blueollie

Romney’s (possible) Mistake, Herman Cain’s style, Flat Taxes and Flat Earthers

President Obama: we are leaving Iraq!!! :)

Flat Taxes why the “flat tax idea” is nonsense. Note: when it comes to income tax, everyone does pay the same:

Here’s a modified version of the current Federal Income Tax Brackets (I’ve rounded off the numbers to make it easier to follow):

Taxable Income / Tax Rate
$0 – $10,000 / 10%
$10,000 – $30,000 / 15%
$30,000 – $80,000 / 25%
$80,000 – $200,000 / 28%
$200,000 – $400,000 / 33%
More than $400,000 / 35%

That is, everyone’s first 10,000 is taxed at the same rate, then everyone’s 10 to 30K is taxed at the same rate, etc. The tax rate changes income level and not by total. That is, if you make 100K, your first 10K is taxed at 10 percent, your next 20K is taxed at 15 percent, your next 50K is taxed at 25 percent and your next 20K is taxed at 28 percent.

Science and mathematics
Get a load of this wooden adding machine. It isn’t profound, but it is fun:

Nothing new in resistance to science
The public has often been slow to accept new science results. The situation with climate change is even harder since there are rich industries who are fighting the findings. This article from Physics Today has an interesting summary. Here is a bit of it:

Even Albert Einstein was not immune to political backlash. His theory of general relativity, excerpted on the notebook page in figure 2, undermined our most fundamental notions of absolute space and time, a revolution that Max Planck avowed “can only be compared with that brought about by the introduction of the Copernican world system.”5 Though the theory predicted the anomalous perihelion shift of Mercury’s orbit, it was still regarded as provisional in the years following its publication in 1916.

When observation, by Arthur Eddington and others, of a rare solar eclipse in 1919 confirmed the bending of light, it was widely hailed and turned Einstein into a celebrity. Elated, he was finally satisfied that his theory was verified. But the following year he wrote to his mathematician collaborator Marcel Grossmann:

This world is a strange madhouse. Currently, every coachman and every waiter is debating whether relativity theory is correct. Belief in this matter depends on political party affiliation.6

Instead of quelling the debate, the confirmation of the theory and acclaim for its author had sparked an organized opposition dedicated to discrediting both theory and author. Part of the backlash came from a minority of scientists who apparently either felt sidelined or could not understand the theory. The driving force was probably professional jealousy,6but scientific opposition was greatly amplified by the anti-Semitism of the interwar period and was exploited by political and culture warriors. The same forces, together with status quo economic interests, have amplified the views of climate contrarians.7

The historical backlashes shed some light on a paradox of the current climate debate: As evidence continues to accumulate confirming longstanding warming predictions and showing how sensitive climate has been throughout Earth’s history, why does climate skepticism seem to be growing rather than shrinking? All three provocative ideas—heliocentricity, relativity, and greenhouse warming—have been, in Kuhn’s words, “destructive of an entire fabric of thought,” and have shattered notions that make us feel safe.2 That kind of change can turn people away from reason and toward emotion, especially when the ideas are pressed on them with great force.8

The agitations of modern greenhouse proponents appear to have provoked an antiscience backlash similar to the one against Galileo. In the space of only two years, almost as fast as Bellarmine changed his position on Copernicanism, leading moderates have been squeezed out of the main conservative political parties in both the US and Australia and replaced by hard-line rejecters of climate science.

Leave it to our Republicans to lead the charge for stupidity and ignorance. :)

Nothing New: Herman Cain’s strange behavior explained

I admit that the first bit of this clip is “same old, same old”: “Cain is an idiot and the Republican debate audiences are even bigger idiots”. Yep, I think there is truth in that (sort of) but that isn’t the reason I linked to it.

The winning point comes toward the end of it (5 minutes or so) when someone who is (sort of) defending Mr. Cain speaks: he points out that while Mr. Cain is mostly associated with is time as CEO for Godfather’s Pizza, he has spent much of his time in the past few years as a motivational speaker. These are the types who say “YOU CAN DO IT!!!! TAKE RESPONSIBILITY and follow my “X-point” PLAN FOR SUCCESS.” When have you ever seen someone actually study such a plan to see if it indeed leads to success?

