Monday, October 31, 2011

Some Scary Numbers

On a celebratory, albeit symbolic,  note, Happy Birthday to the 7 billionth human on the planet.  The Los Angeles Times reports,

It took only a dozen years for humanity to add another billion people to the planet, reaching the milestone of 7 billion Monday — give or take a few months.
Demographers at the United Nations Population Division set Oct. 31, 2011, as the "symbolic" date for hitting 7 billion, while acknowledging that it's impossible to know for sure the specific time or day. Using slightly different calculations, the U.S. Census Bureau estimates the 7-billion threshold will not be reached until March.
Under any methodology, demographers agree that humanity remains on a steep growth curve, which is likely to keep climbing through the rest of this century. The U.N.'s best estimate is that population will march past 9.3 billion by 2050 and exceed 10.1 billion by the end of the century. It could be far more, if birthrates do not continue to drop as they have in the last half-century.
Nearly all the projected growth this century is expected to occur in developing countries in Asia, Africa and Latin America, while the combined populations in Europe, North America and other wealthy industrialized nations will remain relatively flat. Some countries, such as Germany, Russia and Japan, are poised to edge downward, their loss made up mostly by ongoing growth in the United States, which is bolstered by waves of immigrants.
On a scary note, I honestly don't know if the planet can sustain a human population with these numbers.  I would guess in the next few years, the Halloween costume of necessity will be a poor, starving, and homeless child.

Sunday, October 30, 2011

Religion And Politics And Baseball

Religion and politics top the two things people are to avoid discussing in public.  As social beings, humans have filled that void by discussing movies, sports, and the weather.  Now movies and sports may no longer be safe topics.

Apparently, movie zombies are a new form of both popular philosophy and religion.
We tell monster stories because we’re afraid of what we are and what we could become. Werewolf stories are inevitably about what happens when a man loses the battle to control his “natural” urges. Vampire stories (at least traditional ones) are about selfish beings who steal blood to prolong their lives, the precise opposite of Christ, who gave his blood willingly to provide the chance of eternal life for others. Zombies are all about a perverted resurrection… an eternal life that isn’t worth living, because it’s a type of continual death.
Baseball has long been considered a religion.  In the movie Bull Durham, Annie Savoy, played by Susan Sarandon, articulated her view
I believe in the Church of Baseball. I've tried all the major religions, and most of the minor ones. I've worshipped Buddha, Allah, Brahma, Vishnu, Siva, trees, mushrooms, and Isadora Duncan. I know things. For instance, there are 108 beads in a Catholic rosary and there are 108 stitches in a baseball. When I heard that, I gave Jesus a chance. But it just didn't work out between us. The Lord laid too much guilt on me. I prefer metaphysics to theology. You see, there's no guilt in baseball, and it's never boring... which makes it like sex. There's never been a ballplayer slept with me who didn't have the best year of his career. Making love is like hitting a baseball: you just gotta relax and concentrate. Besides, I'd never sleep with a player hitting under .250... not unless he had a lot of RBIs and was a great glove man up the middle. You see, there's a certain amount of life wisdom I give these boys. I can expand their minds. Sometimes when I've got a ballplayer alone, I'll just read Emily Dickinson or Walt Whitman to him, and the guys are so sweet, they always stay and listen. 'Course, a guy'll listen to anything if he thinks it's foreplay. I make them feel confident, and they make me feel safe, and pretty. 'Course, what I give them lasts a lifetime; what they give me lasts 142 games. Sometimes it seems like a bad trade. But bad trades are part of baseball - now who can forget Frank Robinson for Milt Pappas, for God's sake? It's a long season and you gotta trust it. I've tried 'em all, I really have, and the only church that truly feeds the soul, day in, day out, is the Church of Baseball.
Baseball's most famous religious curse may have been the "Curse of the Bambino" that prevented the Red Sox from winning the World Series for 86 years.

Politics is a religion with its own curses.  Some contend that a George W. Bush curse will hamper Rick Perry's efforts to win the presidency: does America really want another former Texas governor in the White House?

I'm wondering if that political curse hasn't crossed religious lines from politics to baseball.  Bush formerly owned the Texas Rangers.  The Rangers have lost both the 2010 and 2011 World Series matchups.  This past week saw an improbable comeback in the 11th inning and a rain out that allowed St. Louis Cardinals ace Chris Carpenter to gain the extra day to short Game 7 on the minimum 3 days rest.

Given the doctrines of the Church of Baseball, these facts make it look more like a curse than a coincidence.

Saturday, October 29, 2011

Whither Rural Wealth?

The Front Porch Republic links to  this Daily Yonder post about a southern Ohio effort to move from logging to value added and eco-friendly wood production.  As a creature of the Plains, I know little about logging and forests, so I won't comment about the particulars.  These paragraphs from early in the article seem spot on.
It’s pretty clear that old approaches to rural development (like issuing tax breaks to attract factories) don’t work all that well – but what else is there?
A lot of folks all over the country have been working on that question, and a group involved with the Ford Foundation has been trying to pull it all together and explain emerging practices as a single process. This group of Ford folks didn’t invent something new. They have tried to explain an approach to development and to create a system for how communities can better themselves and their economies.
We can call it a “wealth creation approach” to development.
Instead of trying to “attract” jobs over which rural communities have little control, this approach is about creating durable livelihoods by developing the assets that rural places do control. That includes natural assets like forests, farms, and wind rights as well as workers’ skills, social networks, and innovation. When rural communities develop these assets in response to market demand, when they connect with urban areas in ways that benefit both places, and when they focus on creating multiple kinds of wealth – that’s when they begin to create wealth and livelihoods that benefit rural places over the long haul.
It does strike me that South Dakota's political leadership hasn't gotten the memo that attracting factories may not be the best way to build "durable livelihoods."  Further, I can't remember the last time I heard any South Dakota Political leaders discussing "developing natural assets like forests, farms, and wind rights as well as workers’ skills, social networks, and innovation."  I guess they don't remember Joni Mitchell's warning in "Big Yellow Taxi."


 They must have missed the irony in the pop nature of this Counting Crows cover too.

