Archive for January, 2012

Toilet Texting

January 31, 2012

This is an article I wish I hadn’t read.From Yahoo News.

We know where some of you are reading this.

A recently released survey of the mobile phone habits of Americans, going where few other surveys care to go, has found that 75 percent of the populace have used their mobile devices while on the toilet. Among those aged 28 to 35, the figure is 91 percent.

The survey of 1,000 people by the marketing agency 11mark found that private contemplation has given way to toilet-time talking, texting, shopping, using apps, or just surfing the Web, by both sexes and most ages. Among those 65 and older, however, only 47 percent have used their mobile devices on the toilet.

It gets weirder. One-quarter of Americans say they will not go to the bathroom without their devices. While 63 percent have answered calls, 41 percent have called someone else while enthroned. Sixteen percent in the 28-to-35 group, the youngest sample surveyed, have made purchases there. A mere 8 percent of the oldest group have felt such retail urgency. Understandably, given their infrequent chances at privacy, people with children are more likely to talk on the phone than are the childless. Single people are far more likely than the mated to text.

Hope you are sitting down for this: 20 percent of males have at one time joined a conference call from the toilet. Thirteen percent of American women have participated in meetings from the john. That is every fifth male co-worker, and every eighth female colleague. Be grateful that location-based tracking is not yet so prevalent. Be worried about the rise of video on mobile devices. Ignore all background noises. Really.

I’ll admit to answering my cell phone while I was in there, for important calls that is. I don’t believe I have ever initiated any calls. I generally don’t text at all.  If I ever hear certain noises while I am talking, I’m hanging up.

Erin Brockovich Invetigating Illness

January 31, 2012

The story is here on abc.com.

Environmental activist Erin Brockovich has launched her own investigation into the mysterious illness causing facial tics and verbal outbursts among 15 teenagers in Le Roy, N.Y.

Most of the teens have been diagnosed with conversion disorder — a psychological condition that causes physical symptoms like jerky tics, convulsions and even paralysis. But Brockovich suspects groundwater contamination from a chemical spill from more than 40 years ago may be behind the Tourette-like symptoms.

“They have not ruled everything out yet,” Brockovich told USA Today. “The community asked us to help, and this is what we do.”

Don Miller, whose 16-year-old daughter, Katie, still suffers from debilitating tics, said his sister contacted Brockovich for help.

“We’re just trying to eliminate everything, and she wants to eliminate that it’s the environment,” said Miller. “It’s a possibility and she wants to either prove it is or it isn’t something in the environment.”

Maybe I am getting too cynical, especially about lawyers and activists, but I have a feeling that whatever she turns up will earn her law firm a pile of money.

 

 

The Screwtape Letters

January 31, 2012

There is really not much I can add to all of the commentary on this spiritual classic by C. S. Lewis. I imagine that nearly everyone knows at least the premise, a series of letters by the experienced demon Screwtape to his nephew, Wormwood, the inexperienced tempter.  The Screwtape Letters is my personal favorite of Lewis’s books, even more so than the Chronicles of Narnia.

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Image via Wikipedia

I must confess though, that I find reading The Screwtape Letters a slightly frightening experience. I keep imagining my own tempter sitting on my shoulder, writing glowing letters about his success in guiding his “patient” to Hell.

 

Most Polarizing President

January 31, 2012

I know that Obama has been a fairly polarizing president, but ever? This article in the Washington Post argues so.

President Obama ran — and won — in 2008 on the idea of uniting the country. But each of his first three years in office has marked historic highs in political polarization, with Democrats largely approving of him and Republicans deeply disapproving.

For 2011, Obama’s third year in office, an average of 80 percent of Democrats approved of the job he was doing in Gallup tracking polls, as compared to 12 percent of Republicans who felt the same way. That’s a 68-point partisan gap, the highest for any president’s third year in office — ever. (The previous high was George W. Bush in 2007, when he had a 59 percent difference in job approval ratings.)

