Wednesday, October 28, 2009

President Obama Signs Matthew Shepard Hate Crimes Bill Into Law

A great step by Obama, another promise kept.

And I can't help but ask: what are the odds McCain would have done this?

Tell me there's no difference.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Mr. Deity and the Identity Crisis

Confused about the Trinity idea? So are Mr. Deity and the Boy.

This is the best Scientology has?

This is rich. I don't know if I can think of another religion that tells its adherents to refuse to discuss the tenets of the religion, can you?

Monday, October 26, 2009

Handy Religion Chooser

As with so many great ideas, I got this from PZ Myers, who in turn got it from grrlscientist.

Where do you fit in?

Saturday, October 24, 2009

Soupy Sales - "The Mouse"

Soupy Sales, 1926-2009.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Bill Maher makes Bill Frist look smart


How hard is that? Pretty hard, right?

A lot of people, liberals especially, get ideas from Bill Maher. In truth, he does have some good ideas, but much of what he says comes in a reactionary context.

His vaccine thing is an illustration of this point, and of how dangerous it is to let someone like him, without a well-formulated framework of thought, guide your own thinking.

Take this discussion on the H1N1 vaccine. It sounds appealing. Right now a lot of people are skeptical of the government, and of this particular vaccine, and not all of them are anti-vaxxers. But listen to what Maher says at just about 0:45 of this video. "I would never get a swine flu vaccine, or any other vaccine."

"Or any other vaccine."

He'd rather take his chance with measles, which used to cause hundreds of deaths per year in the United States before the vaccine was developed?

Or polio, which infected almost 60,000 people and killed more than 3,000 in the United States in 1952 alone? Or would he rather be one of the 440,000 people in the United States at risk of developing post-polio syndrome?

Or perhaps he'd rather be one of the 300-500 million people who died of smallpox in the 20th Century.

Or maybe he just figures that he won't get one of these diseases, and when he has kids he won't get one of them, so if it means he's subjecting other people to them, well that's just too bad.

There are always too many reasons to distrust government. So don't. Listen to the scientists, not the comedians.

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Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Illegal anti-gay discrminiation

Slate has a piece this afternoon about how the New York City police continue to arrest people under an anti-cruising law that was voided as unconstitutional way back in 1983.

It's true. [I]n the 26 years of this law's odd posthumous career, district attorneys brought 4,750 prosecutions and judges convicted 2,550 defendants. For violating an imaginary law, these defendants paid a decidedly non-imaginary $70,000 in bail and $190,000 in court fees and fines. In the last 10 years, NYPD officers also issued 9,693 citations, forcing citizens to pay $71,000 in fees. The criminal records of these victims have never been expunged and the fees and fines have not been refunded.

The city was sued in a class action last year, and the NYPD brass told the police to cross out the relevant section in their copies of the Penal Code. Yet they're still arresting people.

This raises a couple of questions. First, what of the illegal conduct by public officials up and down the line, from beat cops up to the assistant district attorneys who prosecute those cases? How can an ADA justify signing a complaint alleging that the defendant violated a law that doesn't exist?

Odds on whether any of those ADA's have been brought up on ethics charges? My bet would be the same as yours: zero.

Another question that occurs to me, though, goes all the way out of New York to Minneapolis, and Senator Larry "Wide Stance" Craig. Sure, the crime he was charged with and convicted of was disorderly conduct, not cruising. Still, the essence of the crime was not hypocrisy, much as we wish it was, but looking for sex with another man.

If we are rightly outraged about what has happened to thousands in New York, what should we think about one confused senator from Idaho?

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Sunday, October 18, 2009

Local author makes good

My friend Kevin Brown has been working on a series of local mysteries for years. The first one is out, and today he got a nice write-up in the Times Argus about it.

History mystery

For Montpelier writer Kevin Macneil Brown, the abandoned roads, overgrown paths and historic waterways of New England offer up stories both real and imagined. The protagonist of his recently self-published mystery novel, "Compass, Water, Stone and Time," is historian and trail runner Liam Dutra. When an ancient, tattered journal comes his way, the quest for answers leads him to the surprising connections between an 1866 rebellion by Irish Republicans in Vermont and a series of present-day murders taking place in the shadows of nearby Irish Hill Ridge.

Brown has written articles exploring nature, history and outdoor adventure for New England magazines and newspapers. He also performs with the local country-rock band Rusty Romance.