Friday, October 28, 2011

The NYT Covers Shakespeare

A tempest from the academic teapots spills over into the larger popular culture with the movie Anonymous which brings forth a conspiracy theory that Shakespeare did not write the plays attributed to him.  The New York Times has three recent articles.  My favorite paragraphs predict my future.
Professors of Shakespeare — and I was one once upon a time — are blissfully unaware of the impending disaster that this film means for their professional lives. Thanks to “Anonymous,” undergraduates will be confidently asserting that Shakespeare wasn’t Shakespeare for the next 10 years at least, and profs will have to waste countless hours explaining the obvious. “Anonymous” subscribes to the Oxfordian theory of authorship, the contention that Edward de Vere, the 17th earl of Oxford, wrote Shakespeare’s plays. Among Shakespeare scholars, the idea has roughly the same currency as the faked moon landing does among astronauts.
Some high school students think both versions of Clash of the Titans accurately reflect Greek mythology, so I am really looking forward to dealing with a movie that purports to show facts.

I hope it's as bad as the reviews claim.  I also hope I can teach my students to write with the following verve and parallelism.
“Anonymous,” a costume spectacle directed by Roland Emmerich, from a script by John Orloff, is a vulgar prank on the English literary tradition, a travesty of British history and a brutal insult to the human imagination. Apart from that, it’s not bad.
Wry sarcasm never hurt anyone either.
First things first. The film’s premise is that the plays and poems commonly attributed to William Shakespeare are actually the work of Edward de Vere, 17th Earl of Oxford. This notion, sometimes granted the unwarranted dignity of being called a theory, is hardly new. It represents a hoary form of literary birtherism that has persisted for a century or so, in happy defiance of reason and evidence. The arrival of “Anonymous” has roused Shakespeareans more learned than I to the weary task of re-debunking — in the past two weeks The New York Times has published both an Op-Ed piece and a Sunday magazine Riff opposing the Oxfordian position — and to their cogent arguments I can offer only a small corrective. This is a Roland Emmerich film. (At least I assume it is, though I guess, in the spirit of the enterprise, I should be open to other possibilities. Joe Swanberg? Brett Ratner? Zhang Yimou? It all seems eerily plausible, once you start to think about it.)

Thursday, October 27, 2011

A Humorous Look At Belief System

I have previously linked to this Chris Mooney article that explained that many people refuse to accept facts that don't square with their preconceived notions.  A shorter version of the article is here.

Jon Stewart points to another reason that belief systems remain entrenched:  no one reports new facts when other more important news like the McRib dominates the news cycle.  Of course if the news embarrasses the Koch brothers, that might be another reason to bury it.

                       
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Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Something Said Better By Someone Else: Teacher Antipathy Edition

I've been meaning to cut and paste this John Spencer analysis for about a month.  Outside of the fact that South Dakota doesn't have a political left, I think his analysis about the public attitudes toward teachers is spot on for here.
1. Teachers are over-worked. For all the vacation time we are supposed to have, many teachers work additional jobs to make ends meet.  They don't necessarily have the time to fight the political and economic systems that are at work against the profession.
2. Teachers will take as many left hooks as you can offer.  After all, schools are dens of indoctrination and the only solution is educational anarchy.
3. Teachers will also take punches from the right. After all, teachers ask students to think critically about American history, explain descent with modification, teach sex ed and encourage tolerance.
4. It's easy to confuse the system with the people who work hard to change it.  For example, on The Innovative Educator, guest writers have called teachers slave-drivers, prison guards, child-abusers and thieves.  Teachers make a great punching bag here, because the system is made of concrete and steel and who wants to punch industrialization anyway?
5. Teachers are notoriously nice and typically don't punch back.  While this panders to stereotypes, there are many within early childhood education that are kind and gentle spirits.  I've watched my son's teachers have more patience with him (and with all the students) than I do.  There's nothing wrong with being nice, but I'm beginning to see even the gentlest kindergarten teachers put on their gloves and punch back.
6. Teachers aren't part of the top one percent who control the vast majority of the wealth in our country.    If Bill Gates makes it a priority to use teachers as punching bags and promote Kahn-style Light-Bright solutions in math, the media will report it as a solution.  If Punch-a-Teacher is a carnival game, Gates can not only buy as many tickets as he wants; he can buy the entire carnival.
7. Like most punching bags, we're resilient.  Teachers tend to love their jobs and continue to serve out of social rather than economic norms.  Punch them and they come right back and serve, tirelessly and with a sense of gratitude.  There is a cost, though, in being so beat-down.  Teachers are worn-out and a collective cultural thank you would go a long way.
8.  Most people have a former teacher they would love to punch.  Therefore, it's way too easy to normalize the few bad cases by reframe social perceptions.  Unlike other heroic professions (fire fighters, for example), most people in society have experience with teachers.  As students, they saw the imperfect humanity and experienced a few really bad teachers.  By reframing the debate into anecdotal stories, people can focus on the bad teachers they have and conclude that teachers suck.
9. The union sucks.  There, I said it.  The NEA offers their endorsement like an over-eager suitor who is seeking an abusive relationship.  Instead of protecting teachers from the punches, they've paid politicians to take a shot at everything teachers hold sacred.  "Hey Arne, here's some cash.  Go ahead and support the full-scale firing of all teachers in one school.  Oh and blame us.  Complain about how hard it is to hire teachers.  We'll just give you more money."  I dropped my union membership the minute that they supported Obama.  Were they choosing the lesser of two evils?  Perhaps.  But why are we choosing evil in the first place?
10. People are hurting and they need to punch back.  It feels like the teachers didn't take as huge a hit in the bad economy.  The truth is that many lost their jobs and faced salary freezes.  But, ah, they have pensions.  Those bastards! It doesn't matter that we pay ten percent of our check into state pension.  It doesn't matter that when the economy was booming, no one complained that we weren't "bearing the economic burden" of a bull economy.  It doesn't matter that we are still one of the lowest paying professions for the level of education we earn.  None of that matters, because we have a pension.  And when boomers have lost so much of their own 401k's, a teacher is a far less threatening punching bag than a transnational bank.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Quotation of the Decade: Liberty Edition

From this Shahid Buttar op-ed
Oct. 26 marks the 10th anniversary of the USA Patriot Act, the first among many bipartisan government assaults on the Bill of Rights over the past decade. It is a time to mourn our lost freedoms.

Our constitutional rights have dramatically eroded, turning the “land of the free” into the “land of the easily intimidated.”

We have traded liberty for a false impression of security, and we will regret it.
Amen.

