Recent Articles

Eric Barker: How to learn a new skill quickly

| June 6, 2015 | Reply

I’m trying hard to implement many of Eric Barker’s ideas into my life. “How to get smarter” is an especially good collection.

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On the notion that Bernie Sanders in “unelectable.”

| June 2, 2015 | Reply

I agree with FAIR that it is outrageous that any news outlet could be announcing what candidates are “serious” or “electable” prior to any vote being cast. Bernie Sanders is being attacked whenever a media outlet concerns itself with money rather than a candidate’s ideas. FAIR considers Sanders’ views on many big issues, pointing out that his views are far more popular than those of conservative Republicans, whose “electability” is rarely questioned, merely because they have lots of wealthy supporters. Here are some examples from the FAIR article, “NYT Reports Large Crowds for Sanders in Iowa–but Isn’t He ‘Unelectable’?”:

It sounds like it’s the New York Times that’s hoping to persuade Democrats that Sanders is unelectable.

As we’ve noted (FAIR Blog, 4/20/15), the idea of raising the taxes of the rich is quite popular with the US public. Gallup has been asking folks since 1992 how they feel about how much “upper-income people” pay in taxes, and 18 times in a row a solid majority has said the rich pay too little. For the past four years, either 61 or 62 percent have said the wealthy don’t pay enough; it’s hard to figure why Iowans would conclude that Sanders is “unelectable” because he takes the same position on tax hikes for the wealthy as three out of every five Americans.

Meanwhile, the position that upper-income people pay too little in taxes has never been endorsed by more than 15 percent of Gallup respondents—and it’s usually 10 percent or less. Yet you won’t see the New York Times declaring Republican candidates “unelectable” for advocating tax cuts for the wealthy.

Cutting the military budget isn’t as popular as taxing the rich, but it’s by no means unpopular. It’s not a question pollsters often ask about—almost as if levels of military spending aren’t seen as a fit subject for public debate—but in 2013 Pew asked which was more important, “taking steps to reduce the budget deficit or keeping military spending at current levels.” Fifty-one percent said reducing the deficit; only 40 percent chose maintaining the military budget.

In February 2014, the last time Gallup polled on whether spending “for national defense and military purposes” was “too little, about the right amount, or too much,” a plurality of 37 percent picked “too much.” Only 28 percent said “too little”–but again, you’re never going to see the New York Times declare a candidate to be “unelectable” for proposing to raise the Pentagon’s budget.

As long as the commercial news media keeps focusing on money instead of a candidate’s ideas, the claim of “inelectability” will become a self-fulfilling prophecy. The failure to cover a candidates ideas, exploring them seriously, and instead trying to harpoon a candidacy based on how much money they’ve accrued is journalistic malpractice at the best. I am convinced it is FAR WORSE than that, however, and it is strong evidence that the media is taking sides based on where rich people are putting their money.

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Hillary Clinton: Friend of Big Banks

| June 2, 2015 | Reply

Hillary Clinton is working hard to present herself as caring for ordinary people, but this article by Nomi Prins of Truthdig makes it clear that she will never cut the cash pipeline from her banker friends, and she will never stop doing whatever is necessary to keep those same bankers happy. Here is an excerpt from “The Clintons and Their Banker Friends, 1992-2016″:

When Hillary Clinton video-announced her bid for the Oval Office, she claimed she wanted to be a “champion” for the American people. Since then, she has attempted to recast herself as a populist and distance herself from some of the policies of her husband. But Bill Clinton did not become president without sharing the friendships, associations, and ideologies of the elite banking sect, nor will Hillary Clinton. Such relationships run too deep and are too longstanding.

To grasp the dangers that the Big Six banks (JPMorgan Chase, Citigroup, Bank of America, Wells Fargo, Goldman Sachs, and Morgan Stanley) presently pose to the financial stability of our nation and the world, you need to understand their history in Washington, starting with the Clinton years of the 1990s. Alliances established then (not exclusively with Democrats, since bankers are bipartisan by nature) enabled these firms to become as politically powerful as they are today and to exert that power over an unprecedented amount of capital. Rest assured of one thing: their past and present CEOs will prove as critical in backing a Hillary Clinton presidency as they were in enabling her husband’s years in office.

