May 31, 2011

Stop Eating the Paint Chips?

Is Reduced Lead Exposure Behind Falling Violent Crime Rates?

Economist Rick Nevin finds evidence that lead abatement may account for falling violent crime rates in recent years. Nevin was interviewed for an article in WAPO:.

"I began with the city that was the crime capital of America," Giuliani, now a candidate for president, recently told Fox's Chris Wallace. "When I left, it was the safest large city in America. I reduced homicides by 67 percent. I reduced overall crime by 57 percent."

Although crime did fall dramatically in New York during Giuliani's tenure, a broad range of scientific research has emerged in recent years to show that the mayor deserves only a fraction of the credit that he claims. The most compelling information has come from an economist in Fairfax who has argued in a series of little-noticed papers that the "New York miracle" was caused by local and federal efforts decades earlier to reduce lead poisoning.

Continue reading "Is Reduced Lead Exposure Behind Falling Violent Crime Rates?" »

Now Freakanomics will tell you it's that there were more abortions since the 1970's. It still doesn't explain all the folks who bought into the Rapture last week.

Nanny of the Month

North Carolina Bans Rare Burgers! Nanny of the Month

May's biggest busybodies are taking it to poker players and teen tanners, but the nation's top nag has lovers of pink-in-the-middle burgers seeing red.

In a stunning blow to all that is juicy and delicious, the Tar Heel state actually prohibits restaurants from serving rare or medium-rare hamburgers.

And if this crime against meat freedom seems especially un-American, keep in mind that it comes from the same state that once banned Old Glory at public rallies.

Presenting's Nanny of the Month for May 2011: Terry Pierce of the North Carolina Department of Environment and Natural Resources!

"Nanny of the Month" is written and produced by Ted Balaker. Opening animation by Meredith Bragg.

To watch previous Nanny of the Month episodes, go here:

Anthony Weiner's Weinergate

"Anthony Weiner hires attorney in Twitter incident"
New York Rep. Anthony Weiner has retained an attorney to advise him “what civil or criminal actions should be taken” after a lewd picture was sent from his Twitter account.

Weiner, who has represented part of New York City since 1998, says online hacking led to a close-up shot of a man’s underwear being sent from his official Twitter account Saturday night.

Dave Arnold, a spokesman for Weiner, said the Congressman’s staff is “loathe to treat” this incident as more than a prank “but we are relying on professional advice.”

“At a time when the GOP is playing games with the debt limit, a member of the Supreme Court is refusing to recuse himself from matters he has a financial interest in, and middle class incomes are stagnant, many want to change the subject,” Weiner said in a statement emailed to POLITICO by his office. “I don’t. This was a prank, and a silly one. I’m focused on my work.”

Weiner’s office did not answer specific questions about the photograph, whether he has contacted authorities or the Seattle woman who received the photograph. He has said that his Facebook was hacked and if his Twitter had the same password, that too could be vulnerable.
Also, check the #Weinergate hashtag on Twitter, where the essential coverage has been developing.

Image Credit: The People's Cube.

May 29, 2011

The History of Memorial Day

Before you fire up the grill or buy a mattress this weekend, give a second and think about what the day is meant for.

Three years after the Civil War ended, on May 5, 1868, the head of an organization of Union veterans — the Grand Army of the Republic (GAR) — established Decoration Day as a time for the nation to decorate the graves of the war dead with flowers. Maj. Gen. John A. Logan declared that Decoration Day should be observed on May 30. It is believed that date was chosen because flowers would be in bloom all over the country.

The first large observance was held that year at Arlington National Cemetery, across the Potomac River from Washington, D.C.

The ceremonies centered around the mourning-draped veranda of the Arlington mansion, once the home of Gen. Robert E. Lee. Various Washington officials, including Gen. and Mrs. Ulysses S. Grant, presided over the ceremonies. After speeches, children from the Soldiers’ and Sailors’ Orphan Home and members of the GAR made their way through the cemetery, strewing flowers on both Union and Confederate graves, reciting prayers and singing hymns.

Local Observances Claim To Be First

Local springtime tributes to the Civil War dead already had been held in various places. One of the first occurred in Columbus, Miss., April 25, 1866, when a group of women visited a cemetery to decorate the graves of Confederate soldiers who had fallen in battle at Shiloh. Nearby were the graves of Union soldiers, neglected because they were the enemy. Disturbed at the sight of the bare graves, the women placed some of their flowers on those graves, as well.

Today, cities in the North and the South claim to be the birthplace of Memorial Day in 1866. Both Macon and Columbus, Ga., claim the title, as well as Richmond, Va. The village of Boalsburg, Pa., claims it began there two years earlier. A stone in a Carbondale, Ill., cemetery carries the statement that the first Decoration Day ceremony took place there on April 29, 1866. Carbondale was the wartime home of Gen. Logan. Approximately 25 places have been named in connection with the origin of Memorial Day, many of them in the South where most of the war dead were buried.

Official Birthplace Declared

In 1966, Congress and President Lyndon Johnson declared Waterloo, N.Y., the “birthplace” of Memorial Day. There, a ceremony on May 5, 1866, honored local veterans who had fought in the Civil War. Businesses closed and residents flew flags at half-staff. Supporters of Waterloo’s claim say earlier observances in other places were either informal, not community-wide or one-time events.