Steve Jobs On Schools

Kevin Drum points to a piece of Steve Jobs's education policy that Walter Isaacson relates in his new Jobs biography:
Jobs also criticized America's education system, saying it was "crippled by union work rules," noted Isaacson. "Until the teachers' unions were broken, there was almost no hope for education reform." Jobs proposed allowing principals to hire and fire teachers based on merit, that schools stay open until 6 p.m. and that they be open 11 months a year. [Emphasis in original]
I have always been torn by Jobs's comments about education.  His 2005 graduation address at Stanford is a prime example.  Jobs said the following:
Reed College at that time offered perhaps the best calligraphy instruction in the country. Throughout the campus every poster, every label on every drawer, was beautifully hand calligraphed. Because I had dropped out and didn't have to take the normal classes, I decided to take a calligraphy class to learn how to do this. I learned about serif and san serif typefaces, about varying the amount of space between different letter combinations, about what makes great typography great. It was beautiful, historical, artistically subtle in a way that science can't capture, and I found it fascinating.
None of this had even a hope of any practical application in my life. But ten years later, when we were designing the first Macintosh computer, it all came back to me. And we designed it all into the Mac. It was the first computer with beautiful typography. If I had never dropped in on that single course in college, the Mac would have never had multiple typefaces or proportionally spaced fonts. And since Windows just copied the Mac, it's likely that no personal computer would have them. If I had never dropped out, I would have never dropped in on this calligraphy class, and personal computers might not have the wonderful typography that they do. Of course it was impossible to connect the dots looking forward when I was in college. But it was very, very clear looking backwards ten years later.
Again, you can't connect the dots looking forward; you can only connect them looking backwards. So you have to trust that the dots will somehow connect in your future. You have to trust in something — your gut, destiny, life, karma, whatever. This approach has never let me down, and it has made all the difference in my life.
I appreciate the idea that one should be curious, be able to make connections between unrelated disciplines, and attempt to connect the dots.  I dislike the idea that dropping out of college is the best way to make those connections.

The points Isaacson reports that Jobs add to my ambivalence.  I don't really dispute the fact that the school year should be longer.  I was at school at 7:40 this morning and didn't leave until 5:45.  I would hope that schools could get away from the 23 minute lunch break if they stay in session until 6 pm. I also believe that a six week session followed by a week or ten day break would be better than the current system.  My system would have school in session for about 10 months.

On the other hand, I still don't see how or why firing teachers is the solution to every problem facing education.  I guess that's because I'm not a billionaire.

Quotation Of The Day: Newt's Epiphany Edition

From this National Review post: Newt Gingrich evaluates Herman Cain and concludes,
 And I think one of the Republican weaknesses has been that we rely too much on consultants and too much on talking points. And we don’t rely enough on actually knowing things. If you’re going to lead the country and change history, you had better know a heck of a lot before you start, because there’s not much time for learning on the job.
I'm pretty sure this statement means means Newt won't get Sarah Palin's endorsement.

Monday, October 24, 2011

Why Does Anyone Take Herman Cain Seriously?

Michelle Cottle does her homework and writes a book report about Herman Cain's autobiography.  She dutifully reports,

In Chapter Nine of This Is Herman Cain—entitled “‘Forty-Five’—A Special Number,” Cain notes that his “conception, gestation, and birth all occurred within” the year 1945 (true of pretty much anyone born in the last three months of that year). He then launches into a detailed account of how “45 keeps on popping up as I go about the business of being elected—you guessed it—as the forty-fifth president of the United States of America.”
Meaningful signposts include events both past (in 1945, Reader’s Digest published a version of Friedrich von Hayek’s The Road to Serfdom, which Cain ran across last year and loved) and future (in 2013, the year the 45th president will take office, Cain and his wife will celebrate their 45th wedding anniversary.)
In some cases the digits 4 and 5 are only part of a figure, like the times when one of Cain’s weekly commentaries ran to 645 words or when the final leg of a campaign trip took place on Flight 1045 traveling at 45,000 feet. At times the 45 in question is only tangentially related to Cain, as when he cites a Las Vegas campaign event where he met a couple celebrating their 45th anniversary. And in one case, the key moment ultimately doesn’t have anything to do with 45 at all: at an early strategy meeting, Cain and two aides believed they were seated at table 45 in a restaurant, only to be told that there were only 43 tables total. Regardless, it all adds up to something big for Cain.
This information raises an obvious question.  If one loves the number 45 as much as Cain does, shouldn't his tax plan have been 9-9-9-9-9?

Cottle adds another question:  why is Cain getting a free pass for this weird obsession?
Remember how much criticism Rick Perry took for suggesting God had called him to run? The ridicule Michele Bachmann has endured for her religious views? Just imagine the abuse that would have been heaped on any other member of the GOP field who spent an entire chapter of his or her campaign book rhapsodizing about the mysterious power of the number 45. If Perry had written that, you can bet Team Romney would be paying people to show up at Rick’s rallies dressed like fortune tellers and waving Magic 8-Balls.
I'll add one more serious question: why does anyone take this man's candidacy seriously?

I suppose my response to this story means I'm bigoted against numerologists. That charge is probably true;  I will also plead guilty to believing that I would be willing to vote for Roman Catholic, Orthodox, mainstream Protestant, evangelical, fundamentalist, or charismatic Christians or any combination of the above. I'd also be willing to vote for Jews, atheists, Muslims, Buddhists, Hindus, and New Age Neo-Pagans, whatever the heck they are.  At least, there's rationale and logic behind each of these systems.  I won't have to worry about someone making a policy decision because the numbers 4 and 5 appeared in a document.

While I'm on this little rant, I'll close with one final question:  how does the number 45 square with the Biblical Christianity Cain purports to believe?

Monday Morning Essay Questions

Please write in complete sentences and use concrete examples to support your answers.

1.  Which statement is more true? People's politics inform their religous beliefs or People's religous beliefs inform their politics.

2.  Why did capital so decisively win in the labor vs capital debate in the United States?  Why did other parts of the world have a more balanced outcome?

3.  Who cares how many angels want to dance on the head of pin?  Why would angels want to dance on the head of the pin anyway?  Bonus question for Baptists:  If angels dance is it still a sin?

I must have spent too much time writing quizzes this weekend.

