28 December 2011

Where I part company with the Consequentialist•Atheists

Where I part company with people like Peter Atkins, Richard Dawkins, the late Christopher Hitchens, and Sam Harris is not so much with regard to their analysis of the logical fallacies of religious faith. I agree with them about that. They are right to cite Bertrand Russell’s famous reference to an orbiting teapot, and his having noted that even agnosticism with respect to the reality of an eternally orbiting China teapot is not really rational. And that the same applies to belief in the God of Abraham, the infallibility of the Bible or (closer to home for me) the miraculous powers of the Buddhas and the reality of rebirth and karma which somehow persists from lifetime to lifetime. These things are not rational, and belief in them cannot be sustained by rational argument nor proven empirically by scientific investigation.

And I am skeptical, myself, about almost all religious dogma, including that from the religion with which I have the most experience, which is the Middle Way Consequence School of Indo-Tibetan Buddhism (Madhyamika Prasangika). Where Buddhism teaches the methods of training the mind towards concentration, towards moral discipline, towards awareness, towards generation of love for all living beings-- I believe it is useful and good, in the sense that it helps to decrease the suffering of living beings and to increase their overall well being. But when it comes to whether one or another particular traditional story, or ritual practice, is in some literal sense true, or efficacious-- well, apart from the placebo effect of almost any kind of ritual practice, I’m not so sure.

But where I really part company with these modern day Consequentialist•Atheists, if I may call them that, borrowing the term from Harris (the terms used not together, but separately), is with regard to their assumptions about what is consciousness. Consciousness could be a sort of meta-state that arises from the computational functions of biological computers (brains), or of the entire organism. If so, in principle, if, as these thinkers do, you assume that there is nothing about living organisms, other than their origin through natural selection, that makes them different from artificial systems, it should be possible to model these functions and to create artificial consciousness, or even artificial systems which will serve as hosts for transferred biological consciousness (Presto! Immortality!)

But, and here, I cannot cite empirical evidence, but only intuitive belief, or, if you prefer, faith, I just do not believe this. I do not accept the idea that the inner experience of mind is merely the sum-over effect of computation of a biological computer. I cannot prove my thesis, but nonetheless believe it, probably as firmly as most Christians believe in God, or the resurrection: there is something non-mechanical, non-physical, even, about inner experience, about mind, that cannot be replicated. Whether it in some way, as Buddhists believe, is a continuum, that has always existed and can be neither created nor destroyed, I don’t know, but that it is not merely computation, I believe. No computer, no matter how well it may outwardly simulate the behavior of a mind, is a mind, or ever will be. No one’s conscious mind will ever be downloaded into a computer. No Artificial Intelligence will ever have the inner experience that even a cat or a baby has. Again, I can’t prove this, but I believe it. So, in this sense, I am not fully an atheist, and not fully a scientific rationalist.

So far, I have seen nothing to convince me otherwise, although I will admit that in this particular attitude I am not fully consistent, and am not strictly applying Occam’s Razor, because I suppose it could be argued that the hypothesis that mind is nothing more than a sort of sum-over of the electrochemical functions of brain and organism is simpler than my theory that it is… well, I don’t know. But I hold it nonetheless, and I believe that from it comes a whole host of consequences, some of which actually reinforce the Moral Landscape view of people like Sam Harris.

That this idea of inner experience is somehow connected with the fact that from apparent nothing, something, i.e., this universe and likely an infinity of others, arises, I also hold to be true, although, again, I cannot prove this or describe a rational argument for why it must be so. 

Eventually, everyone chooses what their world view will be. There are philosophical choices made in every system of thought, including scientific rationalism. For the most part, I share the worldview of the Atheists. I find the idea of a God who ransomed the supposed inherited sin of his creatures by torturing his only begotten son to death not only preposterous but offensive. I recognize the hideous harm that is committed in the name of belief in various religious doctrines. I am unclear that, in toto, religion creates more moral behavior, and less suffering, than would occur in its absence. Maybe it does, but there are a lot of counterexamples. But, irrespective or a sort of reckoning of whether holding certain irrational, or rather, not rationally justifiable, beliefs, is or is not beneficial, we all hold certain beliefs, and most of us believe at least some things that cannot be fully justified by rational philosophy or scientific outlook. And this view, that the inner experience of consciousness is in some way a product of the essential nature of reality itself, and cannot be replicated, created artificially, or even fully understood or described, is mine.  

Buddhism has a doctrine of emptiness, which is explicitly held to be beyond the ability of a rational mind to comprehend. The describable part of it seems almost ridiculous, and yet is literally true, from a physical point of view: the way that things appear to exist is not the way that they exist. No thing has fixed existence, inherent, or self-contained. The apparent existence of matter and energy is illusory. I am no doubt influenced by this concept, or phenomenon-system. Perhaps it's like Gödel's proof that no arithmetic system can be fully self-descriptive. Outside of rationality there is... something. And, to me, that something is the ground of existence, which is somehow implicit in, inextricable from, and intrinsic to, the inner experience of mind. 

Yet from rationality, I believe, can be derived a comprehensive, practical universal morality. And where religion fails to do this, fully, it is worse than useless. Religion, and even mysticism, the atheists argue, is unnecessary for morality, and in this they are right, I believe. But morality is absolutely necessary for the integrity of human experience, and for the full flowering of itself: we cannot be a truly moral race, until we recognize that it is irrational, and unacceptable, to cause suffering avoidably; to hold as ours what is needed for others to have well being; to take needlessly what others need. Of course, it isn't realistic for us to expect to fulfill these standards perfectly, but if we do not accept them, and strive for them; if we rationalize systematically ignoring them, we forego our claim to morality, regardless of any affiliation we may have for any religion or philosophy. 

Sam Harris on Youtube: Who Says Science has Nothing to Say About Morality?

This video by Atheist ethicist Sam Harris Who Says Science has Nothing to Say about Morality? is 1 h 17 min. long but well worth a view. You don't have to be an atheist to appreciate some of his points.

Morality and Science, some musings

After reading Brian Greene's The Hidden Reality, I ordered another book on cosmology by a guy who turns out to be a militant (but not nasty) atheist, name of Lawrence Krauss (physicist at ASU in Tempe). Haven't received it yet, it's forthcoming next month; title is A Universe from Nothing). Krauss rejects string theory, but not necessarily the multiverse; he also embraces the idea that from nothing can come nonzero canceling opposites, which are something (think of, for example, the net electric charge of the universe, which is zero; but there isn't no charge, there's just net zero charge).

Anyway, one thing leading to another, and via Youtube, I watched some Atheist discussions and what not and stumbled upon a book by Sam Harris, who wrote Letter to a Christian Nation, called The Moral Landscape. This is about the idea that human suffering can actually be measured through the miracles or modern neuroscience, and that, at least to a "Better than Nothing" approximation, it might be possible to scientifically evaluate morality, if you define what is moral as that which tends to minimize suffering (plural, not just in any one person; you could even include para-human intelligences such as chimps and dolphins, or even all sentient beings, at least in principle).

Perhaps a bit of a stretch, but it is an answer to those who would claim that science is morally neutral: actually, it isn't. It is irrational to cause harm to the Earth, or to others, without some counterbalancing benefit, and if you accept the idea of society as having any value, as opposed to pure narcissism, the only rational goal is the old saw, the greatest good for the greatest number. That is a quantity, at least in principle, which can be determined, and used a measure of morality. Therefore, although the results scientific investigation can be used by immoral persons, their conduct is irrational, and not supported by scientific conclusions. In just the same way that mental techniques discovered by spiritual practitioners can be used by misguided persons to cause harm, but that does not mean that the spiritual practice is morally neutral, or worse, evil, just that it is capable of being subverted. The same for scientific knowledge and technique: if applied consistently, it is moral, but if subverted, it can be used by irrational persons to do harm.

