Thursday, September 30, 2010

Where Obama Has Really Disappointed

Unlike many so-called progressive bloggers who have taken to the fainting couch over Barack Obama's perceived failure to fulfill his hope-and-change election year mandate, I understood going in that when it came to carrying out his myriad campaign promises, the culture of Washington was going to push back hard . . . and keep pushing back hard.

As it is, the Obama administration has done a pretty damned good job of enacting substantial chunks of its legislative agenda, but where it has fallen on its face -- and I believe quite unembarrassedly so -- is rolling back Bush administration excesses as they pertain to Americans' civil liberties.

And in the case of the Bush administration's pretty much unfettered ability to wiretap Americans' phone calls, it wants to take this excess a step further and be able to monitor every single form of communication any American citizen uses. Anywhere, as in Facebook, instant messaging, email and Web browser histories.

In a not unrelated move,
the administration has urged a federal judge to dismiss a lawsuit over its targeting of a U.S. citizen for killing overseas, saying that the case would reveal state secrets.

Echoing a frequent Bush era meme, White House officials contend the moves are necessary to combat terrorism and keep important secrets just that, while in fact under existing wiretap laws, most of these communications can already be monitored.

We expected better when it comes to civil liberties -- and we're sure not getting it.

Cartoon du Jour

Michael Ramirez/Investors Business Daily

This Post Is Not About Justin Beiber

Some of the comparisons between Sarah Palin and Christine O'Donnell are apt, but none more so than their ability to tell lie after lie, lie some more in trying to explain the lie, and finally blaming the press for their lying.

O'Donnell, who keeps telling us that she is a truth seeker of the first water, has not spoken an honest word about her college education, and her lies keep getting worse.

The New Stupidest Person In The World

MORE HERE.

Tony Curtis (1925-2010)


MORE HERE.

Beautiful Photograph du Jour

MOSQUE
By Sebastian Shutyser
Hat tip to bldgblog

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Americans Talk The Talk, Walk The Walk About Religion, But Are Deeply Ignorant

I have never bought into the widely held view that Americans are a deeply religious people. What I have believed is that many Americans feel an obligation -- whether out of spirituality or peer pressure, or perhaps some of both -- to be seen in church every Sunday, say Grace at the dinner table and lead virtuous lives, at least in public.

How else to explain a new survey by the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life that reveals that while Americans may seem to be deeply religious, they are deeply ignorant about religion. So ignorant that on average people who took the survey answered only half the questions correctly, and many got wrong even easy questions about their own faith.

Not surprisingly, those who scored the highest were atheists and agnostics, and two religious minorities: Jews and Mormons.

Pew said the results were the same even after the researchers controlled for factors like age and racial differences, and methinks that reflects the fact that members of all four groups arrived at or kept their faith -- or lack of -- based on having the kind of religious knowledge that many mainstreamers apparently do not.

Most of the survey questions were multiple choice, and included: Which Biblical figure led the exodus from Egypt? Where was Jesus born? What is Ramadan? Whose writings inspired the Protestant Reformation? What religion is the Dalai Lama? Mother Teresa?

The timing of the survey is exquisite, coming as it does in an era when religion and politics -- that is to say conservative and right-wing politics -- are inextricably linked as they never have before, and the religious right is a force to be reckoned with.

And as the survey indirectly reveals, an ignorant force at that. After all, how can one worshipfully embrace the teachings of Jesus, who was tortured to death, and support the torture enabled and carried out during the Bush Era?


The survey also reveals rampant confusion about what constitutes reading and what constitutes preaching.

Some 89 percent of respondents who were asked whether public school teachers are permitted to lead a class in prayer correctly answered no.

But fewer than one of four knew that a public school teacher is permitted to read from the Bible as an example of literature, let alone that teachers are permitted to offer classes comparing the world's religions.

About those religions: Members of mainstream faiths tended to flub questions about religions like Islam, Buddhism, Hinduism and Judaism, while the groups that did the best were atheists, agnostics and Jews.

