Wednesday, April 01, 2015

"By the time they start kindergarten, children from professional families hear 19 million more words than working-class kids."

The title of this post is an amazing quote from "Bootstraps Aren't Enough", a book review of "Our Kids" by Robert D. Putnam, which argues that "children’s access to the core institutions that foster their development—strong families, strong schools, strong communities—is increasingly separate and unequal".

Nineteen million more words, in the first 5+ years (about 2000 days or so). 19,000,000 / 2,000 = 9,500 more words ... per day.

This statistic seems hard to believe, but the larger point still holds, and there is abundant research to prove it: kids in homes with two parents who graduated high school and married before having kids are almost certain to be steeped in a much richer language environment for the crucial first few years of life, when so many patterns are set for the future, and so much brain development is occurring.

People who want to talk about inequality should look here. There's where it begins: the parenting and the overall quality of the upbringing of the kids.

There is lots of research that backs this up, by E.D. Hirsch Jr. and others. The early years, plus the first few years of school, up through 3rd or 4th grade, are what really makes the difference in education. This is because kids who know more can learn more, and learn it faster. The earlier you start the process, the bigger the advantages going forward, and they build upon each other. Rinse, repeat. It is not something you can "fix" in high school or college, because learning doesn't work that way, and cognitive science proves it, regardless of the latest educational lingo.

Being poor does not necessarily imply being uneducated. There have always been poor children in the world, but many of them have overcome those challenges to do great things in their lives. We make an error when we confuse the two, because they are only partially related, no matter what politicians and other professional liars say. Believing that the two are hopelessly intertwined says, essentially, that they're victims who need to be cared for, which is not just passive and whiny, it's the wrong attitude for the poor / uneducated person to take to deal with the problem at hand.

The best way to improve the lives of the poor is to educate them well and prepare them for a future with a job and a life of productivity and abundance, and the best way to do that is to teach them a wide array of knowledge and facts about the world around them, enriching their vocabulary and reading comprehension. And this process has to start in the early years, from K-3, because of the proven benefits of the Matthew effect. This paper by Robert Pondiscio, "Poverty Fighting Elementary Schools: Knowledge Acquisition is Job One", goes into some detail about all of that. More important, it shows that other approaches, such as teaching reading as a skill, do not work, and cannot work, because reading is not really a "skill" like driving a car or playing a guitar.

Today when we talk about the poor, we tend to subconsciously mean "poor and from a dysfunctional cultural or family situation". It's the "dysfunctional cultural or family situation" - the parents and other caregivers - that are the problem, not the "poor" part, although obviously there is some serious overlap in that Venn diagram. Stated another way, kids who are poor but have quality parenting tend not to run into the kinds of problems later in life that the dysfunctional family kids do. Both groups are poor - but the dysfunctional family kids are the ones who mostly end up in jail or dead by the time they're 21.

As good parenting can lead to good outcomes, and to well-adjusted, life-affirming, socially-adaptable offspring, so too can bad parenting lead to bad outcomes, and poorly adjusted, nihilistic, socially toxic offspring. This idea should not shock or surprise, and the fact that it does shock or surprise some people is cause for concern, because it's not just common sense, it is validated by thousands of years of human history across every culture that has ever existed. It's as true and honest as the sun rising in the East every morning.

With the occasional exception - obviously, some people are just born bad, but those are very rare - children are not born stupid or anti-social; but some of them are turned that way by the influences of the world they are born into. By the people in their families, and in their communities, and by the serial interactions they have with those people. This list would include a lot of people we are supposed to pretend are not toxic to their children and to society at large, even though we know that they are.

Think gang-banger fathers who sired children at 15 with girls who see no future for themselves and figure, "why not have a kid at 14, what the hell else am I going to do with my life?" Think immature, unmarried, poorly-educated, dysfunctional young "parents", which is really the wrong word for people who do almost nothing for their kids. Think grandma is 31, mom is 14, dad is nowhere to be found. Think neighborhoods where punks hang out on street corners, selling drugs when they should be in school, and where the liquor stores are extra busy on the day the government checks arrive.

Most kids born into that world, with their lives dominated by bad influences at every turn, are doomed, although a few will escape, against all odds.

And when these kids enter school, a product of a toxic home environment that does almost nothing to cultivate or enrich their existence, it is pure folly to expect teachers and classrooms to fix what is wrong in their lives and teach them things too. Kids who worry about getting shot walking to school might not be able to focus in class very well, compared to a suburban kid who gets driven to school by Mom in some giant SUV.

Education has to build on top of culture, and work within it; education simply cannot make up for a toxic culture that causes a kid to make bad decisions and view the world as a place filled with victims and oppressors rather than a place filled with opportunities.

We view the inequality problem as an education issue, but it is more of a cultural problem. We're just not honest enough with ourselves to even begin to have that conversation.

Friday, March 20, 2015

Several recent stories have appeared in our local paper about the effects of budget cuts proposed by Gov. Bruce Rauner - for instance, "Bad run for park projects, frozen state grants mean suburban districts must rethink plans".

All is proceeding as I have foreseen. The sad, simple truth that few want to admit is that the Illinois government has been borrowing against the future to provide unrealistic benefits in the present. And this has been happening for years now, and the bills are coming due. And the Illinois government, and its public union friends, want the people of Illinois to make up this difference, by paying higher taxes to fund public pension programs that are still going to be insolvent no matter what.