After I get the book (ordered it used) and read it, I'll let you know what I think about all that.

It occurs to me that there may be value in this, irrespective of whether one chooses the reductionist viewpoint that is atheism.* A person can choose to hold beliefs, and still embrace the idea that science is not, or need not be, morally neutral, and that its methodologies can aid in determination of moral courses of action.

* I think this can be summed up thus: The evidence so far claimed for anything supernatural is unverifiable. The rational course in face of unverifiable evidence is to reject premises based on any assumption of the existence of the claimed phenomena (Occam's Razor). Therefore, the rational mind rejects the supernatural, which includes the existence of God, gods, fairies, ghosts, etc.
Whether this is too narrow a viewpoint, or there is a flaw in the logic, I leave for your own particular preferred interpretation. I think it's best not to argue religion with people, because religion and the questions it addresses are inherently emotional.

Obviously, there are some subtleties here. Why would one, for example, more or less categorically reject fairies and ghosts, but have a predisposition to accept extraterrestrial intelligence? I can think of several reasons, but I just throw that out there, except to say, the first category is not only unverifiable, but there is no reasonable chain of assumptions that lead to the conclusion that there is a plausible theoretical basis for the existence of these things, whereas, one actually would have to do a bit of special pleading to conclude that other intelligent beings do not exist somewhere other than Earth, notwithstanding the current state of evidence (i.e., none).

09 December 2011

Britain effectively pulled out of E.U.?

I claim no expertise in the intricacies of Euro politics, but it would seem from the refusal of Britain to join the rest of the E.U. in a treaty to impose uniform fiscal standards, that Britain has effectively removed itself from the E.U. for most practical purposes. Britain's justification, from what I understand, is essentially to preserve plutocracy: i.e., protect its banks and financial sector, the control of which is precisely why the treaty is needed in the first place, so, although not a member of the "Eurozone" anyway, it would appear that Britain has basically taken its toys and gone home.

I guess the question is whether or how long the E.U. as a Great Idea can survive without Britain as a real member.

08 December 2011

Brian Beutler: Dems gambling on being able to raise taxes on rich in Payroll Tax gambit

This piece is interesting. It seems to me that the Democrats are finally standing up for the Middle Class, and that if they do an even halfway decent job of framing and presenting their message, this will pay off and break the stranglehold of right wing economic doctrine on Congress after 2012... at long last. Let's hope and pray.

06 December 2011

Obama Speech: Cautiously Optimistic

Having now had a chance to read Obama's entire speech, I was impressed that he seems to be saying really a lot of the right things. This president has suffered from a lack of passion and energy, especially during the past two years, and I have been very critical of his having been too-ready and too-willing to cut deals with the Rightists, even before pushing hard for his own positions. But if this speech is an indicator of how he intends to campaign in 2012, I am, as Aung San Suu Kyi recently put it, "cautiously optimistic" about democracy in Burma..er, I mean, in America.

Obama's speech today: some right notes

I haven't had a chance to read or see the entire speech the president gave in Kansas today, but in referring to "make or break time for the middle class," noting that the gross inequality of income in America "distorts our democracy," and acknowledging that radical free market thinking just isn't going to work to bring broad prosperity back to our country, the president seems to be hitting the right notes.

05 December 2011

Obama DOJ, Supreme Court likely to shoot down 1st Amendment Rights yet again

The failure of the Obama Justice Department to stand up for the 1st Amendment in the Cheney Arrest Case (see this) is, unfortunately, all too typical of this Administration's terrible record on defending Constitutional rights and principles. I find this particularly disgraceful, in light of Obama's repeated promises to defend and protect the Constitution (as of course is one of his primary responsibilities as president). Of course, the reliable 5-4 majority for Rightist Authoritarian ideology over legal principle on the Court can pretty well be counted on to shoot down the exercise of free speech rights yet again.

It should be emblazoned on the front of the Justice Department, a new motto:

Where there is doubt, where the call may be close, we must err on the side of defending the rights of the people to redress grievances. 

The policy of the government, for a long time before this president, but unfortunately very much including this presidency, has been just the opposite. 

Occupy Electoral Politics: A historic opportunity (about to be missed?)

Having previously commented (here) on Republican hypocrisy in refusing to acknowledge that either allowing the payroll tax cut to lapse and allowing the Bush tax cuts to expire are both tax increases, or neither is; you can't make any legitimate distinction, I wanted to comment on the wisdom of the payroll tax cut as a centerpiece of Democratic policy right now, and then comment much more broadly on the opportunity Democrats have to reshape the 2012 election. 

Look, I get it that there's very little that can be passed in this Congress, and that extending this reduction in regressive taxes, while making up the revenue with a tiny increase in taxes on the very richest is at least something, I find it meager and grotesquely inadequate that the best we are able to do as a society in the way of stimulating our moribund economy is a tax cut. Tax cuts are very weak stimulus, at best. As policy, this is pathetic.

George Lakoff has recently said that what the Democratic party needs to do is reach out to the Occupy Movement, not to co-opt it, but to (in essence) offer it the opportunity to shape and re-form the party in its image. I agree with this. The only way to counter the power of money in politics is to directly provide in kind what money buys: which is, in large measure, people, organization, and direct action. The "Tea Party" and its Fundamentalist Christianist allies managed to virtually take over the Republican party. Now it's time for "Occupy" to occupy electoral politics. If the Democratic party, led by the president, were to put forward a plan to actually put into effect the program of the occupiers: a financial transaction tax, prosecution of Wall Street criminals, strong re-regulation of the financial industry, reformation of trade policy to restore the production economy of America, major investment in infrastructure and renewable energy development, reform political rules including public financing of elections, end gerrymandering, investment in public works jobs to get us through the financial downturn years still ahead, etc. etc. .... AND were to reach out to the very people who've been occupying the streets and say, we want to get the things done that you have been asking for, so join us, give us not your money but your bodies, your energy, your direct action.... We could a) take the special interest corruption and double dealing out of the Democratic party; and b) sweep to victory on a tide of enthusiasm and commitment not seen since the 1960s.

Polyanna? I say no. It just takes a bit of epic leadership, of which, unfortunately, I see no sign. But no one can convince me that what I just outlined above isn't perfectly possible, even this late in the game. I fear there's little chance it will happen, but the Democratic leaders, and President Obama in particular, will have no one but themselves to blame if next year goes badly for Democrats, because the opportunity for truly historic change is there.

If it's a tax hike here, it's a tax hike there

It goes without saying that Republicans and their Ministry of Truth aka Fox News care nothing about intellectual integrity or consistency, but you gotta call 'em on this: they're now claiming that allowing the payroll tax cut to lapse "isn't a tax increase" but allowing the Bush tax cuts to expire is. Even the spineless Congressional Democrats and the president have gotta have enough gumption to say, Look, you just can't have it both ways.

30 November 2011

Norm Coleman, insidious evildoer

"Moderate" Democrats (by today's standards) often cite Norm Coleman as one of the "reasonable" Republicans. Take a look at this, if you are one of these "moderates."  What this guy is essentially saying is that he's just fine with unlimited power of money taking over politics, and the interests and will of the people be damned. I have a terse descriptor for that view: insidious evil.

29 November 2011

Cain Out, Gingrich benefits?

Roiling around the probably well-founded speculation that Herman Cain is finally about to throw in the towel, and the presumption that the most likely beneficiary of that event will be the Newster, my comment is this:

Despite the fact that Romney is obviously a totally hypocritical wealth extraction/concentration specialist (i.e., oligarchic fatcat 1%-er), whose interests are antithetical to those of nearly everyone in America, I am more concerned about his candidacy that that of Newt Gingrich, who I truly believe has zero chance of being elected president.