By the end of the 19th century, Memorial Day ceremonies were being held on May 30 throughout the nation. State legislatures passed proclamations designating the day, and the Army and Navy adopted regulations for proper observance at their facilities.

It was not until after World War I, however, that the day was expanded to honor those who have died in all American wars. In 1971, Memorial Day was declared a national holiday by an act of Congress, though it is still often called Decoration Day. It was then also placed on the last Monday in May, as were some other federal holidays.

Some States Have Confederate Observances

Many Southern states also have their own days for honoring the Confederate dead. Mississippi celebrates Confederate Memorial Day on the last Monday of April, Alabama on the fourth Monday of April, and Georgia on April 26. North and South Carolina observe it on May 10, Louisiana on June 3 and Tennessee calls that date Confederate Decoration Day. Texas celebrates Confederate Heroes Day January 19 and Virginia calls the last Monday in May Confederate Memorial Day.

Gen. Logan’s order for his posts to decorate graves in 1868 “with the choicest flowers of springtime” urged: “We should guard their graves with sacred vigilance. ... Let pleasant paths invite the coming and going of reverent visitors and fond mourners. Let no neglect, no ravages of time, testify to the present or to the coming generations that we have forgotten as a people the cost of a free and undivided republic.”

The crowd attending the first Memorial Day ceremony at Arlington National Cemetery was approximately the same size as those that attend today’s observance, about 5,000 people. Then, as now, small American flags were placed on each grave — a tradition followed at many national cemeteries today. In recent years, the custom has grown in many families to decorate the graves of all departed loved ones.

The origins of special services to honor those who die in war can be found in antiquity. The Athenian leader Pericles offered a tribute to the fallen heroes of the Peloponnesian War over 24 centuries ago that could be applied today to the 1.1 million Americans who have died in the nation’s wars: “Not only are they commemorated by columns and inscriptions, but there dwells also an unwritten memorial of them, graven not on stone but in the hearts of men.”

To ensure the sacrifices of America ’s fallen heroes are never forgotten, in December 2000, the U.S. Congress passed and the president signed into law “The National Moment of Remembrance Act,” P.L. 106-579, creating the White House Commission on the National Moment of Remembrance. The commission’s charter is to “encourage the people of the United States to give something back to their country, which provides them so much freedom and opportunity” by encouraging and coordinating commemorations in the United States of Memorial Day and the National Moment of Remembrance.

The National Moment of Remembrance encourages all Americans to pause wherever they are at 3 p.m. local time on Memorial Day for a minute of silence to remember and honor those who have died in service to the nation. As Moment of Remembrance founder Carmella LaSpada states: “It’s a way we can all help put the memorial back in Memorial Day.”

© Copyright 2011 All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

At least they're honest

At least they're honest about what goes on in there.

Yeah, I saw what you did there. I'm deciding whether I care.


May 27, 2011

The Gov Reads the Patriot Act Differently

Two senators claimed on Thursday that the Justice Department had secretly interpreted the so-called Patriot Act in a twisted way, enabling domestic surveillance activities that many members of Congress do not understand.
During the debate, Senator Ron Wyden, an Oregon Democrat and a member of the Intelligence Committee, said that the executive branch had come up with a secret legal theory about what it could collect under a provision of the Patriot Act that did not seem to dovetail with a plain reading of the text. “I want to deliver a warning this afternoon: When the American people find out how their government has secretly interpreted the Patriot Act, they will be stunned and they will be angry,” Mr. Wyden said. He invoked the public’s reaction to the illegal domestic spying that came to light in the mid-1970s, the Iran-contra affair, and the Bush administration’s program of surveillance without warrants.

Another member of the Intelligence Committee, Senator Mark Udall, Democrat of Colorado, backed Mr. Wyden’s account, saying, “Americans would be alarmed if they knew how this law is being carried out.”
The Obama administration declined to explain what the senators were talking about.

Hold on, didn’t Obama have something to say about Patriot Act abuses when running for office? Maybe there was an expiration date on those promises?

House Members Score ‘Abnormal’ Stock Profits

You know how corporate executives are banned from trading stocks based on inside knowledge? Even Martha Steward went to jail for it. Well, it seems that there are some Democrats in Congress operate under no such restriction. In fact, I thought this was an Onion article at first - mostly because it's such a Duh.

An extensive study released Wednesday in the journal Business and Politics found that the investments of members of the House of Representatives outperformed those of the average investor by 55 basis points per month, or 6 percent annually, suggesting that lawmakers are taking advantage of inside information to fatten their stock portfolios.

…Despite the GOP’s reputation as the party of the rich, House Republicans fared worse than their Democratic colleagues when it comes to investing, according to the study. The Democratic subsample of lawmakers beat the market by 73 basis points per month, or 9 percent annually, versus 18 basis points per month, or 2 percent annually, for the Republican sample…

…Strict laws ban corporate executives from trading on their insider knowledge, but no restrictions exist for members of Congress. Lawmakers are permitted to keep their holdings and trade shares on the market, as well as vote on legislation that could affect their portfolio values…

It's the government that is the most powerful, unaccountable and monopolistic “corporation” of all. Which is why the Framers created the Constitution the way they did: to constrain government, not us.

