13 December 2011

Some reflections on Melancholia and Caprica

I watched Melancholia over the weekend. For those expecting a sci-fi premise, this is likely to be disappointing, since nearly the entire film focuses on an eccentric bride-to-be's severe depression. The movie gets credit for creativity, I suppose. But I can't say that I loved it. I also recently watched the TV series Caprica on Netflix. I think this is one of the best made-for-tv sci-fi series that I've ever seen. For some reason, the better the series, the shorter they seem to run. It's as if the public can keep watching a sci-fi series only if it involves spaceships shooting at each other with plots that could come directly from a cheap Western. Caprica has an incredible mix of plot lines which ask intriguing questions about basic matters such as the line separating science and faith and the nature of personal identity. The characters are all complex and realistic. I particularly like the Sister Clarice character. She's an odd combination of zealot and realist (in some ways, she strikes me as a female religious version of Lenin).

22 November 2011

19 November 2011

OWS and the UC Davis Incident


I saw some official telling reporters that the police pepper-sprayed the protesters because they were stuck in the circle and couldn't get out. What a bunch of BS. You see the police walking back and forth through the lines without any problem whatsoever. Why is the public being lied to?

4 November 2011

Revision ==> That should be the 99.9%

Paul Krugman recently wrote an excellent piece on income inequality titled "Oligarchy, American Style." The following is an excerpt from the last part of the article:

The budget office report tells us that essentially all of the upward redistribution of income away from the bottom 80 percent has gone to the highest-income 1 percent of Americans. That is, the protesters who portray themselves as representing the interests of the 99 percent have it basically right, and the pundits solemnly assuring them that it’s really about education, not the gains of a small elite, have it completely wrong.

If anything, the protesters are setting the cutoff too low. The recent budget office report doesn’t look inside the top 1 percent, but an earlier report, which only went up to 2005, found that almost two-thirds of the rising share of the top percentile in income actually went to the top 0.1 percent — the richest thousandth of Americans, who saw their real incomes rise more than 400 percent over the period from 1979 to 2005.

Who’s in that top 0.1 percent? Are they heroic entrepreneurs creating jobs? No, for the most part, they’re corporate executives. Recent research shows that around 60 percent of the top 0.1 percent either are executives in nonfinancial companies or make their money in finance, i.e., Wall Street broadly defined. Add in lawyers and people in real estate, and we’re talking about more than 70 percent of the lucky one-thousandth.

But why does this growing concentration of income and wealth in a few hands matter? Part of the answer is that rising inequality has meant a nation in which most families don’t share fully in economic growth. Another part of the answer is that once you realize just how much richer the rich have become, the argument that higher taxes on high incomes should be part of any long-run budget deal becomes a lot more compelling.
The larger answer, however, is that extreme concentration of income is incompatible with real democracy. Can anyone seriously deny that our political system is being warped by the influence of big money, and that the warping is getting worse as the wealth of a few grows ever larger?

17 October 2011

Bringing crisis to the wealthy

A rightwing family member just sent me a clip of a Lerner talk as an example of how the unions are taking over America and want to destroy the economy. (Wasn't Lerner fired from the SEIU? Anyway...) As is always the case, if something pushes buttons for those on the right, it probably has some merit. I think Lerner's on to something when he talks about creating a crisis for the rich. Much of the rhetoric that receives the imprimatur of the media is based on this idea that there's some sort of misunderstanding--as if we're all working for the same vision of shared wealth and fairness. As Lerner points out, this is nonsense.

16 October 2011

50/50 and Contagion

Last week, I watched 50/50 and Contagion. The two movies offer a telling contrast. With 50/50, you have a movie without high-salary mega-stars dealing with an issue (cancer) that isn't a typical part of comedic fare, but the the producers and actors pull it off brilliantly. This one is definitely worth seeing. I don't know if I would classify it as a pure comedy (in the sense of a farce) since it's likely to produce as much tears as laughter, but even so, it' worth seeing and deserves commendations for breaking the mould. On the other hand, you have Contagion--a movie filled with an entire cast of many of my favorite actors (Jude Law, Gwyneth Paltrow, Marion Cotillard, Matt Damon) who valiantly try to inject a spark of excitement into the script, and the movie falls completely flat. The story doesn't contain a single interesting idea or twist. The entire plot can be accurately described as: (1) many people get sick and die, (2) disaster's averted.

Making matters worse, I had to sit through an unbelievable number of ads, previews, and other crap prior to watching the movie. As much as I love watching movies in theaters, I've just about given up at this point. It's particularly disappointing when a half hour of ads are followed by a formulaic film that's no more entertaining than the previews.

13 October 2011

Zizek at Liberty Plaza

Zizek showed up at the OWS protest in Liberty Plaza to give a talk. I'd recommend listening to the film clip.

4 October 2011

Them that curse you

The Occupy Wall Street protesters must be doing something right. They've been labeled as Nazi's by some of the circus clowns on the right including the greatest clowness of them all--Ann Coulter. Since the right seems to be willing to defend people's right to own and sell guns--whether or not the person is psychotic or is selling boxes of guns to drug runners--it's beyond me why a peaceful group of protesters are "Nazis" and must, by implication, be brought down by any means including brutal force. But what can a person even say anymore. The right's allegiance with all that stinks in this world, whether it be obscene wealth or callous violence, has completely discredited it as part of the spectrum of rational debate. There is no "middle" anymore. Just a corporate- and media-backed conglomerate of wealthy interests with a semi-rational faction (Democrats) and irrational faction (Republicans). The latter, unsatisfied with looting the public wealth gradually, is calling for the complete rape of the lower and middle classes. The media blathers about how the protesters are unorganized and don't have a nice tidy PR-doctored blurb for public consumption. In short, this is merely saying that the movement hasn't been successfully co-opted yet. If it is, we can expect them to roll into town on buses in neat lines with a script that has been approved by Exxon and Bank of America.

2 October 2011

Wall Street Protests

The Wall Street protests are exciting. This is exactly where the protests should be. The coddling of the wealthy in the U.S. is obscene.


Arun Gupta's open letter:

What is occurring on Wall Street right now is truly remarkable. For over 10 days, in the sanctum of the great cathedral of global capitalism, the dispossessed have liberated territory from the financial overlords and their police army. They have created a unique opportunity to shift the tides of history in the tradition of other great peaceful occupations from the sit-down strikes of the 1930s to the lunch-counter sit-ins of the 1960s to the democratic uprisings across the Arab world and Europe today.

While the Wall Street occupation is growing, it needs an all-out commitment from everyone who cheered the Egyptians in Tahrir Square, said “We are all Wisconsin,” and stood in solidarity with the Greeks and Spaniards. This is a movement for anyone who lacks a job, housing or healthcare, or thinks they have no future.