Anyway, remember the “motivational speaker” background the next time you hear Mr. Cain speak.

Politics 2012
Is Mitt Romney making a mistake by attacking Rick Perry so hard? Why might this be a mistake? According to Nate Silver, Mr. Romney might be setting Mr. Perry as the “legitimate” anti-Romney candidate; perhaps he ought to let the anti-Romney crowd remain fractured.

October 22, 2011 Posted by | 2012 election, Barack Obama, economics, economy, environment, physics, political/social, politics, politics/social, Republican, republican party, republicans, republicans political/social, science, taxes | Leave a comment

19 September 2011

Frogs Several new species of frog were discovered in India, and some species that were thought to be extinct are not extinct after all:

Years of combing tropical mountain forests, shining flashlights under rocks and listening for croaks in the night have paid off for a team of Indian scientists which has discovered 12 new frog species plus three others thought to have been extinct.[...]

“Frogs are extremely important indicators not just of climate change, but also pollutants in the environment,” said the project’s lead scientist, biologist Sathyabhama Das Biju of the University of Delhi.

Many of the newly found frogs in India are rare and are living in just a single area, so they will need rigorous habitat protection, Biju told The Associated Press on Saturday. “Unfortunately in India, conservation has basically focused on the two most charismatic animals – the elephant and the tiger. For amphibians there is little interest, little funding, and frog research is not easy.”

(Professor S. D. Biju took this one of the meowing night frog; see 14 more photos starting here; go up to the right hand corner to start the slide show. They are beauties!)

Personal blogs
I am not a business person, but this person’s story on how they got a service going is interesting; it talks about web sites that link people to services and how out of control pricing can get (when there is a downward spiral in pricing).

Science
I subscribe to the New York Times and therefore got a notice for this article that defended an attack on naturalism:

Before taking up Professor Williamson’s challenges to naturalism, it’s worth identifying some of this success in applying science to the solution of philosophical problems, some of which even have pay-offs for science. Perhaps the most notable thing about naturalism is the way its philosophers have employed Darwin’s theory of natural selection to tame purpose. In 1784 Kant wrote, “There will never be a Newton for the blade of grass.” What he meant was that physical science could never explain anything with a purpose, whether it be human thought or a flower’s bending toward the sun. That would have made everything special about living things — and especially us — safe from a purely scientific understanding. It would have kept questions about humanity the preserve of religion, mythmaking and the humanities.

Only 25 years or so later, the Newton of the blade of grass was born to the Darwin family in Shropshire, England. “On the Origin of Species” revealed how physical processes alone produce the illusion of design. Random variation and natural selection are the purely physical source of the beautiful means/ends economy of nature that fools us into seeking its designer. Naturalists have applied this insight to reveal the biological nature of human emotion, perception and cognition, language, moral value, social bonds and political institutions. Naturalistic philosophy has returned the favor, helping psychology, evolutionary anthropology and biology solve their problems by greater conceptual clarity about function, adaptation, Darwinian fitness and individual-versus-group selection. [...]

Naturalism faces these questions because it won’t uncritically buy into Professor Williamson’s “default assumption … that the practitioners of a well-established discipline know what they are doing, and use the … methods most appropriate for answering its questions.” If semiotics, existentialism, hermeneutics, formalism, structuralism, post-structuralism, deconstruction and post-modernism transparently flout science’s standards of objectivity, or if they seek arbitrarily to limit the reach of scientific methods, then naturalism can’t take them seriously as knowledge.

That doesn’t mean anyone should stop doing literary criticism any more than foregoing fiction. Naturalism treats both as fun, but neither as knowledge.

Amen. Jerry Coyne weighs in and his response is worth reading.

I’ll add this: I almost never get in these debates and frankly I care very little about what philosophers have to say. I really don’t see them of having much of value to add.

Dr. Coyne also points us to a…yep, New York Times article on Richard Dawkins. There is a video too.

I found it delightful reading; there are some things that the Dawkins follower might not know.