Consider the Democrat swamp un-drained. Maybe it's not a bribe if some stock tip is just left on the desk? Oops I've misplaced some vital information somewhere? I'll look around for it in the other room. Let me know if you find it. On your desk. On top of all your papers there, Congressman.

Related: The Secret Garden (and Mansion) of Christopher Dodd

You've got something on your face...

No, the other side.

Follow the Leader

May 26, 2011

Utility (almost) Charged City For Memorial Flags

I'm not an expert with Public Relations - but I'm going to say this is was not well thought out.

Officials on eastern Long Island are fuming that the local power authority charged a $5 per pole fee to fly American flags along a parade route honoring a local soldier killed in Afghanistan. (WABC/ABC News)

New York Utility Charged for Hanging Flags From Its Poles At Memorial for Slain Soldier

The folks on Shelter Island, N.Y., were furious after they held a memorial parade to honor Lt. Joseph Theinert, a town resident who was killed in Afghanistan. The service included having members of Theinert's old unit march along a flag draped street that was named after Theinert.

Then they got the bill. The Long Island Power Authority charged them for hanging the American flags from its utility poles.

Read more ....

Update: New York Power Company Criticized for Charging American Flag Fee Says It Will Cover Cost

These Aren't the Droids We're Looking For...

Renewables aren't affordable

The IPCC wants the world to switch to renewable energy and forgo abundant, affordable fossil fuel options:

…the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change released a thousand-page report on the future of renewable energy, which it defined as solar, hydro, wind, tidal, wave, geothermal and biomass. These energy sources, said the IPCC, generate about 13.8% of our energy and, if encouraged to grow, could eventually displace most fossil fuel use.

The linked article goes on to expose some very flawed thinking about what constitutes ‘renewable’ energy, but hey, let's just ignore that for a moment. Let’s pretend that renewables could replace 87% of the energy currently supplied by natural gas, oil and coal. What would that cost global economies, do you think?

Quick answer, far too much:

renewable, not affordable

(click for larger)

Solar and wind are heavily subsidized and provide poor efficiency returns on investment. A world powered exclusively by the most expensive energy production options the cost of everything would go up, jobs would disappear and civilized life as we know it would change radically. It wouldn't be easy, and it would be going backward, not forward.

Hippies are bullies. Their way or 'no way, man'. No nuclear, no coal - what's their end game?

Tune out and Turn off and Become... Amish?

May 25, 2011

I'd Hit That

Seems like a really good solution.

Truthy Pawlenty

Tim Pawlenty bets on boldness

I’ve long said that no one can elected president telling the truth about how bad things are and what needs to be done. Pawlenty be giving it a shot. Any candidate who only gives us 50% pabulum is worth supporting against a president who gave us 99%.

Excerpt: In announcing his campaign for president in Iowa Monday, former Minnesota governor Tim Pawlenty placed a big bet on boldness. He called for a phasing out — albeit gradual — of federal ethanol subsidies, a move long considered a political death wish in a state with such a large agricultural community.

Again, which is why I have often noted that ethanol will never go away as long as the first contest for President is held in Iowa. This is a huge move, but it might be about as intelligent as Giuliani focusing only on Florida in 2008.

But, Pawlenty didn’t stop there. In his speech he detailed how he will travel this week to Florida — one of the oldest (by age, not Statehood, trolls) states in the country — to call for fundamental reform of Medicare and Social Security, to Washington to take on alleged largess in the federal government and to New York to make clear the era of bailouts of the financial industry is over. “Conventional wisdom says you can’t talk about ethanol in Iowa or Social Security in Florida or financial reform on Wall Street,” Pawlenty said. “But someone has to say it. Someone has to finally stand up and level with the American people.” The “speak truth to power” idea — and Pawlenty used the word “truth” 16 times in his announcement speech — is an interesting one for the former Minnesota governor who has often been described as too vanilla or too boring to excite the GOP electorate.

“I am going to tell you the truth,” Pawlenty said. “The truth is, Washington’s broken.”

Read More

Sure, it's the truth, but when has that ever worked out for a politician?

Kentucky's Tax Payer Ark Encounter

Last week, Kentucky's state tourism board approved up to $43 million in tax incentives for the construction of Ark Encounter, a creationist theme park.

The tax rebates, which could subsidize up to 25% of the $150 million project, were granted under the Kentucky Tourism Development Act. The state government's website says that the act "allows eligible tourism attractions a rebate of sales tax up to 25% of project capitol costs over a 10 year period," provided that projects have a positive economic impact.

(MORE: Kentucky creates new jobs by building Noah's Ark)

Ark Encounter will include Noah's Ark, the Tower of Babel, an ancient walled city, and other Biblical renditions. A Christian organization called "Genesis in America" heads the project that is scheduled to break ground in August and open in the spring of 2014. The organization also built the Creation Museum in Kentucky.

The proximity of state funds and religion is admittedly a bit dubious, but proponents of this project argue that the state will reap significant economic benefits, especially in terms of job creation. According to Gov. Steve Beshear the park, "is projected to create 600 to 700 full-time jobs and have an economic impact of more than $250 million in its first year of operation."

