air this week, a broader debate is raging about whether the financial press did an adequate job covering Wall Street’s handling of the complex transactions that precipitated the current recession. CNBC, the most prominent business news network, has come in for a large share of criticism that the media failed to alert the public to the system’s precarious footing.
Read the rest here.

For what it’s worth, I think that Cramer is obnoxious and not worth listening to, and that Stewart is funny and worth listening to.

Monday, March 9, 2009

Quote Of Note - Bertrand Russell

"In all affairs, it is a healthy thing now and then to hang a question mark on the things you have long taken for granted." Bertrand Russell

Sunday, March 8, 2009

Short And Long

Capitalism and Wall Street seem to encourage short-term thinking, rather than long-term thinking. Planned obsolescence may be good for the economy in the short-term, but is it a good strategy for the long-term? Our politicians, our news media, and most of us seem to be stuck in short-term thinking mode. Noise has replaced substance.

From the book Fooled by Randomness: The Hidden Role of Chance in Life and in the Markets by Nassim Nicholas Taleb:

…my Monte Carlo toy taught me to favor distilled thinking, by which I mean the thinking based on information around us that is stripped of meaningless but diverting clutter. For the difference between noise and information, the topic of this book (noise has more randomness) has an analog: that between journalism and history. To be competent, a journalist should view matters like a historian, and play down the value of the information he is providing, such as by saying: "today the market went up, but this information is not too relevant as it emanates mostly from noise." He would certainly lose his job by trivializing the value of the information in his hands. Not only is it difficult for the journalist to think more like a historian, but it is alas the historian who is becoming more like the journalist.
I try to force myself to take the long-term view of things. One example of this is that I try to invest in stocks, rather than trade stocks. I’m not saying one is better than the other. Investing suits my temperament, however. I also think that if everyone is trading and no one is investing then we tend to have huge bubbles and huge bubbles bursting.

Short-term thinking tends to be more arrogant, in my view. George W. Bush is a short-term thinker, in spite of all his talk of history judging him after he is dead. He did not take into consideration all of the things that could go wrong when he invaded Iraq . Someone with a long-term view would be more likely to have considered the many ways that war goes wrong.

I used to think that I knew what long-term thinking was. That was before I came across The Long Now Foundation. Like nearly everyone, they also have a blog.

Friday, March 6, 2009

CNBC - "The Intelligence Of A Box Of Parrots"

Thursday, March 5, 2009

Mihaly And Chuck

How many people find wisdom in both Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi and Chuck Norris? I can find wisdom in the writings of Mr. Csikszentmihalyi, but I do not find wisdom in the writings of Chuck Norris. Apparently Paul B. Farrell thinks that both men impart wisdom. This makes me doubt the wisdom of Paul B. Farrell.

From The Zen Millionaire's 14 secrets to happiness by Paul B. Farrell:

4. Happiness is getting lost in whatever you're doing

Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi looks more like Engelbrecht's jolly St Nick than a psych professor. In Martin Seligman's "Authentic Happiness," Mihaly says: "Isn't it funny? I've been studying happiness for at least 40 years, but I still don't have a definition of it. The closest one would be that happiness is the state of mind in which one does not desire to be in any other state. Being deeply involved in the moment, we do not have the opportunity to think about anything but the task at hand -- hence, by default, we are happy."

5. Happiness is getting into action and doing what's right

In "The Secret Power Within: Zen Solutions to Real Problems," Chuck Norris says: "At heart, we all want the same thing, whether we call it 'enlightenment,' 'happiness' or 'love.' Too many people spend their lives waiting for that something to arrive -- and that's not the Zen way. Zen is always on the side of action, always on the side of doing what is necessary and right."
Does Chuck Norris even understand Zen? Perhaps he needs to kick a little less and meditate a little more.

Wednesday, March 4, 2009


What would Rush do? Unfortunately he won’t shut up, so we all know what he does. Nothing but talk. And all of it is destructive, none of it is constructive.

Rush wants Obama to fail. He now has clarified his statements to include the word policies. He wants Obama’s policies to fail.

What would Rush say to someone who said that they wanted George W. Bush to fail and that they wanted his policies in Iraq to fail? Unpatriotic and treasonous come to mind.

Is Rush Limbaugh unpatriotic and treasonous?

“That’s the nature of this job, baby” cracks me up.

Why does Matt Lauer not question Michael Steele when Steele says: “I don’t think that Republicans, Democrats, or Independents, or anyone wants policies that redistributes the wealth of this country, wants policies that nationalizes our health care…” Steele is basically lying here, and Lauer is complicit in the lie. Many people do want a progressive tax (something we have had for a very long time, even Bush didn’t completely get rid of it; yes, Bush redistributed wealth!) and many people support universal health care.