His book is available at Bear Pond Books in Montpelier and other local stores.

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Monday, October 12, 2009

Mr. Deity and the Science Advisor

Sure, "Ontogeny recapitulates phylogeny" makes you sound smart, but so what?

Saturday, October 10, 2009

Second Amendment Follies

Friday, October 09, 2009

Obama on Winning the Nobel Prize

There has been a lot of discussion on Obama's having been awarded the Nobel Peace Prize. Setting aside what the unhinged wingers have to say, I've agreed with almost all of it. Of course Obama's accomplishments do not equal those of many deserving winners. Nobody claims they do. As I mentioned on FaceBook this morning, this is like an author's advance: you still have to write the book.

I think Obama gets it right in his statement this morning:

I am both surprised and deeply humbled by the decision of the Nobel Committee. Let me be clear: I do not view it as a recognition of my own accomplishments, but rather as an affirmation of American leadership on behalf of aspirations held by people in all nations.

To be honest, I do not feel that I deserve to be in the company of so many of the transformative figures who've been honored by this prize -- men and women who've inspired me and inspired the entire world through their courageous pursuit of peace.

But I also know that this prize reflects the kind of world that those men and women, and all Americans, want to build -- a world that gives life to the promise of our founding documents. And I know that throughout history, the Nobel Peace Prize has not just been used to honor specific achievement; it's also been used as a means to give momentum to a set of causes. And that is why I will accept this award as a call to action -- a call for all nations to confront the common challenges of the 21st century.

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This is huge, eh?

I sure wasn't thinking this was on the horizon. We can already predict the reaction from the wingers: this is all part of his cult of personality, he's never done anything, blah blah blah. And there is no doubt that there will be attacks from the left, both claiming that it's premature and that he's continuing Bush's warmongering policies.

On the other hand, look at the context. For eight years the United States, still the world's dominant power, had abandoned anything but a pretense of internationalism with a combination of unilateral imperialism and what could be called command diplomacy. The result: wars around the world, strengthened terrorism, and continued hostilities in the Middle East.

I think we can take the Nobel Committee at their world when they say, “We are not awarding the prize for what may happen in the future but for what he has done in the previous year. We would hope this will enhance what he is trying to do.”

In other words, in a world where international cooperation has become a radical concept, the Nobel Committee is taking the opportunity to be an active player on the world stage and support any efforts in that direction.

I support this decision.

Saturday, October 03, 2009

Victims, Villains, and Heroes

Do you know what a "dead peasant" policy is? You would if you were the widow of a former employee of Amegy Bank, in Texas, which collected approximately five million dollars after he died of cancer. These policies as "often secret" and "taken out by companies on unwitting employees, which can yield sizable corporate tax breaks." In her article, Ms. Schultz opens as follows: "For years, American companies have taken out life insurance on millions of their employees, harvesting tax advantages that fatten their coffers and collecting death benefits when they die. Now, some family members are crying foul." Pretty scummy, huh?

What about plutonomy, a word so strange the spell check program here doesn't recognize it? According to an internal 2006 Citigroup memo regarding "America, which has turned into a modern day plutonomy". With the wonders of the internets (sic) I was able to unearth at least part of the report, which frankly pretty much reinforces things that are plainly obvious.

In a "plutonomy", according to Citigroup global strategist Ajay Kapur, economic growth is powered by and largely consumed by the wealthy few.

If it were someone on the Left pointing out this uncomfortable fact we would have been accused of fomenting class struggle. What if it's a giant bank, which is not only describing, but celebrating this key fact of the world economy? As usual, accusations of "class struggle" seem to be reserved for those of us who point out who's winning.

I learned about both of these concepts, and many more, from Michael Moore's new movie, Capitalism: A Love Story, which opened last night at the Savoy. In addition to the victims, like families losing their homes to rapacious banks; and villains who have gotten rich off the taxpayers; Moore presents us with heroes, including Rep. Marcy Kaptur, Sen. Bernie Sanders, and the workers at Republic Door and Window, who staged a sit-in at their factory until the company agrees to pay them the Trade Readjustment Act money it owed them.

You might say this is standard Michael Moore fare, and I guess that would be right. Still, the combination of outrage, humor, and insight into things you've never heard of make this worth seeing. A love story? Well, that is something I question.