28 November 2011

Updated: FTL, Causation, and Travel to Remote Timespace Locales

Updated post

FTL, Causation, and Travel to Remote Timespace Locales

Original Post Jan. 2009 

I've been kicking around a sort of sci-fi idea. Conventional scientific thought has it that travel faster than light (FTL) is inherently impossible because it violates causation. (If you don't know why, you can read about it any number of places). Also because the energy necessary for any mass to travel at the speed of light is infinite, and asymptotically approaches infinity as you get closer and closer to that velocity. Nature abhors infinities, just as it abhors vacuum.

However, since the universe (as opposed to the observable universe) is, while not infinite, very very large, it stands to reason that there are many, many worlds, some perhaps a lot like Earth, all over the place, that are outside the time horizon of our current location in space and time. In other words, they are not and can never be causally connected to anything happening here.

If this isn't clear, think about this. The universe is no more than 13-14 billion years old, but there are regions of space much further than 13 billion light years distant, due to the expansion of space. A star in such regions isn't even theoretically visible from here, and it never will be. In fact, no form of communication whatsoever with such regions, which are by far most of the universe, will ever be possible. Unless...

If space is, as some believe, all twisted and interconnected with trapdoors and wormholes, maybe there are ways to connect more or less instantly, say across some kind of 'gateway', with places (timespace locations) which are vastly far away from here; so vastly that they cannot see us and we cannot see them, effectively, ever, in normal space and time.

Might it be at least conceivable that there could be a permanent or at least stable connection between two locales, vastly separated in normal spacetime but immediately proximate in twisty spacetime, so that you could routinely travel between them with no concern for violating either the energy considerations of FTL travel or the problems of timetravel paradoxes which normally arise when FTL is being considered? Travel of signals between such places in normal spacetime is impossible, so there's no way either could causally effect the other in normal spacetime. So the issue of timetravel paradoxes which would otherwise arise from any travel from one such location to another will never arise.

Anyway, an odd consequence of this is that it might be possible to immediately, or at least relatively quickly, travel to extremely remote locations in the universe, while it remains effectively impossible to travel quickly to even the very nearest stars, or anywhere in our own Galaxy, for example.

UPDATE (Nov. 2011):
Here is a more recent exposition of this same speculation. One problem that came to my attention after this, is created by relativity, whereby simultaneity is effectively nonexistent. The spacetime angle created by even small relative motion between very widely separated points in "normal space" might make synchronous travel through such points of contact effectively impossible even if they did exist. But it remains an intriguing idea, at least to me:

This is my idea, and it's how I think it's just possible that the universe actually is.

Accept, if you will, the following premise (I can explain why this is almost certainly so, if you like, but for now please just take it as a premise):

Faster than light travel by massive particles (and anything made out of them, including us and our spaceships, now and in the future, as well as those of any other creatures and their spaceships, now, and in the past and the future)....is impossible. For reasons of General Relativity, and because FTL is actually the mathematical equivalent of backwards time travel, which creates the possibility of violation of causality. For FTL to be possible, the many-worlds hypothesis of Quantum reality is necessarily true, and branching would have to occur both forwards and backwards; once you travel faster than light, you effectively break the connection with the universe you came from and you can never get back to it, although you could seemingly return to a world that resembled the one you left. Anyway, for purposes of my idea, please assume that this is not the case, that FTL is not now and never will be possible.

Now, accept, if you will, just as a thought experiment, the following:

The universe is so structured that places that are too far apart to be causally connected to each other (because light could never reach from one point to the other in the entire history since the Big Bang; rest assured that almost all locales in the universe are separated from almost all other locales in the universe in just this way)... nevertheless can be immediately adjacent to each other in the additional dimensions through which the normal space we live in is curved and re-curved. Picture three dimensional space projected like a map onto twisted spaghetti: locations distant along the threads might touch each other from one thread to another, or even one thread to another part of the same thread.

Then accept the following additional thought experiments:

There are points of contact, where it is possible to cross over from one part of space to another. The distance from A to B through this transit contact point is negligible, even though the distance between the same two points in normal space would typically be tens of billions of light years.

Such points of contact are relatively common (say, several, but not a huge number, accessible from any given place), and are possible, albeit technologically difficult, to detect.

Such points of contact are gravitationally associated with largish masses, like stars, but are typically found well outside the main mass of star systems, where planets and such are found, so that travel to them from such planetary systems is feasible, but not trivially easy. This makes them stable over time, and associated for long periods of time with particular stars and their planets.

A technological civilization arising anywhere in the universe could use these points of trans-spatial contact to create a whole network of accessible worlds, which were located some few tens to hundreds of billions of kilometers through normal space and a limited number of "link jumps" through the extra dimensions, without ever traveling faster than light and without violating causality. None of these linked worlds would be even theoretically visible from any of the others, and would be located literally all over the universe in "real space." (Yes, incidentally, the universe really is plenty large enough for this to be actually possible). Thus, a Trans-Galactic "Empire," even while travel to even the nearest stars remains effectively impracticable.

Bruce Fein, anti-NeoCon conservative

Bruce Fein, the conservative but anti-NeoCon constitutional lawyer and Ron Paul adviser, was interviewed last Wednesday on Ian Masters's Background Briefing. (Ianmasters.com).

I obviously totally disagree with Fein and Paul on domestic policy issues, but Fein in particular makes a dead-on and totally rational argument against the perpetuation of the Military/Congressional/National Security/Industrial Complex and any continued funding of the American Imperial Enterprise.  Fein is entirely consistent, but I believe foreign policy and whether domestic public investment and tax increases are necessary or not are completely separate issues, and it's possible, as I do, to completely disagree with these Conservative Libertarians on those issues, while completely agreeing with them (as I do) on foreign policy, and the necessity of dismantling the American Empire, in particular.

I also completely agree with Fein's views on the terrible danger to our republic posed by the National Security state and the erosion of constitutional guarantees under both the Bush and Obama administrations. 

Sachs: Fairness and the Occupy Movement

Jeffrey Sachs, author of The Price of Civilization, is a visionary who deserves to be listened to. See his Fairness and the Occupy Movement (update) from today's Huffington Post

23 November 2011

My bright idea: micro-commerce on the internet

I am surprised someone hasn't invented (or implemented) a micro-commerce system for the internet, whereby a publication, for example, could sell a one-time view-only, no-download access to a backlist article or story for 5 cts. or something like that. You'd enroll an account, or put money in one, and by entering a password or PIN (or setting up your computer as 1-click, a la Amazon), you'd authorize the micro-charge. Surely this technology exists. Downloadable could cost more, say 50 cts. Free internet is wonderful, but small-cost access to the vast world of privately held backlogged information would be preferable to what we often have nowadays, which is no access. I suspect the reason something like this doesn't already exist is greed: people want to make unreasonable amounts of money from transactions. If the actual cost per transaction is, say 0.02 cts. (which I think is probably about what it would be), the commerce service provider could take a cut of 2 cts. out of 5 cts., giving the backlogged info owner 3 cts., and everybody gets something, at a low, sustainable cost to the consumer. Since this would be commerce that, for economic reasons, currently does not exist, it would be positive for everyone. I just have to believe that with 50 million+ transactions a day (not hard to imagine), there wouldn't be enough money in such a system to make it commercially viable. Something like this could conceivably save newspapers, too... you'd have to pay just a few cents to read an article, but you could set up your computer so that incurring the tiny charges involved would be relatively seamless and take only a fraction of a second.

22 November 2011

Peaceful Civil Disobedience does not justify Police Assault

Monumental fatuous idiots Megyn Kelly and Bill O'Reilly discussing on Fox Propaganda Channel the police assault on immobile protesters at UC Davis agreed that it was "no big deal," and that pepper spray is a "food product". (This).

I have really had it with these Rightists who tout America and the Constitution when they neither know anything about it nor believe in its principles.

