News Flash: Pope Infallible When Supported by Two-Thirds of Bishops!

I’m not a Catholic but I have studied church history and fundamental Christian theology more extensively than most non-academics. So I was surprised today when the special Synod on the Family called by Pope Francis refused to grant him the two-thirds supermajority he needed to get his specified language on gay rights and unmarried Catholic couples living together into a final document.

pope_francis_wavingI have always been under the impression that the Pope is infallible in matters of doctrine. Yet this document was clearly described as an attempt to “restate Church doctrine” on a number of family-related issues. So in my apparent naivete, I expected the Pope would simply announce, in an encyclical, the new doctrine, and, voila!, the church’s official belief would change In my lifetime, I know Popes have used that power (for example on the whole fish-on-Friday thing).

But because the revised document — even with some very watered-down language on gays that supplanted what the Pope really wanted — could only muster 118 of the required 127 votes to adopt the document, the Roman Catholic Church continues operating out of 16th Century ignorance on topics of increasing importance to its followers.

Little wonder that the Church continues to fade in its influence. The most recent Pew Research polling found that just over 1/4 of self-identified Catholics considered themselves “strong” supporters of Church doctrine.

More Proof — As if it Was Needed — That “Analysts” Are Morons

Picking on analysts has long been one of my favorite pastimes. I honestly don’t know how these so-called “experts” who take apart a company’s financial and operation processes and both predict how their stock will do and presume to tell their C-level teams how to run the businesses.

The latest example is Google. In this New York Times piece, “analysts” are quoted as, at one and the same time:

  • worrying about what Google is going to do next to counter Apple’s new payment technology, improve YouTube’s competitive stance, and cash in on mobile advertising; and…
  • complaining that R&D costs are on the verge of getting out of control as core businesses begin to shrink (which they haven’t yet).

So let me get this straight. Google needs to spend more on R&D to stay ahead of the competition but they shouldn’t spend more on R&D because, you know, analysis.

These folks have clout in the marketplace completely out of proportion to their repeatedly demonstrated ignorance and conflicting advice. Over one period of four years when I watched Apple analysts closely, these so-called experts offered completely contradictory advice on no fewer than 11 occasions.

If you ask me (and, nope, nobody has…yet), these people are more interested in covering their own asses than they are in making useful comments and predictions about business performance.

They are, in short, narcissistic parasites on the economy. We’d all be better off if they went away and became, oh, I don’t know, hedge fund managers?

 

Giants in World Series Again But So Are the Once-Hapless Royals

An incredibly busy week has kept me from posting anything this week. That’s the first time that’s happened in a long time. Did you miss me? Didn’t think so.

I’ve been spending most of what little unscheduled time I was able to muster this week watching my San Francisco Giants crush the St. Louis Cardinals, thus earning their third trip to the World Series in five years. Well, okay, “crush” is a bit strong. Over the course of the five games, the Giants outscored the Redbirds 24-16, which is an average of 4.8 to 3.2 for an average winning margin of less than 2 runs per game. So “crush”? Maybe not. But out-played? For sure. And, I think, out-toughed is another appropriate description. Last night’s Game 5 was a perfect microcapsule. When the Giants had tied the game, the Cards came to bat in the top of the ninth and had runners on 1st and 2nd with one out, and runners at 2nd and 3rd with two out and failed to score. In the bottom of the inning, the Giants got to runners at 1st and 2nd with one out before Travis Ishikawa hit his magical homer. Just guts.

nlcs_celebrationCardinal third-baseman Matt Carpenter said after the game, “It wasn’t meant to be. Look at the way this game unfolded. We were inches away from taking the lead (again). That’s the way the series has been going. It wasn’t meant to be for us.” And that resignation to fate — the Giants were also inches away from taking the lead again…and they did…– may be as good an explanation as we need of why the Giants are headed to Kansas City and the Cards are headed elsewhere in Missouri.

The Giants out-hit the Cards .253 to .233 and reached base more often (.330 to .298) although the Cards led in Slugging Percentage (.423 to .355) and the highly touted On-Base Plus Slugging Percentage (OPS) by .721 to .685.

