July 17, 2015

Let's strip the veneer off the importation of Eastern "spiritual" thought

A new Salon article laments how Eastern spirituality, in this case, mindfulness meditation, has been hypercapitalized. A similar article, a year ago, had Buddhists worrying about this.

Actually, this isn't new. Either monetary greed or other forms of it were affecting Eastern traditions when imported to the west 40 years ago.

At the same time, to riff on the second article, let's not put Eastern ideas — or their environments — on a pedestal. Yes, China has done ethnic repainting (no, not quite ethnic cleansing) in Tibet. But, pre-1959, Tibet was a feudal theocracy ruled by its lamas. And, monks were the only Buddhists doing meditation. They were the only ones who had the luxury, especially in more "primitive" places, because, just like many a Catholic monastery in feudal, semi-theocratic medieval Europe, Buddhist monasteries have traditionally been heavily dependent on lay support.

The first story, speaking of this, notes that mindfulness godfather Jon Kabat-Zinn noted that Buddhism's backgrounding of meditation might itself be a problem. So, he worked to de-Buddhist it. And, at the same time, started Ye Olde BuJew Movement, still alive and kicking, as recent nonsense from Dan Harris and Sam Harris clearly attest. (Slamming Sammy and Kabat-Zinn both say, in different ways, they never really were Jewish. Both have clearly borrowed from Stephen Batchelor in their attempts to de-Buddhist meditation; he was just as wrong himself when he tried to strip Buddhism of any and all metaphysical overtones.)

That, in turn, allowed it to get a purchase in the corporate world. Enter Steve Jobs, who surprisingly did not invent a mindfulness app before dying.

And, from there, the corporate world saw "increased productivity" and ran with it. Dan Harris' book reflects the Taylorite angle in its title by claiming to quantify just how much happier meditation made him.

The second article is kind of funny. 

Marxist philosopher Slavoj Zizek calls this adulturation "Western Buddhism." In turn, he calls that ... well, he calls it the new opiate of the masses. The article also notes that the Dalai Lama, while claiming to be a Marxist, is plenty ready to bed down with capitalists. (See paragraph the third, on Tibet's pre-1959 history.) 

And also per that third paragraph, all too often, Buddhism has been its own opiate of the masses back in its Eastern homelands, though it, like Christianity, has often had exceptions, too.

July 16, 2015

#Cardinals look to jump-start second half

The Cardinals ended the first half of the campaign with a bit of a slump, capped by closer Trevor Rosenthal blowing two straight against the Pirates. Rosenthal has also reported a bit of arm soreness.


Injuries have hammered the Cards hard in the first half, of course. That said, good news is out there, with Matt Holliday saying he's ready to come back; let's see what the team says. Jon Jay should be back shortly. Let's hope that Jaime Garcia's groin injury isn't too much and he's back soon — and the shoulder stays healthy.

The other big issue? Manager Mike Matheny has to give Yadier Molina a bit more rest — yes, even with that meaning Tony Cruz plays more.

Should the Cards try to make any moves before the trade deadline? I wouldn't mind Adam Lind; maybe Jay could be part of a trade package. If Dan Haren is available on the cheap from Miami, I'd chase him. Other than that, I think John Mozeliak should ride the hand he has.

And, if the Cards' gamble in Memphis on retraining Stephen Piscotty to play first works, then Mo can stand pat indeed.

Social Security is healthy, but don't thank FDR

Social Security Works!: Why Social Security Isn't Going Broke and How Expanding It Will Help Us AllSocial Security Works!: Why Social Security Isn't Going Broke and How Expanding It Will Help Us All by Nancy Altman
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Informative, but with notable historical errors

Per the header, this book is informative about how Social Security works, and why, and about Pete Peterson, the Koch Bros and others launching attacking against it, and President Obama, per Teddy Roosevelt, not having the backbone of a chocolate eclair to defend Social Security.

