Wednesday, December 31, 2014

War and Bigotry

Minor Celebrity watch

Voice actress Christine Cavanaugh, who brought to life characters including Babe and Chuckie on Nickelodeon cartoon Rugrats, has died aged 51.

U.S. Ends Its War in Afghanistan

TIME Magazine, by Mark Thompson, December 28, 2014

The U.S.-led coalition in Afghanistan ended its combat mission Sunday, marking the formal—if not real—end to the longest war in American history.

American warplanes began bombing the country on Oct. 7, 2001, less than a month after the 9/11 attacks. Their goal was to drive the ruling Taliban from power, after they had given sanctuary inside the country to Osama bin Laden and al Qaeda, which had plotted the terror strikes.

That was accomplished on Nov. 13, 2001.

The U.S. and its allies have remained since then, trying to build up Afghan military and police forces sufficient to defend their country without outside help. Despite Sunday’s bowing out, the U.S. will remain involved in Afghanistan’s fight against the Taliban for years to come.

A total of 3,485 allied troops died in Afghanistan over the past 13 years, including 2,356 Americans. The war cost U.S. taxpayers, past, present and future, about $1 trillion.


Is it really over? Is the Taliban “defeated?” We have been training the Afghan army for 13 years. How far along are they? Not very, judging by their performance against ISIS. Will our 3,000 troops there be enough to prop up the government? Let's take those troops home. Is it a “real” government? Are they on a course to democracy? What else might we have done with the trillion dollars spent there?

David Duke, ex-KKKer, warns GOP: Back Steve Scalise, or I’ll name names.
By Cheryl K. Chumley, The Washington Times - Wednesday, December 31, 2014

David Duke, the former head of the Ku Klux Klan, sent out a somewhat ominous message to Republican Party operatives to treat Rep. Steve Scalise fairly, or he’ll start naming names of others in the political arena with whom he’s met and maintained ties.

“If Scalise is going to be crucified — if Republicans want to throw Steve Scalise to the woods, then a lot of them better be looking over their shoulders,” Mr. Duke said, Fusion reported.


Scalise spoke to a white supremacist group in 2002, and is receiving a lot of criticism about it. Scalise is Republican whip in the House. Is he in trouble of losing his job? Perhaps Duke’s threats will save him. 

How many candidates and office holders conferred with Duke over the years? He won an election as state representative, got a majority of the white vote in three statewide races. I am sure his voter list was valuable to conservative candidates. I am also sure that some of what he says still appeals to bigots across the states.


jbv's Competitive Edge 

Sunday, December 28, 2014

Louisiana in the news, and more

Celebrity bird visits Louisiana

A bird rarely seen in Louisiana was among 130 species heard or spotted on Grand Isle during the National Audubon Society's annual winter bird count.

A Lucy's warbler, which normally lives in the U.S. Southwest or in Mexico, was the exciting find of the day on Grand Isle, said Chris Brantley, who organized the count on Louisiana's only inhabited barrier island and one of nearly 30 planned around Louisiana between mid-December and Jan. 5.

A minor TV role makes one newsworthy forever

Dustin Diamond, who played Screech on the 1990s TV show ''Saved by the Bell,'' was charged Friday with stabbing a man during a bar fight on Christmas.

Diamond, 37, faces charges of felony second-degree recklessly endangering safety, disorderly conduct and carrying a concealed weapon.

What is “Good Science?”

The Louisiana Science Education Act lets teachers bring in "supplemental textbooks and other instructional materials" to promote "open and objective discussion of scientific theories being studied included, but not limited to, evolution, the origins of life, global warming and human cloning." Supporters in the Legislature wouldn't admit that the Louisiana Science Education Act was religiously inspired. To the contrary. Sen. Ben Nevers, author of the legislation, said, "This bill has nothing to do with creationism. This is about letting teachers teach good science."

Gov. Bobby Jindal expressed agreement with that position, and the highly accomplished biology major from Brown University affixed his name to legislation that outraged so many scientists and science educators.

