Monday, December 31, 2012

My favorite editorial animator for the year - Mark Fiore

Here is the latest from Fiore, richly, cleverly topical as always.

I award him the 2012 shiny bright penny award from Penigma, for sharing with us HIS two cents worth during the past year.

Happy New Year!

Wishing all of our readers a safe, happy and rewarding 2013.

Looking at our annual readership numbers from 2009 to present, I was pleased to see that those statistics have roughly doubled every year.  For your continuing support and interest, we thank you.

 Happy New Year!

It's turned midnight across the international date line; here are the December 31st 2012 fireworks from Australia and New Zealand.

2012's bad penny award :Tough, rigid, and not very bright

We have seen increasing evidence that the right can no longer hide who they serve - the rich.

The overwhelming majority of Americans want to see a more equitable proportion of taxes being paid by the richest 2%. This makes sense in the context of the drastic wealth and income inequality we have seen grow under Republican policies, where there has been a shift through tax policies and other special interest right wing legislation to the wealthy, creating an uneven playing field for most Americans.

The tea party are a bunch of old white simplistic economic illiterates who have failed to understand the correlation between economic growth and government. They are penny wise and pound foolish -- and not all that penny wise.

Republican administrations and conservative congressional majorities consistently have caused lower rates of economic growth, and explosive deficits. In 2010, the Republicans campaigned on jobs jobs jobs -- and then cut public sector jobs.  Silly conservative Americans! You thought they were talking about creating more jobs, not cutting them! NO! Instead of doing anything to generate more jobs, they continued attacking labor, and focused only on waging culture war on the nation. Now we have the 2012 election cycle, we have people turning out to turn out the Republicans for being obstructionist culture war obsessed bigots and racists and morons.

The Tea Party is at an all time low for approval ratings, down to an estimated third of their inflated peak numbers. They do however continue their hijacking of the fractured and imploding Republican party that would rather see the nation go over the fiscal cliff than let Congress do what they were elected to do - to serve the people, not the special interests of the wealthy for whom the Tea Party are little puppet stooges. The extremists may very well find themselves with control of the GOP, but it will be control of a dead elephant with no expectation of rebuilding as their angry old white men die off. Now we see a fracture occurring where American disapproves of the Tea Party, and instead of learning and adapting, something their ideology renders them incapable of doing, along with fact recognition, the Tea Party is further fracturing and obstructing the GOP.

Going further right is their problem, not a solution, but they would sooner die (and take the rest of us with them) than take a long hard look at what they have done or how badly their ideas have failed, and adjust their beliefs. For the right, change is the scary enemy. They prefer emotional thinking over rational thinking. The greatest threat to the GOP is from within; the greatest threat to the nation is from the GOP obstructionist and intransigent extremists.  We saw a respectable victory for sanity and a solid push back against the 2010 apathy.

The left which is the new center is not walking away this time from involvement post-election; there is no political subsidence.  The push for further gains in 2014, notably not only taking back the House in congress, but taking back legislatures and governor's chairs is on now by Americans for Americans rather than special interests.  And completely opposite to their intentions, the Tea Party in their extremism and obstinacy may be an unwitting and unwilling ally, by alienating even more people from their cause. The first of the 2012 Penigma 'our two cents' awards, in the category of the recognizing negative contributions for the year, goes to the Tea Partiers in the GOP generally, and specifically to John Boehner for his inability to lead successfully in the House as speaker.

Take our two cents worth of 2012 dishonorable mention, Tea Party, GOP, Boehner - you need the revenue, whether you are able to understand that or not.


Thursday, December 27, 2012

Bad, bad, do-nothing, know-nothing GOP

Good News going into 2013 - Best unemployment stats in 5 years!

There is good news from the Bureau of Labor Statistics! Why do I think this is only going to be good news for those of us based in objective reality? (Which is to say those who are centrist and to the left.) How long will it be until the right wing alternate universe reality tried to deny the new numbers, or spin them backwards like an old Beatles record, seeking hidden messages seeking hidden messages that Paul is dead, and references to Satan, and other silly cryptic nonsense?

From MSN news: Jobless claims fall to lowest level in nearly 5 years

The weekly level of new unemployment claims have dropped to the lowest level since the beginning of the recession.
WASHINGTON — The number of Americans filing new claims for unemployment aid fell last week to nearly its lowest level in 4 1/2 years, a sign that the labor market is healing.
Initial claims for state unemployment benefits dropped 12,000 to a seasonally adjusted 350,000, the Labor Department said on Thursday. The prior week's figure was revised to show 1,000 more applications than previously reported.
After spiking in the wake of Superstorm Sandy, which ravaged the East Coast in late October, the weekly levels of new claims have now dropped to their lowest levels since the early days of the 2007-09 recession. The four-week moving average fell 11,250 last week to 356,750, the lowest since March 2008.
That suggests the surge in layoffs since the recession may have run its course, although companies still are adding to their payrolls at a lackluster pace.
The report included a caveat, at least for the latest week. President Barack Obama declared Monday a holiday for federal workers and many state offices followed suit and were unable to provide complete data for last week's jobless claims. Data for 19 states was estimated, a Labor Department official said. Fourteen of those states submitted their own estimates, which tend to be fairly accurate because the state officials work with a significant amount of data, the Labor Department official said.
Besides the federal holiday, there were no special factors influencing week's claims data, the department official said.
Remember all those Republicans running around with their hair on fire, claiming that the numbers had been tampered with from the Bureau of Labor Statistics when the right just didn't like them? No one tampered with the numbers; the numbers turned out to be in fact under-reporting the good news not exaggerating them. Oh! the howls and moans of despair over that good news!

Although the election is over, the right is still eager to see the president fail, eager to see the country fail in the hopes of bolstering their own ideology.  I think that not only underlines heavily how failed the right wing economic and taxation policies have been, as well as BOTH their foreign and domestic policies generally, but also how genuinely un-patriotic they are in what they wish for the country. So I'm anticipating that like clockwork, we will be seeing new wild right wing spinning of these numbers too - spinning backwards, spinning counter-clockwise, trying to stop us moving forwards, like those who did so with the Beatles old vinyl records on their turntable.

