Later On

A blog written for those whose interests more or less match mine.

Archive for January 13th, 2013

Scientology’s child-labor camp in Australia

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And speaking of religions.

Written by LeisureGuy

13 January 2013 at 7:09 pm

Posted in Religion

Fascinating commercials

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James Fallows points out some fascinating commercials and provides the backstory. Worth the click and reading and watching and listening. Try and see if I’m not right.

Written by LeisureGuy

13 January 2013 at 4:08 pm

Posted in Music, Technology

The role of religious beliefs that are contrary to reason

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Very interesting excerpt from Jared Diamond’s latest book:

Virtually all religions hold some supernatural beliefs specific to that religion. That is, a religion’s adherents firmly hold beliefs that conflict with and cannot be confirmed by our experience of the natural world, and that appear implausible to people other than the adherents of that particular religion. For example, Hindus believe there is a monkey god who travels thousands of kilometers at a single somersault. Catholics believe a woman who had not yet been fertilized by a man became pregnant and gave birth to a baby boy, whose body eventually after his death was carried up to a place called heaven, often represented as being located in the sky. The Jewish faith believes that a supernatural being gave a chunk of desert in the Middle East to the being’s favorite people, as their home forever.

No other feature of religion creates a bigger divide between religious believers and modern secular people, to whom it staggers the imagination that anyone could entertain such beliefs. No other feature creates a bigger divide between believers in two different religions, each of whom firmly believes its own beliefs but considers it absurd that the other religion’s believers believe those other beliefs. Why, nevertheless, are supernatural beliefs such universal features of religions?

One suggested answer is . . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

13 January 2013 at 1:34 pm

Posted in Religion

Extremely interesting proposal to fix Congress—specifically, the House

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Fascinating article by Rob Ritchie and Devin McCarthy in Salon. The source of the problem dates back to1967, when the use of single-member districts was mandated by law. The fix is to undo that. The article begins:

Congress is broken, and everyone knows it. Its approval ratings hover around 10 percent, and a recent poll from Public Policy Polling found that Congress is currently less popular than cockroaches, lice and traffic jams. It has difficulty getting any sort of business done, let alone address our nation’s major challenges, like climate change, immigration, poverty and fiscal policy.

But amidst the partisan fingerpointing and bickering, one core aspect of the way our government works gets a free pass. We hear a lot about campaign finance and gerrymandering, but single-member district elections – that is, having each House member represent one congressional district – are without doubt the single greatest cause of what is broken about Congress. They are the key reason why Republicans easily kept control of the House despite losing the popular vote to Democrats, and why the political center has lost out to partisans on both sides of the aisle. They turn four out of five voters effectively into spectators who have absolutely no chance of affecting their representation in Congress. They help keep women’s representation in the House stalled at less than 18 percent, and grossly distort fair representation by party and race.

We want to make four arguments. First, House elections today have a fundamental partisan skew against both Democratic and moderate candidates. Second, that partisan skew creates perverse incentives for how Republicans approach policymaking and helps explain the Republican Party’s poor performance in the presidential elections since the 1980s. Third, while partisan gerrymandering is abhorrent, the real problem is one of districting, not redistricting. Establishing independent redistricting commissions is not enough. Fourth, it’s easier to fix these problems than much of what ails our politics, as voting alternatives to winner-take-all elections offer a straightforward statutory approach grounded in our own electoral traditions.

Times change, and with those changes should come willingness to ask whether the fundamentals of our democracy still work. Our nation’s history has been one of regular evolution of our democratic practices, but our minds have become increasingly closed to change.

It’s time for a new way of looking at U.S. House elections. . .

Continue reading. It’s quite a worthwhile article and offers a ray of hope: the solution is not beyond reach and does not require things like a Constitutional amendment.

Written by LeisureGuy

13 January 2013 at 1:18 pm

Posted in Congress, Election, Law

“Failure of Epic Proportions”: Treasury Nominee Jack Lew’s Pro-Bank, Austerity, Deregulation Legacy

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Very good interview at Democracy Now! by Amy Goodman and Jack Gonzalez of Bill Black and Matt Taibbi regarding Obama’s (bad) pick of Jack Lew as Treasury Secretary. At the link is a video of the interview and also a transcript. The blurb:

Former bank regulator William Black and Rolling Stone’s Matt Taibbi join us to dissect the career of Jack Lew, President Obama’s pick to replace Treasury Secretary Timothy Geither. Currently Obama’s chief of staff, Lew was an executive at Citigroup from 2006 to 2008 at the time of the financial crisis. He backed financial deregulation efforts while he headed the Office of Management and Budget under President Bill Clinton. During that time, Clinton enacted two key laws to deregulate Wall Street: the Financial Services Modernization Act of 1999 and the Commodity Futures Modernization Act of 2000. Black, a white-collar criminologist and former senior financial regulator, is the author of The Best Way to Rob a Bank Is to Own One. A contributing editor for Rolling Stone magazine, Taibbi is the author of Griftopia: A Story of Bankers, Politicians, and the Most Audacious Power Grab in American History.

The transcript begins:

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: President Obama is facing criticism for nominating another former Wall Street executive to become treasury secretary. On Thursday, Obama tapped his own chief of staff, Jack Lew, to replace Timothy Geithner. Lew was an executive at Citigroup from 2006 to 2008 at the time of the financial crisis. He served as chief operating officer of Citigroup’s Alternative Investments unit, a group that bet on the housing market to collapse.

Lew has also long pushed for the deregulation of Wall Street. From 1998 to January 2001, he headed the Office of Management and Budget under President Clinton. During that time, Clinton signed into law two key laws to deregulate Wall Street: the Financial Services Modernization Act of 1999 and the Commodity Futures Modernization Act of 2000.

On Thursday, independent Senator Bernie Sanders of Vermont criticized Lew’s nomination, saying, quote, “We don’t need a treasury secretary who thinks that Wall Street deregulation was not responsible for the financial crisis.”

At a press conference at the White House Thursday, President Obama praised Jack Lew’s record.

PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: Jack has the distinction of having worked and succeeded in some of the toughest jobs in Washington and the private sector. As a congressional staffer in the 1980s, he helped negotiate the deal between President Reagan and Tip O’Neill to save Social Security. Under President Clinton, he presided over three budget surpluses in a row. So, for all the talk out there about deficit reduction, making sure our books are balanced, this is the guy who did it—three times. He helped oversee one of our nation’s finest universities and one of our largest investment banks. In my administration, he’s managed operations for the State Department and the budget for the entire executive branch. And over the past year, I’ve sought Jack’s advice on virtually every decision that I’ve made, from economic policy to foreign policy.

AMY GOODMAN: For more on the nomination of Jack Lew, as well as other news about Wall Street, we’re joined by two guest. William Black, author of The Best Way to Rob a Bank Is to Own One_, he’s associate professor of economics and law at the University of Missouri-Kansas City, former senior financial regulator. His recent 2446848.html”>article for the Huffington Post is called “Jacob Lew: Another Brick in the Wall Street on the Potomac.”

We’re also joined by Matt Taibbi, contributing editor for Rolling Stone magazine, his latest piece, “Secrets and Lies of the Bailout,” which we’ll talk about in a bit, author of Griftopia: A Story of Bankers, Politicians, and the Most Audacious Power Grab in American History.

We welcome you both to Democracy Now! Professor Black, let’s start with you. Your assessment of Jack Lew?

WILLIAM BLACK: Well, on financial matters, Jack Lew has been a failure of pretty epic proportions, and he gets promoted precisely because he is willing to be a failure and is so useful to Wall Street interests. So, you’ve mentioned two of the things in terms of the most important and most destructive deregulation under President Clinton by statute. But he was also there for much of the deregulation by rule, and a strong proponent of it, and he was there for much of the cutting of staff. For example, the FDIC, the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation, lost three-quarters of its staff, and that huge loss began under Clinton. And the whole reinventing government, Lew was a strong supporter of that. And, for example, we were taught—instructed by Washington that we were to refer to banks as our “clients” in our role as regulators and to think of them as clients.

He goes from there to Wall Street, where he was a complete failure. You noted that part of what Citicorp did was bet that housing would fall. That was actually one of their winning bets. But they actually made a bunch of losing bets, as well. And the unit that he was heading would have not been permissible but for the deregulation of getting rid of Glass-Steagall under President Clinton. And you saw, as an example of Citicorp, why we shouldn’t be doing this. Why would we create a federal subsidy where all of us, through the U.S. government, are on the hook for Citicorp’s gambling on financial derivatives for its own account, you know, running a casino operation? That makes absolutely no public policy sense.

Then he comes into the Obama administration, and he was disastrously wrong. He tried very hard to impose austerity on the United States back in 2011, which is—he wanted, you know, the European strategy, which has pushed the eurozone back into recession, and Spain, Greece and Italy into Great Depression levels of unemployment.

And this is the guy, after all of these failures, who also is intellectually dishonest. He will not own up to his role and deregulation’s role and de-supervision’s role in producing this crisis—and not just this crisis, but the Enron-era crisis and the savings-and-loan debacle.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Well, Matt Taibbi, your reaction to the nomination of Jack Lew by President Obama? . . .

Continue reading. Obama continues to act as a hireling of the finance industry. Disappointing, to say the least; to say more, destructive of our country.

Written by LeisureGuy

13 January 2013 at 9:51 am

Hagel’s confirmation fight with the GOP

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The GOP is bitterly opposed to Charles Hagel’s nomination as Secretary of Defense (sic: Secretary of War seems a better title) mainly, it seems, because he was correct in assessing what would happen as a result of our invasion of Iraq and they were so very wrong. Somehow, his being correct in pointing out what our invasion would produce makes them very angry. I don’t get it.

Written by LeisureGuy

13 January 2013 at 9:27 am

Humans and Darwin

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Dan Slater has an interesting op-ed in today’s NY Times about the evolutionary origins of human sexual behavior, but I think his approach is somewhat too simple. As Einstein reputedly said, one should make things as simple as possible, but not simpler.

For example, for a long time the notion that the microbial population on and inside the human body was somehow not relevant, really, to the human animal—they were extraneous and could be ignored or killed as needed—is now rapidly being rejected. The microbes that inhabit us are now seen to be essential to us and to our health: they are in fact part of us, just detachable, as it were: you can remove some to study, but if you take them away, we sicken and die. We ourselves consist of our body and our microbial population: the human-microbiome complex, one might call it: our bodies and about 100 trillion (100,000,000,000,000) bacteria contsitute ourselves. (More info.)

So looking at a human just as the physical body (ignoring the microbiome) is making things too simple. It’s not even good as a first approximation since without the microbiome the body dies.

In the op-ed, the author does point to studies that do make things simpler without making them too simple—for example, the “bogus pipeline” mechanism does seem to show actual behavior vs. the cover story people generally use. But to ignore cultural influence and internalized cultural values is very like ignoring the microbiome, it seems to me. Humans are in fact a combination of animal and culture: if all cultural trappings are removed, you have an animal but not a human: no language, no values, no humanity. Still a living animal, but not a human. Perhaps a potential human, but I suspect the window for acquiring many essential human attributes will have closed by the time the individual has moved past puberty. Indeed, cultural influence starts to shape the individual even in the womb, as sounds come through and the developing infant’s brain is shaped to grasp the particular sounds of language and the timbre and tone of the mother’s voice. Once emerged, the infant is constantly subject to—and receptive of—cultural influences of every sort, which affect the development of neural pathways in the brain. And then learning the various skills required in the culture further shape body and brain.

Just as the microbiome is essential to the human, so is the cultural biome, which affects everything about the developing person in a give and take with his or her intrinsic abilities and limitations.

This is not to say that Darwinian principles are wrong: as Richard Dawkins pointed out, with others furthering the investigation, cultural memes also are subject to the Darwinian process of inheriting characteristics with random variations subject to natural selection by a competition for limited resources: cultures thus change, evolve, become extinct in some cases, and so on. To trace one example, consider the descent of men’s neckwear in the Western world: the evolution and mutations, splitting into different species, cross-breeding with external examples, and so on to arrive at all the variety we have today (much like the variety of, say, ferns), with the evolution continuing nonstop, as evolution does.

So human sexual behavior, considered in evolutionary terms, will include the (evolutionary) influence of human culture as something inextricably interwoven into the mix. To talk about human behavior, sexual or otherwise, separately from culture is making things too simple. Or so it seems to me.

Written by LeisureGuy

13 January 2013 at 9:10 am

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