March 2008


The New York Times brings up a set of very interesting questions about Barak Obama with their article Obama’s Test: Can a Liberal be a Unifier? Here at the 12 Angry Men Blog, we’re always interested in providing more analysis than you get on the news. Today, three of the twelve offer their perspective.

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Angry Immigrant

“I’m interested in solving problems as opposed to imposing doctrine,” he said. “I see a lot of convergence of interests among people who in traditional terms are considered to be divided politically.

Well, yes, but those people are divided politically between the left “The government should regulate core industries for public health and safety concerns” and the far left “anyone trying to make a profit is evil, and we should become Sweden”. He’s even having a hard time uniting those people.

But, on the flip side, a junior Senator who actually tries to build bridges and unite a massive center coalition will get zero support from his own national committee, which is largely partisan. It’s possible that he knows he has to bow, scrape, and be generally subservient to his party handlers until after the convention. After Hillary actually steps down, Obama could suddenly actually become the centrist uniter he keeps insisting that he really is, since he won’t have to appease the foaming-at-the-mouth crazies on both sides of him anymore. He could really mean what he says, but be constrained to being fanatically Democrat his whole career up to the point that he’s the presidential nominee. It’s conceivable. I don’t really believe it, but I’m exploring possibilities. If Hillary would just sit down and shut up, he could actually start working. Or he could self-destruct in a fall not seen since Icarus once the Democratic party gets to look at his ideas long enough for some small child to point out that the Emperor is naked…

McCain, being the senior senator who never really thought he’d get a shot at the big boy chair, already switched over to “curmudgeon” mode to do whatever he felt like doing at the moment without real fear of recriminations from his party. He’s done some real uniting across the aisle, but that’s more of a coincidence of convenience, rather than an overarching theme to his career. He’s already moving left to grab the center, and generally leaving the camo-wearing nutjobs and the pinko-commie socialists to fill the blogosphere with their empty whining.

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Angry Overeducated Catholic

When Obama speaks of uniting, he’s been pretty clear that he doesn’t mean some sort of mushy middle ground where we, and he, give up our dearly held principles. Rather, he means that in the midst of partisan fights, he’s also willing to move ahead on those issues where there’s shared ground. Or, at least that’s my read on him. To me, that’s actually pretty refreshing. I don’t expect, or even want, liberals to just give up their wacky, unworkable ideas. 😉 But, as we work hard to ensure that those insane ramblings never become law, I do want us to be on good speaking terms and get work done in those areas where we actually agree.

A commitment to work with your political opponents on issues where you agree doesn’t sound like much, until you look at how much political “debate” is shrill name-calling on both sides (“Bush lied,” “They’re not anti-war, they’re just on the other side,” etc.). If Obama is really willing to sit down and rationally talk with those whose policies he abhors and look for common ground, I’m behind him 100%. In this light I think the knee-jerk reaction to his desire to “talk with Iran” was silly. I can understand worrying about his Carter-like naivite but viewing any call for discussion as treason seems foolish. It just illustrates the current problem, and the thing that makes Obama so attractive to many people.

In short, he just drips common sense and reasonableness, at least on the issue of dialog. For me there’s no contradiction between Obama being a hardcore, dyed-in-the-wool liberal and promising to support honest and respectful dialog. Actually being able to pull off the promise is a different matter, but that may not be his fault. It takes two to dialog, but only one to shrilly accuse, after all. Anyone attacking Obama on his liberalism might be on dangerous ground, though. If Obama can stay calm and reasonable, and find a few Republicans to announce that they disagree with his politics but admire his bipartisan efforts, any attacks could come across as just more tiresome partisan sniping. No, as I see it, if Obama stumbles it won’t be on this issue, it will because certain past associates, etc. make us wonder if he really cares all that much about dialog in any form (*ahem* Pastor Jeremiah “Down With Whitey” Wright).

