Thursday, September 30, 2010

UK's Labour Leader Comes Out as an Atheist

Labour Party chief Ed Miliband has announced his atheism in an interview on Radio 5 Live.  He joins Nick Clegg, the Deputy Prime Minister, as an open atheist.  I wish we had a few more atheist politicians on this side of the pond.  The only one I know of in Congress is Pete Stark of California.  But, with the fundies exerting so much influence in American politics, I don't think we'll see any more soon.  Which is too bad.

Fellow atheists, we need to learn a lesson from the gays.  The first step towards earning respect is to come out of the closet.

Teabagger Carl Paladino is a Racist Pervert

WNYmedia.net has posted a bunch of emails forwarded by New York Teabag Gubanatorial Candidate Carl Paladino. All of the images are from his emails.  The staff at WNYmedia authiticated them, and they have others posted. They are kind of sick and rather fucked up.



I didn't watch the video with the horse, for I haven't the stomach, but I do wonder if any teabagging is involved.

And, some artist decided that Paladino needs new campaign posters:


I am dumbfounded that this man might be New York's next governor.  But, then again, with the Spitzer, Patterson and Hevasi scandals, maybe Paladino will fit right in at Albany.

Bigots Complain that School Anti-Bullying Programs Push Gay Agenda

Russell Goldman for ABC News reports that Focus on the Family, that group of intolerance, is complaining that anti-bulling laws are pushing a gay agenda.
Focus on the Family has accused gay-rights groups of using tolerance and anti-bullying programs to introduce curricula and books into schools that promote political aims such as same-sex marriage. The same groups, it says, lobby for gays and other minority groups to be specifically mentioned in anti-bullying legislation and try to depict Christians opposed to such treatment as bigots.
"What parents need to be aware of is there are activist groups who want to promote homosexuality to kids because they realize if they can capture hearts and minds of our children at the earliest ages they will have for all practical purposes won the clash of values that we are currently experiencing," Candi Cushman, education analyst for Focus on the Family, said on recently launched website TrueTolerance.org. 
Focus on the Family takes particular issue with recent curricula adopted in Alamdea, Calif. The school board there last year adopted an anti-bullying program for elementary school students that specifically mentioned gays and lesbians.
The Colorado-based organization says the Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network has targeted thousands of school districts nationwide with literature. "Schools are only allowed to provide one message about homosexuality; that it's normal and should be embraced," Focus on the Family said of the gay group's message.
"The school introduced anti-bullying lessons but really they're teaching elementary school kids about gay marriage," Cushman told ABC News.com. "We think parents should have the right to teach kids about it in their own way." 
Their complaint kind of makes sense.  I mean, if I was a bigot, I wouldn't want schools teaching my kids that bigotry was wrong.  That might confuse the kids.  If the schools taught my kids that homosexuality was "normal and should be embraced," it would be difficult teaching them at home that God hates gays.  This is why so many Christians are into homeschooling.  It's easier to keep kids away from such blasphemy as tolerance, decency, respect, and, for that matter, evolution.  I get the feeling that fifty years ago, these same people would have complained about Dr. King pushing the "Negro agenda."

The article does end on a positive note:
"I am a Christian. I am conservative. Some would call me right-wing," said Brenda High, whose son, Jared,committed suicide in 1998 when he was 13 after being routinely bullied and beat up at his Washington state middle school.
"The problem is our schools are not teaching kids to become responsible adults. When you allow kids to call people names or bash them because they think they might be gay and make assumptions and judge people, that's when kids get hurt.
"There's nothing wrong with a little religion: Teach them the Christian idea 'to do unto others,' everyone gay or straight, any religion, even atheists agree with that one," she said.
That's not such a bad idea, to "do unto others as you would have others do unto you."  I often wonder if these Christians (the hateful ones, not those like Brenda High) have ever read the Sermon on the Mount, or studied Jesus's teachings of love and compassion.  Why do they cling so desperately to a rule put down in a book that also bans shrimp.  I really don't get it.

What is it that they fear?

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Who Knows the Most about Religion?

Would you be surprised if I said atheists and agnostics?  According to the Pew Research Center, Mormons, Jews, and atheists top the list of those who know the most about religion. This is not particularly shocking, of course. Most atheists were raised in a religious home, and lost their faith later in life. Many studied their religion, and in the process, realized that it made no sense, so they gave it up.  There has been a lot of blather on the blogosphere lately that atheist do not know enough about religion to criticise it, but this report shows that the average atheist knows more about religion than the average christian.

Besides, it doesn't take all that much schooling to realize that the story of a travelling preacher nailed to a cross coming back to life after three days is rather silly.

Where is the Outrage?

One week ago today, some jackass from Senator Saxby Chambliss's Georgia office left a comment on Joe.My.God., a gay right's blog, saying "All faggots must die."  Chambliss's staff have yet to determine (or announce) the perpetrator.  This death threat was mentioned briefly in the news (here, here, and here), but it has generated little news coverage.

I want to know where the outrage is.  If some anonymous senate staffer posted "All n*****s must die" on a civil rights bog, all hell would break lose.  Al Sharpton would be protesting in front of the office the very next day.  Every news show in the country would use the story as their lead, demanding answers from the Senator's office. Congressional leaders would issue statements and hold press conferences denouncing the comment, and demanding action.  The Senator whose office the remark was traced to would make a tearful apology and fire the offending staffer.

But, this was a gay rights blog, and the offending comment was hateful to gays, and, apparently, hate speech towards gays, even from the office of a Senator, is still acceptable to much of this country. We are still a long way from the point when f***** is considered just as offensive and hateful as n*****.

And that is a problem.

Monday, September 27, 2010

Republican Economics as Social Darwinism

So says Robert Reich on his blog recently.  I strongly recommend you read it.  In fact, you should read him everyday, for he clearly articulates what our nations economic problems are, and how to fix them.  In case you fear that he may be too dry (economics, yawn), he can also be funny.

Ben Stein Whines about Taxes


Oh, whine, poor Benny doesn't want his taxes to go up.  And not up by much, only an additional 3% on whatever he makes over $250,000.  That's all, 3%.  Life is tough.