When a state is insolvent by $100B or more - that's $100,000,000,000, folks, and Illinois only has about 13 million residents, so do the math on that if you need to, but it's around $20,000 per person - the first step to solvency is admitting you have a spending problem. It's like Alcoholics Anonymous: "My name is Springfield, and I have a spending problem".

Instead we get lawyers for the public employee unions arguing in the Illinois Supreme Court that it is unconstitutional to cut any benefits at all, and against all likelihood, they do have a point, because the Illinois Constitution was re-written 40+ years ago to -- as we learn recently -- grant free license to politicians to spend like drunken sailors in order to solicit votes and consolidate power. Then, when the debt reaches crisis level, they can suddenly demand payment from the taxpayers who were not party to any of this fiscal irresponsibility. What are you gonna do, we can't cut the payouts to government employees because it's illegal, and it's right there in the State Constitution, so open your wallets, taxpayers. Math be damned!

But this is boring, I know. These kinds of discussions bore people, because they seem so disconnected from reality. Who cares? So a bunch of politicians and unions are arguing about money, I'll never see any of it anyway. How does that impact me?

Here's how. We rely on government in many and varied ways, directly and indirectly. Prepare for every single expense you incur through any government body to become more expensive. Prepare for service levels to decline: garbage pickup once a week? Let's try every other week. That will be fun in July, when it's 95 degrees out and you cooked chicken last week.

Prepare for schools to start cutting programs: band, sports, various clubs and activities, gone. Prepare for property tax bill to fund local schools and the escalating costs of the education unions? Going up, probably way up. My taxes are already close to $12,000 a year, so even if I owned the house free and clear, it would cost me nearly $1000 a month just to live in my own house. This is a trade I cannot really justify while I have kids in the local schools, which are pretty good, but after that? Why on earth would I willingly do that? To fund lavish retirements for superintendents, and teachers who, increasingly, are pretty well paid when you factor in the job protections they have, and the fact they can get automatic raises just by getting progress towards advanced degrees (this is featherbedding, and it needs to go away). And summers off. And a guaranteed pension. And a job for life. And free, or very highly subsidized, health care, for life. This is a pretty sweet package, and ALL of it is funded by taxpayers. I find it more than a little bit disconcerting that teachers and education professionals feel no sense of guilt for demanding to have their cake and eat it too, in the form of benefits both now and into the future, and let others worry about paying for it. But unions do that to people.

Water and sewer bill? Going up. Highway tolls? Up. Garbage collection? Up. Property taxes? Up. Sales tax? Up, probably several times over the next 10 years. Income tax? Hmmm, what do you think?

Car licensing and registration fees? Trains, buses, and other public transportation? Up, up, up.

Parks, libraries, police and fire departments, city and county services like plowing in the winter and storm water management and everything in between, maintenance of highways and roads, county jails and prisons, free medical care at publicly funded hospitals: more expensive and less available.

AND, people who work at these places are either going to lose jobs, or find their hours cut, sometimes drastically. Which means both fewer employed people, and poor service for the taxpayer. Lose/lose.

The world is changing before our eyes, but many people lack the imagination to see what it all means.

All of this has to happen, to some degree or another. Has to. Somebody has to pay for all of that. Services will have to be cut. Real people will stop getting state benefits that they need, like health care. When that cash flow stops, it's going to hurt.

And this is just the things we already pay for in some way - and as we all know, politicians are always looking for ways to raise revenue by implementing fees and taxes on other things, to fund their spending habit. Even local governments rely increasingly on revenue from enforcement of minor administrative laws - this will only get worse. Those red light cameras are revenue enhancement schemes, not public safety projects to make you and I safer.

In the business world, when a company builds up too much debt, this may trigger bankruptcy, where creditors - those who are owed money by the bankrupt entity - line up for the crumbs that are left, in an order that is proscribed by law and interpreted by a bankruptcy court judge. Most of those creditors receive pennies on the dollar, although some will get close to what they are owed, and there is a definite pecking order. Being forced to take a settlement of pennies on the dollar is known as "taking a haircut".This is where the risk comes in - the creditors who get all that is owed them, or nearly all, escape with little harm, and nearly all of the risk falls to the others. 

But states do not declare bankruptcy, or they haven't yet. Cities have, and do, and that process is better understood by all involved.

So place your bets. When the math can't work, it doesn't matter what the law says. People don't like being treated like piggy banks by corrupt liars in Springfield. 

Monday, March 09, 2015

Hillary Clinton's bullshit and the puzzling question of why Americans line up to buy it

So Hillary Clinton has been in the news a lot lately. I guess I need to weigh in on it, so that later when the moron nation that is modern America decides to elect this lying piece of shit, I can point back to this post and say "SEE?!".

The previous week, it was revealed that the Clinton Foundation has been accepting cash from foreign governments while she was Secretary of State. This violates every standard of ethical behavior along with, I would hope, several laws. As if Hillary Clinton cared about laws. But it's worse than that.

She apparently violated federal law by using a personal email account to conduct official government business. But it's worse than that.

She hosted her own email server with complete administrative control over it, meaning she could "disappear" anything that could prove politically embarrassing (I won't bother discussing anything that could be illegal, because she does care one whit about that, only about what is politically embarrassing). But it's worse than that.

She hired consultants to install and configure the server, but they forgot to update the security certificate used by her domain name, and used a default certificate shipped with the software that is apparently very easily hacked, therefore (potentially) exposing every single email she sent or received to anybody who bothered to try to hack her account, including foreign belligerents. There could be blackmail material all over the world now, which can be used against us in the future; for all we know, it already has. But it's worse than that.

