SocraticGadfly: 5/18/08 - 5/25/08

May 24, 2008

U.S. protection for polar bears not enough

After all, two-thirds of them live in Canada, and Canada needs to do its part, as DeSmog Blog notes.

That said, the ruling does do something. Despite Interior Secretary Dirk Kempthorne’s denial that the Endangered Species Act can be a tool to tackle global warming, despite his attempts to loophole around that, we now have something in writing.

And, while the “threatened” status of the ESA doesn’t have a lot of teeth, should this, as is likely, not have enough force and polar bears soon become “endangered,” there’s a lot more legal teeth there.

Follow the links at the top story webpage for all the details about Interior Department loopholes in polar bear protection, too.

‘Wired’ green roundup – ‘Onion’ parody as reality

Not all ‘top 10’ green cars are actually green
Starting your list of your top 10 “green cars” with an E85 Viper burning NON-green corn ethanol shoots your green cred in the foot right off the bat.

Car No. 3? Hydrogen powered. May or may not be eco-friendly, though fuel cells on any smaller scale than an office building probably aren’t. And, infrastructure issues are obviously being ignored.

Car No. 4? A diesel-powered Audi is NOT eco-friendly if a fuel-only engine is generating 650hp.

But, why stop there?
Atmospheric tinkering overlooks recent research
Wired then pulls the old “salvific technologism” out of its bunghole. On global warming, it says we can prevent it by, among other things, seeding the atmosphere with aerosols.

Not. Recent research has shown that if you use some aerosols, you could start new havoc on the ozone layer. Oops.

As for giant mirrors in orbit, I doubt that’s been fully priced out, just like oil prices for the U.S. don’t include our military in the Middle East.
Finally, set up the straw man
Another Wired article mentions all the technologies and partial solutions for global warming that greens allegedly oppose.

Nuclear power? I’m OK with it, actually, as are many other people, if we address the nuclear waste issue and don’t subsidize power plant construction out the ass.

Urban density? The schmuck who wrote this blog post (anonymously) has obviously never heard of New Urbanism and its environmental angles.

If you follow the link to the whole list of “green heresies,” it’s like Wired deliberately hired some ax-grinding libertarian to write this up. That includes suggesting buying a 1994 49hp car over a new Prius.

As for all the stories/blog posts in total, they sum up the worst of Wired on this issue.

With a self-alleged eco-friend like this, who needs enemies?

Microbe symbiosis – the latest findings in exobiology

Some microbes “pioneer” cold rocks, creating heat to attract other microbes.

Why is this important?

It’s another anecdotal example of the power of evolutionary biology, another anecdotal example to bring up against intelligent design claims.

The Phoenix is about to land

NASA has had a dicey history with Mars probes, but, if all goes according to plan, the Phoenix will land in the Martian Arctic tomorrow.

I’ll probably drop some initial “science awe” observations on here Monday.

May 23, 2008

Happy Memorial Day – enjoy the great outdoors

That’s what I’ll be doing, so blogging will be light, as I get out of Dodge a little bit.

First, I’m going to the Wichita Mountains National Wildlife Refuge in Oklahoma, pictured at right, with more pictures of my own, of this area plus Palo Duro Canyon, here. It’s a great place, with small lakes, creeks, low mountains (more than hills) bison, longhorns, elk, deer, prairie dog villages and a variety of hiking.

Also, spring wildflowers are in bloom this time of year, including Indian paintbrush, coreopsis and more.

Anyway, it's a nice, leisurely drive from Dallas. I'm heading up tonight, and will crash in my car somewhere.

Then, it’s on to Caprock Canyons (pictured) and/or Copper Breaks state parks in northwest Texas’ upper Red River valley.

Don’t know if I’ll get out to Palo Duro. Yes, trying to economize the gas a little bit.

Sistani may give Moqtada al-Sadr green light

The incomparable Juan Cole points out that Iraq’s Shi’ite Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani is under pressure to issue a fatwa against the presence of American troops in Iraq.

Ironically, Iraq Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki’s claim that Iraq troops would be ready to “stand up” by the end of this year gives Sistani this leeway. The U.S. presidential election is a background factor, of course.

McCain will be hard put to rationally defend any sort of longer-term occupancy if Sistani pulls the trigger.

McCain doctors hypocrisy on medical records

If John McCain’s medical records release was supposed to not include psychological records, then why did his doctors keep going out of the way to say he was “pleasant”?

Just saying.

Yahoo postpones annual meeting

Jerry Yang is trying to
work out a deal with either Carl Icahn or Microslob.

Not sure which is worse.

The meeting’s been delayed until July. That also puts it past second-quarter earnings time, which will either show that Yang is starting to deliver results on improving Yahoo, or will up the pressure on him.

Kevin Drum’s worst post of this week

It’s a clear winner when you say Joe Biden, Sen. MBNA, would make a good vice president. Kevin didn’t even have to link to Megan McArdle to win this baby, either.

Friday scatblogging – Scat’s weblog is pretty crappy

Scat’s weblog is the actual name of this Wordpress blog.

It’s in the Ron Paul/tinfoil hat area. Especially when I saw a post about HAARP (Wiki description) being “weaponized” and even made into HAARP 2.0, I had read enough.

Sadly, it’s that thin of a week for scat!

Texas CPS will appeal FLDS appeals court ruling

How much more money does the state want to waste?

Plus, in the case of the inevitable lawsuits, does this leave the state open to charges of gross or deliberate behavior?

NOLA – 17th Street Canal levee leaking


The Army Corps of Engineers claims “no oops.” I’m surprised it isn’t claiming that it is creating a new wetland or something.

Cost? Not quite priceless. Just billions of dollars.

Plus, the reason for the leak could mean other levees aren’t so hot, either.

Maybe Ford will go bankrupt

Ford’s announcement Thursday that it will cut both second and third quarter production by nearly 20 percent sure looks like it could — and should — promote bankruptcy talk.

Hell, it would be one of the best things that could happen for America environmentally.

Toyota’s not virgin-pure, certainly not after opposing California’s CO2 emissions control attempt. (Which we hope is eventually enacted.)

But, it’s way ahead of the Formerly Big Three.

Ford trotted out a diesel-hybrid car at auto shows a couple of years back. Is one in production? No.

GM puts light hybrids on its trucks and SUVs, but the world’s largest maker of hybrid-drive buses, via its GM-Allison subsidiary, can’t see fit to make a hybrid.

Chrysler is worst of all, but being privately held, technically can’t go bankrupt.

If Ford or GM goes bankrupt, Toyota would have a shell for a Prius factory somewhere. In fact, maybe now, even, Toyota could buy a plant that is “temporarily” (yeah, right) idled for pennies on the dollar.

Ford shares dropped 8.2 percent Thursday. If gas goes even higher than Ford’s pegged $3.75-$4.25 range, look for all the formerly Big Three to tank even more.

Faith-based English in Texas?

Texas says “we will teach goodly English.”

We just will ignore our state’s English teachers’ ideas on how to do that.

That’s the Religious Right, euphemistically called “social conservatives” by their quasi-cohabitator Dallas Morning Snooze, doing another stealth job.
“It is disheartening that the board has completely discounted the recommendations of teachers who are in the classroom teaching these subjects,” said Cynthia Tyroff of Texas Council of Teachers of English and Language Arts, one of 17 teacher associations that worked on the teacher-backed plan.