Our system is broken at every level. More than 25 million Americans are unemployed. More than 50 million live without health insurance. And perhaps 100 million Americans are mired in poverty, using realistic measures. Yet the fat cats continue to get tax breaks and reap billions while politicians compete to turn the austerity screws on all of us.

At some point the number of people occupying Wall Street – whether that’s five thousand, ten thousand or fifty thousand – will force the powers that be to offer concessions. No one can say how many people it will take or even how things will change exactly, but there is a real potential for bypassing a corrupt political process and to begin realizing a society based on human needs not hedge fund profits.

After all, who would have imagined a year ago that Tunisians and Egyptians would oust their dictators?

At Liberty Park, the nerve center of the occupation, more than a thousand people gather every day to debate, discuss and organize what to do about our failed system that has allowed the 400 richest Americans at the top to amass more wealth than the 180 million Americans at the bottom.

It’s astonishing that this self-organized festival of democracy has sprouted on the turf of the masters of the universe, the men who play the tune that both political parties and the media dance to. The New York Police Department, which has deployed hundreds of officers at a time to surround and intimidate protesters, is capable of arresting everyone and clearing Liberty Plaza in minutes. But they haven’t, which is also astonishing.

That’s because assaulting peaceful crowds in a public square demanding real democracy – economic and not just political – would remind the world of the brittle autocrats who brutalized their people demanding justice before they were swept away by the Arab Spring. And the state violence has already backfired. After police attacked a Saturday afternoon march that started from Liberty Park the crowds only got bigger and media interest grew.

The Wall Street occupation has already succeeded in revealing the bankruptcy of the dominant powers – the economic, the political, media and security forces. They have nothing positive to offer humanity, not that they ever did for the Global South, but now their quest for endless profits means deepening the misery with a thousand austerity cuts.

Even their solutions are cruel jokes. They tell us that the “Buffett Rule” would spread the pain by asking the penthouse set to sacrifice a tin of caviar, which is what the proposed tax increase would amount to. Meanwhile, the rest of us will have to sacrifice healthcare, food, education, housing, jobs and perhaps our lives to sate the ferocious appetite of capital.

That’s why more and more people are joining the Wall Street occupation. They can tell you about their homes being foreclosed upon, months of grinding unemployment or minimum-wage dead-end jobs, staggering student debt loads, or trying to live without decent healthcare. It’s a whole generation of Americans with no prospects, but who are told to believe in a system that can only offer them Dancing With The Stars and pepper spray to the face.

Yet against every description of a generation derided as narcissistic, apathetic and hopeless they are staking a claim to a better future for all of us.

That’s why we all need to join in. Not just by liking it on Facebook, signing a petition at change.org or retweeting protest photos, but by going down to the occupation itself.

There is great potential here. Sure, it’s a far cry from Tahrir Square or even Wisconsin. But there is the nucleus of a revolt that could shake America’s power structure as much as the Arab world has been upended.

Instead of one to two thousand people a day joining in the occupation there needs to be tens of thousands of people protesting the fat cats driving Bentleys and drinking thousand-dollar bottles of champagne with money they looted from the financial crisis and then from the bailouts while Americans literally die on the streets.

To be fair, the scene in Liberty Plaza seems messy and chaotic. But it’s also a laboratory of possibility, and that’s the beauty of democracy. As opposed to our monoculture world, where political life is flipping a lever every four years, social life is being a consumer and economic life is being a timid cog, the Wall Street occupation is creating a polyculture of ideas, expression and art.

Yet while many people support the occupation, they hesitate to fully join in and are quick to offer criticism. It’s clear that the biggest obstacles to building a powerful movement are not the police or capital – it’s our own cynicism and despair.

Perhaps their views were colored by the New York Times article deriding protestors for wishing to “pantomime progressivism” and “Gunning for Wall Street with faulty aim.” Many of the criticisms boil down to “a lack of clear messaging.”

But what’s wrong with that? A fully formed movement is not going to spring from the ground. It has to be created. And who can say what exactly needs to be done? We are not talking about ousting a dictator; though some say we want to oust the dictatorship of capital.

There are plenty of sophisticated ideas out there: end corporate personhood; institute a “Tobin Tax” on stock purchases and currency trading; nationalize banks; socialize medicine; fully fund government jobs and genuine Keynesian stimulus; lift restrictions on labor organizing; allow cities to turn foreclosed homes into public housing; build a green energy infrastructure.

But how can we get broad agreement on any of these? If the protesters came into the square with a pre-determined set of demands it would have only limited their potential. They would have either been dismissed as pie in the sky – such as socialized medicine or nationalize banks – or if they went for weak demands such as the Buffett Rule their efforts would immediately be absorbed by a failed political system, thus undermining the movement.

That’s why the building of the movement has to go hand in hand with common struggle, debate and radical democracy. It’s how we will create genuine solutions that have legitimacy. And that is what is occurring down at Wall Street.

Now, there are endless objections one can make. But if we focus on the possibilities, and shed our despair, our hesitancy and our cynicism, and collectively come to Wall Street with critical thinking, ideas and solidarity we can change the world.

How many times in your life do you get a chance to watch history unfold, to actively participate in building a better society, to come together with thousands of people where genuine democracy is the reality and not a fantasy?

For too long our minds have been chained by fear, by division, by impotence. The one thing the elite fear most is a great awakening. That day is here. Together we can seize it.

18 September 2011

12 September 2011

Another hot and humid day on HD85512b

We really need to get some better telescopes up in space so that we can start to see the surface of planets outside our solar system. In the latest news, astronomers have discovered a new potentially habitable planet--HD85512b, closely orbiting a star about 35 light-years from Earth in the constellation Vela. For it to be habitable, at least 60 percent of it would have to be covered in clouds (Earth has about 50 percent cloud cover). The planet's likely to be on the warm side and humid, with a gravity about 1.4 times that of Earth.

30 August 2011

Robert Reich's Labor Day reflections

This excellent article deserves posting in its entirety.

This Labor Day We Need Protest Marches 
Rather than Parades

Labor Day is traditionally a time for picnics and parades. But this year is no picnic for American workers, and a protest march would be more appropriate than a parade. Not only are 25 million unemployed or underemployed, but American companies continue to cut wages and benefits. The median wage is still dropping, adjusted for inflation. High unemployment has given employers extra bargaining leverage to wring out wage concessions. All told, it’s been the worst decade for American workers in a century. According to Commerce Department data, private-sector wage gains over the last decade have even lagged behind wage gains during the decade of the Great Depression (4 percent over the last ten years, adjusted for inflation, versus 5 percent from 1929 to 1939).