Earth to Kelly: police may, according to long standing interpretations of the First Amendment, enforce certain time and place restrictions on the exercise of assembly rights, with good cause and due notice. That could mean, for example, that protesters engaging in "Sit-Down" demonstrations (a form of nonviolent Civil Disobedience), could be arrested and physically removed, under certain circumstances. But if they are immobile, the only acceptable use of force is... "with reasonable care" bodily removal and arrest. The use of clubs, sound cannons, or assault chemicals such as tear gas and pepper spray, on people who are merely refusing to move, is assault and police riot, and should be prosecuted as such. Anyone watching the campus cop spraying massive amounts of pepper spray on completely immobile protesters as if they were weeds who wasn't revolted by that illegal use of police weaponry, has no grasp of what it really means to be an American. If our society blithely tolerates such conduct, we are a long, long way down the road to a republic lost.

21 November 2011

Sachs: The SuperCommittee's Big Lie

Jeffrey Sachs's piece in the Huffington Post today is an absolute dead-bang must-read

Yes, it's the economy, stupid, but Michael Moran's missing the bigger picture

From the headline, this piece in Salon, It's the Politics, Stupid, sounds like it's got it right, by presenting the thesis that the real cause of America's now much talked about decline is political, more than it is economic.

But when you get into the author's specific analysis, I find it much wanting. Yes, he's right that our political system is gravely dysfunctional, and is making it virtually impossible to do what's necessary to fix our economy. But the solution is not technocracy, or more unconstitutional government by commissions and czars. It's the restoration of democracy.

I've talked about this ad nauseam, but it's worth laying out the fundamental progressive position, in a few sentences, one more time:

Michael Moran is right that America's most serious problems are political, not economic. But the solutions have more to do with restoration of the American republican form of government to its intended functions than with specific technocratic policies.

We need to amend the Constitution, as now, in the wake of
Citizens United v. FEC, appears to be necessary, to take the power of money out of politics, by making it impossible for special interests to buy and sell elections. We need to alter course and enshrine as a principle that Corporations are not people with constitutional rights, but public trusts; and that money is not speech. The unlimited use of money to corrupt politics should be a crime, and certainly is not a right.

We need to restore fairness in taxation, so that the rich pay more, and we need to regulate and control the unwarranted power of financial speculators in our political system.

We need to ensure that our representatives are citizens, not professional oligarchs beholden to the elite that sustains them, and that they are elected to represent the interests of the people, their legitimate constituency, not corporate and financial oligarchic elites. Limiting private political contributions, ending corporate contributions, restricting consecutive terms, and ending gerrymandering might be four of the things that would move us well along in this direction.

If we could accomplish this transformation, I am enough of a believer in the power of democracy with a small-d to believe that the actual technocratic solutions will take care of themselves. There are plenty of good ideas out there for how to invest public resources to create jobs and ensure America's future in energy, industry, and sustainable development. There are plenty of ways to ensure that the common good is the goal of government. Most importantly, there is plenty of wealth in this economy to ensure decent economic development and a social safety net that would be the envy of most of the world, and on a par with the best that privileged highly developed nations like Germany, Sweden, and Japan have to offer their citizens. But until we the people, either through the Occupy Movement, or through a succession of public demands, demand control of our government back from the oligarchy that now owns it lock, stock and barrel, our republic will remain dysfunctional, and its economic decline, including gross income disparity and increasing poverty, will be merely a symptom of that disease.

18 November 2011

Report of Crimes Connected to Occupy L.A. part of a coordinated effort to discredit Occupy Movement

See this from the L.A. Times. I would stake a tidy sum that this is a media plant by governmental forces trying to justify an illegal crackdown, which is rumored among Occupy L.A. protesters to be set for this coming Tuesday.

What is REALLY disturbing, if true, is the indication from Oakland Mayor Quan, who let slip that mayors around the country, with coordination by and with the Obama Justice Department, are coordinating tactics to fight against this populist uprising.


17 November 2011

Prop 8 proponents should have standing to argue, Cal. Supreme says

The L.A. Times reports on the Cal. Supreme Court decision today, advising the 9th Circuit that the proponents of California's odious Prop. 8 gay marriage ban should have standing to appeal the District Court decision finding the measure unconstitutional.

I do not regard this as a major setback, although of course the case would have crumbled (as would Prop. 8) had the decision gone the other way. In fact, Rightists generally have argued the other way on these standing issues, and the Cal. Supreme Court, if anything, is reinforcing a precedent that citizens (such as groups like the ACLU) can act to either defend or challenge laws even when there is no specific, already manifest plaintiff damages to found the case upon. This decision is a bit arcane for the average citizen to follow, but overall I don't see it as a reason to be concerned. Where the Prop. 8 decision may face a genuine struggle is if, or when, it goes before the U. S. Supreme Court, with its unprincipled gang of 4... sometimes 5... who vote Rightist ideology over legal principle every time.

No on bad Supercommittee Deal • No on SOPA

I sent 2 messages to my Congressman today. The first was simple: No on the blatant attempt to undermine net neutrality and address a problem (piracy) that requires a pocket screwdriver with a Howitzer. I refer to "SOPA," the so-called "Stop Online Piracy Act." VOTE NO.

The other one was as follows:

Virtually any deal that may come out of compromise with the Rightist members of the (unconstitutional) "SuperCommittee" is guaranteed to be BAD for the majority of Americans.
  • No deal that doesn't increase taxes on the very Rich.
  • No deal that makes cuts to Social Security, MediCal or Medicare.
  • No extension of the Bush Tax Cuts.
  • No deal that doesn't cut military spending substantially.

Since there will be no such deal, VOTE NO. The automatic cuts, which can be modified or repealed later, are far preferable.


Thank you.

Herman Cain: pathetic monomaniac

OK, it's official. (See this.) There can be no further doubt that Herman Cain is a monomaniac, and that the subject of his monomania is his own tremendously, and pathetically, bloated self-image. The fact that this figure remains, despite all, a darling of a certain segment of the right-wing fringe that controls the Republican Party, says a great deal about them.

15 November 2011

Some proposed reforms to take money and its influence out of politics

After the shocking revelation on CBS' 60 Minutes that members of Congress are exempt from insider trading laws, and that some of the worst scoundrels in that body are in fact guilty of wretched behavior that would otherwise land them in jail for a long time, I have a few simple proposals:

1.  All members of Congress and Senators must put their assets into blind trust upon assuming office; for those in need of it, the Congressional administrative offices will provide that service.

2.  (While we're at it); House and Senate members may serve only one term, then must stand down; with a maximum of 2 terms in the Senate or 4 in the House in a lifetime. (Eliminates entrenched incumbency bias).

3.  After the dreadful holdings of Citizens United v. FEC are nullified, Congress persons will be prohibited from raising private money, or taking any form of private remuneration for any purpose while in office, and shall have only public campaign funds to spend on elections; the same for their challengers.

Might well add a fourth: Congressional representatives and Senators, upon leaving office, shall be prohibited from all lobbying activity permanently or from taking any form of remuneration or compensation for any actions taken while in office. This would be tricky to enforce, but the standard should be there. As it should be for all Congressional and Executive branch staffers and for retired military personnel.

Also, Congressional pensions should be prorated; there is no reason someone who serves a few years should receive a glorious income for life.

Penn State Scandal

I am not a prude, and I sometimes wonder if our over-sexualized culture doesn't make too big a deal about sex in general, and sex involving teenagers in particular. Having said that, this interview reveals that this Jerry Sandusky guy is a World Class Creep and very likely a sexual predator who does indeed belong behind bars for life; and people who knew what he was up to and did nothing to protect the victims, who apparently were mostly pre-teen, deserve what they've got coming to them.

Hell No -- We Won't Go‼

The Occupy Movement needs to be recognized as a fundamental exercise of peaceable assembly rights, with some degree of peaceable civil disobedience admixed.