You know what’s also disheartening? We’re stuck with the state’s new English instruction standards for the next decade.

Hasta la vista, good grammar!

Texas CPS in fighting mood after FLDS custody ruling

Texas Child Protective Services is giving hints it will appeal the Third Court of Appeals ruling to the Texas Supreme Court:
The Department of Family and Protective Services issued a statement defending the raid, saying it removed the children “after finding a pervasive pattern of sexual abuse that puts every child at the ranch at risk.”

It’s true that CPS found signs of sexual abuse in five children.

But, five out of 200 does NOT make a “pervasive pattern.”

I’ve gone past the point of wondering about possible lawsuits to HOPING that CPS gets its ass sued off.

Obama cannot ‘outmilitary’ the GOP

That is, in case you don’t get it, a riff on George Wallace pledging nobody would “out-nigger” him in future Alabama gubernatorial contests.

Specific to now, I apply it to Barack Obama’s vice-presidential search.

Wesley Clark is yesterday’s news and brings nothing to the table.

Jim Webb, as I blogged earlier this week, brings too much non-liberal stuff to the table.

So, IMO, though I am still quite likely to vote Green or not at all, if Obama wants to tack in the right left direction, he’ll skip both of these two.
Obama cannot ‘outmilitary’ the GOP

Meat – it’s what keeps the FBI away from dinner

The Federal Bureau of Instigation is seeking “moles” to infiltrate “vegan potlucks” of presumed protestors in Minneapolis during the Republican National Convention.

Why does this not surprise me? Can you say “summer surprise”?

May 22, 2008

Appeals court undercuts 'don't ask don't tell'

The U.S. armed forces have not proved positive harm results from gays in the military, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals has ruled. So, it has reinstated the lawsuit of Maj. Margaret Witt against the Air Force, saying the service must prove her dismissal advanced military goals of troop readiness and unit cohesion. In fact, one judge said the ruling didn’t go far enough.

Note — this did not overturn the policy. But, it certainly set the grounds for it., as her case goes back to district court for trial.

The AP notes this is the first appellate-level ruling on gay rights since the Supreme Court’s Lawrence v. Texas ruling declaring Texas’ sodomy law unconstitutional in 2003.

‘Cuddle chemical’ can make you TOO trusting

Oxycontin, the so-called “cuddle chemical,” or lack thereof, may be a key to phobias, autism and other neural disorders. A study showed that people clearly betrayed by another person would continue to trust that person after a whiff of an oxycontin-containing nasal spray.

Philip Morris buys off VCU

Virginian Commonwealth University has a deal with Philip Morris so secretive most faculty don’t know it even exists.The research contract bars participating professors or the university as a whole from talking about any research findings, let alone publishing them.

Third Court of Appeals — let go of FLDS kids

Texas’ Third Court of Appeals said Texas Child Protective Services has no right to hold on to the children it seized after a raid at the Fundanmentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints compound at the Yearning for Zion Ranch last month.

The court ruled the CPS did not present enough evidence at a hearing last month that the children were at risk of abuse to justify keeping them in state custody.

It also ruled that Judge Barbara Walther abused her discretion in failing to return the children to their families. (Shock me!)

Long-term, who knows what’s up. But, short-term, it seems clear that CPS is going to have to reunite kids with their mothers.

Long-term, as I, the excellent Grits for Breakfast and other bloggers have noted, it seems even more likely now that the state is facing some big-ass lawsuits.

Skepticism – in limericks!

The newest Skeptics’ Circle is up, including a contribution by yours truly.

Irony alert and hypocrisy alert – ID theft

Never promise to paying customers that you can be so sure you can protect them from ID theft that you dare thieves, in TV commercials, to steal your own ID. Never promise that on TV when your own ID has been stolen nearly 100 times.

Why does Bush hate children?

500 Iraqi children would like to know what compassionate conservativism really means. And why the U.S. and Somalia are the only two countries who officially define compassionate conservativism this way.

What next on the farm bill?

Congress left 34 pages out of what it sent Bush for his eventual veto.

It looks like it will have to vote anew on the whole thing.

Meanwhile, Bush’s Deputy Agriculture Secretary, Charles Conner, has objected beyond BushCo’s original objection to the bill leaving rich farmers eligible for subsidies, that the new bill sets payment baselines too high:
A blog item posted Monday by the agricultural magazine Pro Farmer described the new program, known as Average Crop Revenue Election (ACRE), as “lucrative beyond expectations,” and said it is a “no brainer” for farmers to sign up for it.

I don’t want to stint farmers, certainly, but I don’t want to give corporate farmers a bushel of money in a silver bushel basket.

Alaska to sue over polar bear listing

The state of Alaska, boo-hooing that listing polar bears as “threatened” under the Endangered Species Act, says it will sue the U.S. Department of Interior.

You know, Alaska reminds me of Utah, and Alaskan politicians of Utah counterparts, specifically over their fights over Grand Staircase-Escalante, etc.

They make massive amounts of money off tourism, probably more in Alaska and definitely more in Utah, in the short term than off extractive industries, and definitely much more in the long term.

But both states lust after carbon, whether in the form of oil or of coal, like a cheap junkie looking for a fix. And, their eyes can’t see beyond that next fix.

US – pro-torture and pro-destruction

Shock me that BushCo opposes getting rid of cluster bombs.
The United States and other key cluster bomb producers and stockpilers are absent from an Ireland meeting where more than 100 nations are pursuing negotiations launched last year in Norway for a treaty banning the munitions.

Others absent are China, India, Israel, Pakistan, and Russia.

Nice to see that, once again, we’re in such stellar company.

BushCo claims cluster bombs can be technologically fixed. Yeah, right.

Next, Bush will make the same claim about land mines.

Dallas County $17 mil shortfall – November fallout

Yes, part of the biggest budget hole in a decade is gas prices and other overhead.

But, as Lew Sterrett is a primary part of the problem:
Sheriff Lupe Valdez's overtime spending is nearly $6 million over budget this year – the largest shortfall in any single category. Her agency is projected to spend a total of $8.3 million in overtime this year, most of it generated by the jails.

A budget report said an average of 70 jail guard vacancies has contributed to the high overtime costs. Commissioners have added new positions throughout the year, and the Sheriff's Department is struggling to fill those jobs. The sheriff is hampered by the fact that there are only so many academy classes that can be held to train recruits.

There’s no way Lowell Cannady doesn’t bring this up in the sheriff’s race against Valdez.

And, while I agree that Dallas, having the lowest tax rate of any county in the state, not counting Parkland’s special taxing district, has room to bump that up, John Wiley Price’s mentioning of that certainly wasn’t said in a politics-free sense.

At the least, Price had better spell out what the next 2-4 years’ budgets, needs, plans and priorities will look like for the Sheriff’s Department if Valdez is to be re-elected.

As of right now, I think she’s fighting an uphill battle, even though the county is moving more Democratic all the time.

A hybrid tugboat?

Yes, says General Electric.

Shipping is dirtier, global-warming wise, than aviation. And, the GE boar could use 35 percent less fuel as well as burn 80 percent cleaner. And, GE has made a major investment in a lithium-ion battery maker.

Does McCain have PTSD?

No, the term wasn’t invented until seven years after his return from Hanoi but it sure does fit.

Of course, McCain’s medical records release Friday won’t include psychiatric records.