 Remember when all those Republicans were running around wailing and gnashing their teeth and denying polling numbers for the elections were correct? I particularly remember a certain right wing blogger friend of my co-blogger and I who went to great lengths to contrive convoluted reasons that numbers he just didn't like were wrong.......except they were in fact pretty accurate, as we later saw, and not some silly elaborate left wing conspiracy theory to alter the outcome of the election.  We didn't WANT to alter the outcome of the election; it was going well and tampering is something we reject, unlike the right.

Are you optimistic as we approach the final days and hours of 2012 that the right will prove they are better, saner, more patriotic than that? Remember Ham Rove, er, Karl Rove, denying the numbers on election night coming out of Ohio? Rove had a little meltdown on air, when the numbers were not what he wanted to hear.  His behavior was so odd, that it led some people who were familiar with the alterations made to the electronic voting machines in previous elections won by the GOP with Rove running the show, and that were attempted in the 2012 election to suggest that maybe ol' Ham Rove was expecting this election to be tampered with as well by the right, given how strenuously he was sure of data that no one else had.  Numbers are not the friends of those who rely on Republican math, which replaces factual numerical values with ideology driven fantasy values.

Here is Ham Rove, having his little pout as he realized that he paid to much, and still failed to buy another election.

The right tries to distort and contort every aspect of reality into some delusional alternate world.  Our same right wing blogger friend has been putting hours and hours and hours he will never get back into trying to find ways to claim that one of his idols, Bruce Springsteen is actually conservative. No, but maybe our right wing blogger friend is returning to his liberal roots? We can hope that he stops wasting his time trying to turn white into black, blue into red, and up into down, and left into right soon, for his own well being and for the mental health of those who live in a delusional right wing fantasy world.

Maybe we shouldn't tell the right wing extremists about these latest numbers either; I'm not sure they could handle that much reality in one sitting.:

Most recent polls for President Barack Obama:
Polling Group (Reverse Chronologically) Date Approval Disapproval +/- Average[2] December 5-21, 2012 54.0% 41.6% +12.4
Rasmussen Reports[3] December 19-21, 2012 57% 42% +15
Gallup[4] December 18-21, 2012 58% 36% +22
CNN[5] December 17-18, 2012 50% 45% +5
ABC News[3] December 13-16, 2012 55% 42% +13
CBS News[3] December 12-16, 2012 57% 37% +20
Fox News[3] December 9-11, 2012 48% 46% +2
Bloomberg[3] December 7-10, 2012 53% 44% +9
NBC News[3] December 6-9, 2012 53% 43% +10
Pew Research[6] December 5-9, 2012 55% 39% +16


Me neither....

Vacationer in Chief was.......Who?


Wednesday, December 26, 2012


This does not include the two firefighters, and the Houston cop and another person. So our actual number is closer to 194, +. How bad is it when a graphic for part of this month can't keep up with the body count?

Mandatory Firearms Liability: another soure, Forbes, has published a thoughtful article online

I hope our readers will read this, the new guest post (immediately below), as well as read what I've written on the topic on this blog and elsewhere.  I also hope readers will read and sign the White House petition started by a friend of mine to initiate mandatory gun insurance.

There are a lot of possible ways that liability could be implemented, and many possible ways in which improvements to reduce our gun violence could be accomplished. One of the ways the Forbes article differs from any of the other sources I've seen is that it also factors in taxation on the basis of relative risk in conjunction with insurance as a means of letting the invisible hand of the market and capitalism create pressures to reduce gun violence.

From Forbes:

Newtown's New Reality: Using Liability Insurance to Reduce Gun Deaths

We are all mourning now. Children should not be murdered in their classrooms. They shouldn’t be afraid that their teacher will be shot, as my 12-year-old daughter worries. Schools should not become armed camps.

Many of the low-hanging fruit approaches seem like no-brainers: Ban assault weapons, gun-show sales, multiple-ammo clips and require longer, more stringent background checks.

For the record: I’m not of the mind that every gun-owner is a threat to society nor should we restrict gun use for hunters, collectors and target shooters. My father owns guns, I have shot guns many times, have known people who were murdered by guns and witnessed a police shooting in 1981.

But I don’t think a widespread seizure of some 300 million American weapons will ever work. In fact, just mention “gun control,” and the very phrase shuts down conversation and invokes the vague rights and curse of the second amendment. Challenges to the constitution would never make it through the Roberts court, anyway.

What we can do is to look at gun sales through the lens of social economics.

Market-based risk pricing is the partial answer. Let’s agree that guns as weapons are inherently dangerous to society and owners should bear the risk and true social costs. Translation: Require both owners and sellers to purchase liability insurance that is universally underwritten by actuaries according to relative risk.

Given that gun violence, which kills more than 30,000 Americans annually, is harmful not only to our well being, but our economy, we should use economic disincentives to regulate its use.

What Other Countries Do

In relative terms, gun deaths are out of control relative to other kinds of fatal injuries. According to the Centers of Disease Control, absolute numbers don’t tell the whole story. Gun-related fatalities are nearly as high as traffic deaths, according to the Centers for Disease Control, at around 10 per 100,000 in population. In England and Wales, there were 39 gun-related deaths (in 2008-2009). You do the math.

Of course, in the U.K., Japan and other countries that have socialized medicine, guns are extremely difficult to obtain. That directly reduces their acquisition and misuse. Here’s what the Economist had to say recently about the U.K.’s gun control measures:

“After a couple of horrible mass shootings in Britain, handguns and automatic weapons have been effectively banned. It is possible to own shotguns, and rifles if you can demonstrate to the police that you have a good reason to own one, such as target shooting at a gun club, or deer stalking, say. The firearms-ownership rules are onerous, involving hours of paperwork. You must provide a referee who has to answer nosy questions about the applicant’s mental state, home life (including family or domestic tensions) and their attitude towards guns. In addition to criminal-record checks, the police talk to applicants’ family doctors and ask about any histories of alcohol or drug abuse or personality disorders.

Vitally, it is also very hard to get hold of ammunition. Just before leaving Britain in the summer, I had lunch with a member of parliament whose constituency is plagued with gang violence and drug gangs. She told me of a shooting, and how it had not led to a death, because the gang had had to make its own bullets, which did not work well, and how this was very common, according to her local police commander. Even hardened criminals willing to pay for a handgun in Britain are often getting only an illegally modified starter’s pistol turned into a single-shot weapon.”

