Monday, October 31, 2011

What the Fundagelical Hell Mongers Still Don't Get

Well, it wasn't long at all before several fundie blogs reacted to my recent blog on "Hell",

in which I pointed out that even if it does exist there can't be any "fires" such as depicted in attached image above from a fundie's blog, nor can it be "everlasting" or "eternal". This is based upon the actual Greek translation for "everlasting punishment" in Matthew 25:46 which is "kolasin aionion" - meaning temporary chastening. I then provided examples of what this might mean.

So in this light, let us look at some recent "clarifications" by the fundies in the wake of my blog:

"What these hellbound unbelievers are really embracing is annihilationism. That is the doctrine that the souls of the wicked will be snuffed out of existence rather than be sent to an EVERLASTING , CONSCIOUS HELL! When examined carefully in context , the Scriptures nowhere prove annihilationism. In context and comparison with other Scriptures , the concept must be rejected in every case. "

Actually, this is emphatically not so! We are conceding a putative "Hell" can exist, based on our own studies of theology, as well as the use of exegesis, which must include the correct translations of the original texts. As one Loyola Theology professor recently blogged at the greatest frequency of biblical interpretation errors tend to occur with evangelicals who don't believe it's incumbent on them to use the original Greek translations in which the New Testament was mainly written. They believe they are 'good to go' once they just have a rough English version. But this isn't good enough.

So, as opposed to this blogger's claim of "annihilationism" - by which he really means rigorous physicalist materialism, no! What I mean is conditionally accepting the Hell doctrine, but as rigorously defined within the actual legitimate Greek translations of the New Testament.

So what he does is interject a straw man, asserting an artifact of his own invention that he insists we are trying to "prove" - but which we are not. He goes on:

"When we die , there is separation , NOT extinction. The first death is simply the separation of the soul from the body ( James 2:26 ) , not the annihilation of the soul. "

Again, we are not claiming extinction but are already assuming the basis of: 1) an ongoing energy or individuated consciousness, and 2) a possible abode that may exist to chastise this energy if it is somehow degraded or deficient. So again, he's assigning claims and arguments we aren't making.

He goes on, untempered:

"There is also destruction , NOT nonexistence. "Everlasting" destruction would not be annihilation , which only takes an instant and is over. If someone undergoes everlasting destruction , then they have to have everlasting existence"

Here he goes off the rails, in making a claim ("destruction") which he's not supported by the actual Greek translations! We only concede, based on rigorous use of the Greek "kolasin aionion" a temporary chastisement, NOT destruction. Also "everlasting" is misused by him since the faithful Greek for the NT equivalents do not translate into permament but temporary.

Kolasin is a noun in the accusative form, singular voice, feminine gender and means "punishment, chastening, correction, to cut-off as in pruning a tree to bear more fruit." Meanwhile, "Aionion" is the adjective form of "aion," in the singular form and means "pertaining to an eon or age, an indeterminate period of time..

On the other hand, I am not questioning the claim of "enduring existence" such as if we presume human consciousness to be an individuated energy essence - possibly at the sub-quantal level - which can't be destroyed.

Once more his errors get the better of him:

"The cars in a junkyard have been destroyed , but they are not annihilated. They are simply beyond repair or unredeemable. Hence , so are the people in HELL!! "

But here he falls into the trap of false analogy with predictable results! Since cars, unlike humans, are insensate, i.e. feel no pain. So whether or not a car isn't annihilated in a junkyard is irrelevant to what happens to human consciousness in an afterlife. The point is that if that (sub-quantal) based consciousness persists, it cannot be "re-destroyed" (as I will subsequently show) over and over for any permanent period - so there can be no "Hell" as orthodox believers accept it.

Obviously, the Greek word "aion" transliterated "eon" cannot mean "eternal." A study into the Greek of the Biblical period and before will bear this out. Thus, Matthew 25:46 which embodies the Greek, "kolasin aionion", cannot mean "eternal punishment" but rather a "temporary punishment" or "temporary chastening. Thus, even IF Matthew 25:46 does refer to a real, putatively active "Hell" it can't be "eternal", only temporary only. (And as I shall show everlasting and eternal are not the same!) Since "Aionion" is the adjective of the noun "aion", then this argument applies to ALL forms, passages, words that contain these words, no exception.

He veers off further:

", Jesus repeatedly said the people in hell are in continual agony! He declared that there will be "weeping and gnashing of teeth" ( Matt. 8:12 ; cf. 22:13 ; 24:51 ; 25:30 ). "

Again, he errs, this time in conflating "continual" with "eternal". While it is certainly feasible that in a punishment one can experience "continual agony" this doesn't itself identify the longevity as eternal. It could also be temporary, say as human experience in a place of horrors like Evin Prison in Iran, where prisoners are "continually" raped, brutalized, tortured etc. The Greek translation in that passage also bears out conformance with the use of "aionion" in Mt. 25:46.

As for the colorful "weeping and gnashing of teeth" - yes, but one can have that for a temporary punishment as well!

He moves on:

"Jesus also called hell a place where "the fire is not quenched" ( Mark 9:43-48 ) , where the very bodies of the wicked will never die ( cf. Luke 12:4-5 ). But it would make no sense to have everlasting flames and bodies without any souls in them to experience the torment."

Again, these passages cited are taken by most serious theologians as not being literate modern translations but rather later insertions. Indeed, the only NT citation that most literate theologians (in ancient Greek) accept for stating anything about "everlasting" punishment, is Matt. 25:46, but as we saw, when the Greek is faithfully translated then it comes out as temporary punishment.

Here a further point may also be introduced, one first made by the late Philosopher Joseph Campbell of Sarah Lawrence College. He made this point in his remarkable book "The Power of Myth" based on his own translations of NT texts. These disclosed a distinct difference between "everlasting" and "eternal". In his translation, "everlasting" wasn't a synonymn for eternal but for temporary. "Everlasting" meant "lasting until the prolonged epoch or eon ended". "Ever" emerges here as little different from saying something like "continous for the time being- no interruptions" and thus ending up with essentially the same meaning as the Greek for "Aionion" or the adjective form by which the epoch "pertains to an eon or age, an indeterminate period of time"..

Campbell suggested that at some point, no one knows when, "everlasting" became mistaken for being the same as "eternal". When in fact, technically, "eternal" can only refer to an entity that pre-exists the condition of other (e.g. biological) entities that may emerge within it. However, so far as Christian orthodoxy frames it, their "souls" are not pre-existing but only come into existence at conception. In other words, the soul entity doesn't or can't pre-exist the biological matrix which demands a human egg become fertilized by a sperm cell.

Our author moves on:

"In a clear example of beings who were still CONSCIOUS after a thousand years of CONSCIOUS TORMENT in hell , the Bible says of the beast and the false prophets that "These both were cast alive into a lake of fire burning with brimstone" ( Rev. 19:20 ) before the "thousand years" ( Rev. 20:2 ). Also , the fact that the wicked are "punished with everlasting destruction" ( 2 Thess. 1:9 ) strongly implies that they must be conscious. One cannot suffer punishment without existence. It's no punishment to beat a dead corpse"

Again, my objection isn't to consciousness existing, I already indicated the presumption of a consciousness after death, for the sake of argument. Where I object is the conflation of "everlasting" with "eternal". I also query the use of word "destruction" as associated with a rational form of punishment presumed (by him). But in terms of usage, destruction contains the seminal meaning of no longer being available for ....whatever. Hence, one can have a ferocious punishment but not one which yields destruction that can then be reversed and commenced again. Once a thing is "destroyed", by proper English usage, it no longer exists, so his usage is contradictory.

This is why in physics the first principle of conservation (for mass-energy) reads:

"Mass-energy can neither be created or destroyed, only changed from one form to another".

Now, if one presumes consciousness to be a form of energy, then it also would be subject to the above, and hence, not able to be destroyed - meaning permanently expunged. Now, if it is asserted that it CAN be "destroyed" or subject to destruction, that automatically means permanently expunged so it cannot be re-done. One cannot therefore have "re-destruction" - which emerges as an oxymoron! Either something is "destroyed" or not destroyed, but it can never be re-destroyed!

What hyper fundie Christians need to do is make their minds up as to the meanings of their words, we can't be continually (get that!) spoon feed them or "forever" be assisting them in basic word logic.

More propagation of error:

"Hell is also said to be of the same duration as heaven , "EVERLASTING" ( Matt. 25:41 ). "

But again, by the Greek translation, this is not the same as eternal, but rather from the Greek "Aionion" "pertaining to an eon or age, an indeterminate period of time.. In effect, just as "Hell" so translated refers to a temporary period, so also does "Heaven". This leads us to conclude both are transitory states of consciousness.

Critical examination discloses the Bible speaks of five "aions"(minimum) and perhaps many more. If there were "aions" in the past, it must logically mean that each one of them has ended! When one uses terms such as "past", "present" or "future" he's no longer referring to anything that's everlasting because the latter concept admits of no temporal distinctions!

All of this leads to one conclusion, and one only: While an after death human consciousness may (temporarily) experience an "eon" in "Hell" or "Heaven" its ultimate destination is what the Buddhists call "nirvana" or nothingness. Or as the Buddha once said, "all will become nothing".