Yes, he may have benefited from confinement, but you can benefit and be hurt as well.

The Salon story does a well-balanced job on the issue.

I think it’s safe to say that even if McCain would not have been diagnosed with full-blows PTSD, he would have been diagnosed with some sort of mental condition.

And, if you know anything about PTSD, not to justify McCain’s stance, it would explain WHY he’s so inflexible on this.

With this all in mind, it puts every McCain vote on veterans’ healthcare of the recent past, and any pending votes of the future, in a harsher spotlight.

May 21, 2008

Pander alert – Congress moves to sue OPEC

A bipartisan clusterfuck in the offing as Congress votes to subject OPEC to U.S. antitrust law.
“This bill guarantees that oil prices will reflect supply and demand economic rules, instead of wildly speculative and perhaps illegal activities,” said Democratic Rep. Steve Kagen of Wisconsin, who sponsored the legislation.

First, what proof does he have that oil is NOT following “supply and demand” right now? Has he not hear of Peak Oil? Has he not considered the possibility?

Second, people are willing to pay the prices on the demand side, obviously.

Third, unless it targets foreign countries’, or nationalized oil companies’, investments in the U.S., it’s legally unenforceable.

Fourth, it’s a waste of hot air instead of actually discussing the “what ifs” if Peak Oil is actually being entered right now.

Fifth, the White House is right; shutting down foreign-owned refineries in antitrust suits would only exacerbate the problem.

Sixth, the stupid cutesy name of NOPEC is enough to make me barf.

It would also create an ad hoc Justice Department task force that would probably undergo bureaucratic metastasis, and it would push through ad hoc changes in the Sherman Antitrust Act.

If legislation is the proverbial sausage making, then this baby makes Oscar Meyer braunschweiger look like USDA Prime porterhouse.

And people wonder why I am not likely to vote for either major party. That said, I want to see the Senate vote on this issue, specifically Schmuck Talk Express™, Just.Another.Politican. and Bill Clinton II vote on this baby. (Or try to dodge voting on this baby.)

Meanwhile, a moron in Chicago believes that the U.S., et al, actually have the willpower, or the raw power, to form an OPIC of oil importers.

Pander alert update: Congress grills Big Oil.

Hypocrisy alert update: Big Oil says open ANWR, stop “restricting” Colorado oil shale (it isn’t, other than reasonable environmental restrictions), etc.

Meanwhile, although the poll I wrote a week or two ago about expected Labor Day gas prices threatens to become out of date, give it your best shot.

Free polls from
By Labor Day, oil prices will be ....
$125/bbl $130/bbl $135/bbl $140/bbl $145/bbl $150/bbl or more   

On the coffee table – ‘God in the White House’

Randall Ballmer, though an editor at large at the evangelical “organ,” Christianity Today, is not your stereotypical “conservative knee-jerk Republican evangelical.” Far from it. He’s also a professor of religious history at both Barnard and Columbia, and a visiting professor at Yale.

In short, he knows his stuff. And, in this book, his “stuff” is exposing the hypocrisy and vacuousness of Presidential church-state mixing. While much of his dirt-turning is focused on the GOP presidential side, he doesn’t let Clinton’s religious claims versus some of his actual practices go unscathed, either.

Anyway, to the highlights of the book. Here it is at Amazon.

Jimmy Carter? Likely the most decent, moral and religiously active president of the last 50 years. Yet, ditched by the Religious Right.

And, not because of abortion. But, because the Religious Right wanted segregated Southern private schools to keep tax exempt status, even as they saw the handwriting on the wall for Bob Jones University.

That’s the biggest debunking of conventional wisdom you’ll find in this slim volume.

Normally, I don’t five-star books this size, but, this one is on the 4/5 star border and deserves the bump.

Randall Ballmer does an excellent, nonpartisan job of looking at how faith and presidential politics have mixed from the 1960 campaign, in which John Kennedy defended the right of a Catholic to run for the White House, up through George Bush’s talking about the immorality of abortion without doing anything about it, while claiming moral stature for torture.

That, then, leads to one of two highlights of this book.

Ballmer lists sample questions the mainstream media should have asked presidential candidates of the past, both liberal and conservative politically or religiously, both Democratic and Republican. Specifically, these are follow-up questions the MSM should have asked presidential candidates of the past after particular faith-based statements.

In these sample questions, Ballmer said the MSM should have asked Bush just how he squared abortion talk with lack of action, or how Clinton squared Baptist piety with Monica Lewinsky. That fact, right there, belies one current three-star rater, and others to come, who claim Ballmer doesn’t know what he is talking about just because his definition of “evangelical” isn’t limited to “conservative, Republican-voting evangelical.”

The second special area is major religion-related speeches of modern presidents, from Kennedy’s legendary talk to the Houston Ministerial Association, to LBJ’s “Great Society” speech, on to Ford’s defense — with his mentioning of the role of prayer and faith — in his pardon of Nixon, through Carter’s “crisis of confidence” (NOT “malaise”) speech, Reagan on the Statue of Liberty centennial, Clinton on presenting Billy Graham the Congressional Medal of Honor, and George W. Bush on 9/11.

That said, while I wish the MSM would do just the follow-up work Ballmer cries for, it doesn’t ask that depth of follow-up questions in fields in which it might theoretically have more knowledge, so I’m not holding my breath here.

Peak Oil roundup – Iraq reserves and Big Oil money

Iraq claims more reserves than Saudis
Iraq has upped its oil reserve claims to 350 billion barrels, well ahead of Saudi Arabia’s 264 billion barrels.

Right. Mark this with the same truthfulness level of any other statement out of the government of Nouri al-Maliki in the past year.
Oil majors spend $100 billion to drill
Major oil companies will spend that much this year in their worldwide hunt for oil. Non-OPEC supply will account for only about 20 percent of global production increase.

That’s why futures markets are betting oil at $120/bbl or better for the next eight years, and even that is wildly optimistic.

Of course, the article is right on the head-butting between Big Oil and OPEC members. But, as OPEC members (that’s you, Hugo Chavez) hit harder-to-produce, harder-to-refine heavy/sour oil, something will have to give. You can’t charge $150/bbl for oil you can’t produce or refine.
Oil breaks $130
Need I say more?

Meanwhile, although the poll I wrote a week or two ago about expected Labor Day gas prices threatens to become out of date, give it your best shot.

Free polls from
By Labor Day, oil prices will be ....
$125/bbl $130/bbl $135/bbl $140/bbl $145/bbl $150/bbl or more   

Bob Woodward – ‘self-effacing guy’

That’s the word from Washington Post Executive Editor Len Downie said about the legendary-in-his-own-mind Woodward continuing to work for the WaPost at a buck a year as a “special asset” after taking a Post buyout.

American slashing flights to force up prices

American says it will cut seat miles 11-12 percent in the fourth quarter of this year. Other airlines, to lesser degrees, are likely to follow; it’s a way of raising costs without adding fuel surcharges.

At least it won’t be until the fourth quarter.

The move was recognized as a sign of weakness; AMR stock was off 15 percent.

And, it happened as part of the annual shareholder meeting of American parent AMR:
“The airline industry as it is constituted today was not built to withstand oil prices at $125 a barrel, and certainly not when record fuel expenses are coupled with a weak U.S. economy,” AMR Chief Executive Gerard Arpey said in a statement.