Big American corporations are making more money, and creating more jobs, outside the United States than in it. If corporations are people, as the Supreme Court’s twisted logic now insists, most of the big ones headquartered here are rapidly losing their American identity.

CEO pay, meanwhile, has soared. The median value of salaries, bonuses and long-term incentive awards for CEOs at 350 big American companies surged 11 percent last year to $9.3 million (according to a study of proxy statements conducted for The Wall Street Journal by the management consultancy Hay Group.). Bonuses have surged 19.7 percent.

This doesn’t even include all those stock options rewarded to CEOs at rock-bottom prices in 2008 and 2009. Stock prices have ballooned since then, the current downdraft notwithstanding. In March, 2009, for example, Ford CEO Alan Mulally received a grant of options and restricted shares worth an estimated $16 million at the time. But Ford is now showing large profits – in part because the UAW agreed to allow Ford to give its new hires roughly half the wages of older Ford workers – and its share prices have responded. Mulally’s 2009 grant is now worth over $200 million.

The ratio of corporate profits to wages is now higher than at any time since just before the Great Depression.
Meanwhile, the American economy has all but stopped growing – in large part because consumers (whose spending is 70 percent of GDP) are also workers whose jobs and wages are under assault.

Perhaps there would still be something to celebrate on Labor Day if government was coming to the rescue. But Washington is paralyzed, the President seems unwilling or unable to take on labor-bashing Republicans, and several Republican governors are mounting direct assaults on organized labor (see Indiana, Ohio, Maine, and Wisconsin, for example).

So let’s bag the picnics and parades this Labor Day. American workers should march in protest. They’re getting the worst deal they’ve had since before Labor Day was invented – and the economy is suffering as a result.

28 August 2011

11 August 2011

Stiglitz on inequality

Kudos go to Jodi for posting this excerpt from Stiglitz over at I Cite. Coming from a leading economist, it's definitely worth a read:
Some people look at income inequality and shrug their shoulders. So what if this person gains and that person loses? What matters, they argue, is not how the pie is divided but the size of the pie. That argument is fundamentally wrong. An economy in which most citizens are doing worse year after year—an economy like America’s—is not likely to do well over the long haul. There are several reasons for this.
First, growing inequality is the flip side of something else: shrinking opportunity. Whenever we diminish equality of opportunity, it means that we are not using some of our most valuable assets—our people—in the most productive way possible. Second, many of the distortions that lead to inequality—such as those associated with monopoly power and preferential tax treatment for special interests—undermine the efficiency of the economy. This new inequality goes on to create new distortions, undermining efficiency even further. To give just one example, far too many of our most talented young people, seeing the astronomical rewards, have gone into finance rather than into fields that would lead to a more productive and healthy economy.
Third, and perhaps most important, a modern economy requires “collective action”—it needs government to invest in infrastructure, education, and technology. The United States and the world have benefited greatly from government-sponsored research that led to the Internet, to advances in public health, and so on. But America has long suffered from an under-investment in infrastructure (look at the condition of our highways and bridges, our railroads and airports), in basic research, and in education at all levels. Further cutbacks in these areas lie ahead.
None of this should come as a surprise—it is simply what happens when a society’s wealth distribution becomes lopsided. The more divided a society becomes in terms of wealth, the more reluctant the wealthy become to spend money on common needs. The rich don’t need to rely on government for parks or education or medical care or personal security—they can buy all these things for themselves. In the process, they become more distant from ordinary people, losing whatever empathy they may once have had. They also worry about strong government—one that could use its powers to adjust the balance, take some of their wealth, and invest it for the common good. The top 1 percent may complain about the kind of government we have in America, but in truth they like it just fine: too gridlocked to re-distribute, too divided to do anything but lower taxes.

3 August 2011

Looking out for those who count

Andrew Levine has a good analysis of Obama's recent capitulation on the debt ceiling:

[Excerpt] Obama surrendered for one overwhelming reason --because he wanted to; because he is not just in the game to win, but to win for Wall Street. The time is long past due for liberals to face that reality, and to deal with it not, not as Obama and his advisors expect, by acquiescing out of fear that the alternative is even worse, but in a constructive way. If a Dump Obama cannot get going now, then when?

2 August 2011

A war ceiling?

I agree with Tom

1 August 2011

Debt ceiling

As far as I can tell from the simple descriptions of the budget deal in media clips, the new plan represents a complete capitulation by Obama and the Democrats. There evidently won't be a single revenue enhancing measure. Tax breaks for the richest Americans--that sacred cow of the Republican party--will continue as is. Exactly how this represents a "sacrifice" or a "compromise" by the far right escapes me. The only bright spot is that the bloated military budget may be cut. I'll believe it when I see it.

15 July 2011

Radically Simple

I just listened to the documentary Radically Simple featuring Jim Merkel. I like Merkel's approach and fully agree with him that living sustainably is ultimately a deeply ethical decision. I'd recommend watching it--not for information, but rather for inspiration.

13 July 2011

Longing for thems halcyon days of yesteryear...

...when a man could earn a decent living on a few acres with a little hard work (slave labor).

Bachman and Santorum recently signed a conservative pledge whose leading item was a statement that black families were stronger under slavery. We might ask why such a bizarre--and entirely anti-historical--statement was chosen to lead a pledge that was supposedly pro-family. Any analysis runs up against the fact that the conservatives are talking in code here as they often do. The logical implications of such a statement is that African-Americans are genetically inferior and can only adhere to proper Christian values when enslaved by superior white owners. We've come to expect this from Republicans--especially from the Evangelicals and Tea Party. Virtually all their statements, at their core, are essential an attack on the "lazy" poor and praise for the virtues of the wealthy. And since African-Americans make up more of the poor, we don't need a weatherman to know which way the wind blows. In short, the conservatives have adopted an ideology that would look a lot like the Sermon on the Mount if you took every sentence and converted to its opposite.

11 July 2011

Ersland deserves an award, not life in prison!

An Oklahoma pharmacist has been sentenced to life in prison for killing one of two people who held up his pharmacy with a gun. This makes no sense at all. When a criminal threatens someone with a gun, it should be legal to kill them. I wish I could have been on this man's jury.

7 July 2011

Rereading 1984

I've been listening to 1984. I read the book in a single evening and night in high school. It's great the second time around but needless to say, I have a slightly different impression after the passing of years. The book insightfully suggests that one of the greatest problems for the brainwashed people of 1984's dystopian society is an inability to analyze their situation. Essential context and facts, as well as meaningful intellectual discourse, have been systematically eliminated so that it's difficult to identify the key players controlling the levers of powers and their motivations.

