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Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Glimmer Of Hope For IT Jobs

IT employment regains recession losses, passes 4 million again

By Patrick Thibodeau
May 18, 2011

In November 2008, two months after Lehman Brothers declared bankruptcy and Hewlett-Packard announced plans to lay off some 25,000 workers, IT employment reached 4 million for the first time.

From that point on, the economy worsened rapidly and companies rapidly shed jobs. By mid-2009, nearly 200,000 IT jobs disappeared.

The recession was particularly hard on older IT workers. For women in IT, age 55 and above, the unemployment rate hit 9.4 percent last year.

TechServe Alliance, an industry group of service companies that analyzes U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) data, said Monday that IT employment has finally returned, surpassing the November 2008, 4 million high point for the first time.

The new record came in February, but wasn’t known until this month following a subsequent and routine revision of BLS data, according to Mark Roberts, CEO of TechServe. “I think [4 million IT jobs] is an important psychological milestone,” he said.

Roberts said TechServe Alliance has seen strong demand from IT staffing firms, typically a bellwether for broader IT hiring.

“I would characterize demand for IT professionals as very strong,” said Roberts. “Given the severity of the recession, many projects were shelved, hiring was severely constrained, layoffs were commonplace.”

IT employment, now at 4,009,900 jobs, has increased for 16 straight months, he added.

Nonetheless, there are some signs of trouble ahead.

CISCO is widely expected to be on the verge of a major layoff, and a recently leaked memo by Hewlett-Packard CEO Leo Apotheker warned of “ another tough quarter,” according to a report in the Wall Street Journal.

HP is being hurt [8], in particular, by slumping PC sales. Though HP today reported a net profit of $2.3 billion on revenue of $31.6 billion for the second quarter ended April 30, up from a net profit of $2.2 billion and revenue of $30.8 billion a year earlier, it said that its personal systems group, which includes commercial and consumer products, was down by 5 percent.

The company did note that revenue generated by the sale of servers, storage and networking grew by 15 percent in the second quarter while software revenue grew by 17 percent. Services revenue, however, only increased by 2 percent, it said.

Roberts believes the issues faced by Cisco and HP are unique and don’t reflect a broader trend.

“The data and anecdotal reports all point to strong growth going forward,” said Roberts.

Patrick Thibodeau covers SaaS and enterprise applications, outsourcing, government IT policies, data centers and IT workforce issues for Computerworld. Follow Patrick on Twitter at @DCgov, or subscribe to Patrick’s RSS feed. His email address is pthibodeau at


Posted by Elvis on 05/18/11 •
Section Job Hunt
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Thursday, May 12, 2011

Marijuana Reconsidered


Carl Sagan on Pot

This account was written in 1969 for publication in “Marihuana Reconsidered (1971)”. Sagan was in his mid-thirties at that time. He continued to use cannabis for the rest of his life.

The cannabis EXPERIENCE has greatly improved my appreciation for art, a subject which I had never much appreciated before. The understanding of the intent of the artist which I can achieve when high sometimes carries over to when I’m down. This is one of many human frontiers which cannabis has helped me traverse. There also have been some art-related insights - I don’t know whether they are true or false, but they were fun to formulate. For example, I have spent some time high looking at the work of the Belgian surrealist Yves Tanguey. Some years later, I emerged from a long swim in the Caribbean and sank exhausted onto a beach formed from the erosion of a nearby coral reef. In idly examining the arcuate pastel-colored coral fragments which made up the beach, I saw before me a vast Tanguey painting. Perhaps Tanguey visited such a beach in his childhood.

A very similar improvement in my appreciation of music has occurred with cannabis. For the first time I have been able to hear the separate parts of a three-part harmony and the richness of the counterpoint. I have since discovered that professional musicians can quite easily keep many separate parts going simultaneously in their heads, but this was the first time for me. Again, the learning experience when high has at least to some extent carried over when I’m down. The enjoyment of food is amplified; tastes and aromas emerge that for some reason we ordinarily seem to be too busy to notice. I am able to give my full attention to the sensation. A potato will have a texture, a body, and taste like that of other potatoes, but much more so. Cannabis also enhances the enjoyment of sex - on the one hand it gives an exquisite sensitivity, but on the other hand it postpones orgasm: in part by distracting me with the profusion of image passing before my eyes. The actual duration of orgasm seems to lengthen greatly, but this may be the usual experience of time expansion which comes with cannabis smoking.

