Saturday, April 23, 2011

Change starts "here"; Change starts with "you"; Change starts with "me"

We have problems galore ecological, environmental, climate, energy supply, rise of corporate fascism and more. As a result many voices are calling for change, change in how "we" do things. When an oil spill or nuclear meltdown occurs a call goes out to stop doing that dirty stuff. It's an environmental disaster, yes, that threatens to harm all of us, yes, and perhaps it should be stopped. I've watched (or listened to) dozens shows recently reacting in horror to the nuclear catastrophy, or to natural gas fracking, or to last years oil spill, and vehemently calling for those operations to stop. I hear them say this, and while I agree, I scream at the radio or podcast asking them if they themselves have stopped using the products of those technologies?

All of us who enjoy the fruits of modern energy technologies are in part responsible for the existence of oil wells, coal mines, tar sands strip mining, mountain top destruction, nuclear power plants, and all the rest. The freedom to leave a light running without thought is a gift brought to us by those facilities. (And, yes, I had three lights still on even though it's mid-day, and I just turned them off)

At the other end of that light bulb is an electricity generation plant most likely burning coal or natural gas. Here's a couple videos I recorded about this:

The pattern is one of pointing at others such as the government demanding that "they" do something about this mess. Right? Why does the government allow the oil companies to keep drilling for oil? Why is the government ignoring environmental laws and allowing nuclear plants to be built on top of earthquake faults, or allow oil drilling to happen when the oil industry has no effective tested method to stop blowouts, etc? Why are "they" allowing "that" to happen?

Okay, there's some truth to these questions .. but the real question is, what are you (and I) going to do to change our own habits?

These companies doing the oil drilling or coal mining etc aren't in it because of evil intent to purposely trash the planet. It's just a means to the end of running a profitable business, a business that provides a service to paying customers. You, me, everyone. I have a gasoline powered car sitting outside which in a few hours I'll drive to a place 20 miles away to visit with a friend. A hundred years ago, before the age of oil really kicked in, that journey would have taken all day. Today it's a 30 minute drive.

That freedom was gifted to me by the oil companies and oil wells and I am in part responsible for the Gulf of Mexico oil spill disaster last year. And so are the rest of us who enjoy the gift of oil derived fuels.

There's a two way street of responsibility. Yes, "they" are responsible for operating their machines in a wise and safe manner, and "they" are failing at doing so. But more importantly "we" are responsible for wisely choosing the products we buy, the services we enjoy, and our lifestyle. "We" are also failing at responsible wise product choice and seem instead to be collectively intent on buying cheap poisonous crap.

If we as individuals or collectively change our habits I firmly believe that "they" will (eventually) take notice. It won't be easy because of entrenched investments "they" will want to defend and therefore act to keep "us" tied to the habits "they" have given "us". We must be strong in making wise and responsible choices to change our way of life.

See also:

Stand up for Real Change

This world doesn't have to become an uninhabitable nuclear radiation poisoned wasteland

Higher Purpose: Japans earthquake and nuclear crisis asks us what we really want

Friday, April 22, 2011

The Catholic Church control over the definition of "miracle"

What happens when a miracle occurs? You know, someone prays, and then something miraculous happens which nobody can explain. When this happens within the context of the Catholic Church the Church Authorities step in and assert what I think is a fiction, namely that miracles require an intercessor to channel Gods Magnificence to help us poor pitiful humans. The fiction is that humans are unable to have any divinity, unable to access God directly, and must instead depend on Church Authority for access to God.

I wrote some time ago about this (see: Establishing control over a society) and a story on todays Morning Edition (NPR's daily news show) seems to exemplify this to a T.

The story is that a young boy developed a dreadful disease of the sort Doctors say is normally fatal. It was a particularly ravenous fast moving form of the disease. The boys family made some contacts and pretty quickly crowdsourced a legion of people around the world praying for the boy's health. The doctors told the parents the boy would probably die, and a Priest came in and read him his last rights.

The intercession of Kateri Tekakwitha?

The story then becomes connected with Kateri Tekakwitha, a Mohawk who converted to Catholicism and who was beatified in 1980. Kateri happened to have similar health conditions to the boy's, making for three analogous conditions between this boy and Kateri: "Number one, we're talking about two young people," Sauer says. "Number two, we're talking about two people who come from Native American ancestry. And number three, we're talking about a person who herself suffered from a disease that disfigured her face."

A representative of the Society of Blessed Kateri visited the boy and gave his mother a relic of Kateri. On that day his illness changed course. That day was described as "breathtaking" and the surgeon is quoted saying: "All of a sudden, to have this infection stop is almost like a geyser coming out of the earth with this great roar — and all of a sudden it just stops. And there's silence. And everybody's just a little bit stunned by it being over."