He doesn't like paying taxes for schools, but does he realize that if people did not pay school taxes, then only the children of the rich would be able to afford school.  That's the way Haiti does schooling, and it hasn't worked well for them.

He makes some complaint that raising taxes during a recession will only make things worse, but he doesn't mention that the recession is over for the rich.  The richest 400 Americans had their combined net worth increase by 8% this year, while the poverty rate is at a post-war high.  So, it's only fair that the taxes for the rich go up.  They have reaped the benefits of our jobless recovery; they should pay the extra taxes.  Taxes that are needed to help pay for the stimulus, unemployment insurance, and lower the deficit.  That is not punishment, Ben, it is simply fair.

The income disparity in this country is becoming larger and larger each year, and our tax code is partially to blame.  Capital gains are taxed at a much lower rate than the income tax on wages, but the working men and women work awfully damn hard to make those wages, while investing in stocks and collecting dividends doesn't take much sweat.  Social Security tax caps at $106,000, meaning that every dollar one makes over that is not taxed for Social Security.  Therefore, a hedge fund manager who pulls in a billion dollars in one year pays Social Security tax on only a small percentage of their income, while school teachers and mill workers have to pay the tax on 100% of their income.  This is fundamentally unfair, yet Ben, and the Republicans, whine about the income tax rate for top earners going from 36% to 39%.  And that's only on the money they make over $250,000.

So, Ben, quit whining like a fucking baby, and pay your taxes.  You can afford them a lot easier than the rest of us.

P.S.  Ben, if you're only making 35 cents on the dollar, you need to renegotiate with your agent.

P.P.S.  Forgive the commercials.  It's CBS's video, and they can put them in if they want.

P.P.P.S.  Bill Maher has written about Benny, also.  Only his post is better.

Saturday, September 25, 2010

Jon Stewart on the Pledge for America

To sum up, Stewart is saying that the Republicans are promising to return to the same policies that got us in so much trouble to begin with.  And, he's funny.  Enjoy.
The Daily Show With Jon StewartMon - Thurs 11p / 10c
Postcards From the Pledge
www.thedailyshow.com
Daily Show Full EpisodesPolitical HumorTea Party

Friday, September 24, 2010

Don't Blame the Public Sector

WNYC's The Brian Lehrer Show has a new weekly segment for this month called Wonk Wars, where two policy wonks debate a particular issue related to the campaign season.  This weeks topic was a true/false question: Public employees have too many benefits.  James Parrott of the Fiscal Policy Institute started the conversation.
It is truly remarkable that some commentators can so readily look past the continued polarization in how we compensate labor in this country to argue that public sector workers might be doing “too well” relative to their private sector counterparts. Most workers generally, as opposed to CEO's and the highest-paid executives, have not fared well over the past two decades in terms of sharing in the prosperity their efforts create. If they had, wages and benefits would be much higher for the typical worker and our middle class would still be broad rather than shrinking.
Private sector workers have really taken it on the chin. Inflation-adjusted real hourly wages for men are less today than 30 years ago, despite substantial productivity growth that should have made possible commensurate gains in wages and living standards. Many fewer private workers have employer-provided health insurance or pensions than in decades past. And now, those with a “winner-take-all” mentality want public sector workers to give up their hard-earned health and pension benefits.
We need to take a step back from this debate and ask where have all the gains in the economy gone since the 1980s? And how do we restore an economy that shares prosperity among all workers?  We shouldn’t be making scapegoats out of our public employees. They certainly didn’t cause the economic collapse, nor are they responsible for the erosion in the wages and benefits of private sector workers.
Steve Malanga of the Manhattan Institute follows with some stats about the bad shape of New York's budget, but doesn't mention the crux of Parrott's point.  The public sector seems to be doing so much better than the private sector, because the private sector has lost so much ground over the last thirty years.  Union membership has plummeted, and wages have remained flat.  Meanwhile, the super rich have made enormous gains, and the middle class has shrunk.

Many people who have lost jobs during the Great Recession are angry and envious of the public sector's strong unions and legally guaranteed benefits, but their anger is misplaced.  The should be mad at corporate America that is doing all it can to reduce costs and drive up profits.  They should also be angry at the government, especially Republicans, who are happy to be pro-business and anti-worker.

And, finally, the angry workers should be mad at themselves for continuing to vote against their own economic interests and for the politicians who care more about the corporations than they do the people.

Instead of demanding that the public sector suffers like the private sector, we should demand that the private sector receives the benefits and pay that they deserve.

This November, vote Democratic.

Nuremberg Film Premiering Next Week

I picked up a lady by the name of Sandra Schulberg tonight, and she mentioned a fascinating documentary that she has been working on.   Her father originally made it for the U.S. government during the Nuremberg trials, but it has never been shown here.  She has restored it, and it opens next week at the Film Forum.  From the film's website:
One of the greatest courtroom dramas in history, Nuremberg: Its Lesson For Today shows how the four allied prosecution teams — from the United States, Great Britain, France, and the Soviet Union — built their case against the top Nazi leaders. As documented in the film, the trial established the "Nuremberg principles," laying the groundwork for all subsequent prosecutions, anywhere in the world, for crimes against the peace, war crimes, crimes against humanity, and genocide.

Sounds like an interesting film.  Check it out if your in the city next week.  I plan to.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