 What About the NRA?

Will America ever have gun laws that come close to England’s? I think there’s a better chance of Ron Paul getting elected president. And every politician proposing new gun laws has to run the gantlet of the National Rifle Association and affiliated groups — and face the fear of not getting re-elected. But is the NRA really that powerful? Paul Waldman, writing in The New York Times online, cites research that shows that Americans aren’t afraid of new gun regulation:

“Gun advocates note that when surveys ask broad questions on gun control, more Americans say they are against it than for it. But that can’t be a result of our national debate. The last time we really debated the issue – in the 1990s – support for restrictions rose. But after the N.R.A. successfully convinced Democrats that they lost Congress in 1994 and the White House in 2000 because of the gun issue (contentions contradicted by the evidence), Democrats retreated from the issue in fear. So in recent years, the debate has sounded like this:

Gun advocates say Democrats are sending jackbooted thugs to take away everyone’s guns, and Democrats assure everyone they have no plans to do anything of the sort. So it’s not surprising that support for “gun control” has fallen.

But public opinion looks much different when you ask people specific questions. Polls show that majorities of Americans favor almost every restriction actually being proposed to set limits on gun ownership. For example, the General Social Survey has long found three-quarters of Americans saying everyone should have to get a permit from the local police before buying a gun. A Times/CBS News poll last year found 63 percent of Americans in favor of a ban on high-capacity magazines.” (bold is my emphasis added - DG)

So if Americans rose and demanded that public massacres were unacceptable, what kind of gun regulation would make it through the political sausage making? Outright bans are generally non-starters and it’s unlikely that the constitution would ever get amended because red states would never agree to dramatic restrictions.

Market Economics A Starting Point

When you buy a car, your insurer underwrites the risk according to your age, driving/arrest/ticket record, type of car, amount of use and other factors. A teenage driver behind the wheel of a Porsche is going to pay a lot more than a 50-year-old house wife. A driver with DUI convictions may not get insurance at all. Like vehicles, you should be required to have a policy before you even applied for a gun permit.  Every seller would have to follow this rule before making a transaction.

 This is where social economics goes beyond theory. Those most at risk to commit a gun crime would be known to the actuaries doing the research for insurers. They would be underwritten according to age, mental health, place of residence, credit/bankruptcy record and marital status. Keep in mind that insurance companies have mountains of data and know how to use it to price policies, or in industry parlance, to reduce the risk/loss ratio.

Who pays the least for gun insurance would be least likely to commit a crime with it. An 80-year-old married woman in Fort Lauderdale would get a great rate. A 20-year-old in inner-city Chicago wouldn’t be able to afford it. A 32-year-old man with a record of drunk driving and domestic violence would have a similar problem.

What about “straw purchasing” where someone buys a gun or gives it to someone else? The original purchaser not only would be required to have insurance, but would be liable for any violence committed with the weapons they purchased. The insurance companies could keep these records, which they are really good at doing. How do I know this might work?

Insurers have been doing this for centuries in underwriting health, auto, home and life insurance. Instead of charging the highest premiums for overweight smokers, alcoholics with bad driving records and dangerous hobbies, the most expensive policies will be priced for those who are younger with histories of mental illness, divorce, criminal records or severe financial difficulties.

In lieu of widespread bans and confiscation, most people in an industrialized society generally accept the need for insurance.
While I don’t necessarily think that insurance underwriting is always fair —  they often deny insurance to the chronically ill — it’s an economic way to address a horrendous problem. The point is, when you apply for insurance, you would give the insurer the right to search your health and financial records and actuaries would be able to develop risk factors and apply premium pricing. As I wrote in a Reuters blog last year, gun insurance could save a lot of lives, if applied universally:

“Risk-based pricing is fueled by a whole body of research that identifies who might be a victim in a gun crime or accident…Far too many kids are at risk: Some 90,000 children were killed by gunfire between 1979 and 2001, according to the Children’s Defense Fund. That’s almost twice the number of soldiers killed in the Viet Nam war. In fact, American children are more at risk from firearms than any other industrialized country.

If you think that the mandatory insurance idea is onerous, think again. You can’t finance a home mortgage without homeowner’s and title insurance. Want to buy a car? Most states require liability insurance. Forget about employing anyone in most states without worker’s compensation or unemployment coverage. As it stands now, only 22 cities and two counties in California require gun dealers to buy liability insurance, according to Law Center Against Gun Violence. It’s not known if any jurisdiction requires buyers to purchase liability coverage, although a state legislator in Illinois proposed such a law in 2009 (it was defeated). Note: the NRA itself currently endorses “excess liability” insurance for gun owners.”
While I don’t place much faith in government being a fair regulator of guns, I also think that a tax should be imposed on weapons sales based on the relative harm they can do, which is again employing risk-based pricing.
Want to buy a single-shot World War II rifle? You’d pay much less than a semi-automatic handgun with a multi-round clip. The tax would be used to pay for a database that would monitor and register gun sales. Also requiring a longer waiting period for a permit and requiring that three non-relatives sign character affidavits during the permit process aren’t bad ideas, either.
Of course, I’m not sure how to stem the underground trade of guns other than enforcing outright bans on unregistered weapons. Nor will my concept keep guns away from criminals; insane people may still find a way to get around buying insurance and sidestepping the underwriting. But it will raise the bar for the liability threshold. It will cost you dearly — or prohibit you from getting insurance and a gun — if an insurer deems you uninsurable.
Insurance will more effectively price the risk and costs of social harm. I know that this falls short of getting rid of the most dangerous weapons, but we have to start somewhere. We just can’t afford to see any more Auroras, Columbines, Tucsons and Newtowns.

A National Insurance Mandate for Gun Ownership

Please welcome guest author Mike S. on the increasingly widely discussed topic of requiring liability insurance for all firearms.  I hope you will read and make intelligent comments (those of you who are banned for misconduct, like K-rod or Thomas, also will not be allowed to comment on any guest author's posts; those just go directly to the spam file, thanks to my new favorite technogeek).

