Issac Newton and Sandy Koufax

Sir Issac Newton was born on Christmas Day 1642 according to the Julian Calendar. Or January 4, 1643 if you use the Gregorian one that we use today.  Olivia Judson proposes to resolve this difficulty by celebrating for 10 days – the Ten Days of Newton  or the Newton Birthday Festival.  She has even written the words to a song celebrating his life and achievements. The tune is, of course, the Twelve Days of Christmas.

On the tenth day of Newton,
My true love gave to me,
Ten drops of genius,
Nine silver co-oins,
Eight circling planets,
Seven shades of li-ight,
Six counterfeiters,
Four telescopes,
Three Laws of Motion,
Two awful feuds,
And the discovery of gravity!

Sandy Koufax was born on December 30, 1935,  He was my first sports hero.  I began following him when the Dodgers were in Brooklyn and continued after the move to LA.  I had an old console radio on which I could, at night, get AM stations from New Jersey (where I grew up) to St. Louis and New Orleans. So in the summertime, I could get the Dodgers playing most of the National League.  Looking back, I think I admired him because he seems to have a life outside of baseball and to be secure in his own person – not that I could  have articulated that as a teenagers.

Koufax was a great pitcher and I’m sure many batters thought he defied the Newtonion Laws of Motion.  It is only right that his birthday comes in the middle of the Newton Festival.

Pastor Rick Updated

After I did my post on the invocation, I ran across this blog entry by Melissa Etheridge.  She recounts her conversation with Rick Warren and how she now feels about having him do the invocation.

As Bob and I were saying at breakfast this morning, maybe Barack Obama is up to something here – like co-opting the religious right.  Our conversation was triggered by this little note on the Boston Globe editorial page:

Evangelicals: Too outspoken a spokesman
Richard Cizik was forced to resign earlier this month after 28 years as vice president for public affairs with the National Association of Evangelicals, despite expanding the flock among younger evangelicals with his calls for “creation care” on the environment. The last straw for the church hierarchy was Cizik’s Dec. 2 interview with NPR’s Terry Gross of “Fresh Air,” in which he revealed he voted for Barack Obama in the Virgina primary and said he was growing more tolerant of civil unions (though not marriage equality) for gay couples. The worst part is that Cizik’s departure will give cheer to rival Christian activists such as James Dobson, who wanted Cizik fired for his “relentless” campaign against global warming long before gay marriage was a big issue.

As they used to say on Laugh-In,  “Very Interesting.”

Federal Aid for the Local Economy

I’m off work until the end of the year, but my friends in the budget office are working hard to try to figure out how to cut the city operating budget by 10% because the state will likely cut local aid by that amount.  The state has already made cuts in things like pay raises for direct care workers – the folks who provide care for the disabled and elderly who work for non-profits.  Some of our affordable rental housing construction is not beining constructed because there is no funding either from loans or from tax credits. I think state and local workers may be laid off before this crisis ends.  And, jokes about inefficient govenerment workers aside, do we really need more people with skills and education, unemployed?

Paul Krugman wrote about all this in Fifty Herbert HooversI know that the governors I know, Deval Patrick and Tim Kaine, do not like the comparison.  I’m sure they understand that cutting spending right now is the worst thing they could do but as Krugman explains

In fact, the true cost of government programs, especially public investment, is much lower now than in more prosperous times. When the economy is booming, public investment competes with the private sector for scarce resources — for skilled construction workers, for capital. But right now many of the workers employed on infrastructure projects would otherwise be unemployed, and the money borrowed to pay for these projects would otherwise sit idle.

And shredding the social safety net at a moment when many more Americans need help isn’t just cruel. It adds to the sense of insecurity that is one important factor driving the economy down.

So why are we doing this to ourselves?