Ahem.

Cartoon du Jour

Pat Oliphant/Universal Press Syndicate
(2008)

Would Jesus Have Tortured?

(PORTIONS ORIGINALLY APPEARED IN OCTOBER 2007)
The smell of autumn is in the air on this Sunday morning, that intoxicating aroma of decaying leaves, ripe apples and bedewed grass brilliantly illuminated by the sun in a cloudless azure blue sky. But there is another smell as well and it is not so sweet – the smell of hypocrisy as the faithful file into a conservative Christian church near Kiko's House for their weekly dose of God.

There they are, the fathers in their starched shirts and mothers in their best dresses, their two and a half children in tow, as I pedal by on my daily bike ride and take note of all of the bumper stickers in support of George W. Bush and the troops in Iraq on their SUVs and pickup trucks.

Now hypocrisy is a strong word, so I had better explain myself lest the Big Guy unleash a thunderbolt and knock out my hard drive before I can post this.

In researching my commentary yesterday titled Sic Semper Tyrannis: The Blackest of the Bush Administration's Black Marks on the White House's sick embrace of torture, I noticed that the so-called fundamentalist, faith-based Republicans who make up a goodly portion of the president's political base have, with damned few exceptions, been silent.

You can read the Christian Bible in any number of ways, but it is a stretch to say that torture is endorsed. Its use as a tool of war is a sin. Period. And to be silent in the face of its use is to condone its use.

It's not that fundamentalists cannot find their tongues. Why just the other day a bunch of them declared that the greatest threat to America is not gay marriage, flag desecration or even abortion. It's anime.

The Department Of When All Else Fails

Shamelessly stolen from Frank at From Pine View Farm

George Blanda (1927-2010)

MORE HERE.
Photograph by The Associated Press

Beautiful Photograph du Jour


BELLEVILLE
(1959)
By Willie Ronis
Hat tip to Woods' Lot

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Bishop Long & The Arc of Inevitability

It is easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God (MATTHEW 19:24)

Yeah, yeah, presumed innocent until found guilty, and all that. But there is a certain arc of inevitability to the news that New Birth mega-church bishop and homophobe Eddie Long coerced boys into homosexual sex acts. You are probably familiar with the arc since a goodly number of other godly types have ridden it: A charge is made, the clergyman denies everything, his congregation rallies around him, the trickle of allegations become a torrent, and the clergyman, proud but shamed, eventually acknowledges that he has sinned.

As Jelani Cobb notes, what is different about Long is that he is filthy rich and ostentatiously gaudy with a Bentley and bodyguards, presides over a huge 25,000 member congregation outside of Atlanta and occupies a special "niche in the Atlanta ecosystem."

Long's prosperity gospel message is preached to a community where many blacks have climbed into the middle class and realized the American dream of owning a home in the suburbs. And while that message in not necessarily inconsistent with that preached by Drs. Martin Luther King Sr. and Jr. and their successors at Ebenezer Baptist Church in downtown Atlanta, it stands in contrast to Ebenezer's social justice meme. (In fact, Bernice King, the youngest daughter of Martin and Coretta Scott King, is a minister at New Birth.)


Cobb, who attended a service at New Age on Sunday, was seen scribbling notes by an usher and ended up being escorted from the church by two armed Dekalb Country sheriffs deputies.

"The crowd," writes Cobb, "roared their approval as I was taken from the building. They see themselves as besieged by nonbelievers and devilry that seeks to undo God's work. Exorcising one journalist from the room was cause for celebration.

"Yet even as I was hustled out the exit I couldn't help but think that the ghosts of unresolved questions about harm and hypocrisy would linger and haunt the Bishop for a good while to come."

Cartoon du Jour

Joel Pett/Lexington (Ky.) Herald Leader

Jacko Is Alive -- And Drives A Toyota

MORE HERE.

