Sunday, December 16, 2012

[As my "regular" reader(s) will have once known--I haven't posted anything here for over a year as my husband's health continued to deteriorate--this blog has been almost exclusively political.  But there are many of life's realms made up of often random-appearing dots.  It has been my mission from the beginning to be the pencil that helps others to connect some of those dots so that a pattern begins to emerge.  The following is very much in that vein.--legacyguy.]

For the past couple of decades, I have considered myself to be an atheist.  I do not believe that the Earth was created.  I do not believe in heaven or hell.  I do not believe in the inerrancy of the Bible. I do not--or, at least, did not--believe that within us lies a soul that survives the body after death.  A week ago, that last part changed.

My husband/life partner of thirteen years died from Parkinson's Disease two months ago.  Last Sunday, I went to bed around 10:30 PM, as usual.  Four hours later, I woke up needing to relieve my bladder.  (This is normal behavior for me.)  Returning to bed, my mind began to churn, as it is wont to do in the middle of the night.  Often lately, it is over my late beloved, Don.  I was beginning to get into some sad feelings when I realized that I had to pee again (also not unusual).  I got out of bed and sat on the commode.  As I sat there, I reached over and took a tissue from the box on the counter.  From where I sat, I could see clearly my bed and the window behind it. (There was also a box of tissues on the table next to the bed.)  I could have missed something.  I wasn't looking that direction all the time.

When I got back to the bed, I looked down at the dark brown, fitted sheet where I had lain just a couple of minutes before. There, carefully-placed, flat and slightly overlapping, were two tissues, put there as if awaiting my return.  My heart almost in my throat and my brain scanning for any clue as to how they might have gotten there, I picked up the tissues and cautiously slid into bed.  Very soon, I was using the tissues to dry my eyes as each possible scenario was eliminated, one-by-one.  The tissues were not there when I made the bed that morning.  They were not there when I got into bed that evening nor the first time I made a trip to the bathroom.  I had not used a tissue at all until I went to piss the first time and that tissue was in the wastebasket in the bathroom.  If I had lain on the tissues at any time during the night, they would not have been lying perfectly flat.  Why would there have been two of them?

I have no explanation for what happened other than a supernatural one.  This realization has rattled my belief system to the very quick.  It is as if Don were sending me a message from beyond the grave. 

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

The GOP has become a tribe

I started to write this posting a few days ago but didn't get beyond the title. My point was to be that the Republican Party has become so focused upon winning elections rather than doing good for the country that painting the Democrats as hating everything Americans are supposed to stand for has become more important to them than policy.  In order to do this, they have demonized undocumented immigrants, non-believers, racial minorities (through code and innuendo), the poor, the elderly, unions, working people, children, gay men and lesbians, and liberals.  (They have been aided and abetted in this effort by the Democratic Party, which has proven utterly feckless when it comes to providing an alternative view of the universe.)  As a result, the GOP has driven out all but the rich, the white, the bigoted, the militaristic, and the Luddites among their ranks.  They have become a tribe, with all the homogeneity, closed-mindedness, and inbreeding that that label implies.  All I have to do is listen as their leaders recite endlessly the same talking points over and over, often in contravention of all they have previously stood for, or look at the faces in a Tea Party rally crowd to understand how the GOP has morphed over the past 50 years.

Then, today, I read a piece on by Mike Lofgren that makes the case with much more authority and eloquence than I could ever muster.  Mr. Lofgren was a GOP staffer in both branches of Congress over a period of nearly 30 years.  He resigned last June in disgust over his disenchantment with the present evolution of the Party for which he had been for so long a loyal soldier.  I commend it to your consumption with all my heart, soul, and mind.  Here is the link.  It's somewhat lengthy but can be read in far less time than it takes a Democrat to use the word "liberal" in a speech.  Enjoy.

