Saturday, December 22, 2012

My Brilliant Career. Partime. Maybe.

Well anyway, I'm thinking about it:

I took an online aptitude test, and scored 100%. It seemed mostly to be testing if I was actually paying attention. Not too hard to do.

A Criticism of Critics

I enjoyed reading this:

There's A Meanness Abroad in the Land
[...] In many of the reviews I read daily, on a whole range of subjects besides filmmaking, I am so struck with the underlying view the critics seem to have about intelligence. Review after review bespeaks the idea of "look how intelligent I am, I can see – more than most – everything that's wrong with this." (Whatever the this may be.) I was raised with a very different view of intelligence: it valued "look how intelligent I am, I can see – more than most – all the things there are to appreciate, about this."

In our day, and perhaps in other days as well, it is a far rarer soul who makes appreciation the defining motif of his or her life, than those who make criticism their defining goal. Criticism is easy; it takes no brains to say what's wrong with something. Appreciation however, is difficult; you sometimes have to fight to see things to appreciate, digging for example beneath ugly surface impressions, to see some shining beauty underneath. That's why prejudice flourishes. It takes brains to see what there is to appreciate in every man and woman who was ever born. Which should be the goal of every intelligent man or woman. Civilization never decays or vanishes because of a lack of criticism in a society; it decays or vanishes because of a lack of appreciation in that society. As a direct consequence of this, that society tends to preserve the commonplace, while it casually throws away treasures. And criticism causes more meanness to be abroad, in the land.

Every critic begins with assumptions, usually unexamined, that they use to justify their hammering the thing they are examining. [...]
The other day at dinner, were were talking about people we know (or have known) who are habitually critical and fault finding, and how unhappy they are as a result. This reminded me of that. I know that criticism has it's place, but you sure need to balance it, if you want to be happy.

The writer here was talking about a negative review he read of the movie "The Hurt Locker". I love what he said about that. He also ended it with a quote from the composer Jean Sibelius, which made me chuckle.

Why the Democrats are holding out

They feel they have little to lose. Here is one explanation:

Obama’s “small deal” could lead to bigger tax increases
[...] The Senate already passed a bill letting the Bush tax cuts lapse for income over $250,000. That bill is very, very popular. The White House expects that if we go over the cliff, the House will have to pass that bill, too, and the president would have little choice but to sign it. That bill raises taxes by a bit more than $700 billion, which is less than the $1.6 trillion the White House wants. But that $700 billion, to the White House, is the baseline: If they get nothing else, they will certainly get that.

And that’s why Boehner’s offer of $800 billion doesn’t impress. The White House already has some $700 billion in the bank, as they see it. The reason to negotiate with Boehner is that an agreement with him could, in theory, push that number well above $1 trillion while stabilizing the debt and avoiding the economic pain of falling off the fiscal cliff. But there’s no reason to cut a deal with Boehner in which the White House gives up spending cuts in order to get a tax increase they can have anyway.

The talk in Washington now is about a “small deal.” That would likely include the Senate tax bill, some policy to turn off at least the defense side of the sequester and a handful of other policies to blunt or delay various parts of the fiscal cliff.

That’s not a very good deal for the short-term health of the economy. Depending on how much of the fiscal cliff gets delayed, we could tip into recession anyway. But it could lead, in the end, to much more revenue than a “big deal” now.

Here’s how it would go. Some time in the next month or so, the small deal would pass and the White House would pocket that $700-plus billion in tax revenue. They really would get that for free, just as the president told Boehner.

But pressure would quickly mount to strike a larger deal, both because there would be another fiscal cliff coming and because the debt ceiling would need to be raised. (The White House swears they won’t negotiate over the debt ceiling, but it’s not exactly clear what that will mean in practice.)

The White House would insist that the next deal includes a 1:1 ratio of tax increases — all of which could come through Republican-friendly tax reform — to spending cuts. So a subsequent deal that included $600 billion or $700 billion in spending cuts would also include $600 billion or $700 billion in tax increases, leading to total new revenue in the range of $1.2 trillion to $1.4 trillion.


All of which is to say, if Boehner had taken the White House’s deal in 2011, he could’ve stopped the tax increase at $800 billion. If he took their most recent deal, he could stop it at $1.2 trillion. But if he insists on adding another round to the negotiations — one that will likely come after the White House pockets $700 billion in tax increases — then any deal in which gets the entitlement cuts he wants is going to mean a deal in which he accepts even more tax increases than the White House is currently demanding. [...]
Is this a bit simplistic? It's not up to Boehner alone to accept or not accept a deal. He has the rest of the Republican Party to contend with.