Beautiful Photograph du Jour

GREY DAWN
By Robert and Shana ParkeHarrison
Hat tip to Woods' Lot

Monday, September 27, 2010

Breeders Play God As The Epidemic of Golden Retriever Cancers Grow Worse

RUFFIE, LUNA AND ME, AND THE OTHER GOLDENS IN MY LIFE
It's not hard to see why golden retrievers are among the most popular breeds in the U.S. year in and year out. They're cuddly cute as puppies and beautiful as adults. They're great around kids, energetic, intelligent, intensely loyal and easy to train. In fact, they often train their owners.

But American Golden Retrievers are also ticking time bombs. An extraordinary six of every 10 Goldens succumb to cancer before living to the once typical 12- to 16-year life expectancy. The mortality rate for other dog breeds, as well as for humans, is three in 10.

While any dog that has lived beyond its normal reproductive years is at increased risk for cancer and Goldens are not alone compared to other dog breeds in this regard, anecdotal evidence suggests that an inordinate number of Goldens are dying before they reach middle age.

The outlines of the golden epidemic have been clear for over 10 years, but organizations like the Golden Retriever Club of America (GRCA), while on the one hand funding studies on and supporting research into the cancers, have done little or nothing to rein in greedy member breeders who play God in knowingly selling interbred, cancer-prone puppies to unsuspecting buyers who end up heartbroken.

Their rationale, in so many words, is that it's not their job.

The GRCA has gone so far as to recommend that owners give their Goldens a regular regimen of a drug that has been shown to inhibit cancers, which is not unlike a car manufacturer recommending that drivers wear crash helmets when using vehicles that it knows cause an inordinate number of fatal accidents.

Meanwhile, it would seem to stand to reason that if breeders only bred Goldens whose parents were long-lived, progress could be made against the epidemic.

Alas, many breeders seem to be in the business only for the money and have little interest in improving the breed. No surprise there. Purebred Golden pups can fetch upwards of $2,500 and the alternative to selling dogs with shortened life expectancies is to stop selling them. Period.

And while the canine genome has been successfully sequenced, the fine print of the
genetics of Goldens and their cancers is still not understood well enough to hold out hope for Goldens less vulnerable to cancer in the foreseeable future.

* * * * *
I know of the Golden Retriever cancer epidemic all too well. I have lived with and been acquainted with a dozen or so goldens over the years. I have midwifed their births, taken them to the vets, helped breed them and cradled them in my arms as they drew their last breaths.

It's hard to name favorites, but Ruffie (Medford Ben's Ruffles was the snooty name on her pedigree papers) would have to be at the top of my list.

Ruffie was special from the time she opened her tiny eyes. While she played with her litter mates, there was an unpuppy-like serenity about her which grew deeper as she matured. She in turn seemed to impart a Zen-like quality on her own offspring, who included Cody, the companion of a good friend, and a sweetheart by the name of Luna.

But despite careful attention to their diets, plenty of exercise, regular visits to a terrific vet and the love and devotion of their owners, Ruffie departed this world well before her time, a victim of lymphoma (cancer of the lymphatic system) at age five, while Luna died at age three, also of lymphoma. Cody, meanwhile, lived to the relatively ripe old age of 11 before succumbing to hemangiosarcoma (cancer of the blood).

While hemangiosarcoma and lymphoma are the leading killers of Goldens, the breed also is at
increased risk for osteosarcoma (cancer of the bones) and immune system diseases -- primarily allergies and hypothyroidism -- that can comprise their ability to destroy abnormal cells before they can cause cancer.

In fact, it may be that the first litter of founder dog Goldens -- a cross between a registered Tweed Water Spaniel and unregistered yellow flat-coated retriever bred in 1865 by a Scottish land baron who was seeking a superior sporting dog -- carried genes that have led to widespread immune system dysfunction in the breed.

All purebred dogs are technically interbred, but as Rhonda Hovan, an Ohio breeder and health and genetics writer puts it, Goldens may have a very similar inherited "germ line" that put them at greater risk.

"One gets cancer, another becomes hypothyroid, another gets lots of hot spots, and another has food allergies -- but the underlying genes that put them at risk for cancer and which are passed on to the next generation, may be very similar," Hovan explains.