A National Insurance Mandate for Gun Ownership

In the aftermath of the recent mass killings in Connecticut the knee jerk reactions from both sides of the gun control argument are all things that we’ve heard before and which are routinely rejected by the other side. The positions are intractable and, it seems, to me that no one is really listening to each other anymore. I find myself in a position of having friends and family on both sides of the argument. And, as a former gun owner (living in Brooklyn precludes me from legally owning a firearm even if I was inclined to do so) I feel like I have a more comprehensive understanding of what both sides of the argument would like. We have a tremendous problem with gun crime in this country. It’s not just the incidents like Sandy Hook or Aurora. According to the Brady Campaign, we’re looking at over 95,000 incidents of gun violence every year. That’s a lot of people getting shot. The president and many others are using this latest incident as a vehicle to enact gun reform. Since we are making an effort at a national discussion, I would like to propose an idea that I’ve been working on that would be an effective compromise for both parties - a nationally mandated program of gun owner liability insurance.

While mass killings are devastating to the victims and their families, and the damage they do to the psyches of the communities in which they occur, as well as the country as a whole, is incalculable, they are not the largest component of gun violence in this country. Most incidents have casualty counts of one or two and don’t make a big enough impact to show up on the radar of our national news media. Most of these crimes are committed with handguns and most of those guns are obtained from legal vendors through the use of straw buyers. Another (not insignificant) amount are obtained through gun shows and swap meets. Our current laws do very little to prevent criminals from buying guns this way. There is no requirement to keep transaction records. There is no permanent record of background checks. There are no registration or licensing requirements. This effectively protects the privacy of the gun owner, but also protects the privacy of the criminal as well. Law enforcement has no way to track weapons purchased by criminals. There’s no way to know if a criminal has a gun. It’s even difficult for them to determine who is selling guns to criminals. Most dealers are legitimate, but when one decides to start selling to criminals, there’s no paper trail for law enforcement to follow back to the dealer.

Currently, the most popular gun control idea is to ban assault weapons and high capacity magazines. The efficacy of these plans notwithstanding, gun rights activists have no interest in supporting those plans and will sabotage any attempt to enact legislation of that sort. Some sort of compromise has to be reached.

We need a plan that effectively controls firearms while maintaining the rights of gun owners. We need to create a method of accountability. We need to know who the good guys are. We need to be able to record all gun related transactions, close the gun show loophole, put and end to straw sales and stop the unregulated distribution of ammunition. We also need to prevent the mentally ill from having access to guns. And, we need to do all of these things while allowing the average law abiding gun owner the ability to still own assault style weapons, high capacity magazines and have privacy from government oversight. If we can achieve that, a real compromise between the left and right can be reached. I think mandatory liability insurance could do this.

By creating an insurance mandate, private insurance companies would be required to assess the risk of gun owners and issue proof of insurance to them. No transaction involving a weapon, magazine, ammunition or replacement part would be legal without proof of insurance. All transactions would be brokered by a third party dealer. Records of all these transactions would be kept in a database, but because they’re held by a private company, the information in the database would be protected under the same sort of privacy laws as our health records. The government would need a warrant to access them and they could only get a warrant if they could demonstrate probable cause. An insurance program creates a very easy method of demonstrating who’s a “Good Guy” and who’s a “Bad Guy”. And, by design, any transaction that takes place outside of a licensed dealer is illegal. This prevents the ability of straw buyers from making repeated purchases. It creates a system that can track a gun used in crime back to its source. It prevents the ability of criminals to buy ammunition by mail order. It gives police the ability to confiscate any weapon that is not insured. And it creates a obstacle to the mentally ill accessing firearms (as an aside, in all fairness, this probably wouldn’t have prevented the Newtown killings, but it could have gone a long way to prevent Columbine, Virginia Tech, Tucson and Aurora). The plan also encourages gun owners to make sure their guns are not being misused. It provides financial incentives, in the form of lower insurance rates, for gun safes, gun locks, and safety classes. It also creates a financial incentive to the gun owning community to police itself. Less gun violence will result in lower rates for all.

So far, the biggest argument against the plan I’ve encountered is the financial cost to gun owners. It’s true, an insurance policy will cost gun owners money. Not being an insurance underwriter I cannot say definitively what the cost would be. Insurance, by its very nature, is a gamble you make against yourself. If you don’t pose a risk, then there’s little to insure. A low-risk, law abiding gun owner could be expected to pay little more than administrative costs. Additionally, there’s no reason the insurance cannot be offered with homeowner’s or renter’s insurance. We do enjoy a constitutional right to bear arms, but there’s nothing in the constitution that says those weapons should be cheap or that we shouldn’t have to bear the liability of owning them. The cost of gun ownership now is entirely dependent on the budget of the purchaser, and that won’t change. The prospective owner will just have to consider the financial impact of owning weapons; it will remain a discretionary spending habit.

We have a constitutional right to own property yet we are regularly required to insure that property. A mandate to insure our home, apartment or car does not limit or take away the right of ownership but it does serve to protect us and others from liability. Likewise, mandating liability insurance for gun ownership does not infringe upon a persons right to bear arms, it only serves to protect the health and safety of our country.

Statistics from

I don't want a police state, do you?

Photo: via The Rachel Maddow Fan Page.


NOW, do it NOW

Ammo in the GOP culture war on women

Monday, December 24, 2012

Ho HO Oh Oh!

T'was the night before Christmas, and all through the house - the White House, that is

What gun would Jesus use to shoot people?

It's a trick question; the answer is none.

Have I been good enough for Santa to bring me this?

Del Crumbaugh

Ho Ho Ho's - in the prostitute sense of the word 'Ho'

What is YOUR Elf Name?

I don't want to live in a police state.
I want to live in a gun violence free state.

If you don't get it.......sing the song, all the way through

If you thought Michele Bachmann trying to argue on behalf of inefficient light bulbs was bad......

Why CAN'T Old White Tea Partiers spell???

Look away, change the subject, GOP

The NRA doesn't get it.

Ain't that the truth

Update to The light of the world

I first posted this two years ago, and it has become one of two standard pieces that I return to each Christmas; this year I have an update.

Today, Rabbi Ephraim Mirvis will replace Lord Jonathan Sacks as the Lord High Rabbi of the UK.