But Americans United for Separation of Church and State raises the obvious question — what about that pesky little issue of church and state? You know, one of the tenets our country was built upon? In a statement, the group accused the state of “subsidizing fundamentalist religion” and criticized the decision to approve tax incentives for a religious endeavor, even one that may boost the economy. After all, will said park offer employment opportunities for non-fundamentalists?

Gil Lawson, of the Kentucky Tourism, Arts and Heritage Cabinet, told Talking Points Memo the law establishing tax incentives is neutral. "We treated this application like any other," he said. "We can not discriminate against this project based on any religious criteria."

Read More:

To be fair, Kentucky is also going to invest in an Atheist theme park too. But no one believed in it, so now no one knows - or cares - where it is. Besides, waiting around for something to evolve in Kentucky wasn't a very good ride anyway.

May 24, 2011

Presidential Sports

VIDEO: Foul ball lands near President Bush:

Former President George W. Bush just missed getting hit by a shoe, a baseball and A.J. Pierzynski.

A pop foul at last night’s match up between the Rangers and the White Sox landed near the Rangers dugout, which was a few inches below former President's seats were. White Sox catcher A.J. Pierzynski made a valiant effort to catch the popup, only to find himself almost in W’s lap.

“I told him just ’cause he was the president doesn’t mean I wouldn’t jump on top of him,” Pierzynski said later.

Meanwhile, Barack Obama and British Prime Minister David Cameron play ping pong against a pair of students from Globe Academy.

Their ping-pong game looks a lot like their war in Libya.

Mainstream Christian Eschatology vs. Harold Camping's

Before and After

Before And After of the Day

Missourian Aaron Fuhrman — a self-taught landscape photographer — has been traveling around Joplin, photographing heartrending panoramic shots of the devastation left in the aftermath of Sunday’s tornado.

Fuhrman lined up one of these panoramic photos with a Google Street View screencap of the same intersection to illustrate the comprehension-challenging extent of damage caused by the twister.

Full Circle

Large corporations that have boomed in India amid the country's nimble economy have been drawn to the U.S. where unemployment has soared. Struggling residents desperate for work are paid between $12 and $14 a hour to be stationed in tiny cubicles for long shifts of telesales work. Once the employees are established, many are offered the chance to be flown to India themselves - the same tactic Western countries have done in India. Experts said that the phenomenon, which could become more widespread in the coming years, is partly due to Indian workers demanding higher wages and higher living standards.

May 23, 2011

It's a lot to remember

Oracle of Delphi

No need to go to Delphi for a glimpse into America's future sovereign debt crisis. But, yeah, you should look to Greece.

Can you say "screwed?"

Greece's Papandreou is proposing:
- Higher property taxes
- Higher VAT (consumption) taxes
- Higher taxes on the self-employed
- Lower Government spending
- Lower wages
- Lower benefits
- Selling Greek assets
- the "missing link"

The "missing link" is the Governmental confiscation of private pension/retirement funds.
- It's happening now (just ask the Irish, Argentinians, Hungarians...) and yes, "it can happen here" (w/a nod to Sinclair Lewis). It's something Governments do not like to talk about openly. Might cause public upset, and well..... er, riots?


Cost Of Eating Spikes For The Arab World

Let them eat bread.

That refrain, from the authoritarian regime of President Hosni Mubarak, kept impoverished Egyptians from violent rebellion for decades.

When food riots broke out in 2008, he contained them by promising to keep up the subsidies that were the barrier between malnutrition and starvation for one-third of the country’s 80 million people.

The protests that brought down his regime were driven by hunger for democracy rather than bread. But as Egypt and other Arab countries remain volatile, there are fears that spiking grain prices could propel new discontent.

In the past week, wheat prices soared by 17 per cent, a worrying sign for those countries where it is a staple of the diet.
Read more

This isn't just a problem for the Middle East. In China, food inflation is raising the alarm for its leaders, and for most African countries .... higher prices has always meant political/social upheavals that inevitably lead to war and conflict. Get ready.

I do not understand why nothing has happened

Family Radio co-founder Harold Camping resurfaced, finally, after his Rapture prediction failed to materialize.

Standing in the doorway of his Alameda home, Camping told reporters “it has been a really tough weekend,” adding that he was “flabbergasted” and “looking for answers.”

He abruptly put an end to the impromptu press conference, saying he had no further comment, but would return to the radio network’s Oakland headquarters Monday, “and will say more then.”

Where he'll, no doubt, be asking for money. I'm asking for a class action lawsuit for fraud.

Here's an artist's rendition of what REALLY happened.

May 20, 2011

If I'm Wrong... This is what you're missing

Well, bye!

Warning a Child of the Irrational World

Richard Dawkins letter to his 10 year old daughter (how to warn your child about this irrational world)

To my dearest daughter,

Now that you are ten, I want to write to you about something that is important to me. Have you ever wondered how we know the things that we know? How do we know, for instance, that the stars, which look like tiny pinpricks in the sky, are really huge balls of fire like the Sun and very far away? And how do we know that the Earth is a smaller ball whirling round one of those stars, the Sun?

The answer to these questions is ‘evidence’.