The answer, of course, is that state and local government revenues are plunging along with the economy — and unlike the federal government, lower-level governments can’t borrow their way through the crisis. Partly that’s because these governments, unlike the feds, are subject to balanced-budget rules. But even if they weren’t, running temporary deficits would be difficult. Investors, driven by fear, are refusing to buy anything except federal debt, and those states that can borrow at all are being forced to pay punitive interest rates.

I agree that the state and local governments need help.  Funds to help pay for construction projects, funds for social service programs, funds to help pay for health care and unemployment.  And now for my rant.   But those funds need to have less rigid guidelines than normal Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) and other federal programs.  If AIG, Citi Bank, and the other large lending institutions have no oversight or reporting requirements, state and local governements have too many.  Take the new Neighborhood Stabilization money which is to help purchase, rehab and otherwise get foreclosed properties back online.  I will have to learn an entirely new federal reporting system (the email I got with my password says that there are “navigational problems” with the system) and monitor owners and renters for the next 10 to 15 years, with no increase in staff or administrative costs past the first 3 years.  Does this make any sense? 

Krugman again

What can be done? Ted Strickland, the governor of Ohio, is pushing for federal aid to the states on three fronts: help for the neediest, in the form of funding for food stamps and Medicaid; federal funding of state- and local-level infrastructure projects; and federal aid to education. That sounds right — and if the numbers Mr. Strickland proposes are huge, so is the crisis.

I agree with Governor Stickland with one addition:  money should also go into mass transit and intercity highspeed rail.  This could be part of the green solution at the same time.

If you also want to see and hear Paul Krugman, he was on the Rachel Maddow  show.

Rick Warren, the Invocation, and Separation of Church and State

I have to admit that I was a bit upset at the announcement that the President Elect had picked Rick Warren to give the invocation, but I did not send an email in protest.  Why?  Well, mostly because I wasn’t sure if this were really a big deal or if  in 50 years it would turn out to be a brilliant move. 

I know that Rachel Maddow called it “Obama’s first big mistake.”  The Nation summarizes

Maddow asked why Obama would want to bestow such an honor on an individual who has compared abortion to the Holocaust, same-sex relationships to pedophilia and incest and has openly advocated for the assassination of foreign leaders.

But I was still with San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom who thought it was politics as usual and disappointing, but not a reason to stop supporting President Elect Obama.

Richard Kim  writing in the Nation has espoused a really interesting idea:  Let’s pressure Warren and Obama to join forces and promote civil unions which they both claim to support. 

I understand the left’s sense of betrayal, but this reaction to Obama’s choice is off the mark. It’s a sign of how much we have conceded to the religious right that almost nobody asked why there should be an invocation at all.

What has happened to separation of church and state?   Kim’s idea for those of us who support gay marriage:

But here’s the bright spot for gays and lesbians: there’s actually common ground that they might find with Obama and Pastor Rick–it’s just not on religious terms. Both say they support full equal rights for gays and lesbians. Let’s test this premise by pushing forward a federal civil union bill that guarantees all the rights of marriage for same-sex couples, as Obama has suggested in his platform. Perhaps over time, some straights will want in on this God-free institution too, and we’ll have civil unions for everyone. Then Warren will be free to sanctify as marriages only the unions he likes. And I’ll be free to sanctify mine by whatever idol I choose, or to choose not to at all.

According to my search on European Marriage laws there are four basic categories:

  • marriage
    Where the rights, responsibilities and legal recognition given to same-sex couples who marry is the same as those for married different-sex couples.
  • registered partnership
    Where same-sex couples have the possibility to enter formal registration that provides them with a virtually equivalent status, rights, responsibilities and legal recognition to that of married couples (with some possible exceptions). This form of registration is often exclusively open to same-sex partners; however some countries have also made it available to different-sex partners.
  • registered cohabitation
    Where a number of enumerated rights, responsibilities and legal recognition are given to couples who register their cohabitation. This form of registration is oftentimes available to both same-sex and different-sex couples and requires that the couples prove that they have lived together to a determined period of time before they can accede to their registration.
  • unregistered cohabitation
    Where very limited rights and responsibilities are automatically accrued after a specified period of cohabitation. These rights are almost always available to unmarried different-sex couples as well.