Local control beats Common Core every time, at least with GOP donors

U.S. Sen. David Vitter, R-La., has joined Gov. Bobby Jindal in changing positions from support of Common Core educational standards to opposition.

In an email to supporters Monday, Vitter, who is running for governor in 2015, noted that just four months ago he expressed support for "strong standards like the Common Core standards Louisiana has adopted."

"After listening to literally thousands of parents, teachers, and others since then, I don't believe that we can achieve that Louisiana control, buy-in, and success I'm committed to if we stay in Common Core," Vitter said. "Instead, I think we should get out of Common Core... and establish an equally or more rigorous Louisiana system of standards and testing."

Vitter crosses the aisle

The connection was forged a couple of years ago, said U.S. Sen. Sherrod Brown, in a hearing of the House Banking, Housing and Urban Affairs Committee on the regulation of big Wall Street banks and other financial institutions.

At the other end of the committee's semicircular dais, where the minority Republicans sat, David Vitter took his turn to quiz the witness, a high-ranking official, on steps the federal government was taking to avoid a repeat of the 2008 financial meltdown that triggered the Great Recession.

''I started listening to his questions,'' Brown said - and he liked what he heard from Vitter. So when the hearing ended, Brown recalled, ''I just walked over and said, 'We should work together on this.' '' So was born an unlikely partnership, between Brown, a liberal Democrat from Ohio, and Vitter, a conservative Republican from Louisiana. But when it comes to fighting the moneyed interests, that's not the only collaboration for Vitter that goes against type.

As Congress hurtled toward approval, just before adjourning earlier this month, of the $1.1 trillion ''cromnibus'' package to fund most federal agencies and prevent a government shutdown, Vitter teamed with left-wing icon Elizabeth Warren, a Democrat from Massachusetts, in a failed Senate effort to save a regulation limiting trading in financial derivatives - the kind of financial instruments implicated in triggering the recession.

''I think this is subsidizing and protecting - at taxpayer expense - risky business that should not be in a commercial bank,'' said Vitter.

Enhanced interrogation techniques as mismanagement  

While the Senate report on the CIA's interrogation program and the spy agency's official response clash on almost every aspect of the long-secret operation, both reports largely agree the agency mismanaged the now-shuttered program.

The reports differ sharply on various aspects of the program, from the brutality and effectiveness of its methods and the agency's secret dealings with the Bush White House, Congress and the media.

The 525-page summary from the Senate Intelligence Committee paints a chaotic landscape of bureaucratic dysfunction, showing an agency unprepared to take control of terrorist prisoners, unqualified field interrogators who overstepped their legal authority and CIA bosses ignorant about exactly how many detainees were warehoused in their overseas prisons. CIA oversight, the Senate committee found, ''was deeply flawed throughout the program's duration.''

The CIA agrees in its official response that ''the agency made serious missteps in the management and operation of the program.'' But it said the breakdowns came in the program's early days and that internal changes corrected much of the disarray before President George W. Bush ordered the ''black site'' prisons emptied in 2006.