Sometimes evidence means actually seeing (or hearing, feeling, smelling….) that something is true. Astronauts have traveled far enough from the Earth to see with their own eyes that it is round. Sometimes our eyes need help. The ‘evening star’ looks like a bright twinkle in the sky but with a telescope you can see that it is a beautiful ball – the planet we call Venus. Something that you learn by direct seeing (or hearing or feeling…) is called an observation.

Often evidence isn’t just observation on its own, but observation always lies at the back of it. If there’s been a murder, often nobody (except the murderer and the dead person!) actually observed it. But detectives can gather together lots of other observations which may all point towards a particular suspect. If a person’s fingerprints match those found on a dagger, this is evidence that he touched it. It doesn’t prove that he did the murder, but it can help when it’s joined up with lots of other evidence. Sometimes a detective can think about a whole lot of observations and suddenly realize that they all fall into place and make sense if so-and-so did the murder.

Scientists – the specialists in discovering what is true about the world and the universe – often work like detectives. They make a guess (called a hypothesis) about what might be true. They then say to themselves: if that were really true, we ought to see so-and-so. This is called a prediction. For example, if the world is really round, we can predict that a traveler, going on and on in the same direction, should eventually find himself back where he started. When a doctor says that you have measles he doesn’t take one look at you and see measles. His first look gives him a hypothesis that you may have measles. Then he says to himself: if she really has measles, I ought to see… Then he runs through his list of predictions and tests them with his eyes (have you got spots?), his hands (is your forehead hot?), and his ears (does your chest wheeze in a measly way?). Only then does he make his decision and say, ‘I diagnose that the child has measles.’ Sometimes doctors need to do other tests like blood tests or X-rays, which help their eyes, hands and ears to make observations.

The way scientists use evidence to learn about the world is much cleverer and more complicated than I can say in a short letter. But now I want to move on from evidence, which is a good reason for believing something, and warn you against three bad reasons for believing anything. They are called ‘tradition’, ‘authority’, and ‘revelation’.

First, tradition. A few months ago, I went on television to have a discussion with about 50 children. These children were invited because they’d been brought up in lots of different religions. Some had been brought up as Christians, others as Jews, Muslims, Hindus, Sikhs. The man with the microphone went from child to child, asking them what they believed. What they said shows up exactly what I mean by ‘tradition’. Their beliefs turned out to have no connection with evidence. They just trotted out the beliefs of their parents and grandparents, which, in turn, were not based upon evidence either. They said things like, ‘We Hindus believe so and so.’ ‘We Muslims believe such and such.’ ‘We Christians believe something else.’ Of course, since they all believed different things, they couldn’t all be right. The man with the microphone seemed to think this quite proper, and he didn’t even try to get them to argue out their differences with each other. But that isn’t the point I want to make. I simply want to ask where their beliefs came from. They came from tradition. Tradition means beliefs handed down from grandparent to parent to child, and so on. Or from books handed down through the centuries. Traditional beliefs often start from almost nothing; perhaps somebody just makes them up originally, like the stories about Thor and Zeus. But after they’ve been handed down over some centuries, the mere fact that they are so old makes them seem special. People believe things simply because people have believed the same thing over centuries. That’s tradition.

The trouble with tradition is that, no matter how long ago a story was made up, it is still exactly as true or untrue as the original story was. If you make up a story that isn’t true, handing it down over any number of centuries doesn’t make it any truer!

Most people in England have been baptized into the Church of England, but this is only one of many branches of the Christian religion. There are other branches such as the Russian Orthodox, the Roman Catholic and the Methodist churches. They all believe different things. The Jewish religion and the Muslim religion are a bit more different still; and there are different kinds of Jews and of Muslims. People who believe even slightly different things from each other often go to war over their disagreements. So you might think that they must have some pretty good reasons – evidence – for believing what they believe. But actually their different beliefs are entirely due to different traditions.

Let’s talk about one particular tradition. Roman Catholics believe that Mary, the mother of Jesus, was so special that she didn’t die but was lifted bodily into Heaven. Other Christian traditions disagree, saying that Mary did die like anybody else. These other religions don’t talk about her much and, unlike Roman Catholics, they don’t call her the ‘Queen of Heaven’. The tradition that Mary’s body was lifted into Heaven is not a very old one. The Bible says nothing about how or when she died; in fact the poor woman is scarcely mentioned in the Bible at all. The belief that her body was lifted into Heaven wasn’t invented until about six centuries after Jesus’s time. At first it was just made up, in the same way as any story like Snow White was made up. But, over the centuries, it grew into a tradition and people started to take it seriously simply because the story had been handed down over so many generations. The older the tradition became, the more people took it seriously. It finally was written down as an official Roman Catholic belief only very recently, in 1950. But the story was no more true in 1950 than it was when it was first invented 600 years after Mary’s death.

I’ll come back to tradition at the end of my letter, and look at it in another way. But first I must deal with the two other bad reasons for believing in anything: authority and revelation.

Authority, as a reason for believing something, means believing it because you are told to believe it by somebody important. In the Roman Catholic Church, the Pope is the most important person, and people believe he must be right just because he is the Pope. In one branch of the Muslim religion, the important people are old men with beards called Ayatollahs. Lots of young Muslims are prepared to commit murder, purely because the Ayatollahs in a faraway country tell them to.

