Absolute zero

Why can’t we get down to absolute zero?

Why can't we get down to absolute zero?

What is Absolute Zero, and does it really exist anywhere in the universe? Could we ever reach Absolute Zero in real life?

There are all sorts of reasons to be curious about the limits of cold. Maybe you’re an incredibly lame supervillain who uses the power of freezing, and you want to understand the extent of your powers. Or you’re wondering if it would be possible to outrun a wave of cold. Either way, in this week’s “Ask a Physicist” we’ll explore the farthest limits of cold.

Does all motion really stop when we hit absolute zero? Can it ever actually get that cold?

Since a one line answer (“Sort of.” and “No,”) probably wouldn’t be very satisfying for the rest of you, I put a call out on twitter and facebook asking for your ultimate questions in coldness.

Today, for your edificiation, we’re going to do an absolute zero roundup. Let’s begin with the obvious, just so we’re all on the same page.

What is absolute zero?

Even if you’re not a physicist, you presumably wandered over to io9 today with at least a passing familiarity with the concept of temperature. But in case you didn’t — and you simply cannot understand why it is that you keep losing limbs to frostbite — here’s a quick tutorial.

Temperature is a measure of the amount of internal, randomized energy in a material. This “internal” part is pretty important. Throw a snowball, and even though the bulk motion is pretty fast, the snowball itself is still quite cold. On the other hand, if you look at the air molecules flying around the room right now, a typical oxygen molecule is hauling ass at about a thousand miles per hour.

I usually get called out when I gloss over details, so for the experts, I need to point out technically, temperature is a little more complicated than that. The true definition of temperature really tells you how much energy you can put in for every unit of entropy(disorder, for want of a better word) that you pump in. But ignoring that (and for our purposes it doesn’t make much of a difference), the idea is that the random motions of air molecules or vibrations of water molecules within ice will get slower and slower and slower as you lower the temperature.

Continue reading Absolute zero

How to Humble a Wing Nut

 -6:00 PM EDT – May 20, 2013

Cass Sunstein

Bloomberg View columnist Cass Sunstein. Photographer: Stephen Voss/Bloomberg

May 21 (Bloomberg) — There is no standard definition of the all-important term “wing nut,” so let’s provide one. A wing nut is someone who has a dogmatic commitment to an extreme political view (“wing”) that is false and at least a bit crazy (“nut”).

A wing nut might believe that George W. Bush is a fascist, that Barack Obama is a socialist, that big banks run the Department of the Treasury or that the U.S. intervened in Libya because of oil.When wing nuts encounter people with whom they disagree, they immediately impugn their opponents’ motivations. Whatever their religion, they are devout Manicheans, dividing their fellow citizens into the forces of light and the forces of darkness.

Wing nuts have a lot of fellow travelers — people who don’t fit the definition, yet who are similarly dogmatic and whose views, though not really crazy, aren’t exactly evidence-based. You can be a wing nut on a particular issue without being a wing nut in general. Most human beings can hear the voice, at least on occasion, of their inner wing nut.

The good news is that wing nuts usually don’t matter. The bad news is that they influence people who do. Sadly, more information often fails to correct people’s misunderstandings. In fact, it can backfire and entrench them. Can anything be done?

Stunning Conclusion

For a positive answer, consider an intriguing study by Philip Fernbach, a University of Colorado business school professor, and his colleagues. Their central finding is that if you ask people to explain exactly why they think as they do, they discover how much they don’t know — and they become more humble and therefore more moderate.
Continue reading How to Humble a Wing Nut

Land in America is not free

horizonby Richard @ Bizmarts – Apr. 16th, 2016
* * * * * * * * * * * *
There is no place in America where a person can claim a homestead without the approval of some level of government, and the completion of suitable documentation recording ownership rights to claimed property. Nor is there any homesteading permitted on internal waterways, or in the homosphere above the defined national borders.

Essentially there are only two types of land “property” available in America: private, and public.

The actors in Bundy’s Ranch and Galice Mining District regarding the confrontation with the BLM is over who has the right to control access to, use of, and responsibility for public lands. Every country on Earth claims sovereignty over property within their borders. Private property can be bought and sold generally at will; but true dominion over all geographical property is held by the State.

What Bundy and the Miners are attempting to assert is a right to use public land for commercial enterprise without being subject to oversight and management by BLM or other government agencies. Any perusal of the historical record regarding the half million square miles of territory in the West obtained from Mexico by the Treaty of Hidalgo, and the numerous treaties with Native American Indian tribes amply demonstrate the Federal Government claim to dominion over the land, air, and inland waterways is absolute.

The confrontation with Bundy was a continuation of a 20 year old battle in southeastern Nevada over unpaid grazing fees on federally owned land that developed into an armed confrontation between protesters and law enforcement. It was de-escalated without bloodshed by Clark County Sheriff Doug Gillespie who negotiated with Bundy and newly confirmed BLM director Neil Kornze. Federal courts have consistently ruled against Bundy, finding that he is a trespasser with no right to graze cattle on federal land and authorizing the BLM to remove his cattle and levy damages for unauthorized use. Bundy has since accumulated more than $1 million of unpaid grazing fees and court-ordered fines. Anyone who believes the Federal Government will not extract that from him, or his estate is mistaken.