Thursday, August 18, 2011

God just became obsolete

Imagine opening your favorite newspaper or blog and reading the following story--

Genesis story confirmed by archaeological find

Archaeologists digging among ancient ruins in Palestine last month discovered a partial skeleton of what may be the progenitor of the Abrahamic religions. Half of the rib cage was intact, including a rib that has now been confirmed through DNA testing to be from a man's body. Carbon dating has determined that this "hybrid human" lived between 9500 and 10000 years ago. Theologians are still struggling with the significance of this find. "This could be an even bigger find than would be the Ark of the Covenant or Noah's Ark" said Pincus Ashkenazy, chief archaeologist for the Israeli Museum of Antiquities.

[Editor's note: The above story is entirely a figment of my imagination. No resemblance to any fact or real person is either intended or should be implied.]

As a non-believer whose inclinations run toward fact-based evidence as the most sound basis for conviction, I would have no choice but to question my pre-conceived notions of the existence of a Biblical God after reading and pondering upon such a story. But, as of today, no such story has ever appeared in any credible publication, to my knowledge.

Let me draw your attention to a story first published in The Washington Post. The text of the story follows:

DNA building blocks found in meteorites

By — Brian Vastag, Published: August 8

For 50 years, scientists have debated whether the components of DNA — the molecule central to all life on Earth — could spontaneously form in space. A new analysis of a dozen meteorites found in Antarctica and elsewhere presents the strongest evidence yet that the answer is yes.

Meteorites are space rocks that have fallen to the ground, and the new report bolsters the notion that heavy meteorite bombardment of the early Earth may have seeded the planet with the stuff of life.

“[M]eteorites may have served as a molecular kit providing essential ingredients for the origin of life on Earth and possibly elsewhere,” write the authors of the report out today in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

While life has not been found beyond Earth, all earthly plants and animals rely on DNA to store genetic information. At the center of the ladder-like DNA molecule lie ring-like structures called nucleobases.

It’s these tiny rings that scientists at NASA and the Carnegie Institution for Science in Washington found in 11 of 12 meteorites they scrutinized.

Two of the meteorites in particular, called Murchison and Lonewolf Nunataks 94102, contained a trove of nucleobases, including those also found in DNA. But these meteorites and also held an extraterrestrial secret: related but exotic nucleobases never seen before, said Michael Callahan, the NASA scientist who analyzed the space rocks.

Analysis of dirt and ice found near the meteorites showed no evidence of these exotic nucleobases.

Since the 1960s, other scientists have reported nucleobases in meteorites, but concerns about contamination always hung over those findings, said Max Bernstein, a NASA scientist who has studied organic molecules in meteorites but was not involved in the current study.

The detection of the exotic nucleobases, and their absence from surrounding material, helped rule out contamination in this study, said Callahan.

Bernstein said the study’s thoroughness gave him confidence in its conclusions. “I don’t think it’s contamination,” he said.

In laboratory experiments, Callahan and colleagues showed how the nucleobases could have formed inside meteorites. Simple chemical reactions involving ammonia, water and hydrogen cyanide — all ingredients found in meteorites — produced the wide range of nucleobases the scientists found in the space rocks.

“It would be awfully coincidental if our laboratory chemistry produced the same things we saw in the meteorites,” said Callahan.

Scientists have also found other building blocks of life — most notably amino acids, the links that form proteins — inside meteorites.

While Bernstein said that it’s impossible to discern whether the first life on Earth was built on chemicals that fell from the sky, that possibility is now stronger. “These molecules are at the core of [life’s] blueprints,” Bernstein said of the nucleobases. “It’s possible that the presence of these molecules in meteorites made us what we are today.”

There you have it--a scientific explanation for how life on Earth came to be, one that is consistent with all we know about the age of our planet and the origin of the species. Hopefully, this new discovery will be enough to open at least a crack in the closed minds of many people who cling to antiquated notions of magical beginnings and heavenly endings.

Sunday, February 20, 2011

Has the GOP become a force for evil?

"Evil" is defined in Wikipedia thus: 1) Evil generally seeks own [sic] benefit at the expense of others and is based on general malevolence and 2) any particular individual or [political entity] which may follow these forces or behaviors.