In 2010, the partisan gap between how Obama was viewed by Democrats versus Republicans stood at 68 percent; in 2009, it was 65 percent. Both were the highest marks ever for a president’s second and first years in office, respectively.

Here is the chart they included.

Note the chart only goes back to 1953. Before that they either had not divided approval rating by party or polling techniques were less certain. I think that this is the sort of conclusion that one develops when not considering historical perspective. I can think of a few presidents who were at least as polarizing as Obama is now. Abraham Lincoln was such a polarizing figure that half the country seceded when he was elected. Franklin Roosevelt was loved by many and just as deeply loathed by many.

I am just a little skeptical by claims that present day politics is somehow uniquely divisive. It couldn’t be worse than the 1850′s.

Cycle 25

January 30, 2012

Just when it seems that the global warming hysteria is finally dying down, we have a new catastrophe to worry about, global cooling and a possible new ice age. Or so I read in this article from the Daily Mail.

The supposed ‘consensus’ on man-made global warming is facing an inconvenient challenge after the release of new temperature data showing the planet has not warmed for the past 15 years.

The figures suggest that we could even be heading for a mini ice age to rival the 70-year temperature drop that saw frost fairs held on the Thames in the 17th Century.

Based on readings from more than 30,000 measuring stations, the data was issued last week without fanfare by the Met Office and the University of East Anglia Climatic Research Unit. It confirms that the rising trend in world temperatures ended in 1997.

Meanwhile, leading climate scientists yesterday told The Mail on Sunday that, after emitting unusually high levels of energy throughout the 20th Century, the sun is now heading towards a ‘grand minimum’ in its output, threatening cold summers, bitter winters and a shortening of the season available for growing food.

Solar output goes through 11-year cycles, with high numbers of sunspots seen at their peak.

We are now at what should be the peak of what scientists call ‘Cycle 24’ – which is why last week’s solar storm resulted in sightings of the aurora borealis further south than usual. But sunspot numbers are running at less than half those seen during cycle peaks in the 20th Century.

Analysis by experts at NASA and the University of Arizona – derived from magnetic-field measurements 120,000 miles beneath the sun’s surface – suggest that Cycle 25, whose peak is due in 2022, will be a great deal weaker still.

According to a paper issued last week by the Met Office, there is a  92 per cent chance that both Cycle 25 and those taking place in the following decades will be as weak as, or weaker than, the ‘Dalton minimum’ of 1790 to 1830. In this period, named after the meteorologist John Dalton, average temperatures in parts of Europe fell by 2C.

However, it is also possible that the new solar energy slump could be as deep as the ‘Maunder minimum’ (after astronomer Edward Maunder), between 1645 and 1715 in the coldest part of the ‘Little Ice Age’ when, as well as the Thames frost fairs, the canals of Holland froze solid.

Global cooling, with a loss of agricultural productivity, would be worse than global warming, which might be beneficial. The problem with this sort of calamity is it is natural so there is little need for carbon trading schemes or international conferences. In fact, one might suspect, though some of the researchers mentioned try their best to deny it, that nature, especially that big ball of gas 93 million miles away,  plays a far greater role in climate change than humanity could hope to have.

There is more to the article. I would like to copy these graphs. I hope they don’t mind.

I think I am going to go outside and emit some greenhouse gases.

Denying the Son

January 30, 2012

It would seem, according to this article in Yahoo News that there are some controversial translations of the Bible being produced for use in Muslim countries.

A controversy is brewing over three reputable Christian organizations, which are based in North America, whose efforts have ousted the words “Father” and “Son” from new Bibles. Wycliffe Bible Translators, Summer Institute of Linguistics (SIL) and Frontiers are under fire for “producing Bibles that remove “Father,” “Son” and “Son of God” because these terms are offensive to Muslims.”