However, the authors make some BIG missteps on how Social Security got started, big enough that, with all the apple polishing of other reviewers, the book deserves a two-star ding, because you can read other books about how Social Security works and how bazillionaires hate it.

FDR did not magically dream up Social Security, either by himself or with the help of Secretary of Labor Frances Perkins. Nor did he magically decide to push for the adoption of Social Security himself.

Instead, he had to be pushed, and pushed hard, into making it part of his second New Deal in 1935. That's after Francis Townsend pushed his Townsend Plan in California. That's after Upton Sinclair ran for governor of California in 1934 on his Townsend-based EPIC plan, and FDR himself connived with the California Democratic Party to kneecap Sinclair. That's after Huey Long pushed his Share the Wealth ideas.

After FDR finally pushed for Social Security, he had to be pushed by Townsend-organized activists to increase the originally planned benefits, and to start the payout in 1940 instead of 1942.

It also has a present-day error or two. Yes, folks like the Center for American Progress allegedly are fighting to "save" Social Security. However, the authors don't tell you that CAP has repeatedly supported trimming Social Security benefits by changing how its cost-of-living adjustments are calculated to using the chained CPI, a move they deride earlier in the book.

To put it bluntly, allegedly "progressive" Democratic think tanks arguing for the chained CPI is just a mirror of the old GOP argument for eating hamburger instead of steak when meat prices go up. But, if you're already eating hamburger, and not very often, and your OTC medication or prescription prices go up, then that argument for the chained CPI is totally idiotic.

I know the authors know this. Why they insisted on telling falsehoods about the start of Social Security, and elisions about "liberal" think tanks today, I have no idea. But, it hurts their credibility.


View all my reviews

July 15, 2015

Iran, #oilprices and the Texas budget

Now that the US and partners have finally gotten Iran to sign off on a nuclear energy non-proliferation deal, a big question in Texas is: "What does this mean for oil prices?" A related question, for those knowledgeable, is "What might this mean for the Texas budget?"

Consumers everywhere, of course, wonder about gas prices, so to that first.

Tom Kloza of OPIS is predicting the return of $2 gas by the end of the year. If he's right about that — and I'll give 2-1 odds in his favor — West Texas Intermediate oil will  be at or below $60. It's not just any Iranian oil that will come on market this year, as not a lot is projected to do so before 2016. It's that any additional oil, on top of continued overproduction and a Chinese slowdown, will drive down prices. Beyond that, the Iran deal means more stability in the Middle East, itself worth a couple of dollars a barrel.

And, thus, we've covered oil prices as well as gas prices.

As for next year?

More oil from Iran WILL come online in 2016 and beyond. In turn, that means WTI probably doesn't get above $60 on a regular basis next year.

So, add the Texas budget to the list of "losers," even as this is yet another argument for an every-year legislature in the Pointy Abandoned Object State. An every-year legislature could, even with a two-year budgeting cycle, still meet on a shorter session to tweak the state's budget.

But, this is Texas. Who are we kidding about having an actually efficient government?

Beyond that Comptroller Glenn Hegar is surely still wearing rose-colored glasses about the state budget.

As he should not be doing at all.

At the Houston Chronicle, Chris Tomlinson reports that major players in the oil patch are engaging in major write-downs, and minor players are trying — not always successfully — to avoid bankruptcy.

Dear Obama: Really want to do good by visiting a federal prison?

Your trip to the El Reno, Oklahoma, prison is nice, but ...

If you want to go "long," beyond battling the worst effects of the War on Drugs (and addressing federal laws on marijuana might be better than a PR trip courtesy of Vice, anyway)

Go to the Coleman Unit in Florida.

Address what the early 1970s version of the National Security State you love so much today did wrong then with COINTELPRO.

And free Leonard Peltier.


Peltier's own artwork is funding his release efforts.