I don't know if Rabbi Ephram Mirvis will be as extraordinary as Lord Jonathan Sacks, but he certainly has a remarkable predecessor.  From the bloggers here at Penigma, whatever the holiday that you celebrate this time of year, may you find joy in the celebration and in the friends and family with whom you share it. Whatever faith you follow, may that celebration also include an aspect of spirituality.

The Light of the World, and the Insight of Chief Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks

A very merry Christmas Day to our readers.

I have been holding back, waiting for just the right time, to write about an extraordinarily spiritual interview that was broadcast on NPR some weeks ago, with the Chief Rabbi, Lord Jonathan Sacks, of the UK.  For those of you who may not be familiar with Lord Sacks, or his office, the link will take you to his website for more information.  For the less curious, the office of Chief Rabbi is an equivalent to the special honor held by the Archbishop of Canterbury, and he is (to give him full title) the Chief Rabbi of the United Hebrew Congregations of the Commonwealth, an office dating back to 1704.  The broadcast was the program 'On Being' hosted by Krista Tippet, and the subject of much of the interview was the Dignity of Difference (which is not coincidentally, the title of Baron Sack's 2004 book).

Today, that time came together beautifully, again thanks to an email that arrived like a Christmas present under the tree, from my friend Sara who provides me with so many of my writing ideas. (Thank you, Sara, and Merry Christmas!)  For those of you who have followed my link to the Star of Bethlehem lecture, let me also share with you this news story on the same subject, relating to the recent English translation of an ancient Syriac text in the Vatican Library, the Revelation of the Magi.

How do these disparate topics come together?  That is the reason, at least, a reason, for reading Penigma!

Sir Jonathon throughout his interview with Krista Tippet touched me spiritually very deeply.  Listening to him speak it is evident that he is a man who has devoted his life to the human relationship to God. At other points in the interview, his observations on more secular and ecumenical topics touched me equally, but more intellectually.  Tippet quite fairly describes Sacks, in her introduction:
As Chief Rabbi since 1991, Jonathan Sacks has carved out an authoritative, and sometimes controversial, voice in the modern United Kingdom — it's a relatively secular culture in what officially remains a Christian state.

He's not just a spokesman for the Jewish community. He is one of the most visible religious figures in British public life — commenting on radio and television and counseling government ministers on issues of the day.
Although he did not ascend to the office of Chief Rabbi until 1991, in 1990, as part of the Reith Lecture Series, the BBC invited Sacks to present the lectures for that year.  His topic was The Persistence of Faith.  Lord Sacks describes his 1990 presentations, which I take from  the interview transcript :
It was probably the first response to Francis Fukuyama's vision of the end of the history. You know, the Berlin Wall had fallen, Soviet Union had collapsed, end of Cold War. Everyone was seeing what he foresaw as the, you know, seamless spread of liberal democracy over the world.
And I said no, actually. I think you're going to see faith return and return in a way that will cause some problems because the most powerful faith in the modern world will be the faith most powerfully opposed to the modern world. So that was in 1990, the year before I became Chief Rabbi. Nothing that's happened since has surprised me, though it has saddened me. Religion is a great power and anything that powerful can be a force for good or, God forbid, for evil. But it's certainly fraught and dangerous and needs great wisdom and great — if I can use this word — gentleness. [ bold represents my emphasis added - DG]
I was taken by the power of this observation as it relates to our conflict with terrorism, but also to how it relates to the conservative efforts by our own religious right in the United States to push us as a nation into embracing a Christian theocracy rather than a purely, exclusively secular representative government which respects religion but does not embrace any specific faith over another.  Sack's observations appear, to me, to be every bit as applicable to the rants of Michele Bachmann or any of the delusional fanatics associated with Bradlee Dean and his YCRYCH so-called ministry or others which have close connections with right wing political figures.  Our own government this holiday season has been expressing concerns for the possible violent terrorist actions of home-grown terrorists here in the United States as much or more than the concern for terrorists acting from outside our national boundaries.

When Sacks says "the most powerful faith in the modern world will be the faith most powerfully opposed to the modern world" he seems to my eye and ear to epitomize the incident of Senator John  McCain, storming off the floor of the Senate.  He perfectly encompasses the pseudo-history and pseudo-religion of Glenn Beck ranting on Faux Nuisance.  It pretty much addresses any day's broadcast by Rush Limbaugh.

One of the smartest men with whom I have ever had the pleasure of working made the observation in an annual meeting that change was inevitable; we could not stop it, and we had only limited means to control it.  So our options were to expend our energy in resisting that change, which would occur anyway, or to embrace it, and to the best of our ability to shape and direct it as part of the change, participating in it and anticipating it.  I believe that to be the opposite to faith which opposes the modern world.

Before anyone gets their knickers too twisted, let me also add to this observation that Sacks has also expressed deep concern at the negative influences of materialism and consumerism, as well as secularism, on modern life. This is a man devoted to spirituality, and to understanding and promoting the role of religion in modern daily life, especially within family life.

Sacks goes on to observe, (again from the interview transcript):
"It seems to me that one of the things we most fear is the stranger. And at most times in human history, most people have lived among people who are mostly pretty much the same as themselves. Today, certainly in Europe and perhaps even in America, walk down the average Main Street and you will encounter in 10 minutes more anthropological diversity than an 18th-century traveler would have encountered in a lifetime.

