Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Panda ministry

This guy does more good for mankind than most ministers I know.

Friday, December 24, 2010

My take on the Christmas story

A year ago I made the following comment during this discussion on the origins of Christmas, and I still hold to it: "That touches on something I’ve long thought about the Christmas story, but have never seen any other commentary on- that what the manger scene really demonstrates is what heartless bastards the people of Bethlehem were. Seriously. I’ve seen travelers at a bus station pool their money to buy a crying girl a bus ticket home- but in the Christmas story, we have a teenage girl hours away from giving birth, and nobody will give her as much as a spot on the floor inside where it’s warm. No room at the Inn? What decent Innkeeper's wife wouldn’t have told her husband to sleep on the floor and given Mary the bed? In fact, some women I’ve known, had they been that Innkeeper’s wife, would have told her husband and Joseph both to go sleep with the other animals, and she’d call them if and when they were needed.

To me, the lesson of “Be nice to everyone, because you don’t know their role in the universe” and “As you do to the least of them” is an important one for children to learn- and here is the perfect illustration, and no one is using it."

Merry Christmas to all, and to all a good night!

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

At last, a "How To" video we really needed

Most "How To" videos on the internet are of use only to obscure hobbyists, like "How to build a linear accelerator out of Lego's"; you never see anything you really need, like how to find a 'possum's chakras...

Friday, December 17, 2010

WikiLeaks: Cuba banned Sicko for depicting 'mythical' healthcare system

One of the confidential US embassy cables revealed by WikiLeaks reports that Cuba banned Michael Moore's 2007 documentary, Sicko: "...the memo reveals that when the film was shown to a group of Cuban doctors, some became so "disturbed at the blatant misrepresentation of healthcare in Cuba that they left the room".

Castro's government apparently went on to ban the film because, the leaked cable claims, it "knows the film is a myth and does not want to risk a popular backlash by showing to Cubans facilities that are clearly not available to the vast majority of them."

Read more at The Guardian.

UPDATE: Michael Moore response, and my comment, via it's all one thing

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Our schizophrenic reaction to tears

Speaker elect John Boehner cried once again in last Sunday's 60 Minutes interview, and is once again being ridiculed for it- the women of The View being particularly nasty about it, worse even than outgoing Speaker Pelosi was previously. I find the different reactions to tears by public figures, especially politicians, puzzling.

Pat Schroeder was roundly criticized for a few seconds of tears during her announcement that she would not be a candidate for President. At the time, many said that the criticism was a double standard- that men like Ronald Reagan were allowed to tear up, but women weren't. But try telling that to Ed Muskie, whose career was destroyed by "melting snowflakes". It has been suggested that the difference is that a Reagan or a McCain has enough macho bona fides that it wasn't a sign of weakness, but I've noticed that even those who ridiculed G. W. Bush's military career didn't make fun of him tearing up at a number of emotional events.

I'm also confused by the fact that women are so much nastier about it than men are. From Muskie to Boehner, you have to do a lot of Googling to find any man as nasty about public tears as the many very public comments from women. Ask Pat Schroder: "She's still catching flak about it today, mostly from women. "Oh, my gosh, I got a devastating e-mail about it from a woman writer just a couple of days ago," Schroeder said in an interview. "I want to say, 'Wait a minute, we are talking 20 years ago.' It's like I ruined their lives, 20 years ago, with three seconds of catching my breath." To paraphrase Scrooge, there is nothing on which women are so hard as coldness; and there is nothing they condemn with such severity as the expression of emotion.

I guess I'd be in trouble if I ever became famous. I've cried during discussions, I've cried at movies, plays- hell, I've even cried at a Star Trek episode. Good thing for me I don't give a good Goddamn what the women of The View think.

Friday, December 10, 2010

On extending unemployment

My favorite talk show host, Abdul Hakim-Shabazz, ran a little experiment, inspired by things callers said while debating the extension of unemployment benefits. Abdul tried his hand at job hunting, and managed to land an offer in just four working days, which he says is proof that there's plenty of jobs if you're willing to work look for them, and that if you're unemployed long term, that you're just not doing it right- he's going to have people on his show to give tips on resumes and interviewing.