Humanity's problem is that it is incapable of grasping nothingness, though it would help us to understand this had to have been the original state of things- e.g. before a putative Energy Being or "deity" sought to create anything. Hence, it would not seem that nirvana is the same as "annihilation" as these fundie bloggers appear to suggest.

Once more, nothing to fret over. Eventually we shall all end up in nirvana ....or nothingness.

Climate Skeptic Finally Gets It!

Well, it seems one of the last professional climate skeptics (I automatically disregard all those lacking climate science credentials) has now conceded that the mainstream scientific professional organizations - such as the National Science Foundation, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), NASA and the American Geophysical Union - are correct, and the global temperatures really are "rising rapidly". This according to a report appearing in today's Denver Post ('Skeptic No Longer Cool to Warming', p. 9A).

Richard Muller, an atmospheric physicist who is based at the University of California-Berkeley and the Lawrence Berkeley National Lab, has completed an extensive study - partly funded by the global warming denier Koch Brothers - which shows land temperatures are now 1.6 F degrees warmer than in the 1950s, even taking into account the "heat island" effects near cities (wherein dark asphalt surfaces generate additional heat which had been thought to skew temperature results by the skeptic brigade.)

Muller was apparently motivated by the so-called "Climategate" scandal where hacked emails from a British university (Univ. of East Anglia)apparently disclosed that critical information, data was being deliberately withheld from skeptics that requeste it. This, despite the fact that three separate independent investigations found the researchers at East Anglia to be guilty of nohting more aberrant than academic hubris, some mild snark and poor decision making. Certainly nothing to merit expulsion from any professional organizations or dismissal from their university positions!

But propelled by this incident, Muller proceeded to plumb a range of data, and went all the way back to the era of Benjamin Franklin and Thomas Jefferson for readings in the 18th century. The accumulated evidence from all his data showed agreement with the mainstream global warming research community, that Earth's land tempertures are increasing and more rapidly than ever. Muller, who is to present his results at a conference today, reinforced this by asserting (ibid.):

"Greenhouse gases could have a disastrous impact on the world."

At the same time, Muller insisted he approached the research deliberately from the climate skeptic perspective and said two years ago - when he began - "everyone should have been a skeptic". Not really!

As I noted, the emergence of that skepticism 2 years ago was essentially bogus. It was based on a misreading and misinterpretation of a 2008 paper appearing in Nature – written by Dr. Noel Keenlyside et al, and which made a tentative claim for monotonic global cooling since ca. 1998. This 'jumped the shark' and become embedded into the warming skeptics' arsenal of disinfo and set real global warming science education back at least a decade in my estimation. Fools and nitwits grabbed onto it like home made crack, much like they also (mistakenly) latched onto the climategate emails.

At the root of the misinterpretation of the data appearing in the paper, was the lack of anyone on the skeptics' side with adequate statistical background who could vet it properly. Thus, the first ones that did read it, didn't examine the graphs carefully enough and their rush to judgment of a "cooling since 1998" then entered the denier-skeptic lexicon and memosphere. Other lazy deniers then simply accepted the words or opinions of these initial inept readers rather than reading it themselves.

Instead of taking these shortcuts, skeptics could have retrieved the actual paper from Nature! They could have studied the paper's key figure, the one that looks at past and (forecast) future global temperatures, "Hindcast/forecast decadal variations in global mean temperature, as compared with observations and standard climate model projections".

The first thing they’d have noted about the figure - indeed, one major source of confusion-- is that each point represents a ten-year centered mean. That is, each point represents the average temperature of the decade starting 5 years before that point and ending 5 years after that point. Thus, the statistics for potential “cooling” could not possibly have been justifiably extrapolated beyond 1998 + 5 = 2003. Yet imbeciles all over the place have insisted it was ongoing.

Second, the skeptics would have spotted the red line in the Nature publication and – if bright enough – beheld that it was the the actual global temperature data from the U.K.'s Hadley Center for Climate Prediction and Research. They ought to have asked: Why did the red line stop in 1998 and not 2007? Again, it was a running 10-year mean, and the authors used data (from a Hadley paper) that ended around 2003, In effect, they couldn't do a ten-year centered mean after 1998.

Lazy deniers, however, have parlayed this simple statistical peculiarity of the data into believing that global warming factually STOPPED in 1998!

Third, at least one genius denier might have spotted the black line in the Figure, which was actually one of the IPCC scenario projections, labelled 'A1B.' It denotes a relatively high-CO2-growth model -- but actual carbon emissions since 2000 have wildly outpaced it. A further check by skeptics of the solid green line - the "hindcast" of the authors – e.g. how well their model compared to actual data (and the A1B scenario) could also be done. The lazy morons would have seen that, if extended (in dashes) through 2010 and finally to 2025, it JOINED up with A1B!

Another grievous source of confusion that has been misused by the deniers is the authors statement:

Our results suggest that global surface temperature may not increase over the next decade, as natural climate variations in the North Atlantic and tropical Pacific temporarily offset the projected anthropogenic warming

But what they really meant by that statement was not what a simple reading of that sentence would suggest: They did not mean that "the global surface temperature may not increase over the next ten years starting now."

What they meant is what the lead author, Dr. Noel Keenlyside, later provided in a clarification letter to the publicaton: They were predicting no increase in average temperature of the "next decade" (2005 to 2015- relative to their data timeline) over the previous decade, which, for them, is 2000 to 2010! And that is, in fact, precisely what the figure shows -- that the 10-year mean global temperature centered around 2010 is the roughly the same as the mean global temperature centered around 2005.

What is dismaying to those who have done research is how deficient the average denier-skeptic is, and how difficult it is to impart correct interpretation of data minus the bogey of ideology which stalks every word written on global warming.

The good thing is at least one former skeptic is now in the mainstream camp, though he did take care not to venture into the cause of the rapid temperature increase, which 96% of climate scientists believe is due to man-made fossil fuel generation.

Perhaps Muller didn't wish to insult his fossil fuel manufacturing -warming skeptic benefactors any more by going there.

Sunday, October 30, 2011

Hyper Christian QB "eaten" by Lions!

Saint Tebow dumped on his ass by a Lions' defender in today's 45-10 blowout game. Will this be a wake up call for the overpaid and over-hyped God boy? One can hope!

Well, as I forecast last week, after the Denver Broncos and their little miracle worker-God mongering Quarterback Tim Tebow eked out a last minute win over the pathetic Dolphins,

they wouldn't fare so well this week facing the Lions (in the NFC's "black and blue" division) of Detroit. I forecast the sanctimonious "John:3:16" citing little shit would be eaten, and he was - all his "Tebowing" (going down on one knee in a prayer pose) aside.

Indeed, at least two Detroit Lion players mocked "Tebowing," which was certainly their right after the NFL's most improved team blew out the Broncos, 45-10. This game was so satisfying on so many levels for anti-Tebows like me, it is difficult to recite them all. I could go through all the flaws in this pretender's throwing mechanics, but why bore readers with the details? Suffice it to say, this game above all shows the punk is overrated and likely overpaid.

All the Broncomaniacs went into delirium last week, but they forgot they were playing a team that was 0-5 and lacked their starting QB (Chad Henne) out for the year with an arm injury. The backup Matt Moore, has barely started six games! Now, meeting a fully operating team we see first hand the Broncos, or as I call them, the "ponies", are mostly smoke and mirrors and all of Tebow's prayers didn't stop the Lion's savaging!

Thankfully, there were many numbers as ugly as the final score:

Tebow and the Broncos' offense had nine, three-and-outs.

The offense was 0 for 10 on third downs before Detroit's D seemed to let them convert a couple in the fourth quarter.

Tebow took two delay-of-game penalties and seven sacks, one that resulted in a fumble returned by Lions' defensive end Cliff Averil for a touchdown.

Early in the fourth quarter, Tebow was an unsightly 8 of 25 passing for 87 yards and an interception that was returned 100 yards for a touchdown by Lions cornerback Chris Houston.

Maybe this will be the last we see or hear of that deplorable "Tebowing' nonsense.

One can hope!

"Throw Grandma Over the Cliff! - But Don't Touch Defense $$$$!"

"A nation that continues year after year to spend more money on military defense than on programs of social uplift is approaching spiritual death." -Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.

So (paraphrasing) says Neoliberal hack Robert Samuelson in his latest defense of the indefensible ('Defending Our Defense Budget!') , in this case the monstrous, malignant U.S. defense budget. He compares any form of significant cutting to the bloated Pentagon tab to "a dangerous, slow motion disarmament" - which might fly for anyone not aware that the U.S. spends more on defense than the next 25 nations together,

As usual, similar to this PR hack's other specious columns to try to justify slicing social spending, various half-truths are employed as well as outright distortions and twisting of statistics to serve his purpose as a Pentagon bandwagoneer. This time he uses the ruse of "three bogus arguments" which he insists are made by those who would dare make such cuts (obviously, trying to steer the unconstitutional "super committee" away from such a direction!)

Let's go through his prefatory canards before dealing with his attempts to take down the three "bogus arguments" against his precious military- industrial complex.