On the mound, San Francisco’s team ERA was a respectable 3.20 vs the Cards’ fairly dismal 4.57. Strikeout-to-walk ratios were pretty close (SF 32/13 and StL 27/19) and not very impressive. (Stats courtesy of BaseballReference.com.)

But at the end of the day, the Giants won 80% of the games played. Nuff said.

Interesting Tidbits

In my post-game reading, I stumbled across a couple of interesting items I haven’t seen mentioned in many places.

  • Michael Morse

    Michael Morse

    Barry Bonds was on hand for the playoffs and is still finding ways to help the Giants. Michael Morse gave Bonds partial credit for his game-tying homer in the bottom of the eight. Morse told SF Gate, “Barry came up to me and told me, ‘Get your foot down. You can’t hit if your foot’s in the air. I really thought about it. I went to the cage trying to get my foot down early.” When his pinch-hit opportunity arrived, he was ready. Foot down. Ball over left field wall. Tie game.

  • As far as I can tell, MLB.com was the first news outlet to use the word dynasty to describe the G-Men, who are appearing in their third world series in five years. (Every even-numbered year as if to help take our minds off the numbing run of election news). The article by Anthony DiComo attributed the Giant’s run of success to the ability of the team to keep a core of solid players together when other teams are juggling players and roster spots like an out-of-control clown. At least that was reliefer Jeremy Affeldt’s opinion, which DiComo cited with approval in his piece. Dynasty. I sort of like the ring of that.
  • Cardinals fans and media are second-guessing Manager Mike Matheny’s decision to give the ball to Michael Wacha for that fateful final inning. Wacha hadn’t thrown a pitch in more than a month after an injury but had been asking and asking and asking to get into the post-
    Travis Ishakawa

    Travis Ishakawa

    season. When he did, he looked pretty terrible. He gave up a leadoff single to Pablo “Panda” Sandoval, got Hunter Pence on a routine fly, then walked Brandon Belt. After Belt gave way to pinch-runner Joaquin Arias, Wacha missed the first two pitches to Ishakawa before serving up the inevitable 2-0 fastball. Ishakawa parked it on the arcade high over the right field wall and it was over. Well, it was almost over. Giants pitcher Jake Peavy thought the ball had stayed in the yard, meaning Ishakawa had a walk-off double to score the winning run. So he went out and met the Giants’ outfielder between second and third and almost tackled him. “Move!” Ishakawa said to his stunned teammate, “I hit it out!” LOL

  •  No sooner was the champagne dry in the SF clubhouse than the national “Hate the Royals” bandwagon began to pick up steam. Beats me why. They’re making their first appearance in the World Series in 29 years and only their second in franchise history. It’s not like they’re the Yankees or the Red Sox or the Dodgers — teams everyone loves to hate because they’re “national” and obnoxious. They’ve not been a very good team historically. My money is on the Giants to make them look like the relatively weak team they were most of the season. But, hate? Seems a bit strong. This piece on Medium.com sort of summarized the roiling national feeling; I expect to see a lot more of this. I prefer to be pro-something than anti-anything so I’m just going to settle for a quiet, mild-mannered..

go_giants

More Validation for Near-Death Experience in UK Study

As someone who has had what I call a Resurrection Experience and what most of the world calls a Near-Death Experience (NDE), I am deeply interested in the subject. So this study out of the UK that concluded that “There may be a small amount of life after death” is yet another proof of the validity of the experience.

In the study, researchers found that, “nearly 40% of those who survived described some kind of ‘awareness’ during the time when they were clinically dead before their hearts were restarted,” a period that was often as long as three minutes. This is particularly interesting because numerous studies conducted over many decades have generally concluded that somewhere closer to 5% of people have such experiences and recall them later.

One of the researchers observed, “A higher proportion of people may have vivid death experiences, but do not recall them due to the effects of brain injury or sedative drugs on memory circuits.

 

Those in the study who reported this post-death awareness had some experiences in common, including an unusual sense of peacefulness, time slowing down or speeding up, bright light, and physical separation.