I herein maintain that a political party (or sub-set thereof), which, when possessed of sufficient political influence to effect actions which accrue to the benefit of itself and its benefactors to the clear and present detriment of others, is inherently malevolent. I would also maintain that being forced to pay a fair and reasonable level of taxes is not detrimental to any individual or organization in the sense intended in the context of this definition.

Therefore, a political party which consistently pursues positions which 1) seek to deny any group of citizens access to their full constitutional rights through withholding funds or redefining terms or following a course of "death by a thousand cuts" in an attempt to pacify a zealous portion of their political base; 2) manufacture a financial crisis so as to provide the political cover for undermining the well-being of a class of citizens which does not vote "as they should"; 3) seek to thwart every policy position of a president in the hope that it will make him (or her) look bad and help their own political cause; 4) ceaselessly berate our government and its employees in the attempt to deny it the popular confidence needed to effectively govern; 5) denigrate a nearly unanimously-held scientific theory which, if allowed to progress to its logical conclusion without human intervention, would mean the end of life as we know it simply because the alternative is to deny certain industries (which contribute financially to that party's coffers) future profits; 6) focus on reversing decades of human progress rather than finding solutions to real problems; 7) consider any and all solutions to common human problems that don't originate with domestic capitalists as worthless; 8) refuse any reasonable effort to address the questions of racism, religious persecution, homophobia, poverty, hunger, or poor health on the false grounds that they are either nonexistent or beyond our means; 9) derive from the principle that the more capital that is held by the fewest number, the better for everyone; and 10) pretend that 25% of its base is not so uninformed and naive as to risk dragging the country into a mindless, immoral morass of senseless-but-well-armed blabber is an evil institution.

It has taken me six-and-one half decades to reach this rather extreme position. Still, the Republican Party of today is such a far cry from that of President Eisenhower that I have trouble getting my mind around it. The political revolution that started with Ronald Reagan has brought us to the point where neither he nor Sen. Barry Goldwater could likely run for office today without having to worry about in intra-party battle with a primary challenger from the Right. This, with none of the social, economic, and political upheaval that let to Germany's slide into fascism in the 1920's and 30's. Yet, we now have state legislators who advocate making it legal to murder abortion providers. Others want to force everybody to carry a firearm, deny health care to poor women and children (perhaps, the "soft genocide" of economic conservatism), and denying the EPA the power to regulate greenhouse gases. When a person, motivated by the promise or actuality of economic gain, acts in furtherance of a design which would inevitably lead to the death of someone (perhaps thousands), we might call that accessory before the fact to involuntary manslaughter. I would prefer to simply call it "EVIL".

Friday, January 28, 2011

The Financial Crisis Inquiry Commission's Report--Good Job, Snow Job, or Blow Job?

Yesterday, the Financial Crisis Inquiry Commission published its report. After a year-and-a-half of delays, internal bickering, and staff changes, everyone is wondering if we really do know who to blame for the worst recession since the 1930's. It seems that the answer to that question depends upon who one believes, for there are two distinct opinions. [Note to those readers who might be contemplating writing a who-done-it novel: Split guilt or alternate endings do not sell well. People like some certainty when it comes to villainy.]

The 6-member majority, led by Phil Angelides, former California state treasurer, and five other Democratic-appointees (a group that was "not particularly ideological", according to USA Today) spread the blame with a broad brush: Wall Street, the federal government, the Federal Reserve, mortgagors, financial firms, and derivative-traders all came in for a little finger-pointing.

The four Republicans dissented, finding fault, not with Wall Street but with Pennsylvania Avenue, Main Street, and that insidious, amorphous entity known as the "Housing Bubble". Yes, if only Clinton and Bush II had not wanted to encourage expanded home ownership, thereby prompting mortgage lenders to peddle very low-interest rate products, and if home buyers hadn't been stupid or dishonest enough to believe the lies that their mortgage bankers were telling them, this whole disaster might have been avoided. But, you might ask, what about the Merrill Lynch's and Goldman Sachs's of Wall Street? Well, according to the minority, they were victims, merely trying to second-guess the housing market and applying free market principles. They were merely catching a ride on the housing bubble, trying to make a buck here and there. When the bubble burst, they were as surprised as anybody (though they hardly fell as hard as most).