She pretends that her ass-covering ways comport with the spirit and intent of the law, and that by turning over 50,000 emails to satisfy FOIA requests, everybody should be happy with that because hey, she's Hillary Clinton, and she gets to write her own f*cking rules. But by running her own server, and keeping complete control over it, she retains the ability to delete anything she wants, should it be embarrassing, illegal, or anything else. Her credibility is therefore exactly zero as far a fulfilling any sort of investigation or FOIA request into any potential wrongdoing on her part. This is obvious even to a blind man, although not to our national media. But it's worse than that.

Politicians are wretched creatures, and we all know that. But the American people have turned into a curious, complacent lot, too complacent - and possibly too stupid - to understand that they are being screwed by an elite class who abuses every rule that obstructs them from their goals. Clinton is just part of the problem, but she illustrates it well. Yes, the media is a problem, and politicians are a problem, and all of that. Yes, yes, yes. But at some point people who consume what the media and politicians tell them have to take responsibility for accepting it blindly, instead of using their brains to discover how true any of it might be, and dig for details that might change the story a bit.

Maybe it was possible at some point in the past to trust implicitly what the news media told us, and to trust what politicians told us, although if you know anything at all about history, the very idea is ridiculous and naive on its face. But let's grant the point anyway, because it used to be at least somewhat possible. But that world no longer exists. You need to change your filters.

The media has been exposed as a self-parody of a Democratic PR organization, and the only people who don't see that now are part of that PR operation without realizing it - they're the marks. The stooges. There's an old saying, "if you're in the con game and you don't know who the mark is ... you're the mark". Most people who follow news and politics, because they "don't have time" to dig into anything they hear from these liars, also "don't have time" to learn about the world as it is, instead of as told to them. But they have time to watch silly bullshit on TV every night, and waste countless hours of their lives on social media and gaming and every other damn thing you can do on a glowing screen, that helps turn their brains into mush, and turns them into obedient little slaves.

Tuesday, March 03, 2015

Iran must have pictures of Obama with a sheep or something

Does the president want to be Iran's bitch, or is it just a side effect of being a geopolitical dumbass?

It can be hard to tell with this guy. He talks tough, but his every action belies that tough talk. In fact, he does literally nothing strategically that advances the interests of America, or freedom generally, in the world. Every policy, in fact, does the opposite.

Of course, the distinction is somewhat immaterial, since the actual real-world consequences are nearly identical whether one is a groveling stooge or just a plain ol' dumbass. Still, it makes for an interesting question, because it goes straight to motive and provides important context for future behavior.

Here is the Wall Street Journal: "Iran on the Nuclear Edge". For those of us who remember Iraq and the 1990s - hello, Washington? - this makes for very disturbing reading.

The latest startling detail is Monday’s leak that the U.S. has conceded to Iran’s demand that an agreement would last as little as a decade, perhaps with an additional five-year phase-out. After that Iran would be allowed to build its uranium enrichment capabilities to whatever size it wants. In theory it would be forbidden from building nuclear weapons, but by then all sanctions would have long ago been lifted and Iran would have the capability to enrich on an industrial scale.

On Wednesday Mr. Kerry denied that a deal would include the 10-year sunset, though he offered no details. We would have more sympathy for his desire for secrecy if the Administration were not simultaneously leaking to its media Boswells while insisting that Congress should have no say over whatever agreement emerges.

The sunset clause fits the larger story of how far the U.S. and its allies have come to satisfy Iran’s demands. The Administration originally insisted that Iran should not be able to enrich uranium at all. Later it mooted a symbolic enrichment capacity of perhaps 500 centrifuges. Last July people close to the White House began talking about 3,000. By October the Los Angeles Times reported that Mr. Kerry had raised the ceiling to 4,000.

Now it’s 6,000, and the Administration line is that the number doesn’t matter; only advanced centrifuges count. While quality does matter, quantity can have a quality all its own. The point is that Iran will be allowed to retain what amounts to a nuclear-weapons industrial capacity rather than dismantle all of it as the U.S. first demanded.
So, Kerry and Obama are excited about a plan where they give away just about everything and force Iran to concede nothing.

But wait - it gets worse.

Mr. Kerry also says that any deal will have intrusive inspections, yet he has a habit of ignoring Iran’s noncompliance with agreements it has already signed. Last November he insisted that “Iran has lived up” to its commitments under the 2013 interim nuclear agreement.
Just stop right there. Stop. Nuclear inspection teams run by the IAEA are nearly useless, regardless of what Kerry and Obama say. Inspections have almost no real power to catch anybody in the act: "we're from the U.N. and you better let us in or we will denounce you in the harshest possible terms back at HQ next month!" doesn't carry as much weight as some appear to think it does. Especially compared to, say, getting your ass blown to smithereens by military firepower.

When was the last time we heard about an inspection team stumbling upon an important find? Has there ever been one? I used to read a lot about Iraq weapons inspectors and the follies of IAEA inspectors back when Iraq was the main story on this front. Nothing much ever came of it, except of course the dog-and-pony show aspect. Pardon my lack of enthusiasm for the usefulness of future inspections.

Then we have the economic sanctions. Unfortunately, entire industries spring up around how to bypass those, and if you don't believe me, search "oil for food" and do a little reading up on how Saddam Hussein made a mockery of the U.N. Oil for Food program in the 90s and early 2000s. Here are a few links to get you started: The Economist, Heritage Institute , Council on Foreign Relations. It makes for sobering, compelling reading.