In return, today’s titans of finance and their hordes of lobbyists, more than half of whom held prior positions in the government, exact certain requirements from Washington. They need to know that a safety net or bailout will always be available in times of emergency and that the regulatory road will be open to whatever practices they deem most profitable.

Whatever her populist pitch may be in the 2016 campaign—and she will have one—note that, in all these years, Hillary Clinton has not publicly condemned Wall Street or any individual Wall Street leader. Though she may, in the heat of that campaign, raise the bad-apples or bad-situation explanation for Wall Street’s role in the financial crisis of 2007-2008, rest assured that she will not point fingers at her friends. She will not chastise the people that pay her hundreds of thousands of dollars a pop to speak or the ones that have long shared the social circles in which she and her husband move. She is an undeniable component of the Clinton political-financial legacy that came to national fruition more than 23 years ago, which is why looking back at the history of the first Clinton presidency is likely to tell you so much about the shape and character of the possible second one.

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The downsides of heaven

| June 2, 2015 | 1 Reply

I don’t believe in an form of afterlife except for shelf life: For a short time after I die, my body will not stink of death. But if I DID believe in heaven, I wouldn’t want to go there, for many of the reasons set forth by Valerie Tarico of ALTERNET. Here’s one of her many reasons why she wouldn’t be excited to spend time in heaven–endless worship:

Your celestial day (and night) job is to sing God’s praises. What do the faithful do in Heaven? The same thing the angels do. They worship God and sing his praises. The writer of Revelation even offers us a sample song. In one passage, 24 elders “fall before the one who is seated on the throne and worship the one who lives forever and ever; they cast their crowns before the throne, singing, “You are worthy, our Lord and God, to receive glory and honor and power, for you created all things, and by your will they existed and were created” (Revelation 4:10-110).

As one graduate of Evangel College (Assemblies of God) observed wryly, “Having spent some time in N. Korea, where the incessant praise music and propaganda were required and all-pervasive, I sometimes wonder if the dynastic leaders there somehow lifted a page from an older playbook.”

It has been said that the only god worthy of worship is one who neither wants nor needs it. What are we to think of a deity who creates the earth and her inhabitants—in fact the entire universe—so a few bipedal primates, most of whom were never born, can spend an afterlife in this posture of praise and adulation?

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About internet privacy

| June 1, 2015 | 3 Replies

Excellent discussion here, Amy Goodman interviewing Julian Assange of Wikileaks. This addresses an issue that repeatedly occurs to me: Unless we can know what the spy agencies are actually doing, how can we know that any legislative enactments are having any effect at all? Even if Congress passed a law stating that the NSA should cease collecting any information about any person in the absence of probable cause and a warrant, how could we possibly know that the NSA is obeying that law. Even if the NSA is sued, how do we know that the NSA would honestly comply with subpoenas or discovery?

Here is an excerpt from the interview:

AMY GOODMAN: Before we get to Germany and what you’ve revealed there, I want to stay with the U.S. for a minute, because President Obama famously said that the debate over privacy and surveillance would have been had without Edward Snowden. Can you respond to that?

JULIAN ASSANGE: Oh, I think it’s obvious to everyone that that is false. How can you have a debate with secret interpretations of the law? How can you debate them? They’re secret. Similarly, what are the actual actions that are occurring, not just in policy, but what is actually happening? What are these bureaucracies actually doing? If you don’t know, how can you possibly have the debate? Information is classified, no debate is possible.

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Photobiology

| May 30, 2015 | Reply

I’m enjoying photography, especially portraits. The final products are fun to create, but what is it that I’m looking for in a portrait? I’m convinced that photographers can benefit from some of the findings on what it means to be attractive by those who study biology, and specifically, evolution.