Politics
Paul Krugman explains that our economy needs help now and not some “some pain now for some good later” type stuff:

And the austerity has been real. In Europe, troubled nations like Greece and Ireland have imposed savage cuts, even as stronger nations have imposed milder austerity programs of their own. In the United States, the modest federal stimulus of 2009 has faded out, while state and local governments have slashed their budgets, so that over all we’ve had a de facto move toward austerity not so different from Europe’s.

Strange to say, however, confidence hasn’t surged. Somehow, businesses and consumers seem much more concerned about the lack of customers and jobs, respectively, than they are reassured by the fiscal righteousness of their governments. And growth seems to be stalling, while unemployment remains disastrously high on both sides of the Atlantic.

But, say apologists for the bad results so far, shouldn’t we be focused on the long run rather than short-run pain? Actually, no: the economy needs real help now, not hypothetical payoffs a decade from now. In any case, evidence is starting to emerge that the economy’s “short run” troubles — now in their fourth year, and being made worse by the focus on austerity — are taking a toll on its long-run prospects as well. [...]

Oh, and the brunt of those cuts in public spending is falling on education. Somehow, laying off hundreds of thousands of schoolteachers doesn’t seem like a good way to win the future.

In fact, when you combine the growing evidence that fiscal austerity is reducing our future prospects with the very low interest rates on U.S. government debt, it’s hard to avoid a startling conclusion: budget austerity may well be counterproductive even from a purely fiscal point of view, because lower future growth means lower tax receipts.

What should be happening? The answer is that we need a major push to get the economy moving, not at some future date, but right now. For the time being we need more, not less, government spending, supported by aggressively expansionary policies from the Federal Reserve and its counterparts abroad. And it’s not just pointy-headed economists saying this; business leaders like Google’s Eric Schmidt are saying the same thing, and the bond market, by buying U.S. debt at such low interest rates, is in effect pleading for a more expansionary policy.

And to be fair, some policy players seem to get it. President Obama’s new jobs plan is a step in the right direction, while some board members of the Federal Reserve and the Bank of England — though not, sad to say, the European Central Bank — have been calling for much more growth-oriented policies.

What we really need, however, is to convince a substantial number of people with political power or influence that they’ve spent the last year and a half going in exactly the wrong direction, and that they need to make a U-turn.

Don’t expect Republicans to buy any of this. They are the party of all things Voodoo; no evidence is required for them to stick to their beliefs.

They’ll howl and bellow about socialism which for them means taking money from the deserving and giving it to the unworthy (psst: it isn’t that; it is pooling money for the collective good. Of course they are just fine doing this when they dream up a war that simply MUST be fought to “keep us safe”…but for things like schools and health care….ooohhhh nooo, THAT’S SOCIALISM!!!!!

Yes, I admit that the government sometimes makes a bad decision (e. g., Solyndra company decision; a company was touted as a successful green energy company, got a loan and went bankrupt; it turns out that someone dropped the ball on economic fact-checking). Yes, we sometimes blow it though it helps to keep our failures in perspective.

Clueless liberals Yes, let’s waste money on a primary challenge to President Obama. Did I tell you that I am planning on making the Chicago Bulls? :)

Oh yes, how could I forget: President Obama is coming out with a “let’s pretty please ask the millionaires to pay some more tax…pretty please?”

With a scrappy unveiling of his formula to rein in the nation’s mounting debt, President Obama confirmed Monday that he had entered a new, more combative phase of his presidency, one likely to last until next year’s election as he battles for a second term. [...]

He uncharacteristically backed up that stand with a veto threat, setting up a politically charged choice for anti-tax Republicans — protect the most affluent or compromise to attack deficits. Confident in the answers most voters would make, Mr. Obama plans to hammer on that choice through 2012, reflecting the fact that the White House has all but given up hopes of a “grand bargain” with Republicans to restore fiscal balance for years to come.

“I will not support — I will not support — any plan that puts all the burden for closing our deficit on ordinary Americans. And I will veto any bill that changes benefits for those who rely on Medicare but does not raise serious revenues by asking the wealthiest Americans or biggest corporations to pay their fair share,” Mr. Obama said. “We are not going to have a one-sided deal that hurts the folks who are most vulnerable.”