1984 society has obvious parallels to North Korea where every social and material good appears to be devoted to preservation of the state and the ruling hierarchy. But similar elements of intentional misinformation are also found closer to home. A good example is the assumption, often voiced in both rightwing and "liberal" media, that the nation's misguided policies are the result of ignorance. Omitted is the more insightful analysis that the policies are all carefully designed to preserve a specific class and further its interests. To get a hold of such analysis, a person would have to look at the works of the traditional left or perhaps peruse some academic or pragmatic treatises of the extreme right wing (where the elite are so comfortable that they don't bother talking in code).

On a macro-level, the modern experiment--for want of a better term--involving industrial "solutions" that bring about problems that require increasingly complicated technological fixes ("solutions" like fracking that essentially create wealth by creating poverty) could be viewed as a great example of Orwellian "double-think"--the acquired ability to accept propositions that are obviously contradictory.

Anyway, I'd suggests rereading the book. Like all great books, it's a gift that just keeps on giving.

23 June 2011

War is peace; freedom is slavery...

...to the military industrial complex.

As Rachel Maddow pointed out in her show last night, the headlines about Obama's troop "pullout" are deceptive since we're only talking about removing some of the troops added during the latest surge. We're now left with the Orwellian situation where we'll draw down to DOUBLE THE NUMBER OF TROOPS THAT WERE THERE WHEN OBAMA TOOK OFFICE. It's as if we're calling the slight ebbing of flood waters a drought.

22 June 2011

Ocean's in shocking decline

From an article on the sudden decline of fish in the world's oceans:

the trends are such that it is likely to happen, they say - and far faster than any of the previous five. "What we're seeing at the moment is unprecedented in the fossil record - the environmental changes are much more rapid," Professor Rogers told BBC News. "We've still got most of the world's biodiversity, but the actual rate of extinction is much higher [than in past events] - and what we face is certainly a globally significant extinction event.' The report also notes that previous mass extinction events have been associated with trends being observed now - disturbances of the carbon cycle, and acidification and hypoxia (depletion of oxygen) of seawater. Levels of CO2 being absorbed by the oceans are already far greater than during the great extinction of marine species 55 million years ago (during the Paleocene-Eocene Thermal Maximum), it concludes.

This is disconcerting to say the least. Much of the world relies on wild-caught fish from the ocean for protein.

17 June 2011

Sex, violence, and news we'll never read

There's something terribly fitting about spectators coming to blows as they queue up to see a murder trail (that of Casey Anthony). In other news of the ridiculous, Weiner has slowly succumbed to the media hyenas' feeding frenzy. I can't help feeling that this is really more about image than substance. One has to wonder if Wiener would have fared better if, instead of sending pictures, he would have slept with all these women. We expect our politicians to be power-hungry, but we don't like it when they begin to imitate all our plebian foibles. American politics is so corrupt that all these sexual escapades pale in comparison to the criminal enterprise we now label "government." But plutocracy and kleptocracy is old news. We all love a good sex tale or murder mystery. Slow robberies involving the entire economic system are less titillating.

13 June 2011

A few thoughts on the coming eugenics movement

A recent article (Could prenatal DNA testing open Pandora's box?) expresses concern about pervasive testing of the genetics of the fetus to ensure that no undesirable traits are present. It goes without saying that there could be some real problems with this: as one geneticist recently said, we really don't know enough at this point about the contribution of combinations of genes to be manipulating our children's genome. On the other hand, the same concerns could be voiced about the entire modern technological experiment. I also wonder if such manipulations will become necessary to offset the negative effects of modern medicine on the human genome. Each generation, countless of us are born with genetic diseases or dispositions that would have been fatal in the past, but we're able to survive and pass on our genes. My greatest worry is not scientific innovation per se--if it were me, I'd prefer that my child had all of my better genes and none of the defective ones. The biggest problem, as I see it, is that we live in a capitalist system where any scientific innovation will inevitably be retranslated into commodities that appeal to human beings' more selfish and shortsighted motivations.

11 June 2011

What we all now know (but shan't say) about U.S. healthcare

Ezra Klein has an excellent article on healthcare summed up by the statement that the Republican plan has been shown repeatedly to not work while the Democratic plan is untried. His claim, which makes perfect sense, is that we should adopt one of the systems that has been shown to work in other advanced countries. He presents the following chart that combines both government and private costs. This is a useful graphic as it counters the misconception that other countries' cost advantage hides the extra tax burden.

10 June 2011

Super 8: Two thumbs down

I watched Super 8 today and was unimpressed. It's basically a formulaic alien monster film with poor special effects. As an avid sci-fi fan, my typical recommendation in these cases is to wait for the DVD release, but it's probably best to skip this movie altogether.

7 June 2011

Giving people food: An offense against the state?

People are being arrested for giving food to the homeless. People get worked up about guns being a sacred fundamental right. If we accept that, wouldn't giving somebody food fall in the "fundamental right" category. It seems to me that "pursuing happiness" and following personal convictions or religious beliefs might require giving food or assistance to the unfortunate.

Members of Orlando Food Not Bombs were arrested Wednesday when police said they violated a city ordinance by feeding the homeless in Lake Eola Park. Jessica Cross, 24, Benjamin Markeson, 49, and Jonathan "Keith" McHenry, 54, were arrested at 6:10 p.m. on a charge of violating the ordinance restricting group feedings in public parks. McHenry is a co-founder of the international Food Not Bombs movement, which began in the early 1980s. The group lost a court battle in April, clearing the way for the city to enforce the ordinance. It requires groups to obtain a permit and limits each group to two permits per year for each park within a 2-mile radius of City Hall. Arrest papers state that Cross, Markeson and McHenry helped feed 40 people Wednesday night. The ordinance applies to feedings of more than 25 people. "They intentionally violated the statute," said Lt. Barbara Jones, an Orlando police spokeswoman.

6 June 2011

Ousting the potato

Since my last rant on the administration's food recommendations was so negative, I s'pose I should give them some credit where due. There are evidently plans in the works to demote that sacred staple of the American diet--the potato.

Based on a report from the Institute of Medicine, the USDA is considering new guidelines for school districts that would call for reducing the use of white potatoes, in favor of dishing out at least a half cup of leafy green vegetables, orange veggies and legumes each week.

While I'm sure that there are fairly healthy ways to eat potatoes--for example, eating them with nothing added but a little olive oil and cut up leaks--American school kids probably won't go for this since potatoes tend to be pretty bland. As someone who eats a lot of sweet potatoes (which are much healthier), I hope that they make it onto more kids' plates. I simply plop a sweet potato in the microwave and then eat it as is--often with the skin. It's a great fast-food snack! My guess is that the administration will have a battle on its hands as it takes on the food lobbies which would prefer that we live off potatoes and corn  in dishes full of corn sweeteners and poor-quality oils.