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Angry New Mexican

As John McCain has learned time and time again in his campaign, pretending to be someone you’re not (in his case, pretending to be a social conservative) will cost you dearly as human beings are generally pretty good at spotting phonies. McCain’s gotten off easy — he hasn’t been subject to a full-out assault from the likes of George Soros yet, so the price he paid was watching his campaign disintegrate last summer. Barak Obama has yet to learn that lesson, and I guarantee you it will come back to haunt him come the general election. He’s painted himself into a corner with rhetoric incompatible with his record. As Danny Diaz, a RNC mouthpiece noted, “When you’re rated by [the] National Journal as to the left of Ted Kennedy and Bernie Sanders, that’s going to be difficult to explain.” Mr. Diaz, I believe has hit the nail square on the head… and the Republican attack machine will be working overtime this fall to get that message across. I can see it now…

Cue the ominous music and cut to a middle-aged, lower-middle class white woman with a child. “I want straight talk from the next president. Don’t claim you’ll do something when you’ve been something different your entire career,” she says angrily.

Cut to a still of Barak Obama: “We need a leader who can finally move beyond the divisive politics of Washington.”

Cut to a middle-class white man: “Run on your record. Talk is cheap.”

Cut to a photo montage of Obama meeting with liberal icons. Cut to ominous voice: “And what is Senator Obama’s record? In 2006 he was the 10th most liberal member of the Senate. In 2007 he was the most liberal.” (The ad can go on for an additional 5 seconds or so touting Obama’s liberal record).

Cut to man and woman above: “He’s a died-in-the-wool liberal.” Ominous voice echos: “Obama. Liberal.”

Cut back to voice (now much nicer) as a video clip of McCain fades in: “Who is the candidate who has an actual record of working with both Democrats and Republicans to achive real change in Washington? John McCain. Check the record. It’s in black and white.”

Cut to Senator McCain: “I’m John McCain and I approve of this message.”

There was a recent hijacking attempt in New Zealand. The attempt seems to have prompted a reporter to find out just how bad airport security is:

The reporter arrived at the domestic terminal yesterday for the 10.30am Air New Zealand flight to Napier, carrying the kitchen knife, with a 20cm blade and a toy firearm in hand luggage.

He said there were no checks and “I was free to walk on with anything I pleased”.

After checking in and simply presenting my boarding pass at the gate, I stepped on to NZ5751 for the 50-minute journey to Hawke’s Bay.

The CAA’s communications manager Bill Sommer today dismissed the stunt as “irresponsible and illegal”. He said the reporter’s action could have compromised the safety of other passengers and could have led to aircraft delays.

In other words, the Emperor doesn’t have any clothes. Let’s think a bit about Bill Sommer’s claims. The first claim, that it could have compromised the safety of other passengers is simply silly. Toy guns on planes don’t compromise safety. The 20 cm knife might, conceivably, hurt a few people. But reporters generally don’t go on attack sprees, so the only way it would have hurt someone is if a nutcase noticed the reporter had the knife, took it, and then went on the attack. That sounds pretty unlikely to me.

The second claim, that the knife and toy gun could have lead to aircraft delays is more believable. But only because Bill Sommer’s demonstration of the New Zealand’s Civial Air Administrations overall intelligence.

Would it have been too hard to say something rational like the following:

Yesterday a flaw in our airport security was demonstrated. We are embarrassed by the failure and will attempt to fix it.

That’s all the situation requires.

This article is the second in a 52 part weekly series on the United States of America. It’s a chance to celebrate the diversity of our nation, and to educate ourselves about the members of our union, both the States and the Territories. We encourage you to comment and share you thoughts on the States, and hope you learn something new about each of the valuable members of our wonderful Union.
– The Staff of The 12 Angry Men


Last time, we covered Indiana, a state that does just about everything right, but doesn’t quite clean up enough for a fancy party. This week my cross hairs are lined up on Florida a state that does just about everything wrong that is imaginable, but the weather.

Quick Facts about Florida
NameFlorida
Admission to UnionMar 3rd, 1845
Population18,089,888(4th)
Population Density309/sq mi (8th)
Area65,795 sq mi (22nd)
Gross State Product$713 billion (4th)
Tax Burden+0.02




Florida, a nice place to visit, but like so many nice places to visit, you wouldn’t want to live there. First visited by the Spanish in 1513 who, in a well thought out plan, decided it would be just peachy to build some settlements in the path of every major hurricane. Florida was ceded to the United States by the Spanish in 1819 for $5 million dollars, and the promise that the US would renounce all claims to Texas (yeah… like that was going to happen). Unfortunately we accepted, and from that day forward Florida was known as “America’s Wang”.