Mr. Obama also seems to have given up on his strategy of nearly a year, beginning when Republicans won control of the House last November, of being the eager-to-compromise “reasonable adult” — in the White House’s phrasing — in his relations with them. He had sought to build a personal relationship with Speaker John A. Boehner of Ohio, a man the White House saw as a possible partner across the aisle, in the hopes of making bipartisan progress and simultaneously winning points with independent voters who disdain partisanship. Even if the efforts produced few agreements with Republicans, the White House figured, independents would give Mr. Obama credit for trying.

Many of those on the left (myself included) thought that while he had to try, he went too far. I think that he underestimated what greedy, power hungry, entitled amoral people that he was dealing with. He needed to have just a little of…that’s right, George W Bush in him. Of course the assholes Republicans are screaming “CLASS WARFARE”, blah, blah, blah.

September 20, 2011 Posted by | 2012 election, atheism, Barack Obama, biology, economics, economy, evolution, Fox News Lies Again, frogs, nature, political/social, politics, politics/social, republicans, republicans political/social, republicans politics, science, tax cuts, taxes | Leave a comment

30 May 2011 early am

Workout notes
I ran an easy 3 miles (3.14 by google) this morning. I started at 6:32 am and finished at 7:03; I did have to dodge one car that didn’t realize that the intersection was NOT a 4 way stop; still that car has a lot more “M” and “V” than I do…better to be alive than “right but dead or crippled”.

The weather was about as pretty as possible (sun, not that hot yet) but I was surprised that there were so many cars on the neighborhood road. Then again this is a working class neighborhood and people are used to getting up early.

Later: Lynn has talked me into going to Zumba class:

Don’t worry; though I’ll be the only male, this class is lead by and mostly populated by middle aged women; there is little danger that I’ll pull something or throw out my back. But who knows; with any luck maybe I’ll get eyestrain? (I like MILF’s and GILF’s). :)

Fun
Hmmm, maybe I should frown and scowl more?

Women find happy guys significantly less sexually attractive than swaggering or brooding men, according to a new University of British Columbia study that helps to explain the enduring allure of “bad boys” and other iconic gender types. The study – which may cause men to smile less on dates, and inspire online daters to update their profile photos – finds dramatic gender differences in how men and women rank the sexual attractiveness of non-verbal expressions of commonly displayed emotions, including happiness, pride, and shame.
[...]
“While showing a happy face is considered essential to friendly social interactions, including those involving sexual attraction – few studies have actually examined whether a smile is, in fact, attractive,” says Prof. Jessica Tracy of UBC’s Dept. of Psychology. “This study finds that men and women respond very differently to displays of emotion, including smiles.”

In a series of studies, more than 1,000 adult participants rated the sexual attractiveness of hundreds of images of the opposite sex engaged in universal displays of happiness (broad smiles), pride (raised heads, puffed-up chests) and shame (lowered heads, averted eyes).

The study found that women were least attracted to smiling, happy men, preferring those who looked proud and powerful or moody and ashamed. In contrast, male participants were most sexually attracted to women who looked happy, and least attracted to women who appeared proud and confident.

No, I don’t take this study very seriously; though maybe there is something there? :)

Political Fun

Good for Mitt Romney:

The big important news of the Romney campaign today is that he apparently swung by some touristy deep-dish pizza place while on a fundraising swing through Chicago, ate some pie — I imagine very daintily, with a knife and fork — and then decided, for the LOLs, to send over the leftovers to the Obama re-elect headquarters, who confirmed the receipt of Romney’s leavings.

Yes, this Huffington Post article makes fun of him for doing this, but I think that it is great that Mr. Romney is interjecting some levity into things. We can disagree on policy without hating each other….well, maybe some can. I sometimes struggle with this.

So I salute Mr. Romney for setting a nice tone.

Politics

Here is what we are up against. This is part of a letter to the editor written by a “pull yourself up by your bootstraps” old man

How many times during my youth did mentors – parents, grandparents, teachers, religious leaders, etc. – explain the importance of caring for the poor? I bought into the fact that many among us were not privileged to wealth, good health, higher education or proper guidance. I accepted the fact that not all were born equal and some need societal protection against the unscrupulous among us.