I believe that his experience proved only that in this instance, a good looking young man with a related degree and related experience was able to get an entry-level job offer. Here is what I commented to his blog:

You said about your job hunting experiment that "This was about proving a point. The point was that there is work out there if you are willing to work to look for it." But your experience in finding a job was no more "proof" than the experience of friends and family who haven't found a job is proof- the plural of "anecdote" is not "data".

So what would be data? We can't use the announcements of new jobs created, because those announcements rarely state "On the other hand, 5,000 old jobs disappeared." We can't use unemployment statistics, because they're always changing the criteria on those- it's amazing how many circumstances can result in one not having any work, income, or benefits and still not be counted as "unemployed" for the sake of official statistics. (A more cynical person might suspect that politicians were fiddling the figures) But if we don't know how many people are unemployed, we DO know how many are employed. The Bureau of Labor Statistics keeps running totals on how many are employed- and these are unambiguous numbers; even a one-employee Mom & Pop shop must report that employee to the government. What do these numbers show?

In 2007, just before this recession began, there were 115,380,000 people employed in the private sector. As of September of this year, the most recent count, there were 108,068,000 employed. That's 7,312,000 fewer people employed. I don't care how willing to look one is, if there are 7 million fewer jobs extant today than three years ago, somebody is going to be unemployed. You think it's unfair to use the 2007 high point? There are 618,000 fewer people working today than there were in 1999, eleven years ago!

And who is it most likely to be unemployed? In 2007, there were 13,879,000 manufacturing jobs; today there are 11,672,000. In 2007, there were 7,630,000 construction jobs; today there are 5,672,000. Those two categories alone total more than 4 million jobs lost. And this is admittedly anecdotal, but in my experience the older employees, 45-60 years old, are the hardest hit. Would you care to estimate the chances a 55 year old construction worker has of getting that call-center job you got an offer for?

Let's suppose he did- we'll assume that when he was laid off two years ago, he went back to school, finished his degree, then went to an employment consultant to learn the new power words and gimmicks used in modern resumes and interviews, and he got the job. That doesn't mean that one more person is employed, it merely means that he took the job away from a 22 year old recent college grad who is now yet another over-educated waiter... and he took the job from an 18 year old high school grad- unemployment, like water, runs downhill. Which is why the under-25 crowd has, depending on city and demographics, a 40-70% unemployment rate. But it is far, far more likely that a younger, degreed person got that call center job, and the 55 year old is still unemployed.

No matter what kind of tips you and your guests are going to give us on snappy resumes and interview banter, if there are 7 million fewer jobs than there are workers, there will be 7 million unemployed people. And unless we can manage continual churning, such that each of those 7 million gains and loses a new job every two years in perfect balance, somebody is going to need those extended unemployment benefits until the economy recovers.

And lastly, the term is not "Unemployment Charity", it's "Unemployment INSURANCE". What is insurance supposed to do? Restore or rectify the situation- however long that takes. Putting a time limit on unemployment insurance when there are simply fewer jobs than there are people, and therefore no genuine solution, is like health insurance putting a time limit on insulin- if you've been a diabetic for 99 weeks, maybe the problem is you!


Wednesday, December 01, 2010

Giving thanks

After the opening words and hymn, the Minister called for Joys and Concerns.

A lady stood and walked to the podium. She said, "Two months ago, my husband, Tom, had a terrible bicycle wreck and his scrotum was completely crushed. The pain was excruciating and the doctors didn't know if they could help him." You could hear a muffled gasp from the men in the congregation as they imagined the pain that poor Tom must have experienced.

"Tom was unable to hold me or the children," she went on, "and every move caused him terrible pain.

We prayed as the doctors performed a delicate operation, and it turned out they were able to piece together the crushed remnants of Tom's scrotum, and wrap wire around it to hold it in place." Again, the men in the congregation were unnerved and squirmed uncomfortably as they imagined the horrible surgery performed on Tom.

"Now," she announced in a quavering voice, "Thank the Lord, Tom is out of the hospital and the doctors say that with time, his scrotum should recover completely." All the men sighed with relief.

The Minister rose and tentatively asked if anyone else had something to say.

A man stood up and walked slowly to the podium. He said, "I'm Tom." The entire congregation held its breath.

"I just want to tell my wife that the word is sternum."