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Sunday Afternoon Lesson Planning And Musing

Andrew Taggart wants to return education to the Renaissance.  I agree with him.  Taggart writes,
This is one place where public philosophy as a form of public education can and should stake its claim. The Latin word educare retains the agrarian sense of “rearing,” “bringing up,” and “leading forth.” One task of public philosophy, I submit, could be to lead us in a certain direction without pandering, bullying, or nannying. “Leading forth” is neither hand-holding nor forcing your hand. It’s not florid rhetoric or hard-nosed criticism, both of which are concerned with getting us to admit the flaws in our arguments, to make up our minds regarding our deepest commitments, or to change our positions about public affairs. Instead, public philosophy as educare urges us to follow a certain line of thought, to strike out on a path and see where it takes us. From there and throughout, we would ask, “Does this bring us greater clarity about ourselves and our world?”
Assuming that this is a worthwhile endeavor (and I think it is), I’m not entirely sure how to go about it. One essay in educare could be to reinvigorate the commonplace book tradition—to reintroduce it with a twist. Commonplace books, popular from the Renaissance up through the seventeenth century, were scrapbooks of maxims, drawings, lists, inspirational quotations, and marginal notes. By design, they were meant to be hodgepodge: a recipe here, a line from Horace there. In this serendipity there was exquisite beauty. However, insofar as they were unsorted collections of curiosities and wonderments, they didn’t seek to develop the collector’s mind in any one direction. And, my God, how many collages, mélanges, bric-a-bracs, shards, and fragments are lying about us today?
I wonder whether we could retain something of the magic and surprise of the commonplace book but also order the bits and pieces so that they appear as if they were making an argument, giving us a better, more holistic way of seeing things, or leading us down a path toward higher understanding? I wonder whether the parts can be gathered together into a synthetic whole
First, I love the idea that education's goal should be "leading forth" without "pandering," " bullying," "nannying," "hand-holding," or forcing others' hands.


I also like the idea of a directed common place book.  I've used a quotation book as an assignment in the past; Taggart's post may lead me to resurrect and modify it.  I had students write down quotations from the reading and react to them. The quality of those reactions varied greatly.

Using Taggart's principle of gather parts into a "synthetic whole," I'm considering having them pull quotations from the literature we're reading and try to find connections from the "real world"news stores.  I'll also have them add items from other academic disciplines.


All of us live in an increasingly disconnected world, and learning to make connections may be one of the most important things schools lead students forth to do.

Sunday Morning Drop Quiz

Via Andrew Sullivan, an important question:  How much has to be true?  The original question came from this post.  A thoughtful response is here; the following Bible fact or fiction quiz comes from here.
Maybe we could break Brian's question down into some representative 'True or False' bite-size chunks.

  • Adam and Eve were literally the progenitors of humanity.
  • Satan is a fallen archangel in rebellion against God.
  • There was a worldwide flood that wiped all life off the face of the earth in the time of Noah.
  • God made the sun stand still so Joshua could wipe out his enemies thoroughly.
  • God commanded bloody genocide against the Canaanites in the Old Testament.
  • Daniel knew what was going to happen hundreds of years into the future.
  • Key events in Jesus' life were accurately predicted in Isaiah, Psalms etc.
  • Mary was a virgin when she fell pregnant.
  • Jesus turned water into wine.
  • Jesus rose from the dead in bodily form three days after the crucifixion.

Score ten for each which you feel are true (i.e. definitely historical), five for those you think might be historical but equally might not, and zero for those you think are patently false (i.e. pious inventions).
If you score 85-100, do you consider yourself a fundamentalist? If not, why not?
If you score 0, do you necessarily consider yourself a non-Christian? If not, why not?
When I teach mythology, I tell the young'uns that there's a difference between fact and truth.  The myths that we read may or may not be factual, but the stories may contain truths about the human condition or human nature.  Nearly all of he hero myths, for example, illustrate that pride goes before destruction and a haughty spirit before a fall, a principle that seems true.

Looking at these 10 questions, the only one that HAS to be factual in order for Christianity to be true is the resurrection.  The rest can be metaphorically true without being factual and the central tenants will still hold.

Tangential Update (10/23/11, 11:05 am):  BW Schwartz at The Great Plains Observer provides an interesting summation of the world's religions.

Saturday, October 22, 2011

A Vocab Lesson For South Dakota's Republican Party

I tell my students that words and ideas matter.  One should use words precisely to convey ideas clearly.  (I'm a bit less demanding about spelling and neat handwriting.)

South Dakota's Republican Party apparently disagrees with me.  According to a South Dakota GOP press release, Tim Johnson staffer and possible House of Representatives candidate Matt Varilek broke rules, laws, and protocol when he spoke in Mitchell recently.  The party claims that Varilek "delivered vitriolic campaign-style personal attacks against Rep. Kristi Noem." (emphasis mine)

To be "vitriolic" is to express "extreme bitterness and hatred toward somebody or something, or an expression of this feeling in speech or writing."

According to The Mitchell Daily Republic's coverage of the speech,
Varilek said he was struck by Noem’s words when he attended a speech she gave recently in which she said politics are too polarized.
“Well, I couldn’t agree more,” he said. “But that’s kind of like Goliath calling David the bully.”
The phrase "kind of like Goliath calling David a bully" is not vitriol.  It's an allusion, a brief reference to a literary work, mythological character or event, biblical person or event, or a historical person or event.  In addition to committing an allusion without a license, Varilek may be guilty of wry understatement, an ironic remark designed to convey meaning indirectly.  The phrasing certainly is not caustic, bitter, biting, or hateful.

The article reports that Varilek claims that Noem
has supported continuing subsidies for big oil and gas in Congress and he wonders why, since there are no such businesses in South Dakota and the country is in need of tax revenue.


Varilek said a close look at Noem’s campaign finance reports shows she has received thousands of dollars from Exxon, Chevron, Halliburton and other oil and gas companies.


“All of a sudden that vote doesn’t look so mysterious anymore,” he said.
Accusing someone of pandering to campaign supporters now counts as vitriol?  I also thought  such accusations were standard operating procedure.  I believe that people flipping off the President of the United States is vitriolic; accusing him of pandering to Wall Street contributors is probably accurate.  It definitely is not vitriolic.

Maybe the South Dakota Republicans are angry about what he said about the debt ceiling debacle.
Varilek said he was dismayed when Noem sided with House Republicans who threatened to shut down the government this summer. That would have caused severe economic hardships, he said, and he was surprised she adopted that stance.


“It just made so sense at all,” Varilek said. “And I think that’s reckless.”
Most adults thought the debt ceiling debacle was reckless.

Perhaps, Varilek's remarks were ill-timed; they may have been inappropriate. after all the state has only three congressional staffs; they should play nice with each other, and these comments may have angered some of Noem's or Thune's staff.

Even with that concession, I would like to introduce the SDGOP to a new word: "hyperbolic," enlarged beyond truth or reasonableness. Claiming that Varilek's statements are "vitriolic" stretches the meaning of the word beyond any reasonableness." In this instance hyperbole is more dangerous than the alleged vitriol because this hyperbole robs "vitriolic" of its meaning and impact.

