Archive for August, 2011

The wrong type of math

August 31, 2011 | By | 1 Reply More
The wrong type of math

In this three-minute talk, Mathemagician Art Benjamin urges that we change our emphasis when we teach our children math. I couldn’t agree with him more.

It saddens me to consider the immense amount of self-inflicted damage that Americans could have avoided, if only they were more savvy regarding probability and statistics. For example, very few Americans die of “terrorism,” whereas the lives of millions of Americans are severely damaged or destroyed every year by crappy schools, lack of health care (including the failure to obtain colonoscopies), wars begun on the basis of lies, various risky behaviors and many other problems almost too many to mention, all of which leave the actual danger of “terrorism” in the dust. Yet Americans spend a massively lop-sided portion of their tax-dollars each year preventing “terrorism.” Each of the serious causes of death we face would be much more preventable if only Americans had a better grasp of statistics and probability.    With better training in statistics and probabilities, Americans could better understand the risks that they faced and the probabilities of success of various proposed “solutions.”   With better training, as Art Benjamin suggests, we would be better able to order our national priorities to better prevent the things that are most likely to harm us.

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Republican candidates beckon us to the gloomy future

August 31, 2011 | By | 2 Replies More
Republican candidates beckon us to the gloomy future

“Vote for Me because we are in the End Times!” That is the battle cry of several prominent Republican candidates. Matt Taibbi comments:

The Christian candidates are also influenced by rapture theology. Both Bachmann (who once led a Rapture-ready “We are in the last days” prayer ) and Perry (who famously has a relationship with my old pal John Hagee Perhaps America’s most powerful Rapture/End Times preacher) have dabbled seriously in Left Behind belief systems, under which the righteous will be whisked away to heaven just before God comes down to earth to kick ass and dispense justice to unbelievers via End-of-World troubles like wars and natural disasters.

All of this helps explain why Republican rhetoric in this election season often coincides with eerie frequency with End-Times preachery. If you want to see what either of the two apocalypse-merchant wings of the Republican Party will be squawking about tomorrow, all you have to do is check to see what End Times fanatics are freaking out about today.

Rapture-talk is nothing new for conservatives, many of whom flock to gatherings where they are warned that the end of the world is imminent; I attended one of these gatherings myself–led by conservative radio talk show host “Doctor” Larry Bates. And as Max Blumenthal revealed a few years ago, prominent Republicans have long worked hard to formulate U.S. foreign policy relating to the Middle East based on End Times theology.

If you’re having trouble understanding the fine points of what the End Times will be, review this diagram. Or this one from Truth in Love. Or this one. It’s apparently more complicated than pro football offensive play diagrams.

Did I hear someone say church and state?  Amen to that!  We might not be living in the End Times, but we do seem to be living in Crazy times.

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Why do so many people hate big banks?

August 30, 2011 | By | 2 Replies More
Why do so many people hate big banks?

I have personally spoken with clients who have records showing that they have made ALL of their mortgage payments on time, yet the bank foreclosed on their home and then filed an unlawful detainer case to kick them out of their home. In two cases, the bank continued to kick the people out of the house even when the mistake was brought to its attention. We have found that, quite often, no one at the bank cares. Sometimes, not even the attorney representing the bank in court cares that there has been a terrible error made by the bank.

It sounds unbelievable, but it’s true. Where is the evidence that big banks break their promises, deceive mortgage customers, lose paperwork and otherwise engage in despicable behavior? Start reading this list at Consumeraffairs.com. This list contains complaints against one bank: Bank of America. Grab yourself a cup of tea before you start, because it’s going to take you a long time to get through this list.

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Majestic sunset over South St. Louis

August 30, 2011 | By | 1 Reply More
Majestic sunset over South St. Louis

I’m a big fan of looking at clouds. While I peddled my bicycle home tonight, from downtown St. Louis to my home in the Shaw Neighborhood, I was repeated stunned by the beauty of the sunset. People oooh and ahhh at fireworks, but I don’t believe any fireworks show comes close to what I saw tonight. No need to write any more about it. Instead, I’ll simply paste in the gallery below (if you don’t see the gallery, it’s because you are on the home page–in that case, just click the title of this post and you’ll see the gallery). None of these photos have been retouched in any way, other than cropping.

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Is it Spam or is it Poe?

August 29, 2011 | By | Reply More
Is it Spam or is it Poe?

I came back from a weekend getaway, and my inbox had a large number of messages from some group I’d never heard of, the Nation of Change. I was suspicious, especially given my recent unsolicited addition to the Christian Coalition mailing list. Also they were using an email contact that has been dormant for a decade that they could only have found by scanning whois data or buying some old spammer contact lists.

I was curious enough to read one of their messages. It appeared to be some sort of addled parody of a liberal call to action newsletter. I immediately did some Googling to try to confirm my suspicion that it was a conservative group attempting to make liberals seem a) Loonier than thou, and b) Abrasive and annoying by pushing subscriptions on undesiring readers. The clearest description I found was, “Nation of Change”, who are you and why are you spamming me? at the Daily KOS.

In essence, this organization is a fairly new web site with stealthed contact information. They claim to be a legitimate registered not-for-profit, but one cannot look up their bona fides anywhere to confirm it. Although they don’t appear to break any laws in their published documents, they do violate several BBB standards. Read the KOS article for more details.