All of those reasons have flooded my memory bank as I listen to our elected officials explain why cuts in funding cannot happen to our school systems and our relief agencies. “The poor among us need our help” seems to be a constant theme among our political leaders to maintain the status quo when it comes to the transfer of wealth in this country.

Personally, I’ve stopped buying into the “woe is me” philosophy of yet another generation of under-educated, under-employed “poor” people. How difficult can it be to grasp the simple truth that education will usually lead to a richer, fuller life? How difficult can it be to explain to your child that living in public housing is not the norm and that better economic conditions usually follow better-educated people? How difficult is it to stress the obvious truth that doing drugs is terribly detrimental to one’s health and overall well-being? How difficult can it be to convince your child that learning to read is probably the single most important improvement one can ever make it climbing out of poverty?

Hell, I did it. I listened to my parents and my children listened to me. If I did it, everyone can do it. I was born in 1933. I know what poor is! I watched while my parents dug their way out of poverty and into middle America. It can be done!

Emphasis mine. This guy grew up right wen the New Deal was in full force and the government was spending like crazy (WW II also). Tax rates on the upper income people were sky high. I am NOT saying that this man was employed in a New Deal program directly, but the bottom line is that private enterprise, at that time, was helped by the fact that people had money to spend. But oh no…he did it ALL HIMSELF (so he thinks).

This is a bit like my right wing Naval Academy classmates going on and on about self-sufficiency. :)
(note: a Naval Academy education is taxpayer funded, and a government paycheck is guaranteed for 4-5 years afterward)

Robert Reich talks more about this era and afterward:

The Great Prosperity

During three decades from 1947 to 1977, the nation implemented what might be called a basic bargain with American workers. Employers paid them enough to buy what they produced. Mass production and mass consumption proved perfect complements. Almost everyone who wanted a job could find one with good wages, or at least wages that were trending upward.

During these three decades everyone’s wages grew — not just those at or near the top.

Government enforced the basic bargain in several ways. It used Keynesian policy to achieve nearly full employment. It gave ordinary workers more bargaining power. It provided social insurance. And it expanded public investment. Consequently, the portion of total income that went to the middle class grew while the portion going to the top declined. But this was no zero-sum game. As the economy grew almost everyone came out ahead, including those at the top.

The pay of workers in the bottom fifth grew 116 percent over these years — faster than the pay of those in the top fifth (which rose 99 percent), and in the top 5 percent (86 percent).

Productivity also grew quickly. Labor productivity — average output per hour worked — doubled. So did median incomes. Expressed in 2007 dollars, the typical family’s income rose from about $25,000 to $55,000. The basic bargain was cinched.

The middle class had the means to buy, and their buying created new jobs. As the economy grew, the national debt shrank as a percentage of it.

The Great Prosperity also marked the culmination of a reorganization of work that had begun during the Depression. Employers were required by law to provide extra pay — time-and-a-half — for work stretching beyond 40 hours a week. This created an incentive for employers to hire additional workers when demand picked up. Employers also were required to pay a minimum wage, which improved the pay of workers near the bottom as demand picked up.

When workers were laid off, usually during an economic downturn, government provided them with unemployment benefits, usually lasting until the economy recovered and they were rehired. Not only did this tide families over but it kept them buying goods and services — an “automatic stabilizer” for the economy in downturns.

Perhaps most significantly, government increased the bargaining leverage of ordinary workers. They were guaranteed the right to join labor unions, with which employers had to bargain in good faith. By the mid-1950s more than a third of all America workers in the private sector were unionized. And the unions demanded and received a fair slice of the American pie. Non-unionized companies, fearing their workers would otherwise want a union, offered similar deals.

Americans also enjoyed economic security against the risks of economic life — not only unemployment benefits but also, through Social Security, insurance against disability, loss of a major breadwinner, workplace injury and inability to save enough for retirement. In 1965 came health insurance for the elderly and the poor (Medicare and Medicaid). Economic security proved the handmaiden of prosperity. In requiring Americans to share the costs of adversity it enabled them to share the benefits of peace of mind. And by offering peace of mind, it freed them to consume the fruits of their labors.