(By the way, the reason I choose a different term from most is that for me “dead” is a binary condition: you are or you’re not. You’re not “near” death, at least not as a measurable or detectable state except in the sense that “near” means “approaching.”

Washington’s Offensive Team Name Can Be Dealt With Easily

The Los Angeles Times ran an editorial last week suggesting that the FCC is not the right government agency to be dealing with the widespread disgust in the nation at the Washington NFL team’s name and mascot. The op-ed piece was in reaction to a complaint filed by an activist who wants the FCC to refuse to renew the operating license of a radio station that is the flagship of the Washington team’s radio network.

Buried in the editorial was the perfect solution to this entire problem.

Some sports announcers have said they will no longer use the team name during broadcasts, and some newspapers have announced that they’ll refer to the team simply as “Washington.”

redskins_protestExactly. The media can shut this whole thing down in a matter of months simply by declining to refer to the team by its nickname. It’s hardly necessary for the media to use the team nickname — or even a contraction of it — to provide full coverage of the team and its performance. If it became common practice, the club would be forced to re-examine its entrenched position on this ludicrous issue.

I’m only a lonely blogger and I’ve probably not mentioned the Washington football team more than a handful of times in my life, so nobody really cares, but I’m going to do this as well.

Panetta, the Republicrat Ex-CIA Director and SecDef Hawk, Blasts Obama as He Flogs New Book

panetta

Leon Panetta

Former CIA Director and Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta — who hails from my home on the Monterey Peninsula of California — is flogging his new book, Worthy Fights: A Memoir of Leadership in War and Peace. The book is apparently highly critical of President Obama’s behavior with respect to national security and, particularly, foreign relations in the Middle East and Northern Africa.

I’ve always viewed Panetta as a Republicrat. He’s such a Hawk that this particular criticism carries no weight with me at all. His answer to every world crisis is more power, more troops, more war, more violence.

While I find myself agreeing with at least some of what he says, coming from him, it’s the same as coming from a Republican. The problem is, as this piece points out, Panetta has managed to retain the image of a “stalwart Democrat,” which I don’t believe he’s ever been, at least not on national security or foreign affairs.

In Monterey, he runs the Panetta Institue, along with his wife. They host some incredibly interesting and powerful speakers on important subjects during their annual symposia. He strives for real balance between progressive and conservative views and features a number of centrist speakers as well.

There is, of course, nothing wrong with that. But to hold himself out as a “stalwart” (a word he didn’t use but wouldn’t reject) Democrat is just a bit disingenuous.

Supreme Court Critic Suggests Some Interesting Reforms

The United States Supreme Court is the only federal institution not to have undergone any structural or functional revision in its entire 226-year history. That fact alone should give us Americans great pause, particularly given the Court’s increasing influence of American life.

Edwin Chemerinsky, Supreme Court's Supreme Critic

Edwin Chemerinsky, Supreme Court’s Supreme Critic

As the Court’s new term began last week, one of the Court’s primary critics,Erwin Chemerinsky, who wrote a book called The Case Against the Supreme Court, renewed his call for significant reform. Chief among his suggestions:

  • instituting merit-based selection of judges, beginning with a bipartisan panel that would present a list of candidates from which the President would then make his or her selection;
  • reforming the confirmation process in some unspecified way;
  • establishing term limits for justices (which would require a Constitutional amendment, of course);
  • requiring that SCOTUS justices comply with all the same ethical standards as other Federal court justices (and presumably subject them to the same penalties for their violation, including removal from the bench).

Other than the vagueness of the second suggestion, I’m in favor of all of these steps on some level.

However, I feel like I should also remind my Liberal brethren that back in the day when Earl Warren ran the Court, the Right was sputtering furious at him for his liberal, activist decisions. “Impeach Earl Warren” was a real — and large — national movement. It will be a long, long time before there’s any chance of a Liberal court again in our history and perhaps that fact alone mitigates in favor of instituting some reforms to prevent its horrendous excesses.