5 June 2011

Enemy warned by secret horse ride...hmmm

Palin now claims that she was actually correct in her famous Paul Revere gaffe. How a secret ride at night can be construed as warning the enemy is beyond me, but I guess I'm missing some cognitive module that allows for such stunning leaps of logic. Her constant emphasis on protecting gun rights is also beyond me. Were the British trying to ban guns prior to the revolution? If so, it's something my high school history books failed to mention.

2 June 2011

Latest food-lobby recommendations

The old food pyramid has now given way to the dinner plate:

As with the food pyramid, the recommendations are patently ridiculous and probably owe more to corporate lobbying than sound nutritional science. The veggies and protein are all fine, but do people need a significant amount of fruit in their diet. Maybe (assuming that we aren't talking about just bananas and oranges). And grains? For most Americans, this is Wonder bread or perhaps a cupcake at Starbucks. How many people eat healthy grains (for example, whole-grain wild rice) as their main staple? And even if they did, how much grain do overweight Americans really need? The inclusion of "dairy" is also stupefying. Nobody except baby cows really needs dairy. Of course, excluding it would piss off a farming lobby in some key states, so it's in there.

Conceptually, the plate doesn't really make sense. Protein is a biochemical constituent of food that occurs in the other groups--particularly dairy. The plate would be a lot better if we moved grains, fruit, and dairy into the separate dish and labeled it "occasional foods" and added a "nuts and other healthy fats" category (to include only healthy nuts like walnuts and almonds). The protein category could be replaced with one labeled "fish, eggs, beans, and other healthy proteins." In its present state, the categories are so vague that they're useless. Does a bag of french fries or popcorn satisfy the "veggie' requirement for the day? Most of the fried and overcooked veggies that Americans eat have virtually no virtues. If the old pyramid got an "F", this one gets a "D-".

26 May 2011

The Ryan plan: Robin Hood for the rich

This article, by Amitai Etzioni, gives a good summary of what the Ryan plan really means:

At first, I was taken in myself. I heard that U.S. Rep. Paul Ryan's bold attack on the deficit would reduce federal spending by some $4 trillion. It sounded like a truly new start after months of haggling about whether to reduce the budget by thirty-some billion or sixty-some billion; now we were finally talking about real money. And I could not but agree that it took political courage for the Republican chairman of the House Budget Committee to take the knife to Medicare. But then I looked at the small print.
Actually, it did not take a lot of digging to see something was amiss.
Ryan's proposal enlarges the federal debt (as a result of accumulating deficits each year) by $8 trillion over the next 10 years and continues to generate deficits until 2040. One wonders: How is it possible to significantly cut Medicare spending, which is often said to be a major reason our deficits are so large, and still grow the deficit? The answer is that the Ryan plan calls for making permanent the Bush tax cuts for the super-rich and further reduces the taxes levied on top individual and corporate earners. To maintain the plan's revenue targets with these cuts, as a new analysis by the Tax Policy Center shows, Congress would have to eliminate more than $2.9 trillion in tax breaks over the next decade. This would probably require the elimination of tax breaks like the mortgage interest deduction.
Cutting these deductions on a large scale makes for good copy, but in fact, such cuts are not likely. Ryan's suggestion would be much more believable if he followed the "pay-as-you-go" idea and demonstrated that his favors to the rich and to business would not exceed what can be gained by closing loopholes.
As to Ryan's plan to rely on private health insurers, this will do nothing to address major causes of rising health care costs: reimbursing doctors and hospitals for procedures (which generates an incentive to do more) rather than paying them per patient care (known as "capitation"); reimbursing health care providers for interventions that have no proven benefits, which are estimated to costs up to $325 billion every year; and administrative costs that are nearly double those of countries like Canada.
One may say that insurers will compete with each other, and thus the costs will decline. However, by looking at those who are now covered by private insurers (many of whom are too young to qualify for Medicare), we see that this is not the case. Instead, insurers are raising rates, in some cases by as much as 60%. Bold can cut both ways: It can be very good or God awful. This one is good for the richest Americans and bad for the rest of us. One must give credit to Ryan for not trying to hide that he is, in effect, transferring trillions of dollars from future retirees to businesses and the super-rich. In this way, he is miles ahead of what happened in 2010, when a similar maneuver was carried out.
First, the GOP fought and gained a two-year extension of the Bush tax cuts for the richest 2% of Americans, costing some $82 billion lost in revenues to the government in the next two years (and if they are extended again, $700 billion over the next 10) -- one of the very few items it agreed to enact without offsetting the cost by making cuts elsewhere in the federal budget. (At the same time, it opposed extending unemployment benefits unless some parallel cuts in expenditures were made.)
Then, the GOP and even some so-called moderate Democrats pointed to the swelling deficit as a major reason why social programs and entitlements, including Medicare, must be cut. Thus, it was not obvious that the cuts in domestic programs that followed were in effect paying for the tax cuts for the rich. The virtue of Ryan's plan -- that he plans to stand Robin Hood on his head by taking from all future retirees in order to increase the income of those least in need -- is there for all to see.
 -----------
One can only hope that Kathy Hochul's upset in NY is an indication that Americans won't stand for this.

25 May 2011

Fracking our food

This is a good article warning about what fracking will do to our food supply. I'd also recommend, for anyone who hasn't seen it yet, the documentary Gasland.

19 May 2011

Dancing as the world ends

Harold Camping, who heads 66 Christian radio stations, is telling everyone that the world will end the day after tomorrow based on calculations from biblical passages. Atheists in Seattle and elsewhere are holding "rapture parties." The reasoning goes that if the prediction's true, all the Christians will fly away so that we won't have to fret over those separation of church and state issues anymore (not to mention all the free houses and cars that'll be left behind) and if they're wrong . . . we can smirk and say I told you so. All I can say is that God should have been creative and ended the world on a Monday. We'd all love a reason to skip work.

18 May 2011

Please pass the freedom whine

That great bastion of rightwing media bias The New York Post recently published an article about Dominique Strauss-Kahn (the French head of the IMF) with the clever title "French whine" (please tell me we aren't going to start calling are table wine "freedom wine".) In response to DSK being forced to do a perp walk in front of cameras, the mayor remarked:

"I think it is humiliating, but if you don't want to do the perp walk, don't do the crime."