But I could not actually confirm that this is a conservative group posing as liberal in order to sow dissension and disaffection. As with religion and Poe’s Law, it can be hard to tell sincere political extremism from parody. But this one trips my irony meter.

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Since we need to amend the Constitution anyway . . .

August 29, 2011 | By | 1 Reply More
Since we need to amend the Constitution anyway . . .

Perhaps we ought to follow the example of the government of Taiwan, and carve out two new branches of government.   In addition to three branches of government matching the American branches of the Executive, Judicial and Executive, the Taiwanese have two additional branches of government:

1. The Control Yuan is an investigatory agency that monitors the other branches of government . . . No member of the Control Yuan can hold another public office or profession while serving in the branch (according to Article 103 of the constitution), and members must be able to perform absent of partisan control or influence.  Wouldn’t it be helpful to have such an independent branch of government to root out corruption and prohibit pork?

2. The Examination Yuan is in charge of validating the qualification of civil servants in the Republic of China.  Wouldn’t it be interesting to see whether which of the candidates currently campaigning for President of the U.S. could pass a civil service test or, better yet, the U.S. Foreign Service Examination.

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Trillions in secret loans by the Fed reveal massive welfare for too-big-to-fail banks

August 29, 2011 | By | Reply More
Trillions in secret loans by the Fed reveal massive welfare for too-big-to-fail banks

Thanks to incorruptible Senator Bernie Sanders, who describes himself as a democratic socialist, the Federal Reserve has been forced to reveal information regarding loans that it tried hard to keep secret.   Here’s what we are finding, according to IPS:

The Fed provided loans to JP Morgan Chase bank to acquire Bear Stears, a failed investment firm; provided loans to keep American International Group (AIG), a multinational insurance corporation, afloat; extended lending commitments to Bank of America and Citigroup; and purchased risky mortgage-backed securities to get them off private banks’ books. Overall, the greatest borrowing was done by a small number of institutions. Over the three years, Citigroup borrowed a total of 2.5 trillion dollars, Morgan Stanley borrowed two trillion; Merryll Lynch, which was acquired by Bank of America, borrowed 1.9 trillion; and Bank of America borrowed 1.3 trillion.

I’d call it welfare for the too-big-to-fail. Phase One of the bailout was to address a legitimate liquidity crisis. Phase Two went far beyond this, and was kept secret because the public would never have consented to the above actions Here’s how Economist Randall Wray sums up Phase Two:

“But then it turned to phase two, which was to try to resolve problems of insolvency by increasing Uncle Sam’s stake in the banksters’ fiasco. That never should have been done. You close down fraudsters, period. The Fed and FDIC (Federal Deposit Insurance Commission) should have gone into the biggest banks immediately, replaced all top management, and should have started to resolve them,” Wray said.

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Bulk wireless searches of American private communications questioned by EFF

August 29, 2011 | By | 2 Replies More
Bulk wireless searches of American private communications questioned by EFF

Today, I received the following communication from Electronic Frontier Foundation:

More than five years ago, EFF filed the first lawsuit aimed at stopping the government’s illegal mass surveillance of millions of ordinary Americans’ private communications. Whistleblower evidence combined with news reports and Congressional admissions revealed that the National Security Agency (NSA) was tapped into AT&T’s domestic network and databases, sweeping up Americans’ emails, phone calls and communications records in bulk and without court approval. On August 31, 2011, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals will hear a warrantless wiretapping double-feature to decide whether EFF’s two cases can proceed. At stake will be whether the courts can consider the legality and constitutionality of the National Security Agency’s mass interception of Americans’ Internet traffic, phone calls, and communications records.

Here’s the full report, and it is stunning.  Consider even the following paragraph, and remember that this supposed to be your country, a country supposedly run by the People:

Hepting v. AT&T, our case challenging the telecom giant’s illegal collaboration with the NSA, faced a barrage of attacks from the government — including outrageous claims that national security prevented the courts from considering whether AT&T and the government were breaking the law and violating the Constitution. When that gambit seemed to be failing, the White House and the telecoms led a lobbying campaign to convince Congress to pass a law threatening to terminate our suit. When that law passed we filed a follow-up suit directly against the government, Jewel v. NSA, to open a second front in our fight to stop the spying.

For another easily accessible description of these problems, visit EFF’s FAQ.

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There REALLY Ought a be a Law . . .

August 29, 2011 | By | 3 Replies More
There REALLY Ought a be a Law . . .

Former Vice President Dick Cheney has published an unapologetic paean to his war crimes, torture and tortured reasoning in a memoir which he calls; In My Time. Needless to say, some find Mr. Cheney’s alleged memoir a work of fiction and suitable “for supermarket tabloids” and “full of cheap shots.” The book will be out August 30, 2011.

Mr. Cheney and his attack-dog daughter, Liz, have launched another campaign to clean up Mr. Cheney’s image but, Mr. Cheney remains one of the most unpopular politicians in American history with an approval rating going towards the single digits.

In Mr. Cheney’s book he highlights how he counseled bombing Syria to “restore America’s standing among the Arabs.” Apparently, Mr. Cheney’s plans also included the possibilities of nuking Iraq, Iran and Syria to prevent the spread of nuclear weapons to those countries.

I wonder if Mr. Cheney’s memoir mentions the secret CIA assassination squads which he set up and then ordered the CIA to not disclose to Congress as required by law or his advocacy of the illegal use of US troops against US citizens on US soil?

[More . . . ]

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