The government sponsored the dreams of American families to own their own home by providing low-cost mortgages and interest deductions on mortgage payments. In many sections of the country, government subsidized electricity and water to make such homes habitable. And it built the roads and freeways that connected the homes with major commercial centers.

Government also widened access to higher education. The GI Bill paid college costs for those who returned from war. The expansion of public universities made higher education affordable to the American middle class.

Government paid for all of this with tax revenues from an expanding middle class with rising incomes. Revenues were also boosted by those at the top of the income ladder whose marginal taxes were far higher. The top marginal income tax rate during World War II was over 68 percent. In the 1950s, under Dwight Eisenhower, whom few would call a radical, it rose to 91 percent. In the 1960s and 1970s the highest marginal rate was around 70 percent. Even after exploiting all possible deductions and credits, the typical high-income taxpayer paid a marginal federal tax of over 50 percent. But contrary to what conservative commentators had predicted, the high tax rates did not reduce economic growth. To the contrary, they enabled the nation to expand middle-class prosperity and fuel growth.

There is more there (Reich’s article); he talks about how this came tumbling down and how our three main coping mechanisms (individual borrowing, two income families, working more hours) eventually ceased to be effective.

Frankly, I don’t see much hope in compromise; at least the Republicans admit that they aren’t going to compromise:

Education
As we learn more about the brain, we are learning that…surprise, surprise, not everyone can do everything. Here is a blurb about “discalculia”:

What is dyscalculia?

Examples of common indicators of dyscalculia are (i) carrying out simple number comparison and addition tasks by counting, often using fingers, well beyond the age when it is normal, and (ii) finding approximate estimation tasks difficult. Individuals identified as dyscalculic behave differently from their mainstream peers, for example:

* To say which is the larger of two playing cards showing 5 and 8, they count all the symbols on each card.
* To place a playing card of 8 in sequence between a 3 and a 9 they count up spaces between the two to identify where the 8 should be placed.
* To count down from 10 they count up from 1 to 10, then 1 to 9, etc.
* To count up from 70 in tens, they say ’70, 80, 90, 100, 200, 300…’
* They estimate the height of a normal room as ‘200 feet?’

Ok, I don’t know enough to know if this is something real or a modern thing that is “just made up”. BUT if it is real, well, ok…just please, please, please, don’t tell people with this affliction that they can be scientists or engineers, ok?

May 30, 2011 Posted by | 2012 election, economics, economy, Friends, human sexuality, humor, mind, Mitt Romney, political humor, political/social, politics, politics/social, Republican, republican party, republicans, republicans political/social, republicans politics, running, taxes, training | Leave a comment

14 May 2011 posts

Workout notes I did these in the afternoon due to graduation.
Swimming: 10 x (25 side, 25 side, 25 free); couldn’t quite do these on the 2:15; this set took about 22:30 to do. Then I did 5 x 50 free on the 1: 54-55 mostly. Goodness, I am SLOW. But that is what one expects coming back from being off for so long. And no, I don’t anticipate getting faster anytime soon.

Weights After swimming. I didn’t superset much but rather did rotator cuff between sets…and did the exercises for BOTH shoulders.
Incline bench press: 10 x 115, 7 x 135, 6 x 135, 5 x 135
dumbbell curls: 4 sets of 10 x 25 lb.
pull downs: 3 sets of 10 x 140 (shoulder friendly grip)
rows (Hammer machine): medium grip: 10 x 200, 10 x 200. Narrow: 7 x 230, 7 x 230.
Sit ups: 4 x 25 (varied incline)
hip hikes, back stuff, etc.

Assorted things
Graduation: lasted 3 hours, 10 minutes. The student name readings lasted about 2 of those; that is 1 hour of preliminary yick-yack.
Ray LaHood (Secretary of Transportation and former Representative of IL-18) was the featured speaker.
He reminded us that politics in the United States has always been divisive (and featured actual fist fights at times). But he said that he is serving in President Obama’s administration because he wants to do good for America and that this is a calling that goes beyond Republican or Democrat (that got applause).
Ok…that is fairly standard “let’s all get along” boilerplate.

He mentioned that the internet atmosphere sometimes allows for less civility, though the internet is also helpful at times (e. g., in spreading some of the pro-democracy movements in the world).

