Saturday, November 14, 2009

Stories I Noticed This Week

Spending some time this morning catching up on this week's RSS feeds and a few things caught my eye:

Via Current:

An intolerance theme runs through a few of this week's items.

* Death threats about an advertisement

Have to agree with the observation of Shawn Jeffers: "Everything that has happened shows just how vital our message is. It proves our point, that bigotry against people who don't believe in a god is still very real in America".

Some recent pro-atheism activity has been a bit confrontational and I could see how that might irk sensitive and righteous believers. (See this Boston campaign and this one in London.) But this particular billboard was not of that kind whatsoever. And regardless, is this a good precedent to set? Don't like a message? Lob in a death threat. Slippery slope from here to a theistic state
(See this if you're looking for clues on how to spot an atheist)

* Arkansas 10-year old protests pledge of allegiance in school

My first reaction is to admire his courage. My second reaction is to hope he's not being used as a pawn to further his parents' agenda. Great thing to raise an open minded kid. Awful thing to manipulate your kid and insert him into charged topics that are sure to draw backlash from the closed minded and cruel. Nice story if it's not contrived.

* Tragic story about an 'honor killing' in Arizona

How many more generations of evolution will it take to unwind prehistoric views like these?

* Good riddance to this guy

* How representative are our representatives?

According to a report from the Center for Responsive Politics, members of congress are 44 times more likely to be millionaires than are Americans at large.

The magnitude of this variance surprised me a bit, so I looked for further context and in my search found Net Worth and Assets of Households: 2002 (note: previous link is to a pdf file; this will take you to a top level page from the Census Bureau.)

Lot of interesting data in that report, but the point I'll pull out here is that in 2002 the median household net worth was a bit less than $60,000. To roughly adjust that figure to be more compatible with the figures from the CRP report, we can consider that the S&P is up ~20% since the end of 2002 and median home prices are up ~12% (home price sources: 2002 and 2009 ; S&P source: pull a Yahoo! chart). If we approximately split the difference and adjust up median household net worth by ~15% and use $70,000 (to keep the numbers round and easy), then here are the top line comparisons for the average American and his/her Congressperson or Senator:

Median net worth, member of Congress: $622,254
Median net worth (est), Average American: $70,000
Difference: ~9x

Median net worth, Senator: $1.79 million
Median net worth (est), Average American: $70,000
Difference: ~25x

Also, the median net worth of the wealthiest 20% of Americans was ~$189K in 2002. Apply the ~15% adjustment and that becomes ~$215K in 2008. So even among the richest fifth of Americans you're still looking at differences of greater than 3x (Congress) and 8x (Senate).

Makes you think just a little bit about the merits of campaign spending and campaign fund raising being a matter of free speech, no?

* There was some good news

But it was from Scandinavia. Another check in the 'pros' column for living in Sweden.