I like the first reader's comment to the online NY Post article:

I don't support rape and I don't support false accusations but luckily somehow Mike Bloomberg already knows that Dom Kahn actually committed the crime he has been accused of. Why go through a costly trial that will produce evidence and facts? Just bring him before Mike Bloomberg for immediate sentencing.
It goes without saying that I have no problem with the rich and famous being subjected to the same legal system that everybody else is forced to use.  The problem is that the person charged with the crime happens to be someone who was likely to be the next president of France. Common sense says that we would take extreme care with such case that may involve political machinations. DSK was a member of the French socialist party (Parti Socialiste, defeated by Sarkozy in 2007) and was very likely to reverse France's slow gravitation towards American-style policies that favor wealthy elites. In such case, it would be the simplest thing in the world to pay one woman to make up a story if it would mean bringing down a key political opponent. Bloomberg's comments, presuming guilt before a trial, coupled with Geithner's comments that DSK is now disqualified to run the IMF show a rush to judgment that is highly suspicious.

17 May 2011

Six cups of joe

Good news for coffee-swiggin' men. We can apparently guzzle our six cups of joe a day (I probably drink more than that!) without even a smidgen of remorse. This article just came out in the JNCI:

Abstract


Background Coffee contains many biologically active compounds, including caffeine and phenolic acids, that have potent antioxidant activity and can affect glucose metabolism and sex hormone levels. Because of these biological activities, coffee may be associated with a reduced risk of prostate cancer.

Methods We conducted a prospective analysis of 47 911 men in the Health Professionals Follow-up Study who reported intake of regular and decaffeinated coffee in 1986 and every 4 years thereafter. From 1986 to 2006, 5035 patients with prostate cancer were identified, including 642 patients with lethal prostate cancers, defined as fatal or metastatic. We used Cox proportional hazards models to assess the association between coffee and prostate cancer, adjusting for potential confounding by smoking, obesity, and other variables. All P values were from two-sided tests.

Results The average intake of coffee in 1986 was 1.9 cups per day. Men who consumed six or more cups per day had a lower adjusted relative risk for overall prostate cancer compared with nondrinkers (RR = 0.82, 95% confidence interval [CI] = 0.68 to 0.98, Ptrend = .10). The association was stronger for lethal prostate cancer (consumers of more than six cups of coffee per day: RR = 0.40, 95% CI = 0.22 to 0.75, Ptrend = .03). Coffee consumption was not associated with the risk of nonadvanced or low-grade cancers and was only weakly inversely associated with high-grade cancer. The inverse association with lethal cancer was similar for regular and decaffeinated coffee (each one cup per day increment: RR = 0.94, 95% CI = 0.88 to 1.01, P = .08 for regular coffee and RR = 0.91, 95% CI = 0.83 to 1.00, P = .05 for decaffeinated coffee). The age-adjusted incidence rates for men who had the highest (≥6 cups per day) and lowest (no coffee) coffee consumption were 425 and 519 total prostate cancers, respectively, per 100 000 person-years and 34 and 79 lethal prostate cancers, respectively, per 100 000 person-years.

Conclusions We observed a strong inverse association between coffee consumption and risk of lethal prostate cancer. The association appears to be related to non-caffeine components of coffee.

15 May 2011

Unamerican elimination of tax breaks

Conoco Phillips Mulva has decried the "un-American" tax proposal that would eliminate tax breaks for big oil. In a sense, he's right--the U.S. has become a plutocracy, a system who's sole aim is to reward the wealthy and unproductive class using the hard-earned fruits of the working poor. Elimination of tax breaks for industries making record profits certainly doesn't jive well with the current political zeitgeist.

14 May 2011

Insuring the insurer

The lobbyists for the healthcare industry clearly deserve a bonus. Americans pay double what they should for healthcare and new data shows that they aren't even accessing the healthcare that they've paid for. (I guess the co-pays and hassles have finally dissuaded the poor and sick from standing in line at the doctor's office.) Of course, the insurers are still raising prices just for that rainy day. In other words, we're now paying for insurance for our insurance.

Some of the nation's biggest health insurance companies are enjoying record profits as many Americans postpone trips to the doctor or dentist. Despite the trend, "The New York Times" says major insurers continue to push for double-digit rate increases to offset the potential for a future spike in demand. The paper notes one of the largest commercial insurers, UnitedHealthGroup, reported a decrease in average hospital stays this year. Cigna also noted lower levels of medical use. According to the "Times," analysts believe the tough economy has led to fundamental changes in the way people use the health care system.

12 May 2011

The forever war continues

The Detainee Security Act of 2011, introduced by Buck McKeon in the House, had a rather ominous provision allowing for:

"Long-term detention without trial until the end of hostilities against the nations, organizations, and persons subject to the Authorization for Use of Military Force."

The 2012 National Defense Authorization Act (Section 1034) repeats this language. I rack my mind trying to imagine the U.S. president appearing on TV at some point to declare that the war is over and we'll never have to worry about the possibility of terrorism again. Section 1034 also contains the following grant of authority to the president to carry out war with vague objectives:

"The committee notes that as the United States nears the tenth anniversary of the attacks on September 11, 2001, the terrorist threat has evolved as a result of intense military and diplomatic pressure from the United States and its coalition partners. However, Al Qaeda, the Taliban, and associated forces still pose a grave threat to U.S. national security. The Authorization for Use of Military Force necessarily includes the authority to address the continuing and evolving threat posed by these groups."

Would this also allow the use of the military against Americans in the U.S.?

8 May 2011

Julia Howe's first Mother's Day Proclamation

The First Mother’s Day Proclamation of 1870:

Arise, then, women of this day!
Arise all women who have hearts.
Whether your baptism be that of water or of tears!

Say firmly:
We will not have questions decided by irrelevant agencies.
Our husbands shall not come to us reeking with carnage,
For caresses and applause.
Our sons shall not be taken from us to unlearn all
that we have been able to teach them of charity, mercy, and patience.
We women of one country will be too tender
of those of another country
To allow our sons to be trained to injure theirs.

From the bosom of the devastated earth
a voice goes up with our own.
It says “Disarm, Disarm!”
The sword of murder is not the balance of Justice!
Blood does not wipe out dishonor
Nor violence indicate possession.

As men have often forsaken the plow and the anvil
at the summons of war,
let women now leave all that may be left of home
for a great and earnest day of counsel.
Let them meet first, as women,
to bewail and commemorate the dead.
Let them then solemnly take counsel
with each other as to the means
whereby the great human family can live in peace,
Each bearing after their own time the sacred impress, not of Caesar, but of God –

In the name of womanhood and of humanity, I earnestly ask
That a general congress of women without limit of nationality
may be appointed and held
at some place deemed most convenient
and at the earliest period consistent with its objects,
to promote the alliance of the different nationalities,
the amicable settlement of international questions,
the great and general interests of peace.