The miners in the Galice Mining District are attempting a similar refusal to abide by BLM directives and quit claim to all mining operations in the district. For the last few years the miners from the Galice Mining District have been fighting with the BLM over the ownership of mineral rights in Galice Creek. The BLM reportedly claims that the Galice Mining District has no surface rights to the area and all structures and equipment need to be removed. The BLM also reportedly maintain that such a violation is grounds for all mining operations at the site to cease. The BLM has reportedly made several attempts to halt gold mining operations in the Oregon region via violation notices claiming the improper filing of paperwork, ruling changes, and other operational technicalities.

Late last week, Josephine County Sheriff deputies and BLM officials issued a cease and desist order to the Galice Mining District which gave the miners until April 25 to remove all equipment, buildings and supplies from the mine. Similar to the BLM battle at the Cliven Bundy ranch in Nevada, a call for assistance was made to the Oath Keeper’s and other State Militia groups. Multiple miners have already reportedly stated their refusal to vacate the Galice Mining District by the April 25 deadline set by the Bureau of Land Management.



The myth of police reform

The real problem is the belief that all our social problems can be solved with force.

Julie Jacobson/AP

There is a tendency, when examining police shootings, to focus on tactics at the expense of strategy. One interrogates the actions of the officer in the moment trying to discern their mind-state. We ask ourselves, “Were they justified in shooting?” But, in this time of heightened concern around the policing, a more essential question might be, “Were we justified in sending them?” At some point, Americans decided that the best answer to every social ill lay in the power of the criminal-justice system. Vexing social problems—homelessness, drug use, the inability to support one’s children, mental illness—are presently solved by sending in men and women who specialize in inspiring fear and ensuring compliance. Fear and compliance have their place, but it can’t be every place.

When Walter Scott fled from the North Charleston police, he was not merely fleeing Michael Thomas Slager, he was attempting to flee incarceration. He was doing this because we have decided that the criminal-justice system is the best tool for dealing with men who can’t, or won’t, support their children at a level that we deem satisfactory. Peel back the layers of most of the recent police shootings that have captured attention and you will find a broad societal problem that we have looked at, thrown our hands up, and said to the criminal-justice system, “You deal with this.”
Continue reading The myth of police reform

If only…


Proud to be an American?


* * by Richard @ Bizmarts* *

“At 70, I can honestly say yes, in the past, I was a true patriot, and proud of America’s place in the World. However, during the last fifty years the gloss has definitely worn thin.

As a society we have become jingoistic, belligerent, obese, politically fractured, highly unequal in socio-economic-cultural terms, our health care, education, legal, criminal justice, foreign affairs, and civil discourse and practices fall far behind other first world nations.

We’re still first in the World thanks to our economic and military power – in many other areas we are second rate, and should be ashamed to have allowed ourselves to become so disadvantaged!

Drama Kings and Queens are a pain-in-the-ass!

Folks who take umbrage when someone else makes a comment with which they are ‘uncomfortable with’, or which ‘offends’ them are ill-served by puffery, snarky retorts, body language rejections, pretended or actual hostility, etc.  All they have to do is come right out and challenge the comment.

I for one will no longer accede to self-censorship of thought or word because it might be ‘uncomfortable’ to someone else.

By the same token, I do not use profanity, known lies, false witness, appeals to authority, or other purposeful logical falsehoods in discourse. Anyone can disagree with me, but to be taken seriously it must be done with refutation, not simple emotional puffery.



Religious IL-liberty

Indiana, Arkansas, Arizona’s “religious liberty” laws are simply authorizing discrimination in the public arena

by Richard @ Bizmarts: Apr. 8th, 2015

* * * * * * * *

The standard in law is that discrimination based on gender, race, religion or sexual orientation is not tolerated and should be enforced by the weight of law. I would argue that one’s religious convictions do not take precedence over this simple and just principle. The U.N. Declaration of Humans Rights, the 1964 Civil Rights Act, as well as the spirit of our Constitution adequately state this principle, and its value for nation states, and humanity itself.

But, in examining the case for religious objections to homosexuality and same sex marriage, particularly from a Christian perspective, I see a remarkably flimsy case. Jesus does not condemn homosexuality or gay people. Not a whit, not a peep from Christian’s Lord and Savior about the evils of same sex marriage or homosexuality. One would think he would have mentioned it were it so fundamentally important. The only place this objection shows up anywhere in Scripture is in the Old Testament, in Leviticus, which is one of the most abominable chapters of any so-called “holy book”.

The bottom line is: laws protecting ‘religious freedom’ are red herrings to codify and enshrine prejudice and bigotry under the guise of conscience and piety. Using God as a cover for one’s hatred of gays and homosexuality is the epitome of venality and cowardice.

A user's photo.

“Dust In The Wind” lyrics -music by Kansas 1977


“I close my eyes only for a moment, and the moment’s gone
All my dreams pass before my eyes, a curiosityDust in the wind, all they are is dust in the windSame old song, just a drop of water in an endless sea
All we do crumbles to the ground, though we refuse to see

Dust in the wind, all we are is dust in the wind

Now, don’t hang on, nothing lasts forever but the earth and sky
It slips away, and all your money won’t another minute buy

Dust in the wind, all we are is dust in the wind (all we are is dust in the wind)
Dust in the wind (everything is dust in the wind), everything is dust in the wind (the wind)”

Download MP3   <– version here…


Letter from Sen. Bernie Sanders

On March 29, 2015 Senator Bernie Sanders writes:

Dear Richard,

Thank you so much for the political and financial support you have given me over the years. It is much appreciated. As the longest serving independent in American congressional history, I am writing now to ask you, in these very difficult times, to stand with me again as we continue the struggle for social and economic justice and environmental sanity.

The good news is that the economy today is much better than it was six years ago when George W. Bush left office. The bad news is that, despite these improvements, the 40-year decline of the American middle class continues. Real unemployment is much too high, 35 million Americans continue to have no health insurance and more of our friends and neighbors are living in poverty than at almost any time in the modern history of our country.

Meanwhile, as the rich become much richer, the level of income and wealth inequality has reached obscene and unimaginable levels. In the United States, we have the most unequal level of wealth and income distribution of any major country on earth, and worse now then at any other time since the 1920s. Today, the top one-tenth of 1 percent of our nation owns almost as much wealth as the bottom 90 percent, and one family owns more wealth than the bottom 42 percent. In terms of income, 99 percent of all new income is going to the top 1 percent.

This is what a rigged economic system looks like. At a time when millions of American workers have seen declines in their incomes and are working longer hours for lower wages, the wealth of the billionaire class is soaring in a way that few can imagine. If you can believe it, between 2013 and 2015, the 14 wealthiest individuals in the country saw their net worth increase by over $157 billion dollars. Children go hungry, veterans sleep out on the streets, senior citizens cannot afford their prescription drugs — and 14 individuals saw a $157 billion dollar increase in their wealth over a two-year period.

The time to fight back is now.

The grotesque level of income and wealth inequality we are experiencing is not just a moral and economic issue, it is a political issue as well. As a result of the disastrous Citizens United Supreme Court decision, billionaires are now able to spend unlimited sums of money to buy the candidates they want. The Koch brothers, an extreme right-wing family, recently announced that they were prepared to spend some $900 million in the next election cycle. This is likely more money than either the Democratic or Republican parties will spend. If you think that it is an accident that the Republican Party has become a far-right party, think again. The Koch brothers’ agenda — ending Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, the U.S. Postal Service, the Environmental Protection Agency and all campaign finance limitations — has become the agenda of the Republican candidates they fund.

And, by the way, if you think that the Republican Party’s refusal to acknowledge that climate change is real, is caused by human activity and is a severe threat to our planet, is not related to how we finance campaigns, you would be sorely mistaken. With the Koch brothers (who make much of their money in the fossil fuel industry) and big energy companies pouring huge amounts into Republican campaigns, it should not surprise anyone that my Republican colleagues reject the views of the overwhelming majority of scientists who study climate issues.

With Republicans now controlling both houses of Congress, let me briefly touch on some of the battles that I will be helping to lead in this extreme right-wing environment. In my view, with so many of our fellow citizens demoralized about the political process, it is absolutely imperative that we establish a strong progressive agenda that Americans can rally around. It must be an agenda that reflects the real needs of the working families of our country. It must be an agenda that engages people in a political struggle that they are prepared to fight for.

Join me now in the struggle for the progressive vision we share.
Continue reading Letter from Sen. Bernie Sanders

Big Money is Buying Off Criticism of Big Money


In Washington’s “think-tank” study on inequality, they fail to mention how big corporations and Wall Street have weakened the nation’s labor and antitrust laws. So whose side is Washington really on?

On April 7, 2015, Robert Reich writes on Nation Of Change:

“Not long ago I was asked to speak to a religious congregation about widening inequality. Shortly before I began, the head of the congregation asked that I not advocate raising taxes on the wealthy.

He said he didn’t want to antagonize certain wealthy congregants on whose generosity the congregation depended.

I had a similar exchange last year with the president of a small college who had invited me to give a lecture that his board of trustees would be attending. “I’d appreciate it if you didn’t criticize Wall Street,” he said, explaining that several of the trustees were investment bankers.

It seems to be happening all over.

A non-profit group devoted to voting rights decides it won’t launch a campaign against big money in politics for fear of alienating wealthy donors.

A Washington think-tank releases a study on inequality that fails to mention the role big corporations and Wall Street have played in weakening the nation’s labor and antitrust laws, presumably because the think tank doesn’t want to antagonize its corporate and Wall Street donors.

A major university shapes research and courses around economic topics of interest to its biggest donors, notably avoiding any mention of the increasing power of large corporations and Wall Street on the economy.

It’s bad enough big money is buying off politicians. It’s also buying off nonprofits that used to be sources of investigation, information, and social change, from criticizing big money.

Other sources of funding are drying up. Research grants are waning. Funds for social services of churches and community groups are growing scarce. Legislatures are cutting back university funding. Appropriations for public television, the arts, museums, and libraries are being slashed.

So what are non-profits to do?

“There’s really no choice,” a university dean told me. “We’ve got to go where the money is.”

And more than at any time since the Gilded Age of the late nineteenth century, the money is now in the pockets of big corporations and the super wealthy.

So the presidents of universities, congregations, and think tanks, other nonprofits are now kissing wealthy posteriors as never before.

But that money often comes with strings.
Continue reading Big Money is Buying Off Criticism of Big Money

Morality is totally in the eye of the beholder

Morality is totally in the eye of the beholder

by Paul P. Mealing, Apr 9th, 2015

* * * * * * * *

The most obvious and topical examples of this truism are the behaviours of members of IS towards ‘outsiders’. But this post is not about IS; nevertheless, it is about a clash of cultures – in this case a clash of ‘old’ versus ‘new’ in the same society, which happens to be India.

Last night I saw a documentary, 2 years in the making, by British filmmaker, Leslee Udwin, called India’s Daughter about the rape and murder of Jyoti Singh in December 2012 – a crime at once so brutal and primal that it shocked the entire civilised world. The film was due to be broadcast worldwide on International Women’s Day in March, including India, but the Indian Government unexpectedly banned the documentary from being shown in the country, ‘claiming it was an affront to women’ (according to the ABC). This about-face on the part of the Indian Government is not so surprising when the documentary itself reveals the schism that exists in Indian society on the issue of women’s role and women’s rights.
Continue reading Morality is totally in the eye of the beholder

Cameras for Cops

Cameras for cops are just a small step toward real reform




via WonkBlog • Thu., Apr. 9, 2015 –  View in your Web browser

* * * * * * * *

Disturbing footage of a white police officer shooting and killing an unarmed black man in North Charleston, S.C., has led city officials there to decide on equipping all of their officers with body-worn cameras.

Cameras are just a small part of what municipalities around the country could do to improve relations between police and civilians. They raise as many questions as they do answers.

Video evidence doesn’t always conclusively resolve controversies about whether police officers’ decisions were justifiable. Will all footage be public record, even if prosecutors decide not to bring a case against an officer to trial? If so, do cops have reason to be concerned about their privacy? Imagine being asked to wear a camera all day at your job.

Making an investigation conducted by an outside law enforcement agency the default practice in all shootings involving officers would help establish public confidence in the police. So does the kind of old-fashioned, foot-patrol policing that puts personal relationships between cops and civilians first.

Still, cameras can make a difference. Departments that use them have found that they reduce complaints against officers.

“The problems go much deeper than technology, but this is the first thing that needs to be done to move forward,” Jim Bueermann, president of the Police Foundation in Washington, told Wonkblog last year.
Continue reading Cameras for Cops

Redstate post by Erick Erickson

Note: Presented as a public service to progressives so they can get a conceptual frame for discourse with the imbedded WingNut mindset

By: Erick Erickson (Diary)  |  April 7th, 2015 at 04:30 AM  |  650 SHARES
* * * * * *

“Today, in Kentucky, Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY) is going to announce his campaign for President of the United States.”

“…many conservatives and Republicans who did not like Senator Paul’s father and assumed that Senator Paul would be a clone of his father.

“This 2016 run has caused one unnoticed negative for conservatives…Rand Paul and Ted Cruz have had a less than stellar working relationship when it comes to advancing the conservative agenda.”

“Many of my friends think Rand Paul operates as a closet Democrat. I think, in fact, he comes the closest to an authentic civil libertarian candidate in some time. He is willing to speak critically of American engagement abroad when most Republicans rah-rah any use of force.”

“Further, I have a nagging feeling that Rand Paul’s candidacy is a candidacy for times of peace when we are headed to times of war.”

“Paul will have to spend an inordinate amount of time explaining how his views fit in to a time of war.”

“Ultimately, and let’s be honest here, most Americans are perfectly willing to trade freedom for security. Rand Paul isn’t. That is going to make his candidacy a tough sell.”

“And then there is the issue he and Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) share. They are both one term U.S. Senators. What qualifies them to be President.

* * * * * * *

The “Food Babe” Blogger Is Full of it

The “Food Babe” Blogger Is Full of it

Yvette d’Entremont

  • The "Food Babe" Blogger Is Full of Shit

Vani Hari, AKA the Food Babe, has amassed a loyal following in her Food Babe Army. The recent subject of profiles and interviews in the New York Times, the New York Post and New York Magazine, Hari implores her soldiers to petition food companies to change their formulas. She’s also written a bestselling book telling you that you can change your life in 21 days by “breaking free of the hidden toxins in your life.” She and her army are out to change the world.

She’s also utterly full of it.

I am an analytical chemist with a background in forensics and toxicology. Before working full-time as a science writer and public speaker, I worked as a chemistry professor, a toxicology chemist, and in research analyzing pesticides for safety. I now run my own blog, Science Babe, dedicated to debunking pseudoscience that tends to proliferate in the blogosphere. Reading Hari’s site, it’s rare to come across a single scientific fact. Between her egregious abuse of the word “toxin” anytime there’s a chemical she can’t pronounce and asserting that everyone who disagrees with her is a paid shill, it’s hard to pinpoint her biggest sin.

Hari’s superhero origin story is that she came down with appendicitis and didn’t accept the explanation that appendicitis just happens sometimes. So she quit her job as a consultant, attended Google University and transformed herself into an uncredentialed expert in everything she admittedly can’t pronounce. Slap the catchy moniker “Food Babe” on top, throw in a couple of trend stories and some appearances on the Dr. Oz show, and we have the new organic media darling.

But reader beware. Here are some reasons why she’s the worst assault on science on the internet.

Continue reading The “Food Babe” Blogger Is Full of it

SCOTUS rules police don’t have to obey the law

Supreme Court Rules 8-1 Citizens Have No Protection Against 4th Amendment Violations by Police Ignorant of the Law


In a blow to the constitutional rights of citizens, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled 8-1 in Heien v. State of North Carolina that police officers are permitted to violate American citizens’Fourth Amendment rights if the violation results from a “reasonable” mistake about the law on the part of police.

Acting contrary to the venerable principle that “ignorance of the law is no excuse,” the Court ruled that evidence obtained by police during a traffic stop that was not legally justified can be used to prosecute the person if police were reasonably mistaken that the person had violated the law.

The Rutherford Institute had asked the U.S. Supreme Court to hold law enforcement officials accountable to knowing and abiding by the rule of law. Justice Sonia Sotomayor, the Court’s lone dissenter, warned that the court’s ruling “means further eroding the Fourth Amendment‘s protection of civil liberties in a context where that protection has already been worn down.”

“By refusing to hold police accountable to knowing and abiding by the rule of law, the Supreme Court has given government officials a green light to routinely violate the law,” said John W. Whitehead, president of The Rutherford Institute and author of the award-winning book A Government of Wolves: The Emerging American Police State. “This case may have started out with an improper traffic stop, but where it will end—given the turbulence of our age, with its police overreach, military training drills on American soil,domestic surveillance, SWAT team raids, asset forfeiture, wrongful convictions, and corporate corruption—is not hard to predict. This ruling is what I would call a one-way, nonrefundable ticket to the police state.”
Continue reading SCOTUS rules police don’t have to obey the law

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The new authoritarianism doesn’t need physical violence

The new authoritarianism

| VOX, CEPR’s Policy Portal – by Sergei Guriev, Daniel Treisman 21 March 2015

The changing dictatorships

Dictatorships are not what they used to be. The totalitarian tyrants of the past – such as Hitler, Stalin, Mao, or Pol Pot – employed terror, indoctrination, and isolation to monopolise power. Although less ideological, many 20th-century military regimes also relied on mass violence to intimidate dissidents. Pinochet’s agents, for instance, are thought to have tortured and killed tens of thousands of Chileans (Roht-Arriaza 2005).

However, in recent decades new types of authoritarianism have emerged that seem better adapted to a world of open borders, global media, and knowledge-based economies. From the Peru of Alberto Fujimori to the Hungary of Viktor Orban, illiberal regimes have managed to consolidate power without fencing off their countries or resorting to mass murder. Some bloody military regimes and totalitarian states remain – such as Syria and North Korea – but the balance has shifted.

The new autocracies often simulate democracy, holding elections that the incumbents almost always win, bribing and censoring the private press rather than abolishing it, and replacing comprehensive political ideologies with an amorphous resentment of the West (Gandhi 2008, Levitsky and Way 2010). Their leaders often enjoy genuine popularity – at least after eliminating any plausible rivals. State propaganda aims not to ‘engineer human souls’ but to boost the dictator’s ratings. Political opponents are harassed and defamed, charged with fabricated crimes, and encouraged to emigrate, rather than being murdered en masse.

Dictatorships and information

In a recent paper, we argue that the distinctive feature of such new dictatorships is a preoccupation with information (Guriev and Treisman 2015). Although they do use violence at times, they maintain power less by terrorising victims than by manipulating beliefs. Of course, surveillance and propaganda were important to the old-style dictatorships, too. But violence came first. “Words are fine things, but muskets are even better,” Mussolini quipped. Compare that to the confession of Fujimori’s security chief, Vladimir Montesinos: “The addiction to information is like an addiction to drugs”. Killing members of the elite struck Montesinos as foolish: “Remember why Pinochet had his problems. We will not be so clumsy” (McMillan and Zoido 2004).
Continue reading The new authoritarianism doesn’t need physical violence



Congressional Budget Plans Get Two-Thirds of Cuts From Programs for People With Low or Moderate Incomes

by Richard Kogan and Isaac Shapiro  – March 23, 2015

The budgets adopted on March 19 by the House Budget Committee and the Senate Budget Committee each cut more than $3 trillion over ten years (2016-2025) from programs that serve people of limited means. These deep reductions amount to 69 percent of the cuts to non-defense spending in both the House and Senate plans.

Each budget plan derives more than two-thirds of its non-defense budget cuts from programs for people with low or modest incomes even though these programs constitute less than one-quarter of federal program costs. Moreover, spending on these programs is already scheduled to decline as a share of the economy between now and 2025.[1]

The bipartisan deficit reduction plan that Alan Simpson and Erskine Bowles (co-chairs of the National Commission on Federal Policy) issued in 2010 adhered to the basic principle that deficit reduction should not increase poverty or widen inequality. The new Congressional plans chart a radically different course, imposing their most severe cuts on people on the lower rungs of the economic ladder.
Continue reading Congressional Budget Plans Get Two-Thirds of Cuts From Programs for People With Low or Moderate Incomes

Passover 2015: These 4 questions explain the Seder dinner

Passover 2015

seder dinner
The Seder is a dinner on the eve of Passover that encourages children to ask questions about their Jewish tradition. Here, Larry Huch practices a Seder in 2004 with Matthew Cionea, the youngest child at the gathering, whose job it was to search for the hidden piece of matzah during a Seder dinner. (Ross William Hamilton/The Oregonian)

Jews have been practicing the Passover Seder for thousands of years. The ceremonial dinner is observed among families and Jewish communities on the eve of Passover. This year, that’s Friday night. “The table is set like royalty, and we dress in our finest garbs,” said Rabbi Gadi Levy, director of adult education at Portland Kollel.

The Seder involves dipping a vegetable in salt water, eating unleavened bread and — for adults — drinking four glasses of wine. Other steps include hand washing and reciting blessings. One purpose of the  dinner is to encourage inquisitiveness in Jewish children, Levy said. Children play a key role in the ceremony by asking four scripted questions during the dinner.

Those four questions are central to understanding the purpose of the Passover celebration, Levy said. Each centers around why the Seder dinner is different from other meals.

Here, Levy answers each of the four questions.
Continue reading Passover 2015: These 4 questions explain the Seder dinner

John Hagee Repeats His “Blood Moon” Errors–On Film

“Blood Moon” – coming this Saturday, and John Hagee’s claims are not related

by Mark Aaron Alsip

blood moon

With a beautiful total lunar eclipse on slate for Saturday, April 4, old earth creationist John Hagee has resurfaced with revived claims of prophecies in the skies.  I wrote about Hagee earlier this year, debunking his claim that a tetrad (series of 4) “blood moons” was a sign from the heavens that something significant was about to happen in Israel.

This time, Hagee is back with a movie.  “Four Blood Moons”1 rehashes the false claims the pastor made in his book by the same name.  The film opened with a special one-day release on March 23 and returns for an encore on April 9.  Based on the movie’s trailer and interviews with Hagee, it doesn’t look like the creationist has added anything new to the claims I’ve already debunked.  So I’d like to just hit the highlights here.  For a thorough point-by-point refutation of Hagee’s claims, complete with references (NASA tables of solar eclipses, information on the Hebrew calendar, the pastor’s historical mistakes, etc.), please see my article “Oh Bloody…“.2

To review: the pastor claims that major events in the history of Israel are linked to total lunar eclipses occurring on the Jewish holidays of Passover and Sukkot.  The pattern that he sees goes something like this:

  1. Tragedy knocks on the door of Israel and/or the Jewish people.
  2. Miraculous victory is somehow snatched from the jaws of defeat.
  3. (1) and (2) are announced in the heavens by a tetrad of “blood moons” (total lunar eclipses) that magically occur during one of two Jewish holy weeks.

Hagee’s conclusion: divine intervention in Israel, proven by an invisible hand controlling the positions of the sun, earth, and moon.


As I explained in (excruciating?) detail in my earlier piece on this subject,2 Hagee is wrong in nearly every way imaginable:
Continue reading John Hagee Repeats His “Blood Moon” Errors–On Film

Thanks, corporate America, for shaming Mike Pence! Now here’s a reality check

Thanks, corporate America, for shaming Mike Pence! Now here's a reality check

Mike Pence (Credit: Reuters/Jonathan Ernst)

 Indiana Gov. Mike Pence’s stunning change of mind, promising to “fix” his state’s bigoted “religious freedom” law only two days after stridently defending it on national television, is largely due to the economic backlash by business leaders against the legislation. From Apple to Salesforce to home grown, Republican-led Angie’s List, top corporations made clear they will punish the state for transgressing the rights of LGBT Americans. It was awe-inspiring, and it nudged Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson to reverse himself and announce he won’t sign that state’s version of the Indiana law (as did pressure from WalMart).

 But Pence’s quick “religious freedom” turnaround made me think of another notorious Indiana law that has gotten no pushback from the business community over the years: Its 2005 voter identification legislation that paved the way for a rollback of voting rights across the country.

It was Indiana’s groundbreaking law that the Supreme Court upheld in 2008, affirming the decision of a federal district court that turned back civil rights challenges to the new restrictions. Since then, the judge who wrote the 2007 district court decision, conservative Richard Posner,has essentially admitted that he made a mistake. In his 2013 book “Reflections on Judging,” Posner wrote: “I plead guilty to having written the majority opinion” in Crawford vs. Marion County, Ind. He acknowledged that the Indiana legislation was “a type of law now widely regarded as a means of voter suppression rather than of fraud prevention.”
Continue reading Thanks, corporate America, for shaming Mike Pence! Now here’s a reality check

The New Commandments: Hitchens in Vanity Fair

The New Commandments

The Ten Commandments were set in stone, but it may be time for a re-chisel. With all due humility, the author takes on the job, pruning the ethically dubious, challenging the impossible, and rectifying some serious omissions.

Clean Slate: Thou shalt not abide by outdated commandments. Illustration by Edward Sorel.

What do we say when we want to revisit a long-standing policy or scheme that no longer seems to be serving us or has ceased to produce useful results? We begin by saying tentatively, “Well, it’s not exactly written in stone.” (Sometimes this comes out as “not set in stone.”)By that, people mean that it’s not one of the immutable Tablets of the Law. Thus, more recent fetishes such as the gold standard, or the supposedly holy laws of the free market, can be discarded as not being incised on granite or marble.

But what if it is the original stone version that badly needs a re-write? Who will take up the revisionist chisel? There is in fact a good biblical precedent for doing just that, since the giving of the divine Law by Moses appears in three or four wildly different scriptural versions. (When you hear people demanding that the Ten Commandments be displayed in courtrooms and schoolrooms, always be sure to ask which set. It works every time.) The first and most famous set comes in Exodus 20 but ends with Moses himself smashing the supposedly most sacred artifacts ever known to man: the original, God-dictated panels of Holy Writ. The second edition occurs in Exodus 34, where new but completely different tablets are presented after some heavenly re-write session and are for the first time called “the ten commandments.”

In the fifth chapter of Deuteronomy, Moses once more calls his audience together and recites the original Sinai speech with one highly significant alteration (the Sabbath commandment’s justifications in each differ greatly). But plainly discontented with the effect of this, he musters the flock again 22 chapters further on, as the river Jordan is coming into view, and gives an additional set of orders—chiefly terse curses—which are also to be inscribed in stone. As with the gold plates on which Joseph Smith found the Book of Mormon in upstate New York, no trace of any of these original yet conflicting tablets survives.

Continue reading The New Commandments: Hitchens in Vanity Fair

A President who is an atheist?

Have Faith, We’ll Have an Atheist President

Penn Jillette

Penn Jillette is the author of “Every Day is an Atheist Holiday!” and “God, No!Penn and Teller will perform on Broadway for a six-week run starting in July.

UPDATED MARCH 24, 2015, 9:08 AM

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I’m an atheist and I’m not running for president. That means my chances of being taken seriously as a presidential candidate are a bit better than Donald Trump’s.

Some of my fellow atheists bemoan that atheism is the final taboo in politics – polls report that America would never elect an atheist president.

Some day there will be a candidate America loves, and the fact that she or he is atheist will matter as much as Kennedy being Catholic.

Because of that, they brag that their favorite candidate (usually Obama or a Clinton) has to lie and say they believe in god and promise that they pray for supernatural guidance in world affairs.

They justify that their heroes are liars because Americans are too stupid and too bigoted to be told the truth. When you celebrate your hero as a liar, you’ve lost the moral high ground.

The Clintons and Obamas swear they believe that their lives and our country are guided by a supreme-being. I take them at their word. If the choice is superstitious straight-shooter or a patronizing liar, I’ll go with honest. At least the supernatural has some rules.

My hero (and not a liar), Christopher Hitchens, once explained to me that we would never have an atheist president, but that we would have a president who was atheist. And yet, America in the 1980s would never have voted for a divorced B-list movie star … but they voted for Ronald Reagan. The specific wins over the abstract.

Some day there will be an honest woman or man who America will love and want, and the fact that she or he is an atheist will matter as much as Kennedy being a Catholic or Romney being a Mormon (O.K., bad example). For better or worse (and to the libertarian in me, worse) we don’t elect ideas, we elect people.

Maybe Americans are too stupid and bigoted to elect the right person for the job even if he or she is an atheist, but we haven’t run that experiment yet and until we do, I will not take atheists’ condescending guesses on faith. I don’t have faith — I’m an atheist.

I’m not president, but I do a magic show. Teller and I are atheists and our audiences are mostly believers and they don’t care what we don’t believe because we’re the ones they want to see do a magic show. If Americans can take honesty in their magicians, we should give them a chance to accept honesty in their president.

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Religious Liberty and Equality

On the one hand, there is a growing consensus that straight, gay and lesbian people deserve full equality with each other. We are to be judged by how we love, not by whom we love. If denying gays and lesbians their full civil rights and dignity is not wrong, then nothing is wrong. Gays and lesbians should not only be permitted to marry and live as they want, but be honored for doing so.

At its best, the gay rights movement has promoted its cause while carefully respecting religious liberty and the traditional pillars of American society. The cause has focused on marriage and military service. It has not staged a frontal assault on the exercise of faith.

The 1993 Religious Freedom Restoration Act, which was supported by Senator Ted Kennedy and a wide posse of progressives, sidestepped the abstract and polarizing theological argument. It focused on the concrete facts of specific cases. The act basically holds that government sometimes has to infringe on religious freedom in order to pursue equality and other goods, but, when it does, it should have a compelling reason and should infringe in the least intrusive way possible.

This moderate, grounded, incremental strategy has produced amazing results. Fewer people have to face the horror of bigotry, isolation, marginalization and prejudice. Yet I wonder if this phenomenal achievement is going off the rails. Indiana has passed a state law like the 1993 federal act, and sparked an incredible firestorm….

Morality is a politeness of the soul. Deep politeness means we make accommodations. Certain basic truths are inalienable. Discrimination is always wrong. In cases of actual bigotry, the hammer comes down. But as neighbors in a pluralistic society we try to turn philosophic clashes (about right and wrong) into neighborly problems in which different people are given space to have different lanes to lead lives. In cases where people with different values disagree, we seek a creative accommodation.

It’s always easier to take an absolutist position. But, in a clash of values like the one between religious pluralism and equality, that absolutism is neither pragmatic, virtuous nor true.

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Continue reading Religious Liberty and Equality

Defending Darwin

I teach human evolution at the University of Kentucky. There are some students I’ll never reach.


Illustration by Alex Eben Meyer

This essay is adapted from a piece originally printed in the March/April 2015 issue of Orion. Request a free trial issue of Orion here.

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To teach evolution at the University of Kentucky is to teach at an institution steeped in the history of defending evolution education. The first effort to pass an anti-evolution law (led by William Jennings Bryan) happened in Kentucky in 1921. It proposed making the teaching of evolution illegal. The university’s president at that time, Frank McVey, saw this bill as a threat to academic freedom. Three faculty members—William Funkhouser, a zoologist; Arthur Miller, a geologist who taught evolution; and Glanville Terrell, a philosopher—joined McVey in the battle to prevent the bill from becoming law. They put their jobs on the line. Through their efforts, the anti-evolution bill was defeated by a 42­–41 vote in the state legislature. Consequently, the movement turned its attention toward Tennessee.
Continue reading Defending Darwin

Capitalism is quickly outgrowing democracy, and a divorce between the two is inevitable

“People often ask me, ‘How can you be so stupid and still proclaim yourself a communist?’” — Slavoj Žižek

Philosopher Slavoj Žižek argues that our current brand of global capitalism is quickly outgrowing democracy and that a divorce between the two is inevitable. This leads to an array of social and geopolitical concerns regarding the public commons. These problems include but are not limited to ecology, biogenetics, finance, neo-apartheid, crisis management, intellectual property rights, and personal freedom. Žižek touches on all these topics and more in this delivery of political and social theory.
Continue reading Capitalism is quickly outgrowing democracy, and a divorce between the two is inevitable

War Porn

Hollywood and War from World War II to American Sniper
By Peter Van Buren

In the age of the all-volunteer military and an endless stream of war zone losses and ties, it can be hard to keep Homeland enthusiasm up for perpetual war. After all, you don’t get a 9/11 every year to refresh those images of the barbarians at the airport departure gates. In the meantime, Americans are clearly finding it difficult to remain emotionally roiled up about our confusing wars in Syria and Iraq, the sputtering one in Afghanistan, and various raids, drone attacks, and minor conflicts elsewhere.

Fortunately, we have just the ticket, one that has been punched again and again for close to a century: Hollywood war movies (to which the Pentagon is always eager to lend a helping hand).American Sniper, which started out with the celebratory tagline “the most lethal sniper in U.S. history” and now has the tagline “the most successful war movie of all time,” is just the latest in a long line of films that have kept Americans on their war game. Think of them as war porn, meant to leave us perpetually hyped up. Now, grab some popcorn and settle back to enjoy the show.

There’s Only One War Movie

Wandering around YouTube recently, I stumbled across some good old government-issue propaganda. It was a video clearly meant to stir American emotions and prepare us for a long struggle against a determined, brutal, and barbaric enemy whose way of life is a challenge to the most basic American values. Here’s some of what I learned: our enemy is engaged in a crusade against the West; wants to establish a world government and make all of us bow down before it; fights fanatically, beheads prisoners, and is willing to sacrifice the lives of its followers in inhuman suicide attacks. Though its weapons are modern, its thinking and beliefs are 2,000 years out of date and inscrutable to us.

Of course, you knew there was a trick coming, right? This little U.S. government-produced film wasn’t about the militants of the Islamic State. Made by the U.S. Navy in 1943, its subject was “Our Enemy the Japanese.” Substitute “radical Islam” for “emperor worship,” though, and it still makes a certain propagandistic sense. While the basics may be largely the same (us versus them, good versus evil), modern times do demand something slicker than the video equivalent of an old newsreel. The age of the Internet, with its short attention spans and heightened expectations of cheap thrills, calls for a higher class of war porn, but as with that 1943 film, it remains remarkable how familiar what’s being produced remains.
Continue reading War Porn

Netanyahu’s spying denials contradicted by NSA documents

Netanyahu’s spying denials contradicted by secret NSA documents

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu yesterday vehemently denied aWall Street Journal report, leaked by the Obama White House, that Israel spied on U.S. negotiations with Iran and then fed the intelligence to Congressional Republicans. His office’s denial was categorical and absolute, extending beyond this specific story to U.S.-targeted spying generally, claiming: “The state of Israel does not conduct espionage against the United States or Israel’s other allies.”

Israel’s claim is not only incredible on its face. It is also squarely contradicted by top-secret NSA documents, which state that Israel targets the U.S. government for invasive electronic surveillance, and does so more aggressively and threateningly than almost any other country in the world. Indeed, so concerted and aggressive are Israeli efforts against the U.S. that some key U.S. government documents — including the top secret 2013 intelligence budget — list Israel among the U.S.’s most threatening cyber-adversaries and as a “hostile” foreign intelligence service.

One top-secret 2008 document features an interview with the NSA’s Global Capabilities Manager for Countering Foreign Intelligence, entitled “Which Foreign Intelligence Service Is the Biggest Threat to the US?” He repeatedly names Israel as one of the key threats.

While noting that Russia and China do the most effective spying on U.S., he says that “Israel also targets us.” He explains that “A NIE [National Intelligence Estimate] ranked [Israel] as the third most aggressive intelligence service against the US.” While praising the surveillance relationship with Israel as highly valuable, he added: “One of NSA’s biggest threats is actually from friendly intelligence services, like Israel.” Specifically, the Israelis “target us to learn our positions on Middle East problems.”
Continue reading Netanyahu’s spying denials contradicted by NSA documents