The "It Gets Better" Project

Were you bullied in high school?  Or did you do the bullying?  I suspect that most have a least a little experience with both sides of the bullying issue; that is the nature of childhood.  But, at times, the bullying is so nasty, so vicious, so traumatic, that it goes beyond the ordinary, and becomes tragic.  Sometimes bullying is so severe that the victims cannot cope, cannot see an end to their pain, and they make drastic choices.  Sometimes they choose suicide.
Billy Lucas was just 15 when he hanged himself in a barn on his grandmother's property. He reportedly endured intense bullying at the hands of his classmates—classmates who called him a fag and told him to kill himself. His mother found his body. 
Nine out of 10 gay teenagers experience bullying and harassment at school, and gay teens are four times likelier to attempt suicide. Many LGBT kids who do kill themselves live in rural areas, exurbs, and suburban areas, places with no gay organizations or services for queer kids.
So writes Dan Savage in his excellent Savage Love column.  He is gay himself, and knows the effect of bullying.  He also knows that life gets better once one leaves the hell of high school.  He wishes he could have helped this lonely teen.
I wish I could have talked to this kid for five minutes. I wish I could have told Billy that it gets better. I wish I could have told him that, however bad things were, however isolated and alone he was, it gets better. 
But gay adults aren't allowed to talk to these kids. Schools and churches don't bring us in to talk to teenagers who are being bullied. Many of these kids have homophobic parents who believe that they can prevent their gay children from growing up to be gay—or from ever coming out—by depriving them of information, resources, and positive role models. 
Why are we waiting for permission to talk to these kids? We have the ability to talk directly to them right now. We don't have to wait for permission to let them know that it gets better. We can reach these kids.
Dan has decided to help kids like Billy and let them know that it gets better.  He has made a video of himself and his husband talking directly to the young gays and lesbians, to give them a bit of hope.  He has created a new YouTube channel and is inviting gays and lesbians to submit their own videos, so perhaps a kid who is feeling alone and lost in a bigoted world can realize that it gets better.

Thank you, Dan.  You have done a lot of kids a great service.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

"All Faggots Must Die"

So said a comment on a  Joe.My.God.  post regarding the failed DADT cloture vote.  Joe immediately posted the offending IP address (156.33.20.72) and asked his readers to track it down.  Someone did.

The comment originated from Atlanta, Georgia, from the office of an United States Senator.  It is unclear at this point whether it came from the office of Sen Saxby Chambliss or Sen Johnny Isakson (both Republicans), as they apparently share a building.   Jim Galloway at the  Atlanta-Journal Constitution is also looking into the matter.

Such bigotry and hate is entirely unwarranted, especially coming from a Senator's office.  The religious right encourages this kind of hatred with their constant labeling of homosexuality as a sin and their refusal to grant basic human rights to gays.

When are the Christians going to realize that Jesus would stand with gays?

[UPDATE] The comment originated from Chambliss's office. His staff is investigating.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Road Construction

Constant road construction is just a fact of life in this city - it's a big town with crumbling streets.  Somewhere, something always needs repair.  I understand this, but sometimes I wonder if the city could be a bit more efficient.  For instance, the city has decided to rebuild a stretch of Flatbush Avenue from the foot of the Manhattan Bridge to Fulton Street.  They are ripping out the old divider that runs down the middle of the street, and replacing it with a prettier, new one.  The new divider will be a tad wider and have room to plant trees.  Trees are nice; we could always use a greener city.  Not a problem so far.

But, the city is also starting repainting work on the Brooklyn Bridge.  And, to give the workers room to work, the city has closed the bridge to Manhattan bound traffic nightly.  So, all this traffic has to now take the Manhattan Bridge instead, and drive down Flatbush Avenue, which is under construction.  So, traffic is a bit of a mess, especially at the corner of Tillary and Flatbush.

One might think the city would only work on one of these projects at a time, to keep the traffic and chaos from getting out of hand.  But, such thinking implies that one thinks the city uses common sense.  Trust me, they don't.  For example, while the Brooklyn Bridge is closed to Manhattan bound traffic, Brooklyn bound traffic is rerouted over the Manhattan bound side of the bridge.  Because we are driving on the wrong side of the bridge, the onramps from the FDR are closed, as is the entrance from Park Row.  The only entrances kept open are the ones from Pearl Street and Chambers Street.  Anybody coming from the west would usually take Chambers Street, but it is closed between West Street and West Broadway because of another construction project.
I often head to the bridge using West Street.  It is a fast multi-lane road (often called the West Side Highway, which it isn't), and is the best way to get to downtown Manhattan from the West Side.  Now, I would usually take Chambers Street across (shown in red above), but it is closed, so I need to detour.  I could try Murray to Greenwich to Park Place to Church to Chambers (orange route), but Park Place is the street that the Ground Zero Mosque is on, and it is sometimes closed without warning for security reasons.  It can be an annoying surprise to discover it closed, because I must detour back to West Street.  So, the route I must take is Vestry to Greenwich to Duane to Broadway to Chambers (green).  And, on this route, both Greenwich and Broadway are under construction, but open.  A pain in the ass.

And, construction projects in New York can last an awful long time.  Here's a photo of the traffic circle at 110 Street and Central Park West:
This particular circle has been just recently been rebuilt.  It was under construction for as long as I've been driving cab - for eight years.  Eight years to rebuild one lousy, not particularly large roundabout.  Work in the city plods along at an agonizing rate.  The unions milk projects for as long as the can, the NYCDOT is damn near incompetent, and somebody is probably skimming somewhere.  Take a look at the World Trade Center, which is still many years from completion.  Everything in this city takes too much time.

Things used to move quickly though.  The first subway took only four years, and the Empire State Building was completed in only sixteen months.

Sunday, September 19, 2010

A Sign from God?

A story from years ago when I was dating C and working at some Upper East Side private school for rich kids. I worked in the theater department, and after each play, the kids gave a gift to each of the teachers who worked on the production. After one show, the kids gave each of us teachers a bouquet of flowers. How very sweet of them.

It wasn't until I got home before I realized that I had nothing to put them in. I've hadn't received flowers often in life, and I don't have a vase. But, I had a blender sitting happily on my counter, so I filled it with water, and made a half-assed attempt at flower arranging. Problem solved.

At work the next day, C and I got into a foolish argument about something, as was our habit. So, instead of going to her house after work as planned, I went home in a foul mood. Putting my key in the lock, I realized that I could hear a motor whirring away. It sounded like someone was vacuuming my apartment, which was odd. I didn't even own a vacuum cleaner. I opened my door ready to meet this kind soul cleaning my apartment, but, no, it was the blender, roaring away at full speed. Flower guts covered the cupboards, and a greenish goo was sloshing in the blender itself. I just stood there a moment, dumbfounded, until I noticed black smoke coming out of the base. I pulled the plug out of the socket and saw that the base was blackening.

I blamed the cats. One the boys, munching on a petal must have stepped on the power button. I should of had the good sense to not leave the damned thing plugged in. The boys do like flowers, after all.

And, eventually, I realized that if it weren't for the fight with C, I would be at her place smoking weed as my apartment, and the rest of the building, burned down. For once, C's volatile temper proved useful.