I do not consider myself a religious person in the usual sense, but there is a religious aspect to some highs. The heightened sensitivity in all areas gives me a feeling of communion with my surroundings, both animate and inanimate. Sometimes a kind of existential perception of the absurd comes over me and I see with awful certainty the hypocrisies and posturing of myself and my fellow men. And at other times, there is a different sense of the absurd, a playful and whimsical awareness. Both of these senses of the absurd can be communicated, and some of the most rewarding highs I’ve had have been in sharing talk and perceptions and humor. Cannabis brings us an awareness that we spend a lifetime being trained to overlook and forget and put out of our minds. A sense of what the world is really like can be maddening; cannabis has brought me some feelings for what it is like to be crazy, and how we use that word ‘crazy’ to avoid thinking about things that are too painful for us. In the Soviet Union political dissidents are routinely placed in insane asylums. The same kind of thing, a little more subtle perhaps, occurs here: ‘did you hear what Lenny Bruce said yesterday? He must be crazy.’ When high on cannabis I discovered that there’s somebody inside in those people we call mad.

When I’m high I can penetrate into the past, recall childhood memories, friends, relatives, playthings, streets, smells, sounds, and tastes from a vanished era. I can reconstruct the actual occurrences in childhood events only half understood at the time. Many but not all my cannabis trips have somewhere in them a symbolism significant to me which I won’t attempt to describe here, a kind of mandala embossed on the high. Free-associating to this mandala, both visually and as plays on words, has produced a very rich array of insights.

There is a myth about such highs: the user has an illusion of great insight, but it does not survive scrutiny in the morning. I am convinced that this is an error, and that the devastating insights achieved when high are real insights; the main problem is putting these insights in a form acceptable to the quite different self that we are when we’re down the next day. Some of the hardest work I’ve ever done has been to put such insights down on tape or in writing. The problem is that ten even more interesting ideas or images have to be lost in the effort of recording one. It is easy to understand why someone might think it’s a waste of effort going to all that trouble to set the thought down, a kind of intrusion of the Protestant Ethic. But since I live almost all my life down I’ve made the effort - successfully, I think. Incidentally, I find that reasonably good insights can be remembered the next day, but only if some effort has been made to set them down another way. If I writethe insight down or tell it to someone, then I can remember it with no assistance the following morning; but if I merely say to myself that I must make an effort to remember, I never do.


Posted by Elvis on 05/12/11 •
Section Spiritual Diversions
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Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Longing For God


Religion is an insult to human dignity. With or without it, you’d have good people doing good things and evil people doing bad things, but for good people to do bad things, it takes religion.
- Steven Weinberg, Nobel Laureate in physics

The reason that we help others is to raise the loving atmosphere in this world. We want to symbolically and spiritually raise the energy of this world; bring, spread a loving atmosphere into our planet, so that our world becomes better and better, and there is increasing love among NEIGHBORS, and unconditional love for each other. That is the true meaning of charity.
- Master Ching Hai, The Method of Love

Agnostic Michael Krasny Has ‘Spiritual Envy’

October 6, 2010

As a boy, Michael Krasny believed God was watching him. That faith gave him comfort when he was lonely and even helped him endure a furious beating at the hands of a grade school teacher.

But in his teen years, Krasny discovered science and skepticism. And when he lost his faith, he also lost the comfort it provided.

In his memoir, Spiritual Envy: An Agnostic’s Quest, the public radio host writes that he has longed for a God he could believe in.

“I simply wanted to have God in my heart,” he writes. “But at a certain point he simply was not there.”

As host of the popular KQED radio program The Forum, Krasny has interviewed hundreds of thinkers, writers, philosophers, atheists and believers. But despite discussing countless controversial issues with his guests, he has yet to find satisfying answers to life’s biggest questions.

Krasny talks to NPR’s Neal Conan about his book and his personal exploration of spirituality, morality and mortality.