Thus, while the polities may have an arguable right to maintain restrictions against, for example, camping and tents, and those who want to defy these restrictions will have to accept that they do so at risk of arrest, it can also be said that in recognition of the importance of the right to petition for the redress of grievances, city governments should be as flexible as possible.

But having said that, when it comes to people refusing to leave, the police clearly have no right to mace and molest peaceable protesters, or, indeed, to forcibly remove them. The 1st Amendment is quite clear about an unqualified right of assembly and petition of grievance.

Congress shall make no law... abridging... the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for redress of grievances. 

The word is abridging, not prohibiting. Macing people who refuse to break up an assembly is abridging. It is the mayor and the police who are violating the law of the land here, not the OSW protesters.

(I trust I need not belabor the post Civil War constitutional changes that apply the First Amendment's strictures to all levels of government).

07 November 2011

Herman Cain

There is a great deal of ruckus today about one of Herman Cain's accusers coming forward, etc. etc., blah blah. Don't get me wrong, I am not minimizing the importance of sexual harassment or even implicitly condoning what was in all likelihood at minimum (unsurprisingly) boorish behavior on the part of this profoundly stupid man. But what strikes me is that it's this scandal which is likely to unhinge his candidacy, when there are at least two other reasons it should have already spun entirely apart:

1.  The man is an idiot. His comments about "Ubekka bekka stan stan" make George W. Bush look like the statesman of the century. Examples of the man's profound incapacity to hold national office abound.

2.  As documented by the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel and Alternet.org (Adele Stan), Cain was undoubtedly a knowing recipient of campaign material assistance illegally funneled from a 501(c)(3) organization (charity; the same category as a church) created and managed by his campaign manager, Block (aka Cigarette-Smoking-Man).

It would seem to me blatantly obvious lack of qualification and strong evidence of conspiracy to commit tax evasion would trump some fifteen year old civil matter involving unproven, however plausible, allegations of personal misconduct.

03 November 2011

Government by SuperCommittee ... NG

Two very quick points.
1.    I deplore, detest, despise, and believe unconstitutional un-elected "supercommittees" and other such undemocratic means of avoiding the job of doing the people's business as the Constitution intended.
2.    I actually hope the so-called SuperCommittee deadlocks and fails to reach any kind of "deal." "Deals" with the Rightist party have been disastrous for our country. Forced cuts, while stupid and counterproductive, would at least fall on the military budget to some extent. (Better to just repeal the stupid deal after we take back the House and make gains in the Senate, which if the idiot Democrats and the president could get their act together and get BEHIND the We are the 99% movement, they could easily do).

UPDATE (11/7):
I see where Chuck Schumer is predicting "supercommittee failure." Good. I hope he's right.

29 October 2011

Greedy and UnAmerican

There's an internet circulator going around that's supposed to be a letter from constituent of former Sen. Alan Simpson (of Catfood Commission fame), lambasting him for calling ordinary people greedy and referring to Social Security as a "cow with 310 million teats."

I find it just unbelievable hypocrisy that these people call ordinary folks, who just tried to do what they were supposed to do, working hard all their lives, who have the entirely reasonable expectation that they'd have some kind of secure retirement and medical security in their old age, greedy.

What about the corporate oligarchs who induced through political influence changes in accounting and financial rules that allowed them to loot pensions and other benefits and create rigged "retirement plans" that create huge fees for the financial sector and no real financial security, for those employees who even get them? And who increased the ratio of CEO pay to ordinary worker pay from 15 to 1 to 400 to 1 in a generation, so that the income of the top one percent tripled while the income of ordinary people remained flat? And who saw to it that the rights of collective bargaining were weakened to the point that corporations can ignore worker rights with impunity and have little fear of workers organizing unions? And who saw to it that trade agreements that favor only the oligarchic class made it possible to eviscerate the collective power and wealth of American manufacturing and labor? And who saw to it that casino capitalism was legalized and the tax code was heisted so they could make billions and billions while producing absolutely nothing of any concrete use to the people of our country? 

You just gotta ask... who is greedy, and who is unAmerican, here?

28 October 2011

FDR's Economic Bill of Rights

It's amazing to think that 65 years ago this was political currency:

“The Economic Bill of Rights”

Excerpt from President Roosevelt's January 11, 1944 message to the Congress of the United States on the State of the Union:
It is our duty now to begin to lay the plans and determine the strategy for the winning of a lasting peace and the establishment of an American standard of living higher than ever before known. We cannot be content, no matter how high that general standard of living may be, if some fraction of our people—whether it be one-third or one-fifth or one-tenth—is ill-fed, ill-clothed, ill-housed, and insecure. This Republic had its beginning, and grew to its present strength, under the protection of certain inalienable political rights—among them the right of free speech, free press, free worship, trial by jury, freedom from unreasonable searches and seizures. They were our rights to life and liberty.
As our nation has grown in size and stature, however—as our industrial economy expanded—these political rights proved inadequate to assure us equality in the pursuit of happiness.
We have come to a clear realization of the fact that true individual freedom cannot exist without economic security and independence. “Necessitous men are not free men.” People who are hungry and out of a job are the stuff of which dictatorships are made.
In our day these economic truths have become accepted as self-evident. We have accepted, so to speak, a second Bill of Rights under which a new basis of security and prosperity can be established for all—regardless of station, race, or creed.
Among these are:
The right to a useful and remunerative job in the industries or shops or farms or mines of the nation;
The right to earn enough to provide adequate food and clothing and recreation;
The right of every farmer to raise and sell his products at a return which will give him and his family a decent living;
The right of every businessman, large and small, to trade in an atmosphere of freedom from unfair competition and domination by monopolies at home or abroad;
The right of every family to a decent home;
The right to adequate medical care and the opportunity to achieve and enjoy good health;
The right to adequate protection from the economic fears of old age, sickness, accident, and unemployment;
The right to a good education.
All of these rights spell security. And after this war is won we must be prepared to move forward, in the implementation of these rights, to new goals of human happiness and well-being.
America's own rightful place in the world depends in large part upon how fully these and similar rights have been carried into practice for all our citizens.
For unless there is security here at home there cannot be lasting peace in the world.


From the 1944 State of the Union Address.

25 October 2011


Is it actually possible that the majority of voters don't get it that Republican "flat tax plans" and Cain's "Plan 999 from Outer Space" are huge wealth transfers to the already super-rich at THEIR expense? Really? You gotta be kidding me.

America the (*most*) Unequal -- What Occupy Wall Street is Really All About

Jeffrey Winters, in his new book Oligarchy, notes that in terms of concentration of wealth in the top 500 or so households as compared to the average of the bottom 90% of society, the United States today is the most unequal society in the history of this planet. In comparison, ancient Rome had a ratio of about 10,000 to 1. Ours is 20,000 to 1. And the state now exists primarily to protect the wealth of the wealthy, whereas at many times in the past they had to take care of that themselves (through direct military power).

Here is my theme for a movement to change the hideously disproportionate political power of the uber-rich in America today:

Government by Entrenched Monied Interests
for the Super-Rich and Big Corporations
It's time to restore Government by the People and for the People to our nation.

20 October 2011

Gadafi Murdered

Although it is obvious to anyone that Muammar Gadafi was a tyrant and a criminal, I for one do not celebrate his murder by mob today. It is a good thing, of course, that the conflict in Libya is now over (or, "for now"), but it is never justified to simply murder someone who has been taken captive, which appears to be what occurred here, based on video images released by Arabic language television and available on the Huffington Post.

17 October 2011

Krugman essential reading

Krugman in the Times is essential reading today. Here.