So, I called her and told her the tale. I was hoping that a good laugh about my close call might end the fight. She took it a step further, and declared the whole situation a miracle, a gift from God. God, you see, created our argument just so I could get home in time to prevent my place from burning. C was a born-again Christian, and tended to see signs from God.

I, being an atheist, didn't buy it. I believed then, and still do, that one ought not run around calling every happy coincidence a miracle. That's all our fight was - a fortunate coincidence. Besides, this particular "miracle" was in direct conflict with the Christian concept of free will. If God is so determined to give us humans free will that he'll not strike down a man like Hitler, why the hell would he make C and I argue just so I can unplug a blender? It makes no sense. If God insists on giving us free will, he would let me use a plugged in blender as a vase and go off to work with two flower munching cats in the house. He wouldn't then prevent a house fire by violating free will and manufacturing an argument.

It would have been much simpler for Him to flick the circuit breaker.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Karma Bites Hunter in the Ass

A Maine hunter was mauled by a bear that he was hunting with dogs.  Fortunately for him, though not the bear, he did manage to shoot the 300 pound beast before it attacked.  The hunter is expected to recover.  The most interesting part of the story is the 159 reader comments.  Some of my favorites:
null said...
I love it when the underdog puts up a good fight. Good for the bear!! Go for the throat next time!!
gowens said...
Hardly a fair fight, the bear should have brought a few friends to the party...
null said...
First off - Ryan didn't make the hunting laws in this state, but he certainly abides by them. Secondly - you wouldn't be chortling so much if this had happened to someone in your family. Our poor grandmother, who is 86 yrs old, was worried sick yesterday, waiting for news. So was Ryan's mother (who suffers from cancer), Ryan's father (who has heart trouble), his wife, his two young children, his sister, his brother, his nieces, his nephews, his aunts, his uncles, his cousins and his friends. GET THIS THROUGH YOUR SICK, TREE-HUGGING HEADS: BEAR HUNTING IS LEGAL. BEAR HUNTING WITH DOGS IS LEGAL. BEAR BAITING IS LEGAL. IF YOU DON'T LIKE THIS, THEN TAKE YOUR BLEEDING HEARTS TO THE POLLS AND CHANGE THE LAWS. In the meantime, to take pleasure in the fear & agony that we all suffered yesterday as we awaited news on his condition is a hell of a lot sicker than a few hunters legally hunting a creature that none of you would want in your own back yards.
Roger said...
"Would you be chortling so much if he'd been killed?" Actually, yes
my-way said...
i have seen "hunters" using dogs to hunt bear. Usually consists of electronic collars for the dogs and a tracking device. the hunters sit in their pickup trucks until the dogs corner or tree the bear. then the mighty hunter strolls (on his four wheeler) into the woods and completes the hunt. pathetic.
SilentK_ said...
I think 'Maine Hunter Bearly Bitten' would've been a better headline.
Scrib said...
Look at the cesspool of comments from the effete Southern Maine denizens. They truly would revel in a human killed by a bear, since they have no moral or rational bearing. An accurate little snapshot of fluff-for-brains and refuse-for-morals contemporary liberalism...
workingclass said...
Maybe we should be more concerned with the human rights of the young workers in China who made your laptops than the welfare of a bear during hunting season. Just a thought....
ThistleDew said...
HUH? A two inch story about a hunter getting bit by Smokie the bear garners 123 posts and counting? I read a couple of them...surely there are better things to do...?
TheSaint said...
Was it a bear or Paul LePage?

And, if you didn't get the joke in the last comment, you obviously didn't read my previous post.

Maine Teabag Candidate for Governor a Tax Cheat?

From the Morning Sentinel:
Ann LePage, the wife of the Republican gubernatorial candidate Paul LePage of Waterville, received permanent resident tax exemptions in 2009 on homes in both Maine and Florida, a violation of statutes in each state. 
The LePage campaign admitted the violation on Thursday, calling it a paperwork error. A spokesman said Ann LePage had been unaware of the discrepancy and would remedy it. Per Florida law, she could be fined and levied back property taxes if deemed in violation. 
To receive the tax exemption in Maine or Florida -- both of which call it the homestead exemption -- property owners must declare that state is their primary residence.
And to get that residence status in Florida, she had to change her driver's license, and she then changed it back to a Maine license.  I wonder how that can be a paperwork error.  I've made paperwork errors during my life; I'm sure most people do.  But it must be difficult to accidentally change your driver's license, declare a tax break and then change your license back.  Call me suspicious, but that sounds more like cheating to me.  And, apparently, Maine reporters are also suspicious, because they are asking Mr. LePage a whole lot of questions.  Questions that he doesn't want to answer.




LePages's little outbursts have given the voters of Maine a bit of controversy.  Nothing by Giuliani standards, of course, but exciting for a sleepy state such as Maine.  It will be interesting to see how this will all play out.  According to fivethirtyeight blogger Nate Silver, LePage leads his Dem rival, Libby Mitchell, 47% to 40%, with 11% split by three third party candidates.  Pundits are unsure whether his temper will hurt or help him, but I suspect that the tax problem might.  Mainers expect a bit of honor from their politicians.  I wonder (well, hope) that this might be another case of the teabaggers choosing a bad candidate.

Maybe he should just say that he's not as bad as Tim Geithner.  That might work.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Primary Day

I know, not a great photo

Primary day in New York yesterday, and I went to vote before heading off to work.  We are using new voting machines nowadays; gone are the old mechanical lever machines.  I sort of miss them.  They had a wonderful old fashioned clunkiness to them.  But no paper trail, which is kind of nice to have.  So, New York has upgraded to paper ballots that are read by an optical scanner.  In case a recount is necessary, the ballots can be hand counted.