After I published my memoir, Off Mike: A Memoir of Talk Radio and Literary Life, I began to think a lot about goodness. I had written about wanting, as a young man, to find an answer to the question of how a good man should live, which had first struck me with considerable impact when I read the work of Nobel Prize winning novelist Saul Bellow. But the question that intrigued me even more, I realized after my book came out, was: why choose to be good?

WHY strive for GOODNESS? The answer for many nonbelievers is either humanism or a secular code OF THEIR OWN, but for most the answer has traditionally led to or been based on faith. I began to wonder if I could or should writeabout faith even though my adult life has been more about seeking than finding. Sam Harris had published The End of Faith, in which he made a number of estimable points in his screed against faith. But I recalled a conversation I had had with Daniel Goleman, the author of Emotional Intelligence, in which he told me, “I know Sam. He’s an ideologue.” “Yes!” I thought, “and so are most of the new wave of atheists who offer screeds against faith and excoriate religion and its bloody history and the cruel and despicable deeds done in its name.” Harris said, “Science must destroy religion”; atheist Richard Dawkins compared religious education to child abuse; while Christopher Hitchens, the author of God Is Not Great, spoke of the need to prepare for a war against religion.

I could not call myself a man of faith, but if ideology-smitten atheists could write of faith, why not a skeptic who envied those who, without being coercive or intolerant, were fortunate enough to have it? I had not made the leap to faith since losing it somewhere between adolescence and young adulthood. Moreover, I was bereft of answers. I had been, for most of my adult life, in a state of uncertainty about age-old metaphysical questions concerning God’s existence, good and evil, spirituality, and the meaning of life, questions that matter greatly to thinking people. But I also wasn’t willing to call myself a nonbeliever, because I wasn’t certain about the accuracy of characterizing what I had as the absence of belief. I WAS, I REALIZED. a doubter, an agnostic, and, like perhaps hundreds of thousands of others, a seeker.

Mostly I have sought knowledge, with the hope that knowledge would lead to the kind of faith that would undergird my existence. I longed to find answers, to pierce, even momentarily, the veil that prevents us from understanding the essential questions of our existence. Is there a higher power? If so, what is its nature or way of manifesting? Was Moses given commandments on Sinai? Should we obey those commandments even if we cannot know or be certain of God or of his having handed them down? If we cannot know or be certain of God, can we determine, without God, what is moral or good? Where or how do we find meaning?

Who was I to take on such monumental and elemental questions? It was true that I had spent my adult life seeking answers to these questions and leading conversations on nearly every imaginable topic with some of the world’s greatest writers and thinkers, both as a university professor and as host of a popular public radio program. But to try to bring light to timeless and essential questions about our existence seemed at best a foolish endeavor and at worst an exercise in hubris and futility. Yet some indeterminate force was driving me to writeabout these matters, and I realized that if there was indeed an article of faith I believed in, it was the notion that writing brings insight and ultimately, even profoundly, affects thought and discourse. How do we know, when we writeor paint or sculpt or talk on the radio or do good works, that we are not tapping into a mystery beyond our unconscious? Is there a way to determine what a higher purpose is or can be?

I was struck by a memorable line from the British writer Julian Barnes, who said, “I don’t believe in God but I miss him.” That statement resonated for me, not so much the part about not believing, but the part about missing. As a boy I was certain God was with me, watching over me, a friend and confidant I could rely on. I knew he was there for me, wherever “there” happened to be. I believed in God even when I got the worst beating of my life from my sixth grade teacher, a cockney Brit who would erupt in rage and haul me into the boy’s bathroom for a flurry of slaps and punches and kicks, and who, on one occasion, thrust my eleven-year-old head into the toilet for a cruel dunk. Because I was a kid who misbehaved, I felt the physical abuse I received was justified and my bad behavior its cause. Which is why I never told anyone, including my parents. But I was intelligent enough to dedicate myself to reforming my behavior so I wouldn’t continue to be taken to the boys’ restroom. I let it be known that I was the new Michael Krasny, a Michael Krasny who had metamorphosed into a good boy.