Throughout most of its history (until the middle of the 1900’s), Florida was the least populous state in The South. Following the advent of air conditioning, Florida experienced a massive population boom, peaking in the 60’s with growth rates of nearly 80%. Now you would certainly think that such massive population growth, and the influx of all of the tourist dollars would result in a healthy sustainable economy. Yep, you would certainly think that, but no, you’d be dead wrong. Despite having a GDP on par with Australia’s, Florida manages the horrible sin of being a tax burden on the rest of the country (for every $1.00 Floridians pay in taxes, the Government hands them back their whole dollar, and then chips in an extra $0.02 of the rest of our money). Hey Florida, maybe you should start collecting an income tax, before you start asking the rest of us for handouts!

What Florida does right: Well… um… they have nice weather! Except when Hurricanes are obliterating their major cities, that is. Well they do have Disney World, and everybody likes going to Disney World! Yeah, sadly, that’s all I’ve got. Florida has a decent education system, but it’s nothing to write home about. They don’t have an income tax, which is nice if you’re greedy and want the rest of us to foot the bill (and if you don’t mind the fact that the state rolls your estate for money when you die). You would think, as one of the most populous state they’d have more going for them than just being “The Pretty One”, but as we’re about to see, this “Pretty One” has been riding the short bus for a long, long time…

What Florida does wrong: Just about everything. Let’s face it. The state has it’s own Fark tag. For those of you who don’t know, Fark.com is a website which lists various interesting, amusing, and downright stupid news stories everyday. They have tags like “Interesting”, “Cool”, and “Hero” for stories which are impressive and good. For those which outline human stupidity they have tags like “Asinine”, “Stupid”, and “Dumbass”. The site founder, however, noticed that most of the really and truly bizarre news, usually involving people acting dumber than bricks, came from Florida. Thus, there is also a tag on Fark called “Florida”. That’s right, Florida is the only state which is so dumb, that news stories about it need special labeling.

It’s not hard to see why either. Despite having been given one of the largest government installations (Kennedy Space Center), theme parks out the wazoo, and the lion’s share of the citrus industry, it still manages to draw more coins out of the Federal purse than it puts in. Are you seriously telling me that with the fourth largest population in the Union, and the fourth largest economy in the Union, you still need the rest of us to help you pay the bills?!?! BAD FLORIDA!, no cookie for you! The people of Florida need to go sit in the corner, in timeout, and think about how the rest of the top five states manage to pay their bills. Florida gets a D for economy, and that’s being generous! You guys are lucky that I’m saving the F for Arkansas and Mississippi!

Look Florida, you need to realize that you didn’t mature as fast as your population boom would seem to indicate. You’ve got the population, and the income, but like a teenager with her first credit card, you’re living beyond your means, and not properly investing in your future. It’s time to grow up, get a better education, and stop living in our basement.

-Angry Midwesterner


Every year, before Easter, the Catholic Church celebrates Holy Week. Holy Week is good time for the smells and bells Catholics. It’s a different week in the liturgical year — palms, parts of the Gospel read outside of the Church, empty tabernacles. And incense. Lots of incense. All designed to let you know that this week is different.

One of the unofficial rituals is carping over the Holy Thursday’s washing of feet. During the Holy Thursday mass there is an optional ritual — the washing of feet. During this ritual the celebrant imitates Jesus’ washing his disciples feet at the last super. This is supposed to remind the celebrant that he is a servant of the community. On occasion the reminder has lasted until Easter.

Now, in a classical “Blessed are the makers of all dairy products” moment, there is a great deal of argument over what kind of people should have their feet washed, ie, should they be men or women? The instructions from the Vatican are quite clear; they people having their feet washed should be men. The 12 apostles, were, after all, men. Some claim we should follow His example. But, others are clearly upset that women are excluded.

What to do?

I have three proposals for modifying the rite.