From the Heritage report above:
... the complicity of more than 2,200 companies in 66 countries as well as a number of prominent international politicians ... bribery, kickbacks, corruption, and fraud on a global scale-without a doubt the biggest financial scandal in modern history. It amply demonstrates how the Iraqi dictator generously rewarded those who supported the lifting of U.N. sanctions on Iraq and who paid lip-service to his barbaric regime. Oil-for-Food became a shameless political charade through which Saddam Hussein attempted to manipulate decision-making at the U.N. Security Council by buying the support of influential figures in Russia and France.
Sanctions create a black market for goods and services. People around the world will take advantage of that. Simply declaring an activity illegal does not cause it to stop, especially when there is an existing market for all those same goods and services that is suddenly "turned off". The world does not work that way. The world will never work that way.

Just to really hammer this point home, some more details from the Heritage report again:
  • "Oil surcharges were paid in connection with the contracts of 139 companies and humanitarian kickbacks were paid in connection with the contracts of 2,253 companies." Companies accused of paying kickbacks to the Iraqi regime include major global corporations such as Daimler-Chrysler AG, Siemens AG, and Volvo.
  • The Saddam Hussein regime received illicit income of $1.8 billion under the Oil-for-Food Program. $228.8 million was derived from the payment of surcharges in connection with oil contracts. $1.55 billion came through kickbacks on humanitarian goods.
  • In allocating its crude oil, "Iraq instituted a preference policy in favor of companies and individuals from countries that, as Tariq Aziz described, were perceived as 'friendly' to Iraq, particularly those that were members of the Security Council."
  • Russian companies purchased 30 percent of oil sold under the Oil-for-Food Program, worth approximately $19.3 billion. French companies were the second largest purchasers of Iraqi crude oil under the Program overall, contracting for approximately $4.4 billion of oil from Iraq. "Total International Limited and SOCAP International Limited contracts accounted for approximately 74 percent of the oil purchased by French companies under the Programme."
  • "Iraq awarded 'special allocations' not only to companies, but also to individuals and their representatives. These individuals were influential in their respective countries, espoused pro-Iraq views, or organized anti-sanctions activities. They included present and former government officials, politicians and persons closely associated with these figures, businessmen and activists involved in anti-sanctions activities."
Sanctions accomplish nothing except allowing politicians to proclaim that they are "getting things done". The only things they are getting done, in fact, are fooling a great many gullible people, and enabling bad actors in the world.

Even the Washington Post - hardly a conservative paper - is pretty concerned about the Iran deal being discussed, in a recent editorial The emerging Iran deal raises major concerns. They give several reasons, among them that while the original goal of the negotiations was to "eliminate Iran’s ability to enrich uranium, the administration now appears ready to accept an infrastructure of thousands of Iranian centrifuges" by moving the goalposts to the idea that we can "limit and monitor" that uranium, all for the laughably weak goal of preventing Iran from producing "the material for a warhead in less than a year". This is conceding every strategic goal to the Iranians.

What possible explanation is there for such concessions? Why on Earth would an American president give away nuclear capability to a country like Iran, that has made a habit of killing Americans for decades? You don't have to be conservative to find this extremely disturbing.

And one thing that keeps running through my mind: the president is now going out of his way to grant major concessions to the same Iranians that killed and maimed thousands of American troops during Operation Iraqi Freedom, via IEDs planted by Iranian militias / terrorists working in concert with the Shia in Iraq.

But hey, he's definitely not a Muslim! He just happens to make all the wrong decisions that help Muslim nations, at our expense.

Iran on the Nuclear Edge
Ayatollah sent message to Obama
"oil for food" search
Rolling up the culprits
The Final Volcker Oil for Food Report: An Assessment
Iraq Oil for Food Scandal
The emerging Iran deal raises major concerns
Rotten in Denmark
‘Geneva talks a facade, US-Iran worked secretly on deal for past year’

Monday, March 02, 2015

Fun with headlines: "Foreign governments gave millions to foundation while Clinton was at State Dept."

Why is that headline so passive (story is here)?

Where is the concern about ethics and the "appearance of impropriety" which form the basis of clear conflicts of interest like this? That is the bigger story here

To my mind, here's a more honest headline that fits the 'narrative' better, and we know how much our journalism friends love a good narrative (except when it embarrasses a Democrat):

Hillary Clinton uses Clinton Foundation as money-laundering operation to sell access to foreign governments, violating every conflict of interest guideline in legal history, and probably several major laws; career as politician, along with credibility, now in flames

There. Fixed it for ya.

Hey, no problem, it's what I do.

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

"Experts rethink belief that tech always lifts employment as machines take on skills once thought uniquely human"

What Clever Robots Mean for Jobs

"Experts", eh? Right.

Here's one "expert" from the article, MIT economist David Autor, who apparently reads too much left wing opinion blather about inequality:
“When I was in grad school, you knew if you worried about technology, you were viewed as a dummy—because it always helps people,” MIT economist David Autor said. But rather than killing jobs indiscriminately, Mr. Autor’s research found automation commandeering such middle-class work as clerk and bookkeeper, while creating jobs at the high- and low-end of the market. 
This is one reason the labor market has polarized and wages have stagnated over the past 15 years, Mr. Autor said. The concern among economists shouldn’t be machines soon replacing humans, he said: “The real problem I see with automation is that it’s contributed to growing inequality.”
No, the real problem is fewer jobs available for people who want them. Inequality by itself is not a problem if people are working and incomes are rising, and GDP is rising, and the economy is robust and growing. There will always be inequality, in the general sense of the term, and even when inequality is growing, this by itself does not indicate problems in the economy.