I believe if the Democrats, and particularly the White House, were to realize, and soon, that they must offer the frustrated majority a sharp choice between reform and a major Paradigm Shift along the lines of The Way Forward (here), which I mentioned earlier in one of my posts, on the one hand, and more of the same on the other, the floodgates of support, including small and medium dollar financial support, would open. Folks like me, who are reluctant to contribute to the DNC or the House and Senate official committees, or to the Obama campaign, because we don't support more of the same, will step up once a definitive break, and a bold leadership plan, is made manifest. I hope the White House is realistically assessing what the Occupy Movement really means, because the future of our country is in the balance.

16 October 2011

You have just GOT to be kidding me !!

Report: Cain proposes 20 foot electric fence to electrocute illegal migrants.

Events of the last couple of years make me think Mencken's famous phrase needs to be updated to No one ever went broke underestimating the lunacy of the American people, but this is just unbelievable, coming from the supposed frontrunner of one of the two major political parties' nomination race.

If the Off the Cliff Republicans actually nominated this nut, I just have to believe enough of the public would come to its senses that his defeat would be of historic proportions. I just have to.

12 October 2011

E-mail to White House: Support NAF "the Way Forward"

I strongly urge the White House to seriously investigate the profoundly well thought out New America Foundation paper "The Way Forward" here.

The president should convene his advisors and demand of them that they say what, exactly, they have to offer in the way of a program that is in any way better than this program.

Then, he should make the essence of this plan the centerpiece of his re-election campaign. Run against the Do-Nothing Obstructionist GOP and PROMISE that if the people will re-elect him, AND elect a majority of Democrats in both houses, he will see to it that the obstructionist rules in the Senate are changed, and this plan is enacted into law, to protect and restore the Middle Class, as well as protecting the essential social system of this country, all for the 99%, not the 1%.

This is truly popular... people are realizing, finally, that short term debt service will only make things worse, that our nation is in deep trouble, and only TRULY BOLD action will work to get us back on track.

The president must be much more vocal in support of Government of by and for the people, getting money out of politics, and investing in the future.

In doing this, making clear that he STANDS WITH, not against, the OWS demonstrators, will help to make clear that he gets it, and that things will be different if the people will support a bold new agenda.

07 October 2011

Bloviating Eric Cantor fearmongers #OWS

The always reliable bloviator Eric Cantor fearmongers Occupy Wall Street, as might be expected. (See this). The only problem is that there's no truth to it whatsoever. The #OWS demonstrators are adamantly committed to Sharpian nonviolent strategy and tactics, so when Cantor refers to "some" "condoning pitting Americans against Americans," he's, well, full of it as usual.

Repubs "steamed" over Reid "nuclear option."

Here is an explanation of Harry Reid's procedural power play with regard to the Jobs Bill the other night.

Reports are that the Repubs, and McConnell in particular, are "steamed." I say, wonderful. These despicable people should be kept on low boil indefinitely.

06 October 2011

Zucotti Park OCCUPY WALL STREET Statement

Partial Transcript of Keith Olbermann's Countdown from yesterday:

In our third story, it is not a catch phrase, but it is a declaration of what they want. That the document — which I will read in full in a moment — is not a list of laws to be repealed nor politicians to be elected, may only confuse the precocious ninth graders now passing for TV anchors and news men these days, but the absence of the kind of painted footsteps with which they used to mark the floors of dance-instruction studios is — in a way — breathtaking.

The two by four that Errol Louis described — it implies that there is so much to change, that such a tipping point has been reached, that some easy to apply band-aids just are not going to be enough — and it implies that the commentators, and politicians, and moneyed interests that do not come to understand the scope of what must change will be without influence, and without power before they realize that the change has happened.

So with that as preamble, here is formerly and finally, what Occupy Wall Street says and wants. It is, in essence, their special comment:

“As we gather together in solidarity to express a feeling of mass injustice we must not lose sight of what brought us together. We write so that all people who feel wronged by the corporate forces of the world can know that we are your allies. As one people, united, we acknowledge the reality that the future of the human race requires the cooperation of its members. That our system must protect our rights, and upon corruption of that system, it is up to the individuals to protect their own rights, and those of their neighbors. That a democratic government derives its just power from the people, but corporations do not seek consent to extract wealth from the people, and the Earth, and that no true democracy is attainable when the process is determined by economic power.
We come to you at a time when corporations — which place profit over people, self-interest over justice, and oppression over equality — run our governments. We have peaceably assembled here as is our right to let these facts be known.
They have taken our houses through an illegal foreclosure process, despite not having the original mortgage.
They have taken bailouts from taxpayers with impunity, and continue to give executives exorbitant bonuses.
They have perpetuated inequality and discrimination in workplaces based on age, the color of one’s skin, sex, gender identity, and sexual orientation.
They have poisoned the food supply through negligence, and undermined the farming system through monopolization.
They have profited off the torture, confinement, and cruel treatment of countless animals, and actively hide these practices.
They have continuously sought to strip employees of the right to negotiate for better pay and safer working conditions.
They have held students hostage with tens of thousands of dollars of debt on education, which is, itself, a human right.
They have consistently outsourced labor and used that outsourcing as leverage to cut worker’s health care and pay.
They have influenced the courts to achieve the same rights as people with none of the culpability or responsibility.
They have spent millions of dollars on legal teams, but look for ways to get them out of contracts in regards to health insurance.
They have sold our privacy as a commodity.
They have used the military and police force to prevent freedom of the press.
They have deliberately declined to recall faulty products, endangering lives in pursuit of profit.
They determine economic policy despite the catastrophic failures their policies have produced and continue to produce.
They have donated large sums of money to politicians, who are responsible for regulating them.
They continue to block alternate forms of energy to keep us dependent on oil.
They continue to block generic forms of medicine that could save people’s lives, or provide relief in order to protect investments that have
already turned a substantial profit.
They have purposely covered up oil spills, accidents, faulty bookkeeping, and inactive ingredients in pursuit of profit.
They purposefully kept people misinformed and fearful through their control of the media.
They have accepted private contracts to murder prisoners, even when presented with serious doubts about their guilt.
They have perpetuated colonialism at home and abroad.
They have participated in the torture and murder of innocent civilians overseas.
They continue to create weapons of mass destruction in order to receive government contracts.
To the people of the world,
We, the New York City general assembly occupying Wall Street in Liberty Square, urge you to assert your power.
Exercise your right to peaceably assemble, occupy public space, create a process to address the problems we face, and generate solutions accessible to everyone.
To all communities that take action and form groups in the spirit of direct democracy, we offer support, documentation, and all of the resources at our disposal.
Join us and make your voices heard.”

The statement issued from Zuccotti Park by the general assembly at Occupy Wall Street. We will continue, and we’ll continue to update you on the events and the violence that ensued this evening.

05 October 2011

Bittman Wrong on Food Tax

Two stipulations, if you please. First, I am no libertarian. Second, I generally find Mark Bittman's columns in the New York Times  both simpatico and interesting.

I think he's dead wrong today, however, to praise the Danes' tax on saturated fat in foods. For two reasons.

1.  First, and foremost, is that this is the Nanny State gone wild. I favor regulation on toxins in food and drugs, environmental hazards, etc. I am not advocating Ron Paulism, and far from it. But saturated fat is not poison, and if people choose to eat it, that's their business. It's not like second hand smoke. It doesn't hurt other people. And the concept that it increases medical costs (if true, see below)... well, so do a lot of other things. I draw the line short of here: the government has no business using taxes to disincentivize these choices.

2. Now, if that didn't convince you, how about this? The scientific justification for this kind of tax is specious. There is, in fact, absolutely no evidence, despite many attempts to prove otherwise, that saturated fat in the diet causes heart disease, obesity, cancer, or any other health conditions. Don't believe it? Refer to Good Calories, Bad Calories by Gary Taubes, with its extensive footnotes and bibliography. It's the truth.

04 October 2011

Harry Shearer features Yves Smith again

Harry Shearer's terrific weekly radio show Le Show (KCRW.com or iTunes for podcast--free) featured the excellent financial commentary of Yves Smith (pseud.; she's a high level former financial analyst). See her excellent blog: Naked Capitalism.