Conspiracy Theories: Philosophy Without A License Edition

In the Madville Times comments to this post, I took a little jab at Steve Sibson and said "I promise not to mention Masons or the New World Order"  Steve graciously responded, "Once you open up your analysis (which I believe is already very good), you will understand that there is little worldview differences between the Bushes, Clinton, or Obama."

I appreciate the compliment.  I won't even argue that differences separating the worldviews of the past three Presidents are far less dramatic than Fox News and MSNBC make them out to be.  I believe that fraternity brothers from elite schools hire each other, and Wall Street, K Street, the Oval Office, and Capitol Hill share relationships that are unseemly at best and more incestuous than we South Dakotans know.

Still, I can't buy that there are secret orders trying to run the world from the basement of the Skull and Bones frat house.

Ben Franklin enunciated the clearest principle that informs my thinking: "Three may keep a secret if two of them are dead."  I find it difficult to believe that every Mason throughout the centuries or every Tri-Lateral Commission member of the last century went to their graves without letting slip the secret that they made some historic event occur. .

Further, even if I accept that Franklin underestimated humans' ability to keep secrets, then Steve and other conspiracy theorists are underestimating the power these secret cabals have; these societies apparently have altered human nature.  There are Jews who don't keep the Sabbath, and Christians who don't love their neighbors.  I bet some masochistic Buddhists exist somewhere.  These people all risk eternal punishment or the loss of eternal reward; if there's a greater threat, I don't know what it is.

Surely some Mason would have slipped up somewhere and explained everything.  If I can use a literary example, Jabez Wilson in Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's "The Red Headed League" wears his Mason pin in public.  If Doyle is going to use a Mason indiscretion as a plot detail, these indiscretions must be common.

Finally, I have to agree with the world view Raymond Chandler outlined in "The Simple Art of Murder."  We live in a

. . . world in which gangsters can rule nations and almost rule cities, in which hotels and apartment houses and celebrated restaurants are owned by men who made their money out of brothels, in which a screen star can be the fingerman for a mob, and the nice man down the hall is a boss of the numbers racket; a world where a judge with a cellar full of bootleg liquor can send a man to jail for having a pint in his pocket, where the mayor of your town may have condoned murder as an instrument of moneymaking, where no man can walk down a dark street in safety because law and order are things we talk about but refrain from practising; a world where you may witness a hold-up in broad daylight and see who did it, but you will fade quickly back into the crowd rather than tell anyone, because the hold-up men may have friends with long guns, or the police may not like your testimony, and in any case the shyster for the defense will be allowed to abuse and vilify you in open court, before a jury of selected morons, without any but the most perfunctory interference from a political judge.
It is not a very fragrant world, but it is the world you live in, and certain writers with tough minds and a cool spirit of detachment can make very interesting and even amusing patterns out of it. It is not funny that a man should be killed, but it is sometimes funny that he should be killed for so little, and that his death should be the coin of what we call civilization

In everything that can be called art there is a quality of redemption. It may be pure tragedy, if it is high tragedy, and it may be pity and irony, and it may be the raucous laughter of the strong man. But down these mean streets a man must go who is not himself mean, who is neither tarnished nor afraid. The detective in this kind of story must be such a man. He is the hero, he is everything. He must be a complete man and a common man and yet an unusual man. He must be, to use a rather weathered phrase, a man of honor, by instinct, by inevitability, without thought of it, and certainly without saying it. He must be the best man in his world and a good enough man for any world. . . .  He is a common man or he could not go among common people. He has a sense of character, or he would not know his job. He will take no man’s money dishonestly and no man’s insolence without a due and dispassionate revenge. He is a lonely man and his pride is that you will treat him as a proud man or be very sorry you ever saw him. He talks as the man of his age talks, that is, with rude wit, a lively sense of the grotesque, a disgust for sham, and a contempt for pettiness. The story is his adventure in search of a hidden truth, and it would be no adventure if it did not happen to a man fit for adventure. He has a range of awareness that startles you, but it belongs to him by right, because it belongs to the world he lives in.
I know people who are the best in their world and good enough for any world.  If there were a grand conspiracy, these people would not be allowed to walk the mean streets.  The Davids would never beat the Goliaths because that story provides hope, and hope is something that frightened the Greek gods and would frighten anyone trying to control the world.  I refuse to believe that Masons or the New World Order exist because I believe there are enough people "with rude wit, a lively sense of the grotesque, a disgust for sham, and a contempt for pettiness. . . . [and] a range of awareness that startles you, but it belongs to [them] by right."  There are enough of them to provide temporal redemption from any secret society.
At first glance, these paragraphs may support the conspiracy theorists' views, but a careful reading shows a lot of individual corruption that defies logic and organization.  Also, Chandler's conclusion seems to preclude the success of a powerful conspiracy:

Friday, October 21, 2011

A Musing About Being Politically Displaced

I'm anticipating leaving my ballot for President blank next November.  It's early and I may change my mind, or I may scribble Paul Kucinich on the ballot, but right now I am both displaced and disillusioned.

Andrew Sullivan swoons over Obama's record here and here before concluding
To rid the world of Osama bin Laden, Anwar al-Awlaki and Moammar Qaddafi within six months: if Obama were a Republican, he'd be on Mount Rushmore by now.
I voted for Obama because I believed that he kept his cool as the financial crisis developed in September and October of 2008.  McCain imploded; he stopped campaigning, started campaigning and looked old and out of his depth.

I had hoped Obama would end torture as an official policy, mitigate some of the worst parts of the Patriot Act, fix NCLB, and reduce the effects of K Street. None of those hopes have materialized.

I certainly believed he would reduce America's foreign adventuring.  I was wrong about that too.  In short, I don't think he's Rushmore worthy.

I don't think any of those views are liberal.  I hope there are Republicans who can agree with most of those views.  The folks at Dakota War College are swooning over different members of the current crop of Republican candidates.  I don't see it.

Perry likes the death penalty too much, and those poor paying jobs he touts as the Texas miracle require that people who work a 40 hour week still need manna from heaven to get by.  Despite his debate lapses, I think he still might get the nomination.  I don't know if Romney can crack the glass ceiling that the far right constructed.

Huntsman seems competent but boring.  He's not going to get the nomination because he served as an ambassador for Obama.

Romney has had more positions than a double jointed porn star.  I would guess that both major parties have a hypocrisy line they hesitate crossing.  If he's the nominee, Republicans will have to apologize to John Kerry.  He also speaks better English than Perry which means his chances of winning the nomination are automatically reduced.