I became my teacher’s helpmate, staying late after school and assisting him with cleaning the room, putting up and taking down class drawings, and doing anything else he bid me to do. I did these good-boy deeds cheerfully and dependably because I wanted his goodwill and approval. I was determined to make him know I could be good, and thus stave off his violence and see it replaced by a teacher’s affection. It worked until one day after school when I was carrying a bucket of paint for him to another sixth grade classroom. I slipped and helplessly watched as the bucket toppled over and yellow paint flowed down the elementary school corridor like a miniature river. My teacher saw it all while hastening out of the classroom for a cigarette, and he erupted into a rage that led to the most ferocious of all the assaults. I got a beating in the boys’ room, followed by his ordering me to mop up the paint, which I did, suffering in silence, holding in my tears until I had finished and left the school grounds. Lest somebody see me cry, I waited until I got to a small wooded area near my home, where I was certain I could not be seen, and then sobbed convulsively, saying to myself, “I was being good. No one knows. But you do, God. You know.”

This sad tale from childhood seems almost like a parable now. I was good, and being good was not supposed to bring punishment. God knew I did not deserve that beating. God knew I had slipped. God knew everything, and heard me when I told him I knew he knew. Even an unjust and cruel beating could not diminish my belief in him or his omniscience. I use this episode to highlight a child’s faith that, even in the wake of trauma, was impossible to diminish. It wasn’t until years later, when doubt began to seep in, that I asked the often-asked but never-answered question of how a just God could allow a defenseless child to be beaten. But the larger and more poignant question turns out to be this: how can I or anyone else make up for the loss of a God who once felt real, comforting, close, and personal. How does one fill that vacuum?

The idea of a child being beaten or otherwise abused is frequently a litmus test for belief in God. How can the anthropomorphic God most mortals have believed in since polytheism first waned, the God who gave the commandments to Moses, allow violence against an innocent child? When I was a boy, the question never occurred to me. Years later, after I’d begun to think seriously about faith, I came to recognize that having faith might mean being blind, but it also meant being consoled in grief and not needing answers. To the agnostic, such faith is nothing but the wind whispering, the clouds vanishing. To the agnostic, faith cannot come except in response to some form of proof. What is one to do with the recognition of complete uncertainty, the recognition that matters beyond the physical world are more mysterious even than our observable world and its host of impenetrable mysteries - the migrations of birds and butterflies, the mating of emperor penguins, unrequited love, the evil that men and women do?

When I writeof spiritual envy, I mean envy of the consolation of faith, of the elevating power of knowing a force or forces beyond the physical, observable world or past the finite limits of self, of knowing a higher purpose, or possessing answers, or even being convinced they can be discovered. To have answers and certainty, to possess spiritual anchoring or spiritual authority and purpose, is to have comfort, a release from the entrapment of life’s suffering. And even though religion has been much maligned in recent years and deservedly so for having led too many in its name along dark paths of cruelty, intransigence, self-righteousness, and violence - religion also has provided ineffable solace and a reason for living a moral life, a reason for charity and generosity.

Excerpted from SPIRITUAL ENVY: AN AGNOSTIC’S QUEST by Michael Krasny.



Longing For God

By iwonder
Ex Christions Dot Net
May 28, 2012

I was born into a super-strict church. Outward appearances were the most important things. Not only dress-wise, but attitude-wise also. The church preached 2 works of grace: salvation, then holiness.

Holiness was huge. That was when you emptied yourself of yourself, and were filled with the holy ghost.Proof of this was loss of any negative emotions, the biggest of which was anger. The root of sin was removed, and after receiving the baptism, people did not sin. I had THE WORST time achieving this. Salvation could be lost, and there were so many things that were sins that I couldn’t stay saved long enough to receive the holy spirit. I perceived myself as more sinful than most (step over, apostle Paul!) because no one else in my church had the trouble I did.

All I wanted in the world was for god to love me, and for me to be holy. Beginning in my very early teens, I got serious about my soul, but I could not quit sinning. The church had an altar where praying was done, and I was there all. the. time. People began to take notice. It was a very small church; they couldn’t help but notice. I was told that my struggles were a result of my unwillingness to die to myself. I began to plead for god to break my will.

I began praying and fasting everyday, and in fact, made myself sick. I thought if I were miserable enough, god would see how much I wanted to be good enough for him to love and fill me. I was miserably unhappy all through my teen years. I thought that was what I deserved.

The church advised me to “pray clear through”. When I did that, and my will was broken, I’d know that I’d achieved holiness.