When I say that it was only in 1950 that Roman Catholics were finally told that they had to believe that Mary’s body shot off to Heaven, what I mean is that in 1950 the Pope told people that they had to believe it. That was it. The Pope said it was true, so it had to be true! Now, probably some of the things that Pope said in his life were true and some were not true. There is no good reason why, just because he was the Pope, you should believe everything he said, any more than you believe everything that lots of other people say. The present Pope has ordered his followers not to limit the number of babies they have. If people follow his authority as slavishly as he would wish, the results could be terrible famines, diseases and wars, caused by overcrowding.

Of course, even in science, sometimes we haven’t seen the evidence ourselves and we have to take somebody else’s word for it. I haven’t with my own eyes, seen the evidence that light travels at a speed of 186,000 miles per second. Instead, I believe books that tell me the speed of light. This looks like ‘authority’. But actually it is much better than authority because the people who wrote the books have seen the evidence and anyone is free to look carefully at the evidence whenever they want. That is very comforting. But not even the priests claim that there is any evidence for their story about Mary’s body zooming off to Heaven.

The third kind of bad reason for believing anything is called ‘revelation’. If you had asked the Pope in 1950 how he knew that Mary’s body disappeared into Heaven, he would probably have said that it had been ‘revealed’ to him. He shut himself in his room and prayed for guidance. He thought and thought, all by himself, and he became more and more sure inside himself. When religious people just have a feeling inside themselves that something must be true, even though there is no evidence that it is true, they call their feeling ‘revelation’. It isn’t only popes who claim to have revelations. Lots of religious people do. It is one of their main reasons for believing the things that they do believe. But is it a good reason?

Suppose I told you that your dog was dead. You’d be very upset, and you’d probably say, ‘Are you sure? How do you know? How did it happen?’ Now suppose I answered: ‘I don’t actually know that Pepe is dead. I have no evidence. I just have this funny feeling deep inside me that he is dead.’ You’d be pretty cross with me for scaring you, because you’d know that an inside ‘feeling’ on its own is not a good reason for believing that a whippet is dead. You need evidence. We all have inside feelings from time to time, and sometimes they turn out to be right and sometimes they don’t. Anyway, different people have opposite feelings, so how are we to decide whose feeling is right? The only way to be sure that a dog is dead is to see him dead, or hear that his heart has stopped; or be told by somebody who has seen or heard some real evidence that he is dead.

People sometimes say that you must believe in feelings deep inside, otherwise you’d never be confident of things like ‘My wife loves me’.
But this is a bad argument. There can be plenty of evidence that somebody loves you. All through the day when you are with somebody who loves you, you see and hear lots of little tidbits of evidence, and they all add up. It isn’t purely inside feeling, like the feeling that priests call revelation. There are outside things to back up the inside feeling: looks in the eye, tender notes in the voice, little favors and kindnesses; this is all real evidence.

Sometimes people have a strong inside feeling that somebody loves them when it is not based upon any evidence, and then they are likely to be completely wrong. There are people with a strong inside feeling that a famous film star loves them, when really the film star hasn’t even met them. People like that are ill in their minds. Inside feelings must be backed up by evidence, otherwise you just can’t trust them.

Inside feelings are valuable in science too, but only for giving you ideas that you later test by looking for evidence. A scientist can have a ‘hunch’ about an idea that just ‘feels’ right. In itself, this is not a good reason for believing something. But it can be a good reason for spending some time doing a particular experiment, or looking in a particular way for evidence. Scientists use inside feelings all the time to get ideas. But they are not worth anything until they are supported by evidence.

I promised that I’d come back to tradition, and look at it in another way. I want to try to explain why tradition is so important to us. All animals are built (by the process called evolution) to survive in the normal place in which their kind live. Lions are built to be good at surviving on the plains of Africa. Crayfish are built to be good at surviving in fresh water, while lobsters are built to be good at surviving in the salt sea. People are animals too, and we are built to be good at surviving in a world full of … other people. Most of us don’t hunt for our own food like lions or lobsters, we buy it from other people who have bought it from yet other people. We ‘swim’ through a ‘sea of people’. Just as a fish needs gills to survive in water, people need brains that make them able to deal with other people. Just as the sea is full of salt water, the sea of people is full of difficult things to learn. Like language.

You speak English but your friend speaks German. You each speak the language that fits you to ‘swim about’ in your own separate ‘people sea’. Language is passed down by tradition. There is no other way. In England, Pepe is a dog. In Germany he is ein Hund. Neither of these words is more correct, or more truer than the other. Both are simply handed down. In order to be good at ‘swimming about in their people sea’, children have to learn the language of their own country, and lots of other things about their own people; and this means that they have to absorb, like blotting paper, an enormous amount of traditional information. (Remember that traditional information just means things that are handed down from grandparents to parents to children.) The child’s brain has to be a sucker for traditional information. And the child can’t be expected to sort out good and useful traditional information, like the words of a language, from bad or silly traditional information, like believing in witches and devils and ever-living virgins.