He then talked about the generation of undergraduates. He mentioned that the New York Times had “almost a whole issue” devoted to “when will this generation finally grow up”…he then said “many people agree with that….but NOT ME.” I had to laugh…that is the old “hey, others say you are a scumbag but I don’t think that you are” sort of trick. Such “complements” rarely make the recipient feel good. :)

We also had the usual case of an administrator talking about the changes that he/she instituted; he/she wondered what the undergraduate experience would have been like without those changes……..then later, after the name reading and diploma receiving, we had someone come up and get their commission via R. O. T. C…..to the reserves…and got a standing ovation. My wife told me that she got tears watching this on the live stream; I got….well it meant that the exercises were over so I was happy.

Politics
Here is the President on energy policy and oil.

I don’t like all of this “new drilling” stuff as I don’t think it is a long term answer. Note: before anyone accuses me of being a hypocrite, be advised that I walk to work every day. So I do my part in conservation. :)

Back to the President’s program: He talks about the removal of the tax breaks, but in a letter sent by his campaign to supporters, he warns us that this tax subsidy removal will not happen with the current composition of Congress, so don’t expect it:

The CEOs from the five major oil companies — which together booked $36 billion in profits in the first quarter of 2011 alone — went to the Senate yesterday to try to justify the $4 billion in tax giveaways they’re receiving this year.

It’s a head-smackingly obvious example of how broken Washington is that there’s even a question about this. These companies don’t need and don’t deserve taxpayer money — especially with a budget deficit to close and gas prices at or near record highs.

Even worse is the fact that when the Senate tries to strip these oil company giveaways, it’s likely that a minority of senators will block a vote from happening. And even if the Senate manages to pass a bill eliminating the giveaways, there’s little chance it will be brought up for a vote in the House.

Here’s why: These five companies are expert manipulators of the money-for-influence game in Washington that the President is working to change. It’s simple math — they spent more than $145 million last year on nearly 800 lobbyists whose job is to defeat bills like this one. The $4 billion they’ll likely get to keep as a result represents a 2,700% return on their investment.

I’d like to be able to say with certainty that you can do something to help pass this bill, but the fact is that at this stage we may not be able to affect the outcome of next week’s vote.

What we can do is build a campaign that will keep a spotlight on issues like this and the fundamental reasons why Washington doesn’t work.

Science
I enjoy the blog Conservation Report. Here is a video that a recent post linked to:

This is about how a colorblind fish (cuttlefish) manages to camouflage itself. Note that we see an experiment in which the cuttlefish is placed against a background that does NOT occur in nature.

Human evolution
New evidence has come in: it appears that Neanderthals actually lived as recently as 33,000 years ago; this is based on a tool find in the Ural mountains:

A Neanderthal-style toolkit found in the frigid far north of Russia’s Ural Mountains dates to 33,000 years ago and may mark the last refuge of Neanderthals before they went extinct, according to a new Science study.

Another possibility is that anatomically modern humans crafted the hefty tools using what’s known as Mousterian technology associated with Neanderthals, but anthropologists believe that’s unlikely.

“We consider it overwhelmingly probable that the Mousterian technology we describe was performed by Neanderthals, and thus that they indeed survived longer, that is until 33,000 years ago, than most other scientists believe,” co-author Jan Mangerud, a professor emeritus in the Department of Earth Sciences at the University of Bergen and the Bjerknes Centre for Climate Research, told Discovery News.

Most anthropologists believe modern humans began to replace Neanderthals starting around 75,000 to 50,000 years ago. Project leader Ludovic Slimak said the study suggests “that Neanderthals did not disappear due to climate shifts or cultural inferiority. It is clear that, showing such adaptability, the Mousterian cultures can no longer be considered as archaic.” [...]

Note: some of us actually have some Neanderthal DNA; evidently some mated with us in our distant past.

Religion/Atheism
I wasn’t going to talk about this topic, but some philosopher posted the following comment on their Facebook wall:

Question of the Day: Why are most (not all) atheists so terrified to admit that their theological beliefs involve an element of faith?