So, I was curious how the new system was working out.  I was expecting a bit of confusion at the polling place, but when I went in at about 3:30, I was the only voter there.  I asked the lady who gave me my ballot how things were working out, and she told me that only one of the five scanners they had was working.  Fortunately, it was a low turnout at this polling place, so it wasn't too much of a problem.  Glancing at my ballot, I was shocked at how tiny the print was.  My eyesight is fine for reading, and I still had trouble making out the print.  Surprising considering that there were only two races on my precinct.  As you can tell by the high quality photo I took of it, there was a lot of blank space.  I asked the poll worker about it, and she told me that there was a magnifying glass at the table if I needed it.  Why it couldn't just be printed with a larger font is beyond me.  Come November for the general election, with all the races and candidates, it will be a pain in the ass.  But, complaining aside, it only took about five minutes, and I was on my way to work.  I even showed up to work early.

Results wise, the most interesting news of the night was the upset win of Teabaggers' favorite Carl Paladino for Republican candidate for governor.  He is a small government, low tax wingnut who has promised to seize the Ground Zero Mosque building through eminent domain.  He doesn't have a chance in hell of beating the Democratic candidate, Andrew Cuomo.


The best news of the night was Pedro Espada's loss to Gustavo Rivera.  Espada, the Senate Majority leader, earned extorted his leadership post during a coup in which he and another Dem switched sides to join the Republicans, giving them a two seat majority.  The other turncoat switched back to the Dems a few days later, leaving the Senate tied.  After a month of a stalled Senate, the Dems bribed Espada with his leadership post in order to bring him back to their side.  He is also under investigation for allegedly extorting $14 million from a health charity he runs.  I'm glad the jackass lost.

Nationally, a Teabagger candidate won a Senate primary in Delaware.  According to polls she has almost no chance to win the general, so that looks like a win for the Dems.  As of this writing a race in New Hampshire that may have similar implications is too close to call.  I find myself in the odd position if rooting for the Teabagger so the Dems will have a better chance.  Whatever it takes.  If the Teabaggers are going to pull the GOP so far to the right that they can't get elected, all the power to them.

Now, if only the Dems can figure out how to save the House.



Monday, September 13, 2010

An Insight from Carl Sagan

From his book Billions & Billions:
There is a well-documented worldwide correlation between poverty and high birthrates.  In little countries and big countries, capitalist countries and communist countries, Catholic countries and Moslem countries, Western countries and Eastern countries - in almost all these cases, exponential population growth slows down or stops when grinding poverty disappears.  This is called the demographic transition.  It is in the urgent long-term interest of the human species that every place on Earth achieves this demographic transition.  This is why helping other countries to become self-sufficient is not only elementary human decency, but is also in the self-interest of those richer nations able to help.  One of the central issues in the world population crisis is poverty.
The exceptions to the demographic transition are interesting.  Some nations with a high per capita income still have high birthrates.  But in them, contraceptives are sparsely available, and/or women lack any effective political power.  It is not hard to understand the connection.
At present, there are around 6 billion humans.  In 40 years, if the doubling time stays constant, there will be 12 billion; in 80 years, 24 billion; in 120 years, 48 billion. . . . But few believe the Earth can support so many people.  Because of the power of this exponential increase, dealing with global poverty now will be much cheaper and more humane, it seems, than whatever solutions will be available to us many decades hence.  Our job is to bring about a worldwide demographic transition and flatten out the exponential curve - by eliminating grinding poverty, making safe and effective birth control methods widely available, and extending real political power (executive, legislative, judicial, military, and in institutions influencing public opinion) to women.  If we fail, some other process, less under our control, will do it for us.
Perfectly logical.  If common decency is not enough to move the world to act, perhaps self interest will.  But how to achieve such a monumental task?  First, some stats:

Consider the global priorities in spending in 1998
And compare that to what was estimated as additional costs to achieve universal access to basic social services in all developing countries:
Anup Shah, Poverty Facts and Stats, Global Issues, Updated: March 28, 2010
 Solutions:

  • Find the political will.  The first and most important step.  World leaders must step forward and make the end of dire poverty a priority.
  • Reform the IMF and World Bank.  Their lending policies have worsened poverty, not helped.
  • Forgive all outstanding loans to developing countries.
  • Ensure safe drinking water and sewage.
  • Build infrastructure.  And a lot of it.  Highways, rail, electric grids, communications, internet access.
  • Build schools and hospitals.
  • Require corporations and business to follow basic rules regarding labor rights, environmental protection, fair trade, and basic human decency.
  • Spend the same on the Peace Corps as we do on the Marine Corps.
  • Acknowledge that morally, we must.
Let's face the truth.  America and Western Europe created many of the problems facing the developing world.  From colonization to propping up friendly dictators, from globalization to imperialism, we have raped and pillaged much of the world.  It is time to repair the damage we have caused.

It is our moral responsibility.


Saturday, September 11, 2010

How to burn a Quaran

Even though Pastor Jones called off his bonfire, you can still get in on the fun.  Below is a step by step guide to Quran burning, brought to you by the folks at The J-Walk Blog.

It's easy. Here's how to do it in Windows:

  1. Go here and download the Holy Quran as a PDF file
  2. Locate the PDF file on your computer
  3. Select the file and click Burn
  4. Insert a CD, when prompted
  5. Click OK
  6. Wait for the free publicity and inevitable outrage

[via Friendly Atheist]

A People's Tax Cut?

Robert Reich has proposed a People's Tax Cut.
Democrats should propose eliminating payroll taxes on the first $20,000 of income, and making up the revenue loss by applying payroll taxes to incomes above $250,000.

This would give the economy an immediate boost by adding to the paychecks of just about every working American. 80 percent of Americans pay more in payroll taxes than they do in income taxes. And because lower-income people would get most of the benefit, it’s likely to be spent.

It would also give employers an extra incentive to hire because they’d save on their share of the payroll tax. And most of the incentive would be directed toward hiring lower-income workers – who have taken the biggest hit on jobs and pay during the recession.
 It is completely unfair that the poor pay a higher percentage of their income on payroll taxes than the rich. I see no possible justification that the status quo should remain, and I think most American voters would agree. The Democrats should make this proposal and try to pass it.  If the Republicans block it, it would only hurt them in the election.  It's a win-win.  Either the plan passes, or Republicans get hurt come November.

Go for it Dems.  You can do it.