First, he claims there has been a "downsizing of military personnel" from the late 1980s, to 2010, with "the U.S. Armed Forces dropping from 2.1 milion to 1.4 million" germinating what he calls a "Peace dividend". As he delivers these numbers, he doesn't mention that the latter ten years have seen more military intervention in the form of the occupations in Iraq and Afghanistan which have required multiple deployments of National Guardsmen (not listed among the official recruited armed forces, e.g. in the Navy, Army, Marines, AF) at a cost of literally trillions in messed up lives, and undelivered domestic services those Guardsmen could have provided. Neither does he reference the sundry hundreds of higher tech weapons used to assist and supply these occupation troops, or how much has been squandered in puffed up contracts to Halliburton, Bechtel etc.

He then avers that from 2001 through 2011 the Congressional Budget Office claims the two occupations - "wars" in Iraq and Afghanistan "cost only $1.3 trillion, or 4.4 percent of total federal spending over those years." But he doesn't mention that this figure omits the projected future costs due to: a)medical treatments, such as for the severe brain injuries personnel have experienced from IEDs (an estimated 500,000) and b) the costs of medical care in toto for these returned vets. Adding those figures on, one gets another $3 trillion, which would make the total cost projected (since Samuelson is so fond of also projecting "future liabilities" in Social security, etc.) $4.3 trillion, and that's not factoring in current medical inflation rates. Hence, factoring in those costs with medical inflation rates one will arrive at a more realistic total of nearly 20% of total federal spending, easily through 2020 and probably 30% through 2025.

He then compounds his distortion further, by referencing the year 2011 and that "these costs were $159 billion or about 12% of the deficit" but leaves out the total amount of Pentagon money allocated beyond the occupations and budget supplementals ($790b) which then show the total military costs come to nearly 58 cents of each dollar, or 58% of the deficit! Indeed, this has been more than double the total percentage since 9/11. Clearly, that event was used as justification to more than double the military's piece of the pie. (Former defense analyst Chuck Spinney noted in 2004, the percent of the GDP was effectively doubled, to 4.4% setting the stage for a 'war between defense spending and Medicare spending')

Samuelson then attempts to directly rebut three main arguments for defense cuts:

1) That we can't afford today's military:

Samuelson asserts we can and must afford it - though he does agree that how much we do spend is a "political decision". Indeed it is, and it is also a "political decision" as economist G.P. Brockway once noted (The End of Economic Man, 1991), how much is allocated to the poor or dispossessed, vulnerable, and how much to lobbyists, speculators and weapons. Brockway correctly notes that such decisions inform and decide what manner of nation we are to be. Whether one attuned to the basest human instincts and lowest common denominator, or one that aspires to set an example for others.

He then uses more funny statistics in his response, saying that in the 1950s-60s "we used 40-50% of the federal budget routinely for defense, representing 8% -10% of our national income". This is true, but the total deficit as recently as 1961 was only $8 billion! This is compared to $15 trillion today, of which more than half has been directly or indirectly from defense spending since Reagan came in, as of 1981. Moreover, that large percent of the national yearly budget allocated for defense was made during a Cold War against another superpower, the former Soviet Union - which had itself matched our consumption dollar for dollar. It was not against a gaggle of robed, stateless lunatics that seek to set off a "dirty bomb" or two or maybe attack a jetliner. The USSR had more than 12,500 nuclear weapons - the least of which was some 50 megatons - deliverable by nearly 8,000 ICBMS.

So this fool is comparing apples and oranges. Thus, when he avers that "by 2010 only 20 percent of national income was devoted to the military" he is playing the fool. I mean, comparing some 40-50% consumed militarily of an annual billion dollar budget is not in the same class as consuming 20% of an annual $3 trillion budget.

2) We spend so much more than anyone else that cutback won't make us vulnerable.

Samuelson, hack that he is, has a rebuttal for this too. He does admit that the total U.S. defense spending in 2009 was "six times China's" and "13 times Russia's" but argues that we can't take these too seriously because "U.S. salaries and procurement costs are orders of magnitude higher". In fact, relative to the respective standards of living, soldier salaries in the U.S. are not that much different, and indeed, Chinese, Russian soldiers reap benefits that the U.S. counterparts do not. In fact, they have less to worry about on returning from service in terms of jobs, benefits, while U.S. service person may well find his job long gone on his return, being in a capitalist "every man for himself" society. No wonder the suicide rate has tripled in the last decade.

As for "procurement" costs, well Samuelson is indeed correct, but 80% or more of these are plain waste, harkening back to the Reagan era of $5,000 toilets, and $75 hammers! Thus, it has been found nearly all defense contracts have been "padded" ever since that era. Analyst Chuck Spinney has even (in a 2001 PBS NOW appearance with Bill Moyers) pointed out one of the most egregious paddings of all, dated from ca. 1999, of the Pentagon "misplacing" $1.1 TRILLION. No one dares mention or disclose on paper, that this was more than likely padding under the table for defense contracts issued since the 1991 Gulf War!

3) The Pentagon has so much inefficiency and waste that sizable cuts won't jeopardize our fighting capability.

Samuelson here agrees "of course there's waste and inefficiency" but argues that "these are being targeted in the $450 billion of additional cuts over ten years that President Barack Obama and congress agreed to earlier this year".

But if more than $1.1 trillion of such waste accrued during the 1990s, according to Chuck Spinney's estimates, then may we not conclude at least that much accrued during the past ten years of occupations in Iraq and Afghanistan. (Especially thanks to Halliburton in the former.) That means that a cut of $450 billion over ten years is not adequate, and ought to be at least doubled to $900 billion, and that is to remove waste alone!

Samuelson then lists several other programs cuts, e.g. to the F-22 stealth fighter, and possible cuts to Tricare - the veterans' medical counterpart to Medicare, but says "it's a myth that all waste can be surgically removed".

But no one is demanding a "surgical" removal, only a judicious use of limited budget resources. In this sense, Samuelson doesn't mention the proposed new expenditures on programs, weapons systems such as the 3,000 planned F-35 bombers, more appropriate for conventional warfare. So why squander nearly $1 trillion on this white elephant when defense contract padding and cost overruns are factored in? That money could better be applied to Tricare as opposed to cutting needed medical assistance for our vets there! There are also dozens of other programs of dubious utility and great cost, including the continued construction and use of these drone weapons.

Samuelson argues that "demands on the military are expansive and murky" but for sure this will always be the case in a so-called era of "terror wars". But being smarter, and applying more rigorous methods to procurement operations (especially cutting the defense corporations and their lobbyists out of making, writing budget proposals) would cut this down significantly. That is still no justification for not wielding the budget axe to the Pentagon to possibly force them to be more judicious as opposed to expecting year after year of growing Pentagon pieces of pie while ordinary Americans continue to suffer home foreclosures, joblessness, 1 in 6 frequency of child malnutrition and a whole generation of young people in debt slavery.

Lastly, Samuelson argues that:

"Defense spending is unlike any other spending because protecting the nation is government's first job. It's in the Constitution. Highways, school lunches and Social Security are not."

He seems to forget or doesn't process, that NO where in that document is a massive, formalized military establishment - corporate manufacturing nexus approved, which links industry and arms manufacture as ends in themselves - the "military -industrial complex" Dwight D. Eisenhower warned us about in his January, 1961 farewell address.

Nor does Samuelson process two other items in the Constitution:

1) The clear statement in the Preamble that the government is "to PROMOTE THE GENERAL WELFARE"

That is, not corporate or military welfare, but the GENERAL welfare! That indeed includes, to any normal brain- functioning person, "school lunches, highways and Social Security". As well as affordable health care and free education through college, such as democratic socialist nations like Barbados allow.

2) The inherent unstated RIGHTS implicit in the Ninth Amendment to the Bill of Rights.

Such rights can include the rights to affordable health care, and to social insurance!

As Prof. Garry Wills has noted in his landmark book, A Necessary Evil-A History Of American Distrust Of Government, Simon & Schuster, 1999:

"What the Ninth says is that the rights enumerated as protected by The Constitution do not exhaust all rights inherent in a people. The states can retain powers, though not rights."

In other words, while rights to health care, Social security etc. and even school lunches may not be found explicitly written down in the Consitution, they were accounted for as possible future unenumerated rights by our wise Founders, who realized at the time of authorship they couldn't conceive of every possible right.

Maybe Wall Street's favorite hack needs to go back to school and take a degree in American Government and the Constitution as opposed to Punditry and Hackery!

Saturday, October 29, 2011

So, Why Don't Techie Kids Know How to Google?

Everyone has heard all about this trope until blue in the face: today's kids are cheeze whiz wizards at anything tech, from video games, to tweets to all things digital or techie. Give them any tech task and they'll run rings around the "goobers" or older folks. Leave them in the dust and wondering what happened.

Not so fast!

Evidently some new research discloses these young wizards are not as tech-savvy as they believe, at least when it comes to Googling. As we know, and can agree on, the ability to do a properly formed and limited -specific net search, by whatever engine one chooses, is the key to information advantage and also shows the adept googler is able to discriminate levels and quality of information. As opposed to just pulling up garbage and accepting it.