In 6th grade, my sibs and I began attending the church school, and now I was receiving a double whammy of my unworthiness. I was being preached at there about my sinful heading-to -hell-self, then hearing it at church.

Nothing I did worked, and by the time I was a Senior in high school, I’d just about given up. I had high grades, though, that earned me a scholarship to the church bible college. I thought maybe being surrounded by holy people 24/7 could only help me die to myself. It didn’t. It only made me see my badness more starkly. At the end of my first semester, I had my first suicide attempt. I mean, what did I have to live for? I was never going to be good enough for god. I could never be as holy as the church said I should be.

I hung in for 3 years. Then, the depression and the desperation to be good enough became too much. I left school, and gradually the church.

In the years since then, I have also slowly let go of my belief in god. I’ve come to love myself, and realize that dying to myself was just moronic. Ironically, the more I’ve let go of god, the more peace and joy I have. I never thought I’d experience these wonderful things!

This is a scary journey I’m on, I’ll admit. It’s also exciting. I have more freedom now than I ever did before. Not freedom to live hedonistically, as the church told me I would, but freedom to love and be loved. Freedom to accept friends that the church never would have allowed me.

It wasn’t easy leaving the community the church afforded me, but I’m finding that I belong to a much bigger (and better!) one: humanity.

I don’t know where on this journey I’ll be tomorrow, but I’m just so glad I am indeed on it.



8 Ways the Religious Right Wins Converts To Atheism

By Valerie Tarico

If the Catholic Bishops, their Evangelical Protestant allies, and other Right-wing fundamentalists had the sole objective of decimating religious belief, they couldn’t be doing a better job of it.

Testimonials at sites like show that people leave religion for a number of reasons, many of which religious leaders have very little control over. Sometimes, for example, people take one too many science classes. Sometimes they find their faith shattered by the suffering in the world either because of a devastating injury or loss in their own lives or because they experience the realities of another person’s pain in a new way. Sometimes a believer gets intrigued by archaeology or symbology or the study of religion itself. Sometimes a believer simply picks up a copy of the Bible or Koran and discovers faith-shaking contradictions or immoralities there.

But if you read ExChristian testimonials you will notice that quite often church leaders or members do things that either trigger the deconversion process or help it along. They may turn a doubter into a skeptic or a quiet skeptic into an outspoken anti-theist, or as one former Christian calls himself, a de-vangelist.

Here are some top ways Christians push people out the Church door or shove secret skeptics out of the closet. Looking at the list, you cant help but wonder if the Catholic Bishops, Rick Santorum, Michelle Bachman and their fundamentalist allies are working for the devil.

Gay Baiting

Because of sheer demographics, most gay people are born into religious families, and in this country almost half are born into Bible-believing families who see homosexuality as an abomination. The condemnation (and self-condemnation) can be excruciating, as we all know from the suicide rate. Some emotionally battered gays spend their lives fighting or denying who they are, but many eventually find their way to open and affirming congregations or NON-RELIGIOUS communities.

Ignorant and mean-spirited attitudes about homosexuality don’t drive just gays out of the Church, they are a huge deconversion issue for straight friends and family members. When Christians indulge in slurs, devout moms and dads who also love their gay kids find themselves less comfortable in their church home. Young people, many of whom think of the gay rights issue as a no-brainer, put anti-gay churches in the “archaic” category. Since most people Gen X and younger recognize equal rights for gays as a matter of common humanity, gay baiting is a wedge issue that wedges young people right out of the church. That makes Fred Phelps a far better evangelist for atheism than for his own gay-hating Westborough Baptist Church.


People who think of the Bible as the literally perfect word of God love to quote excerpts to argue their points. They often start with a verse in 1 Timothy: All scripture is given by inspiration of God. (As if this circular argument would convince anyone but a true believer.) They then proceed to quote whatever authoritarian, anti-gay, or anti-woman verse makes their point, like, Whoever spares the rod hates their children . . . Blows and wounds cleanse away evil, and beatings purge the inmost being. or Thou shalt not lie with mankind, as with womankind: it is abomination. In doing so, they call into question biblical authority, because the Bible writers so obviously got these issues wrong. Literalists who prooftext are a tremendous asset to those who would like to see Bible worship fade away - because prooftexting on one side of an argument invites the same in return, and it is easy to find quotes from the Bible that are either scientifically absurd or morally repugnant.

