State data maps you’ve never seen before

April 1, 2015

mindblown-featured-pattern

Click on 19 Maps That Will Blow Your Mind by FlowingData.

Gay marriage and religious liberty

March 31, 2015

Marriage is both a legal contract and a religious sacrament.   The dual nature of marriage makes it a more complicated question than, say, voting rights.

gay_marriage_states_1Nobody should be denied access to the benefits of the marriage contract based on race, nationality, religion or sexual orientation.  Gay married couples should have the same rights as any other couples in regard to pensions, insurance, credit, hospital visitation or anything else.

Neither should anybody be required to support or participate in a religious ritual they don’t believe in, for the same reason that nobody should be required to recite the Lord’s Prayer in a public ceremony if they don’t believe in it.

For example, an independent photographer who believes on religious grounds that marriage is only between a man and a woman should not be required to take photographs as a gay wedding.

I think that religious institutions should be free to set their own internal rules of moral conduct, including sexual conduct.

On the other hand, I do not believe that owners of a business corporation have the right to impose their private moral beliefs on employees, or to use religion as an excuse for depriving employees of their legal rights, as was done by the Hobby Lobby corporation.

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Freedom of contract or corporate Big Brother?

March 30, 2015

Freedom of contract begins where equality of bargaining power begins.
    ==Oliver Wendell Holmes Jr.

No contract that requires someone to give up a basic right should be legally enforceable.

A contract to sell yourself into slavery is not legally enforceable.  A yellow-dog contract, which requires you to give up your right to join a labor union, is not legally enforceable.

So what about Amazon’s practice of requiring even temporary employees to sign 18-month non-compete agreements as a condition for employment?

Noncompete_CartoonThe Verge obtained a copy of the contract that forbids Amazon workers, for 18 months after leaving Amazon employment, from going to work for any company that “directly or indirectly” supplies any good or service they helped support at Amazon.

Such non-complete agreements are required even for temporary warehouse workers, who typically work for three months during the Christmas season, The Verge reported.  In return for that short stint of work, they’re asked to give up any chance of working for an Amazon competitor—and, since Amazon is “the everything store,” that would mean virtually any job in retailing anywhere in the world.

In other words, Amazon workers are asked to give up a basic right that they supposedly have in a free enterprise system—the right to freely seek work from any employer willing to hire them.

A study, based on an on-line survey of 10,000 American workers conducted by the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champagne and the University of Michigan, determined that 12 percent are covered by non-complete agreements,  The Verge reported.  This includes 9 percent of warehouse and transportation workers.

Evan Starr, co-author of the study, told The Verge that the percentages are probably underestimated because workers sign non-compete agreements without realizing what they’ve signed.

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Strong opposition to Darwinism in Israel

March 30, 2015

evolution-views

The United States is exceptional among economically-advanced nations in the large percentage of the population who reject Darwin’s theory of evolution.

But the USA has a partner in this respect.  A large percentage of the population of Israel also reject evolution.

us_il_evo3

Religious fundamentalists—that is, those who believe that Scripture should be taken as literal fact as well as teaching a lesson—are strong in both countries, and are politically allied to right-wing nationalists.

Right-wing nationalism is not inherent in religious fundamentalism.  The Old Order Amish are fundamentalists.  But when fundamentalism and nationalism are allied, they make a powerful and dangerous force, because the nation and its military are treated as if they are sacred.

The Likud Party in Israel is close to the Republican Party in the United States, in spite of the fact that most Jewish citizens in the United States support the Democrats.

I believe that is because the Likud supporters and Republicans have an affinity in their leaders’ assertive nationalism and in their appeal to religious fundamentalist voters.   The majority of Jewish people in the United States, on the other hand, are liberal humanitarians who accept the conclusions of modern science.

LINKS

In Israel, Will Creationists Reign? by Josh Rosenau for the Science League of America.

A Shande Vor De Goyim: Israelis Are as Creationists as U.S. Non-Jews by Josh Rosenau for the Science League of America.

Israeli politicians views on evolution: more waffling and denialism by Jerry Coyne.

The three stages of truth

March 30, 2015

All truth passes through three stages.
First, it is ridiculed.
Second, it is violently opposed.
Third, it is accepted as being self-evident.

==Arthur Schopenhauer (German philosopher, 1788-1860)

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Singapore: Lee Kuan Yew’s authoritarian utopia

March 30, 2015
Singapore's Lee Kuan Yew (1923-2015)

Singapore’s Lee Kuan Yew (1923-2015)

Lee Kuan Yew, who died last Monday, was one of the world’s most successful rulers.  I am uneasy about his success because it was based on rejection of  American-type ideas of democracy and individual freedom.

Under Lee’s 50 years of formal and informal rule, Singapore went from being a Third World backwater with no natural resources to a gleaming technopolis and the world’s third major financial hub after London and New York. GDP per capita increased by several orders of magnitude.

It refuted the modern idea, or rather dogma, that democracy and individual liberties are indispensable components of economic modernization.

A clever foreign policy enabled great relations with both the US and China. Visible corruption is all but non-existent; the story might be apocryphal, but apparently Lee once even went as far as allowing the execution of a friend for stealing from the state.

via The Unz Review.

Lee was a proponent of so-called “Asian values” of hierarchy, obedience and discipline, which I don’t think of as being uniquely Asian.  They could just as easily be called Prussian values.