But if this turns out to be mostly true, then it doesn't look like it will got to well for the Republicans.

South Africa: Will the ANC split?

If it does, it could be a good thing:

Is South Africa following the path of 'the strongman'?
South Africa’s ruling party, the African National Congress, was once a post-apartheid hero. Now it is the latest caricature of African bad governance, and it no longer resonates with the people. At its upcoming meeting, the party must embrace internal debate and reject economic nationalism.


The regional cost of South Africa's backward drift is significant. The country's gross domestic product, $408 billion in 2011, accounted for roughly one-third of the combined economic output of all sub-Saharan Africa, yet the country's economy is growing at less than half the pace of the continent's economy.

During the ANC's two decades in power, health-care services have declined sharply. And although the government spends 20 percent of state funds on education, quality in the classroom is now among the lowest in Africa – and fewer than half of students finish the equivalent of high school.

Despite the rapid growth of a black middle class aligned to the ANC, the gap between rich and poor has widened. Low productivity and a failure to diversify the economy away from its dependence on mining have resulted in a perpetual trade deficit.

Both Moody's and Standard & Poor's downgraded the country's sovereign credit rating this fall in the wake of rolling wildcat strikes in South Africa's mining sector. That disturbance was punctuated by the massacre of 34 protesting miners by police in August – the worst incident of state violence since the end of apartheid. There are almost weekly local protests over poor delivery of basic necessities such as water and electricity.

ANC leaders have further hobbled the economy with uncertainty by refusing to end their flirtation with nationalizing at least parts of the mining sector, despite party studies concluding such a move would be disastrous to the country's fiscal prospects. Equally troubling are the party's repeated attempts to erode the independence of the judiciary and national prosecutor and to curb the media.

In a sure sign that the party is out of ideas, it has begun couching its economic strategy in terms of a "second transition," much the way the old Soviet Union floated successive five-year plans.

The great fear among pessimists of South Africa's move from white rule to democracy has always been that the country would go the way of the rest of postcolonial Africa. Like Zimbabwe, Kenya, and others before it, South Africa has reached the fragile point when the ruling party's claim to power no longer resonates with the people.

The ANC remains a liberation movement more than a ruling political party. Ordinary South Africans want jobs, schools, and safe neighborhoods. The ANC wants party loyalty among its ranks and supporters. Unnerved by a restive public, the party has turned to manipulating populist causes and silencing dissent. The people aren't buying it, but there's nowhere for them to turn.


To the ANC's embarrassment, the Western Cape, the one province ruled by an opposition party, outperforms the rest of the country in nearly every social index. The Democratic Alliance is predominantly white, however, with all the baggage that implies for national electoral appeal in a country still scarred by a history of violent minority rule.

For now, a change in leadership appears unlikely. No serious competitor emerged during the party's nominating process to challenge President Jacob Zuma. He's a wily politician who harnessed a populist backlash against his predecessor, Thabo Mbeki, to deflect charges of rape and corruption and assume his party's mantle five years ago.

But South Africa is not without safeguards and the promise of a brighter future. Whereas similar conditions in other states led to military coups d'├ętat and civil wars, South Africa has a strong Constitution, a vibrant civil society, and a rich protest tradition. It is unimaginable that the ANC could ever preserve its power through strong-arm tactics and constitutional violations and get away with it in the medium- to-long term, as President Robert Mugabe has done in neighboring Zimbabwe for decades.

Ironically, the best buffer may be the ANC itself. It is an article of faith among political observers that South Africa will remain a de facto one-party state until the ANC splits. That view holds – and the split looks increasingly inevitable.

The ANC governs in a coalition with its liberation-era partners the Communist Party and congress of trade unions. While that grouping served the cause of overthrowing apartheid, it has become steadily more strained in governing. If the alliance survives one more election cycle, it seems poised to fragment afterward. [...]
Somethings gotta give. An ANC split into two parties could make things very interesting.

Sunday, December 16, 2012

Sunday Funnies; Mayan Predictions

Since getting DSL, I've been looking at some of the Mayan 2012 prediction videos on Youtube. They're pretty nutty.

Here is my prediction:


How about "Mental Illness Control"?