It’s a pity, but it can’t help being the case, that because children have to be suckers for traditional information, they are likely to believe anything the grown-ups tell them, whether true or false, right or wrong. Lots of what grown-ups tell them is true and based on evidence or at least sensible. But if some of it is false, silly or even wicked, there is nothing to stop the children believing that too. Now, when the children grow up, what do they do? Well, of course, they tell it to the next generation of children. So, once something gets itself strongly believed – even if its completely untrue and there never was any reason to believe it in the first place – it can go on forever.
Could this be what happened with religions? Belief that there is a god or gods, belief in Heaven, belief that Mary never died, belief that Jesus never had a human father, belief that prayers are answered, belief that wine turns into blood – not one of these beliefs is backed up by any good evidence. Yet millions of people believe them. Perhaps this is because they were told to believe them when they were young enough to believe anything.

Millions of other people believe quite different things, because they were told different things when they were children. Muslim children are told different things from Christian children, and both grow up utterly convinced that they are right and the others are wrong. Even within Christians, Roman Catholics believe different things from Church of England people or Episcopalians, Shakers or Quakers, Mormons or Holy Rollers, and all are utterly convinced that they are right and the others are wrong. They believe different things for exactly the same kind of reason as you speak English and someone speaks German.

Both languages are, in their own country, the right language to speak. But it can’t be true that different religions are right in their own countries, because different religions claim that opposite things are true. Mary can’t be alive in the Catholic Republic but dead in Protestant Northern Ireland.

What can we do about all this? It is not easy for you to do anything, because you are only ten. But you could try this. Next time somebody tells you something that sounds important, think to yourself: ‘Is this the kind of thing that people probably know because of evidence? Or is it the kind of thing that people only believe because of tradition, authority or revelation?’ And, next time somebody tells you that something is true, why not say to them: ‘What kind of evidence is there for that?’ And if they can’t give you a good answer, I hope you’ll think very carefully before you believe a word they say.

Your loving,


Richard Dawkins is one of the worlds most renowned scientists who is known for speaking out against the dangers of religion.

Netanyahu at White House Today

"You know that speech I made, yesterday, about how you need to pull back to your 1967 boarders? Yeah, I didn't know you were coming TODAY. I guess I put that into my google calendar wrong, and my Blackberry has been acting up - I'm thinking about getting a Droid when my contract runs out... how are you? How about Egypt, right? Can I get you a glass of water or something? Come on, man, you're not even blinking at me. That's creeping me out."

Just a Reminder

Come fly with me, let's fly, let's fly away

Is the Arab Spring Over?

"Burning churches in Cairo, dead and wounded in Syria, Libya and Yemen, and a deathly silence in Bahrain. The Arab protest movement has come to a standstill, and the kings, emirs and sultans are rallying to launch a counterrevolution.

According to the "Fundamental Law of Revolution," regimes fall when those at the bottom are fed up with the status quo and those at the top are no longer capable of remaining in power.

That was the experience of Vladimir Ilyich Lenin."

Read more

That's so Takei

George Takei offers a very reasonable solution to Tennessee’s impending classroom prohibition on the world “gay.”

Follow Up: Good Neighbor

Third Follow Up of the Day

Maybe you saw this sign on the internets last week? Yes, we all had a giggle. I doubt I posted it on Blasphemes, because it was either too obvious, or just a fake band sign. Well, turns out that the backstory is even wackier: A 50-year-old busy-body from Dayton reportedly phones up the police several times a day to make “false or unsubstantiated claims” put these signs up around town to draw attention to her neighbor. A neighbor she suspected was a drug dealer. The residents at the address listed called to cops and claimed that Tim (of “Tim’s Illegal Drugs & Trade”) lost his job because of the sign.

When officers arrived at 'Tim's' Brookline Ave home to discuss additional hardship charges the family may want to bring against the sign poster, they asked for permission to make sure there were indeed no drugs on the premises. Wouldn’t you know it, they found a 3-foot-tall marijuana plant growing in the bedroom.

Asked to explain himself, Tim responded that “it was for personal use and that he found it in a trashcan.” He added that it was plain to see he wasn’t a drug dealer because, if he was, he’d “live better.” Tim is now sitting in the Montgomery County Jail, and will likely be charged with illegal cultivation of drugs.

Long story short, don’t call the cops to complain that someone is falsely accusing you of being a drug dealer when you have a 3-foot pot plant in your bedroom. (Or at least hide it first.)

May 19, 2011

Obama Pisses off Israel

In Major Middle East Speech, President Obama Tells Israel To Go Back To 1967 Borders

Barack Obama endorsed on Thursday a key Palestinian demand for the borders of its future state and prodded Israel to accept that it can never have a truly peaceful nation that is based on "permanent occupation."

Obama's urging that a Palestinian state be based on 1967 borders, those that existed before the Six-Day War in which Israel occupied East Jerusalem, the West Bank and Gaza, marked a significant shift in U.S. policy and seemed certain to anger Israel. And the checks coming into the Obama re-election campaign.

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How High's the Water, Ma'Ma?

The Irony Hurts

Dear Cap'n:

"I work at a christian school, and this is on the door of the elementary library."

May 18, 2011


Of the 204 new Obamacare waivers President Barack Obama’s administration approved in April, 38 are for fancy eateries, hip nightclubs and decadent hotels in House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi’s Northern California district. That’s in addition to the 27 new waivers for health care or drug companies and the 31 new union waivers Obama’s Department of Health and Human Services approved.