So you really have this huge problem of diversity. And you then go back and read the Bible and something hits you, which is we're very familiar with the two great commands of love: Love God with all your heart, all your soul, and all your might; love your neighbor as yourself. But the one command reiterated more than any other in the mosaic box — 36 times said the rabbis — is love the stranger for you were once strangers in the land of Egypt. Or to put it in a contemporary way, love the stranger because, to him, you're a stranger. This sense that we are enlarged by the people who are different from us — we are not threatened by them — that needs cultivating, can be cultivated, and would lead us to see the 21st century as full of blessing, not full of fear."[ more of my emphasizing - DG]
This thinking of Lord Sacks was in my thoughts over the Islamophobic fuss with Juan William's statements about fearing a stranger in 'muslim clothing' on an airplane.  I postulated the position of Williams and all of Faux News talking heads was foolish.  Logically, people who have previously practiced terrorism did not wear ethnically distinctive clothing that would have attracted attention.  I am intellectually driven, and intellectually curious, which is why I argued with my colleague Pen about this issue.  It is quite characteristic of my curiosity, (some would say contrariness) that I would have sought to sit next to such a hypothetical person rather than felt fear and avoidance.  My concern  would be that this person was more probably afraid of all of us in the western world who were both different and outnumbered them, and observe that such a person could use a word or gesture of kindness.  There was no sense in being afraid of him or her.  If we choose, we can make decisions like this, or about mosques in our respective communities (or Hindu temples, or any other religious structure or organization) using our intellect.  Or, we can choose to focus on the 'otherness' of people, and respond emotionally, and irrationally, which is the best explanation I've seen so far of our rampant Islamophobia, especially from the right.
Ms. Tippet, in this interview (from the transcript) said:
So I'd like to talk about the ideas that you brought forward in The Dignity of Difference and I think have continued to develop ever since. You know, I remember a very intelligent, excellent American journalist commentator after September 11, 2001; he made a statement that what those events demonstrated was that, in order for the three monotheistic religions in particular to survive and be constructive members of society in the 21st century, they would have to relinquish their exclusive truth claims. I think that sounded like it made a lot of sense to many people." [my emphasis- DG]
and then  Tippet went on to say in the interview:
"One thing that I'm struck by in conversations I have with scientists, with neuroscientists, with clinical psychologists, first of all, is how science is now able to demonstrate biologically that it is ."when we are able to see the other, to see the welfare of the other, as somehow linked to our own, that we're able to rise to these moral ideals."[my emphasis again - DG]
In his response, Lord Sacks addresses this
"One of the ways God surprises us is by letting a Jew or a Christian discover the trace of God's presence in a Buddhist monk or a Sikh tradition of hospitality or the graciousness of Hindu life. You know, don't think we can confine God into our categories. God is bigger than religion."

So, back to how the Revelation of the Magi relates to this concept of our predominant monotheistic religions giving up their claims to exclusive truth, as the conduit to God, as the expression of the will of God. The Revelation of the Magi describe the Star of Bethlehem as descending and becoming the Christ child, as human figure which glows like a star.  It describes this Christ child speaking to them, despite apparent infancy, asserting that he has appeared to humans many times before, and is part of and the inspiration for, other religions.

I will spare our Penigma readers a mini-presentation on the Gnostic notions of a docetic, non material non-corporeal Christ, or a review of the Albigensian crusades as examples.  I won't wander into a discussion of Manichaeism  Suffice it that in the pursuit of religious conformity, neither Gnosticism generally or the Cathars specifically were able to persuade anyone to give up their claims to exclusive truth.  The newly English-translated ancient text seems of this Gnostic era and philosophy.  But given the new interest that this interpretation of the biblical nativity story has evoked, we might hope that the notion that God is  greater than religion, greater than any theistic monopoly can contain, will be a positive one.

When better to espouse an ideal which relates to the nativity story of the Gospels, and to a text in the collection of the Vatican library, translated by a scholar from Oklahoma - center for some of the most conservative religious and political figures of our country, than today of all days. What better day than the birth of such a 'mighty counselor' to address a post to the thoughts of Sir Jonathan Sacks.

A little seasonal fun......meant lightheartedly

Sunday, December 23, 2012

The "Answer" from the NRA

by Penigma,

Friday, Wayne La Pierre, the head of the National Rifle Association, suggested the solution to the tragedy at Sandy Hook Elementary School (and all other school shootings) was to put a police officer at every single school in the United States.

I do not try to assign motives to people's actions very much and so won't do (much of) it here. 

Instead I will point out a few realities.  

First, there are about 133,000 public and private (K-12) schools in the US.   Putting one police officer, full-time, at each school, if we assume a police person makes about $80,000/year in salary and benefits (an estimate which could easily be low), will cost roughly 10.6 Billion (with a B) per year.  $10.6 Billion.  You are talking about using 133,000 police officers to stop about 3 people per year, or a rate of 40,000 police people PER assailant.  That is an extraordinarily inefficient use of money and manpower.  By the way, that figure doesn't even touch colleges - which do have their own policing forces YET have school shootings.. gosh.

Second, any such posting (for the police person) would be B O R I N G, boring.  They would hate it.  It would be mocked by their fellow officers because the role did nothing 99.9997% of the time.  It would probably be staffed either by a rolling assignment (e.g. one day a month an 'unlucky' officer would need to go there) - making the person going inefficient even more because there would be no continuity and likely little rapport with staff OR it would be staffed by someone who hated the job every day.  It would be a crap job. 

Third,  and most importantly, no defense is perfect.   Any defense is intended to be a deterrent at best and nothing more.  Any assailant most likely would plan for how to deal with a single police officer, and most likely, would succeed because they would have the element of surprise.  Air Marshals to stop hijackings worked because hijackers were a. unarmed and b. could not tell which passenger was the Marshal, so they could not (adequately) plan for taking out the Marshal first.  This would not be true at a school.  The police officer would almost certainly be in uniform, even if not, the police officer could be identified by simply "casing" the school before-hand.  Consequently, as a single person, the police officer would almost certainly be "overcome."  In some cases not of course, but the point is, it wouldn't stop the attacks.  It might not even be a meaningful deterrent and might well result in another lost life (and gun in the hands of the assailant).  

A solution might be to put TWO cops in each school, but then you're talking about $21 BILLION per year for this.  $21 BILLION to stop three people.  Furthermore, unlike the "air marshal" scenario, assailants are almost always FAR more heavily armed than a patrolman/woman.  There have been shootings which continued even after police engaged the shooters because the shooters had much more powerful weaponry.   The assailants plan for how to deal with the police, they have little regard for their own lives (many plan to commit suicide at some point) and so have no concern about killing a policeman first or being killed by one so long as they kill a few other first.  The idea of a single cop per school simply isn't workable, it's proven to be nearly completely ineffective already.  It's not a solution.   

In fact, it's ludicrous.

So, Mr. La Pierre's "suggestion" is, potentially, a 10 to 20 Billion dollar big government, wasteful unworkable  expense.  It is to teach our kids to be afraid, to use guns as shields, to embrace police presence as an every day mechanism of safety and fact of life.  We talk about, even joke about a bit, the failure of nations which are reduced to having cop with a machine gun on every street corner, do we really want to become Mexico ourselves?  Is the next solution putting an M1 tank on every street corner when this doesn't work.  There was a cop at Virginia Tech too and there were two cops at Columbine. 

