Flimsy Sanity: September 2007

Flimsy Sanity

In individuals, insanity is rare; but in groups, parties, nations and epochs, it is the rule. - Friedrich Nietzsche

Sunday, September 30, 2007

This is Pretty Funny

Saturday, September 29, 2007


Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Demetri Martin

Yesterday's NPR Fresh Air interview with Demetri Martin.

The Insurance Racket

Why Does Everyone Bow Down to the Health Insurance Industry
By Barbara Ehrenreich

With the courageous exception of Dennis Kucinich, the Democratic candidates have all rolled out health "reform" plans that represent total, Chamberlain-like, appeasement. Edwards and Obama propose universal health insurance plans that would in no way ease the death grip of Aetna, Unicare, MetLife, and the rest of the evil-doers. Clinton -- why are we not surprised? -- has gone even further, borrowing the Republican idea of actually feeding the private insurers by making it mandatory to buy their product. Will I be arrested if I resist paying $10,000 a year for a private policy laden with killer co-pays and deductibles?

It’s not only the Democratic candidates who are capitulating. The surrender-buzz is everywhere. I heard it from a notable liberal political scientist on a panel in August: We can’t just leap to a single payer system, he said in so many words, because it would be too disruptive, given the size of the private health insurance industry.

The private health insurance industry is not big because it relentlessly seeks out new customers. Unlike any other industry, this one grows by rejecting customers. No matter how shabby you look, Cartier, Lexus, or Nordstrom’s will happily take your money. Not Aetna. If you have a prior conviction -- excuse me, a pre-existing condition -- it doesn’t want your business. Private health insurance is only for people who aren’t likely to ever get sick. In fact, why call it “insurance,” which normally embodies the notion of risk-sharing? This is extortion.

Sunday, September 23, 2007

From Post Secret


Man I wish I Could Write Like This

Frame it with religion if you want. There's a lot more in the Bible, for example, that encourages liberalism than conservatism: caring for our neighbors. Turning the other cheek. Thou shalt not kill. The meek shall inherit the Earth. The generally dim view of usury and greed. Being stewards, and treating the Earth with respect.

The problem with the current interpretation of moral values is that it is being juxtaposed against the concerns of people who care about specific issues and policies, as though the issues themselves don't have any moral value. But they do. Politicians can trumpet their faith all they want, but the policies they implement are the real manifestation of their moral universe. When we ask what politicians are doing to make the world a better place, part of that question is a very specific notion of how the world could be made better.

It's time that progressives laid out our moral vision: a country that values its freedoms but also values the sanctity of every life—not just at the fetus stage. We need to embrace the notion that every life has dignity and value and deserves respect and a fair opportunity. That's the justification for a wide range of social services now being gutted by conservatives. Helping the less fortunate is not just a policy that makes sense for a better-functioning society; it's also a moral imperative. For too long, progressives have been squeamish about citing those moral imperatives, as though compassion were the third rail in American politics.
The phrase "moral values" in its current political guise might be nothing more than a polite way of categorizing people opposed to gay marriage. But its use is an opportunity, for progressives and liberals, to make the case that ours is a sensibility deeply grounded in a moral vision shared by a majority of Americans. Using the platform of moral values in coming years will allow progressives to be something more than a loyal, if relatively powerless, opposition.
What Moral Values? By Geov Parrish This is part of an opinion piece written in 2004 when torture questions were raised about Alberto Gonzales. I wish I could string words together better, but in general I make a better fan than a performer.

Thursday, September 20, 2007

Everybody's Paranoid About Something

There are plenty of conspiracy theories to choose from: 9-11, Kennedy Assassination, UFO's, the Masons, the Illuminati, Skull and Bones, New World Order, that Reagan's shooter was a Bush family friend, that AIDS was manufactured, that the levees in New Orleans were blown up, that the Waco fire was set by ATF, there are enough to go around. This conspiracy site is actually very interesting reading and according to Wikipedia:
A number of true or possibly true conspiracies are cited in making this case (for conspiracies); the Mafia, the Business Plot to overthrow Franklin Delano Roosevelt in 1933, the MKULTRA mind control program, various CIA involvements in overseas coups d'état, Operation Northwoods, the 1991 US Congress Testimony of Nayirah (that babies were being thrown out of incubators in Kuwait), the Tuskegee Study of Untreated Syphilis in the Negro Male, the General Motors streetcar conspiracy, the plot by the British Secret Service to destabilize Prime Minister Harold Wilson and the Pearl Harbor advance-knowledge debate, among others.