For more on why Peltier should be freed, and how COINTELPRO arguably sabotaged the American Indian Movement more than any other vehicle of the 1960s and early 1970s civil rights movement, "The Unquiet Grave" is a must read. Peter Matthiessen's classic "In the Spirit of Crazy Horse" is good, but, as my review of it notes, he sometimes looks at AIM's leadership through rose-colored glasses.

Otherwise, your actions right now continue to be symbolic. You've done very few pardons, and you blame a Bush holdover for this, even though you took more than five years to replace him. And, your commutations are limited to only first-time nonviolent offenders.

Beyond that, freeing Peltier might continue the discussion on improve relations between different tribes and the Bureau of Indian Affairs.

July 14, 2015

Note to Mark Cuban: Zuzu's Petals and D-Will Hunting? Try tanking

Dallas Mavericks owner/ersatz general manager/meddler Mark Cuban, doing his best to make Dallas sports fans forget that Jethro Jerry Jones even exists, has had the biggest free agency recruiting flop this side of Kobe Bryant.

First, Chandler Parsons, who apparently was inked as a free agent a year ago to be Cubes' wingman and PR fellator or something, flopped like a fish out of old Reunion Arena in trying to land DeAndre Jordan from the L.A. Clippers, after some intervention from Dayo Banana Boat Man Chris Paul and Doc Rivers, sparing Doc the possibility of himself looking like the dumbest GM in the NBA this side of Vlade Divac.

So, what does Cubes do for a free agency encore?

Zaza Pachulia, whom, if we don't call him Zuzu's Petals after It's a Wonderful Life (which it really isn't), probably should be called Patchouli for his earth-toned play. And Pachulia will make nobody in Dallas forget Tyson Chandler, either. At least Patchouli is only 40 percent of Chandler's cost.

And, to be HIS wingman as point guard? Deron Williams, who is probably one major ankle blowout away from the end of his NBA career.

Yeah, that will get the Mavs, erm, nowhere? And make Dirk Nowitzki very happy NOT, right?

Right now, I have only Divac's Kings, Kobe's Lakers, the Nuggets and the T-Wolves as definitely worse than the Mavs, and I wouldn't be surprised if Minnesota made a big jump this year.

The way I look at it, the Mavs under Cuban are one dumb Manu Ginobili foul (2006, Mavs making the finals) and one lucky not-yet-jelled Miami team with a rookie coach (2011 title, plus the Grizz upsetting the Spurs in the first round in the West) from being all hat, no cattle on the NBA's biggest stage.

And, yes, this is on Cubes. Does anybody really think Donnie Nelson is the actual GM of that team?

And, does anybody think Rick Carlisle really wants to coach this team? Will he stick a full year?

My hot take on the Iran nuclear proliferation deal — and #oilprices

Well, it looks like the US and partners have finally gotten Iran to sign off on a nuclear energy non-proliferation deal.

Among the good news is that the non-enrichment period is now 15 years, not 10. That's long enough for Iran's Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamanei, to have died, and hopefully, the whole Supreme Guardian Council system to start crumbling. (Khamenei turns 76 this week.)

Verification procedures are supposed to remain in place forever.

That said, there are issues of concern.

One the story notes is what access the International Atomic Energy Agency will have to dissident-type scientists inside Iran.

Another, which is more guesstimate than anything else, is to what degree leading world powers would restore sanctions if Iran got intransigent? The US and EU would likely act strongly. China and Russia, not.

It's not a treaty, so President Obama can veto any no vote in either house of Congress. Will that happen? I'd say about 50-50.

And, for the neocon foreign policy division of wingnuts, this becomes a new 2016 electoral issue. Let's see what an über-warhawk like Lindsey Graham does; he's already, er, gone ballistic about the deal.

Beyond that, there's one neocon foreigner to worry about: Israeli Prime Minister Bibi Netanyahu. I'd venture there's about a 5 percent chance that — without consulting with all his cabinet — he engages in some sort of major covert action against Iran. Not just "any" but "major." Short of that, he's going to try to get a veto-proof no in at least one house.