This situation is further complicated because cancers usually don't appear until after a Golden is no longer bred but has passed on its genes to multiple puppies.

* * * * *
There is little that Golden owners can do to detect cancers in their dogs and they often are too advanced to treat when discovered, although there have been strides in treating the cancers with Palladia, the first FDA-approved cancer drug for dogs, as well as some of the same chemotherapy drugs used in humans.

Such treatments can be quite expensive, $26,000 in the instance of one owner who managed to prolong her Golden's life by only a few months, while some pet health insurance policies have cancer riders that do not cover hereditary conditions.

There are some early warning signs. These include lumps or masses on or under the skin, vomiting, diarrhea, lethargy, difficulty in breathing and changes in eating habits, but many Goldens seem fine one minute and are deathly ill or dead the next.

Hovan had a Golden who had hiked 8,000 miles by her side and died of hemangiosarcoma.

"As experienced as I am," Hovan said, "I didn't know until 12 hours before she passed away."

As with humans, lifestyle can make a difference. Studies show that dogs that are lean and fit have a lower risk of cancer, as well as other health problems, but there is no evidence that exotic diets make a difference.

Not much of a defense in the face of an unrelenting epidemic without end.

SOURCES
"Pedigree Dogs Exposed," a BBC One documentary first aired on August 19, 2008; "When Cancer Comes With a Pedigree" by Melinda Beck, The Wall Street Journal (May 4, 2010); Winning Cancer Fight: No Longer Automatic Death Verdict Thanks To Advances" by Amy Sacks, New York Daily News (November 14, 2009); "Understanding Cancer In Golden Retrievers" by Rhonda Hovan; Email interview by the author with Hovan.

Carolyn Yeager Is A Very Sick Chick

Didja know that Auschwitz was not a notorious Nazi extermination camp in Poland where more than one million people were gassed to death but rather a "reform, re-education and rehabilitation" facility where the inmates were taught trades when not occupying "luxurious [and] attractive red-brick sleeping quarters" complete with mattresses, flush toilets, porcelain-covered stoves for cozy heating, and double-paned casement windows"?

And that the paths were "tree-lined," there were flowers planted before every barracks, and the Nazis regularly showed movies to the inmates?

More here.

Behold The Killer Hood Ornament

And why Bentley is recalling them.

A Topographic Map Of The Moon

MORE HERE.

Bärbel Bohley (1945-2010)

MORE HERE.

Cartoon du Jour

Bob Gorrell/Creators Syndicate

Beautiful Photograph du Jour

MUSHROOMS
(Honest)
From World of Technology

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Science Sunday: The Lowest Common Denominator Unwisdom Of Crowds

Crowds (of people, not sheep) can be funny things. They can make you thrill and they can make you paranoid, but there is nothing stranger about the crowd dynamic than the well-established fact that they can make you feel blameless if you're doing what everyone else is doing.

Exhibit A in this regard is Nazism, which through the vehicle of the enormous crowds
that turned out to hear and cheer Hitler resulted in a moral catastrophe without equal in modern history.

"You end up doing, or at least condoning, things that you would never do solo, and that you have a hard time justifying once the crowd disperses and you are on your own again," as David Rieff notes in a thoughtful post at Big Questions Online.

"Recapturing these scruples -- at once the burden and the blessing of individual consciousness -- does not mean moving from the utter conformity of the crowd to its polar opposite, an absolute non-conformity," he continues. "To be a true non-conformist is rare, which is probably just as well, since absolute non-conformity would mean rebelling not just against some particular convention, but rather against all convention, and, by extension, all continuity with the past. Taken to this extreme, non-conformity becomes the moral equivalent of economic autarky -- self-sufficiency taken to the
point of nihilism, and few travel down that road (our modern pose of non-conformity is another matter)."

As scientists have confirmed, absolute conformity seems to be an ever-present possibility for most of us.