Gingrich has the same problem with the hypocrisy line.  Having an affair while one's spouse is fighting cancer reflects a moral lapse that would require that the Republicans apologize to Bill Clinton

Paul would want to do most of what I list above, but he has all of that gold standard baggage.  I don't think anyone would take him seriously if he won.

Bachmann scares me.  Trying to do my job well doesn't make me a fascist, no matter what Santorum thinks.

I think the tax system should get simpler, but Cain's 999 plan would destroy an already beleaguered middle class.  There's no way that he could shepherd anything through Congress without high powered help, and he won't tell anyone who advises him.

It's not like my vote will matter; South Dakota is a safe Republican state.  It's just depressing to have to no one to vote for and to have to settle for voting for the lesser of two evils

UPDATE:  7:55 CDT South Dakota Politics also has brief comments about the Republican field.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Tea Party vs. Occupy Wall Street Scorecard

Blogging at The Duck of Minerva, one of the best blog titles ever, Dan Nexon produces this scorecard comparing the Tea Party to Occupy Wall Street.


(HT Andrew Sullivan)

A Dead Cult Leader Makes A Current List Of Overrated Thinkers

The New Republic has published a list overrated public intellectuals, including one dead "thinker."  The list includes some easy targets:  politicians Newt Gingrich and Paul Ryan, former New York Times columnist Frank Rich, and CNN's Fareed Zakaria.  It includes one person who had previously been unknown to me: Parag Khanna who is
“a frequent speaker at international conferences” who briefs “corporations on global trends, systemic risks and emerging market strategies.” He has hosted an MTV show, was the first video blogger at ForeignPolicy.com, and directs something called the “Hybrid Reality Institute.” His recent book is actually called How to Run the World. It is a self-congratulatory anthology of clichés and platitudes—the life of the mind, Davos-style.
The list also includes Rachel Maddow,someone I had never consider in intellectual.  The list does not include Sean Hannity, Bill O'Reilly, or the crew from Fox & Friends.  These inclusions and exclusions leave open the question of whether it is worse to be an overrated thinker or not be considered a thinker under any circumstance.

My favorite inclusion on the list, however, is the dead thinker, Ayn Rand who
earned her presence on this list by the astonishing persistence of her theories, which seem to have attained particular volume as of late, receiving endorsement from everyone from American Enterprise Institute President Arthur Brooks to Representative Paul Ryan (who supposedly requires his staffers to read Atlas Shrugged) to Wall Street Journal economics writer Stephen Moore (“‘Atlas Shrugged’: From Fiction to Fact in 52 Years,” he wrote). Despite the fact that Rand’s worldview is a crackpot Manicheanism, in which the world is divided between virtuous, productive individuals and lazy parasites, Rand’s hold on American conservatism continues to grow, as if real thinking is ever compatible with a cult.  (Emphasis mine for any of my Christian brothers and sisters who might erroneously believe she's compatible with Christianity)

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Do Geek Gear Fanatics Know What Minimalist Means?

It's been over a year since I last did a geek gear post.  I'm not sure why.  The good folks at Lifehacker.com have prompted me to do a little complaining about geek gear.  They are asking readers about the contents of their backpack, but with a minimalist twist.
This time around we're focusing on how you can get by with very little. What are the essential items in your bag when you want to keep your bag lightweight and practical and still get things done?
I think some of the readers get it.  For example, wjglenn writes, "Minimalist? I carry no bag. Keys, wallet, phone. And I'll leave any one of those home if possible."  The commentor Beckfield also seems to understand minimalist:  "Umm... Backpack? Keys, wallet. A couple USB flash drives if I'm going to work."  By admitting to not being a minimalist, WiFi clearly understands the concept.
Not exactly minimalist but...
Keys
iPod touch 4G
iPad
Blackberry Curve
A mini-notebook
Spare pair of contact lenses
Handful of pencils, pens, and erasers
Graphing Calculator, and a regular Scientific calculator

Seems like a lot, but really its not since I carry the keys, iPod, phone, notebook, and writing utensils in my pocket. Plenty of room to put stuff into my backpack.
On the other hand, ionpattern writes,
I have a fantastic small bag from OverLand Equipment. It's my go-to bag for light outings (i.e. when the backpack is too much). Contents:

- painkillers + other emergency meds
- hand sanitizer
- chopsticks
- sunglasses
- occasionally sunscreen
- small notebook, pen, and pencil
- hair tie
- iPhone
- camera
- wallet
- sometimes Kindle or book
I had no idea that chopsticks, hand sanitizer, and cameras, and Kindles were minimalist, especially if one has an iPhone that probably has a Kindle app.

ZeroCool898 writes,
Timbuk2 bag.... best ever.

- Depending on if I'm working or F'ing around it could either be the Dual Core HP netbook or the Dell E6410 laptop.

- Ipod Nano

- Misc cords (usb of all sizes, ipod)

- Bluetooth Headset

- Blackberry, Samsung Infuse

- Moleskin

- Hand Sanitizer

- Pens, Pencil

- Leatherman

- No longer a Swiss Army Knife - Thanks TSA

- Flight and Rental car information (currently)

- Sometimes USB VoIP headset

- Tide Stain Stick and Carmex
At times I carry netbook, smartphone, and mp3 player.  I also have a Leatherman, Tide Stick, lip balm, and notebooks in my bag,  but I think that by carrying all of that stuff, I'm showing my survivalist side not my minimalist side.  None if it sounds "lightweight"

Shouldn't a minimalist leave the house with only a wallet and ID so that the cops know who to call if one is struck by a car?

Jon Stewart Showing Republicans To Be Uniters Not Dividers: Hypocrisy Edition

Senator Thune appears briefly in this montage.  I don't remember John Thune worrying about the unity of the nation when Tea Party stalwarts were calling me a fascist because I teach.  This clip is an instant Stewart classic.
                       