People who are working and who feel like they have opportunities and options in their working lives, and who see wages and incomes rising and therefore feel confidence in the future, and who therefore start families and buy houses and cars, do not really care if some rich guy they don't know is making millions of dollars a year, or not. They just don't. Why should they?

This focus on inequality is a dangerous attempt to redefine what real people want and need from a job.

Then there's the "fear of technology" thing. For decades now, anybody who questioned the relentless march of technology as having any potential downsides that might, just might, outweigh some of the benefits was derided and insulted as an out-of-touch backward-looking reactionary Luddite.

Yet now it seems that even the "experts" are calling into question their cherished assumptions about technology, and the impact it is already having on the job market.
Economist Erik Brynjolfsson had long dismissed fears that automation would soon devour jobs that required the uniquely human skills of judgment and dexterity.
Many of his colleagues at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, where a big chunk of tomorrow’s technology is conceived and built, have spent their careers trying to prove such machines are within reach.
“It’s gotten easier to substitute machines for many kinds of labor. We should be able to have a lot more wealth with less labor,” Mr. Brynjolfsson said. “But it could happen that there are people who want to work but can’t.”
In the Australian Outback, for example, mining giant Rio Tinto uses self-driving trucks and drills that need no human operators at iron ore mines. Automated trains will soon carry the ore to a port 300 miles away.
The Port of Los Angeles is installing equipment that could cut in half the number of longshoremen needed in a workplace already highly automated.
Computers do legal research, write stock reports and news stories, as well as translate conversations; at car dealers, they generate online advertising; and, at banks, they churn out government-required documents to flag potential money laundering—all jobs done by human workers a short time ago.
It could happen? It's already happening.

So it seems, then, that the Luddites might have been right. Sometimes, being a reactionary is exactly the right response, because sometimes, things move faster than we understand and can adapt to.

And the experts might, just might, have spent decades devising ways to destroy the economy by cannibalizing the job market, helping to create a dependent underclass that goes on the government dole, freezing them there and making inequality dramatically worse.

The huge irony here is that nearly all of these technocrats are lefties with excessive faith in government power and the inevitable progress in every avenue of life via the magic of technology, yet they have spent decades screwing the very people they pretend to "care" about more than you and me: those with less education and fewer skills.

Saturday, February 21, 2015

The limits of Christian love in a battle against ISIS and radical Islamists

For quite a few years now, when sitting in church listening to a sermon, or reading the news about atrocities around the world, I have this nagging feeling that Jesus' message of loving your neighbor is just not enough any more.

It seems to me that, while we like it or not, we are now enmeshed in an existential battle for our existence against radical Islam. There is plenty of evidence all around us that this is, in actual fact, the world we live in, despite the hectoring and lecturing from the political class about how awful we are for seeing the world with both eyes wide open. Start here, with an asbsolute must-read if there ever was one: What ISIS Really Wants. I'll wait. Go ahead.

There is so much to discuss here, and people get all wrapped up in either the religious or the political, or both. This shows the limitations of using exclusively a religious, or political, frame of reference to view the world. Both are important, and both are relevant, but sometimes neither one by itself can inform our world view sufficiently to cause us to see what is clearly happening before us.

We went to the Ash Wednesday service this week, and at several different times during the service, we were informed that we need to dig deeper, to love more, and that the meek shall inherit the earth, and various other Christ-centered messages, as usual. And these are, to get the obvious out of the way, very good messages to hear for anybody, generally speaking. The world needed to hear this then, and it needs it now, and I have no problem with that.

But during all this, at several times, an image kept popping into my head: the image of the 21 Christians beheaded by ISIS recently.

I'm no biblical scholar, and I don't play one on TV or in church on Sundays either, but I do get the essential messages of Jesus in the New Testament: love your neighbor as yourself, and always strive for more by recognizing that we are imperfect.

Which is, again, a very good message to hear, that makes us better human beings and as a result, makes our world better.

But what if we are confronted with people who hate us for who we are? What if we are confronted with people who kill us - with glee - for who we are?

Jesus would tell us to "turn the other cheek".

This advice is not always helpful. Sometimes, there are people who want to kill you just because they hate you and everything you stand for.

Sometimes there are people who relish the thought of killing somebody like you, and who think you are a fool for wanting to turn the other cheek and to love them as yourself.

And you know, they may be right, on that last point. You might be a fool, indeed.

There is an old saying, "he brought a knife to a gunfight", and it colorfully illustrates an important error that we all make sometimes: using the wrong tool for the job. Today, the main job we have before us is to stop the rise of ISIS and the radical Islamists generally, at least as I see it.

And I would say that the message of Jesus Christ has nothing to offer us in this particular situation. Mankind, sadly, is not driven solely by the concept of Christian love. Even though we wish this were true, it is not true at this point in the timeline of history, and believing it is true is causing Christians to fail to see the world as it is for the purposes of how to move forward and how to think about the problems before us.

And "you cannot defeat an enemy you do not admit exists", a quote that is so true and so relevant to today in so many ways. It's from the former head of the DIA (Defense Intelligence Agency), Lt. Michael Flynn. Here are some other good quotes (but read the article):
“There is no substitute, none, for American power,” the general said, to occasional cheers and ultimately a standing ovation from a crowd of special operators and intelligence officers at a Washington industry conference.