It does seem rather miraculous, especially when the medical doctor guy is stunned and cannot explain it.

The Catholic Church process of approving a Miracle

The story goes on to explain that seemingly miraculous events are not enough for the Catholic Church. And that's a good thing because honestly spiritual practitioners have a way of simply believing things without taking a rational look at things. Taking a rational look, however, does not necessitate always denying the action of spiritual forces unlike many skeptics would have us believe. My experience of the skeptic crowd is they have their own rigid dogma to defending, that spiritual action is always a bogus lie.

As I see it the truth is neither that miracles or other spiritual effects require an intercessor, nor that spiritual effects are bogus lies.

Instead that we all have innate access to spiritual gifts, and that we all can (and do) participate in the creation of spiritual effects.

The book these Christian people profess to believe even says so. The teacher, Jesus, is quoted saying that we would have all the gifts he demonstrated, and more.

Standing in heaven before the throne of God

Turning back to the NPR report - they describe the reasoning behind the Catholic Church designating some people with Beatification or Sainthood: "That means we have received assurances that this person now stands in heaven before the throne of God," he says. And historically, "one of the evidences of that has been miracles of healing."

The report describes a litany of people scrutinizing the recovery of this little boy. They want to determine whether it was an actual miracle, or simply luck of modern medical practice, or what. And while I like the idea of scrutinizing and studying spiritual effects, the whole story reeks of Authority stepping in and Asserting Control and Asserting their Dogma.

Is this situation an example of an intercessor who "now stands in heaven before the throne of God"? Or does this situation demonstrate the power of prayer? Especially the power of a legion of people praying together? Perhaps the miracle did not occur via the intercessionary power of Kateri Tekakwitha, but because hundreds of people joined together in prayer.

And while the NPR story discussed two points of view, it did not discuss this third point of view. The NPR piece described the Catholic Church viewpoint (miracles require intercessors), and for balance brought in a professional skeptic who writes for the Skeptical Inquirer to tell us that all spiritual practices are bogus lies and that this boy received great medical care. They did not bring in someone to discuss whether or why intercessors are required for spiritual effects to occur.

Hence, NPR is in this case acting to preserve two of the existing dogmatic -isms controlling our society without giving even the slightest lip service to a third point of view.

I wonder what others think of their story in light of what I've just written. The boxes below offer a convenient way to leave comments.

See: A Boy, An Injury, A Recovery, A Miracle?

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Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Corporate take-over of American cities and Republican led authoritarianism (Rachel Maddow)

Last night Rachel Maddow's show led off with a powerful piece using Benton Harbor Michigan as an example of authoritarian big government Republicans trampling on local government and overturning Democracy. The issue is a recent law passed by the Michigan state legislature giving their Governor the power to dissolve local governments that are in financial crisis, and replace the local government with a corporate-run management team.

While many such as myself has been pointing at corporatism as an abstract danger, this is a concrete example of corporate power replacing government power.

Her piece asks us to recall the Biblical phrase, "By their fruits ye shall know them". The Republicans have an ideological bias towards small non-intrusive government and personal freedom, but when they have official power they tend to become overbearing authoritarian neo-fascists.

There is an existing industry of Emergency Financial Managers who step in to governments in financial crisis. For that matter this has an analogue in corporate governance where there are people and organizations who specialize in corporate turnaround or dissolving corporations in the final throes of bankruptcy. Some people specialize as being the CEO of flailing companies. So, if there's a city who is in a similar near-failure case it would be useful to have people and organizations that specialize in assisting the financial turnaround of a flailing government.

But this is a little different. Taking cue from the "By their fruits ye shall know them" line, their first action under the emergency financial managers law is a doozy. Benton Harbor is a relatively poor predominantly black city neighboring a relatively rich predominantly white city, both straddling a river along the Lake Michigan shore across the lake from Chicago. Benton Harbor is slated to be the site of an exclusive Golf Course and high priced home development targeted at rich persons. The development is meant to encompass Benton Harbor's shore-side city park. The golf course enclave is obviously not going to benefit the citizens of Benton Harbor, and with their city government out of the way there's almost certainly zero defense against the planned development slated to take over land currently owned by the city.

In other words - the first official use of this law is to negate a local city government to make it easier to build an exclusive rich persons enclave and deny public access to yet another stretch of beach.

By their fruits ye shall know them.

What do you think? Let me know in the comment boxes below.