Read More

Maybe she read it. Didn't like it? Or realized she'd actually have to run a campaign once the 'little people' had to endure it?

Where's my waiver?

Sea Worthy

Unreported News: Airline Door Openers

The Real Jihad: Dry Runs and Probes: Those culturally enriched air travelers are at it again, this time on a flight coming into San Francisco, among others.
Excerpt: Federal agents are investigating Almurisi’s background. He was carrying a Yemeni passport and a California identification card, authorities said.

Now before you get all alarmist, the man had a California ID card. That means he's just a deranged person with girlfriend issues.

'Maybe he was looking for the bathroom': Family defends Yemeni passenger who stormed cockpit, shouting 'Allahu Akbar' as plane came in to land at San Francisco
Sure, I mean, who hasn’t shouted “Allah Akbar” when pounding on the bathroom door on a plane?

Excerpt: The Yemeni man who was wrestled to the floor after pounding on the cockpit door of a plane approaching San Francisco may have mistaken it for the bathroom. Rageit Almurisi cannot speak English very well and could have misunderstood the signs inside the jet, his cousin claimed. The math teacher, who was heard yelling 'Allahu Akbar' as he allegedly battered the door, had also only been on three planes in his life and would have been unfamiliar with the layout.

Maybe he was saying "Admiral Akbar? Where's the can?"

Oh, and ANOTHER passenger was tackled and arrested after trying to open Delta airplane door mid-flight

Excerpt: If this is a new trend, it's one that a very jittery America could do without. Yet another air passenger has had to be tackled by other passengers after trying to open the plane's door mid-flight. It is the fourth scare in less than a week for American air passengers. Travel authorities say a Delta passenger tried to open an emergency door on a flight from Orlando, Florida, to Boston on Tuesday night, but was subdued by another passenger.

Luckily, other passengers are our true line of defense. The TSA apparently cannot.

If you're flying this week, and there's a jackass out of his seat, get ready to tackle him.

May 17, 2011

Do the chickens have large talons?

Fox has just released the first official teaser for Napoleon Dynamite: The Animated Series, and to all that is unholy and wrong in the world - why must they do this?

I suddenly find myself rooting for the May 21st doomsayers.

May 16, 2011

Bond, Avi Bond

Mossad Carries Out Daring London Raid On Syrian Official

Undercover agents tracked a Syrian official carrying nuclear secrets to London where they broke into his hotel room and stole the plans as part of a daring operation on foreign soil by Mossad, the Israeli secret service, it has been claimed.

The original plan was apparently to assassinate the official and Israel only averted what would have been a huge diplomatic rift with Britain, when they decided the target was more valuable alive than dead.

The operation involved at least 10 undercover agents on the streets of Britain and led directly to a controversial bombing raid into Syrian territory that destroyed a nuclear reactor that was under construction.
Read more ....

May 15, 2011

Blu Uno; Ocho Cero

While crossing bull riding off his bucket list, Bengals wide receiver Chad Ochocinco nearly gets his bucket kicked by a 1,500-pound bull named Deja Blu after falling off 1.5 seconds into the ride.

Blowing Wad

New York Man Spends Life Savings Ahead of May 21 Doomsday

Read more:

A New York man spent his entire $140,000 life savings advertising his prediction that the world will end May 21, the New York Post reported Friday.

Robert Fitzpatrick, a 60-year-old Staten Island resident, said he spent at least that sum on 1,000 subway-car placards and ads on bus kiosks and subway cars.

They say, "Global Earthquake: The Greatest Ever! Judgment Day May 21, 2011."
In a self-published book, "The Doomsday Code," Fitzpatrick said the Bible offers "proof that cannot be dismissed."

"Judgment Day will surprise people. We will not be ready for it," Fitzpatrick said in an interview with the newspaper. "A giant earthquake will render the earth uninhabitable."

If you want to set an alarm clock, the quake will happen just before 6:00pm local time, he said.

At least now I know when the Rapture is supposed to start Eastern time.

Alternate title - Moron blows wad, regrets not spending it on blow.

The Week In Review: Sunday Comics

Well, we made it to the end of this week. Wasn't easy. Here's the weekly roundup - where we attempt to catch up to things we couldn't get to or can be easily summed up with a comic.

And as Mississippi is underwater, so is the economy. Wonder if those gas prices are going to come down, or tear down the 'recovery'. No. Gas prices are where they're going to be - and the economy is going to go on a sliding roller coaster for quite some time. Note, that no President has been re-elected with 8% or higher unemployment - since FDR - and it's around 9% now.

So in GOP news - Mitt has a little problem. He was for it, before he was against it. Oppps. Sounds like a pre-existing condition?
And Newt finally threw his shorts into the ring. Yeah, Newt's got baggage. Trump has a whole baggage claim.

And, as predicted by yours truly - Greece is bringing down the dream of a unified Europe - again. Don't laugh too hard, America. Boomers and entitlement programs - and three unfunded active wars are bringing you down to reality right behind them.
Hope to see you next week. Guess it depends if the Rapture or another Blogger failure will keep it from happening? Tune in and find out.