In a column in today’s LA Times, Chemerinsky, who is Dean of the UC-Irvine School of Law, offered the most blanket and damning indictment of the Court I’ve ever read as an amateur Court Watcher:

I wish I could say that last year was an aberration. But, over the course of American history, the court has repeatedly failed at its most important tasks and at the most important times.

He and I have the same view of the Court so it’s not surprising I’d agree with him. But if you read that piece (and if you’re a Court aficionado, I highly recommend it), even if you are farther to the right than I am, I think you’ll agree that there is cause for alarm.

Wait. On What Planet Does This Make Sense? “We Want to Consider the Constitutionality of Your Law. Meanwhile, We’ll Let it Take Effect”!!??

One of the strangest rulings I’ve ever seen at the Federal appeals court level just occurred in Texas.

The Fifth Circuit Court decided it needed to review the constitutionality of a Texas law blatantly designed to circumvent Roe v Wade and tacitly close all but seven of Texas’ few remaining family planning clinics still offering abortion services. So far, so good.

But then the court decided that while it considers that important question, it will allow the law to go into effect. The result will be the closure of those clinics. Even if this court or a higher court overturns the state law — as seems inevitable barring an overturning of Roe v Wade — the clinics will be gone.

The normal expectation when the court is considering the constitutionality of a law that changes existing behaviors or rules or standards is to hold the law in abeyance while the appeal is resolved. But not in the case of these knuckle-draggers from the Old South.

I am literally flabbergasted. As the AP wire story on the ruling said:

Allowing to go forward the rules on hospital-level upgrades — including mandatory operating rooms and air filtration systems — would shutter more than a dozen clinics across Texas. It means only abortion facilities will remain open in the Houston, Austin, San Antonio and the Dallas-Fort Worth areas.

None will be left along the Texas-Mexico border or outside any of the state’s largest urban areas.

In other words, foes of a woman’s right to choose will have won even if the law is ultimately overturned. The panel of the 5th Circuit that issued that ruling should be impeached, not for this ruling so much as for demonstrating a complete and callous disregard for the consequences of its rulings.

My New Google Docs Book Has Been Published!

Today, I announced the publication of my new book, Use Google Docs Like A Pro. It’s available Leanpub.com.

title_pageThe book, the second in my new series of Shafer Book releases using the lean publishing model, begins by assuming you already know basically how to use Google Docs, which is, after all, just another word processor on one level. It focuses on things that are different or perhaps not obvious about the app instead.

These items include import/export from numerous supported formats, generation of Tables of Contents, footnotes and URLs, and other such niceties.

In its first release the book is about 60% complete; as I finish additional chapters, I’ll be raising the price. But if you buy the book now at the special recommended price of just $2.99, you’ll get all future upgrades for free. In fact, even if you choose to pay less (you can buy it for as little as 99 cents if you want right now), you’ll still get all future upgrades without spending another dime.

More details on the book’s landing page; check out the press release if you’re a media type and want a free review copy.

 

Is the Fourth Amendment Dead on the Net? Is Expectation of Privacy “Reasonable”?

The Fourth Amendment only protects you against searches that violate your reasonable expectation of privacy. A reasonable expectation of privacy exists if 1) you actually expect privacy, and 2) your expectation is one that society as a whole would think is legitimate.

So says the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) on the Web page on its site discussing the Surveillance Self-Defense Project. That’s an accurate summary of the law as it’s been interpreted over the years by the courts in the United States. Famously, e.g., courts have ruled that prison inmates have no reasonable expectation of privacy; they should assume they are under constant surveillance.

So the question that arises for me is whether anyone in the world today has a “reasonable” expectation of privacy in Internet communications. And I sadly conclude that, as much as we might like to claim it and as hard as we’d fight for it if it weren’t too late, it is in fact too late. This means that any communication you have that involves the Internet, however seemingly tangentially, should be governed by the principle that if you don’t want everyone to know about it and see it, don’t do it on the Net.

I am expecting that conservative courts — and this regrettably includes a highly partisan Supreme Court — will soon begin chipping away at the expectation of privacy that many us pretend we have as they conclude that such expectation does not meet the reasonable clause of the freedom as understood by those courts.

And then all hell will break loose.