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Thu May 30, 2013 at 03:33 PM PDT

Bank Services Scam

by sponge jim

Suppose you got an unsolicited email spam with the following offer.  You deposit money in the bank account of some unknown website owner and he'll use that money to pay your bills.  Naturally, there's an attractive convenience.  But I suspect very few individuals would accept the offer.

Now suppose the same entrepeneur approaches your bank.  As part of their deal, your bank agrees to brand the service.  When you log into online banking, there's an offer to "use our online bill paying system".  The link goes to a website that displays your bank's logo, and everytime you fill out a short form, money is withdrawn from your account.

I discovered with my local Credit Union that other than the superficial appearances, there is no difference between these two scenarios.  $450 is missing from my account.  My Credit Union says I approved the transaction and any problems are my responsibility.  As part of the discussion, the CU now acknowledges a 3rd party bill paying service that is completely independent.  But otherwise, none of my persistent questions were answered.  

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Thu Jan 10, 2013 at 08:48 PM PST

The Second Amendment

by sponge jim

Piers Morgan was running in the background tonight while he interviewed a number of guests about their positions on gun control.  It seems that the first question to every guest was "Do you believe in the second amendment?"  Well that's a little unfair.  In the sense of "acknowledging the existance of", everybody believes in the second amendment.  Which is not say that everyone agrees with the second amendment- believe is sometimes a synonym of agree: as in, "I believe I should be more tolerant of redneck morons".

And after Piers's guests survived that rhetorical thicket, it's still a challenge advocating for gun control after acknowledging the second amendment.  I'm glad I wasn't interviewed.  Because I believe it's unconstitutional to ban firearms from schools, airplanes and courtrooms.  It's right there:

The right to keep and bear Arms shall not be infringed
It's funny how people can ignore the black and white text and conceptualize some fuzzy interpretation instead.  Hell, the amendment doesn't even guarantee the right to own firearms.

Oh wait...

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Mon Jan 07, 2013 at 09:01 AM PST

Liberal Christianity

by sponge jim

I've been going to church for about 12 years now.  Originally, I told enlightened friends that in order to be a non-believer, you need to know what it is that you don't believe in.  I'm not sure my underlying faith has changed much, but church gives me interesting things to think about.

We joined a obstensibly liberal, beautiful downtown historic church.  It's clear that there's been a generational shift since I joined.  And the replacements, while mostly my age, are wholly unfamiliar to me.

Demographically, I would describe them as moderate conservatives.  To further describe them, they mostly drive in from out-of-town or affluent subdivisions on our outskirts.  They are professionals, which is a term I use to describe people who think in one dimension.  And their religious beliefs, their purpose driven lives, if you will, seem to be focused entirely on conformity.  

This is more of a tech support question, I suppose.  I can't figure out how to make it work.  If anyone has any ideas, please let me know.

The governance is peculiar to me.  The church leaders appoint a nominating committee, the nominating committee selects candidates, and those candidates are unanimously approved as a slate.  It's democratic in that there's a vote.  But in that I consider democracy to be synonymous with inclusive, there's none of that.

Our leaders are friendly and energetic.  But politically, the most conservative members of the congregation.  Here's where my cognitive dissonance sets in.  There's nothing political about our church.  Except for our worship, which is as beige as beige gets, the best way to describe our church is a liberal charity, leading support for the community homeless and advocating for social justice and economic equality.  

So why does a liberal organization systemically exclude its liberal members?

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Mon Mar 12, 2012 at 08:56 AM PDT

Ann Arbor (MI) Shamrock Shenanigans

by sponge jim

Anyone run the Shamrock Shenanigans race in Ann Arbor yesterday?  If so, that was me spread-eagled on the ground, with a jackboot pushing my face into the pavement, on the corner of Main and Madison.  Apparently, arguing with a race official is a really bad idea, even if you're not participating in the race.

The more important lesson that I learned is that police will will use reasonable force when provoked, such as when the police tell you to pull over, and you try to jockey into a legal parking space.

The upshot?  Even though I was released without charge a couple hours later, I still need to pay $300 in processing fees (think of Halpern on TV in the movie Brazil) and towing/storage fees to get my car back.  If I were charged, and found not guilty, the judge could return my car and/or reimburse me.  However, my only recourse is to sue the City of Ann Arbor in civil court ($100 filing fee). And on top of that, almost all funding for legal assistance prohibits civil suits against any government entity.

Regardless of other circumstances, losing your vehicle during economic stress makes a bad situation much much worse.  For many, the result is an immediate loss of income and even housing.  And it's astonishing how easily this hardship can be capriciously imposed with impunity.  There are so many indignities when you hit bottom.  And while I've been aware of this one, it's easy to overlook.

Only recourse now is to take up a collection among friends and acquaintances.  Let me know if you care to donate.  Anyone else go through a similar experience?  Any advice?


Sat Nov 19, 2011 at 11:07 AM PST

In Time Move Review & Darwin

by sponge jim

A couple things happened last week to precipitate this discussion of Darwin.  I took my kids to see the movie In TIme (see below the fold).  Also, someone posted a comment here that "Natural selection does not apply to human beings".  As a committed believer of evolution, I want to support that assertion- a good topic for a diary.