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Friday, October 02, 2009

UPDATE:Roman Polanski--Is the Tide Turning?

We've talked about this, and about how lots of Hollywood celebrities seem to be defending or coming up with some kind of bogus excuse for an adult raping a 13-year old girl, and the story is being covered elsewhere as well.

Now it might be that the tide is turning, and Hollywood celebrities are coming out and saying that it is not, in fact, okay for an adult to rape a 13-year-old girl, even if he is a famous and wealthy movie director.

I don't recognize most of the names on the list, but I am sure a number of women I know will be glad that John Legend is on it:

# RT @Littlewaysangel check out this article on the Roman Polanski issue--it says it all AM Sep 30th from web
# A man in his 30's cannot have "consensual" sex with a 13-year-old. It is legally impossible for a child to give consent. It is rape. ...8:44 AM Sep 30th from web
# I'm trying to understand why Hollywood is lining up to defend Roman Polanski. Didn't he plead guilty to raping a 13 year old girl?

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Thursday, October 01, 2009

Vermont Authors Speak Out for Banned Books

This is Banned Books Week, the annual observance of challenges to freedom of expression and thought sponsored by the American Library Association. This wek the Vermont chapter of the ACLU sponsored a read-in, at which Vermont authors read selections from banned or challenged books.

Lending their voices -- literally -- to the cause, 13 Vermont writers including Ron Powers, David Macaulay and Tom Bodett gathered in a steepled small-town church to read passages for a rapt crowd.

''It's a chance to sort of live out one of my fantasies, which is to do a book that gets banned,'' said the 62-year-old Macaulay, the author of ''The Way Things Work.'' ''Nothing would make me happier.''

The celebration of Banned Books Week is an opportunity to think about librarians and all they do for freedom of thought, including challenges to the so-called Patriot Act, and their perennial struggles to keep books on the shelves where library patrons can read them and use their own brains to evaluate the ideas they contain.

In addition to our event in Vermont, I'd like to focus on two libraries. One is a school library in which a parent challenged a children's book called The Million Dollar Kick. A mother objected to a single paragraph that she found difficult to explain to her 3rd grader. The book will not be removed from restricted access until the family no longer has any children at the school. Just like that, with no apparent explanation, the rest of the readers of the school will be blocked from access to the book. Sure, it's still in the collection, but the fact is that if it's not on the public shelves the patrons won't see it, won't know about it, and won't read it. This seems like a pretty craven surrender by the schools. Of course, it's in Texas, so I can't imagine they get much support for freedom of thought down there.

On the other hand, we have an excellent example of a librarian standing up for his patrons' rights in the context of a book called Uncle Bobby's Wedding. As you might guess, it was a challenge to a book about the narrator's uncle's same-sex wedding for the usual reasons. Jamie Larue, a librarian and blogger, has posted his thoughtful, respectful response to the challenging parent, and I'll just give you a little taste of it.

Your third point, about the founders' vision of America, is something that has been a matter of keen interest to me most of my adult life. In fact, I even wrote a book about it, where I went back and read the founders' early writings about the Constitution and the Bill of Rights. What a fascinating time to be alive! What astonishing minds! Here's what I learned: our whole system of government was based on the idea that the purpose of the state was to preserve individual liberties, not to dictate them. The founders uniformly despised many practices in England that compromised matters of individual conscience by restricting freedom of speech. Freedom of speech – the right to talk, write, publish, discuss – was so important to the founders that it was the first amendment to the Constitution – and without it, the Constitution never would have been ratified.

How then, can we claim that the founders would support the restriction of access to a book that really is just about an idea, to be accepted or rejected as you choose? What harm has this book done to anyone? Your seven year old told you, “Boys are not supposed to marry.” In other words, you have taught her your values, and those values have taken hold. That's what parents are supposed to do, and clearly, exposure to this book, or several, doesn't just overthrow that parental influence. It does, of course, provide evidence that not everybody agrees with each other; but that's true, isn't it?

Not all the comments are positive, although most are. Not everyone will have the same reaction, or will want to respond to a book challenge in the same way. What I think is good is that the writer lays out the substance of the challenge, responds directly to it, and explains and defends the principles of freedom of thought on which access to library material depends.

I bet you have some banned books in your house. Take a moment this week to appreciate the centuries of struggle that have enabled you to enjoy them.

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