Mr. La Pierre, an avidly anti-government hawk, wants to spend $100-200 Billion dollars over the next decade to stop 30 people.  That's half as much as we spent  on the Iraq War and likely would be even LESS effective.    

I said I'd not talk about motives much, and I won't do it much.  It seems to me, though, that this proposal is hypocrisy of the highest order.  It's a wasteful, horrid solution of more guns to stop violence.  It is this quite simply because, it seems to me, Mr. La Pierre himself, and his ardent supporters in the NRA cannot bring themselves to admit their psychology of loving guns, of imagining whipping out their trusty six-shooter and stopping Bad Bart, is just mythology.  More to the point, it is in fact part of the problem.  Their (our) testosterone rush in shooting, owning, carrying firearms, provides an impetus for a very small number of people to dream about and for even a smaller number to act out, exacting 'revenge' upon a society which they fear and feel wronged them.  

This facet, this love of guns and imaginations of violence is the core of our national nightmare.  Mr. La Pierre can't face this or his whole house of cards falls down because his past proposals have been so extreme, so uncompromising in the promotion of guns as a solution to all social ills.  So now he proposes a big spending, big government police state as the solution.   Something the NRA in past stood in staunch opposition against.   

Someone find a clock, it truly IS 1984.


Since making this (and a couple other) ridiculous suggestions Friday, Mr. LaPierre appeared on NBC Sunday Morning to change his toon (his first line of defense of guns, guns, and more guns having been roundly blasted for being, well, absurd).  His solution now, enforce the laws already on the books.  Yes, those same laws he adamantly opposed having enacted, the same laws he says are unconstitutional.  He would not answer any question directly (the art of politics in play - answer what you want, not what you were asked), but when pressed directly by David Gregory whether he'd allow for background screening of the mentally ill or support closing the private gun show loophole, despite having in the preceeding sentence said he wanted better "mental health care", he refused to agree to such checks, such screenings.  He continues to refuse to ANYTHING which would in any way limit access to anyone except, it seems, felons.  Mr. LaPierre wants to ensure felons are prosecuted for trying to get a gun.  THAT's his solution.  Mr. Gregory rightly pointed out that would have done nothing for Sandy Hook, Adam Lanza wasn't a felon.  No matter, Mr. LaPierre pressed on - suggesting we have "20,000" gun laws, one more won't matter.

Two things in answer to that, if it won't matter, why are you so adamantly against it?  I think the answer is you KNOW it will cut down on gun sales, and THAT's the real issue.  Wayne LaPierre and the NRA are now nothing but paid lobbyists of gun manufacturers.  They gin up fear, they talk about fearing blacks, the government, muslims, criminals, anything to coas the fearful into buying yet MORE guns.

Second, Mr. LaPierre knows full well those "20,000" gun laws refer to permit requirements, licensing rules, municipality ordinances and the like, most of which have nothing at all (in fact virtually all of which have nothing at all) to do wtih limiting the purchase of a gun to someone mentally competent, to require states to provide data to the background checking database, something Mr. LaPierre advocated to NBC should happen, but opposes entirely having happen at every other turn. 

The NRA knows such laws will prove that a. law abiding folks who are mentally stable will NOT need to fear the government because it will show the government has a limited interest and b. that the goernment, the federal government can put limits, consitutionally, on the posession of firearms, including screening potential buyers and THAT is what the NRA fears most.  They fear that their clients, some of their members, in fact will start showing up as no longer eligible to purchase, maybe even mentally unsound, and sales will be affected.  Those who fear Obama will learn they have little to fear, so they won't binge buy, and those who are kooks, like Adam Lanza's mom, might be prevented from doing so.

So they lie about what they want (like wanting the current laws enforced), they bring up absurdities, like putting more guns in schools, asking teachers to become sherrifs, and talking about felon gun applications as a solution to mass shootings rarely IF EVER committed by felons.  They ignore the culture of guns and violence they advocate, code words like "stopping power", 2nd Amendment remedies and the like.  They ignore their complicity in the problem and are even so craven as to be willing to institute a police state exactly like the one they fear, just so long as the cash register keeps ringing.  That's the NRA of today, that's what they've become.  When all you care about is the falling of hammers, everyone looks like a sale, no mtter how many may die.


Friday, December 21, 2012

Dear Wayne La Pierre, NRA

NO, just NO.

We reject your solutions. You are part of the problem. You are in large part the core of the problem.

NO. We will not implement a single thing you suggest, not now, not ever.

You, your resources are shit.

We will not go down your path any longer. You will get no government money ever for your plans.

What you will do is to antagonize the majority of people in the United States, including gun owners.

The tipping point, Learn or Die that Guns are the Problem

The answer is fewer guns, more restrictive gun policies, not more guns. Our problems with gun violence are because of more guns. Without more guns, we might still have violence, but it would do less damage, kill fewer people.

Wayne La Pierre just spoke for the NRA. I think he has badly misjudged the response of the nation when he doubled down on his more guns philosophy.

It did not help that he made factual errors, like getting the number of kids who died wrong, when he called to arm schools. This was just a bad excuse to try to get more government money spent on guns, for the benefit of the gun manufacturers.

It was tomorrow yesterday

It was, in a manner of speaking, tomorrow yesterday. That is not some sort of Dr. Whovian timey-whimey mumbo jumbo.

But it does sound confusing, and contradictory, so let me explain. The crazy conspiracy theory survivalist preppers and superstitious science-rejectors who went nutso over a failure to understand the Mayan calendar predicted the end of the world on December 21st, 2012.

Given the location of the international date line, December 21st started around 6 a.m. Central Standard Time, December 20th. A very large part of the planet is ahead of us in our experience of the standard 24 hour day. So as the marking of the change in date rolled around at midnight in my part of the planet, we finally got to the winter solstice, while the rest of the planet was clearly here.

I gave it a little extra time, after midnight had rolled over the part of the world where the Mayan civilization used to be, before posting this gorgeous shot from the Astronomy picture of the Day, courtesy of NASA, with its caption.