Crazy Harridan Ann Coulter and Irony So Thick You Can Cut it with a Knife

Fox news' far right (of course) host introduces Ann Coulter, about to compare Occupy Wall Street protesters to Nazis (again, of course), by saying "Hundreds of lefty Wall Street protesters were rounded up and arrested...." Nutcase Annie came on to say that this (the protests) was how totalitarianism always starts out.

Now, Ann, let me set you straight: rounding up and arresting protesters is what the beginning of totalitarianism looks like. Get a clue. People protesting non-violently in the streets is what DEMOCRACY looks like.

01 October 2011

Kudos to Kamala Harris for nixing foreclosure deal

I agree with Calif. Atty. Gen. Kamala Harris's decision not to cooperate in the Feds' deal with the big banks to plough through their criminal conduct in regards to foreclosures and improper property documentation in connection  the speculative housing bubble. I see that as just another example of the Obama administration putting its political financial interests (in obtaining a billion dollars to finance re-election from Wall Street contributors) over economic justice.

28 September 2011

October 2011: Get Money Out of Politics and Reform Corporatism and Wall Street

Both of these websites are well worth perusing:


There has been a little coverage of the Wall Street demonstrations, mainly due to police brutality, which is treated as news. It's interesting, though, that more people have been arrested in the last week on Wall Street than typically show up at even a well-publicized Tea Party Rally. Liberal media bias?? You gotta be kidding me.

Basically, I completely agree with these folks. I will vote for Barack Obama in 2012, because I am a pragmatist, but I deplore his corporation and Wall Street friendly policies, and truly believe he either deliberately evaded or squandered the best opportunity to make serious reforms in the interests of economic justice we've had in a long time, or probably will have anytime soon. And for that, while I will support him, I intend to offer my financial support only to progressive organizations.

Krugman: We should be investing like it was WWII

Huffington Post reports on Paul Krugman's speech in which he advocates government investment in the face of the current crisis as if it were the "equivalent of World War II."

This is pretty much what I've been saying for the past three years, so it's somewhat reassuring that a Nobel Prize winning economist is saying the same thing.

23 September 2011

Revisiting the Fermi Paradox in light of the experiments (apparently) showing Faster than Light particles

I thought of an analogy. Life on earth exists everywhere it can exist, precisely because translation, i.e., moving from one place to the next, reproduction, (both of those in the context of duration in time), and typical lifetime of organisms, all match up nicely. Bacterialike organisms evolving one time on a planet like Earth will fill its entire surface (at least the parts compatible with life) in a comparatively short time, probably only a few thousand years. I am convinced that if certain facts are true, the same thing would be true of the presence of intelligent life, or at least evidence of its past presence, essentially everywhere if it were possible to travel at speeds faster than light.

To demonstrate my logic, please posit the following:

1.  Intelligent beings roughly comparable to humans, and capable of discovering and implementing any technologies possible under the laws of physics given sufficient time, do exist, in some reasonable numbers and frequency in the universe. (This derives from several other assumptions about the origin and prevalence of life, etc.; when I refer to 'reasonable numbers' I think 1 or 2 contemporaneously existing technological civilizations in any given large spiral galaxy in any given time would be more than sufficient).
2.  Travel faster than light turns out to be possible (now given some intriguing potential for being true: http://www.guardian.co.uk/science/2011/sep/23/physicists-speed-light-violated).
3.  Civilizations can and do exist for extended periods of time, tend to expand outward from their place of origin at least for a time, are at least sometimes sufficiently interested and curious to want to explore and even colonize other locations in space, and can and would if it were possible transfer their technological knowledge to other intelligent beings from time to time.
4.  The universe, in terms of the emergence of planetary life, and the times for the evolution of life, has been much as it is today for at least several billion years, so that planets somewhat like Earth,, i.e. cradles of life, which had already had plenty of time to evolve advanced living things, already existed billions of years ago, and therefore so did civilizations capable of advanced technology, at least in some numbers.

If all of these things are true, then the Galaxy would resemble the Star Trek universe, at least in the sense that every world in orbit around every single one of its 3 or 4 hundred billion stars would have been visited and catalogued by somebody, at some time in the last few billion years. At minimum. The same would be true for all similarly endowed galaxies (ignoring the fact that some galaxies, due to exigencies of nucleosynthesis and star formation, are relatively devoid of the kinds of stars and planets likely to evolve life; there are plenty, as in hundreds and hundreds of billions, of galaxies even in the observable part of the universe that qualify as roughly comparable to our Galaxy. Also assumes, as most cosmologists do, that the laws of physics are everywhere and during the entire time in question pretty much if not perfectly the same).

Since to all reasonable inference from evidence this ubiquity of technological presence is not the case, one has to doubt the experimental result, or doubt at least one of the posited truths above. It's inescapable, as far as I can see. Occam's razor seems to dictate that the most likely "false" postulate is No. 2, and FTL is, in fact, not possible.

22 September 2011

A sad day for America

The state murder last night in Georgia, after an agonizing final review, of a man who in all likelihood was innocent, is a truly terrible stain on the judicial system of our nation. As an American, it fills me with shame.

I can only pray that this act of violence, so clearly wrong, will function as a seed of regret and determination in the conscience of the nation, which will eventually result in ending the cold-blooded killing of citizens by the state euphemistically referred to as capital punishment, once and for all.

Whether you, as I do, believe that killing in the absence of threat is barbaric and never justified, or not, the undeniable fact is that it is irrevocable, and is sometimes, and unavoidably, carried out despite the innocence of the one convicted. This should be reason enough to end this horrible, horrible practice forever.

21 September 2011

Scrooge and Modern Day Republicans: a close analogy

Here's from A Christmas Carol:

``At this festive season of the year, Mr Scrooge,'' said the gentleman, taking up a pen, ``it is more than usually desirable that we should make some slight provision for the Poor and destitute, who suffer greatly at the present time. Many thousands are in want of common necessaries; hundreds of thousands are in want of common comforts, sir.''
``Are there no prisons?'' asked Scrooge.
``Plenty of prisons,'' said the gentleman, laying down the pen again.
``And the Union workhouses?'' demanded Scrooge. ``Are they still in operation?''
``They are. Still,'' returned the gentleman, `` I wish I could say they were not.''
``The Treadmill and the Poor Law are in full vigour, then?'' said Scrooge.
``Both very busy, sir.''
``Oh! I was afraid, from what you said at first, that something had occurred to stop them in their useful course,'' said Scrooge. ``I'm very glad to hear it.''
``Under the impression that they scarcely furnish Christian cheer of mind or body to the multitude,'' returned the gentleman, ``a few of us are endeavouring to raise a fund to buy the Poor some meat and drink, and means of warmth. We choose this time, because it is a time, of all others, when Want is keenly felt, and Abundance rejoices. What shall I put you down for?''
``Nothing!'' Scrooge replied.
``You wish to be anonymous?''
``I wish to be left alone,'' said Scrooge. ``Since you ask me what I wish, gentlemen, that is my answer. I don't make merry myself at Christmas and I can't afford to make idle people merry. I help to support the establishments I have mentioned: they cost enough: and those who are badly off must go there.''
``Many can't go there; and many would rather die.''
``If they would rather die,'' said Scrooge, ``they had better do it, and decrease the surplus population."

This reminds me of former Congressman Grayson's show n' tell in Congress back in '09, when he held up cards explaining the Republicans' Health Care Plan:

"1. Don't Get Sick
2. And if you do get sick....
3. Die quickly."

Grayson got a lot of criticism for this, but he would not back down, for the simple reason that what he was saying was the plain truth of the matter. And I don't see where anything has changed one bit since then, or all that much since Dickens's time, for that matter, when it comes to the mean spirit of the Right Wing. 