The Daily Show With Jon StewartMon - Thurs 11p / 10c
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Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Plains Pops: Stuff Written Better By Someone Else Edition

Conor Friedersdorf on Rush Limbaugh
What Limbaugh said is odious, irresponsible, offensive -- but what are you going to do? The man has long since proved that he has no shame. I've corresponded with people who've been persuaded, by past posts I've written, to stop listening to his show, but they're an unrepresentative few. Are a miniscule number of converts enough to justify talking about his oeuvre?
Perhaps not, unless there is a larger point to be made than the old news that he says indefensible things. In that spirit, I'd like to conclude this post by remarking on Limbaugh's corrupting influence. We've witnessed more than enough controversies like this, where no one is willing to defend the talk radio host's words, to know his public character and effect on political discourse. We're not talking about a couple slip ups for which he's apologized and should be forgiven. The man willfully traffics in odious commentary and has for years and years.
Shame on him, but that isn't where it ends. George H.W. Bush and George W. Bush ought to be embarrassed that they invited Limbaugh to the White House.  The Claremont Institute, whose work I often respect, ought to be mortified that they sullied their Statesmanship Award by bestowing it upon Limbaugh. Shame on National Review for celebrating one of conservatism's most controversial figures in a symposium that didn't even acknowledge his many critics on the right. In it Heather Higgins remarked on "Rush's long track record of accurate predictions and analyses," Kathryn Jean Lopez commented on his "graciousness and humility," Mary Matalin said "he epitomizes what we all aspire to be, both as citizens and individuals," Andrew McCarthy claims his message is "always" delivered with "optimism, civility, and good humor," and Jay Nordlinger asserted that "he is almost the antithesis of the modern American, in that he doesn't whine." Every last claim is too absurd to satire, let alone defend.
Shame on The Heritage Foundation for sponsoring Limbaugh's radio show, and on the Media Research Center and Human Events for honoring Limbaugh's excellence ... and the list goes on, including the millions of people who support his radio show because they agree with Limbaugh's ideology, even though they'd be outraged if a liberal trafficked in similarly poisonous rhetoric.

Many conservatives complain, with good reason, when they're caricatured as racially insensitive purveyors of white anxiety politics who traffic in absurd, paranoid attacks on their political opponents. Yet many of the most prominent brands in the conservative movement elevate a man guilty of those exact things as a "statesman" whose civility and humility ought to inspire us! In doing so, they've created a monster, one who knows that so long as his ratings stay high, he can say literally anything and be feted as an intellectual and moral role model. So the outrages arrive at predictable intervals. And Americans hear about them and think badly of the right. Movement conservatives, if you seek integrity in American life, if you seek civility, if you seek converts, tear down this man's lies! He hasn't any integrity or self respect left to lose. But you do. 
Mark T. Mitchell on American Exceptionalism

American Exceptionalism does not lend itself either to humility or gratitude. If, rather than an exceptional nation, America is a nation greatly and mysteriously blessed by God—and this despite her many imperfections, which for the Christian is a necessary admission—then Americans should be moved to a profound sense of gratitude. There is a world of difference between the person who with a brash swagger asserts that America is the greatest nation on earth and the patriot who lovingly cares for his particular place while uttering a prayer of thanksgiving for the manifold blessings he and his children enjoy. One fails to admit responsibility or to tread lightly and therefore invariably behaves poorly while remaining blind to the fact. The other recognizes that gratitude is inseparable from responsibility, for a gift rightly received must be tended with intelligence and care.
Perhaps it’s time to seek out (or carve out) another strand in our American tradition, a strand that acknowledges the many good things we have inherited and soberly embrace the responsibility to steward these things well. A more modest republic would, in light of our history, be an exceptional accomplishment.
Joe Fassler on the reasons zombies and superheroes are now part of "highbrow literature":
1. Our day-to-day lives are becoming more science-fictional.

Every day, newspapers—sorry, handheld tablets—produce more headlines from the frontiers of modern science. A government-backed initiative has built protein-eating war-bots that could conceivably power themselves off human flesh. A renowned paleontologist is trying to reverse-evolve chickens into dinosaurs. And the world of personal computing makes leaps forward with every passing month. Dick Tracy's two-way video wristwatch—unfathomable in the 1950s—is now no further away than somebody's iPhone.

Of course, with these advances come anxieties about Faustian bargains and Pandora's boxes. "It's always been the case that the greatest horror stories are tapping into cultural anxieties of the time," Benjamin Percy told me, by phone. "Take a look at [Mary Shelley's] Frankenstein and the Industrial Revolution. Or [Bram Stoker's] Dracula and Victorian prudishness. Or Invasion of the Body Snatchers and the Red Scare. And if you look at what's been on bookshelves since 9/11, there's been an abundance of apocalyptic and post-apocalyptic narratives. All of them have to do with our fear of disease, our fear of environmental devastation, our fear of nuclear annihilation. Maybe because the end of the world has never seemed so possible."

Monday, October 17, 2011

Quotation Of The Decade: Democracy And Oligarchy Edition

From Jeffery Winters' conclusion to his article "Oligarchy and Democracy",
Universal suffrage and liberal freedoms empower all citizens in a radically equal manner. But the one-person/one-vote principle does little to prevent oligarchs from exercising the power of money in a manner that is profoundly unequal. Formal juridical equality is essential to human freedom. But full political equality, even in the most liberal democracy, is impossible as long as concentrated wealth places grossly unequal political influence in the hands of a few citizens. Democracy fused with oligarchy is certainly better than no democracy at all. But there should be no illusions that it is anything other than a partial step toward full political equality and representation.

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Will Anita Perry Please Quit Dishonoring God!

Wherever Anita Perry goes to church this morning, I hope the text is Matthew 5:11-12.
“Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me. Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you."

According to the Charloette Observer, Mrs. Perry is a bit less than joyful when she asserts that her husband has been "been brutalized and beaten up and chewed up in the press" along with other Republicans "because of his faith."
Speaking in Tigerville, S.C., Anita Perry acknowledged that "it's been a rough month."
"We have been brutalized and beaten up and chewed up in the press to where I need this today," she told the audience at North Greenville University, which is affiliated with the South Carolina Baptist Convention.
"We still feel called. We are being brutalized by our opponents and our own party. So much of that is - I think they look at him - because of his faith."
Texas's First Lady then took aim at some of her husband's opponents.
"He is the only true conservative," she said. "Well, there are some true conservatives. And they're there for good reasons. And they may feel like God called them, too. But I truly feel like we are here for that purpose."
In an emotional recounting of the Texas governor's decision to run for president, she said the Lord spoke to her before convincing her husband to run.
"God was already speaking to me, but he (Rick) didn't want to hear it," Anita Perry told the sympathetic audience." I said you may not see that burning bush, but there are people seeing that burning bush for you."
If I'm parsing what she's saying correctly, people are supposed to vote for her husband because he's the true Christian blessed with a wife who can see a burning bush.  Given that wildfires raged across Texas while Perry was considering making this presidential run, I'm guessing that many Texans saw a lot of bushes burn. 