Of course the hypothesis of the question is completely wrong:
1. atheists, in general aren’t “terrified” and
2. not believing in some supernatural entity is hardly “faith”

What many will never understand is that atheism is really about “belief” and an atheist doesn’t believe in gods, deities, spirits or whatever. That requires no “faith”.
Not it is true that one might deem the atheist position to be “more likely” based on the fact that one uses evidence (e. g. lack of design in nature) to make one’s conclusion, and when one does that, one assumes that the laws of science operate consistently. That assumption might be false so accepting the laws of science might be considered some sort of faith by some. I don’t see it that way; I accept the laws of science because they have consistently worked…and I am happy to revise them when new evidence comes in. Science can be falsified….”faith” can’t.

True, one might see this process of revising the laws based on evidence to be based on a sort of “faith”, but I have little patience with this sort of word-salad play. I am not interested in it.

The other thing about atheism that many don’t get: when I say that I am an atheist I am NOT saying that I can prove that no god exists: that is impossible! I am saying “I don’t believe it”. But few atheists say that they know “for certain” that there is nothing beyond the ability of our senses to detect, or that there is something that we haven’t detected yet….not even Richard Dawkins! Here is an excerpt from a discussion between him and Francis Collins from Time Magazine (and I respect both of these men):

“DAWKINS: To me, the right approach is to say we are profoundly ignorant of these matters. We need to work on them. But to suddenly say the answer is God–it’s that that seems to me to close off the discussion.

TIME: Could the answer be God?

DAWKINS: There could be something incredibly grand and incomprehensible and beyond our present understanding.

COLLINS: That’s God.

DAWKINS: Yes. But it could be any of a billion Gods. It could be God of the Martians or of the inhabitants of Alpha Centauri. The chance of its being a particular God, Yahweh, the God of Jesus, is vanishingly small–at the least, the onus is on you to demonstrate why you think that’s the case.”

In short, if there is some “spirit of the universe”, it might have NOTHING to do with any deity that any human has worshiped.

It would be foolish for me to claim that I KNOW that no such entity exists, but I am comfortable in rejecting any of the gods that I’ve heard about.

The other topic of discussion was how pervasive religion is among humans. The claim was that “if so many believe this, then this belief cannot possibly be delusional”. It just so happens that Jerry Coyne talked about a similar topic (not as a part of our thread). He was talking about an Oxford University study about how pervasive religious belief is. Coyne critiques one of the conclusions:

“If you’ve got something so deep-rooted in human nature, thwarting it is in some sense not enabling humans to fulfill their basic interests,” Trigg said.

“There is quite a drive to think that religion is private,” he said, arguing that such a belief is wrong. “It isn’t just a quirky interest of a few, it’s basic human nature.”

“This shows that it’s much more universal, prevalent, and deep-rooted. It’s got to be reckoned with. You can’t just pretend it isn’t there,” he said.

And the Oxford study, known as the Cognition, Religion and Theology Project, strongly implies that religion will not wither away, he said.

“The secularization thesis of the 1960s – I think that was hopeless,” Trigg concluded.

That’s hogwash. As we can see from the tremendous secularization of the world over the past few centuries, especially in Europe, it is not impossible for religion to wither. The pervasiveness of a belief gives no warrant that that belief will be with us forever. Look how pervasive, only a century ago, was the idea that women were second-class citizens. This was true in nearly every society. Ditto for gays and ethnic minorities. And look how attitudes have changed! Granted, women, for instance, still get the short end of the stick, but in many parts of the world they’re much better off. Most of us now realize that people should be treated as equals, regardless of gender, color, and sexual orientation. That would have been inconceivable a few hundred years ago.

He is right of course; in fact some of the data about how secular much of Europe has become can be found here. Mano Singham points out that this change (from mostly religious to secular) has occurred in about one generation.

So we’ll see how long it lasts….I certainly won’t live to see religion’s extinction but perhaps when I am in my final days, maybe the United States will be like Europe is now.

May 15, 2011 Posted by | 2012 election, alternative energy, atheism, Barack Obama, biology, economics, economy, evolution, IL-18, Illinois, lahood, nature, Peoria, Peoria/local, Personal Issues, religion, republicans, republicans political/social, republicans politics, science, swimming, tax cuts, taxes, weight training | 3 Comments

   

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