jbv's Competitive Edge 

Wednesday, December 24, 2014

Creativity for Creationists

Excerpted from an article by William Saletan, SLATE, December 24, 2014

Forty percent of Americans are evangelical Christians, and many of them reject evolution. Jeff Hardin, chairman of the University of Wisconsin’s zoology department, is an evangelical, but much of his evangelism is directed at his fellow believers. He wants to persuade them that evolution and Christianity are compatible.
Today, Hardin speaks for an emerging school of Christian thinkers. They call themselves evolutionary creationists. They believe that God authored the emergence of life and humankind but that evolution explains how this process unfolded. They accept what science has established: The Earth is billions of years old, and all species, including ours, have evolved from other species.
Hardin understands why many Christians recoil from evolution. But to believe in a young Earth, he says, you have to reject so much science that you can’t do research in related fields. “Intelligent design” tries to be more sophisticated, but you can’t build science around it, because it makes no testable predictions.
To learn and work in science, Hardin says, you have to follow its rules. Those rules are limited—they govern laboratories, not love—but they’re spectacularly successful. One of the rules is often called methodological naturalism. At a Faith Angle Forum last month, Hardin explained what this means: In science, you can’t make supernatural claims. That’s because supernatural causes aren’t repeatable. You can believe that God parted the Red Sea, but you can’t test that process experimentally or use it to predict the behavior of other bodies of water.
If God made the world, evangelicals shouldn’t be afraid to see his creation as it is.
You can recognize the ruthless dynamics of evolution, as Hardin does, while maintaining that it follows a divine plan. “God created the world with the intention that we would be here and that we would one day be capable of interacting with him,” says Hardin. To illustrate this paradox, he cites Proverbs 16: “The lot is cast into the lap, but its every decision is from the Lord.” Each natural event seems random, but the overall pattern advances a purpose.
Second, Hardin wants evangelicals to trust God. If God made the world, they shouldn’t be afraid to see his creation as it is. Hardin approaches science with serene faith. He believes that the evidence he encounters—what Francis Bacon called the “Book of God’s Works”—will be compatible with the Bible.
Hardin recognizes, crucially, that when the two books don’t seem to match, the error might be in his own understanding of the Bible. Rather than reject what science has discovered, he asks how scripture can be understood better so that it fits the scientific evidence.
Christians who believe that the world was created in six days, or that the Earth is only a few thousand years old, think they’re reading the Bible literally. But in reality, they’re projecting modern notions of time and narration onto their ancestors. Hardin shares their aspiration to be faithful to the Bible, but he argues that to achieve this, one must approach the text the way one approaches science: with empirical rigor. Scripture is a real thing. It was written and preached for a lay audience in a historical context. Those people weren’t scientists or journalists. So it makes no sense to treat the text as a tight chronology, nailing down timelines or the process of speciation.
Take the story of Adam and Eve. The standard interpretation is that God miraculously created this couple, and the rest of us descended from them. But that account runs into problems: for instance, the genetic evidence that the population of Homo sapiens was never smaller than 10,000.


jbv's Competitive Edge 

Sunday, December 21, 2014

Say it ain't so Saints

Today's Saints loss was particularly hard to take, even though they would not have gone very far in the playoffs. The team is, sadly, mediocre and some rebuilding needs to be done. The Saints could still get in if the Falcons and Panthers both lost next week, but unfortunately they are playing each other.

What was shocking though is the way they lost. Ahead 20 seconds into the game, they could muster little offense the rest of the way. Maybe they were robbed on the goal line call when Graham fumbled; It looked to me as though he "broke the plane."

The defense was dreadful. They made Matt Ryan look like a cinch for the hall of fame. How much longer can Rob Ryan last? On paper the Falcons seemed like an awful team.

 Wait 'til next year.


jbv's Competitive Edge 

Thursday, December 18, 2014

We're Back

On December 1 our belongings were packed into a moving van in Cincinnati on their way to New Orleans. We are now on the ground floor of a Lakeview apartment where noise from the second floor seems to be amplified.

We loved living in the Hyde Park section of Cincinnati, largely for its walkability and convenience. Lakeview is its nearest equivalent in New Orleans, better in walkability, but not near its convenience to services.

We are often asked why we moved, and our answer is fuzzy. New Orleans feels more like home, though we had a great life in Cincinnati. We have more friends here, but fewer of them are retired and available. We have flirted with moving back for years, and it was finally time to find out why.

We are only starting to "re-experience" NO. Moving trauma is entering its final phase and now we have a little time available to enjoy those things that NO does best.

Over the next few months we will have visitors from Denver, Ft. Wayne, and Cinci (two different couples). We will then get to see NO as tourists.

We wish you the best of the holidays.


jbv's Competitive Edge