I often see this inadequacy first hand, while volunteering at, wherein many of the more youthful generation ask questions (say in astronomy) that could easily be addressed if they just applied the proper search skills to googling!

Anyway, according to a study carried out by a group at the College of Charleston, a group of college students was assembled with their computers, and asked to look up the answers to a number of questions. As the researchers expected, the students typically relied on the searches only at the top of the lists - or the first few googled pages - deeming these of the highest reliability.

However, anyone who's done serious googling, say for serious research or books, know this is bollocks - and often you won't get decent search results until page 33 or beyond! For example, Christian Fundie Young Earth star Jason Lisle, whose groupies and fellow bible believers have ensured gets slanted upward page results - tilted toward his young Earth creationist nonsense- requires pages and pages before one reaches skeptical takes.

Then, there's the Dartmouth wunderkind, Hany Farid, who back in 2009 did a paper or alleged proof that the Oswald backyard photos (see LIFE photo in previous blog) were all genuine and not faked. One had to scan through dozens of search pages before coming across anything that wasn't pro-Hany bollocks.

The moral of the story is that it's most unwise to latch on to the first page results and refuse to plumb further.

In the Charleston experiment, the researchers changed the order of page results for some students, so that important results were back-paged while inferior or crank results were fore-paged. In nearly every case the kids bit and used the falsely-ranked pages and results to answer questions....which answers of course, were wrong. The conclusion by the top researcher, Bing Pan, was that students weren't assessing information sources and quality on their own merit, but simply trusting the search engine-computer to deliver the high quality sought.

This has been echoed and confirmed in other studies by different groups showing that both high school and university-level students are deplorable at quality searches. For example, in another trial conducted at Northwestern University, 102 undergrads were asked to do online research, but none of this group thought to check the author's credentials!

Who gets the blame in all this? It can't all be on the students, but some must be the educational system itself. A system that emphasized "teaching to the test", for example, will deprive students of critical thinking opportunities - part of which entails doing refined searches - whether in a brick and mortar library or online. The credibility of what is found, its essential quality, can then be ascertained.

However, some blame is to be allocated to the young digital turks, because of their over-involvement with solipsistic social media. For example, Mark Bauerlein (The Dumbest Generation), depressingly documents how the under-30 crowd are foregoing knowledge-based maturity to wallow in a self-confected, solipsistic, social mirror world of their own egos and selves. The fallout includes their not even meeting basic standards of knowledge for employment, far less knowledge levels that can ground them in the way their non-digital world works.

According to one polling of University of Illinois-Chicago students by Northwestern University communications professor Esther Hargatti (op. cit., p. 135) the students’ choices were all too predictable. As Bauerlein puts it:

"Only 5% checked a blog or forum on politics, economics, law or policy

THIS is a student choice, and it is unacceptable. It doesn't matter that these realms may not be a person's "cup of tea" - they are at the core of much that makes the world go round, and for that, just look at 'Occupy Wall Street". Many of these incensed protestors from OWS had been originally ensconced in their little Facebook social mirror worlds, until now - 6 months after graduatiing - college loan collectors are humbugging them though they still haven't found decent paying jobs!

Are the 5% results above surprising? Or the fact that a national history survey test given to college students two years ago found most of them getting below 70% ? They shouldn't be! As Bauerlein observes, 18-20 year olds love digital media because it “allows them to construct a reflexive surrounding.” While their boring job tires them and the classroom irks them, their twittering, facebooking, Myspacing and video gaming “mirrors their own woes and fantasies, a pre-packaged representation of the world, a ‘Daily ME’

Bauerlein adds (p. 138):

For education to happen, people must encounter worthwhile things outside their sphere of interest and brainpower. Knowledge grows, skills improve, tastes refine and conscience ripens only if the experiences bear a degree of unfamiliarity.”

What that means, as he further observes, is one must move through and beyond the initial knee-jerk reaction: “I don’t get it! That’s not for me, not my cup of tea!” because the intellectual effort in making it your ‘cup of tea’ will then be intellectually rewarding. Bauerlein again (ibid.):

Nobody savors the process, but mature adults realize the benefits. Adolescents don’t and digital connections save them the labor of self-improvement…..the screen and cell bombard adolescents with youth trifles and the sporadic brush with challenging subjects that recall their shortcomings are quickly offset by a few minutes back in virtual comfort zones

The point of all this?

Productive use of search engines, e.g. Google, places a higher premium on MORE pre-existing knowledge, not less. Those who are the most effective information processors and locaters are those whole already possess a solid knowledge base. Thus, they have the skills to do initially narrow searches, while being able to differentiate the quality of information. They are also less likely to accept a search engine's results at face value. Thus, a sound and extensive education is the passport to effective online searches. Meanwhile, being obsessed with Twittering and Face-booking to the exclusion of knowledge, is not.

The person with a solid knowledge base engendered by learning as opposed to only net-socializing, will have the ballast to avoid falling into search traps, such as while looking for something on Gnostic gospels, ending up in a right wing fundie blog which mocks them. Or, while searching for something on National Socialism, being steered into another right wing blog which erroneously conflates it with Marxist-Leninist socialism.

One more thing in this search business: it is sometimes true that those who teach effective search methods go "over the top" by insisting the only worthwhile search results are those tied to an academic persona or professor. While academic credentials certainly can yield a higher probability of a decent search result, it is not necessarily so - and "hobbyist" bloggers ought not be rejected merely because they lack a Ph.D.!

My search routine is to instead do cross-checks whereby the quality of a given search can be validated very rapidly and effectively.

Friday, October 28, 2011

Stephen King's New SciFi Tale: Fun, But Not Historically Accurate!

Science fiction tales dealing with time travel are among my favorites. Perhaps the most authentic ever written, but not given enough attention, is L. Sprague de Camp's 'Lest Darkness Fall', (1939), about a 20th century professor - Martin Padway - who finds himself suddenly hurled back to the Roman Empire in the sixth century by encountering a "time slip" in Rome. (Time slips are theorized to be interphased time warps in our own space-time wherein a person who happens into them can be transported to the past.) Physicist Michael Shallis in his book, On Time, explores a few such incidents.

More recently other time travel stories have revolved about going back to the Kennedy assassination in an attempt to alter the outcome. The most recent TV version of actual physical intervention in the past, based on the new Twilight Zone series (which ran from 1985-88) was entitled "Profiles in Silver" about a 23rd century history professor (and descendant of John F. Kennedy) who attempts to go back to Nov. 22, 1963 and stop Lee Harvey Oswald from firing from the Texas School Book depository 6th floor. In another case, the early 1990s 'Quantum Jump' featured a similar attempt to stop Oswald - with Scott Bakula's character's consciousness projected into Oswald, since time travel via quantum jump didn't allow actual physical transfer to the past.

Now, in novel form, horror author Stephen King deals with a similar scenario in his '11/22/63' just out. In this case, we follow his character, school teacher Jack Epping, as he attempts to travel back in time to stop the nasty, "snarling" (in one perp walk photo) Lee Harvey Oswald from carrying out his foul deed.

The problem with all these scenarios is they are predicated on a false historical presumption that Lee Harvey Oswald was the perpetrator and sole assassin. (Thanks to the Warren Commission, which was really a creature of Lyndon Johnson, as opposed to an official government investigation such as the 1978-79 House Subcommittee on Assassinations which found a "96% probability of conspiracy") This is abject nonsense, and mainly was perpetrated on an unsuspecting (but shocked) American public in the fall of 1963, in order to placate the lords of power and cop to political expediency rather than truth telling.

The poisoned and deceitful core of the Warren Whitewash inhered in the (Nov. 25, 1963) memo from then Deputy Attorney General Nicholas Katzenbach that preceded it. The key memo segments that bear on the way the Warren Commissioners were to conduct their business are as follows:

"It is important that all facts surrounding President Kennedy's assassination be made public in a way which will satisfy people in the United States and abroad that all the facts have been told and that a statement to this effect be made now.

1. The public must be satisfied that Oswald was the assassin, that he did not have confederates who are still at large; and that the evidence was such that he would have been convicted at trial."

The last is especially fell and egregious, an insult to the whole concept of justice and being innocent until proven guilty. Indeed, Katzenbach's injunction goes under the rubric of a fundamental logical no-no called: 'Affirming the consequent' - i.e. affirming ab initio that which you need to prove. Taking the expedient shortcut - avoiding the process, more: ensuring the outcome of the process blends with one's own agenda!

The proof was in the pudding, as documented by former federal special agent Walt Brown, in the proportion of serious questions attended to or asked by the Commission (Treachery in Dallas, p. 281):

Preliminaries - 805 (2.1%)
To the point - 1,537 (4.1%)
Not vital - 16,073 (43.3%)
Clarification - 7,354 (19.8%)
Leading/hearsay 9,676 (26.0%)
Conclusionary - 922 (2.4%)
Foregone conclusion 323 (0.80%)
Nonsense - 407 (1.09%)

Most appalling is that the 'to the point' (questions materially contributing to the investigation) category comprised an insignificant 4.1 % of the total for which the Commissioners were present. For the percentage of all the questions asked - with or without the Commissioners present, that went up a mighty three tenths of a point, to 4.4% (op.cit., p281). Even more appalling is that 52.05% of the total Commission questions were directed at people with no direct knowledge of the crime!