Content Advisory

Pot pilfered from police

From the Waterville Morning Sentinel:
About 1,000 marijuana plants were stolen from a Farmington law enforcement storage facility overnight Tuesday.
Farmington police officers discovered the break-in Wednesday at 9:30 a.m., according to police Chief Jack Peck.
An overhead garage door had been "pried open" and much of the marijuana, seized Tuesday in a northern Franklin County drug raid, was gone, Peck said.
 I find this delightful.  The police have no business going on someone's land and removing marijuana.  It's nice to see cops get theirs stolen.  I hope that prosecuting the growers is too difficult now that the evidence is gone.  Maybe they will get off.

Thursday, September 9, 2010

More on book burning

Shhhh...be very quiet and listen carefully. Can you here it? That incessant buzz droning on in the background, getting louder and louder by the minute. That's the sound of the blogosphere buzzing away over the Quran burning stunt planned for Saturday. It is a fascinating topic, and people want to speak their minds. I did so earlier, and I thought that today I should check in on what others are saying.

PZ Myers over at Pharyngula is strongly defending the burning.  An atheist (as am I), PZ is an outspoken critic of religion and has little regard for their symbols.  He is famous for desecrating a communion wafer as well as a Quran and a copy of "The God Delusion."   His main point is that Muslims have no right to riot or murder because of a bonfire.  He's right, but a bit naive.
And to suggest that some guy burning a book in a remote land will incite more anti-American sentiment is absurd. We've got drones buzzing over Iraq and Afghanistan killing people with a push of a button; we've got an armed force occupying those countries; we have bombed their infrastructure into rubble. We've killed hundreds of thousands of Muslims. And now we're to believe that their love of the West will be suddenly devastated by a video of paper burning on youtube? Get a grip, man.
This bonfire will incite more anti-American violence, and PZ is a fool to believe otherwise.  Has he forgotten the Danish cartoons or "The Satanic Verses?"  People will die because of this bonfire; it is careless and foolish to believe otherwise.  But, PZ is correct in saying
The problem isn't the desecrators. The problem is the people who have an unwarranted sense of privilege, that their beliefs wil not be questioned or criticized, ever, by anyone.  
Or as osuguy wrote in the comments (#16, in case you're curious)
Thank you, Dr. Myers, for saying what needs to be said. I'm seriously getting pissed off with the bullshit about "this will harm the troops!" we're seeing from the likes of Gen. Petraeus. Any violence that results from this is not the responsibility of the the church loonies; it's the responsibility of the fucktards whose god is apparently so pathetically weak he needs rioters to protect him from insults. Blaming the church loonies is pretty much surrendering to terrorism. What's next? Demands that the troops in Afghanistan permit stoning of women to appease rioters? 
 And what about the Muslim perspective?  Hamzah Moin at Maniac Muslim has looked into the future and wrote an amusing fake news piece on the burning.

A fringe Christian group from Florida is dismayed at how poorly their planned Burn a Quran Day ended up turning out. “This was the worst book burning event in history,” said book burning enthusiast Jen Kennedy, “Almost as bad as the time we burned ‘Book Burning for Dummies’”
Pastor Terry Jones has stated that he intended for his church group to burn copies of the Holy Quran on the anniversary of the 9/11 attacks. “Islam is a religion of the devil and we need to burn the books of the devil.” When pressed with the fact that most devils would enjoy things being burned he said “go to hell”.
NowPublic has a minor article, but a spirited discussion has sprung up in the comments.  Some are serious, some are hateful, many are very emotional.  They make for interesting reading.

The best, most honest, and by far most self-critical discussion on the net that I've seen so far is a post by Martin at The Atheist Experience.  He writes:

The potential for hypocrisy in criticizing the upcoming burning has been much on my mind, and I've been forced to think about the similarities and differences between what Jones is about to do, and, say, Everybody Draw Mohammed Day. And then I've been forced to question whether or not any of my ideas are simply bullshit justifications I've been making up to feel better. I don't think they are. But I do think it's a positive thing, overall, that I'm willing to be self-critical. This is an advantage the godless life offers, I think, over the brazen certainties of God-botherers like Jones, who confidently assert that God (i.e., their projection of themselves upon the universe) truly wants them to do what they're planning.
Everybody Draw Mohammed Day, for one thing, was on the whole a creative rather than destructive act of protest. It was a response, not only to the real Islamist violence and threats of violence that erupted in the wake of the publication of a few innocuous (and not especially good, when you think about it) cartoons, but to the arrogant assumption on the part of Islamists that non-Muslims were somehow obligated to follow Islam's rules. Also, at the end of the day, what you had were a bunch of silly cartoons. While there was a little huffing and puffing about EDMD, in the end, the message I think got across (to the general public, if not to radicals) that taking someone's life over a lame doodle was both insane and pitiful in equal measure. Lame doodles themselves can't possibly hurt a fly. EDMD might have offended some Muslims. But in the end, no one killed anyone.
Now, piling up a couple hundred copies of the Koran and torching them — that would be a destructive form of protest. Furthermore, it's hypocritical of Jones to justify it by condemning Islam as a hateful, intolerant religion, when he has a history of hate speech (against gays, the usual suspects) and intolerance. While I think Jones has the right to go through with his speech, I don't think his motives are honest. He's exactly what he condemns, except that his religious radicalism wears a cross rather than a crescent moon and star. (The atheists who took part in EDMD might condemn Islam and Islamist violence, but we'd never want to deprive Muslims of their right to worship, as many right-wingers do right now.)

I admire Martin asking "Am I a hypocrite?"  It is the best place to start this discussion, and it is a question that I failed to ask.  But, I will answer.

The planned bonfire is based on hate and bigotry.  Pastor Jones is making a schoolyard taunt of  "My religion is better than yours."  He is a hateful man, and all he will accomplish is spreading more hate.  He has also gained his fifteen minutes, of course.

Everybody Draw Mohammed Day was a protest against radical Islam and the belief many hold that it is somehow above ridicule or criticism.  The propensity for many Muslims to riot and kill whenever anyone criticizes their religion is disgusting and offensive to the extreme.  EDMD was born out of the censorship of an episode of  "South Park" by Comedy Central.  The point was not to hate Islam but to demand the right of free speech.

So, drawing a Mohammed doodle one day, and condemning Pastor Jones the next is not hypocritical.  I admire Martin for asking the question, though.

So, that's today's wrap up.  More to come, I am sure.

