Did you skip the National Day of (Conservative, Christian) Prayer?

Conservative religious groups are criticizing President Obama for what the Associated Press called his “muted” observance of National Prayer Day Thursday. “At this time in our country’s history, we would hope our President would recognize more fully the importance of prayer,” said Shirley Dobson, chairwoman of National Day of Prayer Task Force, which organizes the prayer day festivities. The Family Research Council said Obama’s decision to not have a big White House prayer event constituted a “de-emphasis on prayer.”

How about an increased emphasis on reality?

I think this is actually a case of religious conservatives having cut off their noses to spite their faces. Putting aside for a moment the question of whether it’s appropriate for the White House to be involved in encouraging prayer, this particular occasion has evolved in a way that almost guaranteed its demise.

The Bush White House had National Prayer Day run by a conservative, evangelistic Christian group. The mission statement on the Task Force’s Web site states that “in accordance with Biblical truth,” the Task Force seeks to, among other things:

“Foster unity within the Christian Church”
“Publicize and preserve America’s Christian Heritage”
“Glorify the Lord in word and deed”

The event became a showcase for religious conservative Christians to lead the nation in prayer…

These are, after all, the klowns who helped conjure up Bush’s ignominious defeat with all of their sectarian brouhaha. For that we owe them thanks.

Eight years of public butt-kissing doesn’t make ritual and superstition automatically part of the Constitution.

US’ leading banks safe enough from insolvency

Daylife/Getty Images

No US bank being screened by regulators is at risk of insolvency, US Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner has said.

The eagerly awaited results of “stress tests” on the financial health of 19 US banks are to be released after US financial markets close today.

The tests are expected to show that tens of billions of dollars are needed to bolster some banks’ finances. Citigroup and Bank of America are widely expected to need to raise the biggest amounts of cash…

Shares in the two firms have rallied ahead of the release of the tests, with Bank of America gaining 6%, and Citigroup adding 5%, as analysts said investors hoped it would mark the final conclusion of their recent financial woes.

The reason for the rally? No one seriously involved in banking thinks the additional funds will be hard to come by – and without another cent of taxpayer support required.

Analysts, Republican doomsayers, pantywaist pundits continue to string out their drivel and Free Market this and that; but, the fact remains most of the banks with solid underpinnings are undertaking their own reconstruction.

I don’t give stock tips; but, I’ll relate one anonymous example. Since I decided we were approaching a bottom back in December, I began looking for a few tasty places to buy. Got a few shares of a world-class bank near a 52-week low – and a few months later, that bank was in the same position as those in this article. They took the first obvious step by offering additional shares to existing holders to expand their liquidity. I qualified – and took ’em up on it.

Now – over a space of 5 months – it’s turned out to be the best of my new acquisitions – currently showing an increase of 46%.

Gauguin did the surgery on Van Gogh’s ear

Vincent van Gogh did not cut off his own ear but lost it in a fight with fellow artist Paul Gauguin in a row outside a brothel, it has been claimed.

It has long been accepted that the mentally ill Dutch painter cut off his own ear with a razor after the row in Arles, southern France, in 1888.

But a new book, based on the original police investigation, claims Gauguin swiped Van Gogh’s ear with a sword…

They looked at witness accounts and letters sent by the two artists, concluding that the row ended with Gauguin – a keen fencer – cutting his friend’s ear off.

Van Gogh then apparently wrapped it in cloth and handed it to a prostitute, called Rachel.

Hans Kaufmann said it was not clear whether it was an accident or a deliberate attempt to injure Van Gogh, but afterwards both men agreed to tell the police the self-harm story to protect Gauguin

Gauguin later moved to Tahiti, where he produced some of his most famous works. Van Gogh died in 1890 after shooting himself in the chest.

The sort of artistic turmoil I must admit I used to enjoy. Years later, I’m more inclined to guess it just gets in the way of actually producing anything useful or interesting.

Neurosis ain’t especially insightful.

Convicted Pedophile asks for longer sentence

George Finley is a pedophile and says he wants help.

Even after a harsh sentence three years ago for luring boys online, he couldn’t stay away from the computer or gaming sites where he contacted boys.

Yesterday, when a judge was about to sentence him to 10 more months in jail for Internet luring and child pornography possession, Finley asked for more time “so I can get help quick.”

Finley wanted to be sent to the Ontario Correctional Institute in Brampton where there is intensive sexual therapy programs — and he needed a sentence of 13 months to go there.

This is one for the books,” said Justice Lynda Templeton before agreeing to Finley’s request “on an urgent basis.”

Well – good for you, dude. Recognizing how screwed up you are is half the battle.

Not that we don’t have enough contradictions and confusion in society already

Rainforest Alliance sees continued dramatic growth in certified farms

The amount of forest and farmland certified by Rainforest Alliance will continue to soar along with demand for products that meet standards for social and environmental sustainability.

“The amount of Rainforest Alliance certified farmland will increase dramatically over the next few years because it has to. We already have the demand so that sets everything in motion,” said Chris Wille, Rainforest Alliance chief of Sustainable Agriculture…

In 2008, farm and forest land certified by Rainforest Alliance grew by 23 percent to more than 131 million acres (52 million hectares), from 107 million acres in 2007, Rainforest said last month.