It only remains for me to say to all those crazy people who believe in things you don't understand, (to borrow a phrase from Stevie Wonder's song Superstition), that the world isn't going to end, tax cuts don't grow the economy, big government is not your enemy it is the size it needs to be for a large and complex country (more or less), Keynsian economics work and Austrian school economics do not, and the GOP and Tea Party are staging their own little mini-Armageddon and Rapture. Jesus did not ride on dinosaurs, and neither did any other humans. Evolution is fact, creationism is not. And global warming is real. An my personal favorite; the American gun culture of violence as both problem and solution is a failure, and history is moving on while that failed sub-culture thrashes out its death throws. We have passed that tipping point, finally, and we will move on to try to become a more civilized society.

To do that, you silly people need to ditch the emotional thinking of the primitive parts of your brain, take a deep breath and try to think critically with the cerebral cortex in your forebrains, instead of panicking and running around in silly circles like your hair was on fire, with your limbic system in emotional overdrive. That's not good for you; your amygdala will get all lumpy and swollen. In simple words, you lot need to engage in less emotional thinking, and replace it with more critical thinking.

That would be particularly true for the Republicans still in the House of Representatives who have embraced ideology over logic and reason and objective reality. In the words of the old comic strip Pogo, we have met the enemy and he is us; but more strictly speaking he is the You part of Us. The next eleven days will demonstrate our adaptability, our capacity for a response to threats that is reasoned rather than hysterical and superstitious, or our capacity for the self-destruction, economically of our government, and of our society be decisions about violence, or our planet by largely (but not entirely) man-made global warming.

Time's a-wasting; it was tomorrow yesterday.

See Explanation.  Clicking on the picture will download
 the highest resolution version available.
Orion over El Castillo
Image Credit & Copyright: Stéphane Guisard (Los Cielos de America, TWAN)
Credits: D. Flores and B. Pichardo (Inst. Astronomia UNAM), P. Sánchez and R. Nafate (INAH)
Explanation: Welcome to the December solstice, a day the world does not end ... even according to the Mayan Calendar. To celebrate, consider this dramatic picture of Orion rising over El Castillo, the central pyramid at Chichén Itzá, one of the great Mayan centers on the Yucatán peninsula. Also known as the Temple of Kukulkan it stands 30 meters tall and 55 meters wide at the base. Built up as a series of square terraces by the pre-Columbian civilization between the 9th and 12th century, the structure can be used as a calendar and is noted for astronomical alignments. In fact, the Mayans were accomplished astronomers and mathematicians, accurately using the cyclic motions of the stars, Sun, Moon, and planets to measure time and construct calendars. Peering through clouds in this night skyscape, stars in the modern constellation Orion the Hunter represented a turtle in the Mayan sky. Tak sáamal.

Friday's funny vid

End of the world hysteria

I laughed at the end of the world crazies who went nuts over Y2K.

I laughed at the end of the world religious nuts who believed the world was ending, over and over and over again.......until finally admitting it wasn't ending.

But seriously - at some point the crazy preppers, the term for survivalist preparation nuts, like Nancy Lanza, mother of the alleged shooter in Newtown, Connecticut. Some of these crazies, who variously fear the U.N., anarchic attacks by their fellow Americans, or shadowy fictional entities like the one world / new world order, the Illuminati, or......god only knows what, or who. There is something deeply disturbing and disturbed about the thinking that finds these kinds of fears credible, and decide to believe them.

We do not know why Adam Lanza appears to have gone on his killing rampage. But interviews with those who knew both mother and son have indicated they were both on the far right in their political and economic beliefs. Whether religious fundamentalists, or political far right wing extremists, these are people with offensive, incomprehensible beliefs that represent a warped view of life, and a horrific disconnect from reality.  They have gone from not being wrapped to tightly, to being fully unraveled.  And not unraveled in a pretty artistic way like the image below.

So.......the end of the world craziness tomorrow? That's funny, as in laughing at crazy ignorant people, not with them. But the rest of the fearful crazies?

They aren't funny at all; they are just terribly sad and a whole lot creepy.

Thursday, December 20, 2012

tick tock.......tick tock........ tick tock.........tick tock

DEE-fense? DEEfense? No more; this is not a football game, this is about peoples' lives

It is worth noting that some things are indefensible. 
I think we can fairly accuse the NRA of defending the indefensible.  It is time to stop them. It is time to oppose them.  It is time to shame them out of existence.  It is time to marginalize them out of having any kind of effect. It is time to recognize they have never ever, since the late 1970s, given a damn about anyone's safety, only profit for the gun industry, and pushing a far right extremist agenda.

They do not care how many Americans die each year, they do not care if children die......they do not care if they act legally or illegally to push their influence. They are immoral, unethical, and dangerously corrupt.

Thought for the day

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Please sign a White House petition to President Obama

 cross posted from the Brady campaign on facebook

I did something useful this afternoon; I went to the white house gov petitions site, and not only signed ALL of the petitions to ban assault style weapons and expanded capacity magazines and to proactively enact and promote safer gun laws - there are approximately 166 possible petitions to sign (and a lot of them are seeking to put guns in schools, and armed veterans in schools); I also started a petition of my own, because I didn't see anything similar.

My petition is one I hope will be reviewed by Vice President Biden, and incorporated in the recommendations he makes to Congress.  My petition was that all gun owners must carry liability insurance on every gun they own, lease, or use.

To be seen among the 166 petitions, I have to first have 150 people sign that petition. So I would like to start with all of you, and have you share it with your friends and family.

Liability insurance would be like car insurance; it would mean that those who are harmed by someone's gun, whether they use it or it is used by someone else (with or without their permission) could expect to be compensated for their medical bills, for pain and suffering, for lost wages.  In the event of fatalities, that could mean paying for the very expensive costs of a funeral.  In the event of property damage, it could mean reimbursement for loss or damage.

Firearms use causes a lot of expense, and too often the victim has to bear that burden, or the taxpayers, or a mix of both.  In this respect we should not be treating guns any different than automobiles.

Please sign, and please ask others to sign.  I have only 30 days to get 25,000 signatures.  The sooner the petition has 150, the sooner other people can see it easily on the white house gov web site. Thank you.

The petition is available here: