Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Religion 2013

Yes, it's nice that Time named Pope Francis "Man of the Year," but it's hard to imagine that even a very charismatic religious leader can steer the world away from all the violent stupidity the practice of religion has  brought us this year.

Sunni Muslims, Shi'a Muslims, various Christians, Hindus, and even Buddhists and animists have been killing each other this past year. Iraq and Afghanistan, of course, continue to be torn apart, and Syria is worse.  Then there are Cambodia and the Central African Republic and Chad and Ethiopia and Lebanon and Ceylon and Burma and Uttar Pradesh and Bahrain and the Northern Caucasus and more places I can't remember right now.  Oh, yeah, and don't forget the Israeli ultra-orthodox zealously expanding the settlements, and the Palestinians who hate them.

Then there are the secularists and the Putinistas and the radical atheists and Kim Jong Un.  It's all religious craziness, even when there's not much obvious religion involved.  It's all religion.

There was a very long time before you were conceived, and there will be a very long time after you are dead.  We are very, very finite, and there are no angels nor virgins nor reincarnation awaiting us.  We occupy a finite space in time, the same space we always shall occupy.  Those who intentionally truncate that time — by volunteering as suicide bombers, for example — get no special consideration.

In the long run, of course, it doesn't make any difference.  It doesn't make any difference at all.

Happy New Year.

Saturday, December 28, 2013


This morning I read that Pope Francis has taken the brakes off the the beatification of Oscar Romero. I'm not entirely sure what the requirements are for martyrdom, but Romero certainly met my requirements.  Perhaps you are old enough to remember Pope John XXIII, and the Second Vatican Council.  Perhaps you are old enough to remember Liberation Theology.

Perhaps not, but every once in a while the Catholics remember what Jesus and Christianity once were all about.  Francis seems to have remembered it was about helping the poor, but  the rest of Christianity may take a long time to catch up.

In the meanwhile, Coptic Christians in Egypt are being exterminated by Salafists; Sunnis in Lebanon are being suicide-bombed by by Shi'ia; Muslims in India and Cambodia are being exterminated by Hindus; (who knows what kinds of) Christians and (who knows what kinds of) Muslims are exterminating each other in various former colonial fiefdoms of Africa; and the Sunni-Shi'ia conflict is playing itself out all over the Middle East.

One nice thing about the USofA is that we atheists are far less likely to be suicide bombed than in other parts of the world (unless we work at abortion clinics.)  Maybe it feels good to feel so fucking sure of yourself, but that's no excuse.

Tell your god to go fuck himself.  Take care of all those orphaned children, and all those refugees.  Probably there's no reward after you're dead, but that shouldn't matter.  Do it for now.

Saturday, December 21, 2013

Income Inequality

Pundits and politicians are always going on about how improving education is the answer to income inequality.  They're wrong.

College graduates are significantly more likely to be employed than high school graduates  A lot of their jobs used to be performed perfectly well by high school graduates, but so what?  If you can get a slightly more intellectual waitperson to serve your yuppie clientele for the same price, you may as well do it.  Right?

Back in the old faculty room, it was pretty obvious to everybody that you can't make a silk purse out of sow's ear, nor a Rhodes Scholar out of a horse's ass.  Human aptitudes, sadly, tend to follow that old normal curve.  There are probable winners, possible winners,and certain losers.

This is not to say that we should not work very hard to improve education, especially to shove more of those nice kids in the middle of the normal curve towards the higher end of the "hump" — and certainly we have to lift a lot of poor kids out of the quicksand of poverty and failure, and give them all the opportunities that might help them.

None of that has anything to do with income inequality.

Nobody should work for poverty wages.  Every worker should earn a living wage.  Despite the insistence of Tea Party types, the real inequality problem is not a result of "government giveaways" to the poor (mostly children), but because people working full-time (albeit, at times, in several part-time jobs)  cannot make ends meet.

The answer is legislating a living wage — at this time, about fifteen bucks an hour — indexed for inflation.  Certain businesses will have to spend a lot more on labor.  Who will pay for those extra expenses?  Well, the rest of us, of course.  We won't be able to lay it all on the rich, as much as we might like to do so.  Just the same, we'd be spending a lot less to support programs like SNAP (aka food stamps) and Medicaid.

Also, when the people at the bottom get a boost, higher wages trickle up.  Okay, that will push prices up — but the people hurt most by inflation (apart from retirees like me) are the bankers.  You can be sure the bankers will find a way to deal with inflation, even if it means keeping a bit less of their wealth.

Nobody working full-time ever should have to depend on the social safety net for survival.

Thursday, December 12, 2013


According to the Times, the United States has discontinued non-lethal aid to the Syrian rebels after fighters for the Islamic Front grabbed up a couple of warehouses full of stuff we'd contributed to the Free Syrian Army, the administration's preferred rebel group.  I read the article twice, and a couple of things stood out.  First, it was suggested that no Free Syrian Army fighters were around to defend the warehouses.  Second, the Islamic Front has no relationship with ISIS or Al Qaeda.

The administration is "considering" support to the Islamic Front, but by the time consideration is over, you can bet the Islamic Front will have fragmented into a bunch of new militias, along with a bunch of other rebel groups.  The main motivation for a large majority of those groups, at this point, is to steal as much as possible.  Pity the refugees, and the countries to which they have fled.  There will be nothing left if they ever get to go home.


More schismatics:  Despite his "fiscal" dedication to taking food out the mouths of poor children, Paul Ryan is under attack by the very members of Congress (and outside organizations financed by such as the Koch brothers) who were kissing his ass a few years ago.  Then John Boehner came to his defense, displaying what might pass as genuine anger, but with no tears.

It seems there are a few Democrats in the House who genuinely like Ryan, or so they say.  Is he moving to the middle for the sake of the next presidential election?  Can he find the critical point that balances the true crazies against the traditional conservatives?  Can the Republican Party keep from ripping itself apart?

Stay tuned.

Friday, December 6, 2013


Sometime back in the early 80s, too long ago for me to remember the exact year, I was at an American Federation of Teachers convention pushing a resolution to endorse divestment from South Africa.  Along with my commie friends in United Action Caucus, I was beating my head against a brick wall named Albert Shanker, president of the AFT, neo-liberal, and first union president to be invited to sit in on the Business Roundtable

Our guest of honor that year was Mangosuthu Buthelezi, Zulu chieftain and collaborator with the apartheid government.   Buthelezi addressed us, speaking against divestment.  His argument was that the poverty level jobs of black South African would be put in peril.

Personally, I am proud to have been red-baited by Shanker when I took the floor to argue for divestment that year.  It took six years for the AFT to join in the call for divestment, and by that time, almost everybody else had gone first.

Extraordinarily, though, when Mandela became the leader of South Africa, he took Buthelezi  into his government.  He was a very forgiving, very political man.  He never managed to bring real equality to South Africa, but you can't say he didn't try.

Thursday, December 5, 2013


They were out there again today, demanding fifteen bucks an hour to work in fast food.  The restaurant industry is violently against it, of course, claiming it will raise the price of our burgers and "destroy jobs."

Let's just take a closer look.  First of all, fast food workers, these days, probably are not high school students earning a little gas money.  Lots of them are adults.  Plenty are single mothers, fitting in whatever work they can while their kids are in school.  They qualify for food stamps (SNAP) and Medicaid.

That means taxpayers are subsidizing McDonald's, Domino's, Burger King, and other multibillion dollar corporations that contribute to obesity, diabetes, and other conditions that elevate health care costs.  If the dollar menu goes to a buck twenty-five, and that results in fewer sales to poor people, we all come out ahead.

Other retail workers are in the same situation.  Wal-Mart actually helps its "associates" apply for food stamps and Medicaid; and who's paying for it?  We are – the taxpayers.

I'm angry.  Are you?