At the same time, 200 material witnesses- "each with knowledge at least as valuable as that given by the 488 commission witnesses" were not asked questions. These included :

- Tom Alyea (who allegedly first filmed the sniper's 'nest')

- Charles A. Crenshaw (Parkland surgical resident at the time – who observed the gaping rear head wound)

- Julia Ann Mercer - spotted a truck on the triple underpass with a rifle inside

- William Harper - found the occipital bone fragment 25’ behind the limo

- Guy Banister - ran the Camp St. office in New Orleans from which Oswald distributed leaflets;

- Joseph Milteer -the right wing zealot who predicted the assassination by sniper

- Sergio Archacha Smith -believed to be the person who fired at Gen. Edwin Walker

- Mary Moorman -took the Moorman photo at the instant of the head shot

- Aquilla Clemons - observed the Tippitt shooting, and saw another man – not Oswald, doing it

- Silvia Duran - consul employee who could have testified to the identity of the ‘Oswald' seen in Mexico City;

Gordon Arnold : stood on the grass in front of the knoll's picket fence when a shot tore past hie ear, and made him hit the dirt – he was subsequently sent to duty in Alaska)

All of these in concert disclose the Warren Commission was not a fact-finding body, but a deliberately designed Whitewash body, enjoined to find the expedient solution to the crime of the century. That King hasn't investigated all these aspects and issues before setting out on his novel - which essentially endorses the PR-framed "official version" - doesn't say much for his boldness, historical acumen or investigatory skills.

In the three images attached to this blog - under King's visage - are the three primary indicators that Oswald had nothing to do with killing JFK on November 22, 1963.

First, to the left, we see a critical Zapruder photo (second after frame Z-313), which clearly shows Jackie lurching over the limo trunk. What was she doing? Why did she lurch in that particular direction? Her own special testimony delivered in secret and not formally printed with the main volumes of the Warren Commission Hearings (but in their Appendices), is telling: she was trying to retrieve a dislodged piece or fragment of JFK's skull. (Note: This is also affirmed by her in recently released audio tapes she made, dated from 1964, in interviews with historian Arthur J. Schlesinger, Jr.).

But here's the problem: If this is indeed so (and a number of other films, photos, e.g. the Nix film shown in the Italian documentary The Two Kennedys, appear to bear it out), then it could not have been Lee Oswald firing from the Texas Book Depository to the REAR of the limo! The reason is linked to basic physics, specifically Newtonian mechanics and the transfer of linear momentum. Hence, if a piece of skull fragment is displaced over the rear of the limo, it could not have been from a bullet fired to the rear of the limo, but rather from the front. But the front is not where Oswald is claimed to have been by the Warrenites! In other words, the account of the Warren Commission is exactly 180 degrees opposite to the principles of basic physics.

Let's even leave out for now, the fact that a trained team of expert marksmen was unable to replicate Oswald's alleged feat! Oswald was presumed to have fired from the 6th floor of the Texas School Book Depository, so effectively six stories up or 60’ in altitude. However, the experts were allowed to fire from a tower only half this altitude (30’)[1]. In addition, while Oswald had to have fired at a limousine moving at 11 mile per hour, the experts fired at stationary targets. Anyone who's ever fired a high powered rifle will tell you it's much easier to hit a stationary target than a moving one!

[1] The Warren Commission Report, p. 137.

The target area was also magnified for the experts, to the whole upper torso of the target prop’s body – while Oswald was limited to the head and neck. More to the point, the rifle was altered away from the one Oswald used. The rifle sight itself was rebuilt and “metal shims were fitted to provide a degree of accuracy previously absent’. When Ronald Simmons, the Chief of the Infantry Weapons Evaluation Branch of the Army’s Ballistics Research Division was asked about this he replied: “Well, they could not sight the weapon in using the telescope" (Op. cit. ,Vol. II, p. 250.)

He added that the aiming apparatus had to be rebuilt by a machinist with two shims added, one to adjust for the elevation, the other for the azimuth. In other words, had they actually used the rifle in the same condition Oswald was alleged to have had it, then they’d likely not have hit the side of a barn. (Maybe one reason the Italians dubbed their Norma Mannlicher-Carcano 6.5 mm bolt action rifle that Oswald was supposed to have used as "the rifle that never killed anyone")

At the end of the test trials, these Master Marksmen each fired two series of three shots each (18 rounds in all) at 3 stationary targets placed at distances of 175’, 240’ and 265’ (the last coming nearest to the distance from the Texas School Book Depository to the head shot). Even Chief Simmons admitted that the targets were not placed where they ought to have been to emulate conditions on November 22, 1963.

Just one of the three expert riflemen was able to get off three shots in under 5.6 seconds – the designated time interval for total shots declared by the Warren Commission. And most to the point: none of the total 18 shots fired struck the targets in the head or the neck. In other words, from a technical standpoint of duplicating Oswald’s alleged shots- this trio of experts failed. Another key aspect: for the duration of the 18 rounds, two of the “master” riflemen were unable to reload and fire at the stationary target as rapidly as Oswald purportedly did for the moving limo.

Again, the facts don't add up, and that non-addition gets compounded when one factors in another little detail the Warren Whitewashers never bothered to disclose: that the purported assassin window on the 6th floor of the TSBD (see image at far right - below King's image)was nearly totally blocked by the branches of an oak tree at the time. Only a fool or half idiot would have attempted such a shot. The preferred shot then would have been out from the window facing and overlooking Houston St. as the limo was approaching the steep turn around the TSBD, not going out onto Elm St.!

Finally, we have the LIFE cover photo of Oswald, from its Feb 21, 1964 issue, which was essentially to be the coup de grace for the framing of the man. Little did anyone bother to say or analyze that the shadows disclosed in this and other photos purportedly taken from Oswald's Neeley St. address in Dallas didn't match the astronomical aspects for the alleged date taken.

As it turns out, on March 31, 1963 (the documented date from FBI files for the backyard photo), one can compute (using a specialized computer program[2]) the maximum solar altitude on the local meridian at noon (for lat. 32 deg 47’ 09” or Dallas, TX) as 57.0 deg. For example, in the LIFE photo, let x2 be the near edge of the 3rd fence picket and x1 be the position of the heel of Lee’s boot, and (x2 – x1) = 1.5 m. Let (y2 – y1) be the distance of Lee in front of the picket fence, or 3m. (See also:

Then the distance d1(x,y) ought to approximately yield the length of his shadow, in this case:

d1(x,y) = {3m)^2 + (1.5^m )2}^1/2 = 3.35 m.

A first cross-check can be applied via using the computed value 3.35m, in conjunction with a known physical construct that can yield independent information. Now, Lee’s height is know to have been 5’ 9” or 1.74m. We also know from basic astronomy that the height of an object in the Sun is related to its minimum shadow length (L_s = d1(x,y)) by:

tan (a) = H/ L_s

where (a) is the altitude of the Sun.


tan (a) = (1.74)/ (3.35) = 0.464, or a = 24.8 deg

However, what if d1(x,y) is off by 50%? And therefore, d1(x,y) = 1.17 m instead of 3.35m? Then, the altitude of the Sun would be:

tan (a) = (1.74)/ (1.17) = 56.0 deg

Or, within 1 degree of the maximum solar altitude on the local meridian at noon or Dallas, TX as on that date! This means that if the photo is legit, and conforms to the correct solar meridian crossing on that date, Oswald’s shadow can be no longer than 1.12m, which sets limits on how far he can be located from the picket fence. But estimated measurements shows a disparity, significant - so the LIFE photo cannot be legit, but obviously confected to frame him.

According to a gushing Wall Street Journal review (natch, as the WSJ always detested Kennedy's "statist" proposals) of King's effort ('Stephen King's New Monster', p. D1, today) King:

"studied various conspiracy theories. He ultimately dismissed them, drawing the unsettling conclusion that a single person with no political power or charisma managed to alter the course of history by himself"

All well and good, except that neither the ballistics, as evidenced in assorted reactions captured on film (such as that shown with Jackie above), the post-event efforts at expert replication of the shots, or even the astronomical aspects for shadow configurations (in the purported LIFE Oswald photo) support King's dismissal. Does this mean King was lazy? Not necessarily! But as any fiction writer knows, the writiing (and reading!)of any novel is enhanced by simplicity of plot not additional concatenations (even if lending to a greater historical accuracy) that may try the readers' patience, especially in today's tweeter-ipad, sound bite age. Thus, one may regard King's dismissal of conspiracy for his novel as more in concert with justified artistic license than deliberately ignoring the fact that Oswald as assassin doesn't add up. Or to put it more bluntly, King opted for go for an expediently written novel, as opposed to one that reflected history more faithfully (such as Don deLillo's excellent, 'Libra'.)