(Unfortunately, some hawkish Dems, like Sen. Bob Menendez, D-Corruption, are leaning no as well.)

Was this the best we could have gotten? Short of bombing Iran, it's at least in the 80th percentile, if not 85 or better, in my opinion. And, our European allies seem to agree. They note that sanctions were likely to erode in the future, and the odds of getting even tougher sanctions to push Iran into a "better" deal were almost nil.

Other "winners" include:
1. President Obama's reputation
2. World peace
3. Middle East stability

Other "losers" include
1. Wingnuts
2. Texas oil producers; this will already get factored into world oil prices, and even more so, once more Iranian oil starts getting exported

I'd venture now that not only does West Texas Intermediate stay below $65 for the rest of this quarter, it might stay below $60 for all of the fourth quarter.

And, if Tom Kloza of OPIS is right about the return of $2 gas by the end of the year, oil will indeed be at or below $60. So, add the Texas budget to the list of "losers," even as this is yet another argument for an every-year legislature in the Pointy Abandoned Object State. (And, I'll give at least 2-1 odds he's right.)

That said, probably not a lot of Iranian oil is going to come online immediately. However, the deal also provides Middle East stability.

And, more oil from Iran WILL come online in 2016 and beyond. Yet one more reason Texas needs an every-year legislature.

Biggest loser: Greece, Euro, France, Germany?

Now that Greece and its Eurozone creditors have apparently come to some sort of deal, albeit one that is perhaps even harsher than what was on tap just a month or two ago, the finger-pointing has started.

So, here's my 2 cents worth of fingers.

First, Greece is somewhat a loser. It's a loser not just because of the bad new deal, but because, as just-resigned Finance Minister Yanis Varoufakis claims, Greek Premier Alexis Tsipras was and is exactly what Eurozone leaders have long claimed about him: vacillating and spineless.

So, it's a loser because, unless Syriza replaces him, the Greeks don't have a real option to stand up to the EU. And, Syriza as a party winds up looking like a toothless tiger.

The euro as a currency is somewhat dented, but it's  not too bad a loser.

France? Somewhat a loser. It was the biggest pusher for the creation of the euro as a joint currency after the collapse of the Soviet Union, precisely to restrain German financial hegemony. Françoise Hollande got the EU to paper over France-Germany differences, but it's clear that the big stick of German Iron Chancellor 2.0 Angela Merkel forced France to accept giving Greece as harsh of a deal as it got.

Germany? A lot of people are claiming it overplayed its hand. However, the fact that it publicly displayed a card hand of wanting to give Greece a five-year boot shows that Merkel, along with her financial minister, Wolfgang Schäuble, knew exactly how close to the vest to play. And, the fact that other eurozone diplomats wanted to "teach Greece a lesson" only underscore this.

Finally, the whole world is a loser if part of the results of this German-pushed deal force Greece to sell off historic world heritage assets.

July 13, 2015

TX Progressive Bloggers discuss #JadeHelm15, Trump, Bernie, Walmart, more

The Texas Progressive Alliance does not put peas in guacamole as it brings you this week's roundup.

Off the Kuff notes the first appearance of lawyers bound and determined to help a few recalcitrant County Clerks deny marriage licenses to same sex couples in Texas.

Horwitz at Texpatriate says farewell as he enters the next chapter of his life.

Lightseeker at Texas Kaos exposes Rick Perry and Greg Abbott's myth that tort reform ensures more public access to affordable healthcare.  In GOP Texas tort reform means insurance companies and corporations are the winners while real people pay the price.  Abbott and Perry: Tort Reform as a Trojan Horse.

SocraticGadfly discusses the decline and fall of Walmart, especially in small towns and rural areas.

Should Sen. Bernie Sanders ultimately be eliminated from contention for the Democratic nomination, what's the best choice for progressives moving forward, PDiddie at Brains and Eggs asks.