An earlier corporate take-over piece with video from Maddow's show: Corporations are not human, that's why we have government (Rachel Maddow)

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Summary of the Local Government and School District Fiscal Accountability Act Process,1607,7-121-1751_51556-198770--,00.html

Step One: If one or more conditions indicative of probable financial stress in a local government exist, the State Financial Authority (State Treasurer or Superintendent of Public Instruction) may conduct a preliminary review, after providing the unit of local government with specific written notification of the review.

Step Two: The State Financial Authority must inform the Governor within 30 days of commencement of the preliminary review whether or not probable financial stress exists.

Step Three: The Governor must appoint a review team if the State Financial Authority informs the Governor that a preliminary review has been conducted and a finding of probable financial stress was made.

A review team consists of the State Treasurer (or his or her designee), the Director of the Department of Technology, Management, and Budget (or his or her designee), a nominee of the Senate Majority Leader, a nominee of the Speaker of the House of Representatives, and any other State officials, or other persons with relevant professional experience selected by the Governor. The Superintendent of Public Instruction (or his or her designee) also is a member if a school district is involved.

Step Four: Unless the Governor specifies an earlier date, or grants a 30-day extension, a review team must report to the Governor within 60 days of its appointment and indicate whether specific statutory conditions exist or are likely to occur which constitute no or mild financial stress, severe financial stress, or financial emergency:

  • (a) No or mild financial stress exists in the unit of local government if any of the following occur:
    • -- The review team reports that none of the specified statutory conditions exist or are likely to occur.
    • -- The conditions may occur, but will not threaten the capability of the unit of local government to provide necessary governmental services.
  • (b) Severe financial stress exists in the unit of local government if any of the following occur:
    • -- The review team reports that one or more of the specified statutory conditions exist or are likely to occur.
    • -- The chief administrative officer of the unit of local government recommends that the unit of local government be considered in severe financial stress.
  • (c) A financial emergency exists in the unit of local government if:
    • -- The review team reports that two or more of the specified statutory conditions exist or are likely to occur within the current fiscal year that threaten the future capability of the unit of local government to provide necessary governmental services.
    • -- The unit of local government failed to provide timely and accurate in-formation to the review team.
    • -- The unit of local government failed to comply with one or more financial plans.
    • -- The unit of local government materially breached the terms of a consent agreement.
    • -- The unit of local government is in a condition of severe financial stress and a consent agreement was not adopted.
    • -- The chief administrative officer of the unit of local government recommends a financial emergency be declared and the State Treasurer concurs.

Step Five: Within 10 days after receipt of the review team report, the Governor must make one of the following determinations:

  • (a) The unit of local government is not in a condition of severe financial stress.
  • (b) The unit of local government is in a condition of severe financial stress, but a consent agreement containing a plan to resolve the severe financial stress has been adopted.
  • (c) A local government financial emergency exists and no satisfactory plan exists to resolve the emergency.
  • (d) The unit of local government entered into a consent agreement containing a continuing operations plan or recovery plan to resolve a financial problem, but materially breached the consent agreement.

Step Six: If the Governor determines that a financial emergency exists, he or she must provide written notification to the chief administrative officer of the unit of lo-cal government who may request, within seven days after receiving notice, a hearing conducted by the State Financial Authority or his or her designee.

Step Seven: After the hearing or, if no hearing was requested, after expiration of the opportunity for a hearing, the Governor must either confirm or revoke the determination of a financial emergency.

Step Eight: A local government, with a two-thirds vote of its governing body, may appeal the Governor's determination to Ingham County circuit court. The determination may be set aside only if found to be either:

  • (a) Not supported by competent, material, and substantial evidence on the whole record.
  • (b) Arbitrary, capricious, or clearly an abuse or unwarranted exercise of discretion.

Step Nine: If the Governor confirms the determination of a financial emergency, the Governor is required to declare the unit of local government in receivership and appoint an Emergency Manager who serves at the pleasure of the Governor.

Step Ten: Upon being placed in receivership, the governing body and chief administrative officer of the unit of local government are prohibited from exercising any of their powers of offices without written approval of the Emergency Manager, and their compensation and benefits are eliminated.

Step Eleven: Within 45 days of appointment, an Emergency Manager must develop a written financial and operating plan.

In addition to other powers, an Emergency Manager may reject, modify, or terminate collective bargaining agreements, recommend consolidation or dissolution of units of local government, and recommend bankruptcy proceedings.

Step Twelve: A unit of local government is removed from receivership when the financial conditions which were the basis for the underlying financial emergency are corrected in a sustainable fashion as determined by the State Treasurer in accordance with the Act.