The four members of the minority suffer from an ideological aversion to regulation. This is part-and-parcel with their failure to blame unfettered capitalism for any part of the crisis, a view subsumed from American Enterprise Institute fellow, Peter Wallison (see USA Today editorial linked above). I strongly recommend checking out the Wikipedia article on the AEI. Their ties to the Bush II administration are truly Cephalopodic.

Is there a dot here anywhere? I believe there is. Here's how USA Today put it:

"These dissents raise valid points, which are acknowledged in the majority report. But they glaringly omit the many failures of U.S. regulators to spot the growing credit bubble and to take actions to mitigate it. That, unfortunately, seems to be the point. Last year, Congress passed a sweeping banking reform law, and various agencies will craft rules to implement it. The dissenters seem intent on avoiding any conclusion that would argue for tough standards."

When an investigative commission, with the power to subpoena witnesses, conducts an 18 month investigation and issues a report, I, as a concerned citizen and the millions of others in this country whose very livelihoods have been put at risk, would like to think that we will be told the truth about where the fault lies, so that we can do something to head off such calamities in the future. When the report finally emerges from that closeted investigation, I would like to think that every member would sign up to conclusions that point the way to solutions, not down a road that circles back to the slippery slope that we are trying to get out of. As USA Today opines:

"In fact, the commission seems to have become a microcosm of dysfunctional American politics. The panel's four Republicans refused to go along with Democrats, then divided among themselves. Sound familiar?"

Yes, all too familiar. It is yet another example--perhaps the most tragic example--of the fact that Republicans absolutely cannot be trusted to govern America. For they are more interested in defending their ideology than they are in solving problems--even the ones upon which the very future of our republic depends.

Saturday, January 22, 2011

Who are the real "job-creators"?

Republicans are fond of claiming that legislation that helps working people and the poor are "job-killing" measures--most notably, the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act. They claim that it is the business tycoons, hedge fund managers, Wall Street credit default swappers, and insurance company CEOs that create jobs. Therefore, they say, any regulations that slow down the profit-generating machinations of business are bad for the economy.

In the real world, however, it is not the wealthiest Americans who create jobs. This can be understood from the fact that Bush II's tax cuts for the wealthy created only a few hundred thousand jobs over his eight years in office. Since 2000, the U.S. has lost 10% of its middle-class jobs. Today, businesses are holding billions of dollars in their vaults rather than using that money to hire workers. Why? Because they are waiting until the market shows more evidence of spending by consumers. When consumers spend, businesses hire. Therefore, it is in reality the American people who create the jobs through their demand for goods and services.

Why is this an important distinction? Because it means that our government would be much more effective in putting people back to work if they were to put more money directly into the pockets of the people who are now jobless (such as through extending unemployment benefits) or are working but not spending (such as by cutting middle class tax rates), rather than cutting tax rates for the rich in half (as Rep. Paul Ryan, R-Wisc., proposes to do) or choking off regulations that protect our environment (which we hold in trust for our children and grandchildren) and the purity of our food supply.

If you need further evidence that the Republicans are not serious about creating jobs, look no further than Rep. Ryan's latest "deficit-reduction" budget. It would mandate a 15% cut in the number of federal employees, as if that would not add to the unemployment problem. The current crop of Republicans are either idiots or are lying to us. (Feel free to pick the least "uncivil" option.)

Friday, January 14, 2011

"Fertile ground" or just a pile of manure?

In an article titled "House GOP investigator to scrutinize major Obama legislation", Mark Paoletta, a lawyer who helped run investigations for the House Energy and Commerce Committee when the Republicans last were in control prior to the 1996 elections, is quoted as saying, "These will be very fertile grounds to find waste, fraud and abuse. It will be a gold mine that goes to the heart of some of Obama's signature legislative issues." Well, I wish them luck. I suspect that the ground that they will be treading over will not be a fertile as, for example, the issue of the missing billions of U.S. dollars unaccounted for in Iraq. But, nevertheless, it could be fertile enough that the investigators might want to watch where they are stepping.