4 May 2011

The One Percent

Last night I watched "The One Percent," a 2006 documentary about the wealthiest Americans (The film should probably be called the "Point One Percent.") The film was created and is narrated by Jamie Johnson, an heir to the Johnson and Johnson fortune. There's much here that won't surprise you. Some of the wealthy people justify their wealth, while others say simply that they don't know what could be done to fix things. For me, the most interesting comments were when the interviewees kept warning Jamie to "be careful" and to not rock the boat. The possibility of upheaval or outright revolution seems to be much more real to these people than it is to the other 99%. One also senses that extreme wealth creates tremendous unconscious fear--there's a lot to lose after all.

The film includes a few more noble types such as Bill Gates, Sr., who has pushed for the government to maintain the estate tax. Milton Friedman comes off as quite an idiot, insisting at one point that money from the wealthy or corporations doesn't influence the U.S. government at all and that the government does exactly what the public wants. As a pointed counter-argument, the documentary chronicles U.S. government's support for the sugar industry--a policy that costs jobs, costs both tax-payers and consumers a lot of money, damages the environment, and further enriches billionaires. The documentary's worth seeing. While short on definitive answers, it certainly asks the right questions.

Link: Another review of the film

1 May 2011

Happy International Workers Day!


This May Day has special relevance at a time when unions and the working class are under a concerted and relentless attack. It's time to organize.

27 April 2011

The BoA constrictor of information

Bank of America must have a lot to hide. According to an article in The Tech Herald, it recently hired three data intelligence companies to outline a plan to attack Wikileaks. They are acting upon request from Hunton and Williams, a law firm working for Bank of America. The Department of Justice (yes, a government department paid by our tax dollars!) apparently recommended the law firm to Bank of America. The plan of action is to basically spread disinformation, including the submission of fake documents in order to subsequently expose the error.

26 April 2011

World's largest economy no more

The IMF says that in real terms, China's economy will overtake the U.S. in just 5 years.

Wisdom from a Organic Garden Supply Co-op

Life is a communal activity. Mycorrhizae in the soil entwine with the roots of plants bringing water and minerals to the plants and being fed in return. The insects and worms in the soil break matter down, releasing nutrients for all to use. Bacteria and fungi colonize the roots and leaves of plants and protect them from disease, all the while feeding themselves and thriving. Far from being a competition where every winner means that someone else has lost, the world of the soil embodies the ideal of a mutual-benefit society. But perhaps we shouldn’t read too much into how nature works when trying to understand people. It often leads to some pretty far-fetched theories. However, I can’t resist comparing the “nature red in tooth and claw” outlook of social Darwinism, which seems to be making a resurgence, with the advances in discoveries about soil-web ecology and the role that cooperation plays in biology and botany. 

A list of the 400 richest people in America was released recently showing that those few people controlled 1.4 trillion dollars. In a time of 10% unemployment and rising poverty, their wealth grew by 8% last year. These same people are fighting to retain the outrageous tax breaks they got during the Bush years, using their surrogates and lackeys on Fox News and in the Tea Party movement to vilify and smear President Obama. The furor over the Islamic Cultural Center in lower Manhattan, the ravings that global warming is a hoax, that marriage is under assault, phony issue after phony issue, all trotted out to distract us from the reality that our lives and prosperity are being sacrificed to increase the already obscene and pointless wealth of the few.

It’s time to take our country back. Our roots are planted in our communities and to be nourished we must provide nourishment to others, not junk food and junk politics. People are angry because they are frustrated and hungry. When we are frustrated, we often act irrationally (see Tea Party, above). We use junk ideas and junk food to try to make ourselves feel better. People need real nourishment, both mental and physical. Our communities and farms can provide it.

22 April 2011

Ja basta! (Warning: Birther rant may be offensive to the reality-challenged.)

I read today that about half of Republicans believe that Obama was born overseas. And adding insult to ignorance, we have the latest attempts to throw Obama off the ballots of various states based on various craziness about long and short forms and the ways that states choose to title birth documents. Such nonsense makes it hard to know what to think. On the one hand, I find the Democrats utterly reprehensible for their support for the wealthy over the interest of the middle and lower class (the lite version of the Republican platform). On the other hand, you've got this group of plutocratic kleptocrats who are foaming at the mouth about the sanctity of marriage while treating their staffers like their own private harem, all the while, spouting off visions of dinosaurs roaming Jerusalem with Jesus and African commie mulims sneaking into our borders so that they can seize power and set up one world government (come to think of it, if they could prove this about Obama, I might actually want to go out and vote for him). One can't help but think that Homo sapiens Americanus is an evolutionary dead-end.

19 April 2011

Where are all the great healers?

I got my blood test back today. As I suspected, my cholesterol is high again. It's definitely time to get serious about shedding those extra pounds. As I listened to the doctor discuss options, I realized, as I so often do, that he's read less on the options than I have. This is pretty typical. I've had dozens of doctors in my life, but I don't get the sense that any of the people were true experts. At best, they would state some correct (but very obvious) facts--the first paragraph of the Wikipedia entry on the subject basically. Often, they would misdiagnose me or have me do expensive tests which didn't seem to be looked at by anybody.

Medicine is a science and good science works a bit like good magic. When the magician does something, it's impressive because the onlookers don't understand it--and can't understand it because of their faulty way of looking at things. Good science is the same--the scientist has a methodology that enables him to peer into a reality that normally remains invisible. A good doctor should be able to tell me things about myself that I, as a complete lay-person, can't know. But the truth is--if you give me a little time with Wikipedia and a few basic medical articles (perhaps a few metastudies from Yahoo Scholar) and give me the ability to order tests, I'm pretty sure that I could do everything my doctors do with same level of error. For some reason, American medicine (or at least, the medicine available to median wage-earners like myself) is producing few scientists and few healers. On the bright side, America's exorbitantly priced and low-quality medical system is giving me plenty of motivation to take care of my own health.

17 April 2011

Some tax season reflections

Two facts to ponder:

1. The latest reduction in government spending hashed out with much fanfare is just about completely offset by growth (yes, growth!) in military spending.

2. The Internal Revenue Service tracks the tax returns with the 400 highest adjusted gross incomes each year. The average income on those returns in 2007, the latest year for IRS data, was nearly $345 million. Their average federal income tax rate was 17 percent, down from 26 percent in 1992 [link to news story]. Yet, the Republicans and the Republican Lite Party (formerly known as the Democrats) have vowed to give the wealthy ever-more generous breaks.

9 April 2011

Let...the sun shine

The Archdruid Report has a great post lambasting Obama's latest speech on energy (as he mentions, we've been listening to this drivel since Nixon) and an excellent overview of some simple solar solutions that work.