Various European countries have adopted various combinations of these, often offering choices to both straight and same-sex couples.

I found an old (2003) American Prospect article  discussing this.  E. J. Graff wrote

But of course, marriage is not just a legal instrument; it’s also a symbolically powerful institution, a religious and political battleground whose rules and borders have been fought over for millennia. Each country that has tackled this issue has had to figure out how to help same-sex partners according to its own traditions. Which means that looking at civil marriage worldwide offers a number of models that differ dramatically from our own, and from each other.

Those nations that have gone furthest share at least two out of three key elements: profound cultural, political or constitutional commitments to social justice; legal pragmatism about regulating couples, whether or not they’ve said “I do”; and genuine separation of church and state.

The French Revolution stripped priests of any legal power over marriage, a concept spread by Napoleon’s conquests across much of the continent (and beyond). From Germany to Belgium, couples must take God-free marriage vows in city hall — and only afterward, if they so choose, may they walk to a church, synagogue or mosque for a second wedding. Europeans are often shocked to find that, in the United States, ministers, rabbis, imams and priests can wave the magic wands of both church and state at the same time. The result: Europeans grasp more easily than Americans that changes in civil marriage make no incursions into religious marriage.

Expanding Richard Kim’s idea, lets go for civil marriage with full rights for both gays and straights.  This could be like a registered partnership.  We could make a civil marriage required for filing joint tax returns and other civil recognition.  If you then want to get married in a church one can do so.  Let’s separate church and state.

How about it Pastor Rick?  President Elect Obama?  Are you up for the challenge?

More on Corruption

Nationally the big story is Rod Blagojevich while here in Boston we have Dianne Wilkerson, Chuck Turner, and House Speaker Sal Dimasi.  Let’s look at what is happening with each of them.

Dianne resigned under pressure.  She had lost the election and would have ended her term in January.  She no longer had any influence so why the push to move her out.  It came from the State Senate leadership, from the press, from the black religious community.  Granted, the tapes of her putting cash into her bra were pretty dramatic, but at the time she resigned there had been an arrest only, not a grand jury indictment.  I’m pretty sure I’m right about that.  So why the intense pressure for her to resign?  Were people just tired of another Wilkerson financial mess?  After all her problems with her mortgage and taxes have been around for years.  Or is it gender related?  I just can’t help noticing that of the four politicians I mention in this post, she is the only women and the only one who has been forced to resign.

Chuck has had a lot of press conferences and rallies proclaiming his innocence.  His story has changed a little from “it was a campaign contribution” (which would have been illegal anyway) to “maybe it isn’t me on the tape taking the money”.  He has not resigned and City Council has not pushed the matter except to take away his committee assignments.  Chuck has also raised questions about the FBI.  Questions  which I have written about.

Sal DiMasi’s good friend, accountant and golf buddy was arrested for violation state laws about lobbying.  Although I think the situation stinks there has been, so far, no direct link to Sal except some email.  No one is asking Sal to resign from the House or even leave his post as Speaker.  Is email maybe less damning that video?  I wonder if House members are just letting the situation alone until January when there will be an election for Speaker.  It will be interested to see if he is re-elected. Expect more on this as time goes by. 

Then there is Blago.  He says he can’t tell us what is going on because his lawyer says to save it for court, but he’s not resigning.  Barack Obama can’t release his list of staff who had conversations with Blago which he says will clear the transition of any taint until U.S. Attorney Patrick Fitzgerald gives the OK.  Did Fitzgerald jump the gun here?  There has not been any indictment from a grand jury yet, just those very entertaining wire tap transcripts.  Christopher Hayes  blogging in the Nation asks

But here’s my question: My understanding of the law is that there’s a distinction between personal pecuniary interests/compensation and campaign fundraising. In other words: it would be manifestly illegal, obviously, if Blago was “selling” the seat in the sense of trading it fro cash for himself. But is trading the seat for fundraising help really illegal? and if so, doesn’t that mean that a huge percentage of political transactions are illegal, including all those conversations during the primary about Obama inducing HRC to drop out in exchange for fundraising help to retire her debt?