Thursday, April 7, 2011

Corporations are not human, that's why we have government (Rachel Maddow)

Last nights Rachel Maddow show ended with a powerful piece covering the ability of Corporations to commit evil, while the show started with a piece covering Corporate influence in skewing some politicians to benefit corporate interests.

There is a fiction in this country called "Corporate Personhood". That Corporations have various rights of persons and it's been skewing the United States ever since the late 1800's when this fiction was created. You look at a corporation and it's hard to see it as a person, but try driving down the highway and look at the cars on the road and also see that it's a human driving the car. We talk about that stupid car that cut us off almost causing an accident, when it's really the person who's operating the car. We also talk about evil corporations or stupid corporations or corporate influence on politics, without recognizing that there are humans operating the corporations. We also talk about overbearing, abusive or stupid government, when again there are humans operating those governments.

It seems true that when you gather enough humans into an organization, that the organization takes on a life of its own. The people operating the corporation are following certain rules which govern corporate livelihood. These rules include:

  • the pyramid shaped command-and-control paradigm allowing the board of directors and executive team to hold near dictatorial powers over the actions of their employees (or should we call them serfs?)
  • the laws of accounting, bookkeeping, finance, securities, investment, and so on
  • employee rights, marketing, etc

In other words - successful corporations behave within certain parameters. One of the parameters is cutting costs to have the best chance at causing profit. That ideal taken to extremes means cutting so many corners it endangers safety.

In Maddow's piece last night she showed a rapid fire sequence of pictures, airplane crashes, nuclear meltdown, exploding oil drilling rigs, and so on. She was incited by the owners of the exploding oil rig, Transocean, whose Board decided that due to their exemplary safety record (in a year where their oil rig blew up killing 11 workers) they'd award bonuses. This is an extremely shocking fact but the truth is the operators of corporations do stuff like this all the time. They're often able to keep it quiet because corporations are dictatorships with a shroud of secrecy surrounding them, and what's different about Transocean is the scrutiny they're under due to the exploding oil rig.

One of the big challenges of our time is Corporations, operated by people but driven by inhuman rules of corporate behavior, trouncing over all of us.

The history of Corporations has shown time and again that they are willing to sell crap poison products as food, that they are willing to screw everyone, commit any felony, any crime against humanity, in order to make their all-holy profit margin.

The cure Maddow proposes is one I largely agree with. That government has to be there to rein in corporate excesses. If corporations are going to be powerful, then the government which should be reining in corporate power should be as powerful as the corporations.

But ... there's a long rabbit hole of conversation which follows on from that thought, which is best left for another day, or for the comments boxes below the videos. Let me know what you think, below.

This first video dives into the political battle in Wisconson, a state suffering from leadership who's doing the will of corporate backers in trying to destroy unions.

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This second video goes over some of the political leadership in Wisconson, the conservative mantra that "government is the problem", and hence their hatred of government, and asking what happens when government hating conservatives get their hands on a government.

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This third video is the one mentioned earlier, going over Transocean and their idiotic safety record. The prior videos are great contextualization of this video.

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This fourth video was referred to from the previous video. The Transocean announcement awarding bonuses for their exemplary safety record in the year when their corporation killed 11 of their employees when their oil rig blew up, that announcement was sent on April 1. No fooling.

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Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Total Information Awareness project spawns big brother system to read and translate twitter traffic

Today NPR ran a piece on University of Buffalo Computer scientist Rohini Srihari who is developing automated translation software which can be aimed at social networks allowing english speaking folk to read non-english tweets. Maybe this sounds benign, after all Google Chrome has some of this ability built in. In another tab as I write I have a french web-page open which Chrome translated for me into semi-readable text. It's really useful having automated language translation because it can help us connect more readily with each other over the Internet. So why did I put an alarmist title on this post? It's because of the Dept of Defense Total Information Awareness system, and that Dr. Srihari's research is funded by the U.S. Military.

In case you've forgotten what TIA is, this occurred several dozen alarming revelations ago in the months after GW Bush was elected and remained public until some time in 2002. The TIA project was headed by (ret) Admiral Poindexter (the guy convicted of lying to congress during the Iran-Contra period) to apply modern datamining technology to national security intelligence activities. The intent is to create an all-encompassing system of tracking a huge amount of information (total information awareness), look for "patterns" indicating nefarious activities, and nip them in the bud early.

This was one of the first articles I posted way back in 2002: DARPA's Information Awareness Office, The Total Information Awareness System; Or, Big Brother in-carnate ... The Defense Department pages referenced are no longer public, but I did a comprehensive summary of the program.