According to a recent study, Paranoid Thoughts Almost As Common As Depression/Anxiety Reveal King's College Scientists
The frequency of paranoid and suspicious thoughts in the general population

% having thought at least weekly

-- I need to be on my guard against others - 52%
-- Strangers and friends look at me critically - 48%
-- There might be negative comments being circulated about me - 42%
-- People are laughing at me - 34%
-- Bad things are being said about me behind my back - 30%
-- People might be hostile towards me - 29%
-- People deliberately try to irritate me - 27%
-- I might be being observed or followed - 19%
-- People are trying to make me upset - 12%
-- Someone I know has bad intentions towards me - 12%
-- I am under threat from others - 10%
-- I have a suspicion that someone has it in for me - 8%
-- Someone I don't know has bad intentions towards me - 8%
-- People would harm me given the opportunity - 8%
-- There is a possibility of a conspiracy against me - 5%

The only paranoia that is seen as commendable is that you are under constant surveillance by a God. In some states, this belief is even required to run for office. Many people make millions of dollars out of promoting this delusional thinking unlike most conspiracies which might generate a book but not THE BOOK.

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Donahue Refuses to be Intimidated

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

The World's Oil

Neatorama has this proportional map of oil reserves. The discussion about it was interesting and if you go to the site you can see a larger version.

I think Greenspan, the darling of the free marketeers/Republicans, will have to face their hate now that he said the Iraq war was about oil. Something is fundamentally wrong when the areas that are richest in natural resources are poor. Seems the free market doesn't work for them.

Sunday, September 16, 2007

Compassionate Conservatives

A recent study said that conservative and liberal brains are wired differently and that liberals can deal with change better than conservatives. I think the difference is more evident in attitude towards authority especially if it wears a uniform. I have found that there is an easy way to check out the political leanings of a new aquaintance. I just ask them what they think of Rodney King and most conservatives think he deserved the beating. Joe Darby, the Abu Ghraib whistleblower is hated by the conservatives. The conservatives defended Lt. Calley, Ollie North and Reagan so I question their self-characterization of law and order proponents when they excuse some criminals.

I do believe combining the terms "compassionate conservative" is the biggest scam ever, because for decades when progressives defended the downtrodden, they were ridiculed as "bleeding heart liberals". Show me where someone spends their money and I will show you their priorities. More and more military spending and more and more prisons does not say compassion to me. I think the only defense for a draft is that you get a cross section of people to offset the monolithic mindset that permeates the military (and police) and maybe a few more whistleblowers will get inducted. It takes a warped mind to defend torture.

The opposite of empathy is disgust and I believe the people of New Orleans, victimless drug users, Moslems, Mexicans, feminists, oh hell, lots of people disgust them.

Thursday, September 13, 2007

Bible Code

Etiquette books say it is improper to talk of politics and religion in conversation. That is because both rely on slavish loyalty rather than thinking and when someone is faithful the last thing they want is something upsetting their alpha state. Besides, what do etiquette books know - Emily Post had 15 pages on how to act at a picnic.

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Good Comic Routine

I didn't get the British pop culture references, but this was so funny. Most talked about article today was the New York Times piece about removing most of the religious material from prison libraries. Unrealistic thinking is what got them there in the first place so I see no reason not to try and limit access to it.

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Gullible and Predictable

Before Kathy Griffin won a creative arts Emmy last weekend for her reality show, "My Life on the D-List," she joked that an award would move her to the C-list. From what I gather, the show revolves around her attempt to improve her status in the show business world and to become well known. So when she gets the award, she accepts saying, "A lot of people come up here and thank Jesus for this. He had nothing to do with this," Griffin said. "Suck it, Jesus. This award is my God now."