Concerned Christian missionaries, Bible translators, pastors, and national church leaders have come together with a public petition to stop these organizations. They claim a public petition is their last recourse because meetings with these organizations’ leaders, staff resignations over this issue and criticism and appeals from native national Christians concerned about the translations “have failed to persuade these agencies to retain “Father” and “Son” in the text of all their translations.”

Biblical Missiology, a ministry of Boulder, Colorado-based Horizon International, is sponsoring the petition.

The main issues of this controversy surround new Arabic and Turkish translations. Here are three examples native speakers give:

First, Wycliffe and SIL have produced Stories of the Prophets, an Arabic Bible that uses an Arabic equivalent of “Lord” instead of “Father” and “Messiah” instead of “Son.”

Second, Frontiers and SIL have produced Meaning of the Gospel of Christ , an Arabic translation which removes “Father” in reference to God and replaces it with “Allah,” and removes or redefines “Son.” For example, the verse which Christians use to justify going all over the world to make disciples, thus fulfilling the Great Commission (Matthew 28:19) reads, “Cleanse them by water in the name of Allah, his Messiahand his Holy Spirit” instead of “baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.” Rev. Bassam Madany, an Arab American who runs Middle East Resources, terms these organization’s efforts as “a western imperialistic attempt that’s inspired by cultural anthropology, and not by biblical theology.”

Third, Frontiers and SIL have produced a new Turkish translation of the Gospel of Matthew that uses Turkish equivalents of “guardian” for “Father” and “representative” or “proxy” for “Son.” To Turkish church leader Rev. Fikret Böcek, “This translation is ‘an all-American idea‘ with absolutely no respect for the ‘sacredness’ of Scripture, or even of the growing Turkish church.”

There are always questions about the exact translations of words and to what extent Christians should adapt practices to fit various cultures, but I think this crosses a line by denying some  basic doctrines of Christianity. I think the following selections from Scripure shows them to be in the wrong.

38 If anyone is ashamed of me and my words in this adulterous and sinful generation, the Son of Man will be ashamed of them when he comes in his Father’s glory with the holy angels.” (Mark 8:38)

If they are ashamed of the words of the Gospel and are more concerned with offending Muslims then making a correct translation, then Jesus will be ashamed of them at the Judgement.

Not only that, but they are setting themselves up to be the enemies of Christ

21 I do not write to you because you do not know the truth, but because you do know it and because no lie comes from the truth. 22 Who is the liar? It is whoever denies that Jesus is the Christ. Such a person is the antichrist—denying the Father and the Son. 23 No one who denies the Son has the Father; whoever acknowledges the Son has the Father also. (1 John 2:21-23)

And of course, if they are misleading anyone who might be interested in converting, Jesus has some harsh words.

6 “If anyone causes one of these little ones—those who believe in me—to stumble, it would be better for them to have a large millstone hung around their neck and to be drowned in the depths of the sea. 7 Woe to the world because of the things that cause people to stumble! Such things must come, but woe to the person through whom they come! (Matthew 18:6-7)

He's not happy about some new translations.

A Appeal from the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee

January 30, 2012

I continue to get fund-raising e-mails from the Democrats. Here is one of the latest from last week.

President Obama just laid out his path for America. Last night, the Republican presidential candidates laid out quite another.

We can fight like mad to help the president lead our nation toward economic fairness. Or we can let Newt and Mitt seize the White House and Congress – and hand it over to the 1%.

Economic fairness? That’s a dirty word to them. Middle class families? Fend for yourselves. Mitt would pay NO TAXES under Newt’s plan. None.

Which plan will you choose: President Obama’s, or radical Republican’s? Our FEC deadline is 7 days from now, and we still need $444,000. If we fall short, President Gingrich takes the oath of office before a Republican-controlled Congress. And America’s middle class will be finished.

Decision time. Can you chip in $5 to stop a total Republican takeover?

President Obama said it best tonight: “We can either settle for a country where a shrinking number of people do really well, while a growing number of Americans barely get by. Or we can restore an economy where everyone gets a fair shot, everyone does their fair share, and everyone plays by the same set of rules.”