Here's the dilemma.  I suspect that most Kossacks, like me, feel their faith is drawn more strongly to the Temple of Science than the God of Abraham.  Ironically, the common misunderstanding of Darwin leads to the same rotten outcome:  That the flow of precious resources to the rich and powerful elite is pre-determined regardless of our faith.

Precious resources?  Money is such an abstraction distraction.  In it's corporeal form, it's similar to toilet paper.  But most of it just exists as a transient property of whatever electronic media they use to store data these days.  The premise of In Time provides a more vivid model of how our lives are affected  by economic control.


Your reaction to the movie, In Time

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Sat Oct 29, 2011 at 01:07 PM PDT

October 31st is Reformation Day

by sponge jim

Believe it or not, the quincentennial of the Protestant Reformation is nearly upon us: October 31, 2017.  I hadn't given  much thought to the history of the Reformation until someone unexpectedly gave me a book on the subject by Diarmaid MacCulloch.

If unaware of the precise date, most people correctly place the Reformation origin's in the middle of the Renaissance, when scientific reasoning began its ascent over the superstitious torpor that characterized medieval Europe-  Galileo died shortly after Wittenberg in 1519.  Given that the Reformation coincides with the end of the Dark Ages, one can be forgiven for assuming, as I did, that the Reformation was one of the agents of the subsequent enlightenment.

After reading MacCulloch, I realize that the Reformation was actually a reaction against Renaissance thinking and all its manifestations.  The current Republican platform seems like a crazy patchwork of anti-science superstition, Dominionism, and Protestant Fundamentalism.  Many ascribe it to a coalition of corporation-conservative deregulation fetishists and social-conservatives nostalgic for a pre-civil-rights southern American lifestyle.  But I disagree.  I believe this Republican platform was conceived in Geneva Switzerland almost 500 years ago and has changed very little since then.

So at least in one odious claim by the Christian Right is accurate:  America was founded by theocrats whose values are embodied today by Michele Bachmann and Rick Perry.  These founders risked their lives to flee Europe, where Renaissance Humanism was evolving into the Age of Enlightenment, and establish a Dominionist colony dedicated to the Glory of God on the shores of Plymouth Harbor.  And Europe has been sending its whackjobs here ever since.  Europe may have its share of Nazis and other regressive Nationalists, but the experience of Fundamentalist Protestantism is ours alone.  Those of us whose forebears were duped by the democratic ideals expressed by Thomas Jefferson, John Adams and an entirely different vision for America are mere interlopers.


Sat Oct 29, 2011 at 09:45 AM PDT

Socialism, Anarchy & Capitalism

by sponge jim

Re: OWS:The Dam is Cracking...

libcharisma reposts some diatribe from a friend:

replacing capitalism with socialism, communism, anarchy, or anything else ... to bring down the West and capitalism

libcharisma notes the contradiction:  Libertarianism and Anarchy mean exactly the same thing, one has Latin etymology, the other Greek.  What possibly distinguishes one as patriotic and the other un-American?  

Nothing.  These are meaningless smears.  The only point is to repeat these words socialism, communism, anarchy over and over in a negative context until eventually, they generate a visceral response.   That recent phenomenon, the jackboot and bellbottom wearing mythological creature, the Nazi-Hippie, serves the same purpose.

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Thu Oct 20, 2011 at 03:17 PM PDT

Sunday NYT: Steven Rattner

by sponge jim

I only just got around to reading Rattner's opinion piece in Sunday's NYT.  I haven't seen anything else here about it.  And since I'm newbie, I'm referencing my broadsheet version instead of linking to the website.

I don't know what passes for a lay understanding of economics.  Possibly so low that bushlit like this doesn't get the critical attention it deserves.  Or maybe my own bulb is too dim.  Feel free to let me know.

I was a skeptical undergraduate when Economics professor Saul Hyman explained the benefits of global free trade.  But at least he provided a compelling example.  In the 1980's it made sense to divest from the struggling textile industry into something more valuable like building computers.

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Mon Oct 10, 2011 at 05:15 AM PDT

OWS & The Tea Party

by sponge jim

A recent post decrying any similarities between OWS and the Tea Party got me thinking:  Where were you people during the sixties anyways?  Oh yeah, you weren't born.

Granted I was watching Romper Room during Woodstock.  But here's what I remember about the hippies and anti-war demonstrators:

  1.  They were antagonized by "The Establishment".
  2.  They hated government in general and the president in particular.
  3.  They were mobilized
  4.  They wore funny retro clothes
  5.  They were largely members of the privileged class
  6.  They were easily beguiled by colorful demagogues (according to the squares in my family)
  7.  They squandered their education
  8.  They had a reputation for sexual promiscuity (ouch, don't go there!)

You think this is an astroturf movement?

Because of the generational overlap, I'm generally sympathetic to the Tea Party movement.  It is, unquestionably, misguided.  But I'm pretty sure the Tea Party is driven by the same economic pain the rest of us share.

At least they had great music.

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