When I was younger, I thought American ideals were validated by the fact that, in the USA, the common people had a better life than they did almost anywhere else, and that things worked better than they did almost anywhere else.  Now, as I look at the dysfunctional American government and predatory American corporations, I have to wonder.

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Who will benefit from the TPP?

March 30, 2015

Senator Elizabeth Warren pointed out the worst aspect of the proposed Trans Pacific Partnership Agreement, which is the Investor-State Dispute Settlement.

ISDS allows investors (but not workers, consumers or citizens) to appeal a nation’s laws and regulations to a private corporate-friendly arbitration panel.   Such panels already exist under NAFTA and other trade treaties.  As Warren pointed out:

The use of ISDS is on the rise around the globe. From 1959 to 2002, there were fewer than 100 ISDS claims worldwide. But in 2012 alone, there were 58 cases.

Recent cases include a French company that sued Egypt because Egypt raised its minimum wage, a Swedish company that sued Germany because Germany decided to phase out nuclear power after Japan’s Fukushima disaster, and a Dutch company that sued the Czech Republic because the Czechs didn’t bail out a bank that the company partially owned.

U.S. corporations have also gotten in on the action: Philip Morris is trying to use ISDS to stop Uruguay from implementing new tobacco regulations intended to cut smoking rates.

via The Washington Post.

The Trans Pacific Partnership is a proposed trade agreement between the United States, Canada, Mexico, Japan, Australia and seven other Pacific Rim countries—not including China.

Only a couple of its provisions have to do with reducing trade barriers among member nations.  Most have to do with imposing uniform rules about intellectual property, corporate regulation and other topics.

What’s in the TPP drafts is a secret.  Jim Hightower noted that the Obama administration has imposed a gag order on members of Congress who’ve been briefed on its contents, and Congress has submitted to this.

But thanks to Wikileaks, we know that the TPP negotiators intend to enact a strong USDS rule.

Of course if the administration drops USDS at the last minute, that doesn’t mean that the rest of the TPP is okay.  Congress at the very least should be given all the time it needs to analyze this complex and suspect agreement before it votes.

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Freedom, happiness and love

March 29, 2015

quote-doing-what-you-love-is-freedom1

A short quiz on United States geography

March 28, 2015

What is:

1.  The northernmost American state?

2.  The easternmost American state?

3.  The westernmost American state?

4.  The southernmost American state?

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Cannabis is the world’s most profitable crop

March 28, 2015
Click to enlarge.

Double click to enlarge.

Source: Information Is Beautiful

Is the supernatural as real as the natural?

March 28, 2015

2015-03-03-is-the-supernatural-as-real-as-the-naturalSource: Candorville

A billion here, a billion there: it adds up

March 28, 2015
Double click to enlarge.

Click to enlarge.

Source: Information Is Beautiful

I have trouble visualizing any number that is too big to count.  As W. Edwards Deming once said, no number is meaningful except when compared with another number.

If you click on the link, you’ll see a larger graphic with more information.

Hiroshima’s Shadow 3: the revisionist argument

March 27, 2015

NYTnaga.su.manchuria

Revisionist historians deny that Hiroshima and Nagasaki were bombed in order to save American lives.

They say the Japanese high command was ready to surrender before the bombs were dropped and that, in any case, an invasion of Japan would not have caused the 1 million Allied casualties or 500,000 deaths that President Truman later claimed were averted.

The real reason for Hiroshima and Nagasaki, they say, is that American leaders thought the existence of the bomb and the U.S. willingness to use it would strengthen the American position in relation to the Soviet Union.

Hiroshima's Shadow 0_The essay collection, Hiroshima’s Shadow, which I am now reading, provides the documentary evidence for these arguments.  The contributors include historians who know much more about this subject than I do, but historians disagree.

I think the revisionist arguments not as false, but as inconclusive.   Yet I draw the same moral for our own time as they do about the need for disarmament and the risks of atomic diplomacy.

∞∞∞

Were the Japanese really willing to surrender before Hiroshima was bombed?

It is a fact that Japan’s military and civilian leaders both regarded the Pacific War as lost, and they hoped to negotiate a peace on the best terms that they could.  The minimum terms, especially for the military, were that the Japanese retain control of the home islands and that Emperor of Japan continue to rule.

The Allies included “unconditional surrender” of the Japanese armed forces and an Allied occupation of Japan.   The Japanese were promised that the Allies did not intend to annihilate them and that they would eventually have a government of their own choosing.  This implies that they could have had an Emperor if they wanted one, but nothing specific was said.

The question in my mind is just what was meant by the Emperor continuing to  rule.   Did it mean that the Emperor would remain in place as a powerless constitutional monarch, as eventually happened?

Or did it mean that the Emperor would rule, not by popular mandate, but by divine right as a descendent of the sun goddess and an object of worship in the state Shinto religion, with the military exercising power in his name?  This would have meant a perpetuation of the totalitarian that had led to war in the first place.

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U.S. weapons go AWOL

March 27, 2015

Since 2007, the U.S. government has been sending sending military supplies to Yemen to help the government fight a rebellion there.   The Yemen government is collapsing, and the U.S. government has lost track of some of those supplies, including these.

U.S.-military-hardware-AWOL-in-Yemen-The-Washington-PostAs Peter Van Buren asked, how do you misplace a patrol boat?

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David Graeber on social class and virtue

March 26, 2015

The ultimate bourgeois virtue is thrift, and the ultimate working-class virtue is solidarity

via David Graeber | The Guardian.

In hard times, it is good to have savings, but it is important to have friends.


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