February 26th, 2009

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Ups and Downs for Obama and America

I found a couple articles today that look at the two steps forward, one step back process of digging America out of its rut. The first one analyzes Obama's Tuesday evening speech.

Getting Warmer
  We are lucky to have Barack Obama as president. I write that even though I believe the content of his Tuesday evening speech deserved no more than a B+ / A-, for its failure to seriously address the origins of the banking crisis and for only hinting at the severe military budget cuts required to get close to his goal of reducing the federal deficit by the end of his first term.


Take this quote from our President: "... I can stand here tonight and say without exception or equivocation that the United States does not torture." Well, gosh, Mr. President, America has been torturing and vocally condoning torture for some years now. You can't just handwave that away. If you want that declaration to be true -- which I enthusiastically support -- then you are going to have to make it true, because right now, it's not. You have to close the prisons where the torture occurred; punish the people who performed, condoned, and ordered the torture; and preferably make some kind of reparation to the victims of torture. And if you keep repeating what you said, by the time you're done with all that, then it will be true.

The rest of the dissection was capably handled by the article's author, and does a good job of pointing out where Obama comes on strong and where he doesn't.

Obama Presses Americans to Gain Higher Education
 Washington - In his first address to a joint session of Congress, President Barack Obama challenged every American to go to college for at least one year and said dropping out of high school is "quitting on your country."


I'm all in favor of education, including higher education, but that one bill is a drop in a bucket. When people drop out of school, sometimes it's because of personal disorganization, but usually it's for one or both of two reasons: 1) to take care of a child or other dependent, or 2) to take a job. Neither of those can fairly be construed as "quitting." And sometimes it's simply because society has let them down so drastically that they don't want to contribute to it, or don't see any realistic way of achieving that. Considering the shape many of our schools are in, some of those students are right.

It used to be common to pay for a decent college education by working part-time while attending school; my parents did that. Now it's almost impossible. But there's more than that: while a college education is almost always necessary to get a good job, it doesn't guarantee you one. Good jobs are disappearing rapidly, where "good" means "pays enough to live on comfortably, with benefits; or enough that you can afford to buy your own benefits." More and more jobs are meager ones. Now here's the thing: you do not really need a college degree to work retail, answer phones, mop floors, or do most of the other slogjob tasks that are now so much of the market. The application may require one, but it's silly. And I can't blame someone for deciding that it doesn't make economic sense to pour money they don't have into a degree when they might not get a job that even pays enough to cover their basic living expenses, let alone pay back massive college loans on top of that.

The concept is good, but I'm concerned about the execution. This one just sounds too much like "let them eat cake."

It will be interesting to see how things work out.
moment of silence, candle

Moment of Silence: Philip José Farmer

According to this announcement on the author's official homepage, Philip José Farmer has died.

Philip José Farmer passed away peacefully in his sleep this morning.</p>

He will be missed greatly by his wife Bette, his children, grandchildren, great-grandchildren, friends and countless fans around the world.

January 26, 1918 - February 25, 2009. R.I.P.



The site has links to dozens of memorial posts and related discussions. Visitors are encouraged to post to the forum with their memories.
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Wyrd Words: A celebration of esoteric literature

This popped up on an email list I frequent, marked for distribution to interested parties. If you're in the vicinity, check out this cool literary event.


The Oxford Esoteric Writers Forum

presents

'Wyrd Words'
A celebration of esoteric literature

Saturday 4th April 2009, upstairs Mitre pub, Broad street, Oxford, OX1 4AG.

Includes talks by local authors and occult practioners-

Payam Nabarz on 'The Mysteries of Mithras: the Seven Initiatory Rites'. FFI
http://www.myspace.com/nabarz

Cassandra Bellingham 'Prophecy of Kinnaird' FFI
http://www.amazon.co.uk/Prophecy-Kinnaird-Cassandra-Bellingham/dp/1905524293

Mogg Morgan on 'Aleister Crowley: The Oxford Banned Lecture Revisited'. FFI
http://www.myspace.com/moggmorgan

Jack Barrow FFI
http://www.myspace.com/jack_barrow

more tbc..!

Also featuring stalls from local publishers and occult stores. All you could want to begin your magical education.

Local publishers present:

Twin Serpents books:
http://www.facebook.com/home.php?#/pages/Twin-Serpents-books/47740246997

Mandrake:
http://www.mandrake.uk.net/

Web of Wyrd Press:
http://www.myspace.com/webofwyrdpress

An official Oxfringe event. Sponsored by The Cunning Way.

http://oxfringe.com/

This event coincides with the Oxford Literary Festival.

While in Oxford do visit www.innerbookshop.com
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The Dunes of Titan

Space exploration mavens and science fiction writers may be interested in this new analysis of Titan's dunes. Just when you think you can predict Nature, she pulls a fast one...

Cassini Maps Global Pattern of Titan's Dunes
Titan's vast dune fields, which may act like weather vanes to determine general wind direction on Saturn's biggest moon, have been mapped by scientists who compiled four years of radar data collected by the Cassini spacecraft. 