“The industry will not and cannot continue in its current state,” Arpey told shareholders at the company's annual meeting in Fort Worth, Texas on Wednesday.

So, does that mean American’s looking at merger possibilities?

Meanwhile, the move is in stark contrast to Southwest, which announced yesterday it is expanding service out of Denver.

No wonder our school kids are science-ignorant

Our teachers aren’t teaching it.

One-quarter of public school science teachers teach either open creationism or stealth creationism, aka intelligent design, in their classrooms. And 50 percent of them, or one-eighth the total …
called creationism a “valid scientific alternative to Darwinian explanations for the origin of species,” and the same number said that “many reputable scientists view these as valid alternatives to Darwinian theory.”

What’s the solution?
The study's authors note that courtroom victories — classroom creationism has consistently been struck down in U.S. courts — is apparently insufficient to guarantee an accurate depiction of evolution. Nor will rigorous state science standards, like those recently passed in Florida, do the trick. Instead they recommend teacher certification requiring the completion of an evolutionary biology course.

I totally, 302,875,106,592,253 percent agree. (That’s 13 to the 13th power; what could be more anti-superstitious than that?)

See here, at PLoS, for full survey of teachers.

Wanted – YOU – to stop wasting 27 percent of your food

Yes, YOU. An estimated 27 percent of the food produced for consumption in our country winds up in landfills. That means it’s not just some person down the street wasting food, it’s you and I .

First, read that number again — 27 percent.

One more time. It’s 27 percent.

What is your, or your family’s, wastage like compared to the “U.S. in wasted food” graphic above, the monthly average for a family of four? Be honest.

Meanwhile, if you want to know more about the problem, and what you or I can do to address it, bookmark this new blog: Wasted Food .

‘Purity dads’ – just what were THEY like as teens?

Are these daddy-sponsored purity proms a case of “do as I say, not as I did 30-35 years ago”?

Answer? A probable yes. The wolf best knows the sheep’s weakness, after all.

What Philip Morris won’t tell – keep smoking to go bald or gray

The evidence is becoming stronger by the day of a statistical connection; even Asians, who rarely go bald, are more likely to lose their hair if they smoke.

Funny how you don’t see bald men and gray-haired women in Marlboro and other commercials, isn’t it?

Nanotech like asbestos?

For years, many environmentalists and others have been warning we don’t know enough about nanotech to believe all the hype about it some people have been throwing against the wall. Well, now we know more, and it doesn’t sound pretty Nanotubes may cause lesions similar to those that asbestos causes. With asbestos, those lesions eventually turn into mesothelioma.

It is true that the news is good here, insomuch as the potential danger was discovered well in advance.

Vicki Colvin, a professor of chemistry at Rice University in Houston, who was not involved with the research, said she wasn’t worried, but that the use of nanotubes should be better labeled.

But another researcher wants to proceed from stricter presuppositions:
“I think there is clear evidence for caution in how they are used and handled,” said Andrew D. Maynard, chief science adviser to the Project on Emerging Nanotechnologies at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars in Washington and (one of the authors) of the Nature Nanotechnology paper.

Maynard said nanotubes should be subject to the same rules and regulations as asbestos.

“That gives you a good baseline starting point,” Dr. Maynard said. The rules could be relaxed if nanotubes turned out to be less toxic, he said.

Sounds reasonable to me.

But, expect the lobbying effort against such sensibility to start gearing up … about now.

Senate GOP wants Bush to take on unemployment

You can tell this is an election year in which Republicans are running scared. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid has a number of add-ons for the upcoming Iraq war funding bill, including things such as a 13-week extension in unemployment benefits.

The GOP doesn’t like these things, but in an election year in which Republicans are vulnerable in several Senate seats and running from behind, the Senate GOP is ready to try pulling the wool over the public’s eyes.

They’ll let Reid get his amendments, without the threat of filibuster, then led Bush veto the omnibus bill.

They’ll then vote to uphold Bush’s veto, while trying to blame him for the whole problem.

How, how well the Democratic Senate Campaign Committee can explain this to the public is the key issue.

‘Sulu’ getting married

Congrats and happiness to George Takei and Brad Altman.
“Marriage equality took a long time,” Takei said, “but, like fine wine, its bouquet is simply exquisite.”

May 20, 2008

Icahn lusting after Circuit City AND Yahoo?

This from a man who allegedly doesn’t even use a computer. Carl Icahn not only wants to control one of the three major web portals in the country, but one of its top electronics stores as well. Corporate trader gutter Icahn has lined up financial backing for Best Buy to take over Circuit City.

First, how much is Chainsaw Carl going to bid Circuit City down? Since nobody besides BB has indicated a big interest, Shortcut City stock is worth about as much as George W. Bush-imprinted toilet paper as of this moment.

Second, how much free money does Icahn have to play with if he’s also chasing Yahell?

Third, will he name Dallas Mavericks owner and pseudo-renegade Mark Cuban to the board of a combined Circuit City/Best Buy, as John C. Dvorak halfway seriously, halfway waggishly guessed he would do if he took over Yahoo?

Fourth, just how well off is Best Buy? They’re not doing so hot right now, and, per Jim Jubak, look for Chinese inflation to put a rising bite on U.S. consumer goods in coming months.

China gives and China takes away on inflation — especially for WallyWorld

Jim Jubak tells us why soaring oil prices could be a big double whammy. Chinese companies have eaten all the costs increases they can and they ain’ts gonna eats no more.

That means YOU, Wal-Mart, where a whopping 70 percent of the goods are now “made in China.” Ironically, economic talking heads are mentioning how the recession is going to drive more and more people to Wal-Mart.

Well, global inflation is probably going to start giving people Wal-Mart sticker shock. Considering that official officially unreliable inflation rate for April was 4 percent, and was really at least 5 percent and growing, by the time we get to back-to-school shopping in August, a lot of Chinese-made clothes, shoes, etc. ain’t gonna be near the price of a year before.

Get ready for the NEW new sawbuck and fin

No, it’s not the Treasury’s latest anti-counterfeiting move.

Paper money discriminates against the blind. A federal appeals court, by a 2-1 vote, has upheld the ruling from District Judge David Robertson on the issue:
“A large majority of other currency systems have accommodated the visually impaired, and the Secretary does not explain why U.S. currency should be any different,” Judge Judith W. Rogers wrote for herself and Judge Thomas B . Griffith.

Sounds like a slam-dunk ruling to me, under provisions of the Americans with Disabilities Act.

According to the American Council of the Blind, about 1 million Americans are legally blind, and another 2.4 million have vision of such quality they cannot distinguish denominations of paper money. (Pictured at right is how Canadian currency uses Braille-like features.)

The Department of the Treasury had argued it would cost about $178 million for new presses and $37-$50 million per denomination for new printing plates.

But, Robertson said in his original ruling that he did not see an undue burden in the issue.
“Of the more than 180 countries that issue paper currency,” Judge Robertson wrote on Nov. 28, 2006, “only the United States prints bills that are identical in size and color in all their denominations.”

Vending machines may cost as much as $3.5 billion to retool, Judge A. Raymond Randolph said in his dissent.

But, this will be a phase-in over several years. Companies will keep old vending machine equipment patched together while waiting for the details of new bills.