She is well known now. "Infamy is better than no famy" as one commenter said about the South Carolina beauty queen. I think her speech was genius, she will have material for her reality show for months and it will be interesting to show just how hateful Christians can be. I was reading a few comments and the name-calling and hell-wishers were predictable. I almost wish I had cable to see what happens.

Monday, September 10, 2007

Those Anti-Piracy Ads

Imaginary Money

Money As Debt by Canadian artist, Paul Grignon, is a 47 minute animation about how money works. I watched it twice and I am still a little confused as I stupidly thought banks lent out the money they had on hand - how naive can one get.

For awhile I scouted for books on the Paperback Swap site. The available books were listed in real time as people posted the books they wished to trade and although the majority were useless fiction and valueless books on religion and business, occasionally someone would list an academic or non-fiction book that had a higher resale value and I would try and request it. The way it works is quite simple. You list books and if someone claims your book, you get a credit to request someone else's book. I would find cheap rummage sale books of recent vintage and someone would claim them and I would get a credit and snag someone else's $20 to $50 book, and rarely, something even higher. I wasn't the only one doing it as decent books went fast. Then things changed and higher value books were never available, followed rapidly with a change from real time to about a ten minute delay. I guess the people who went through all the trouble to develop the site felt they deserved to harvest it with no competition. Don't get me wrong - it is a well designed site.

My objection is that they just make up the credits out of thin air. When you join, you get three free credits. If you get someone else to join (virus) you get another credit. They sponsored a contest and gave (I think) 100 credits to the winner (and smaller amounts to others) and they have another one currently running that gives 50 credits. They also sell credits ($3.45 each) and the last time I bought any through Paypal, they had several thousand transactions in their rating profile. It is a real sweet deal if you can get other people to pay your debts. If the site designers want your hig-value book, they DO pay you a credit, but another member of the club honors the credit; likewise, if you buy a credit, another member of the club is stuck with the postage costs to redeem that credit. Maybe they "balance" their books by skimming credits from their members, I know mine have sometimes disappeared but I never said anything as it used to be pretty profitable for me and I wanted to maintain a low profile.

The people who run it have almost a cult following as they provide chat rooms, display glowing testimonials etc, but they closely monitor things and do not allow any dissension, in fact, even communication between people is run through their site. They publicized their effort to send a truck to a bookstore (that was planning to burn their inventory -no monetary value ones I am sure) and distribute the books to the members of the club. Good PR for people who think burning books is a sacrilege, even if they are old Book Club romances and microwave cookbooks that NOBODY wants. Now I could almost believe the "book lover like you" and the "aw shucks we are doing this free service out of the goodness of our heart" if the founders were not a young rich guy that brokered a deal with Microsoft to create an electronic billing system and had worked in research and development at American Express, a patent lawyer specializing in digital law, a business professor from Berry College ("Berry College is a comprehensive liberal-arts college with Christian values" - yikes, I think they all came from there) and the computer programmer, a former textbook salesman. This may just be the holy grail of cons - a victimless crime. They also sell knick-knacks, delivery confirmation and overpriced postage options.

I do understand how this scheme works, but the one about how debt is money eludes me. How do you create wealth out of thin air and why is it not a crime? Counterfeiting is.

Sunday, September 09, 2007


Albert Lea has many lakes. There is a statue of a mermaid in Fountain lake and someone has put a 08 sweatshirt on her, so I assume the prankster is one of this year's crop of seniors. Someone told me she has been dressed in a variety of costumes through the years and many people feel she should wear a bra.

A good prank was the one by Yale that got Harvard fans to hold up cards that said:

In case you have been living in the unibomber's shack or, like me, oblivious to what is going on in most of the world, the Yes Men pose as corporation spokesmen and get invitations to speak at meetings. They come up with outrageous statements like the civil war was caused by importing slaves rather than the more economical institution of slavery in their homeland and that we could recycle our shit and feed it to the poor countries. Usually the particpants at the meetings are oblivious that the speakers are saying absurd things and actually clap when the presentation is done. The first stunt they did that got worldwide attention was to pretend they were representatives of Dow (who bought Union Carbide) and apologize for Bhopal and offer compensation at a press briefing. I remember when that happened, but I never realized that it was just one of many stunts. The movie made of their antics is here.