Rieff cites the experiments of Stanley Milgram at Yale in the 1950s which showed
that people would all too readily obey authority figures and commit acts that contravened people's deepest moral values.

But he notes that the so-called Asch Paradigm,
which is based on a series of conformity experiments conducted at Swarthmore College during the same period by social psychologist Solomon Asch, is even more troubling.

Asch gave his subjects a vision test. No one in the control group was pressured to give an incorrect answer, and only one in 35 did. But in the group where a majority of the subjects were told to give an incorrect answer, 75 percent of the participants did so. Worse
yet, Asch showed that it required only three people out of the 35 to stick to that incorrect response in order for the rest of the group to come around.

"With apologies to Nietzsche, this will to self-satisfaction is what lies at the heart of the dynamic of the crowd," Rieff concludes. "Think of the behavior of the political crowds of the present moment. It is one exercise after another in radical simplification, actively decomposing, in Haffner's apt phrase, 'all the elements of individuality and civilization.' Whether it is urban left-wing activists demonstrating to the slogan of 'No Justice, No Peace' (among its other charms, the assertion is false on its face since not all good things go together and often the choice that confronts us actually is justice or peace), or the Tea Party activists, with their tricorn hats and 'Don’t Tread on Me' flags, our political crowds are studies in lowest-common-denominator subordination of the individual to the collective and of the thought to the slogan: in short, complexity to simplicity."

Top photograph by Guy Edwardes/Taxi-Getty

Saturday, September 25, 2010

A Tsunami Of Empty Rhetoric From Lying Republicans & Cowardly Democrats

When the Republican Party rolled out its Pledge For America, a 2010 version of its Contract On . . . er, With America, this week it came as no surprise that it was chockablock with platitudes and short on the kind of specifics that might roil its base. As Paul Krugman put it: "Never mind the war on terror, the party’s main concern seems to be the war on arithmetic."

But lest anyone think that the GOP has a monopoly on not making sense, Nancy Pelosi, Harry Reid and other Democrats, who the last time I checked were members of the majority party, threw a Pity Party by announcing that the most important piece of pending legislation -- desperately needed tax cuts for what is left of the middle class -- would not be acted on until after the mid-term elections in November. Which also means that the generous tax breaks for the filthy rich of which the GOP is so enamored also will not be addressed.

As if on cue, and during the very week that the major provisions of the Obama health-care reform law kicked into gear, the Dems blamed the folks across the aisle for holding the tax cuts "hostage."

Bullspit.

After all, these are the selfsame folks who tried to hold health-care reform hostage and, according to their Pledge For America, want to repeal the law.


As Mistermix notes: "You can’t be a victim . . . if you’re in charge, unless you’re weak."

To which I add: And cowardly.
And yet another reason for Democrats to stay home on Election Day.

Cartoon du Jour

Ted Rall/Universal Press Syndicate

Mary Landrieu: Another Big Oil Poodle

It didn't take a crystal ball to predict that not long after the last tar ball from the BP oil spill disaster was vacuumed up that Louisiana politicians would revert to their old ways, which is to say continue sucking up to Big Oil. Well, the sucking up has begun.

John Boehner: Another Big Hypocrite

The word on the street is that the Senator With A Perpetual Tan has been boinking a lobbyist, which is a real hoot since it was the minority leader himself who told abstinence education advocate Representative Mark Souder of Indiana that he had to resign from Congress after having an affair with a staffer.

This Post Is Not About Sarah Palin

Lindsay Lohan obviously still thinks that she's smarter than the rest of us. She arrived at a parole-violation hearing in L.A. yesterday dressed like she didn't think she was going back to jail, but guess what?
Agence France Presse photograph

Eddie Fisher (1928-2010)


MORE HERE.
Photograph by The Associated Press

Beautiful Photograph du Jour

CURTAINS
(Siena, Italy)
By Terje Enge
Hat tip to Woods' Lot

Friday, September 24, 2010

A Mountain Tale: Why We're Going Solar

When the Dear Friend & Conscience bought the mountain retreat nearly three years ago, it had many charms: Situated between a ridgeline that is a flyway for 12 species of raptors and a 38,000-acre wildlife refuge that is home to more species than you can count, the ranch house is Plain Jane on the outside but roomy on the inside and even more so since we've knocked down a wall and installed large energy-efficient casement windows and sliders that let in the stunning views and sunlight year round while keeping out the heat and cold.