CouldBeTrue of South Texas Chisme wants everyone to know that Jeb Bush's son is following the GOP anti-environment playbook in ploy to kill songbirds. The apple didn't fall too far from the tree.

Neil at All People Have Value posted a number of interesting pictures from his trip this past week to beautiful Cincinnati, Ohio. APHV is part of NeilAquino.com.

2012 saw the Republican Party lose the Presidency once again, mostly because of their complete refusal to learn from their mistakes, and evolve. As we inch ever closer to 2016, Texas Leftist is left to wonder if the GOP learned anything from the last cycle. Given the dominance of Media Harlot Donald Trump, the answer is a likely "no".


===========================

And here are some posts of interest from other Texas blogs.

Mike Tolson hears the echoes of Loving v. Virginia in the arguments made by same-sex marriage opponents.

Paradise in Hell counts down the last days of freedom in Bastrop until the inevitable Obama/UN takeover of Texas.

Charlotte Coyle confesses her reluctant patriotism.

Texas Clean Air Matters envisions Houston as a leader in zero-emission cargo transport technologies.

Better Texas Blog celebrates beautiful, messy democracy.

Grits for Breakfast analyzes Rick Perry's speech on race relations and criminal justice reform in the context of his time as Governor.The Texas Progressive Alliance does not put peas in guacamole as it brings you this week's roundup.

Off the Kuff notes the first appearance of lawyers bound and determined to help a few recalcitrant County Clerks deny marriage licenses to same sex couples in Texas.

Horwitz at Texpatriate says farewell as he enters the next chapter of his life.

Lightseeker at Texas Kaos exposes Rick Perry and Greg Abbott's myth that tort reform ensures more public access to affordable healthcare.  In GOP Texas tort reform means insurance companies and corporations are the winners while real people pay the price.  Abbott and Perry: Tort Reform as a Trojan Horse.

SocraticGadfly discusses the decline and fall of Walmart, especially in small towns and rural areas.

Should Sen. Bernie Sanders ultimately be eliminated from contention for the Democratic nomination, what's the best choice for progressives moving forward, PDiddie at Brains and Eggs asks.

CouldBeTrue of South Texas Chisme wants everyone to know that Jeb Bush's son is following the GOP anti-environment playbook in ploy to kill songbirds. The apple didn't fall too far from the tree.

Neil at All People Have Value posted a number of interesting pictures from his trip this past week to beautiful Cincinnati, Ohio. APHV is part of NeilAquino.com.

2012 saw the Republican Party lose the Presidency once again, mostly because of their complete refusal to learn from their mistakes, and evolve. As we inch ever closer to 2016, Texas Leftist is left to wonder if the GOP learned anything from the last cycle. Given the dominance of Media Harlot Donald Trump, the answer is a likely "no".


===========================

And here are some posts of interest from other Texas blogs.

Mike Tolson hears the echoes of Loving v. Virginia in the arguments made by same-sex marriage opponents.

Paradise in Hell counts down the last days of freedom in Bastrop until the inevitable Obama/UN takeover of Texas.

Charlotte Coyle confesses her reluctant patriotism.

Texas Clean Air Matters envisions Houston as a leader in zero-emission cargo transport technologies.

Better Texas Blog celebrates beautiful, messy democracy.

Grits for Breakfast analyzes Rick Perry's speech on race relations and criminal justice reform in the context of his time as Governor.

The overrating of Ken Stabler

Ken Stabler trying to escape from
Denver Broncos linebacker Randy Gradishar
n 1976. Stabler was a four-time
Pro Bowl pick.
 CreditJim Palmer/Associated Press
Yes, Stabler, the former keystone of early-mid 1970s Oakland Raiders teams is dead (and the NYT account of his nickname "Snake" is not what is probably the reason why), and I'm not writing to dishonor his memory — rowdy as it was before he got sober.

I am writing to downplay high-gloss buffing of his career, when, after his 1973-76 peak, he really wasn't all that good.