Using the Hayes standard of personal gain, Dianne is alleged to have taken cash for herself.  Chuck allegedly took cash to “take his wife to dinner” and we aren’t sure what the allegations are for Sal and Blago.

W’s Last Minute Regulations

I am hopeful that the Obama Administration will find a way to overturn the slew of last minute regulations that the Bush Administration has been getting approved before he leaves.  The big problem is the time and effort is will take to ferret them all out and to do the legislative process in time to reverse them without having to re-do the regulatory process. 

So here is a great video about some of them – Bush’s Nightmare Before Christmas.  Funny, but very sad.

Science Makes a Comeback

My father who was a physicist would, I think, be very pleased with Barack Obama’s science appointments.  He would have been appalled at the way George Bush treated scientists working on global warming for example.

In June 2003, CBS News  reported that

(CBS) President Bush dismissed on Tuesday a report put out by his administration warning that human activities are behind climate change that is having significant effects on the environment.

The report released by the Environmental Protection Agency was a surprising endorsement of what many scientists and weather experts have long argued — that human activities such as oil refining, power plants and automobile emissions are important causes of global warming.

“I read the report put out by the bureaucracy,” Mr. Bush said dismissively when asked about the EPA report, adding that he still opposes the Kyoto treaty.

With the appointments of Steven Chu to be the Energy Secretary, Jane Lubchenco  to head NOAA, and John Holdren to be his science advisor, the Obama administration seems to be taking science and global warming seriously.  This appointments cover marine biology and physics and include a Nobel Prize winner and former head of the American Association for the Advancement of Science. 

The Washington Post  reported today

President-elect  Barack Obama has selected two of the nation’s most prominent scientific advocates for a vigorous response to climate change to serve in his administration’s top ranks, according to sources, sending the strongest signal yet that he will reverse Bush administration policies on energy and global warming.

The appointments of Harvard University physicist John Holdren as presidential science adviser and Oregon State University marine biologist Jane Lubchenco as head of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, which will be announced tomorrow, dismayed conservatives but heartened environmentalists and researchers.

I love that phrase “dismayed conservatives”.

I haven’t agreed with all of Obama’s appointments – particularly Governor Vilsack for Agriculture  (too invested in ethanol which takes too much energy to produce) – but on the whole, I think that we may finally be back on the right track.

The President Elect and Basketball

I’m tired of Rod the Governor, whether the Cabinet is too conservative and status quo, and if Caroline Kennedy is really qualified to be Senator so I decided to write about Mr. Obama and basketball.

Nia-Malika Henderson wrote a nice little piece on yesterday.

President-elect Barack Obama decided to talk a little trash Tuesday. After lauding his choice to lead the department of education and ducking a question about that distracting Illinois scandal, he let go with this:

“I think we are putting together the best basketball-playing cabinet in American history,” he said. “And I think that is worth noting.”

According to Henderson Obama had a great nickname in high school: Barry O’Bomber.  As to speculation as to who will be playing with him along with various cabinet members (Arne Duncan and General Jones) there is always Secret Service, other White House staff (like Reggie Love) and various current and retired NBA and college stars.  I know Charles Barkley is just waiting for an invite.  Wish I could find the picture I saw somewhere with then candidate Obama with the UNC team.

The President Elect is a Chicago Bulls fan, but the Boston Celtics are the team to beat.  And he and I both picked the UNC Tar Heels to win it all last year.  We were both wrong, but it looks like it might be a good pick again this year.