The drive is coming from all along the value chain and especially companies. We’ve never seen more interest from companies, from consumers and from producers,” Wille said, adding this was a welcome move amid the current global financial crisis…

“So now farmers are lining up outside the doors of our partner NGOs (non-governmental organizations) and eager to get involved,” Wille said.

For years, Rainforest Alliance has certified farms that produce coffee, bananas, tea and cocoa. Recent additions include grapes, acai, chestnuts, apples and pears.

Our weekly grocery run to town always includes a measure of food that embraces one or another environmentally-friendly certification. It makes good sense for the future of this planet and our species.

Bright spot in the recession – new hiring is dynamic and robust

Sell lots of apples – not just one at a time on a street corner

Everyone knows the grim news — unemployment in the United States has jumped to 8.5 percent, a 25-year high, and is racing toward double digits. Since November, the nation has lost more than three million jobs. But not everyone knows the brighter side to the equation: deep in the maw of the deepest recession since the Great Depression, millions are still being hired.

So, while 4.8 million workers were laid off or chose to leave their jobs in February, employers across the country hired 4.3 million workers that month, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

“The best thing you can say about these numbers is it speaks to the dynamism of the U.S. economy, and the net negative number that we all traffic in masks that,” said Robert J. Barbera, chief economist at ITG, a research and trading firm. “Ninety out of 100 people who know the number — 650,000 were lost in February — think that means no one was hired and 650,000 were fired.”

Who is hiring? Hospitals, colleges, discount stores, restaurants and municipal public works departments. I.B.M. is hiring more than 700 people for its new technical services center in Dubuque, Iowa, while the Cleveland Clinic has 500 job openings, not just for nurses but also for pharmacy aides and physical therapists. And after President Obama’s stimulus package kicks into gear, state, local governments and road-building contractors are expected to hire more.

RTFA. Positive, useful information – especially if you’re unemployed or looking for a career change.

Milestone: Cell phone-only households pass landline-only homes

Still have a landline at the White House?

The percentage of cell phone-only households has hit 20.2 percent, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, pushing past the percentage of homes that are only connected by landlines for the first time.

The results, part of the CDC’s semi-annual health survey, reflect the rise of cell phone use and the growing pattern of “cord-cutting” by residential home phone users. Wireless-only homes have grown from 7.3 percent in the first half of 2005 to just over 20 percent in the second half of 2008. From the previous survey, that figure jumped 2.7 percentage points, the largest 6-month increase since the survey started in 2003.

Another 14.5 percent or one of every seven American homes, received all or almost all calls on their cell phones even though they have a landline at home. That means more than 1/3 of people rely almost entirely on cell phones.

But while cell phones are increasingly the way people call from home, even when they have a landline, the venerable landline keeps dying. Landline-only homes have slipped from 34.4 percent in the first half of 2005 to 17.4 percent now.

I imagine a number of those leaving landlines have added VOIP either through their computers or directly to their broadband connection.

We use SKYPE and I switch forth-and-back between a USB headset jacked into my iMac and a cordless Skype-phone I carry around the house which talks to a dongle in my primary USB hub.

My wife and I both have pay-as-you-go cell phones to handle situations where one of us might not have VOIP access.

Boiling Floors is “supernatural world getting in touch”

An Italian family fear their house could be haunted after the floors mysteriously got so hot they began to ‘boil’.

It happened on Sicily which is home to the almost constantly erupting Mount Etna, one of the world’s most active volcanos.

But Italian experts say there were no geological or scientific reasons for the freak temperatures at the family’s home in Riesi….

“It is very frightening,” said a neighbour. “When science and the natural world have no answers you have to think it was the supernatural world getting in touch.”

Yes, that must be it.

Justice Dept. re-examines flawed F.B.I. Terror List. Again.

The Federal Bureau of Investigation has incorrectly kept nearly 24,000 people on a terrorist watch list on the basis of outdated or sometimes irrelevant information, while missing people with genuine ties to terrorism who should have been on the list, according to a Justice Department report.

The report said the mistakes posed a risk to national security, because of the failure to flag actual terrorism suspects, and an unnecessary nuisance for nonsuspects who may be questioned at traffic stops or kept from boarding airplanes.

By the beginning of 2009, the report said, this consolidated government watch list comprised about 400,000 people, recorded as 1.1 million names and aliases, an exponential growth from the days before the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001…

One of the biggest problems identified in the report was the use of outdated information, or material unconnected to terrorism, to keep people on the bureau’s own terror watch list, which is incorporated in the consolidated list. The report, examining nearly 69,000 referrals to the F.B.I. list that were either brought or processed by the bureau, found that 35 percent of those people, both Americans and foreigners, remained on the list despite inadequate justification.

In some cases, it said, subjects of F.B.I. investigations that had been closed years earlier without action either were never removed from watch lists or were not removed in a timely fashion.

Potentially even more problematic were the cases of people who were not listed despite evidence of terrorist ties.

The inspector general looked at a sampling of 216 F.B.I. terrorism investigations and found that in 15 percent of them, a total of 35 subjects were not referred to the list even though they should have been.

Of course, all the oversight and standards came from a couple of corrupt politicians whose personal ideology was outdated and irrelevant. Voters finally noticed.