I’m not willing to settle. No way will I allow these fanatics to undo all Democrats have accomplished in the past three years – or the past century, for that matter. Please give what you can, and join me in the fight.

Guy Cecil
Executive Director, DSCC

I am not sure which is the more disturbing thought; that people like Guy Cecil are cynical enough to believe (probably correctly) that the majority of Americans are simple enough to fall for this sort of nonsense, or that they really believe it. Their idea of “fairness” seems to be to take from the people they think have too much and give to the people, generally their supporters, who have too little.

If Obama wants to know why a growing number of Americans are just getting by, he can look in a mirror. I also think it is a little strange that the man who hands out waivers from his policies and subsidies to green businesses while canceling the Keystone Pipeline should speajk of everybody getting a fair hot and playing by the same set of rules.

I wonder if the Republican fund raising letters are this stupid and dishonest. I imagine so, but perhaps they do not exhibit quite the level of ignorance of economics.

Here are some excerpts from an email I just recieved.


There are a lot of Americans asking the same question right now: are these Republicans kidding?

Corporations are people? The way to create jobs is to give rich people more money? Super PACs decide who gets elected?

I’m not buying it, and I don’t think you are either. But our skepticism is not enough — especially in a world where the Koch Brothers have $43 billion to throw at us. We need strong People-Powered campaigns to call out all these Tea Party Republicans, for trying to destroy the middle class in the country we all love.

I was under the impression that the Tea Parties were made up of middle class Americans. And, who else is going to create jobs but rich people. Maybe if they were able to keep more of their own money, and were not punished for getting ahead,  there would be more jobs available.

This isn’t just about hitting the DCCC’s $500,000 grassroots goal, before tomorrow night’s deadline.

This is about the 22 million people in this country who can’t find a full-time job. This is about the 50 million people in this country who can’t see a doctor when they’re sick. This is about the 47 million people in this country who need government help to feed themselves (and no, Newt, the answer isn’t to demonize them).

The Republicans sure won’t help the jobless, the homeless, the sick, the poor and the hungry. So that job falls to us. We need champions in Congress who will fight for the middle class, and everyone aspiring to get there.

Suggesting that government policies encourage people to be able to take care of themselves rather than encouraging lifelong dependence on the government is not really demonizing them. I suppose it all depends on just how you define help and whether you want the American people to be free and independent or government serfs depending on handouts from their lord and masters.

By the way, whose fault is it if so many people can’t find a full time job? Who has been in the White since 2009? Who had control of both houses of Congress from 2007 until 2011, and who still has control of the Senate?

Is America in Decline?

January 28, 2012
Bust of Emperor Augustus wearing the Corona Ci...

Our Future?

No says Daniel W. Drezner in Foreign Policy and Robert Kagan at The New Republic. Both articles are well worth reading. I am inclined to agree with both these men. We do have many problems, but Americans have always been adept at overcoming crises and the fundamentals of the American economy are still very strong. America is the leading power in the world, without any real competitors and seems likely to continue in that role for some time to come. I am not afraid that America will cease to be a superpower, or that some other nation will surpass us. My fears for my country are quite different.

If I were to explain it in terms of Roman history, (which I really shouldn’t since modern America and ancient Rome are very different nations and societies, still), I would say that I do not believe we are living around 400 AD, with the barbarians crossing the border and preparing to sack Rome. Rather, I would say that we are around 130 BC. This was the beginning of a long period of political unrest and civil war that ultimately destroyed the Roman Republic and established the autocracy we know as the Roman Empire.

The causes and events associated with the breakdown of the Republic are rather complicated and I won’t relate them here. The one development that is worth mentioning, however, is that about this time Roman politicians ceased to follow the rules. More and more they began to operate outside the unwritten Roman constitution, even to the point of building their own armies. More and more, the ruling elite of Rome was less interested in the good of the nation and more concerned with maintaining their own wealth and power.