Once again Steele perpetuates the lie that Republicans think of the small business owner as the saviour of the country. Once again I will ask the question: if the small business owner means so much to the economy, why do the Republicans only offer tax cuts to the wealthy as a solution? Small business owners are not wealthy, big business owners are.

“One of the challenges that is presented to the minority party is to get heard.” Really? Rush Limbaugh is on the radio every day, Republican Congress members are on television whining all the time, and Michael Steele is on the Today Show. I’m listening. The rest of America is listening. You are heard. We just don’t like what you have to say. We don’t want America to fail. Why does Mr. Limbaugh?

The polices of George W. Bush have failed us. The policies of the Republican Party have failed us. The policies of Rush Limbaugh have failed us. At least give Obama a chance.

Perhaps Rush Limbaugh is part of the problem. I really don’t see him as the solution.

Tuesday, March 3, 2009


Does Rush Limbaugh actually have the power to make Republican Party Chairman Michael Steele “bend over” (one of Mr. Limbaugh’s favorite phrases) and apologize?

From Angry Rush Limbaugh Strikes Back at RNC’s Steele:

Limbaugh also accused the RNC chair of disloyalty, since he'd appeared as a guest on Limbaugh's show during his failed 2006 Senate run in Maryland.

"My parents taught me when I was growing up that you always stood behind people who defended you, that you never abandon people who stood up for you and defended you against assault," Limbaugh said.

Steele, for his part, is backing down on his comments.

"My intent was not to go after Rush – I have enormous respect for Rush Limbaugh. I was maybe a little bit inarticulate . . . There was no attempt on my part to diminish his voice or his leadership….," Steele told Politico Monday

He added: "I went back at that tape and I realized words that I said weren't what I was thinking. It was one of those things where I thinking [sic] I was saying one thing, and it came out differently. What I was trying to say was a lot of people … want to make Rush the scapegoat, the bogeyman, and he's not."

Asked by Politico if he was apologizing to Limbaugh, "I wasn't trying to offend anybody. So, yeah, if he's offended, I'd say: Look, I'm not in the business of hurting people's feelings here . . . My job is to try to bring us all together."

Much of the dust-up between Rush and some Republicans came after his rousing CPAC speech in which he railed against the Obama administration for spreading fear in order to promote a liberal, big-government agenda. In the speech he repeated his controversial remarks from January that he hoped Obama failed.

"What is so strange about being honest and saying I want Barack Obama to fail if his mission is to restructure and re-form this country so that capitalism and individual liberty are not its foundation?" he asked an enthusiastic crowd at CPAC.
Does the Constitution mention capitalism? Did the founders debate the merits of capitalism? When has Barack Obama ever said that he wants to destroy capitalism and individual liberty? Why does Rush Limbaugh have so much power and why is Michael Steele such a wimp? We got rid of George W. Bush. Why can’t we get rid of Rush Limbaugh? Wouldn’t the Republican Party be better off without him? Wouldn’t the country be better off without him?

Monday, March 2, 2009

Read The Damn Bill!!!

Congress doesn’t even know what they are voting for or against.

From Read the Bill, Group Tells Congress by Kim Zetter:

Didn't have time to read the 1,100-page stimulus bill before it passed? You're not alone. Neither did anyone in the House and Senate who signed away $790 billion of taxpayer money.

It's not the first time federal lawmakers quickly passed legislation without reading it or giving anyone else time to read it.
Read The Bill

All Natural

Are the same people who once wanted the repeal of the Natural Born Citizen clause of the Constitution (so that the Terminator could run for president) now the ones complaining the loudest that Obama is not really the president because he wasn’t born in the United States? I’m just wondering.

Once upon a time, right-wing-nut heroes like Orrin Hatch proposed a Constitutional Amendment to allow foreign-born individuals to run for President of the United States.

They were for a foreign born president, before they were against a foreign born president.

(For the record, I know that Obama was born in Hawaii.)

Anapestic Tetrameter

"And today the Great Yertle, that Marvelous he
Is King of the Mud. That is all he can see."

Happy Birthday to Theodor Seuss Geisel.

Sunday, March 1, 2009

Who Cares?

Grover Norquist does not like President Obama. Grover Norquist does not like children. Grover Norquist is not in favor of higher taxes for poor people. Grover Norquist is in favor of cancer for poor people.