A Proper Response to the Connecticut Murders
[...] But no one can discount one over-riding issue that links every like event involving these types of mass murders, mental health. The Aurora, WV Tech and the Newton slayings all involve a significantly mentally ill individual.

We, as a nation, decided three or four decades ago, that we didn’t have the will or resources to create safe, reliable and appropriate facilities for those who suffer with mental illness. One reason we started to lose our appetite to deal with the mentally ill appropriately was the ever expanding definition that was being associated with the diagnoses. Eventually, every drunk and drug user was labeled mentally ill, and resources allocated to the mentally ill were quickly filled and demand for more and more and more resources taxed the mental health support system.

A history of tragic abuse in mental health facilities also came to light as mental institutions became the playground for every kook doctor who espoused a cure for mental health. With little or no oversight mental health institutions became a real life horror stories. One has to look no further than the lobotomy of Rose Marie Kennedy to demonstrate these abuses.

Thus, by the time the 1980′s rolled around mental health institutions were burdened with more demands for an every expanding diagnose and marked by the mark of abuse. Lost respect led to lost funding which eventually led to the closing of many public mental health institutions.

And, now, mental health, marred by expanded definitions, history of abuse and quackery, lost funding and lost public support, ranks low in the priorities of the American public.

We should realize that there are individuals, through no fault of their own, who suffer from mental illness, which needs to be recognized and dealt with. Additionally, families of these individuals need support, both in resource and emotional support. In return for this support the mental health community needs to stop the ever expanding definition of mental illness and separate those who choose to abuse drugs and alcohol from those who suffer from a non self-inflicted malady. [...]
Our country has had a long history of gun ownership, without these mass slayings. So what has changed? We used to lock up people who had serious mental problems. And now we don't.


How to seismically retrofit a doublewide

Quake Safe Products
[...] QuakeSafe® foundation systems are specially designed to protect manufactured homes in the event of an earthquake. Standard manufactured home foundations are simply stacked cinder blocks that offer no stability in an earthquake. QuakeSafe bracing is engineered to fully support your home even if the cinder blocks fail. QuakeSafe foundations are engineered and certified to meet state earthquake resistance codes. [...]
The site has a slide show of an installation.

Manufactured Housing Disaster-Resistant Pier Systems
[...] A good foundation gives homeowners peace of mind. For manufactured homes, one option is a disaster-resistant pier system -- stout members rigidly connecting the home's chassis to a slab, grade beam, or array of pads. Some systems incorporate lateral or diagonal bracing for greater resistance. Although often referred to as "earthquake resistant bracing" (ERB) systems, many also resist high winds, frost heaves, and floods. Not only are these systems cost-effective in reducing structural movement (compared to conventional manufactured housing foundations), they can save lives and property. [...]
Most of the articles I've been able to find talk about doing the install while the double wide is being installed. I've yet to see one about retro-fitting, doing the install after the home is build without the bracing.

Where "Liberal Democratic" means "Conservative"

San Francisco? Yes, there too, but I'm talking about Japan:

Japan's Governing Party Resoundingly Ousted in Shift to Right
TOKYO — Japan's governing party has suffered a crushing election defeat. Results of parliamentary elections Sunday show the next government will be formed by the Liberal Democratic Party. The conservatives and their allies are expected to take a more hawkish approach in confronting the country's neighbors, but what they plan to do to reverse Japan's long economic decline remains murky.

Japanese voters, as forecast, have tossed out the party they brought into power three years ago.

The Democratic Party of Japan (DPJ), crippled by defections of lawmakers from its ranks, lost more than two-thirds of its seats in the more powerful 480-seat lower house of parliament (officially the House of Representatives).

Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda conceded at a brief news conference.

Noda says the defeat is his personal responsibility, therefore he will resign as head of the party.

Among the dozen parties fielding candidates, at the top with a landslide victory is the Liberal Democratic Party, capturing a comfortable majority of seats. It governed Japan virtually uninterrupted from 1955 until 2009.

The LDP, Japan's traditional conservative party, allied with the New Komei Party (which is closely linked to the controversial Buddhist sect Soka Gakkai), is poised to have a two-thirds majority in the lower house. That will allow it to over ride any vetoes of legislation by the upper house (also known as the House of Councilors), where the Democratic Party of Japan is the largest single party.

The next upper house election is expected in July. [...]
It's an interesting glimpse into Japanese politics.