Titan's rippled dunes are generally oriented east-west. Surprisingly, their orientation and characteristics indicate that near the surface, Titan's winds blow toward the east instead of toward the west. This means that Titan's surface winds blow opposite the direction suggested by previous global circulation models of Titan. 

"At Titan there are very few clouds, so determining which way the wind blows is not an easy thing, but by tracking the direction in which Titan's sand dunes form, we get some insight into the global wind pattern," says Ralph Lorenz, Cassini radar scientist at Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory in Laurel, Md. "Think of the dunes sort of like a weather vane, pointing us to the direction the winds are blowing." A paper based on these findings appeared in the Feb. 11 issue of Geophysical Research Letters. 
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More Thoughts on the Economy

Here's another batch of articles that caught my eye...

GOP Hates Earmarks - Except the Ones Its Members Sponsor
David Lightman, McClatchy Newspapers: "Republicans are expected to deliver a daylong rant Wednesday against Democratic spending legislation, yet the bill is loaded with thousands of pet projects that Republican lawmakers inserted. Rep. Ralph Hall, R-Texas, included $142,500 for emergency repairs to the Sam Rayburn Library and Museum in Austin, Texas. Sen. John Ensign, R-Nev., joined state colleagues to include $1.425 million for Nevada 'statewide bus facilities.' The top two Republicans on Congress' money committees also inserted local projects."


I really hate it when people criticize something, then turn right around and exploit it for their own gratification.

Dean Baker | Housing Price Decline Accelerates
Dean Baker, The Center for Economic and Policy Research: "The data in the December Case-Shiller 20-City index indicate that the rate of housing price decline is continuing to accelerate. The data show that house prices in the 20 cities fell at a rate of 2.0 percent in the month of December and were falling at a 21.3 percent annual rate in the last quarter of 2008."


I think a big part of the problem is that banks define equity based on what a house is "worth" instead on how much the homeowner has already paid the bank. Regardless of what the market does, the bank shouldn't be able to simply pocket your money and refuse to loan any of it back. That vanishing money is a large part of what's scaring home buyers off the market, and rightly so. If homeowners could borrow some percentage against what they had paid to the bank, that would give them more incentive to stick with a mortgage, and would also reward people made a good downpayment. The rate could even be set for a higher percentage for home repairs/remodeling, and a lower percentage for other things. Homeowners should also be able to retrieve some percentage for a downpayment on a different house if they decide to sell the old one. Paying large sums of money for housing should be a fairly solid investment, not pouring money down a rathole. The system we have now isn't working.

Delphi Wins Approval to End Retiree Benefits
David McLaughlin, The Wall Street Journal: "Delphi Corp., the largest parts supplier to General Motors Corp., won court approval to terminate health benefits for thousands of retired salaried employees after arguing the move is critical to keeping its slow-going bankruptcy reorganization afloat."


There are two huge problems with this. 1) It is bait-and-switch, which is illegal. Those retirees worked for that company in good faith that they would be paid in full. Health care in their elder years continues to be payment for work already done, which cannot honorably be suspended. 2) Health costs are a leading cause of personal bankruptcy. How many old people are going to be driven bankrupt because of this? How many will be unable to afford the care they need?

More Senators Should Talk Like This
Like Senator Bernie Sanders, I'm unshamed to called myself a socialist. Like Sanders, I caucus with the Democrats. As a Popular Front Democrat, I also vote for them, contribute money to their campaigns and walk precincts for them. But I sure would like to hear a lot more of them talking like their colleague from Vermont.


Here is text and video about speeches on economic reform. They advocate the idea of common good as something worthy of consideration. I think that we need a balance between public and private benefits. If there's not enough concern for private benefits, hard work is not rewarded enough to encourage it; people get discouraged and lazy. If there's not enough concern for public benefits, individuals engorge themselves by harming others and the environment. Both are disastrous, as history has demonstrated.

I really hope the country learns something from this ongoing disaster.
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James Lovelock Freaks Out

I read this alarming article about predictions by James Lovelock...

"Gaia" scientist says life doomed by climate woes (commentary by Culture Change)

LONDON, Feb 25 (Reuters) - Climate change will wipe out most life on Earth by the end of this century and mankind is too late to avert catastrophe, a leading British climate scientist said.

James Lovelock, 89, famous for his Gaia theory of the Earth being a kind of living organism, said higher temperatures will turn parts of the world into desert and raise sea levels, flooding other regions.

His apocalyptic theory foresees crop failures, drought and death on an unprecedented scale. The population of this hot, barren world could shrink from about seven billion to one billion by 2100 as people compete for ever-scarcer resources.



I expect considerable extinction, but I suspect "most life on Earth" is an exaggeration. The most numerous lifeforms -- beetles, ants, molds, microbes, that sort of thing -- will probably survive just fine. We'll lose a lot of the megafauna. We may lose a lot of humans. But unless we irradiate it to death, the biosphere will survive.

Still, not a pretty picture, and Lovelock isn't a flake. If he's that worried, he's probably onto something, even if the details may be pushing it. Or heck, maybe he's just shouting in hopes of being heard and listened to for a tenth of what he's pushing.