Leaving out a non-historian fiction novelist's ruminations and choices, I will refer readers to Prof.. David R. Wrone's take, in The Journal of Southern History(6), February, 1995, p. 188:

"I believe that irrefutable evidence shows conspirators, none of them Oswald, killed JFK. A mentally ill Jack Ruby, alone and unaided, shot Oswald. The federal inquiry knowingly collapsed and theorized a political solution. Its corruption spawned theorists who tout solutions rather than define the facts that are locked in the massively muddied evidentiary base, and released only by hard work.”

So, read and enjoy King's latest novel, but do so while retaining a little cautionary reservation in the back of your mind. The real guys that King's protagonist Jack Epping needed to get were obviously so clever that they got Epping (and King by extension) to go after the wrong man!

[1] This is the “Astronomy Lab” software program which enables one to fix a location by latitude and longitude, then obtain the maximum solar altitude at those coordinates for the date.

Thursday, October 27, 2011

UTNE Reader's Extremist Problem

Off and on over the years, the UTNE Reader has been informative and been a force for progressive change with its thought-provoking articles. Generally, the quality of the journalism has been solid, well-researched and the writing excellent, much like its sister, 'Mother Jones'. Unfortunately, its latest issue (Nov.-Dec.) appears to have run off the rails.

One of its main articles (p. 48) is 'Fanatics Attack!', by Amos Oz, reprinted from his "How to Cure A Fanatic'. The piece purports to enable readers to recognize certain criteria of fanaticism and extremism, which include the desire to impose one's will (via conformity) on others, a certain shrill "militancy" of approach, a rejection of "live and let live" and....a lack of a sense of humor ("No fanatic I ever observed had a sense of humor") especially of the self-deprecatory style.

While I don't have too many complaints with the overall piece, though the humorless aspect can be questioned as any certifable trait for an extremist (since I've known many fine people who lack a sense of humor but certainly aren't "extremists") my main brief is with the front cover which depicts CURRENT TV'S Keith Olbermann shown amidst the likes of Muammar Gaddafi, Bill O’Reilly, Pope Benedict, Sarah Palin and Iran’s holocaust-denier Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. I mean, what the hell gives with this?

More difficult to ascertain is whether the author himself agreed to this cover portrayal, or whether it was an editorial board decision. If the latter, then clearly Amos Oz can't be blamed fully, for such a rash move. Nevertheless, I did send off a harsh email response to the editors, which is as follows:

"Hmmm….. an alleged “progressive”magazine, features a cover (Nov.-Dec.) with one of the staunchest speakers of truth to power, Keith Olbermann, portrayed amidst assorted wackos-extremists like Muammar Gaddafi, Bill O’Reilly, Cardinal “Rat” Ratzinger, Palin and Iran’s holocaust-denier Mahmoud Ahmadinejad? Are your editors mad? Or just temporary bonkers from….whatever? To conflate K.O. with absolute actual fanatics and extremists is in my mind an abomination, and one that will now cost you a future subscriber! (Not that a piddling single subscription is likely to matter to you!)

Conflating K.O. with the lunatics on the front cover serves no purpose, doesn’t advance the progressive cause (even via a phony false equivalence, e.g. “we can be as fanatic as them there Wingnuts”) and makes a mockery of all your author (Amos Oz’s) primary criteria and contentions. He doesn’t mention Keith by name, but I’d lay odds he includes him in this rogue’s gallery on account of what he (presumably) believes is “lack of humor”.

The truth is Keith is humorous on almost every occasion on CURRENT TV’s Countdown, but it’s a humor more in the tradition of George Carlin, as opposed to Moe, Larry and Curley… or Soupy Sales. That Oz doesn’t recognize that - or your editors don’t by portraying K.O. on the cover with the real nuts - shows perhaps none of you can tell a true extremist from a person who is merely vehement and passionate.

Sad, but your little ploy has actually only succeeded in further dividing the progressive cause!"

My point in sending this was not a puny threat of a minor loss in their finances, but rather to wake them up to the fact that progressives can't afford any more splintering at this stage of the game. Already the progressive Left appears to be divided over Obama's re-election although this ought to be a no-brainer. Take Obama away, or don't vote, and we get a Romney or god forbid, Rick Perry (see previous blog). There also appear to be a few fissures opening up in the support of the Occupy Wall Street protestors, though there shouldn't be.

So, the last thing we need here is a fierce disagreement over who to name in the category of fanatics and extremists! Further, the very act of remotely suggesting or putting Keith in that category is a slack, cowardly move (suggesting pandering to the corporo-media's false equivalence) that makes me fume! It also clouds the playing field and communications landscape.

Last night, Keith's Special Comment, on the vile beating (by Oakland police) of an Iraq War vet, giving him a fractured skull (he's now in intensive care) and the Mayor that condoned such extreme action, was one for the progressive archives.

It's a pity that UTNE no longer appears to be able to differentiate friend from foe.

But hey, maybe they would place me in their little cover cartoon too!

Another Insane "Flat Tax" Plan to Destroy What's Left of the Country!

Well, it didn't take very long for another Gooper to come up with a "flat tax" plan to try to compete with Herman Cain's insane 9-9-9 plan, see e.g.

Here's the deal: the single aspect for anyone to attend to in respect of all flat tax proposals is they are not about taxation at all! Their singular and overriding purpose is to destroy the government's capacity for good, by so severely limiting revenues that the gov't is unable to assist citizens in need - while the flat tax props up a smug, conceited and ovebearing plutocracy which has already seen its median income soar over 275% since 1980 while the 99% have muddled along.

Thus, all flat tax systems have as their primo directive to "starve the beast"! If the "beast" (government) is sufficiently starved, then:

- It can't provide further benefits, and Social Security, Medicare must then be cut

- It can't provide any semblance of affordable health care by moving the privateers (e.g. insurers) out of the way

- It can't support or assist students with lower interest federal loans for college, so they will have to go to private sharks and their variable interest rates instead, and end up in a mass debtor class

- It can't regulate citizens' welfare through environmental or food, sanitation, labor protections, so more people will have to get sick and die - because they sure as shit can't afford private health insurance.

In other words, such plans support and abet a system such as we have now (indeed, make it much worse by allocating even more riches to the wealthiest) wherein government budget cuts of $861 million for families, mothers with chilidren in need of healthcare can occur while the 1% continue to reap $860 million a WEEK via the Bush tax cuts!

Perry's flat tax proposal may be even more degenerate and insane than Cain's as his singular objective (WSJ, 'Perry Joins Flat -Tax Camp', Oct. 26, p. A4) is to reduce government spending to 18% of the economy each year, down from 24% in 2010 and excluding any major defense cuts. If we process this, it means that federal benefits such as Social Security and even VA pensions would have to be halved, Medicare turned into a "Death plan" a la Paul Ryan, and key government agencies such as the EPA converted into coporate shells or disbanded completely.

One of the more insidious aspects of Perry's fell plan is that it enables taxpayers themselves to decide how fast THEY wish to destroy the government and their own future benefits. Thus, taxpayers are allowed the choice of either filing under the current system (e.g. with top marginal rates of 35% - assuming the Bush tax cuts aren't finally repealed at the end of this year), or they can pay his new 20% tax rate.

If taxpayers are clueless enough to opt for the latter, they will send this country into a massive $23 trillion deficit before 2020, though Perry insists he can "balance the budget" by then. He's nuts! The three decade analyses of overly low taxation (e.g. The Financial Times, Analysis (9/15/10 , p. 24) showed the tax cuts applied did not even curtail the secular slowdown in the growth of business structures, rather the slowdowns accelerated to full declines. Worse, growth in real gross non-residential investment barely averaged 1% (compared to 3.5%-4% in high tax years) and "an increasing proportion of the benefits of U.S. tax policy leaked outside the U.S.”

Do people really want to endure more of this bullshit? Haven't they had enough? Haven't college kids had enough of getting screwed with those high interest, variable rate private loans? Haven't homeowners had enough of the mortgage games, as bankers and especially investment bankers - bet on your failure to pay? Isn't it time to tell these fuckers to take a hike?

Perry's plan will also necessitate ripping out at least $2 trillion from Social Security monies to set up "private accounts". (He claims he will give younger wage earners the "option" of private accounts, but he has to know most are so spooked they won't see a red cent of regular S.S. that they will opt in. To the detriment of themselves, as well as everyone already in. Of course, as I noted in a previous blog, if a private account owner loses money on his investments, he can receive no higher Social Security payment than $400 minimum for most private options, such as bruited by the Bush Jr. bunch.)

Perry also claims (ibid.) his 20% corporate tax rate is "aimed at increasing private spending to create more jobs". But again, we know this is also bollocks. The largest private corporations are still sitting on more than $2 trillion in cash, and doing so in the lowest corporate tax environment (as % of GDP) since the 1980s. The way to make these bastards create more jobs is to tax their idle cash, at least at the 35% level, and also tag on a proviso that any jobs dispatched to India or China will see a an extra surtax of 50% of proposed salary on each foreign worker, but applied to the company.

Experts asked to comment on the Perry flat tax plan (ibid.) agreed it "would sharply reduce the revenue to government"

Agian, DOH! Because we know all these "tax" plans are in reality, "starve the beast" plans!