Saturday, September 08, 2007

Who is More Insane, George or Osama?

They both think government and religion belong together, both gain money or converts by keeping the war going, and both think less taxes is great even as we plummet into deep debt. Fox News says Osama sounds just like the democrats because he talked of global warming, corporate control of America, and used the word "neocon" and maybe Osama does have flashes of cognisance. At least he might know the correct name of the conference the taxpayers paid to fly his ass half way across the earth and wouldn't call it OPEC. In general, reality is illusive to both most of the time.

If we raised taxes to pay as you go for the Iraq war, would the Republicans want to get out?

Lots of people think that if we had a draft and the middle and upper class had to suffer for it, their attitudes would change and we wouldn't wage wars quite so easily. I think taking their money would be quicker.

Thursday, September 06, 2007

An Excellent Documentary

Calling all nerds who like documentaries. This is a good one.

Why They Hate America

If you never found the time to read Confessions of an Economic Hitman this hour long interview with the author pretty well summarizes it. If you don't have the hour to spare, the gist is big corporations like Bechtel, Halliburton get countries to go deep in debt to pay for overpriced infrastructures (built by them) so that the bribed third world leaders get rich and the population gets taxed. Leaders who won't play along die. The war in Iraq is our contribution to the "award the big corps, screw the people club" - that and stockpiling tamiflu made by Rumsfeld's corp, medicare's prescription legislation written by the drug companies etc. We really have become a banana republic with questionable elections, corrupt leaders, and massive debt. The grateful corporations have moved offshore so they won't have to pay taxes and they will be safe when life gets miserable as our economy collapses. Even Microsoft has moved quite a bit of their operation to Ireland.

I predict we will pull out of Iraq when the ethnic cleansing is done so our puppets are safe to start awarding contracts to rebuild it. And the recruiter and Bush tell the young men they are fighting for freedom.

Tuesday, September 04, 2007

The Perfect Job

I was listening to NPR and some prisoners were complaining about getting a bologna sandwich for every meal. I googled bologna and prison and I found out that fare is pretty often the menu (I didn't catch if this was a public or private prison) in lots of them. Anyway, NPR interviewed the prison nutritionist who said that the menu fulfilled the caloric requirements. I want to be that nutritionist who probably gets well paid to write "Bologna" all day long or is that a political appointment?

Monday, September 03, 2007

Bush Travels to Iraq to get the total picture

Sunday, September 02, 2007

And not a skeptic in the bunch

19 bicycle riders arrested in Minneapolis

Story here. Better to take the car rather than promote alternate transportation.

Baggy Pants Against the Law

Making baggy pants against the law is just a way to make it easier for our growing police state to harass people and call it legal. I admit to me saggy pants looks stupid and formerly was the style reserved for old men too fat to still wear jeans. If one doesn't own the right to one's own body, this country is pretty well screwed. Of course what you wear is an indication of your attitude and occupation and the hanging pants do not say conservative thinking.

You will never see any laws making $1600 purses illegal or in fact any of the absurd looks pushed by the fashion industries (and incidentally most trends start in the black community). I was looking for a picture of baggy pants to put on this post and found tons of baggy pants that are apparently the fashion, although they have a waistband. And what is retail fashion but continual obsolescence- the haute monde would not be caught wearing last years fashion. This is not entirely a harmless industry when you consider our growing garbage disposal problems and the energy used to keep pumping out clothes that are seldom worn out. Like the bumper sticker says: INSATIABLE IS NOT SUSTAINABLE.

Call me paranoid, but I often wonder about seat belt laws. We don't make lots of dangerous human behavior illegal but the seat belt laws enable police to stop people they want to harass and enables a quick inspection. Since medical mistakes kill more people than car wrecks, it would make more sense to imprison careless doctors if the state actually wished to protect us from fatal accidents.

Saturday, September 01, 2007

Recruiting Nascar fans

The army spends $16 million sponsoring cars on the Nascar circuit. Recruiting people who are simple-minded enough to enjoy watching cars go around in circles makes sense.