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Bumper sticker of the day


OMG GOP WTF?

Burn, Baby, Burn!

I presume you've heard of the Quran burning fuckwads Christians down in Florida.  Pastor Terry Jones and his flock at Dove World Outreach Center plan to hold a Quran burning in observance of 9/11.  They have come up with their ten reasons for doing so, and I thought it might be interesting to look them over. My comments are in red.
One
The Koran teaches that Jesus Christ, the Crucified, Risen Son of God, King of Kings and Lord of Lords was NOT the Son of God, nor was he crucified (a well documented historical fact that ONLY [well, also atheists, Jews, Hindus, and probably any other religion other than Christianity] Islam denies). This teaching removes the possibility of salvation and eternal life in heaven for all Islam's believers. They face eternal damnation in hell if they do not repent.
Two
The Koran does not have an eternal origin. It is not recorded in heaven. The Almighty God, Creator of the World, is NOT it's source. It is not holy. It's writings are human in origin, a concoction of old and new teachings. This has been stated and restated for centuries by scholars since Islam's beginnings, both Moslem and non-Moslem. [of course, the same can be said for the bible.]
Three
The Koran's teaching includes Arabian idolatry, paganism, rites and rituals. These are demonic,[really] an ongoing satanic [scary] stronghold under which Moslems and the world suffer. 
Four
The earliest writings that are known to exist about the Prophet Mohammad Jesus were recorded 120 years after his death. All of the Islamic Christian writings (the Koran and the Hadith Gospels, the biographies, the traditions and histories) are confused, contradictory and inconsistent. Maybe Mohammad Jesus never existed. We have no conclusive account about what he said or did. Yet Moslems Christians follow the destructive teachings of Islam Christianity without question. 
Five
Mohammad's life and message cannot be respected. The first Meccan period of his leadership seems to have been religiously motivated and a search for the truth. But in the second Medina period he was "corrupted by power and worldly ambitions." [like the Catholic Church] (Ibn Warraq) These are characteristics that God hates. They also led to political assassinations and massacres which continue to be carried out on a regular basis by his followers today.  [just like the Christians]
Six
Islamic Law is totalitarian in nature. There is no separation of church and state. It is irrational. It is supposedly immutable and cannot be changed. It must be accepted without criticism. It has many similarities to Nazism, Communism and Fascism. It is not compatible with Western Civilization. [well, for the hard line Muslims, that's true.  But not for the moderate Muslims]
Seven
Islam is not compatible with democracy and human rights. The notion of a moral individual capable of making decisions and taking responsibility for them does not exist in Islam. The attitude towards women in Islam as inferior possessions of men has led to countless cases of mistreatment and abuse for which Moslem men receive little or no punishment, and in many cases are encouraged to commit such acts, and are even praised for them. This is a direct fruit of the teachings of the Koran. [hmmm, yeah, that does sound like Iran]
Eight
A Muslim does not have the right to change his religion. Apostasy is punishable by death. [Iran]
Nine
Deep in the Islamic teaching and culture is the irrational fear and loathing of the West. [maybe]
Ten
 Islam is a weapon of Arab imperialism and Islamic colonialism. Wherever Islam has or gains political power, Christians, Jews and all non-Moslems receive persecution, discrimination, are forced to convert. There are massacres and churches, synagogues, temples and other places of worship are destroyed. [sounds like the history of Christianity]
None of these reasons really matter.  Book burning is a hateful act, and is flat out wrong.  World history is filled with cases of devastating mass burnings.
Some particular cases of book burning are long and traumatically remembered - because the books destroyed were irreplaceable and their loss constituted a severe damage to cultural heritage, and/or because this instance of book burning has become emblematic of a harsh and oppressive regime. Such were the destruction of the Library of Alexandria, the obliteration of the Library of Baghdad, the burning of books and burying of scholars under China's Qin Dynasty, the destruction of Mayan codices by Spanish conquistadors and priests, and in more recent times, Nazi book burnings, the burning of Beatles records after a remark by John Lennon concerning Jesus Christ, and the destruction of the Sarajevo National Library. - Wikipedia
 Religious and political leaders around the world have spoken out against this planned protest.  Even General Petraeus has stated that the burning could endanger US troops and the mission in Afghanistan.  He's right, of course, but, these people have their rights.  If one wishes to burn books as a protest in this country, they have that right.  The First Amendment, after all, is meant for the difficult cases, not the easy ones.

And, I hope that Muslims around the world remember that the First Amendment is the same Amendment that gives Muslims the right to build a mosque near Ground Zero.  And, at a recent protest in Kabul, protesters burned an effigy of Terry Jones as well as the American flag.  Such is their right.



I hope their protests do not end in violence.  That is not a right.

Monday, September 6, 2010

Advice for theists

Often, whenever I debate a Christian friend, I'll make a couple good points, and they immediately end the debate by saying that we all believe what we want to believe.  That's not much of a debate, so to assist my theist friends, I've found this video on YouTube.  The vlogger, a chick named Laci Green, gives ten debating tricks for Christians.  So, my theist friends, study well, and I look forward to our next debate.

Sunday, September 5, 2010

So, awhile back...


Back in my smoking days, I found myself stopped on Chrystie St at Delancey, and an one-legged homeless man in a wheelchair rolled up to my window.  Because I see a lot of homeless during my shift, I don't usually give out money while working, so I offered the guy a couple of cigarettes. He took them and said, "Thank you kindly, young man.  God bless you."

The light turned green, and I made a right onto Delancey, and maybe two hundred people were on the sidewalk.  Most of them were looking for cabs, so I figured a concert just finished at the Bowery Ballroom.  I picked up a young couple and took them to the East Village.

It wasn't far from the Ballroom, so I decided to head back to grab another fare.  I ran down 2nd Ave onto Chrystie to find myself stopped at the same light at Delancey.  The same homeless guy rolled up and I offered him a couple more cigarettes.  He looked at me quizzically and said, "I'm feeling a terrific sense of deja vu.  Thank you kindly, young man.  God bless you."