I cite the absurdity of Ron Paul's idiotic response to the question in a recent debate about uninsured Americans, and the recent even more preposterous and mean spirited claim of his that his own staffer who died with $400,000 in outstanding medical bills "didn't need government support."

AARP to flood Supercommittee with Constitutent E-mails: Don't Cut Social Security, Medicare or Medicaid

AARP is sending around an e-mail to create constituent e-mails to the Supercommittee. Below is what I sent... much of it is their canned text, but then I added my perhaps obviously more militant comments at the end.

The cuts to Social Security and Medicare benefits currently being considered by the supercommittee would have a devastating impact on seniors across the country. I just heard the story of one senior that I wanted to share with you, to help you understand why it's so important that you stand up against unfair benefit cuts.
"I have been working since I was 16 years old, and I'm still working now at age 67. I have no hope of being able to retire while I'm healthy enough to enjoy my non-working years. My husband is 10 years older, and has worked his whole life until he developed multiple health problems that require numerous maintenance drugs. Even with Medicare part D coverage his medications average $400 per month. My job not only provides a salary, but also group health insurance, for myself, that is much less than Medicare + a supplement policy + Medicare part D. We will have a very hard time to make ends meet at the current level of SSI and Medicare Benefits when I am no longer able to work. If there are changes to these plans that reduce benefits I don't know what we will do. We have worked hard our whole lives,have always paid all of our bills on time, and done our best to be good citizens. I implore all of our elected officials to consider the impact that changes to these programs would have on the Seniors in our Country. Please do the right thing by us."

-Elsie N., California

Please remember this story as you make decisions about the future of Social Security and Medicare in the weeks to come. Like Elsie, I am counting on you to protect the benefits I've earned from unfair cuts.

Americans are fed up and angry that, after the financial debacle was caused by profligate casino capitalism, the taxpayers were expected to pony up and bail out the banks and speculators, but when it comes to preserving the key social programs that have ensured a decent standard of living. and a THRIVING CONSUMER ECONOMY, in this country for 70 years, the powerful elites want to cut deficits on the backs of working people, the middle class, and seniors. Understand this, members of the Supercommittee: WE WILL NOT STAND FOR THIS. If there are to be budget adjustments to cut long term debt, they must come PRIMARILY from increasing taxes on those who have been getting an easy ride, and NOT AT ALL from cuts to Social Security; and the only acceptable changes to Medicare and Medicaid are cost controls, NOT BENEFIT CUTS.

We will remember, and vote out of office, anyone who doesn't represent the will of the vast majority of Americans on these issues.

20 September 2011

Progressives will Rally

I agree with Bill Keller's piece "Fill in the Blanks" in the NYT (here) entirely. I am a critic of President Obama. But I believe in a great deal of what he's trying to do, and I intend to do what I can to make sure he's re-elected; because, as Jonathan Alter said in a different context, the alternatives are dire for America.

Huffpo Report: Warren surges against Brown

It is too early to predict 2012 outcomes, of course, but I think the fact that Elizabeth Warren is already showing a slight lead over incumbent Sen. Scott Brown in Mass. is encouraging and indicative. See this. Considering that he is considered personable and photogenic, while she is seen as wonkish, and has minimal name recognition among the general public, even in Mass., this is actually quite remarkable in such a short period of time.

What it indicates, and will indicate more definitively if she develops a strong and persisting lead, as I believe she will, is that Democrats who clearly state Core Democratic Principles will do well, and, in fact outperform those who are too ready to compromise those principles for some imagined (although in the end mostly non-performing) political expediency. Polling in Wisconsin and Ohio, where significant battles over public employee collective bargaining have garnered too little attention from national Democratic figures, have also shown this trend: those who strongly support traditional Democratic issues like protecting Social Security and Medicare, increasing taxes on the very rich, and protecting collective bargaining, outpoll "New Democrat" types by as much as 10%.

I see some signs that in recent weeks President Obama is starting to take this lesson to heart; I certainly hope and pray that this is the case. Because I am completely convinced that this is the road to victory, not only for the President, but for Democrats challenging Republicans for House and Senate seats, as well as Democrats defending House and Senate seats.

DADT gone day

Took an unconscionable 18 years for something that should never have been enacted, but the ultimate repeal of DADT is something to celebrate, that's for sure. And Obama has to get credit for this.

Obama gets some moxie

I met with a financial adviser yesterday, not an unreasonable guy in most respects, but in the course of our conversation he accused Pres. Obama of being "misleading" about taxes because he didn't mention that most people paying under $50,000 pay lower tax rates than the rich, due to deductions. Not only is this pretty much just a rightist talking point, it's not even true in a technical sense.

But the main point is the bigger picture, as I tried to explain. We've had 35 years of accelerating wealth transfer from working and middle class people to the very rich, and the tax code is a major factor (although, as Dean Baker points out, not the largest factor) in that. That is a fact.

Anyway, I just want to go on record as saying, like Michael Moore on Rachel Maddow's show last nigh that the president's speech yesterday, was one of the most encouraging in a long time. He seems to finally have decided to have some fight and defiance in his rhetoric. I loved the way he made clear that budget cuts without revenue fairness will get a veto.

19 September 2011

Michelle Bachmann is dumber than Bush

I've said before, and this article proves it: Michelle Bachmann, irrespective of her batpoop crazy ideology, is just too stupid to hold national office, even in 21st Century America, and that's saying a lot. (It also proves just how crazy she really is).

18 September 2011

Improved Low-Carb Ice cream recipe (Chocolate)

Low Carb Ice Cream / Chocolate • requires ice cream machine (I use Cuisinart), and specialty natural sweeteners erythritol and oligofructose (aka fructo-oligosaccharide) • these can be purchased from www.netrition.com or other specialty food online retailers

7/8 cup whole milk
6 oz. baking chocolate ...chill in freezer in advance ... broken into small pieces
5/8 cup erythritol granules
5/8 cup oligofructose powder or granules (“Sweet Perfection” or other brand)
2 cups heavy cream, very cold
1 tbs. vanilla extract

Heat whole milk until just bubbling at edges in double boiler
Meanwhile, break up chocolate into small pieces and put in blender with about 1/3 cup of the erythritol: pulse at highest speed, loosening any compacted material, until finely ground and uniform. Add to hot milk, and the remaining erythritol and the oligofructose and blend with hand blender until smooth. Transfer to a chilled 1½ quart+ pourable large measuring cup and let cool to room temperature. Add heavy cream and vanilla and mix thoroughly. Chill well in refrigerator.

Add to prepared ice cream machine, and run according to manufacturer's directions, although it will take somewhat longer... perhaps 40 min.

The oligofructose helps make the erythritol less prone to recrystallize.

Variation: add pecan pieces or frozen berries right before end, to taste


This ice cream is obviously not low-fat or low calorie, but erythritol has almost no effective carbohydrate, and oligofructose is a dietary fiber, with low glycemic index and few calories, although it is moderately sweet. Thus, this ice cream has a very low glycemic index and should be genuinely low-carb. The amount of erythritol and oligofructose is more than the amount of sugar that would be used in a normal recipe, but, if anything, this ice cream is slightly less sweet than it would be if made with sugar normally. (Equivalent amount of sugar is about ¾ cup; many similar normal ice cream recipes call for more like 1 cup). These products are expensive, but if you want good tasting low-carb ice cream, there really isn't any other alternative that I've come across. Erythritol is the lowest calorie and lowest glycemic index of the sugar alcohols. Isomalto-oligosaccharride might work as a substitute for oligofructose, but I have no experience with it and haven't located a small-bulk quantity source for it as of yet.

The erythritol has a slightly “cool” sweetness, but this is offset by the oligofructose to some extent. There is no stevia-like or artificial sweetener aftertaste, however.