He also slammed the administration for refusing to use the term “Islamic militants” in its description of ISIS and al Qaeda.

“You cannot defeat an enemy you do not admit exists,” Flynn said.

He said the administration is unwilling to admit the scope of the problem, naively clinging to the hope that limited counterterrorist intervention will head off the ideological juggernaut of religious militancy.

“There are many sincere people in our government who frankly are paralyzed by this complexity,” said Flynn, so they “accept a defensive posture, reasoning that passivity is less likely to provoke our enemies.”

Flynn refused to name President Obama as the focus of his ire in comments afterward to The Daily Beast, saying that he was simply “sending a message to the American people.” But the comments show the widening rift between some in the national-security community who want to see more special-operations and intelligence assets sent into the fight against ISIS and other groups in Syria and beyond.
Sometimes, I see a tendency in Christians and Christian churches to tell ourselves that by asking more and more from ourselves, all will be right with the world. That if we can just demand more love and caring from ourselves, this is the key to fixing what is wrong.

And I see a curious tendency in both Christians and Christian churches to avoid calling attention to the Muslim slaughter and persecution of Christians being perpetrated by ISIS in the Middle East, and by Boko Haram in Nigeria, and other trouble spots. Children are being beheaded and crucified, yet the West yawns, and Christianity yawns. Why is that? Are we afraid of hurting their feelings? What kind of Christian doesn't even stand in solidarity with other Christians throughout the world, in the defense of not just their religion, but of the basic rights of man to worship as they choose? This refusal to call attention to this slaughter bothers me a great deal, and it leads me to the inevitable conclusion that political correctness, social justice, and other "progressive" ideas are blocking a reckoning that truly needs to occur. As noted in the first article above:
But Muslims who call the Islamic State un-Islamic are typically, as the Princeton scholar Bernard Haykel, the leading expert on the group’s theology, told me, “embarrassed and politically correct, with a cotton-candy view of their own religion” that neglects “what their religion has historically and legally required.” Many denials of the Islamic State’s religious nature, he said, are rooted in an “interfaith-Christian-nonsense tradition.”
The "interfaith-Christian-nonsense" tradition has always seemed a little odd to me, for precisely this reason.

Pope Francis was not afraid to speak the truth: "They were killed simply for the fact that they were Christians.  It makes no difference whether they be Catholics, Orthodox, Copts or Protestants. They are Christians!"

So here we are. The world is becoming radically more dangerous, and a hate-filled group is growing in power and attracting adherents, and Christians and the West in general re-assure themselves with inward-focused Christian platitudes and politically-correct fiction that is clearly at odds with the facts on the ground.

I'm trying to work on being a better Christian, and maybe I'm just flawed somehow in pursuit of that goal, but it's primarily because of things like this that keep getting in the way. And I'm really at a loss as to how to reconcile it.

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Adults caught cheating in LLWS. So obviously it's evidence of racism.

Some people are up in arms because the team that won the Little League World Series last year, Jackie Robinson West of the south side of Chicago, was found to be breaking the boundary rules. In other words, they pulled in kids from a wider geographic area than is allowed by the rules.

Playing fast and loose with boundary rules is a pretty common tactic in youth and high school sports. The Little League World Series, like nearly all national tournaments in any sport, is set up by geographic areas, with local tournaments feeding into state and regional tournaments, so there has to be some way to split things up geographically to prevent exactly what seems to have happened here - creating a "best of" team that has inherent advantages over other teams that choose to observe the rules.

And according to Mark Mulder, former major league pitcher, the JRW team has been doing this for at least 20-25 years that he knows of:

But that didn't stop the bitching and whining about getting caught cheating, by all the usual suspects: a random mom, and Jesse Jackson, and Father Pfleger. The usual racist bullshit from the usual racist suspects is getting so old, and so tiresome, and I refuse to indulge their lowest common denominator idiocy by reprinting any of their blather here (but here is a good summary at Second City Cop: Baseball or DEATH!)

The children players did what they should do - play baseball, mostly, although it strains the imagination to believe that none of the kids knew anything about some of their players being ineligible. Still, they are not at fault, and cannot be, since they are (were) all 12 years old. The adults have to bear all of the blame here, a point made forcefully and convincingly by Laurence Holmes on 670 The Score. He happens to be a black man, who not only grew up in the neighborhood represented by the JRW team - in theory at least - he played for the team as a kid. He has stayed involved, and supports them financially today. So his credibility here is extremely high, unlike some of the clowns pushing each other out of the way, to get in front of the cameras, to show how outraged they are that the powers that be at LLWS had the gall to impose a punishment on a team that broke the rules.

Paying a price for breaking rules. Even for an all-black team. What will they think of next?

The Holmes monologue linked above (it's about 12 minutes long and well worth the time, please give it a listen) gets it exactly right: the adults that broke the rules are the bad guys here. And those adults are despicable because they used these these kids by intentionally breaking rules in order to win, and now instead of accepting blame and showing contrition and accountability for their actions, and turning embarrassment into a teachable moment, and providing actual leadership, they want to blame everybody and everything but themselves.

Thursday, February 12, 2015

Eight reasons you should see "American Sniper", right now

  1. Pretty good movie, better story
  2. Chris Kyle is badass
  3. Bradley Cooper and Clint Eastwood deserve giant kudos on the role they created, and Cooper's acting; the overall feel reminds me of movies from the 50s and 60s, you know, back when men were men
  4. The ending is a stunner, even if you already expect it
  5. Hollywood finally made a movie that celebrates an American military hero from the Iraq War, one that does not lecture the audience in a condescending tone about politics and “torture” and the supposed evils wrought on the world by the American military
  6. It set several box office records - you don't want to miss out
  7. It is not one of those crappy, "look how awful we are" movies about America's role and influence in the world
  8. Several of the above drive liberals nuts 

Thank God for Chris Kyle and all the other “sheepdogs” who risk their lives to protect the rest of us. You all have my humble and eternal gratitude.