At that time Rome was master of all the lands on the Mediterranean. Although the empire had not yet reached its furthest extent, Rome was a superpower with no competitor.Unfortunately, the Roman rise to power had destroyed the small farmers who had been the backbone of the Republic. The longer wars meant that they had to neglect their lands and many went into debt and lost their land. Beginning with the Gracchus brothers, many politicians tried to enact policies to help the poor, either because they were sincerely  interested in helping them, or they hoped to use them to gain power. The Senate refused to consider any real reforms, so the populist leaders began to work around them, sometimes in ways that were unconstitutional. In response, the elite began to use unconstitutional means, including murder, to maintain their power. Eventually the Republic was wracked by civil war until Augustus Caesar took power and became the first Emperor.

Rome was still a Republic, in theory. They still had elections and Augustus pretended to pay attention to the Senate, but he ruled over everything and everyone knew it. By that time, however, the Romans didn’t mind losing their freedom. They were just happy the wars were over

I think you see where I am going with this. The thing that causes me the most anxiety is the increasing lawlessness of our political elite. When we have a President who simply ignores the constitution or a Speaker of the House who simply laughs at the idea that the Constitution might not allow something like Obamacare, I begin to sense we are on the same trajectory ancient Rome was on. It seems to me that our leaders are no longer willing to follow the rules.

It may be, decades from now, or sooner that America will be ruled by a Caesar. We will still have elections. Congress will still meet and pretend to pass legislation. But everything will be under the control of Caesar and everyone will know it. America will probably still be a superpower a century from now. I am not sure it will still be the kind of country I would want to live in.

Mitt or Newt?

January 26, 2012

Here is a cartoon in USA Today that neatly illustrates the dilemma I feel about the two frontrunners for the Republican nomination.

I feel like a woman who must choose between two lovers. Mitt is the nice, dependable boyfriend. He seem to be the steadier, safer of the two. Newt is the bad boy. He is more exciting, but maybe more dangerous.  I should prefer the safer choice. But, I keep having the nagging feeling that these are not the times for safety.

Meanwhile, Ann Coulter has been spending the last few columns promoting Romney. She clearly has no use for Newt Gingrich. She makes a good case but the truth is that neither man is clearly superior in terms of Conservative credentials or even, I think, electability. Coulter is right in noting that Gingrich is far more the Washington insider than Romney, but that isn’t really the point. Romney is the clear favorite of the Republican establishment, whoever that might be exactly, simply because they feel he is more electable. They may well be correct, but they really haven’t had a stellar record in picking winners in the past.

Coulter concludes her column with this observation.

Romney is the most electable candidate not only because it will be nearly impossible for the media to demonize this self-made Mormon square, devoted to his wife and church, but precisely because he is the most conservative candidate.

No, it won’t be impossible for the media to demonize this Mormon. The Mormons have a number of beliefs and practices that to non-Mormons seem weird or even cultish. There are certain aspects of the history of the LDS church that are not very positive. Something like that could perhaps be said of any religion, which is why decent people today do not mock other peoples’ religions. The liberals in the media feel no such decency. The only religion they are reluctant to criticize is Islam and that is out of cowardice. They have never forgiven the Mormon church for supporting Proposition 8 in Califoria This is, of course, no reason not to vote for Romney, but if he ends up being the nominee, we had better be prepared for media exposes of the Mormons and late night comedians making jokes about magic underwear.

Also, for a look for what might have been, check out Mitch Daniel’s response to Obama’s State of the Union address.

 

I wish he had chosen to run.

 

Abortion Safer Than Giving Birth

January 23, 2012

So says a study mentioned in this article from Reuters.

Getting a legal abortion is much safer than giving birth, suggests a new U.S. study published Monday.

Researchers found that women were about 14 times more likely to die during or after giving birth to a live baby than to die from complications of an abortion.

Experts say the findings, though not unexpected, contradict some state laws that suggest abortions are high-risk procedures.

It’s not safe for the baby.

 


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