Using a term from Baseball-Reference, he had ZERO black ink after that peak.

Yet, after Craig Calcaterra (who is too young to have seen Stabler's career live) makes a reference to him in this blog post about the Mets' Steven Matz, and says this:
We’re seeing some of this, by the way, in the remembrances of Ken Stabler, too. Admiring and even romantic anecdotes about an era when a quarterback could drink a 12-pack the morning of a big game, still pass for 300 yards and hit the town that night, all while marching his charges to the Super Bowl. It’s definitely a good story with respect to Ken Stabler — the guy was an absolute beast — but it ignores the fact that he was something of a super human and that for every one like him back in the outlaw NFL of the 1970s, there were a dozen promising college quarterbacks who flamed out and found themselves in AA meetings.

And, I counter that Stabler had just a four-year peak, the numbnuts come out of the woodwork.

First, it's interesting that Craig mentioned "survivor bias." Given that he seems to be overrating Stabler's career, whether because Stabler eventually was a "survivor" through sobriety, or a survivor in the game of life with a cast-iron liver even though quickly tailing off as a quarterback, he might want to look that term up himself. Or other logical fallacies. 

Second, Stabler only marched the Raiders to one Super Bowl. Others to do that for wins include such stellar QBs as Jim Plunkett and, well, Jim Plunkett. And, with his two rings to Stabler's one, nobody who knows much thinks he's a great QB either. Daryle Lamonica took them to their first loss in the SB, of course, and Rich Gannon did the same 35 years later.

Then, one commenter admits he was no Johnny Unitas, Fran Tarkenton or Joe Montana, he does say he was a comp to Joe Namath and Terry Bradshaw.

Erm, maybe not.

Let's look at Pro-Football Reference's total Approximate Value points. Stabler had four seasons of 14 or more, three of them in that four-year peak. Unitas had six in an eight-year span, all 14 games or less. (Stabler's fourth 14-point season was in a 16-game schedule.) Tarkenton had nine, all in 14-game seasons. And Montana, all in 16-game seasons, actually had just four years with AV of 16 or above, to adjust for the longer schedule, along with a 15 and a 14.

Namath indeed had four 14s or above, all in a 14 game schedule, and three at his peak. So, Namath is a good comp. Namath had a four-year peak of 1967-69 and a healthy 1972. That said, a lot of people overrate Namath as a QB. Like Stabler, his TDs were far lower than his INTs. Stabler did have a much better completion percentage, but, he was almost a decade younger than Namath — and more than that vs Tark or Johnny U.

Bradshaw is also, surprisingly, a good comp, though Bradshaw had a plus-2 on TDs vs INTs. 

Stabler only had one year after 1976 where his TDs topped his INTs, even in years where he had a decent completion percentage. And, maybe that's part of why Bradshaw has four rings and Stabler only one.

He obviously "forced" a lot of passes, and that's probably one reason he's only got one Super Bowl ring. Maybe he thought he "had to," given the Dolphins early in his career (I still remember this 1974 AFC division playoff between the two) or the Steelers next. The 1970s AFC was tough. But, the INTs were in the regular season, too. After that, maybe he thought he had to be Dan Fouts. As another commenter noted, Stabler had to know he was well past his prime when he was traded straight up for Dan Pastorini.

Tight end target Dave Casper, in the NYT story, reflects more on Stabler's getting picked, and relates it to his general gambling (including federal and NFL investigations):
I don’t think he ever cared about losing. Winning is fine. Losing? So what? He’d rather win the gamble and force a pass in there. He’d rather do it the hard way.”
Bingo. Today, a lot of teams would pass on him. 

Another commenter then, going to baseball, tried to compare him to Whitey Ford. Not even close. That's like overrating Stabler 10 times. I said Bob Turley was a better comp indeed. Or maybe Ralph Terry. But, no way in hell is Kenny Stabler a Whitey Ford.

And, all of this is yet another reason why I blogged about sports commenting on blogs last week.