One of the experts, a Senior Fellow at the Tax Policy Center, added (ibid.):

"Two things are very clear: it will lose lots of revenue and it will give a big tax cut to the rich"

As if the rich needed any more!

I mean let's get freakin' real! How many more 'Billy the Kid' tintypes at $2 million each can these GOP wet-nursed assholes buy? How many more blood diamonds? Aren't a hundred ten kt. diamonds enough in their safes? How many more 44,000 sq. ft. homes with 8 jacuzzis? Aren't two main residences (in Long Island and Beverly Hills) enough? Do the fuckers also need two more - one in Aspen (to cavort in the winter, with fake, platinum coated snow boards) and one in Aruba - where they can enjoy $2,000 rose wine wraps each day with their champagne magnums?

I mean WHY does Rick Perry the cowboy clown want to make their lives more opulent while 22 million American kids cry themselves to sleep with hunger each night, while their moms do without their own nutrition so the kids can eat - and granny next door must do without her meds - because it's either them or food?

Haven't we had enough of this bullshit in this country?

The good thing is that the odds of this booger-pickin' asshole winning the nomination are slim and none. The bad thing is there are enough stupid, unread voters in this country (combined with the GOP's draconian campaign to suppress votiing rights) to possibly give him a chance.

Add in some voting machine fraud - such as occurred in Ohio, in 2004- and who the hell knows?

One thing for sure, if either Perry or Cain gets in, far less Romney, things will get a lot uglier than they are now!

It is certainly true that our tax system is unwieldy, hyper-draconian and ridiculous at over 73,000 pages of code, so much so that even IRS tax advisors (according to some GAO reports over the past years) are often found to give conflicting advice on assorted issues. But that doesn't mean we need to simplify it all the way down to a single rate flat tax! One can still achieve a measure of simplicity by disallowing all the loopholes and special dispensations, while alllowing a 3-tier rate system, say 40% for the top 10% of earners, 25% for the next 10% and 15% for everyone else except those earning under $15,000. They pay no tax, as they don't now (if they use the Earned Income Tax credit).

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Wall Street's Two Biggest LIES!

In pouring through issues of The Wall Street Journal the past few months, there are two recurring monster lies that have been circulated most widely. These lies seek to disguise the basis of the current unemployment situation, as well as the instability of the economy. In this way, by preferential framing, the actual culprits are left untouched and unexposed. In the meantime, so long as the actual culprits are concealed from view, the income disparity increases - as the Gini index shows (see graph).

All those tens of thousands of new college graduates, with immense loan burdens, must now face an essentially jobless future so long as Wall Street's liars manage to sell their propaganda to the gullible. These poor kids then, stand to be sent lurching ever further backwards economically unless the truth is told. What is the truth? Two of Wall Street's biggest lies and my rejoinders!

1)The Jobs are there but our young people lack the skills to fill them, so we have a mismatch or gap between jobs and skills

Total, ineffable horse pockey! First off, for what jobs remain in the country (and haven't been sent off to China or India yet) the primary problem is not lack of worker skills, but the refusal of companies to provide training. Thus, we don't have a "skills" problem but an inflexibility problem.

When I took my first job in 1967 as a geologist's assistant for an Oil corporation, I had no training in petroleum geology nor had I even taken a single course in geology. Under today's peddled malarkey, I'd therefore merit being jobless for not possessing the correct and specific skill set. But in truth, the company understood that 99% of all applicants would lack such prerequisites, so had developed a training program where one learned on the fly.

Soon enough, on being delivered geological strata cross sections, one learned to recognize salt domes and other critical areas, and how to apply fiducial or timing marks.

With this job, I was able to establish my independence at age 20, and get my own apartment on Canal St. in New Orleans. Meanwhile, today's debt-slave kids are seeing hell, and 5.9 million between 21 and 34 have had to move back in with their PARENTS! But what else can they do when the jobs that are available (mainly desk clerks, telemarketers and retail) are unable to deliver that independence, far less pay off monstrous college loans?

My point also is that jobs can be organized to be done successfully even if a candidate doesn't have exactly the skills needed. Related to what I noted in my own case, only about 10% of the IT workers in Silicon Valley (during the tech boom of the 90s) actually had IT degrees. Technically, based on today's BS, they were no more qualified to do IT work than I was petroleum geology! But what the IT companies then understood is that while it might be nifty to have an IT Ph.D. checking your network connections, it didn't really require that level of expertise and training could compensate for lack of skills.

But what do we find? American companies are no longer featuring or sponsoring training programs! Even basic apprenticeship programs have largely vanished along with management training programs.

Why? It appears a major reason is that companies feel they can get the expertise they need without training, by setting up shops with lower cost Indian or other labor overseas. This saves them lots of money, but at the cost of having workers for jobs in the U.S. Far better just to call on some Indian techie to get assistance with an American network problem than hire Americans to do it.

Of course, this deplorable situation also explains why so many out of work folks, especially recent college grads, are lining up to do unpaid internships - to acquire the skills they ordinarily would have with company training! But how long can they do that route when their college loan grace period is going to be expiring soon (6 months after graduation).

2) There is too much economic uncertainty which is why so many companies are sitting on cash!

Total, unmitigated codswallop. The true fact, as TIME columnist Rana Foroohar observes ('Uncertainty? Don't be So Sure!', Oct. 31, p. 28) is that:

"markets love uncertainty, it's how people make money!"

Indeed, as we saw with the financial crisis of 2008, the most massive fortunes were made by those who exploited the existing uncertainty the most and made the most superbo bets. Those like Goldman Sachs which snared $13 billion in profits by betting on housing failures! How did this uncertain atmosphere come to be?

Start with David X. Li’s (Gaussian copula) formula which not only allowed bad mortgage securities to be sown among good ones, but also provided the effective operational basis for the concatenation and intertwining of relatively innocuous securities (with high bond ratings) to toxic waste in the form of the sub-prime mortgage securities via credit derivatives. (Again, for those who don’t know, derivatives were invented by physicists who had migrated to finance and based their creation on the concept of the mathematical derivative, e.g. dy/dx, such that a fractional incremental variation in one variable (dy) generates a corresponding change in another (dx).)

Thus, Li’s formula provided the facile enabling mechanism and basis to accomplish massive bond rating uncertainty with little oversight because the obscure mathematics was generally not well understood by the investment banks (like Lehman’s) that offered the spuriously blended instruments.

Further massive uncertainty arose from a proximate, immediate source which effectively “spider-webbed” the high risk sub-primes to millions of innocuous financial instruments, including municipal bonds and pension investments via “structured investment vehicles” or SIVs. The uncertainty inhered in not knowing exactly what comprised the SIVs, but for those investment banks that actually had "quants" (former physicists now designing the new derivatives called "credit default swaps" or CDS) they could use the same CDS basis to make bets for failure. Thus, as the SIV market collapsed, the bet makers could collect because of the endemic uncertainty.

The CDS were perfectly tailored to this uncertain atmosphere, because nearly all of them required no formal signing or records - so many were made over the phone, much the same way as a Vegas sports book might take a bet from a gambler.

Quoted in an October 2009 FORTUNE piece ('The $55 TRILLION QUESTION', p. 135) , a University econ professor and derivatives salesman (Frank Partnoy) noted:

"The big problem is there are so many public companies- banks and corporations, and no one really knows how much exposure they have to CDS (credit default swap) contracts."

This lack of knowledge, generating uncertainty, was precisely what allowed and enabled the biggest CDS players to win. Another hedge fund operator (Chris Wolf) quoted in the same article put it:"

"This has become essentially the dark matter of the financial universe"

The same FORTUNE piece finshed by observing:

You can guess how Wall Street's cowboys responded to the opportunity to make deals that:

1) can be struck in a minute,

2) require little or no cash upfront and

3) can cover anything.”

So, next time you hear, or read either of these mega-lies of Wall Street, be sure to call BOLLOCKS!

Even IF Hell Did Exist - It's Nothing to Worry about!

Image from a Christian fundie's blog showing an atheist burning up in "hell". A nice cartoon rendition, but hardly plausible!

All right, let's concede (though I already showed its logical improbability and incoherence), e.g.

that the fundies are half right, and some kind of "hell" awaits all those terrible unbelievers that refuse to be saved. Do we have anything to worry about, even if this "hell" is somehow around in the after life?

I argue here, NO! And for emphatic rational reasons, which can be traced to the believers' own bible! (Including the KJV)

First, even if it does exist there can't be any "fires" such as depicted in the image above from a fundie's blog, showing an atheist burning up. Fire constitutes a physical, thermodynamic plasma which cannot exist in any supernatural realm. Yes, some plasmas can reach nearly one trillion degrees, but they can't exist in any supernatural realm or in terms of a putatively surviving consciousness even IF the afterlife realm is supra-physical and not supernatural. If supra-physical only quantum waves would prevail, and these couldn't support anything as macroscopically extensive as "fire" or "burning". Indeed, even if one were to put his pinky finger into the Sun's 2 million K corona, he'd not be burned because the corona is essentially a vacuum with almost no density. Plasma must be sufficiently dense to impart a burn! This would be reinforced in a post-death quantal energy realm.