Many liberal or modernist Christians see the Bible as a human document, an attempt by our spiritual ancestors to articulate their best understanding of God through the lens of imperfect human cultures and minds. Suppose such a Christian gets confronted with a verse that says, for example, Now kill all the boys. And kill every woman who has slept with a man, but save for yourselves every girl who has never slept with a man (Numbers 31:17-18), or No man who has any defect may come near [to God in the temple]: no man who is blind or lame, disfigured or deformed; no man with a crippled foot or hand, or who is a hunchback or a dwarf, or who has any eye defect, . . . (Leviticus 21:17-23). He or she can simply shrug and say, “Yeah, thats ugly.” A couple of years ago a group of liberal Christians even kicked off an internet competition to vote on the worst verse in the Bible. Their faith doesnt stand or fall with the perfection of the Bible. Biblical literalists, on the other hand give someone like me an excuse to talk about sexual slavery or bias against handicapped people in the Bible - in front of an audience who have been taught that the good book is uniformly good. For a wavering believer, the dissonance can be too much.


For psychological and social reasons females are more inclined toward religious belief than males. They are more likely to attend church services and to insist on raising their children in a faith community. They also appear more indifferent than males to rational critique of religion, like debates about theology or evolutionary biology. I was interested to notice recently that my YouTube channel, Life After Christianity, which focuses on the psychology of religion gets about eighty percent male viewers. Women are the Churchs base constituency, but fortunately for atheists, this fact hasnҒt caused conservative Christians to back off of sexism that is justified by you got it - prooftexting from the Old and New Testaments.

Evangelical minister, Jim Henderson, recently published a book, The Resignation of Eve, in which he urges his fellow Christians to take a hard look at the consequences of sexism in the church. According to Henderson, old school sexism has driven some women out of Christianity permanently, but thats just the tip of the iceberg. For those who stay, it means that many are less enthusiastic and engaged than they would be. Churches rely on women to volunteer in roles that range from secretary to director of Children’s programs to missionaries. That takes a high level of confidence in Church doctrines and also a strong sense of belonging. Biblical sexism cultivates neither. Between 1991 and 2011 the percent of women attending church in a typical week dropped by eleven points, from 55 to 44 percent.


Christians are taught and many believe - that thanks to the indwelling presence of the Holy Spirit they are a moral beacon for society. The writer of Matthew told his audience, “You are the light of the world.” That’s a high bar, and yet decent believers (along with many other decent people) try earnestly to meet it. But the added pressure on those who call themselves “the righteous” means that believers also are prone to hiding, pretending, posing, and turning a blind eye to their own very human, very normal faults and flaws. People who desperately want to be sanctified and righteous, “cleansed by the blood of the lamb” - who need to believe that they now merit heaven but that other peoples smallest transgressions merit eternal torture - have a lot of motivation to engage in self-deception and hypocrisy. High profile hypocrites like Ted Haggard or Rush Limbaugh may be loved by their acolytes, but for people who are teetering, they help to build a gut aversion to whatever they espouse. But often as not, the hypocrisies that pose a threat to faith are small and internal to a single Bible-study or youth group. Backbiting and social shunning are part of the church-lady stereotype for a reason. They also leave a bitter taste that makes some church members stop drinking the Kool-aid.

Disgusting and Immoral Behavior

The priest abuse scandal did more for the New Atheist movement than outspoken anti-theists like Christopher Hitchens (God is Not Great), Richard Dawkins (The God Delusion), Sam Harris (The End of Faith) or Bill Maher (Religulous) ever could. To make matters worseor better, depending on your point of view-- Bill Donohue of the Catholic League seems to be doing everything possible to fan those flames: On top of the abuse itself, followed by cover-ups, he is now insisting that the best defense of Church property is a good offense against the victims, and has vowed to fight them “one by one.” The Freedom from Religion Foundation publishes a bi-monthly newspaper that includes a regular feature: The Black Collar Crime Blotter. It features fraud, drug abuse, sex crimes and more by Protestant as well as Catholic clergy. The obvious purpose is to move readers from Religion isn’t true to Religion isnt benign to Religion is abhorrent and needs fighting. Moral outrage is a powerful emotion.