Wednesday, February 11, 2015

You want evidence of a warming trend? Let me "adjust" it for you ... here you go!

As somebody who has followed the science behind global warming for a long time, I've discovered that there are several ways that it doesn't really qualify as "science" in the true sense of the word.

One of the most important ways is surely the temperature data itself. It's highly manipulated in various ways, which is a very ponderous question all by itself, because why exactly would there be a need to adjust temperature data? What exactly are you doing to it, and why? The data is the data. In what sense can we apply "adjustments" to raw data without essentially corrupting it?

Then there is the question of revising older temperatures to establish trends that do not really exist. From the article above:
When future generations look back on the global-warming scare of the past 30 years, nothing will shock them more than the extent to which the official temperature records – on which the entire panic ultimately rested – were systematically “adjusted” to show the Earth as having warmed much more than the actual data justified.

Two weeks ago, under the headline “How we are being tricked by flawed data on global warming”, I wrote about Paul Homewood, who, on his Notalotofpeopleknowthat blog, had checked the published temperature graphs for three weather stations in Paraguay against the temperatures that had originally been recorded. In each instance, the actual trend of 60 years of data had been dramatically reversed, so that a cooling trend was changed to one that showed a marked warming.

This was only the latest of many examples of a practice long recognised by expert observers around the world – one that raises an ever larger question mark over the entire official surface-temperature record.
Check out these animated comparisons of historical data over the last 100 years or so: raw, unadjusted data overlaid with the adjusted data. Note that in every case, the raw historical data was adjusted down, but less so as it moved towards today, and so it turned what was a somewhat chaotic, real-world overall cooling trend into a nice smooth warming trend.

When the temperature data is inconvenient, and you as a climate scientist need evidence of a warming trend to justify your existence and compete for the buckets of cash handed out by governments and NGOs to climate scientists who can show evidence of warming, well, what do you do? You adjust it.

Presto! What was a cooling trend instantly becomes a warming trend instead. All due to the magic of "adjustments" to raw data. Again: why does it need adjusting in the first place? It is by nature empirical data, recorded by the instruments available at the time. It is what it is. The practice of adjusting it brings up obvious credibility questions, as demonstrated by those animated gifs at the link above.

If this practice is widespread, then we know that most or all of the evidence establishing warming trends is essentially garbage. Which means the conclusion is garbage. And so are all the speeches, the carbon cap-and-trade legislation, the carbon financial markets, the carbon "offsets" and all the shady businesses spawned by them, etc.

I think we can all figure it out from here.

Monday, February 09, 2015

ISIS burns a Jordanian Air Force pilot to death - but let's not judge them because people who are not us were mean hundreds of years ago

See, this is exactly why people need to understand history, to call bullshit when and where necessary.

President Obama at the National Prayer Breakfast on Thursday:
As we speak, around the world, we see faith inspiring people to lift up one another -- to feed the hungry and care for the poor, and comfort the afflicted and make peace where there is strife. We heard the good work that Sister has done in Philadelphia, and the incredible work that Dr. Brantly and his colleagues have done. We see faith driving us to do right.

But we also see faith being twisted and distorted, used as a wedge -- or, worse, sometimes used as a weapon. From a school in Pakistan to the streets of Paris, we have seen violence and terror perpetrated by those who profess to stand up for faith, their faith, professed to stand up for Islam, but, in fact, are betraying it. We see ISIL, a brutal, vicious death cult that, in the name of religion, carries out unspeakable acts of barbarism -- terrorizing religious minorities like the Yezidis, subjecting women to rape as a weapon of war, and claiming the mantle of religious authority for such actions.

We see sectarian war in Syria, the murder of Muslims and Christians in Nigeria, religious war in the Central African Republic, a rising tide of anti-Semitism and hate crimes in Europe, so often perpetrated in the name of religion.

So how do we, as people of faith, reconcile these realities -- the profound good, the strength, the tenacity, the compassion and love that can flow from all of our faiths, operating alongside those who seek to hijack religious for their own murderous ends?

Humanity has been grappling with these questions throughout human history. And lest we get on our high horse and think this is unique to some other place, remember that during the Crusades and the Inquisition, people committed terrible deeds in the name of Christ. In our home country, slavery and Jim Crow all too often was justified in the name of Christ. Michelle and I returned from India -- an incredible, beautiful country, full of magnificent diversity -- but a place where, in past years, religious faiths of all types have, on occasion, been targeted by other peoples of faith, simply due to their heritage and their beliefs -- acts of intolerance that would have shocked Gandhi, the person who helped to liberate that nation.

So this is not unique to one group or one religion. There is a tendency in us, a sinful tendency that can pervert and distort our faith. In today’s world, when hate groups have their own Twitter accounts and bigotry can fester in hidden places in cyberspace, it can be even harder to counteract such intolerance. But God compels us to try. And in this mission, I believe there are a few principles that can guide us, particularly those of us who profess to believe.