When the light changed, I made the right, and there were a mass of people still on the sidewalk.  I picked up a few, and again, went to the East Village.  Being so close, I had to try the Ballroom one more time.  So, I flew down 2nd Ave onto Chrystie and stopped again at the same light at Delancey.  Again, the same homeless guy wheeled over, and I got a couple cigarettes ready.  He looked at me for a few seconds, and said,"Boy, wouldn't it be easier just to give me the whole damn pack?"

So, I did.  Why not?

Friday, September 3, 2010

Snapshots

I am often asked about the funniest moment in my cab.  It's not easy choosing the single best, for I've seen quite a bit over the years.  But here are a few quick stories.

Item:
I picked up a lady on Lafayette St, and she told me to take her to the Upper West Side.  She pulled out her phone and made a call.  "Yeah, I just got out of my AA meeting.  Yeah. my first one.  I can't believe how fucking nosy these people are.  They really get into your business.  One guy came up to me and asked me what I was on.  'I know you're on something,' he said.  Well, yeah, I'm shooting heroin.  I mean I quit drinking, I gotta do something, right?"

Item:
Three ladies got in, and after telling me where to go, one started complaining about the baby shower they just left.  "I can't believe she got her a cashmere onesie.  Cashmere?  What fuck is she going to do with a cashmere onesie.  The first time the baby pukes on it, it's ruined.  I mean, come on, how can she be so fucking stupid.  She should return it and get a nice pair of sunglasses or something."

Item:
A drunk guy said to no one in particular, "Christ, I must be drunker than I thought.  I just pissed myself."  Sure enough, after he got out, I checked the back seat and had to clean it.

Item:
I picked a black couple, and at first, I didn't really pay attention, but after awhile, the guy said, "I'm telling you, 'American Pie' was financed by the government.  It's goal was to popularize BJ's with the high school kids and discourage regular sex.  It's psychological birth control.  It's part of their plan to keep Blacks and Chinese from spawning.  It's just like them teaching in the schools that homosexuality is OK.  It's part of their plan to keep the black kids from having sex and reproducing.  It's psychological birth control and it's the government's first step of an eradication plan."

Item:
Another drunk.  I heard a lady throwing up.  I glanced in the mirror and saw that she was puking into her purse.  When It came time to pay, she opened her purse, and I told her it was a free ride.

Item:
Stopped at a red light on the West Side Highway, a little girl noticed a particular establishment.  "Look, Mommy, I want to go there.  The Carousel Club."  "No, Honey, that's not a place for little girls."  "Yes, it is.  It says 'Girls, Girls, Girls'"

Item:
I picked up a family of four in Little Italy.  Mom, Dad, a girl about seven and a boy around five.  Getting in, the kids were excited about all the money they just made.  Sensing my curiosity, the father explained that the kids were fascinated by all the street performers they saw in the city, and they wanted to give it a try.  So, they put a hat on the sidewalk and started singing.  And they made a bit of cash.  The mom asked them what they were going to do with the money.

Girl:  I want to get a new Barbie doll.
Mom: OK, we can go to the toy store tomorrow.
Boy: I want to buy everyone an ice cream cone at Ben & Jerry's.
Mom: That's real sweet of you.  We can stop for a desert I think.
Dad: That's nice.  What made you think of treating everyone?
Boy: I figured it's the only way you would let me have ice cream this late.


One of the best parts of this business is meeting people from all walks of life.



Signs, signs, everywhere signs...

...fucking up the scenery,
 breaking my mind.
do this, don't do that,
can't you read the signs?
                             ---Tesla

The city has gone completely batshit lately, adding new traffic signs all over the place, making life miserable for us cabbies.  We always have to keep the signs in mind while driving, so we can make sure we choose an efficient route.  A mistake can cost several blocks of   a detour, and create a pissed off customer.

Just the past week, NYCDOT has added several No Left Turn signs, which are: from Park Ave So. onto 23rd Street, from 34th Street onto 1st Ave, from 34th Street onto 2nd Ave, from 23rd Street onto 2nd Ave, from 96th Street onto 2nd Ave, from Park Ave So. onto 17th Street, from Park Ave So. onto 19th Street, and from 23rd Street onto 9th Ave.  Did I miss any?  I"m not sure, kind of tough to keep this all in mind.

Of course, we've had signs forever.  No turns from 5th Ave onto 42nd Street, from 42nd Street onto Madison Ave, from 57th Street onto Madison Ave, from 14th Street onto Union Sq East, from 3rd Ave onto 25th Street.

We also have the timed signs, which say no turns from 7AM to 7PM such as: from 34th Street onto 7th Ave, from 57th Street onto Broadway or 7th Ave, from 42 Street onto Vanderbilt Ave, from 23 Street onto 5th Ave, from 23rd Street onto 7th Ave, from 6th Ave onto 34th Street, from 34th Street onto park Ave, from 57th Street onto park Ave, from 57th Street onto 8th Ave, from 57th Street onto 3rd Ave.

You get all that?  Do you have it all memorized? Did you even read it, or did you just skim it over with glazed eyes.  We have to keep this shit in mind all the time, so we can make the most efficient detour if necessary.  Many times, a passenger will tell us to ignore the sign.  Don't worry, they say, you won't get a ticket.  Whatever, it's not your license, Asshole.

Thursday, September 2, 2010

The slowest week


The slowest week of the year in this business is either the week before Labor Day or the week after New Year's Eve.  Both are truly miserable. 

In August, families go on vacation, traveling the world and giving their money to cab drivers in far off, distant cities.  Tourists come in of course, but they don't make up for the loss.  Tourists tend to go to sleep early, by 11:00.  I drive until 4:00. 

About half of the money I make every shift goes towards expenses, the lease and gas.  These numbers are pretty much fixed, so the slow down comes out of my pocket.  If business is off by 25%, my take home is off by 50%.  Which is about where things are at nowadays making it awfully hard to maintain a drug habit.

Things will get better starting next week.  Kids will have school, so all the family vacations will be over.  And the college kids will be back, spending their late nights bar hopping.  A good deal of my business is bringing drunken college kids from one bar to next and then home.

So, I have to hang in there for another week, and business will slowly improve until the madness of Christmastime and then the glory of New Year's, the best night of the year. 

And then, another screeching halt, as credit card bills and New Year resolutions drive the public into the subway.

Such is the career I chose.