Faith, and Response to a Tragedy

Newtown was a lot like the town I grew up in. I haven't anything to say about it, that hasen't been said by others. I did like this post from The Anchoress:

Newtown and the God who Knows
[...] People will ask, “where was God, in all of this.” God was in the teachers who pulled little kids into classrooms and went into lockdown, and in the first responders who got survivors to safety and reunited with their parents (pray for the first responders, too; they suffer — often in silence — after they have made safe). God was right beside everyone, and is with them in grief. Because he is the God Who Knows all we feel and experience. [...]
She's is Catholic, and is trying to respond to this as a person of Faith. I'm not a Catholic, but I think you don't need to be Catholic to understand or appreciate some of the subtleties she is communicating.

H.T. to Michelle Malkin for the link.


Wednesday, December 12, 2012

A "Martin Luther" for Islam?

Who Wrote the Koran?
For more than two decades, Abdulkarim Soroush has been Iran’s leading public intellectual. Deeply versed in Islamic theology and mysticism, he was chosen by Ayatollah Khomeini to “Islamicize” Iran’s universities, only to eventually turn against the theocratic state. He paid a price for his dissidence. Vigilantes and other government-supported elements disrupted his widely attended lectures in Iran, beat him and reportedly nearly assassinated him. In a country where intellectuals are often treated like rock stars, Soroush has been venerated and reviled for his outspoken support of religious pluralism and democracy. Now he has taken one crucial step further. Shuttling from university to university in Europe and the U.S., Soroush is sending shock waves through Iran’s clerical establishment.

The recent controversy began about eight months ago, after Soroush spoke with a Dutch reporter about one of Islam’s most sensitive issues: the divine origin of the Koran.


Soroush has been described as a Muslim Luther, but unlike the Protestant reformer, he is no literalist about holy books. His work more closely resembles that of the 19th-century German scholars who tried to understand the Bible in its original context. Case in point: when a verse in the Koran or a saying attributed to Muhammad refers to cutting off a thief’s hand or stoning to death for adultery, it only tells us the working rules and regulations of the prophet’s era. Today’s Muslims are not obliged to follow in these footsteps if they have more humane means at their disposal.

Soroush’s latest views have not endeared him to the powerful conservative wing of Iran’s establishment. Some have accused him of heresy, which is punishable by death. There have been demonstrations by clerics in Qom, the religious capital of Iran, against his recent work. But Iran’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, unexpectedly warned against feeding the controversy. He said those who are employing “philosophy or pseudo-philosophy” to “pervert the nation’s mind” should not be dealt with “by declaring apostasy and anger” but rather countered with the “religious truths” that will falsify their arguments.

In Iran today, many opponents of the government advocate the creation of a secular state. Soroush himself supports the separation of mosque and state, but for the sake of religion. He seeks freedom of religion, not freedom from religion. Thus he speaks for a different — and potentially more effective — agenda. The medieval Islamic mystic Rumi once wrote that “an old love may only be dissolved by a new one.” In a deeply religious society, whose leaders have justified their hold on power as a divine duty, it may take a religious counterargument to push the society toward pluralism and democracy. [...]


Thursday, December 06, 2012

Rita Hayworth is "Stayin' Alive"

We recently got DSL at our house. No more "FAP" usage to worry about, and now we can watch video in real time too. Hooray!

My dad sent me a link to this video. I thought about it tonight, because the song "Stayin Alive" was mentioned at my CPR class tonight (because it has the right 'beat' for doing CPR!).

It made me think of Rita, and I've wanted to post this for a while now, because she was a fabulous dancer. And these dance moves are timeless.

Coming soon to the USA?

Report: Two-thirds of Millionaires left Britain to avoid 50p tax rate resulting in billions in lost revenue for UK government      

Two Oregon Historical Disasters

I heard about these at a C.E.R.T. class, and then looked them up on the internet:

When dynamite truck blew up in Roseburg, it looked like nuclear war
A truck driver parked 13,000 pounds of explosives next to the hardware store downtown. That night the hardware store caught fire … and so did the dynamite, in the biggest human-caused disaster in Oregon history.[...]
It's quite a story. Has 8mm film footage of the aftermath.

Then there's this:

The Biscuit Fire
The Biscuit Fire was a wildfire that took place in 2002 that burned nearly 500,000 acres (2,000 km²) in the Siskiyou National Forest in southern Oregon and northern California, in the Western United States. The fire was named after Biscuit Creek in southern Oregon. [...]
It has a satellite photo that shows the enormity of the fire.