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While Corporate Wealth Soars, Food Insecurity for the American Poor Gets No Better

The Dow Jones Industrial Average, a measure of the value of U.S. corporate wealth, has been hitting record highs lately:

Dow Jones Industrial Average Reaches Record Highs in 2014

But in a news release this month, the U.S. Department of Agriculture reports that the percentage of households with food insecurity remains historically high:

USDA Index of Food Insecurity, 2000-2013

That food insecurity index is made up of a series of questions asked of American households. One question asks American households to agree or disagree with the statement, “The food that we bought just didn’t last and we didn’t have money to get more.” The share of households agreeing with that statement — 15.6% — has remained the steady over the past four years. While corporations trading on the New York Stock Exchange are awash in ever more cash, 1 in 6 households in America report running out of food.

Who Is Protesting Against Obama’s New War In The Middle East

In the United Kingdom, the Stop The War Coalition is holding a demonstration in London to protest the British government’s plans to get involved in the civil wars in Iraq and Syria. The Coalition does not support the Islamic State, but rather questions whether bombings by the UK military will be capable of defeating the Islamic State. “Isis is backed by various middle east powers and a new aerial bombardment will not defeat it. It will however, kill innocents, further fragment the country and inflame violence. The record of the west’s wars in Afghanistan, Iraq and Libya show that as well as creating misery and mayhem, western military interventions make the world a more volatile, dangerous place,” the coalition writes.

The establishment Democratic organization MoveOn has only managed to summon enough political will to release a semi-anti-war petition. The petition doesn’t really oppose Obama’s new war in the Middle East. It only requests that Obama get the explicit permission of Congress to go to war, saying, “Members of Congress must insist that an explicit Congressional authorization of force precede any direct U.S. military action in Iraq, including airstrikes.”

antiwar protest chicagoMoveOn’s membership seems to have a stronger anti-war opinion. Saima Ellis, in her signature to the petition, argues that, “Invading Afghanistan and Iraq in the past was not successful. Thousands and thousands of innocent Afghani’s and Iraqi’s lost their lives, homes and belongings. I suspect you already know another war will only bring with it more deaths and that the majority of the public is against it and that it will only benefit the companies who make profit from it.” Katherine Thomason writes, “No more war! Not in Iraq or Syria or anywhere!”

At AntiWar.com, Jason Ditz observes that an NBC/Wall Street Journal poll recently found that 72% of American respondents believe that the current bombing campaign in Iraq and Syria will eventually expand to include American soldiers on the ground.

That’s an interesting fact to consider, but AntiWar.com doesn’t post any news of actual on-the-street protests against Obama’s new war. The Friends Committee on National Legislation has posted articles opposing the war, but has no news of demonstrations either. World Can’t Wait has urged its members to post news of their protests against the new war, but so far, the only protests posted there are for anti-drone demonstrations this coming weekend.

There have been a few small, isolated anti-war protests in the USA. Will a national movement against war form in the months to come, or do the politics of congressional campaigns overlap with this issue to make protests against war too awkward for the moment?

Shouting Soccer

Some people are celebrating the increasing popularity of soccer in the United States. My experience with soccer this weekend, however, has caused me to question this trend.

shouting soccer coachMy daughter asked to join a soccer league this year, because she wanted to be with her friends. There are plenty of other ways for her to be with friends, but this is what she wanted, so I said okay. Yesterday, I had a chance to see her playing a game, and came to wish that I had found a way to redirect her into another social activity.

From the minute the playing started until the second it ended, multiple coaches from both teams were walking up and down the sidelines, shouting instructions at the people on the field. There weren’t any compliments from the coaches, just directions.

The soccer players didn’t seem to be following the directions coming from the coaches. They were struggling just to work with the ball on their own.

But then, most of the shouting wasn’t really very helpful. Defending players were yelled at to “Take the ball away from them!” Did they really not know that they were supposed to do that?

As I sat on the grass watching, I wondered how the school play would go, if the director stood in the pit during performances, shouting at the actors, telling them what to do. I don’t think it would improve the quality of the acting.

Here and there, leagues are trying Silent Soccer rules. Some people seem to think this approach is excessive. Bob Cook at Forbes, says that Silent Soccer is “stupid”, and that, “if a parent doesn’t like a particular league or school, it’s easy enough to just up and move the kid elsewhere.”

Moving to another school district just so that my daughter can have a soccer coach who doesn’t scream at her isn’t in the cards for me. Moving my daughter out of the youth soccer league so that she can take part in physical and social activities with a more psychologically-healthy perspective is.

We Are Stopping The Islamic State. Now, Who Will Stop Us?

The Islamic State is a nasty group of people who do nasty things that certainly should come to a stop. The Islamic State forces conversion to Islam, wages civil war, and cuts people’s heads off. The Islamic State’s behavior is inexcusable.