Thus, we may emphatically rule out any kind of "burning", though I do concede it makes for a colorful form of scare mongering. (Note: some fundies insist the fires are "supernatural" as is the "burning" but they've never explained precisely how this manifests, nor even proven a "soul" for it to manifest can exist!)

Second, the believers' own good Book discloses that if it does exist, it cannot be "everlasting" or eternal. So, worst case scenario, we're there just for a bit - which makes it more analogous to the Catholics' purgatory.

Bear with me.

The Greek for "everlasting punishment" in Matthew 25:46 is "kolasin aionion." Kolasin is a noun in the accusative form, singular voice, feminine gender and means "punishment, chastening, correction, to cut-off as in pruning a tree to bear more fruit." Meanwhile, "Aionion" is the adjective form of "aion," in the singular form and means "pertaining to an eon or age, an indeterminate period of time..

Critical examination discloses the Bible speaks of five "aions"(minimum) and perhaps many more. If there were "aions" in the past, it must logically mean that each one of them has ended! When one uses terms such as "past", "present" or "future" he's no longer referring to anything that's everlasting because the latter concept admits of no temporal distinctions!

The New Testament writers spoke of "the present wicked aion" which ended during that very generation.

Obviously then it was followed by another "aion"-e.g. the "aion" in which we presently live, which will be followed by a future aion.The point? If there are "aions"past, present and to come, it must mean that aions don't last and the one we live in will also end. Thus, these "aions" are in no way never-ending or everlasting.

There are also verses describing "the consummation of the aions" (from which eons is derived) showing that each "aion" (nee, eon) ends, hence again can't be eternal!

Other notable examples:

-"the coming eon" (Matt.10:30, Luke 18:30)

-"the present wicked eon" (Gal.1:4)

-"the oncoming eons" (future) (Eph.2:7)

-"the conclusion of the eon " (present) (Mt.13:39,40)

-"the secret concealed from the eons" (past) (Eph.3:9)

Obviously, the Greek word "aion" transliterated "eon" cannot mean "eternal." A study into the Greek of the Biblical period and before will bear this out. Thus, Matthew 25:46 which embodies the Greek, "kolasin aionion", cannot mean "eternal punishment" but rather a "temporary punishment" or "temporary chastening.

Thus, even IF Matthew 25:46 does refer to a real, putatively active "Hell" it can't be "everlasting, only temporary only. Since "Aionion" is the adjective of the noun "aion", then this argument applies to ALL forms, passages, words that contain these words, no exception.

Hence, we must conclude that either: a) Matthew 25:46 is a bogus later addition, or b) Matthew 25:46 represents the deliberate, fraudulent alteration of an original text in which the Greek forms were changed to reflect an "eternal" as opposed to non-eternal duress or punishment.In either case, the hellfire fundies are either liars or ignorant, take your pick.

What form might the "chastening" take if any? I suspect from exegetical analysis it could take different forms according to WHO is chastened, and it may not be all one-sided. That is, the assumption that only atheists are to be chastised and not Christian bible bangers.

For example, I believe a Christian Fundie bible banger will face chastisement if he cops to a belief in "being saved" purely to save his hide. The Power that Be, assuming it exists, would likely reincarnate this fundie as a poor, starving African and make him live out an extra existence in rank poverty and in a different religion (Islam, or some African tribal cult) to learn religious humility and dump the exceptionalism.

The mirror chastisement might apply for a head strong or belligerent atheist. He might be born again as a Christian fundie who is also forced to learn all their bollocks and blather, including biblical inerrancy. By the time he's exhausted that life, he's mastered at least some respect for what the captive fundies have to endure.

I also note that rebirth into a temporary new life that is more humbling, chastening and deprivating compared to what one had, is a kind of ideal "aion-ic" punishment which would likely meet the temporal requirements implied in Matthew 25:46.

My point is, even if some punishment awaits humans, it won't be anywhere as horrific as the crazed fundies claim, nor will it last forever!

How the Fed and Bernanke Are Increasing the Odds of a New Recession

In one particularly memorable scene in the movie Scarface, Cuban refugee scumball Tony Montana - now the top cocaine lord in Miami - is seen lugging over a dozen bags of cash into a Miami bank. He needs to have it all laundered, millions from the cocaine sales. A banker in tailored pinstripe suit arrives on the scene and informs Tony, "Sorry, but we just can't take all this money! You will have to find somewhere else to put it!"

As amazing as it may sound, we are very nearly in this territory now, with banks actually dreading having to accept any more customer deposits! Indeed, as noted in today's lead business page story in The Denver Post (Banks Flush with Cash, p. 5B), some banks such as Mellon Bank of New York, are actually charging small business customers a 0.13% fee for any new deposits.

Meanwhile, some large banks, including Wells Fargo, US Bancorp, and JP Morgan Chase are actually passing along the costs of federal deposit insurance to some of their small business customers (ibid.) Even community banks, generally hailed as pro-little guy, are evincing an attitude that they don't mind if people park their cash someplace else. Hmmmm...maybe the old mattress routine?

"We just don't need it anymore!" according to Don Sturm, owner of American National Banks, quoted in the piece. He then added:

"If you had more money than you know what to do with, would you want more?"

Hmmmm.....sounds an awful lot like Tony Montana's Miami banker!

How did we get to this situation? More to the point, why the hell are we in it, with so many people still needing loans, for everything from homes to home renovations, and the banks just sitting on tons of cash instead of lending it?

In many ways you can blame Ben Bernanke and the Federal Reserve. These guys continue to treat the recessionary conditions as if they are standard pro forma fare, as opposed to being in a balance sheet recession. In this type of recession, we need much greater liquidity but that can only be at the behest of more spending, whether of government, citizens or business. The trouble is everyone is locking down their wallets, accounts!

First please note businesses (mainly small ones) and little guys who own 401ks, and are trying to make back stock market losses from 2008, are terrified. The gyrating and unstable stock market has rightly convinced them that Wall Street is exactly the wrong place to park hard earned cash. So they are now socking it away in CDs, money market accounts and plain old vanilla bank accounts..."where it does little to stimulate the economy"...according to the Post article.

But then, see, it isn't the job of little guys - whether businesses or savers - to "stimulate the economy". By any factoring of economies of scale, their first objectives must be to reduce their debt or deleverage and can't expose any more of their money to stock crashes or market corrections. As it is, government studies are showing nearly 5 in 10 Boomers don't have enough money saved to retire, which means they surely can't afford to lose any more.

This is also why so many are saving their money instead of splurging it at retail outfits. A large part of this purse string retrenchment has to do with the whole aggregate demand environment including stagnant wages, cut benefits and higher costs!

Indeed, inflation in food and fuel is soaring, and has been since the commodity indices (see graphs) warned of spikes in key commodities at the start of the year. Now, according to a report in today's WSJ ('Prices Rising for Good or Ill', p. A6) the U.S. Agricultural Dept. "expects food prices to increase 3.5% to 4.5% this year after a 0.8% climb in all of 2010"

This means inflation is REAL and here! Now! It means the Fed has got to stop playing these silly ass games with people's lives and RAISE interest rates! NOW! This game, a con game if ever there was, wherein inflation is only tied to a certain artificial subset of goods, and excludes food, medical costs, and fuel, is plain horse manure and bollocks.

Registering the real inflation now, and that projected, implies the Fed - if it will once and for all concede we're in a balance sheet recession, must increase the interest rate to at least 1% and maybe even 1.5%. This will ensure several things, all good:

1) Banks will be willing to offload via loans some of the billions of cash they have on hand, instead of sitting on it. Right now, because the clueless Federal Reserve has set the floor off which banks price their lending rates so LOW - based on its decision several months ago to lower interest rates to near zero- means the banks earn less money on the deposits they lend. They also earn less on the deposits left over to invest, as well as on loans.

Of the $41.8 billion in deposits Well Fargo collected in the 3rd quarter, for example, only $8.2 billion was used to finance new loans.

If the Fed would get off its keyster and raise the interest rate to 1.0%, this amount could be tripled, almost overnight. That act of lending would then free up assets which now largely sit frozen, and contribute to the frozen economy!

2) An increased interest rate would immediately help savers, who'd be able to sock away more money for their retirements. This would lessen dependence on the government.

3) Increased interest rates on savings would also allow more seniors in the higher quintiles to spend more! Provide them with more disposable income! Rather than penny pinching as they are now, they'd be able to buy a few extra, new walking shoes, ipads, ipods, dvds, whatever...and hence contribute to the GDP. This would help the overall aggregate demand. Higher aggregate demand means more jobs!!

The Fed needs to recognize it needs to get this economy flowing again, if jobs are ever to return and businesses - especially small ones - use their money for plant and labor as opposed to parking it in banks.

The solution is clearly to raise interest rates which also, by the way, will have the beneficial effect of more bond buyers taking up the debt load by purchasing U.S. Treasurys.

Whether Bernanke and the Fed actually has the sense to do this remains to be seen. Up to now the only thing they've shown is their detachment from economic practical reality while being wedded to abstract, horse shit economic reality based on the Pareto distribution.