McClatchy — just another newspaper company

Forget their in-depth, unbiased Iraq coverage. When outsourcing jobs to India is the least problematic of your newspaper job downsizing actions, you’re just another big conservative newspaper company at bottom line.

Southwest bullish in the face of high fuel costs

Southwest Airlines is expanding Denver service, with flights to San Francisco and Omaha, among other things, at a time when other airlines are cutting flights in order to force up costs, rather than adding more and more surcharges to flights.
To do so, Southwest will be keeping two airplanes that it had planned to retire. In all, it now plans to expand its fleet by a net of 13 airplanes this year, compared to the seven that it projected on April 17.

In all, Denver service will grow from 79 to 95 daily departures.

As often is the case, Southwest is playing against type. Since it continues to turn profits, it has the leverage to do this. Given that Frontier has filed for bankruptcy, Southwest has room to do this, and that can’t help Frontier’s reorganization plans.

This will also put pressure on United’s Denver hub, just as we all wonder whether it’s merger talks with Continental are still off, or about to turn on again.

Hmm — is a Continental/Frontier, or United/Frontier, marriage a possibility?

Funny, just a few years ago, Southwest was acting like somebody had put a gun to its head to force it to return to Denver. (It had refused to fly DIA for several years.)

That said, I’m still surprised that Southwest hasn’t cast an eye on Colorado Springs. The Springs has two problems; the airport is just accessed by a boulevard and not a freeway, and winter weather. But, the weather isn’t that cloudy, and if the Springs’ city government said it would provide freeway access as an economic development incentive, I think Southwest would have to jump; at the least, it would beat DIA over the head for lower landing fees, a Southwest specialty tactic.

Evolutionary biology impacts obesity and stress

Monkeys, especially when lower on the totem pole, just like we homo sapiens, pig out on junk food, or comfort food, if you will, to attempt to reduce stress, or, more likely, to attempt to reduce feeling stress.

Did Armando of Kos fame help Sierra-Clorox deal?

Even if the infamous Armando Lloréns Sar, formerly of Clorox-representing McConnell Valdés, is no longer there, I wonder if he has any connection to Sierra’s greenwash deal with Clorox.

First is Armando’s own history with Clorox.

Second is the Sierra Club’s (indirect) history from 2006 in in greenwash, this time with Wal-Mart hiring former Sierra president and “death of environmentalism” prophet Adam Werbach.

And, per Armando’s Wiki post, Wal-Mart is among his current clients.

So, did he have any role in the Sierra-Clorox hookup? Possible.

Provigil – the next performance-enhancing drug?

Actually, it already is. I read this story and thought, if this is for real, how could a pro athlete NOT take Provigil?

Then, per Wikipedia, I read that not only is it so being used, but the World Anti-Doping Agency banned it way back in 2004.

That means that Bud Selig, Roger Goodell and David Stern will start worrying about it in, about, 20 years or so.

Viagra good for your real love muscle too - and Levitra and Cialis

From the “yes, that’s actually true” department, Viagra may fight heart disease.

Viagra, along with cousins Levitra, and Cialis, might lower heart risk by one-third.

Don’t laugh; read the story.

Of course, most people don’t realize how inaccurate studies are in the field of medicine, compared to physics.

In medicine, you can have a false positive rate as high as 5 percent and it’s still considered a well-constructed study.

In physics, the baseline is 0.01 percent, just 500 times higher.

In other words, while Viagra MAY turn out to be the real deal, it may not, at all.

$21 mil on FLDS raid

Our budget-minded Texas Gov. Helmethair, aka Rick Perry, remains silent as the taxi meter spins ever faster on how much money the state of Texas is blowing on the aftermath of the ill-conceived raid on the Yearning for Zion Fundamentalist LSD compound.

The estimated annualized cost? A cool $21 million, and you know that’s an underestimate.

Plus, that doesn’t factor in the private costs, such as gas costs for mothers to visit children scattered out to multiple foster parents.

And, per GOP-style calculations, it also doesn’t figure in lost time and wages, efficiencies, etc.

WTO countries lower expectations for Doha

And, perhaps, they have raised the chances of success of past presidents, we have plenty of reasons to be concerned.

Time is of the essence. Negotiating countries want a deal by the end of this year, with the change in U.S. presidents as well as the European Commission executive, and elections in India next year.

The base of a deal is already in place:
The United States would cut its farm subsidies, blamed by poor countries for squeezing their farmers out of the market — a sensitive issue at time of food shortages in the developing world.

The European Union would open its protected market for food by cutting agricultural tariffs, giving developing country food exporters such as Brazil new opportunities.

And developing countries would cut their industrial tariffs, opening their markets to manufactures in rich countries.

Basically, a revised Doha would lower its sights on how much to accomplish this year, while locking a mechanism for further progress into some sort of place, albeit somewhat loose, to be sure.

With the “South”/undeveloped world holding newly inflated cards in things like biofuels, the North is getting shoved to the table more.

What is Schmuck Talk Express™ hiding in his unreleased med records?

Based on health secrets of past presidents, we have plenty of reasons to be concerned.

Every intelligent American my age or older knows about Jack Kennedy’s Addison’s disease. Twenty years before that, we had FDR suffering congestive heart failure at the climax of World War II.

Go back further. Woodrow Wilson suffering a stroke while campaigning for the League of Nations. Grover Cleveland’s jaw cancer.

Yes, we know about these things today. But people at the time didn’t.

And, in at least two presidencies, this had serious consequences.

Certainly, Wilson’s wife running his presidency was unconstitutional. And, Vice President Marshall might have actually come to a compromise with the Senate on the League of Nations, to boot. Of course, we had no 25th Amendment then.

Kennedy’s variety of drugs for Addison’s, plus other drugs he took for the effects of those drugs, arguably influenced him mentally as well as physically.

So, what is John McCain hiding?

Yes, he’s “supposed” to release his medical records Friday. But, he’s been stonewalling for months.

What is John McCain going to try to sanitize Friday?

Bullshit from USDA won’t help grow crops

Agriculture Secretary Ed Schafer said government mandates of, and subsidies for, corn-based ethanol don’t have a major effect on food prices.

Right. And the economy really did grow in the first quarter.

As for the Grocery Manufacturers’ Association’s claims that the ethanol mandate, and subsidy, keep its members from producing cheap food, what Kraft Crap produces is not food but ‘food-like substances.” Instead of stuffing America full of white flour, high-fructose corn syrup, and soybeans run through pork bellies, why not give us some real food?

May 19, 2008

Soros thinks IMF economic analysis is too charitable

Billionaire investor George Soros thinks what he calls a 25-year financial bubble is about to fully deflate.

Result? The U.S. recession is going to be worse than most experts predict. He dismisses the current Wall Street surge as a typical bear market rally.

And, the U.K. is going to be even worse off, because its financial sector is relatively larger and it has a bigger housing bubble.

As for his credibility on the issue? His investment fund made 34 percent last year with a similarly bearish bet.

He also said people like current U.S. Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke and his predecessor Alan Greenspan are at fault for bailing members of the financial sector out of past bad behavior.

He also thinks more regulation is needed, along with smarter regulation.

Courts-martial for insubordinate warmongers sucking up to Rummy

I see no conspiracy theory, unlike tinfoil hat bloggers, in Donald Rumfeld’s comments to the war shakers, military mouths, brass hat talking heads, or whatever you call them, who threw him a goodbye party in December 2006. 911 truthers are beyond rational discussion, though.

However, even on places like this TPM thread about the April 2006 briefing of Rumsfeld by military analysts, I still don’t see enough outcry about the real problem.

And, that is the military-industrial complex is now morphing into the military-political complex.

Where’s the outcry for courts-martial of any of these brass hats still on active duty, or retroactively stripping the pensions of those who aren’t.

The military swear an oath to the Constitution, not the President — a Constitution that lists Congress first, no matter what political party has a majority.

I think there’s a legitimate argument to be made — and I’m making it — that we’ve got insubordinate behavior here.

It’s not just that individual generals are insubordinate, it’s the culture they’re coming from is also, in a word, insubordinate.. It’s a culture that needs to be slapped down, slapped down hard, and slapped down now.

IMF adds to US recession prediction and housing woes

The International Monetary Fund also says there’s a 1-in-4 chance of a global recession. By IMF definition, that would be when worldwide growth is less than 3 percent.

And, if you have a house, you’re either going to be stuck with a cheap house or in foreclosure. The IMF predicts U.S. housing prices are going to fall another 14-20 percent.

The recession, for the full length of the year, will be a 0.7 percent contraction. And recovery will be anemic, the IMF says. Just 0.6 percent growth in the U.S. in 2009.

And, although growth is supposed to be sluggish in the Eurozone, no recession is predicted for this year, and Europe will grow faster than the U.S. next year.

In other words, the world’s largest economy is going to widen its lead.

Something which should be humbling for the next president to consider.

Exxon protest in Dallas May 28

Don’t forget to show up in front of the Meyerson Symphony Center, May 28, starting at 8 a.m., to protest in front of Exxon’s annual meeting.

Bring your banners, of course.

Local activists will also have a news conference at Munger Place United Methodist, 5200 Bryan St., at 11 a.m. May 27.

Texas gets FLDS foster care even wronger on child custody

How can you put eight siblings in eight different foster homes, then require mother Nora Jeffs, and others, to fulfill a family service plan?

Jeffs is lucky, at least. Some FLDS moms from Eldorado still don’t know where their kids are.

In the real world, that’s called either kidnapping or false imprisonment, if you want the more legal phrase.

Jeffs says travel to eight different places mean she hasn’t even had a chance to look at the plan yet.

Plus, if those kids are separated by a number of miles, how much gas is Nora Jones burning? How much money?

Medical marijuana gets you booted from transplant lists

I’m sure this is one area where we will, sadly, have a bipartisan domestic policy consensus, because no Democrat wants to be seen as “soft on drugs.”

US playing bagman to Cuban dissidents?

At least, that’s what Havana claims:
At a news conference, the officials presented a series of alleged e-mails they said were between the diplomat, Michael Parmly, and groups based in Miami, Florida, opposed to the communist government. The Cubans also played recordings of phone conversations allegedly involving other diplomats.

The alleged conversations did not provide any evidence that the purported letters carried between Parmly and dissident groups contained any cash.

I’m sure the difference between the smoke and the fire is somewhere in the middle here. The BushCo politicized State Department is dumb enough something like this is possible, but it doesn’t seem likely.

OTOH, this is on the same day that Venezuela claimed U.S. jets violated its airspace.

OTOH to that, Havana and Caracas could be orchestrating their PR campaigns.

Stay tuned.

Abbott wastes Texas money for nonexistent ‘vote fraud’

Showing that he is a “GOP Oreo” (bipartisan on the outside, attack dog on the inside” Greg Abbott dug up a whole 26 “cases” of alleged vote fraud. I put “cases” in scare quotes because part of what Abbott labels as “cases” is old folks getting someone else to mail in a mail-in ballot for them, and that person then not identifying himself or herself on the envelope. (Texas law makes it a crime to carry someone else’s filled-out ballot to the mailbox, unless the carrier puts his or her own name and address on the envelope.)

In other words, 18 of the 26 cases Abbott prosecuted were technicalities.
Jerry Strickland, an Abbott spokesman, rejected that, saying the attorney general's office responds to complaints it receives. Under state law, the attorney general can initiate voter-fraud cases or respond to district attorneys seeking outside help in local political cases.

Bullshit. Who complained?

With just 18 of these non-cases, Mr. Strickland, it looks pretty obvious that Abbott deliberately went searching for penny-ante crap like this.
In another case, three Hidalgo County women were indicted on charges they illegally assisted elderly voters and mishandled the mail-in ballots in the 2005 McAllen mayor’s race. A judge dismissed the charges in March.

“They were not our investigations, and I didn't feel they would stand up before a jury,” said Hidalgo County District Attorney Rene Guerra.

Read the story for more examples of Greg Abbott looking for the mote in somebody else’s eye while walking around with a 2x4 in his own.

Meanwhile, in the real world, has Greg Abbott prosecuted, or even investigated, allegations of real vote fraud?

Hell, no:
Democrats accuse Mr. Abbott of a partisan operation to discourage voters, especially minorities.

They contrast the prosecutions with complaints that more than 100 ballots were mishandled in a 2005 Highland Park election, a case in which Mr. Abbott took no action.

First, Mr. “Open Government” needs to be open with us just how much money he wasted on this snipe hunt.

Second, he needs to stop being chickenshit about dodging interviews. Did he get marching orders from Rove?
Strickland said Abbott declined to be interviewed because of ongoing litigation and investigations.

Citing pending litigation, the office also declined to release letters, e-mails and other documents – other than a list of the cases prosecuted – sought by The News under the state's Public Information Act. So it’s unclear how many complaints the attorney general has received or investigated overall.

Is it something about being the state’s AG, if you’re a Republican, that has an especially corrupting influence?

Texas Observer has much more than the Snooze does, including having been on this a month earlier.

And, his own initial press release made clear he was targeting large, Democratic-leaning metropolitan areas:
In early 2006, he announced “a statewide initiative to work with local law enforcement and prosecutors to combat and prevent the persistent problem of voter fraud.” The project’s initial phase would target “44 key counties that either have a history of voter fraud or the population of which exceeds 100,000,” the release said.

And money for this came from the same state grant pool that funded the Tulia non-drug task force clusterfuck.

Oh, if you visit teh Snooze story, there is a sidebar about Abbott pushing again (natch) for voter ID laws.

Democrats have shot in West

Environmentalism could trump oil and gas drilling, especially if Dems remind voters that oil, gas and hard-rock mining really don’t contribute that much to the area’s economy.

Indiana Jones fake skulls can’t hide bad movie

A few weeks ago, I blogged about how the real-life crystal skulls in the aptly “Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull” are all 19th-century fakes.

Well, many reviewers are saying the movie itself is 21st-century special-effects fake.

It doesn’t surprise me. When I read the review, as a Star Trek fan, I thought back to ST:TMP vs. the TV show. There, it wasn’t quite 19 years that had passed, but it was a full decade from TV to the first movie, and the jump in technology from small screen to big screen. And ST:TMP was roundly criticized by Trek loyalists as a special-effects movie.

Between overloading special effects, not developing relationships, and having a sappy ending, it wasn’t highly popular at Cannes, either.

Carl Icahn – the devil Yahoo doesn’t know, with Mark Cuban in tow

John C. Dvorak talks on why Carl Icahn could be Yahoo founder Jerry Yang’s worst nightmare, including the laughability of bringing Cuban on the Yahoo board just because Yahoo was dumb enough to pay him billions for more than a decade ago.

Seen Cuban’s history on recent free agent signings and trades, Carl? You might want to think again.

And, Yang might want to thing about Microsoft again, even as it dangles the idea of a cooperative partnership of some sort, rather than full ownership.

Why do young pregnant women delay possible abortions?

An excellent answer comes from across the pond, from Mary Warnock, as she decries British Tories’ efforts to put more restrictions on abortion there:
Many will have refused to acknowledge that they were pregnant for as long as it was possible to deny it to themselves. Some may not have known they were pregnant. A combination of ignorance and fear, shame and hopelessness may have prevented their seeking either an abortion or support from their parents as the weeks went by. Some of them will, in any case, have left home and be living on the streets. Few will have any contact with the father of their baby; some may not even know who he is.

And, she then offers further thoughts on those young women, and the others who choose to become mothers:
We ought to pay less attention to the destruction of life by abortion than to the quality of life of those who are allowed to live.


Your Monday morning economic blues

More of the same expected in weeks ahead: housing down and prices up.
Fresh data on housing to be released in the coming week should show further declines in both sales and prices; On Wednesday, the Federal Open Market Committee will release the truncated minutes of its April 30 meeting.

April housing sales are expected to have dropped 100K from March. With the Fed, unless there is a surprise in the minutes, it will reconfirm expectations that rate cuts are done.

A better idea than Texas GOP ‘malpractice reform’ …

Would be a doctor saying “I’m sorry” to a victimized patient. BEFORE the case gets to court.

The University of Michigan Health System says its lawsuits have dropped by 2/3 since starting a full-disclosure policy. At the University of Illinois system, a 50 percent drop.
Advocates argue that the new disclosure policies may reduce legal claims but bring a greater measure of equity by offering reasonable compensation to every injured patient.

Recent studies have found that one of every 100 hospital patients suffers negligent treatment, and that as many as 98,000 die each year as a result. But studies also show that as few as 30 percent of medical errors are disclosed to patients.

In the case that centers this story, the doctor apologized. The patient, who had retained a lawyer, did not sue, and accepted a $74,000 judgment. That’s far less than a malpractice verdict might have awarded, not to mention expenses for lawyers on both sides and an increase in malpractice premiums for the doctor.

This sounds like a no-brainer.

Just one problem:
The policies seem to work best at hospitals that are self-insured and that employ most or all of their staffs, limiting the number of parties at the table. Such is the case at the Veterans Health Administration, which pioneered the practice in the late 1980s at its hospital in Lexington, Ky., and now requires the disclosure of all adverse events

And Texas, in one of the stupider state laws in a state full of them, does not let doctors be employed by hospitals.

Yes, you read that right. They’re all independent practitioners.

As for the legal status of an apology, Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama cosponsored a bill in 2005 to make apologies inadmissible in court. It died in committee. Gee, that was when … the GOP was in charge?

The story is a good read about how the “disclosure” movement has prompted other changes at many hospitals.

McCain has lost aides with lobbyist ties …

As often as Bush has captured the “al-Qaeda No. 3 operative” in Afghanistan. Schmuck Talk Express™ has had to let a campaign majordomo go because of lobbying connections time after time in recent weeks.

This time, it’s campaign finance co-chair Texas Rep. Thomas G. Loeffler who gets the ax.

Beyond Schmuck Talk’s lies about not being connected to lobbyists, we also get the picture of a campaign in less than stellar organization.

Tom Loeffler has his own lobbying firm with his name on it.

Now we know why Schmuck Talk wasn’t incensed about Boeing losing an Air Force contract to Airbus last month, either:
Among Loeffler’s clients is the European Aeronautic Defence and Space Co., the parent company of plane manufacturer Airbus.

And, I guess Saudi Arabia wasn’t as dictatorial as Myanmar:
Newsweek reported over the weekend that Loeffler's firm was paid $15 million by Saudi Arabia.

This is the fifth person let go in the last month:
McCain advisers Doug Goodyear, who was to run the Republican convention in St. Paul, Minn., and Doug Davenport, a regional campaign director for the Mid-Atlantic states, also resigned this month. Both worked for DCI Group, a consulting firm hired to improve the image of Myanmar’s military junta.

When the policy was announced last week, McCain fired energy policy adviser Eric Burgeson, who represents energy companies as a lobbyist.

The campaign also asked Craig Shirley to resign from McCain’s Virginia leadership team because he was behind an independent group that has been criticizing Democrats Hillary Rodham Clinton and Obama on the Internet.

At the same time, other Schmuck Talk advisors are following the letter, but not the spirit, of Big Mac’s “what, me meet with lobbyists?” line by taking leaves of absence from their DC head shops.

May 18, 2008

Dallas-area school districts charging kids to ride the bus

At least for extracurricular activities, some Dallas school districts are asking kids to pony up for the trip there.

At Richardson ISD, it’s going to be $5 a person for an in-town trip to UTD. Out-of-town trips are out.
Richardson ISD estimates that it will pay $259,000 to fuel its fleet of buses this school year, much higher than the $139,000 paid in 2004-05.

Dallas County Schools, which provides regular bus service to Dallas ISD and Cedar Hill in the Best Southwest, among suburban school districts, is trying to adapt. It’s got some propane buses in its Lancaster yard, but there are drawbacks to it.

Fort Worth ISD is buying more high-aerodynamics buses.

I have a suggestion – start buying hybrid buses.

(Oh, look for school lunch prices to go up, too.)

Ehrman – the ‘problem of evil’ and a personal journey

“The problem with evil” is where the collision between ideas of an omnipotent god and an omnibenevolent one hit the road.

It’s THE emotional/psychological reason many people question their faith, whether Christian, or perhaps Jewish or Muslim, and why some of the more courageous of them, willing to live with their new answers, leave their old faiths behind, especially if they have also raised and wrestled with intellectual questions such as the validity and accuracy of their bibles or other spiritual books.

Bart D. Ehrman has made such a journey, on both the emotional and intellectual sides. The Duke University New Testament professor deals with the “problem of evil,” often known by the theological name of “theodicy,” in his good new book, “God's Problem: How the Bible Fails to Answer Our Most Important Question — Why We Suffer.”

On Amazon, it got 1-starred by a lot of conservative Christians who simply couldn’t stand to see their worldviews challenged.

My response? Is your faith actually that weak, then?

Two-star reviewers there are either that, or people who can’t stand to have Ehrman provide a litany of suffering.

Well, that’s exactly why he needed to do that. Hardened hearts take more effort to break down.

After starting with the Holocaust and other examples of litany, Ehrman takes a look at what the Bible says about suffering.

Of course, and contrary to 1-star reviewers, the Bible was not written as one book, with one theology.

There are several theologies on suffering, including two different, uneasily co-existing ones, within the book of Job, cited by most Christians as the exemplar of such a theology.

First, there’s the theology of the Torah and the prophets: You sinned, and that’ why bad things are happening.

Then, there’s Job. Neither the prose nor the poetic sections ever say Job is a sinner. That’s not even on the lips of Yahweh (poetry) or Eloah (prose) sections of the book, again, contrary to what many people think.

In the prose section, we get a capricious God playing a giant poker game with The Satan, in his role as God’s devil’s advocate. Ehrman rightly notes the ending of the book, in the prose section, is offensive. God waves his magic wand, and restores all Job had lost, including doubling his family size with additional children popping up out of nowhere.

On the poetry side of Job, he notes Yahweh never gives Job an answer, which Paul also notes in Romans. Job never gets his this-world advocate (and NO, he is not asking for a Messiah to die for his sins with “my redeemer liveth, burn your KJVs) to argue his case before Yahweh that he is indeed blameless.

From there, Ehrman moves on to address the Stoic/Existentialist view of suffering in Ecclesiastes. He says as an agnostic that this is something he can accept; we’ll probably never get a “why” answer.

From there, he wraps up with Daniel, the book that originated the apocalyptic explanation for suffering that permeates the New Testament.

For me, this is a solid four-star book. Drawbacks? It’s a bit thin; I’d love to have heard more of Ehrman’s personal story. And, although he’s a New Testament scholar, to the degree he’s comfortable, I’d love to hear him tackle theodicy in other world religions.

For more on books I like, see my Amazon top-1,500 review link at right.

Bush tin ear has India in arms – but Texans should look in mirror on food costs

Blaming India for the rise in global food prices because Indians want a middle-class diet. Indians have responded that if we would stop overeating, U.S. liposuction bills and the food available would relieve all of sub-Saharan Africa’s hunger.

The chart at right will show you in clear detail who is to blame.

If’ you’re eating the U.S. average of 3,700 calories a day, you’re overeating and therefore, you’re to blame, as well as being a candidate for either liposuction, stomach stapling or a heart bypass. If you’re buying 3,700 calories, but not eating them all, you’re to blame for environmental destructiveness.

No, you don’t have to eat like an Indian. Look at the European dietary averages on the chart. If you just cut your meat consumption down to that level (and I have) from eight ounces of meat a day to four ounces, you’d lower the pressure on meat prices, corn prices, soybean prices, and the prairie environment.

As for the Texas farmers this would affect, enough Indians and Chinese will want a semblance of the American diet soon enough, and be able to afford it soon enough, that farmers won’t go broke.

Does the government want blacks to smoke more?

It sure looks that way. Menthol, found most prominently in “urban-friendly” brands such as Kool and Newport, is getting kid-glove treatment?

A Congressional bill to give the Food and Drug Administration power to regulate cigarettes bans most flavored cigarettes, including clove and cinnamon ones.


Not a peep. (Nearly 75 percent of black smokers use menthol brands, compared with only about one in four white smokers.)

As the Times notes:
The reason menthol is seen as politically off limits, despite those concerns, is that mentholated brands are so crucial to the American cigarette industry. They make up more than one-fourth of the $70 billion American cigarette market and are becoming increasingly important to the industry leader, Philip Morris USA, without whose lobbying support the legislation might have no chance of passage.

Whenever Congress is in bed with Philip Morris, you know bad things are bound to happen.

Here’s the fallout that will happen. Many blacks will rightly think whites care less about them. Some will even raise the old conspiracy theory flag.

Supporters of the bill, even African-Americans, argue there’s no other way to pass it:
“I would have been in favor of banning menthol,” said Senator Judd Gregg, Republican of New Hampshire, who supports the bill. “But as a practical matter that simply wasn’t doable.”

Even the head of the National African American Tobacco Prevention Network, a nonprofit group that has been adamantly against menthol, acknowledges that the ingredient needed to be off the bargaining table — for now — because he does not want to imperil the bill’s chances.

“The bottom line is we want the legislation,” said William S. Robinson, the group’s executive director. “But we want to reserve the right to address this issue at some critical point because of the percentage of people of African descent who use mentholated products.”

Fine. Pull the bill. Don’t postpone “someday” into an undefined future.

And, there’s other fallout. First, Philip Morris is lying about menthol. Congress, do you really want to go down the road of partnering with a brazen liar on this issue?

And, there’s other issues. Beyond the fact that menthol does make it easier to smoke, there’s concerns about menthol in cigs as a health issue:
Concerns about menthol have circulated since at least 1998, when the C.D.C. reported that menthol “may increase the absorption of harmful smoking constituents.”

Also, the taste of menthol may increase psychological dependence.

Brazil wants to join OPEC

Brazilian President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva told Spiegel (English-language international version) that the discovery of possibly major offshore oil deposits qualifies it for membership.

Oil and OPEC
We discovered immense oil reserves 273 kilometers (170 miles) off the coast, at a depth of 2,140 meters (7,021 feet) and under a 5,000-meter (16,404-foot) layer of salt and rock. We have the know-how to exploit these reserves. We expect to start test-drilling in March and start producing oil in 2010. Then Brazil will become a major oil exporter. We want to join OPEC and try to make oil cheaper.

Lulu talked on several other issues, too:
I have always told my European friends that it isn’t worth restructuring their well-organized agricultural systems to produce biofuel. We, and the Africans, can do a much better job of it. The European Union should give the Third World a chance to produce biofuel.

The Amazon region isn’t very well suited for cattle pastureland. And the soil isn't good for sugarcane or soybeans either. … We have tightened our controls. Deforestation has declined by almost 60 percent in Brazil. But more than 22 million people live in the Amazon region. They too want to eat, drive cars and use refrigerators.

The Latin American left and Columbian rebels
The left in South America still uses the same slogans as the European left did in the 1920s and 1930s. Politicians take a more radical position in places where there is hunger, and where people have no access to education. This continent was churned up by military coups. Guerrilla groups were still active in many countries only 20 years ago. Today we all agree — with the exception of FARC in Colombia — that elections are the only legitimate way to acquire power.

Read the whole thing; it’s a great interview.

Getting fired while having surgery and the effect on your local bank

Ahh, don’t you love the warmth of Wall Street?

On the other hand, who knows what types of financial products Ms. Kennedy may have been hawking, managing, selling, etc.?

Her getting canned may be a bit of schadenfreudic justice. And here’s one reason to feel less sorry for her:
Banks and brokerage firms generally pay out about 50 percent of their revenue to employees as salaries and bonuses. Last year that percentage leapt to 70 percent, even as business began to dry up.

And, it’s not just schlubs who are being axed:
“People will try to delay them for as long as possible,” Meredith Whitney, the banking analyst at Oppenheimer & Company, said of the layoffs, which she thinks are far from over. “It cuts to the bone.”

Meanwhile, you may have longer waiting times at your friendly local bank:
Whitney estimates that on average banks announced plans to reduce their work forces by 5 to 8 percent. They probably will have to cut at least twice that amount, she said.

Wunderbar. More online/telephone banking will probably get outsourced to India, too.

Send Bush the bill for this one too

The planetary loss of biodiversity costs the world $3 trillion per year, according to the European Union and German’s department of the environment.

Why Bush’s bill? To the degree global warming contributes to loss of biodiversity, and to the degree his “be patriotic by spending” mantra contributes to the loss of biodiversity, the bill is his.

It’s just further evidence not only that he’s anti-environmental, but that he is economically clueless.

Quotable quotes updated – sex, love, masturbation

“Sex without love between two people is just mutual masturbation” — John Holmes
“John Holmes did a lot of mutual masturbation” — SocraticGadfly

“Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it” — George Santayana
“Neoconservatives remain caught in the loops of their self-inflicted Twilight Zone” — SocraticGadfly

Got a famous quote you’d like to see updated? Drop me a line at socraticgadflyAThotmailDOTcom.