The Obama Administration wants to put a stop to the Islamic State, and has launched a new war in order to do it. The new war is just weeks old, but has already included bombings by the United States in both Iraq and Syria. In those American bombings, children and other innocent civilians are being killed.

These killings are clearly bad things, and they’re just the latest addition to a long record of American atrocities in Iraq, including the Abu Ghraib torture prison, shootings of civilians by American mercenaries, and the mutilation of corpses by American soldiers.

If the USA is establishing, with this new war, the moral standard that atrocities are an acceptable justification for bombings, then how can we object to bombings in the United States by angry Syrians and Iraqis?

Barack Obama has embraced the crude moral vision of George W. Bush, arguing that
“The only language understood by killers like this is the language of force.” In doing so, Obama has demonstrated that he shares the mentality of the Islamic State, in that he is unwilling to comprehend the validity of any language other than force himself.

We’ve been through this before. In he first decade of this century, American fighters battled against Islamic fighters int the streets of Iraq. We claimed victory over them, but in beating them back, we only inspired a new generation to violence.

Can we not break the cycle, acknowledging that deadly violence is wrong, regardless of who does it? Can we not, at long last, learn to speak another language besides the language of force?

“The Less I Understand Something, The More I Like It.”

Deep:

Well, DjaPW82ns asdj29jx dfj w2jfo28f slwxhfw, fhruehs.

How do you like that?

Half of all gay and bisexual men in the USA HIV-positive by age 50? Really?

Will half of all gay and bisexual men in the USA really be HIV-positive by age 50?

This is what I was told today in a message from Christian evangelist Peter LaBarbera, who was passing on another message from another Christian Evangelist Stephen Black, who was in turn referring to a wages-of-sin-is-death WorldNetDaily article by Matt Barber, who was in turn linking to a Wall Street Journal article by Drew Altman, who was in turn linking to a five year-old article in the journal AIDS and Behavior.

That may seem like a lot of degrees of separation from the original source of information to the person who rattled off this “fact” to me, but wait, we’re not done:

  • It turns out that the journal article in AIDS and Behavior is not, as Matt Barber describes it, “the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s latest assessment.” None of the eight co-authors of the article work for the CDC; most are members of a graduate department of public health in Pittsburgh. Nowhere in the published article is there any indication of an endorsement of the work by the CDC. AIDS and Behavior is not published by the CDC.
  • Furthermore, the article isn’t original research; it is a review article that cites other research, making the information travel through six degrees of separation to get to me, and through seven degrees of separation to get to you.
  • The article is an openly admitted “extrapolation” that doesn’t directly measure the portion of gay and bisexual men who are infected with the AIDS virus at all. It doesn’t even rely on other research that directly measures the portion of gay and bisexual men who are infected with the AIDS virus. Instead, the article takes indications of the yearly infection rate among young urban men drawn from a variety of studies, averages them together (even though the individual studies show drastically different estimates of infection), further hypothetically assumes that this rate is a sound basis for predicting the yearly infection rate, and projects what the overall total infection numbers might be if all these assumptions were true. In short, the article is a tentative thought experiment carried out by the authors, not firm knowledge.
  • The extrapolated guess the authors arrive at does not derive from a representative sample of gay and bisexual men in the United States, but rather of young urban men, an unrepresentative group.
  • Finally, the extrapolated guess regarding the volume of the infected includes people who are no longer alive.

What the authors of that article are trying to do may be important, but they theymselves write that “these findings should not be
generalized” out to the population of the United States as a whole. The assertions Christian evangelists are trying to make are not firmly tethered to empirical reality.

Coalition Of Republicans Runs For Congress On Platform Of Return To Slavery

“Our country was founded on Judeo-Christian values.” – Martha Zoller, Republican candidate for Congress

“This Constitution is our National Foundation – and is a product of our Founders’ Judeo-Christian values and faith.” – Marty McClendon, Republican candidate for Congress

“We must begin again to teach the history of our country and of the founding principles rooted in our Judeo/Christian values.” Ilario Pentano, Republican candidate for Congress

“Stand for the moral, Judeo-Christian values the country was founded upon.” – Lynn Torgerson, Republican candidate for Congress

“Adhering to Judeo-Christian values has made the United States into the greatest nation the world has ever known.” – Wells Griffith, Republican candidate for Congress

“Uphold the Judeo-Christian values upon which our nation was founded.” – Darrel Robertson, Republican candidate for Congress

“The Judeo – Christian teachings of the bible are the basis for our society’s laws and respect for the rights of individuals. – Tom Horne, Republican candidate for Congress

“One reason the United States is a great country is our Judeo-Christian heritage.” – Peter Konetchy, Republican candidate for Congress

“Reinforcement of the Founders’ intent and process of being directed by Judeo-Christian principles…” – Stew Bolno, Republican candidate for Congress

You get the picture. Republican candidates for Congress in this year’s elections are falling all over themselves to declare themselves in support of a return to the Judeo-Christian values that they say were a profound influence in the founding of the United States of America.