The Job Training Charade

Reynolds Aluminum closes. Freightliner and Boeing lay off thousands. Consolidated Freightways goes out of business. Atofina Chemical. Pendleton Woolen Mills. Atlas Copco Wagner. Sawmills. Paper mills. In Oregon and Washington and across the country, good-paying unionized industrial jobs are vanishing rapidly, leaving hundreds of thousands to cope with unemployment in a recession that shows few signs of abating.

And what is the government's response? In previous eras, from the 1930s New Deal to the era of Jimmy Carter, when times were tough, the government stepped in as an employer of last resort, providing temporary jobs in public works, or simply providing people a subsidy to get by until they could recover.

But a new political orthodoxy has replaced that approach, says University of Oregon professor Gordon Lafer. Lafer, on staff of the U of O's Labor Education and Research Center and a longtime researcher in union campaigns, recently published a book criticizing the government's "job training fits all" approach to unemployment. Titled "The Job Training Charade," the book is the product of over a decade of research.

Lafer pulls few punches. He argues that the government's focus on job training is a political diversion, that government training programs have little or no effect on overall employment, and that workers are being trained for jobs that don't exist.

Lafer says job training programs focus attention on the supposed shortcomings of workers instead of the realities of an economic system that never produced enough jobs for everyone.

"Democrats kind of gave up the fight on unemployment. People on the right would say 'the problem with poor people is that they're lazy, and what you have to do is cut social benefits to force them back to work.' And the humane Democrats would say 'no, no, no, they really want to work, they just lack the skills,' so the pro-training position became the position of people with a heart. But what both of these have in common is deciding that one way or another, the explanation of poverty lies in the fault of workers themselves as opposed to anything you could fight in business or government policy."

The single biggest evaluation of the Job Training Partnership Act was done by the federal Department of Labor, which followed 20,000 people over four years and divided up the results by types of people and types of training. In three-quarters of the cases, they found no statistically significant impact whatsoever. For youth, ages 16 to 21, people who went through the program actually did worse than people who did not.

"Almost all federal job training programs for the last 20 years have been an almost complete and total failure," Lafer says, "and more importantly, the government and both political parties know that the programs are a failure, and keep funding them and promoting them anyway, because it's a kind of cheap political response to unemployment."

Their assumption, Lafer says, is that if only people had the skills, employers would hire them. "It's a kind of paradoxical thing: on average, people with more education are better paid, and for any individual, it may make sense. And so every parent wants that for their kid, but if you look at the country as a whole, the total percentage of American jobs that require a college degree is between 25 and 30 percent, and no economist thinks it's going to be more than that any time in our lifetimes. So the idea that if everybody got professional training, everybody would be earning professional wages is totally false."

And in fact, Lafer says, there are already lots of very highly-trained people who can't get decently-paid work.

"The number of jobs that are in the want ads is a tiny percentage of the number that need work. The labor market is like musical chairs: There are some jobs available, but the number of people who are in need of decently-paying jobs, over the period that I examined from 1984 to 1996, ranged between 7 to 1 and 20 to 1."

Ironically, many of the skills employers say they need aren't technical at all.

"You have employers all the time who say, 'the schools are failing us. The kids these days don't know how to work. And we can't get anyone with the right skills.' And you say 'well what exactly are the skills that you're missing?' Almost no employer mentions technical occupational skills, and very few mention English and math. What almost all of them talk about is discipline and punctuality, and attitude and work ethic."

Lafer says his answer is to ask how much they're paying, and he's not surprised to hear the biggest complaints about employability from the lowest-wage employers.

"Discipline and loyalty is not a 'skill' that you possess or don't possess," Lafer says. "It's something that you choose to give to a job or not depending on the wages and conditions that are offered. So when the government comes in and says 'we're going to train people to be disciplined to be employable,' what they're saying is 'we're going to train people to get used to the idea that they don't have any choice except to accept these low-wage jobs and not complain about it.'"

Ultimately, Lafer thinks, job training programs may serve as a diversion for workers victimized by the economic system, because they suggest the cause and solution of unemployment and poverty are fundamentally non-political.

Education and training play a role in determining wages, but Lafer says they account for less than one-third of wage differences. And the shift from manufacturing to service employment has been a shift toward jobs that require higher education even though they offer lower wages than the ones they replaced.