I literally cannot believe my ears, that an allegedly Christian American president stands before a Christian group at a prayer breakfast and instead of attacking the despicable actions of ISIS, he defends them by invoking comparisons to the Crusades and slavery. This is both sloppy and disingenuous, not to mention historically inaccurate and morally indefensible. Is it really necessary to pick this apart? Apparently so. On we go.

The Crusades were a series of wars of retaliation, not aggression, waged by Christians to retake territory conquered by Islamic forces over centuries across Africa, the Middle East, and Europe, essentially since the rise of Mohammed. Islam was certainly no "religion of peace" then, it was all about warfare and conquest. Christians fought back and retook some, but not all, of this territory; most of it remained under Muslim control until the Battle of Vienna in 1683. So why is this viewed by so many people today as some sort of unjust war, a killing spree in the name of religion? This is an anti-Christian lie dressed up as history.

The Crusades were also 700-800 years ago -- bringing up a war fought in retaliation to Muslim aggression, in comparison to the acts of today by radical Islamists, is a sure sign that you've got no compelling argument whatsoever. It's counter-productive historical cherry-picking. It's well beneath the office of President to offer this kind of weak tea and expect people to believe a word of it, much less to accept it as morally equivalent to burning a man alive and filming it.

What about slavery and Crow laws? Well, slavery was abolished first in Great Britain, driven by a Christian named William Wilberforce, who served an enormous role in world history in re-shaping attitudes about human rights and what was permissible in Western culture. In the U.S., the abolitionist movement was largely driven by Christians as well. We should also note the courage and leadership of President Lincoln, a Christian who regularly referenced religion as a force for good in his calls to moral authority in his legendary speeches and writings. Wilberforce was a personal hero of Lincoln's. Meanwhile, the Jim Crow era was the legacy of a racist Southern Democrat power structure, codified by a racist Supreme Court decision, Plessy vs. Ferguson, that endowed the "separate but equal" concept with the force of settled law, until overturned by Brown vs. Board of Education in 1954. None of this was the legacy of any Christian doctrine. I'm not quite sure what his point was there, except to throw in a gratuitous anti-Christian slam for fun.

Christianity measures itself against an impossible standard - Jesus Christ himself. So the criticism that it is imperfect is spot on. So what? Lots of things are imperfect ... just about everything, in fact. This is not a true criticism, when you really stop and think about it for a few minutes. And on the list of questions about how to live in today's world, and the choices we make every day, the Crusades, the Inquisitions, slavery, and Jim Crow laws do not appear anywhere, because they are all pretty much irrelevant. Old news, all of it. Everybody with an ounce of common sense knows that. And to the very limited extent that these things do matter in today's world, at some point we have to move on and stop obsessing over things that we didn't do, and that we can't undo. It's a giant waste of everybody's time, to be perfectly frank.

Why would the president, who is ostensibly a Christian, engage in such silly, easily debunked anti-Christian rhetoric? His words, and more importantly his actions, give the uncomfortable but unavoidable impression that he is an unrelenting apologist for radical Islam. This would have been very good to know in 2008.

If burning a man to death and filming it for the world to see is not enough to make him admit that the world has a radical Islam problem, when even Muslim Arabs in Jordan and elsewhere can see it, then nothing ever will. And that indicates, to me, that he is actively working the other side -- with radical Islam -- against America and the rest of the civilized world.

Wednesday, February 04, 2015

The Unemployment Rate is Just One of Several Big Lies, Brought to You Every Day by the Political Class

Jim Clifton, Chairman and CEO at Gallup, wrote an interesting piece about unemployment numbers called "The Big Lie: 5.6% Unemployment" yesterday.

He makes the somewhat obvious point that the government, by refusing to count people in the unemployment statistics who want a job but have stopped looking after several months is, well, telling a Big Lie. Some government bureaucrat, in an appalling lack of judgment and honesty, decided it was OK to assume that some guy in his late 40s who got laid off and now can't find a decent job, but who still has a wife and kids and a mortgage, is somehow no longer in trouble after he stops paying his mortgage and moves in with extended family. Right. That would be news to him, his family, and his mortgage company.

You still need to eat, even after the BLS decides you are no longer "unemployed".

Likewise it strains belief to suppose that a 27 year old college graduate who can only find work as a coffee house barista, part-time, is starting on the path to success that we all picture in our heads after graduation: moving out into the world and into their own apartments, buying their first car, and starting their young adult lives. A big part of that is having financial leverage: a solid job and a good income. Working 29 hours - or even 49 hours - at an hourly rate cannot really move you forward in that journey. Such a job is a place-holder, nothing more, and was never intended for college graduates in the first place. We should quit pretending there is anything normal about it. There isn't. It's a big picture, long term disaster in slow motion.

There are millions and millions of these types of people out there, and all of them are probably pretty damn angry when the White House and the media carry on about how unemployment is not high any more. And they have a right to be. Because that 5.6% number is just not valid. It's insulting to everybody affected by joblessness over the last 6 years, to be truthful. These are people's families, houses, and lives we are talking about.

In a real recovery, hiring and income grow quickly, and people either never end up in the situations above, or quickly move out of them. That's what a recovery *is*. Take away either hiring or income, and you cannot really call it a recovery any more.

And that's what we have today, hiring without rising income. Incomes and wages are stagnant or declining for the middle class, and that is because the middle class needs economic growth in order to thrive, unlike the bottom 50% and the top 5-10%, who can rely on government freebies and existing capital respectively.

It's nice that Mr. Clifton spoke up, but I question why it took so long. I suspect that having Mr. Obama rather than Mr. Bush in the White House explains most, or all, of it.