But what Judeo-Christian values were influential in the founding of the USA? Not the right to vote. That’s nowhere in the Judeo-Christian scriptures. Neither is protection from unreasonable search and seizure, or the right to fair trial, or freedom of speech. Certainly, the protection from government establishment of religion is not a legacy from Judeo-Christian traditions, which favored authoritarian theocracies.

I can only conclude that these Republican politicians must be talking about the Judeo-Christian tradition of slavery, which is strongly endorsed by the Bible, which even gives specific rights to slave owners, such as the right to force female slaves into marriage, and to ram sharp awls through slaves’ ears. No one can deny that slavery was a big part of the founding of the United States of America, enshrined in our Constitution, which recognized slaves as only having a fraction of the human worth of a free person.

So, vote Republican in 2014, for a return to the Judeo-Christian tradition of cruel slavery… if you’re really into that kind of thing.

judeo-christian slavery for congress

Men, Are Sex And Grilled Cheese Enough For You?

the ass you deserve

At first, when I saw this cover on a Cosmopolitan magazine on a corner newsstand, the first thing that popped into my mind was a question: what kind of ass do I deserve? I have never thought of myself as deserving a particular kind of ass. What, I wondered, is the moral basis for having an ass of this sort or that?

After five seconds of confused pondering on this subject, my mind turned to a rather more challenging subject presented on the cover. An actor named Emmy Rossum was quoted there, as saying, “Men only need two things – grilled cheese and sex.”

When I read this statement, my thoughts went to another actor who has been using her time rather more wisely than has Emmy Rossum. Emma Watson, who played Hermione Granger in the Harry Potter movie series, has used her fame to begin work as a goodwill ambassador for the United Nations.

Watson’s most recent work as an ambassador has been to promote the United Nation’s new He For She program. He For She seeks to get men involved in issues of gender equality.

In a recent speech at United Nations headquarters, Watson pointed out that gender equality isn’t just about getting fair treatment for women. Gender inequality negatively impacts men as well. Watson said, “I’ve seen men made fragile and insecure by a distorted sense of what constitutes male success. Men don’t have the benefits of equality either. We don’t often talk about men being imprisoned by gender stereotypes but I can see that that they are and that when they are free, things will change for women as a natural consequence. If men don’t have to be aggressive in order to be accepted women won’t feel compelled to be submissive. If men don’t have to control, women won’t have to be controlled. Both men and women should feel free to be sensitive. Both men and women should feel free to be strong… It is time that we all perceive gender on a spectrum not as two opposing sets of ideals.”

Contrast that to what Emmy Rossum said: “Men only need two things – grilled cheese and sex.” We could cast off Rossum’s words as merely an irreverent comment, in which she is trying to be flirty. To be honest, though, I don’t find Rossum’s comment to be at all effective as a flirtation. I would not want to spend three minutes in the company of somebody who could to think that all that I want is grilled cheese and sex.

Men want much more than grilled cheese and sex. Men want open skies to gaze into and cool grass between their toes. Men need meaningful work, and loving companions, and libraries and museums where they can find interesting ideas that will expand their minds. Men need music and laughter and cool logic and a better reason to go on living than just the pursuit of a romp in bed and a yummy snack.

Grilled cheese is good. Sex is good. It is an insult, however, to say that men need nothing more. It is a new version of the ancient idea, first expressed in the Roman empire, that bread and circuses will be enough to control any population.

Are there are men who want nothing more than snack food and sex? I suppose it is possible, but I have not met any such men myself. If they exist, I imagine that their company must be as insufferable as that of Emmy Rossum.

Women who would seek to dismiss men as superficial in their needs should take the other statement on this Cosmopolitan cover as a warning: If you regard your romantic partners as capable of only the most simple needs, you will get the ass that you deserve.

The Language Killers Understand

“The only language understood by killers like this is the language of force.”

Ethics of war pop quiz: Is the quote above A) by Barack Obama, B) about Barack Obama, or C) both by and about Barack Obama?

For bonus points, answer your choice of the following essay questions:

1) If killers don’t understand any language but the language of force, why did Barack Obama say, in a recent speech, “There is no military solution to the problem of misguided individuals seeking to join terrorist organizations”?

2) If killers don’t understand any language but the language of force, why did Barack Obama recently warn Islamic State fighters, “Those who have joined ISIL should leave the battlefield while they can”? Did President have a diplomatic core translate this threat into the language of force, so that Islamic State fighters could understand what he was saying?