The house had another advantage as well: By my crude reckoning, the back of the roof is nearly Solar South, making the house a good candidate for an electricity-generating passive solar power system.

Timing being everything, this summer seemed to be advantageous for taking the solar plunge. Thanks to the Obama administration, the feds are offering extraordinarily generous tax rebates for homeowners who go solar. And thanks to Ed Rendell, an Obama pal and governor of Pennsylvania, the state also is offering extraordinarily generous rebates.

A guy from a well-known international firm did a solar audit on the house last month.

The house is indeed nearly Solar South, being a mere 7 percent from the ideal. His conclusion, reinforced by an old friend in Colorado who has been building solar houses since 1972, is that we can generate more than enough electricity to meet need our needs with a 28-panel photovoltaic array on the back of the roof. The array will be wired through to a converter and two-way meter in our basement utility room.

The total cost of the installation is not cheap, but solar cell prices have plummeted in recent years with increased demand and improved manufacturing techniques. The DF&C is signed up for a lease-to-buy program and after a reasonable time the system will be hers.

And there is a big bonus: The reason that the meter is two-way is that under Pennsylvania law, from Day One the local power company will be required to buy the unused electricity that is generated, meaning that their end of the meter will literally run backwards. A beautiful thing, or what?

There are a limited number of slots for Pennsylvania homeowners. If you are one and are interested in learning more, drop me an email and I'll point you in the right direction.

Cartoon du Jour

Dave Llorens

Way To Blow, England!

World's largest wind farm opens in the English Channel.
Photograph by Stephan Wemuth/Reuters

Beautiful Photograph du Jour

OAKS AND SUN
(Diablo Canyon, San Luis Obispo, California)
By Anonymous

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Enough Of The O'Donnell Sexism Crap

Having quickly run out of reasons to push back against the withering criticism of Christine "I Dabbled in Witchcraft" O'Donnell, the Tea Party wingnuts and right wingers circling their wagons around her have inevitably settled on the meme that any criticism is sexist.

As double standards go, this is a whopper of the first water since this crowd -- not coincidentally pretty much a boy's club with few distaff members -- routinely criticizes a smorgasbord of liberal male office holders and political wannabes
.

Typical of those advancing the All Opposition To O'Donnell Is Sexist line is Mary Katharine Ham, who argues with irrefutably faulty logic at weeklystandard.com that us guys in general and Republican establishmentarian Karl Rove in particular are scared of strong, anti-establishment women. (By the by, Ham is the only woman on weeklystandard.com's 10 blogger masthead.)

While some of us may indeed feel threatened by Palin-esque candidates like O'Donnell, that is not why she has incurred a spit storm of criticism since she upset Mike Castle, another Republican establishmentarian, in the Delaware primary last week.

That opposition centers on the fact that O'Donnell
just happens to be a woman who is utterly unsuitable for public office, a tax deadbeat who used campaign cash for her condo rent and personal expenses, lies and then lies about her lies like that certain former half-term Alaska governor, has morphed from being "loose" while in college to having very strict views on what even consenting adults should not do in the privacy of their bedrooms, and is virulently anti-gay (her sister is a lesbian).

End of argument.

Cartoon du Jour

Tom Toles/Universal Press Syndicate

Republican Outreach Continues Apace

As if further confirmation is needed that the Republican Party is hateful and homophobic to its core, the Atlanta office of Senator Saxby Chambliss of Georgia has confirmed that it did issue an "All faggots must die" comment.

It also confirmed that it is conducting an internal investigation -- presumably to reward the staffer who uttered this disgraceful statement.