From Newt. Again. by Matt Bai:

I got a sense of what this kind of combative approach might sound like when I called Grover Norquist, the anti-tax zealot who convenes a weekly meeting of influential Republican operatives. Norquist was fuming that Obama, who had pledged not to raise taxes on anyone but the wealthy, had just signed a children’s health care bill that included a tax on cigarettes.

“He’s a liar,” Norquist said of the president. “He knew he was lying the whole time. Shame on him. He can no longer look us in the eye and say he won the election fair and square.” This seemed a little strong to me — it wasn’t as if Obama had just dumped nine million stolen votes out of a suitcase onto his desk — but Norquist was getting himself worked up now. “Rich people like him can afford an extra 61 cents,” he went on. “Poor people can’t. And he does not care.”
Let me try to understand this. Is Grover Norquist actually in agreement with Obama here? Because it sounds to me like Norquist is saying that a higher tax on rich people is OK, and that a higher tax on poor people is not OK. So, Grover Norquist favors a progressive tax? Just like Obama does.

Phew, I’m glad I didn’t have to write about Newt!

Religion As A Nonissue

Perhaps I should move to Scandinavia. (Why is the New York Times misspelling Scandinavian?)

From Scandanavian Nonbelievers, Which Is Not to Say Atheists by Peter Steinfels:

Phil Zuckerman spent 14 months in Scandinavia, talking to hundreds of Danes and Swedes about religion. It wasn’t easy.

Anyone who has paid attention knows that Denmark and Sweden are among the least religious nations in the world. Polls asking about belief in God, the importance of religion in people’s lives, belief in life after death or church attendance consistently bear this out.

It is also well known that in various rankings of nations by life expectancy, child welfare, literacy, schooling, economic equality, standard of living and competitiveness, Denmark and Sweden stand in the first tier.

Well documented though they may be, these two sets of facts run up against the assumption of many Americans that a society where religion is minimal would be, in Mr. Zuckerman’s words, “rampant with immorality, full of evil and teeming with depravity.”

Which is why he insists at some length that what he and his wife and children experienced was quite the opposite: “a society — a markedly irreligious society — that was, above all, moral, stable, humane and deeply good.”
Then again, maybe I shouldn’t move to Scandinavia. Socrates said that “The unexamined life is not worth living.” The idea of living somewhere where religion is unimportant is appealing, but the idea of living among people who think that the Bible "is full of nice stories and good morals" is scary.
Beyond reticence, Mr. Zuckerman found what he terms “benign indifference” and even “utter obliviousness.” The key word in his description of their benign indifference is “nice.” Religion, in their view, is “nice.” Jesus “was a nice man who taught some nice things.” The Bible “is full of nice stories and good morals, isn’t it?”

Beyond niceness came utter obliviousness.

Thoughtful, well-educated Danes and Swedes reacted to Mr. Zuckerman’s basic questions about God, Jesus, death and so on as completely novel. “I really have never thought about that,” one of his interviewees answered, adding, “It’s been fun to get these kinds of questions that I never, never think about.”

This indifference or obliviousness to religious matters was sometimes subtly enforced. “In Denmark,” a pastor told Mr. Zuckerman, “the word ‘God’ is one of the most embarrassing words you can say. You would rather go naked through the city than talk about God.”
Then again, maybe I should move to Scandinavia.
Social conformity or not, Mr. Zuckerman was deeply impressed with the matter-of-fact way in which many of his interviewees spoke of death, without fear or anxiety, and their notable lack of existential searching for any ultimate meaning of life.

A long list of thinkers, both believers and nonbelievers, have posited something like an innate religious instinct. Confronted by the mystery of death or the puzzle of life’s ultimate meaning, humans are said to be hard-wired to turn to religion or something like it. Based on his experience in Scandinavia, Mr. Zuckerman disagrees.

“It is possible for a society to exist in which most people don’t really fear death all that much,” he concluded, “and simultaneously don’t give a great deal of thought to the meaning of life.”
At one point, he queries Jens, a 68-year-old nonbeliever, about the sources of Denmark’s very ethical culture. Jens replies: “We are Lutherans in our souls — I’m an atheist, but still have the Lutheran perceptions of many: to help your neighbor. Yeah. It’s an old, good, moral thought.”
I have never understood how believing in fairy tales and lies makes death more tolerable. I have never understood why life must have meaning. I have never understood why the universe must have a beginning. If God always was and always will be, why can’t the universe? Atheists can be moral people. Religious believers can be immoral people. God does not make any difference.

I believe in helping my neighbor. I do not believe in God.