Proposal one: Jesus didn’t just wash men’s feet. No, the interpretation is rather more particular about it then that. In my modified rite #1, the twelve foot washees must have names identical to the twelve apostles. Otherwise, confusion among the faithful might result and people might not realize that the people having their feet washed represent the twelve apostles.

Proposal two: Jesus didn’t just wash men’s feet. No, he washed first century Jews feet. I’m willing to give in on the first century part, but for proposal two the twelve people having their feet washed must be Jewish. And have names identical to the twelve apostles.

Proposal three: Holy Thursday is considered to be when the apostles were ordained (note: this means they all bailed on Him after ordination), therefor — all twelve foot washees must be bishops. Converted from Judaism. With names matching the twelve apostles.

A bit of background: I work in the midst of a slough of professional artists who, like most artists, cover their work areas in artwork of varying quality and propriety. The walls of the office are saturated with artwork ranging from pencil sketches to internationally renown masterpieces. Like anyone around a wide variety of anything, a few of the pieces I find extremely irritating and patently inappropriate. However, being a reasonable person, I go about my day and get my work done. Little things like that don’t ruin my equilibrium, because, being an adult, I’ve learned that not everything goes my way and I save my effort for the important fights.

That being said there is one place in the building where there is a creative ongoing comic strip that is written and drawn entirely by software developers, not artists. Obviously, the quality of artwork pales in comparison with the best stuff made by the pros in the building, but it’s hardly the worst thing decorating a wall (that honor typically belongs to newspaper comics). I’m a big believer that good artwork doesn’t have to be complicated, especially not good comics.

After being up in its location for several years, and the latest episode being posted for over a year now (it’s not the world’s most prolific comic team — they’re busy writing software to support the artists, after all), someone complained about the handgun in the picture, and now it’s all been taken down. The one exposure in the building that the artistic ability of the software staff have next to the hundreds of thousands of elements from the art group, and this one is ruining one of those pitiful whiner’s day enough to get it canceled.

Now if someone has some serious gun trauma in their background, I can understand that they might not like reminders of the violence, but the current primary project of the company involves elements including a helicopter gunship and missile-firing motorcycles. Missle. Firing. Motorcycles. Good thing the pencil sketch with a handgun in it got removed. Someone was almost in danger there… might give someone ideas…

Today it trickled down to me that the official reason given for removing it was that the quality of the artwork was too low. That “you can’t make good art if you look at bad art”. Seriously. That’s the reason they gave. Now, being a logical sort of guy, I’m puzzled how people who believe that can expect to ever create the world’s most amazing artwork in their field — which is their stated goal. A motto like that means that you can’t ever be the best — what artwork on the wall would inspire you to create something that the world has never seen? Wouldn’t any existing artwork only serve to “bring you down”?

Continuing along that illogical train of thought, the new insistence is that the space should be filled with artwork of previous company projects. Now, that’s even worse if you’re so dependent on that magical space for inspiration to new world-beating heights. You’ll only be looking at stuff you’ve seen before, not anything that makes you think of anything new. And at the end of the day, all you’ve served to do is to squash a whimsical bit of entertainment from folks who are typically constricted in their tasks.

And another bit of fun dies in the name of political correctness.

It’s the sense of entitlement with which it was done that really get to me, though. If I were the vindictive type, and since some amount of control over what now appears in that space falls to me, I might be tempted to take advantage of that situation, given that it evidently affects the artists’ performance so critically…

A difference of opinion between intelligent design and evolution is ongoing — anyone who looks into the structure of the cell and sees the myriad of operations occurring has to stop and wonder: How can evolution account for this? And if evolution is a culling process, what generated the initial set of entities to be culled? On the other hand, intelligent design advocates have to answer some questions also: Why does the mitochondria structure in the cell exist? How does one account for adaptations? Where did that pesky reverse transcriptase come from?

Anyone looking at a system as complex as the cell is inclined to make statements that such complexity could never have evolved. One would do well, however, to look into the phase space of a very simple coupled polynomial system. The phase space solution set of these polynomials become chaotic in the mathematical sense of the word. An incredible complexity exists in even the simplest equations. Steven Wolfram has show that simple generators can produce the complex patterns on a mollusk shell. So complexity in itself is not an indicator of intelligent design.