Cheap snark aside, the pastor ministering to Mrs. Perry this week could also consider I Corinthians 3:3-9.
You are still worldly. For since there is jealousy and quarreling among you, are you not worldly? Are you not acting like mere humans?  For when one says, “I follow Paul,” and another, “I follow Apollos,” are you not mere human beings?
What, after all, is Apollos? And what is Paul? Only servants, through whom you came to believe—as the Lord has assigned to each his task.  I planted the seed, Apollos watered it, but God has been making it grow. So neither the one who plants nor the one who waters is anything, but only God, who makes things grow. The one who plants and the one who waters have one purpose, and they will each be rewarded according to their own labor. For we are co-workers in God’s service; you are God’s field, God’s building.
In short, Rick Perry, with or without the vision to see a burning bush, is just a human being who is not more essential to God's plan than fellow evangelicals Herman Cain or Michele Bachmann, Mormons Mitt Romney or Jon Huntsman, or atheists Cory Heidelberger and Christopher Hitchens; the latter two both communicate far more effectively than any of the candidates.

I would also like someone to explain to Mrs. Perry that the Republic survived Thomas Jefferson editing all of the miracles out of the gospels.  I'm less sanguine about its ability to survive the presidency of another Texas Republican governor.

Someone needs to explain to me how Republican economic and foreign policy positions square with biblical Christianity.  I'm sort of old school, so I'll need chapter and verse instead of party talking points.

Saturday, October 15, 2011

Following Links From Comments To Blogs To MSM Outlets Is Educational Or At Least Entertaining

Larry Kurz posts this link in the Madville Times comments section.  The link takes one to a blog written by South Dakota's version of Stephen Colbert. OK, that comparision is a bit inaccurate.  Bob Ellis and Stephen Colbert both make outrageous comments; Colbert knows the comments sound ridiculous; Ellis doesn't.

Anyway, at the bottom of the page, I found a link promising to chronicle an ACLU invasion of South Dakota. The ACLU apparantly engages in "pro-abortion, pro-homosexual, anti-Christian, anti-American advocacy."  Ellis links to this KELO report that tells readers that the "ACLU has won a number of South Dakota voting-rights lawsuits in recent years."

I had no idea that fighting to support voting rights is "pro-abortion, pro-homosexual, anti-Christian, anti-American advocacy."  I'm glad I learned that.  I would also like to learn the URL of the South Dakota ACLU homepage so I can join.

A Minor Musing About The Permanence Of Musings

Posting about a blog's lifecycle, Andrew Sullivan links to a NYT article that reminds us that 95% of all blogs are abandoned within 120 days

Meanwhile, on the New York Review of Books blog, Charles Simic, a poet and essayist, extols the value of little notebooks.


Inevitably, anyone, including its owner, perusing through one of these notebooks years or even months later, is going to be puzzled or embarrassed by many of the entries, surprised by others he has forgotten (like a glorious meal in a restaurant for which he took the trouble to itemize the dishes and their ingredients), and impressed by an occasional striking passage, which, lacking the quotation marks, he is not sure whether to attribute to himself or to someone far cleverer, funnier and more articulate, whom he happened to be reading at the time. Who asked the question: Are there percentagewise more idiots in the world today than in the earlier ages of humanity? Who described a book as an autoerotic classic? Who said: Our blindness prevents us from seeing our madness? Who made the observation that all donkeys look sad? Spoke of poetry’s hideous imprisonment in language? Called the United Sates an empire in a search of a graveyard? Described someone as a eulogist of torture? Likened our political system to a bordello, where our elected officials parade naked before an audience of seated generals, fundamentalist preachers and bankers? Who said: The eye knows things the mouth cannot say?
I have no idea, though I suspect some of them are not mine. Or could they be? I won’t be losing any sleep about their authorship, since I have many other notebooks crowded with similarly mystifying entries, and I continue to fill out new ones, day and night—even while eating in some restaurant where the staff have become alarmed and far friendlier under the mistaken impression that I’m a restaurant critic hard at work and keep running up to my table with something special for me to taste from the chef. I very much hope these notebooks I see in stationery stores, card shops, and bookstores are serving similar purposes. Just think, if you preserve them, your grandchildren will be able to read your jewels of wisdom fifty years from now, which may prove exceedingly difficult, should you decide to confine them solely to a smart phone you purchased yesterday.
I have to admit that I have a notebook and pen fetish. Left to my own devices, I might spend myself into penury searching for the perfect pen and notebook combination.

I doubt I've written any "jewels of wisdom" on this blog.  It has survived several periods of abandonment, and I have ignored Twitter since school started.  I realize that anyone can find old blogs or old tweets with a little effort; and many old notebooks will be relegated to trash can before any grandchildren can access them.  There's also the fact that grandchildren may not want to read anything we old geezers have written.

Still, there's something to be said for reading things that aren't filtered because they weren't meant to be read by others or things left incomplete because the writer wanted to get back to the subject but never did.  If the next generation ever wants to read old folks' old ramblings, won't the experience be a bit richer and more personal if they have to struggle past the bad penmanship, see the scratch outs, doodles, coffee stains, and occasional donut icing remnant? 

Friday, October 14, 2011

Quotation And Chart Of The Day: Class Warfare Edition

From this Derek Thompson post at The Atlantic.

. . . . more than half of the folks who pay no federal income tax make less than $20,000 a year. It is also true that 7,000 millionaires paid no federal income tax last year. . . .
If you think the 47 Percent are getting away with free-riding, consider that they're mostly poor families making $20,000, which means they would have to work for 116 years at that wage just to make the average annual salary of someone in the top 1 percent. . . .
The 47 Percent are mostly working families whose tax burden was offset by the Earned Income Tax Credit (invented by Republican President Ford and expanded many times since the 1970s), the child tax credit (doubled under Bush), and other exemptions passed into law by Republican and Democratic legislatures and administrations. The 47 Percent aren't running away from the law; they're benefiting from 30 years of Congress whittling away at the tax code. Some of this whittling was smart. Some of it wasn't. The only way to fix it is to raise taxes on working class families.
I guess I'm some sort of Marxist or Socialist or anti-American anti-capitalist, or just a terrible human, but I find the 116 year to 1 year ratio unconscionable.  I accept that fact that some people produce much more than others and should earn more.  That being said, one person should not have to spend more than two working lifetimes to earn what another does in a year.

I also find it curious that Republicans love tax cuts until they benefit people earning less than $30,000 a year,  It will be interesting to see how they modify the tax code to protect the 7000 millionaires from paying taxes while making people earning  $20,000 have a tax increase.