Science denial

One of my former youth group friends had his faith done in by a conversation with a Bible study leader who explained that dinosaur skeletons actually are the bones of the giants described in early books of the Bible. Uh huh. Christians have come up with dozens of squishier, less falsifiable ways to explain the geological record: The “days” in Genesis 1 were really “ages.” Or God created the world with the fossils already in place to test our faith. Or the biblical creation story is really sacred metaphor. But young earth creationists who believe the world appeared in its present form 6- 10,000 years ago are stuck. And since almost half of the American public believes some version of this young earth story, there are ample opportunities for inquiring minds to trip across proto-scientific nonsense.

Like other factors I’ve mentioned, science denial doesnt just move believers to nonbelief. It also rallies opposition ranging from cantankerous bloggers to legal advocates. It provides fodder for comedians and critics: “If the world was created 6000 years ago, whats fueling your car?” It may produce some of the most far reaching opposition to religious belief, because science advocates argue that faith, even socially benign faith, is a fundamentally flawed way of knowing. The Catholic Church, perhaps still licking wounds about Galileo (they apologized finally in the 20th Century), has managed to avoid embarrassing and easily disproven positions on evolutionary biology. But one could argue that their atheism-fostering positions on conception and contraception similarly rely on ignorance about or denial of biological science in this case embryology and the basic fact that most embryos never become persons.

Political meddling

If you look at religion-bashing quote-quip-photo-clip-links that circulate Facebook and Twitter, most of them are prompted by church incursions into the political sphere. A spat between two atheists erupted on my home page yesterday. “Why cant ex-Christians just shut up about religion and get on with building a better world?” asked one. Why can’t we shut up?! screeched the other. “Because of shit like this!” He posted a link about Kansas giving doctors permission to deny contraception and accurate medical information to patients.

I myself give George W. Bush credit for transforming me from a politically indifferent, digging-in-the-garden agnostic into a culture warrior. He casually implied that, when going to war, he didn’t need to consult with his own father because he had consulted the big guy in the sky, and my evangelical relatives backed him up on that, and I thought, oh my God, the beliefs I was raised on are killing people. The Religious Right, and now the Catholic Bishops, have brought religion into politics in the ugliest possible way short of holy war, and people who care about the greater good have taken notice. Lists of ugly Bible verses, articles about the psychology of religion, investigative exposes about Christian machinations in D.C. or rampant proselytizing in the military and public schools all of these are popular among political progressives because it is impossible to drive progressive change without confronting religious fundamentalism.


Australian comedian and atheist John Safran, flew to Salt Lake City for a round of door-to-door devangelism after Mormons rang his doorbell one too many times on Saturday morning. More serious intrusions, in deeply personal beginning- and end-of-life decisions, for example, generate reactive anti-theism in people who mostly just want to live and let live.

Catholic and Evangelical conservatives have made a high stakes gamble that they can regain authoritarian control over their flocks and hold onto the next generation of believers (and tithers) by asserting orthodox dogmas, making Christian belief an all or nothing proposition. Their goal is a level of theological purity that will produce another Great Awakening based largely on the same dogmas as the last one. They hope to cleanse their membership of theological diversity, and assert top down control of conscience questions, replenishing their membership with anti-feminist, pro-natalist policies and proselytizing in the Southern hemisphere. But the more they resort to strict authoritarianism, insularity and strict interpretation of Iron Age texts, the more people are wounded in the name of God and the more people are outraged. By making Christian belief an all-or-nothing proposition - they force at least some would-be believers to choose nothing. Anti-theists are all too glad to help.


Posted by Elvis on 05/11/11 •
Section Spiritual Diversions
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Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Why Economic Growth May No Longer Mean Job Growth

By Zachary Roth
Yahoo News
May 10, 2010

Does growth lead to jobs? Economists have long thought so. But thanks to tectonic shifts in the nature of the U.S. financial landscape, the direct relationship may be weakening. And that could have big implications for how we define a healthy economy.

That growth and job creation go hand in hand is a basic assumption of our economic conversationso uncontroversial that it needs little explaining.