6 April 2011

Tough times for the highly qualified

The recent employment gains are interesting.  As would be expected, the older and more experienced workers suffer less unemployment, but that isn't where the gains have been recently. In fact, older workers' employment continues to decline in spite of the "recovery."



One explanation for this is that companies are now hiring cheap workers--not a great sign for the shrinking middle class.

31 March 2011

Buursma article

Ray Buursma says that Americans got what they deserved:

[Excerpt] Remember the Reagan standard? Are you better off today than you were a decade ago? Two decades? Three? Unless you make more than $380,000 a year, the answer is no. In fact, your standard of living over the last quarter century has actually decreased while millionaires have added 30 percent to their net wealth. Why? Two reasons. First, hundreds of thousands of manufacturing jobs went overseas while the politicians you elected did nothing to stop them. Yet you continue to elect leaders who offer nothing but tax cuts, as if that would stem the flow of disappearing jobs. Did you demand your leaders address America’s trade imbalance or continuous outsourcing of jobs? Did you demand your leaders require foreign countries to buy a dollar’s worth of American goods for every dollar of goods they sell here? No and no. You didn’t bother. You simply crossed your fingers and prayed, “I hope my job’s not next.” You made concessions to your employer and hoped that would stem the exodus of jobs, or at least yours. How’d that work for you? Second, you bought into the myth that unions are the cause of America’s demise. You didn’t bother to learn America became a world power when union membership was at its peak. You didn’t bother to learn America became the envy of the world while 1 of every 3 Americans was a union member. So, how are things going for you? How do your benefits compare to a quarter century ago? Are you paying a higher or lower percentage of your income for health insurance? Does your company offer a pension plan, or do you now fund your own 401(k)? Maybe you’re thinking, “I’m not a union worker, so this doesn’t affect me.” Stop being stupid. Union benefits provide a standard other companies have to match, or at least come close to. When those benefits are cut, yours are, too. Or do you think you operate in your own little employment vacuum? To make matters worse, you’re again being played for a chump. The same puppets who did nothing while your standard of living decreased are now using the oldest gimmick in the book — jealousy — to continue their assault on American workers. Rather than protect Americans’ jobs, they deflect your attention through jealousy. “Cut the pay of government workers,” they cry. “Increase their health premiums. Decrease their pensions. Break their unions. After all, you’ve suffered so they should suffer too.” And in your misery, you buy their argument while more jobs head oversees. Pretty stupid, eh? If their antics weren’t so pathetic, if the consequences weren’t so dire, if they didn’t prey on your stupidity, and if you didn’t buy into their convoluted reasoning, this whole situation would be laughable. But of course it’s not. I warned you I’d likely offend you, and I suspect I did. But once you overcome your anger, consider my analysis. Then, either wise up and do something about it, or resign yourself to a lower standard of living for the next decade.

Kobon

What a language! Kobon has a little over 100 verbs that combine with nouns and phrases to describe all the specific happenings discussed in other languages. So instead of "see," "hear," or "understand," the verb just has one verb for perception. There is, however, a particular verb for calling a pig and another verb for butchering a cassowary (I, below, picture DO).

28 March 2011

Recent flix

For what it's worth, my take on recent movies:
Barney's Version: A sappy crass comedy that may be worth watching eventually on Netflix if you're a bit lit up and there's really nothing more to watch. On the bright side, this time the Canadians are responsible for churning out this formulaic crapulum.
Limitless: Just as everyone says, this is a lot of fun. Not a great philosophical treatise, but continuous fun nevertheless. Cooper is very well-cast here and De Niro (who doesn't really appear that often) is great as well.
The Adjustment Bureau: For the romantics who can wrap their heads around Christian cosmology, this is watchable. Personally, angels and shallow debates about free-will don't do much for me, but I'm willing to admit this is a personal bias. It's hard to make a completely unwatchable film with Matt Damon.

21 February 2011

Reading the alien mind

The Journal of Cosmology has an erudite discussion of Stephen Hawkins' warning about contacting aliens. I guess I've been thinking more of this of late after watching V.

19 February 2011

30 January 2011

Egypt

Juan Cole has some good commentary on the Egyptian protests. Whereas Tunisia and Yemen are interesting, a major change in Egypt could spark some major reshuffling in regional alliances, so it'll be interesting to see how this plays out.

23 January 2011

Throwing caution to the wind




This game shows one of those wild attacks that works out. I know I shouldn't pat myself on the back too much for such an undisciplined blitz, but there is, I think, a clever move here (knight takes bishop g7) that sets up the sequence leading to mate. After that point, the black queen is exposed and white has great freedom to maneuver. Black does make a few grevious errors here, such as boxing in his own king.

17 January 2011

Mote the pillars fall

When the revelations about banks collusion with the wealthy start coming out of Wikileaks, my guess is that all hell will break loose. These are very powerful people after all, who have the most powerful politicians in their pockets. That's precisely why we need more of this sort of thing.

Rudolf M. Elmer, the former head of the Cayman Islands office of the prominent Swiss bank Julius Baer, said on Monday that he had given Julian Assange (Wikileaks founder) details of more than 2,000 prominent individuals and companies that he contends engaged in tax evasion and other criminal activity. Although he refused to name any of the individuals or companies, he did tell reporters that about 40 politicians and “pillars of society” worldwide are among them and that they come from “the U.S., Britain, Germany, Austria and Asia — from all over,” and include “business people, politicians, people who have made their living in the arts and multinational conglomerates — from both sides of the Atlantic.”

15 January 2011

Looking for common ground

Vagabond Scholar has a clever series of charts examining the differences between Democrats and Republicans. As always, the chart comparing wealth in the U.S. is shocking:


I wholeheartedly agree with VS's comment on the graph: "I can find common ground with people who recognize that plutocracy and democracy don't mix."

10 January 2011

The fine art of scrambling

This is from a recent game on chess.com. Yours truly, Ruzulo, has played his favorite defense, which I've dubbed the anti-castling variation of the French based on the fact that white often has a hard time castling or ends up trading off the light-squared bishop, making white's backwards pawn immediately vulnerable. Unfortunately, I get in dire trouble after the questionable knight to a6 earlier in the game. At this point, I'm down in material and lack any avenues of attack. So what would you do if you were black?



My opponent (listening to the loud sound of the ticking clock) made a few errors such as putting the queen on the 8th rank instead of forcing a trade to fend off the perpetual check which resulted in a draw. For that matter, I should have brought the e7 knight up into the attack. But anyway, the lesson here is never give up in 5-minute chess where anything is possible.