The above-linked Wikipedia article has lots of information on this topic of physical attractiveness as explored scientifically. Here’s an excerpt pertaining to women:

Research has attempted to determine which facial features communicate attractiveness. Facial symmetry has been shown to be considered attractive in women, and men have been found to prefer full lips, high forehead, broad face, small chin, small nose, short and narrow jaw, high cheekbones, clear and smooth skin, and wide-set eyes. The shape of the face in terms of “how everything hangs together” is an important determinant of beauty. A University of Toronto study found correlations between facial measurements and attractiveness; researchers varied the distance between eyes, and between eyes and mouth, in different drawings of the same female face, and had the drawings evaluated; they found there were ideal proportions perceived as attractive. These proportions (46% and 36%) were close to the average of all female profiles. Women with thick, dark limbal rings in their eyes have also been found to be more attractive. The explanation given is that because the ring tends to fade with age and medical problems, a prominent limbal ring gives an honest indicator of youth.

In a cross-cultural study, more neotenized (i.e., youthful looking) female faces were found to be most attractive to men while less neotenized female faces were found to be less attractive to men, regardless of the females’ actual age. One of these desired traits was a small jaw. In a study of Italian women who have won beauty competitions, it was found that their faces had more “babyish” (pedomorphic) traits than those of the “normal” women used as a reference.

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The Beauty of the Sun – Spectacular Nasa Visuals

| May 26, 2015 | 3 Replies

Published on Feb 11, 2015
February 11, 2015 marks five years in space for NASA’s Solar Dynamics Observatory, which provides incredibly detailed images of the whole sun 24 hours a day. Capturing an image more than once per second, SDO has provided an unprecedentedly clear picture of how massive explosions on the sun grow and erupt ever since its launch on Feb. 11, 2010. The imagery is also captivating, allowing one to watch the constant ballet of solar material through the sun’s atmosphere, the corona.

In honor of SDO’s fifth anniversary, NASA has released a video showcasing highlights from the last five years of sun watching. Watch the movie to see giant clouds of solar material hurled out into space, the dance of giant loops hovering in the corona, and huge sunspots growing and shrinking on the sun’s surface.

The imagery is an example of the kind of data that SDO provides to scientists. By watching the sun in different wavelengths – and therefore different temperatures – scientists can watch how material courses through the corona, which holds clues to what causes eruptions on the sun, what heats the sun’s atmosphere up to 1,000 times hotter than its surface, and why the sun’s magnetic fields are constantly on the move.

Five years into its mission, SDO continues to send back tantalizing imagery to incite scientists’ curiosity. For example, in late 2014, SDO captured imagery of the largest sun spots seen since 1995 as well as a torrent of intense solar flares. Solar flares are bursts of light, energy and X-rays. They can occur by themselves or can be accompanied by what’s called a coronal mass ejection, or CME, in which a giant cloud of solar material erupts off the sun, achieves escape velocity and heads off into space. In this case, the sun produced only flares and no CMEs, which, while not unheard of, is somewhat unusual for flares of that size. Scientists are looking at that data now to see if they can determine what circumstances might have led to flares eruptions alone.

Goddard built, operates and manages the SDO spacecraft for NASA’s Science Mission Directorate in Washington, D.C. SDO is the first mission of NASA’s Living with a Star Program. The program’s goal is to develop the scientific understanding necessary to address those aspects of the sun-Earth system that directly affect our lives and society.

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Eric Barker sums up how to be happy all the time

| May 26, 2015 | Reply

Eric Barker distills LOTS of good advice, providing ample links for more details. I have taken much of what he has provided in his blog, Barking Up the Wrong Tree, and practiced it. This is not hyperbole – I have found his information/advice to be among the most useful I have encountered anywhere.

His latest post is titled, “4 Rituals To Keep You Happy All The Time,” and I’m a believer (though I’m not actually happy ALL the time!). Here’s how he sums things up:

  • Write down three good things that happened to you that day before you go to bed.
  • Imagine something meaningful to you never happened. Then appreciate how lucky you are to have it.
  • Think about something bad that happened to you — and how it made you feel lucky to have gotten past it and how you have grown.
  • Do a gratitude visit. Write a letter of gratitude to someone who has done something for you and read it out loud to them in person.

Enjoy!   Literally.

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Lee Camp Compares Elections in the U.K. and the U.S.

| May 24, 2015 | Reply

Once a person can clearly state the problems, the solutions becomes clear. With regard to the corrupt bread and circus elections in the United States, Lee Camp makes the problems crystal clear. Note, especially the short campaign season in the U.K. (a matter of weeks) and the fact that in the U.K. TV and radio political ads are banned.

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