Consider the mitochondria structure in the cell. This is a structure which provides cellular energy. Current thinking is that, at some point, a cellular organism ingested a bacterium of similar structure to the mitochondria, and instead of the bacterium’s proteins being digested, as usually happens, the bacterium instead survived as a symbiote within the cellular organism. The fact that the structure exists indicates a fortuitous occurrence rather than a structured design — unless one wants to argue that this ingestion was part of the design.

Also adaptations clearly occur. Man has been adapting domestic animals and grains for millennia. MRSA is a bacterium which has adapted to the human immune system, much as AIDS has adapted to the human T cell. And clearly these adaptations have passed beyond the somatic. The existence of reverse transcriptase throws a monkey wrench into the orderly intelligent design process. No electrical engineer would design a control system with a pole in the left hand plane, which is what a molecular design with reverse transcriptase amounts to.

So if God exists as an intelligent designer, are we to believe that it is as Woody Allen quips: ” …the worst you can say about Him is that basically He’s an underachiever.”

Evolution theorists have to do a little introspection also. Evolution in its strictest sense is the process by which adaptations make the transition from the somatic to the germ line. That is to say, adaptations that are passed along to offspring. Organisms with the adaptation, in the sense that they are more suited to the environment, survive to procreate. Less well adapted to the environment, they do not survive and eventually they are eliminated (rendered extinct). Thus evolution is a culling process — the fittest are those organisms which survive, with continued existence being the only criteria. But this begs the questions of the adaptations in the first place. Where did they come from and what was the source of the original pool from which viable processes were ‘selected’? Evolution is a backwards acting process, a culling of options. Somewhere in the process there is a need for new adaptations, new structures. There is some support for the hypotheses that radiological mutations provides such a pool. Other thought suggests that matter is endowed with self-organizing properties.

The physical world is described by the laws of thermodynamics. The second law, which states that entropy tends to increase, leads to the ultimate final state being the heat death of the universe. Evolutionists are constrained by this law. There is a preferred direction for processes. Combining things together into a higher energy state seems to violate the second law. If, as Ben Stein notes, life evolved from lightning striking the mud puddle, there are a lot of missing links, most of which violate the second law.

Note that the fact that they are missing is not surprising: Why shouldn’t they be missing. Millions of years could have passed under identical geological conditions which produced our fossils without proteins and amino acids being preserved — they are just too fragile. Only after life adapted and generated shells, bones and mineral inclusions could there be a preserved slice of the process to study.

But life itself seems to violate the second law. The significant factor, the one spark that distinguishes life from all other matter seems to be the ability to self-organize. The question is whether self-organization is another natural law which we have overlooked or the result of some prime mover or intelligent designer. Certain nanostructures are known to self organize — the so-called self-assembly process. So it is conceivable that all that electrified mud self organized into amino acids, complex phosphate chains, proteins and that the sieve of selection gave us the foundations of cellular metabolism.

Is self-organization a result of a process that has been overlooked and is responsible for that initial pool of selectees we evolved from? Or is this process the indicator that there is some higher intelligence guiding the development of life, but in a way that is far more clever and inscrutable than either side in the debate supposes?

Spinal Tap once again proves that truth is stranger than fiction:

Recently, ABBA’s former drummer died in a bizarre gardening accident.

The late, great Jeff Porcaro‘s widow claims to this day that her husband died from a heart attack brought on by an allergic reaction to the pesticide he was using in his garden, not a drug overdose… that’s right, a bizarre gardening accident. (Decades of drug use must have counted, though.)

Jim Hodder, also a former Steely Dan drummer (he and Jeff both played with the Dan—at the same time—back in the mid ’70s), drowned in his swimming pool. Not quite a bizarre gardening accident but within spitting distance since the backyard is what the Brits call “the garden”….

So what is it with drummers? Or is it musicians? Or is it all “man bites dog” publication bias? Discuss!

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ObFascism Tag: If it were up to those hateful fascist safety regulators—who Hate America and Everything It Stands For!—there would be no more bizarre gardening accidents.

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