May 07, 2011

'Draw Muhammad Day' - why?

Friendly Atheist notes that May 20 is "Draw Muhammad Day."

I get the idea, in a sense, especially after the Danish cartoon brouhaha. But, in a sense, I question the rationale, too.

Basically, this is parallel to the confrontationalist vs. connectionalist debate within atheism. I support anybody's right to draw pictures of Muhammad ... including Muhammad having gay sex, sex with 72 virgin camels or whatever. I support your right to email them, post them on websites, or even mail them to Grand Ayatollah Khamenei in Tehran.

But, why? Other than to prove a point about free speech in a way that's not necessary, why?

That's a point that, IMO, few commenters at Ed Brayton's Dispatches are even facing, let alone answering well.

Let me draw a parallel from my own life.

I have burned a flag before - one of the small gimme flags that are given to people lining the streets at Fourth of July parades. And, I later burned it - for the free speech thrill.

But, I did that on the balcony of my apartment.

Sure, I shot a photo, but I don't wave that in other people's faces all the time.

Back to this "day" and the issue of "cui bono,' or "who benefits."

To what benefit is this day?

Does it, in and of itself, actually bolster free speech that much? Probably not much more than Justice Holmes' famous dictum about yelling fire in a crowded theater. What would probably help more is writing the U.S. and UN embassies of relatively moderate Islamic-majority countries, encouraging them to be more supportive of free speech, countries such as, say Jordan or Turkey.

Does it benefit more liberal-minded Muslims? Of course not. Especially in countries of some openness in the Muslim world, by painting a picture of yet more Americans tarring all Muslims with the same brush, it backfires, and potentially hurts them. That said, the majority of Gnu ringleaders, or "cadre formers," if you're P.Z. Myers, prefer to lump the masses of believers of any religion with the most regressive elements within them.

Does it actually do anything vis-a-vis fundamentalist Muslim leaders? Of course not. It won't get them to suddenly "repent" of violence, narrow-mindedness, misogyny or other actual or alleged defects.

Does it benefit atheism or secular humanism in general? Absolutely not, and especially not in those countries I just mentioned.

Besides, if you really want to draw something, why not draw a Gnu Atheist?

Whither the Lib Dems?

The electoral reform move that David Cameron and his Conservatives promised Nick Clegg and his Liberal Democrats as part of agreeing to coalition government in Britain came down to a referendum vote on whether or not to change Britain's current first-past-the-post election system, similar to America's, to an alternate vote, or instant-runoff vote, system.

And, the "reform" side was a massive fail; Britons voted for status quo by a 68-32 margin.

For the Lib Dems, add in two other facts: They got shellacked in local elections held at the same time, and that, in turn, is in part because the British public supposedly is dumping on them the majority of blame for the government's huge budget cuts. (Rightfully so, on assessing the blame, as Cameron couldn't do what he's doing if it were as a minority government.)

So, seriously, what happens next?

To me, from what I understand of parliamentary systems in general and Britain's in particular, I certainly could see the Lib Dems booting Clegg from leadership at the next party caucus. And then voting to leave coalition.

That said, would the government fall, or would the Queen bless a minority government?

May 06, 2011

Guess who could be leaving the eurozone ...

Shockingly, it's not Germany, threatening to remove itself from a bunch of blood-sucking southern European leeches.

Instead, it's one of the leeches, Greece, who wants to leave. Even more surprisingly, Germany's governing Christian Democrats are threatening to stop the move.

And, a new Greek drachma or whatever wouldn't be worth the paper on which it was printed:
"It would lead to a considerable devaluation of the new (Greek) domestic currency against the euro," (a German Finance Ministry) paper states. According to German Finance Ministry estimates, the currency could lose as much as 50 percent of its value, leading to a drastic increase in Greek national debt. Schäuble's staff have calculated that Greece's national deficit would rise to 200 percent of gross domestic product after such a devaluation. "A debt restructuring would be inevitable," his experts warn in the paper. In other words: Greece would go bankrupt.

It remains unclear whether it would even be legally possible for Greece to depart from the euro zone. Legal experts believe it would also be necessary for the country to split from the European Union entirely in order to abandon the common currency. ...

What is certain, according to the assessment of the German Finance Ministry, is that the measure would have a disastrous impact on the European economy.

"The currency conversion would lead to capital flight," they write. And Greece might see itself as forced to implement controls on the transfer of capital to stop the flight of funds out of the country. "This could not be reconciled with the fundamental freedoms instilled in the European internal market," the paper states.

It's a threat serious enough to get a special EU meeting called, though.

But, not everybody outside of Greece thinks it's either legally impossible or economically foolish for Greece to do this.

Unfortunately, I don't see a new Krugman blog up on this yet.

Update, May 9: Still no Krugman column on this, but Mark Weisbrot totally agrees. As an analogy, he cites Argentina a decade ago decoupling from the dollar.

At the same time, leaving the Euro would force Greece to sink or swim on its own on facing up to massive tax avoidance, etc.

Happy 300th, David Hume!

Think philosophy is dull? Want personal insight into Hume's claim that reason is and needs be "the slave of the passions"?

Here's a great column-essay in the New York Times which will take care of all of that.

Hume is well-personalized in the story, a lifelong bachelor but one still with human longings, and whether seeking inner equilibrium for himself, or for someone else, in the game of love, working to have his famous maxim realized and accepted.

It's this that is among things that make him the king of the empiricists, and that make him trump his continental rationalist contemporaries.

The "deather" conspiracy widens!

Even al-Qaeda is in on it!

I am sooooo waiting for deathers to spin this one.

Also, I am kind of curious about bin Laden's final tape message.

May 05, 2011

First GOP Prez debate .... or Jeopardy?

NO, it's not a choice between watching the two.

Rather, "Jeopardy" is what the debate or whatever looks like. I'm not sure the five together could beat Watson the computer of Jeopardy fame. Yet, Salon felt compelled to live-blog it.

Now ... if I were moderator ...

First, I'd ask Ron Paul about the racial elements in those newsletters that went out under his name as publisher, and Lew Rockwall as author, during his first stint in Congress. I'd then read some quotes from them and ask Herman Cain what he thought.

Second, I'd ask Cain why, since he can't even get as many white GOP votes as Alan Keyes, he's even running.

Third, I'd ask Gary Johnson if he thinks Paul is a real libertarian, since Paul is anti-choice on reproductive rights, is anti-family on gay marriage or civil union rights, is anti-freedom on marijuana legalization, etc.

Fourth, I'd ask Rick Santorum and Tim Pawlenty if they understood what the phrase "white bread" meant. If they said yes, I'd ask which of them was worse - or it was Herman Cain.

Fifth, if I saw a particularly loony Santorum response get crushed by any other candidate, I'd ask Santorum if he now understood that he'd just been "Santorumed."

That said, Santorum needs a new day gig; Fox just gave him the ax over his presidential run.

That would be the best reason yet for The Quitter with a Twitter to run - get her off the air.

O, Canada, the NDP is now on guard for you?

I hadn't blogged about the Canadian elections until now because of a mixture of forgetfulness to check the results and other things.

That said, it appears the New Democratic Party surge was real. Per the Christian Science Monitor, is Canada now a two-party system, with the Liberals serving as similar to the Liberal Democrats in Britain or the Free Democrats in Germany?

It's certainly possible.

At the same time, Stephen Harper's Conservatives were able to take an absolute majority in Parliament, for the first time in 23 years.

Even if he hadn't lost his own seat, former Liberal leader Michael Ignatieff deserved to resign over the poor timing of the no-confidence vote (why not a year ago), his party's poor run and other things.

Look for Harper to become more Bush-like, for NDP leader Jack Leyton to exploit parliamentary opportunities in opposition better than Iggy did, and for that and by-elections to force the next parliamentary ballot in about .... 30 months.

But, will it be first-past-the-post, still, like the U.S.? A CBC column wonders if, should Britain adopt alternative voting today (the "electoral reform" the Conservatives and David Cameron promised Nick Clegg and his Lib Dems) whether Canada might follow suit?

Jobless bounce Obama's post-bin Laden bounce

Commentators said any political "bounce" President Barack Obama would get from the death of Osama bin Laden would be brief.

Brief indeed, with new jobless claims hitting an eight-month high. Team Obama and some analysts are trying to point to special and one-time factors. But, the four-week rolling average climbed throughout April, so that seems weak.

My personal guess is that half of the problem, maybe, is due to special issues, but no more than that.

That said, the $10 drop in oil prices may help hiring pick up again. (Unless you're a hedge fund manager or commodities speculator that now has to put a new yacht purchase on hold for a week. But, since Team Obama still shows no desire to further regulate commodities, you won't have to worry too much.)

One more push for wilderness bills in Congress

First, a caveat: This is the same Congress that just voted to remove Endangered Species Act protections from Greater Yellowstone wolves. So, why will it even barely consider passing a wilderness bill?

That said, the actual talks show that if it does, it will be a "wilderness" bill, not a wilderness bill. Gimmicks such as permanently removing some lands from wilderness consideration, for example, show that compromises to get a "wilderness" bill rather than a wilderness bill just aren't worth it.

May 04, 2011

Israel caused this - don't just blame Hamas

The "this"? The Fatah-Hamas reconciliation that is now official.

As I blogged repeatedly when the "Al-Jazeera leaks" were released, Israel, starting with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, needs to look itself in the mirror when any Israelis talk about a "mortal blow to peace."

By constantly undercutting the Palestinian Authority, they emasculated it to the point where a detente with Hamas was the only way for it to maintain political legitimacy.

Now I know Zionists and semi-Zionists (and there's plenty of them in the U.S., right, Josh Marshall/Talking Points Memo) and their Amen corner will blame any slowdown in peace talks all on Hamas.

That said, why SHOULD Hamas officially recognize Israel unless it's accompanied by "linkage." Not just Bibi, but allegedly more liberal politicians in Israel like Tzipi Livni have shown themselves to be:

Simply untrustworthy on Palestinian issues.

End of story.

More proof of that?

Israel's calls in the past for a Hamas cease-fire before any talks.

With links to mainstream media stories, Wikipedia's bio of Hamas reminds us what happened when Hamas DID call a cease-fire:
In June 2008, as part of an Egyptian-brokered ceasefire, Hamas ceased rocket attacks on Israel and made some efforts to prevent attacks by other organizations.After a four months calm, the conflict escalated when Israel carried out a military action with the stated aim to prevent an abduction planned by Hamas, using a tunnel that had been dug under the border security fence, killing seven Hamas operatives.
So, let's talk Israeli hypocrisy.

Texas Senate GOP tells Dems: "Eff you"

So much for the idea that supposedly reasonable Senate Republicans like Steve Ogden would stand up to allegedly more Neanderthalic GOP counterparts in the state House and hold the line on a budget that would tap the Rainy Day Fund.

Using parliamentary procedures to avoid the need for any Democratic support, the Texas Senate's 19-12 GOP majority has adopted a more radical budget than initially proposed:
Senate leaders used a special rule for House bills that allowed them to bring up the spending plan — a House bill — without Democratic support.

In less than five minutes and with no debate, Sen. Steve Ogden offered an amendment that stripped a contentious provision that would tap money from the Rainy Day Fund. The move helped him garner support from conservative Republican senators.

AUSTIN, Texas — The Texas Senate tentatively approved the $176.5 billion two-year state budget Wednesday, bypassing the long-held Senate tradition that requires a two-thirds agreement for the chamber to consider any legislation.

Senate leaders used a special rule for House bills that allowed them to bring up the spending plan — a House bill — without Democratic support.

In less than five minutes and with no debate, Sen. Steve Ogden offered an amendment that stripped a contentious provision that would tap money from the Rainy Day Fund. The move helped him garner support from conservative Republican senators.

They then quickly approved the budget on a 19-12 party-line vote. The budget faces one more vote before it can be sent back to the House for negotiations.
Here's an overview of what Ogden, Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst and other more "enlightened" Republicans now present back to the House:
Ogden's GOP-condoned compromise replaces about $3 billion in rainy-day money by underfunding Medicaid, pushing those payments to the end of the budget period. Absent increased revenue from an improving economy _which he expects — the budget would then force across-the-board cuts to state agencies other than basic public school operations.

The compromise called him to lose support of key Democrats.

In all funds, the Ogden's plan would still make about $11 billion in cuts, compared to the current budget. But the cuts are much less severe than those in the bare-bones House version.
First, far more than one and two legislative sessions ago, intraparty comity in the Texas Senate has been shattered, this time likely for good.

Second, is Steve Ogden, beyond thinking there's no way the House would compromise, starting to get afraid of tea party types himself?

Third, will Democrats in turn mount a more serious challenge to him in the future, tiring of his alleged "reasonableness"?

Time for MLB to get serious about DWI

Ken Rosenthal nails this one.

Sadly, we shouldn't have Shin-Soo Choo already the sixth MLB player to be arrested this year for allegedly driving under the influence of alcohol.

The arrest and problems of Miguel Cabrera should have been a 120-decibel wake-up call to BOTH Commissioner Bud Selig AND the players' union to get more serious on this issue.

Bud's lack of seriousness, Rosenthal notes, goes back to doing nothing after St. Louis Cardinal manager Tony La Russa's arrest.

Jeff Passan's on the same page as Rosenthal, arguing baseball needs to start suspending players for this.

May 03, 2011

Are feds making big-time move on mortgage fraud?

A major federal lawsuit against Deutsche Bank's mortgage arm certainly raises that issue.

Here's the nut graf that says this likely isn't isolated:
"It would not be a fantastical stretch to think we are looking at other lending institutions as well," (Pheet Bharana), the U.S. attorney in Manhattan, said.
The details? The lawsuit is for more than $1 billion and alleges:
MortgageIT recklessly approved 39,000 mortgages for government insurance from 1999 to 2009 "in blatant disregard" of whether borrowers could make the required monthly payments.
At the same time, I don't know what percentage of the company's loans this involves, how much pretrial negotiation was attempted or other things. This may not be too much beyond the slap on the wrist level.

Global warming Arctic melt — 5-foot sea rise?

That's the latest word from researchers — the Arctic and Greenland ice is melting faster that previously thought, and we could see a 5-foot rise in sea levels by the end of this century.
The melting of Arctic glaciers and ice caps, including Greenland's massive ice sheet, is projected to help raise global sea levels by 35 to 63 inches (90 to 160 centimeters) by 2100, AMAP said, although it noted that estimate was highly uncertain.

That's up from the 2007 projection of 7 to 23 inches (19 to 59 centimeters) by the U.N. panel.
Note that this is a BIG revision upward in just a few years.

To translate into how this would hit the U.S.? Big in red(ish) states, not just blue ones.

Much of New Orleans inundated. Much of South Florida underwater. Much of Houston underwater. Most of North Carolina's Outer Banks underwater.

And, much of Manhattan underwater.

Not to mention many Pacific islands and much of Bangladesh.

That said, a bone to pick with this and other MSM climate stories. It mentions the numbers are uncertain, but we're not given standard deviations, sigmas, or other information to tell us how uncertain — or, really, how CERTAIN — this information is.

I'm assuming that range, of 19 to 59 centimeters, is at least 95 percent likely.

In other words, you denialists, by the end of the century, the sea level will rise a minimum of 8 inches with 95 percent certainty on that. Period. End of story.

May 02, 2011

10 Commandments & govt NOT just a red-state issue

Decades ago, the Fraternal Order of the Eagles erected, for free, stone monument copies of the Ten Commandments in front of many local, county and state government buildings. Some of these are still standing 40 or more years later, and not just in places like Texas, like the legal-controversy-generating one on the grounds of the state Capitol.

I present the view in front of a Santa Fe, New Mexico fire station:


Interesting new addendum; per skeptical/liberal friend Leo Lincourt, the Eagles' monuments were part of a massive publicity scheme by Cecil B. DeMille to help promote the overwrought movie, "The 10 Commandments."

Bin Laden death and torture

Update, May 3: Unfortunately, any "debate" over Osama bin Laden's death and the value of torture has been clusterfucked by reporting by the AP and other MSM that give the appearance Khalid Sheikh Mohammed revealed the name of Osama bin Laden's courier under torture.

Rather, as Andrew Sullivan and Marcy Wheeler report, that's totally false.

Whether the reportorial problem lies more with the AP et al, or with confusing/bad early info from Team Obama, I'm not sure. But, we have this "meme" now out there which is ultimately irrelevant. — End update

So, Khalid Sheikh Mohammed was a lead, if not the only one, to the lead that led to the Osama bin Laden assault that lead to his death. (And, per the NYT, which just says "Guantanamo detainees," there may have been several leads.)

The McClatchy story is right — this will reignite the debate over torture. (That said, when did McClatchy go "soft" and stop using that word?)

First, KSM could have given out inaccurate blather here just like he did with other things.

Second, at the time he named this courier, that person may not have been so close to bin Laden as he became in later years.

Third, the "right" result doesn't make a wrong action right anyway.

The larger civil liberties fallout of the hunt for bin Laden? Here is a good laundry list.