Archive for January, 2013

Base X

Posted in Uncategorized on January 16, 2013 by a4synapse

This young man is doing good work and he’ll probably be threatened for it for most of his life. Here!  His name is Zack Kopplin and he grew up in Louisiana. He is doing what he can to reconstitute the presence of accredited science in Louisiana’s classrooms. He is facing determined opposition from persons who wish to teach ‘creationism’ and ‘intelligent design’ as logically equal to evolution. He also wishes to restrict the use/application of vouchers for schools that teach religiously-inspired ‘science’.

I think that religion is a force for good in any society in that it encourages and provides expression for the highest and best intentions in our society. I grew up in the protestant traditions; church every sunday with socializing after the services; sunday school; confirmation; activity in youth groups. I’ve read most of the bible and I’m still interested in the fundamental questions addressed in scripture regarding the nature/relationship of the individual and society – questions of the good and good intentions.

I think that religion (in some cases) is also a reinforcer of the our most atavistic impulses. At present, parallel to our political schism, religious expression and organization has split between xenophobic, homophobic and to my mind, fundamentally misogynistic belief systems, and a set of beliefs that more closely resembles my understanding of the core teaching of the New Testament.

What I want to understand is how a group of citizens representing 15-25% of the population has effectively sealed itself within a bubble that resists and denies any fact/evidence that disproves or touches on its belief system. How and why does it insist so fervently and incontrovertibly that it is correct and infallible?

Is it possible to ask individuals who believe to examine their belief system in a new light? How does a person become so entrenched in a belief system that they are unable to admit any contradictions or possibilities that do not conform with that system as prescribed by their leadership? They are even willing to accept contradictions that originate with their leadership when it conflicts with earlier pronouncements. What is happening here?

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , on January 15, 2013 by a4synapse

From Reuters:


Here’s the Link.

The article is about Barbara Mikulski, senior Senator from Maryland and one of the longest serving senators. She’s pint-size – 4’11” (why is this even mentioned?) It’s written by Jason Lange, and I’m not familiar with his work or his general sentiments. I have rarely read a so-called news article that is as replete with negative inference disguised as fact. Charming remarks about her ‘reputation’ and oodles of prejudice wrapped up in nouns, verbs and adjectives.

To wit:

Her long record of securing “earmarks” – the practice of budgeting money for specific projects that has fallen into disfavor in Washington – also reveals a set of priorities that has made her one of America’s most liberal lawmakers.

She has, for example, marshaled funds to clean up polluted waterways and improve schools in poor neighborhoods nationwide.

Cleaning up polluted waterways has fallen out of favor? Improving schools in poor neighborhoods? Does Mr. Lange realize that Maryland lies athwart one of the most valuable and yet polluted freshwater bodies in the United States? Does Mr. Lange realize that Baltimore is one of the poorest and most violent cities in the U. S. and that bad schools are directly correlated with poverty and violence? Any responsible senator would beg and borrow (I’m leaving ‘steal’ out of the idiom) to fix these problems in their home state. Why is this a bad thing? From the way it’s written, the reader is invited to believe that money to improve these things just vanishes. The Chesapeake Bay is an important resource for fishing, recreation, transportation, tourism and industry. Good schools are critical to thriving economies.

And this little gem:

Known for her temper, Mikulski is frequently seen complaining about the throngs of people blocking the Senate chamber entrance. She has consistently endured the barbs of anonymous critics who participate in Washingtonian Magazine’s Capitol Hill survey and rank her among the Senate’s most irritable members.

Just call her a bitch. Male senators do not have to endure commentary of this sort. They get called ‘righteous’ or ‘fiery’, or ‘fighting for their convictions’; that’s a good thing.

And this is laughable:

As appropriations chair, Mikulski will face tough choices pitting her liberal priorities – she opposed the invasion of Iraq, for example – against her inclinations to boost defense spending in her state, which is home to major military bases like Fort Meade.

I say this makes her smart and far-sighted. The U. S. spends ten times what the next five nations combined spend on defense (and most of them are our allies).

And then this:

Many observers were surprised Mikulski – the third in line for the chairmanship – stepped into the role following the death last month of committee chairman Daniel Inouye of Hawaii. The senators in front of her declined to take the helm.

Maybe she saw an important and difficult job that had to be done and stepped up.

Haven’t we been here before?

Posted in Uncategorized with tags on January 4, 2013 by a4synapse

Somewhere in 1998-1999, I was having a conversation with a financial whiz kid. Congress was preparing to repeal Glass-Steagall. I thought it was a terrible idea then and I still do. So I am referring to two articles today. One is in Bloomberg here. It’s a review of the Basel agreements that set the rules for banks internationally.  The second is in The Atlantic and discusses bank accounting here.

As I understand it, the Bloomberg article describes how regulations for banks have become considerably more complex and banks with accountants and attorneys have developed more and better ways to cheat. Since the rules are complicated, fewer individuals understand them fully. So the rules are trickier to understand and harder to enforce. In addition, the banks have more money on their balance sheets. The considered opinion of experts is that banks are more highly leveraged than ever, and it is impossible, even for sophisticated people to understand their exposure to risk.

The Atlantic article mentions that reporting requirements for banks do not help to understand how the banks make or lose money. Annual statements are not helpful. There is little transparency in the system, even though four major government agencies oversee the financial sector.

So, it looks as though we are setting ourselves up for meltdown redux. Can’t wait.