Here’s how deeply ingrained the link is: In February, Mark Zandi, the respected chief economist for Moody’s Analytics, concluded in a study that the Republican proposal to cut $60 billion in spending would cost the economy half a percentage point of growth this year, or 400,000 jobs. The GOP disputed the finding that growth would suffer. But no one questioned the connection between growth and jobs, which was based on a standard formula similar to that frequently applied by economists of all stripes.

But consider this: Between the fourth quarter of 2007 and the second quarter of last year, the U.S. economy lost almost 8 million jobs, an enormous figure by historic standards. Yet during that same period, economic activity declined by only 1.3 percent, according to the National Bureau of Economic Researchחa far less dramatic dropoff than the huge number of jobs lost would predict using conventional models. By the same token, the latter half of last year saw solid economic growth, including record corporate profits, but weak job creation, with unemployment stuck around 9 percent. That was the “jobless recovery” we heard so much about.

In other words, the established link between economic growth and job creation hasn’t held up lately, during either up or down periods. And in both cases, it’s the jobs side that has lagged.

A recent study released by the Political Economy Research Institute at the University of Massachusetts Amherst suggests the experience of the last few years hasn’t been a fluke. Economists Deepankar Basu of Amherst and Duncan K. Foley of The New School for Social Research writethat “the close relationship between [growth and jobs] that characterized the U.S. economy over the two decades after World War II has been weakening since the mid-1980s.” The result has been “jobless recoveries,” and “output-less crashes"employment lagging behind growth during both good times and bad.

Why might this be happening? Basu and Foley point to two major factors.

One is pretty well recognized: globalization and the off-shoring that’s come with it. Shipping U.S. jobs abroad naturally lets companies increase their output while creating fewer domestic jobs.

The other has received less attention: the increasing share of the economy made up of the “FIRE” industries, finance, insurance and real estate. Between 1995 and 2009, those sectors accounted for more than one quarter of U.S. GDP growth. But compared to sectors like manufacturing, which has declined steadily over the same period, the FIRE industries don’t generate many jobs in relation to their contribution to growth.

Part of the problem, Basu explained in an interview with The Lookout, is that financial firms’ total outputחand thus their contribution to GDP growthmay be exaggerated. Most financial services aren’t explicitly priced, so the firm’s output is calculated by looking at the total compensation paid to each employee. But as we’ve learned in recent years, employee compensation on Wall Street often bears little relation to the value of the services involved. So, Basu and others have argued, the output of the finance sector is inflated. As finance and the other FIRE sectors make up an increasing share of the economy, that artificial difference between growth and employment becomes heightened.

Not everyone is willing to go as far as Basu and Foley. In an interview with The Lookout, Gus Faucher, the director of macroeconomics at Moody’s Analytics acknowledged that it takes longer these days for economic growth to translate into job gains, in part because employers have become better at squeezing their existing workforce to boost productivity. That, he said, explains the “jobless recovery” we saw at least until this year.

But eventually, he argued, one will follow the other. “Once you get GDP growth, you will get job growth” sooner or later, he said. That may already be happening: Each of the last three months has seen more than 200,000 jobs created, even as growth has slowed.

Still, the lag time may be significant. Even if the economy continues to add jobs at the pace we’ve seen so far this year, it’ll take till late 2016 to get back to the pre-recession unemployment rate.

If the growth-jobs link is indeed weakening, it may call for a wholesale shift in approach from policymakers. For one thing, of course, it’s another reason to look skeptically at free trade policies that have encouraged off-shoring, as Basu and Foley argue.

But other common strategiesחfor instance, some of the tax breaks for businesses that President Obama and Congressional Republicans agreed to in Decembermight also merit a rethinking. If there’s no longer as strong a connection between jobs and GDP, it’s more likely that the growth those tax cuts produce will come from investments in machinery, or from hiring overseas workers, rather than from domestic job production. And if that’s the case, then more direct job creation strategies might be more effective at bring down unemployment.

After all, it’s not U.S. economic growth itself that most people are looking forחit’s jobs. If one no longer leads as surely as it did to the other, then maybe it’s time to re-evaluate what the goal is.


Credit: Eduardo Felix

Posted by Elvis on 05/10/11 •
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