3) What kinds of killers only understand the language of force, and what kinds of killers also understand other languages? How can we tell the difference?

Please submit a copy of your answers to The National Office of Yeehaw Is Our Foreign Policy Again, 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, Washington D.C.

Itch, Scratched. Ouch.

Please "Do Not" put coffee grounds and food down this drain, as it plugs it up.  Thank You!

Kitchen Rules: 1.  Please don't put coffee grounds or food down the drain.  2.  Please use conjunctions and quotation marks appropriately.  Thank you for your cooperation!

Oh, I’ve been wanting to do that for a long time. Now that I’ve done the deed, I can’t shake the feeling that I’m closer to insufferable than the sign ever was.

Did The Ice Bucket Challenge Come From A Nazi Cult?

This summer saw the widespread practice of something called the Ice Bucket Challenge, in which people posted videos of themselves having buckets of ice water dumped over their heads in an attempt to increase awareness of the need for money to support research into new treatments for a disease known by the acronym ALS. This summer also saw the growth of rumors that the Ice Bucket Challenge is a Satanic ritual.

The strange thing is that there is no record of Satanists practicing rituals in which they dump buckets of ice water over each other’s heads. Still, I wanted to keep an open mind that such a practice might exist. So, I issued a challenge at the beginning of this month: could anybody provide any evidence of the existence of a Satanic Ice Bucket ritual?

Over three weeks later, one person has finally accepted this challenge and offered what she claims to be evidence that such a ritual of diabolical ice bucket practice exists. A reader named Christina has claimed that the book Fire And Ice: Magical Teachings of Germany’s Greatest Secret Occult Order by Stephen E. Flowers is “proof” that the Ice Bucket Challenge is derived from Satanic religious practice.

Is this, in fact, the evidence that we have been waiting for? The words “occult” and “ice” seem promising. The impression one gets is of an evil Nazi cult, meeting in the dark German words, dumping buckets of ice over initiates, and planning to dominate YouTube in the 21st-century with sinister charitable demonstrations of fortitude, in the face of frozen water, to benefit medical research.

Wait a minute. That doesn’t make any sense. Neither does the claim that this book is proof of the Satanic nature of the Ice Bucket Challenge.

First of all, the book does not refer to a Nazi cult. It actually refers to a secret society that was destroyed by the Nazis because it was unacceptably nonconformist. Flowers writes, “The great storm-cloud broke over the Fraternitas Saturni and all other Masonic and quasi- Masonic lodges in Germany on January 30, 1933, when Adolf Hitler, Führer of the NSDAP, took the oath as chancellor of Germany. By the next month emergency powers had been invoked and many groups thought to be of a subversive nature, from Communists to Masons, were suppressed. This began a process in which secret societies and occult orders of all kinds began to be systematically suppressed. Most sources on the history of the FS state that the lodge was closed and banned in 1933.”

fire and ice German occult

So, this supposedly Satanic cult was a victim of the sinister Nazis, not one of their evil plots. As it turns out, the Fraternitas Saturni wasn’t really Satanic either. It was something more like an amalgam of ideas and practices pulled together from a variety of old pagan sources. The reference to ice in the title of this book has to do with an ancient Norse belief in the existence of a kind of cosmic ice from which the order of the universe was created. This isn’t a Satanic belief. The character Satan comes, not from Scandinavia, but from the relatively hot Arabian Peninsula, where ice is very rare indeed. The contemporary practice of Satanism actually has very little to do with either Scandinavia or Arabia. It is more of a countercultural protest against authoritarian Christianity than anything else.

Despite its title, Fire And Ice: Magical Teachings of Germany’s Greatest Secret Occult Order contains very few references to ice at all. Those references to ice that do exist in the book have to do with the abstract Norse concept of cosmic ice, not physical ice that is used in a ritual context. Flowers writes about ice in passages such as the following:

“What for the most part seems to be a Gnostic cosmology has been deeply influenced by the theories of Hans Hörbiger (1860-1931). Hörbiger believed that there were two principal forces contending in the universe: cosmic fire and cosmic ice (or German: Welteis)”

The ice in this book never gets any more exciting than that. There are appendixes in the book that describe, in some detail, rituals practiced by the German order. None of these rituals involve either a bucket or ice.

In short, the book contains no proof whatsoever of a link between Satanism and the Ice Bucket Challenge. If this is the best evidence that believers in the conspiracy theory can produce, it suggests that they are willing to adopt the most outlandish beliefs on nothing more than the flimsiest wisp of substantiation.

The conspiracy theory of the Satanic Ice Bucket Challenge is thus more of an indictment of the intelligence and integrity of the people who believe it than anything else.