Dr. Rohini's project doesn't fit neatly into the projects cited under the TIA umbrella back in 2002, however many of the projects were associated with language translation. This way the US Intelligence Community could hire anybody, rather than rely on language/social experts, for intelligence analysts.

As the NPR piece said: "One way to follow what's going on in the Middle East and South Asia right now is through social media — Facebook, Twitter and blog posts." This is called "open source intelligence" or intelligence gathering from sources out in the open.

Twitter, Facebook and other social networks are awesome but one side effect is they force global social conversations to be conducted in the open where "anybody" can listen in. While that's kinda cool in the light of creating more connection between everyone on a global scale, it does mean that spies can snoop on everything.

What if, for example, the spies are looking for signs of an impending uprising against a brutal dictator who happens to be friendly to the United States, and receives lots of United States funding and equipment and training which increases the effectiveness of that dictators military forces? The U.S. routinely does this, support government leaders who are brutal to their people. Mubarak, the recently deposed leader of Egypt, was one of those brutal dictators.

What will the U.S. spies do if they notice the impending uprising? Stand back and applaud the revolution? Or do something that will help the brutal dictator stay in power? If the U.S. has invested so much money in maintaining a particular government structure (no matter how brutal) wouldn't they act to protect their investment?

As Dr. Rohini said: "What I want is to determine who are the people, places and things being talked about," she says. "Is there an opinion being expressed? Is it a positive or negative opinion being expressed?" And... "And when you are able to figure out what the topic of the conversation is," she says, "what kind of sentiment is being expressed around that, that's the goal of what we are trying to do." And... "So in Twitter posts and tweets and so on, if there's specific factual information that's being mentioned — they want that extracted," Srihari says. "There's also definitely an interest in sentiment and opinion mining."

Who's to say that foreigners speaking their local languages aren't the only group being targeted by the total information vacuuming project? Perhaps they're also vacuuming up social network conversations by Americans? Don't believe me? See: Twitter Tapping - government agents tracking public information

Other related articles:

Total Information Awareness lives on...

Another brick to building the Total Information Awareness system

Massive privacy violation by U.S. government

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Friday, April 1, 2011

Hypocratic lying government officials, and why it matters (do we live in a Hypocracy or Democracy?)

Politicians lie, right? That statement is frequently used to sweep hypocrisy and lies under the rug. Why bother complaining because they all do it? Maybe the general consensus is that these lies don't matter and not worth the bother. To me it is important and galling some of the lies being perpetrated.

When the Congressman serving as the House Majority Leader suggests to a news reporter a course of action that's patently unconstitutional, is that important? When a politician calls for bombing a particular country, then two weeks later says we shouldn't be bombing that country, is that important? When a political party makes a lot of electoral hay calling for Constitutional rule, enacts rules of Congressional conduct requiring citations of Constitutional justification, and then does not follow their own newly enacted rule, is that important? When a Congressperson has a public facade of "Family Values" complaining about extramarital sexual affairs of others, but then gets caught redhanded in their own sexual pecadillo escapade and refuses to acknowledge it or resign or anything, is that important?

A couple definitions might bring this into focus:

Hypocracy (urban dictionary):

What Democracy turns into when all of the politicians in your country are liars.

When no party/President that wins the election manages to keep its/his own ideology, and instead, keeps changing it every time it/he feels like it, that's no democracy. That's hypocracy.

A democracy governed by hypocrites.

The British government advocates moral standards to which it does not conform. Britain's political system is therefore a hypocracy.

Hypocrisy (

  1. a pretense of having a virtuous character, moral or religious beliefs or principles, etc., that one does not really possess.
  2. a pretense of having some desirable or publicly approved attitude.
  3. an act or instance of hypocrisy.

What these definitions are saying is a disconnect between stated ideology and actual action.

The writings of Christianity include a principle: By their fruits ye shall know them

This comes from traditional agriculture. How do you decide whether to grow one plant or another? It's whether the plant is useful for food production, or, whether the fruit of the tree is edible, nutritious and tasty, or whether it's poisonous or repugnant. You can only tell this from the fruit.

What is the "fruit" of hypocritical politicians?

What's engendered by the atmosphere indicated by the synonyms of 'hypocrisy'? (affectation, bad faith, bigotry, cant, casuistry, deceit, deception, dishonesty, display, dissembling, dissimulation, double-dealing, duplicity, false profession, falsity, fraud, glibness, imposture, insincerity, irreverence, lie, lip service, mockery, pharisaicalness, pharisaism, phoniness, pietism, quackery, sanctimoniousness, sanctimony, speciousness, unctuousness - from