TSIPRAS TOASTS BLOODY DICTATOR!

Cuban President Raul Castro (C-R) stands next to Greece's Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras (C-L) during a massive rally at Revolution Square in Havana in honor of late leader Fidel Castro. Castro -- who ruled from 1959 until an illness forced him to hand power to his brother Raul in 2006 -- died Friday at age 90. The cause of death has not been announced. / AFP / JUAN BARRETO        (Photo credit should read JUAN BARRETO/AFP/Getty Images)

Marxist Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras was among the few leaders representing EU at an hours-long event commemorating the life of the bloody dictator Fidel Castro in Cuba, praising the brutal tyrant as an international symbol of struggle and resistance who inspired political and social changes in Latin America.

Bloody dictator Fidel Castro, 90, died on Friday. On Tuesday, the Communist Party announced an act of the masses in which Castro’s ashes were paraded on the streets of Havana, and VIP leftist guests harangued a crowd forced to participate in the mandatory mourning ceremony for hours.

In addition to Tsipras, a bevy of leftist Latin American leaders – Venezuelan dictator Nicolás Maduro, Bolivian president Evo Morales, Ecuadorian president Rafael Correa, among others – spoke at the ceremony. Tsipras’ perspective was unique in that he represented a European Union member nation, though his statements more strongly resembled those issued by the aforementioned illiberal heads of state.

“Castro was an international symbol of struggle and resistance whose example inspired popular struggle across the world for independence, freedom, justice, and dignity,” Tsipras told the crowd in Greek (the Cuban government provided a translator who spoke in Spanish after Tsipras had completed each sentence). Praising Castro as a “great twentieth century revolutionary,” Tsipras called him “the Fidel of the poor, the humble, the oppressed, and those who never surrender.”

“Your Fidel, our Fidel, the Fidel that belongs to all the corners of the planet, who belongs to history,” he told the crowd.

Tsipras added that he was proud to represent “the Greek people, a people who lives in a corner of the world very far from you, but very close to the values for which you have struggled and continue to struggle.” “Perhaps we in Europe cannot imagine the difficulties that you have to endure, but we have our own oppressive forces, the inhuman logic of the rules of the market in neo-liberalism,” he added.

“We Greeks are fighting our own struggle for justice and dignity… and in this struggle we will always have Fidel’s example before us, in our victories and in our defeats, in our conquests and our compromises,” he continued. “Just like the Cuban people, in the critical moments of its history, the Greek people have not wavered in standing up and struggling against powerful adversaries to demand its independence, its dignity and rights.”

“Freedom or death, was the slogan of the 1821 Greek revolution,” Tsipras said in Greek, “Patria o muerte [motherland or death] was the slogan of the Cuban revolution of 1959,” he said in Spanish.

In his lifetime, the communist government published statements by Fidel Castro praising Tsipras as an “esteemed colleague” when his party, the Radical Coalition of the Left (Syriza), took over Greece. Tsipras, who named one of his sons after the communist mass murderer Ernesto “Che” Guevara, has always expressed sympathy for the communist regime. Since being elected, however, Tsipras has exacerbated the Greek debt crisis by refusing to pay back Greece’s debt the European Union, before ultimately imposing austerity measures on the country to prevent a bankruptcy, a move that branded him a traitor before the eyes of many leftists.

Watch Tsipras’ remarks via the leftist Telesur outlet (in Greek with simultaneous Spanish translation) below:

Miserable Greeks always have to choose the less of two VAT-monger evils, this time extremely corrupt New Democracy and incompetent leftist Syriza.  The Greek state has always cheated its subjects, and the Greek diaspora took place because of the state’s failure and corruption. There is a VAT revolt in Greece.  The government pressures the consumers to ask for receipts.  But the consumers get 25% discount if they do not demand receipts.  Greeks consider their government as their #1 enemy to be avoided and boycotted in any way possible.  Greeks exchange tips on friendly shops which do not impose VAT.  Paying a quarter of the price less makes a big difference.

NO DEAD CAT BOUNCE

 

There is no dead cat bounce of the Greek economy. You just cannot shoot a basket case! So, you pretend Greece has basically achieved the objectives of the reforms required by its creditors. Pretending and extending is the prevalent game of VAT-monger EU! Kicking the Greek can is the favorite sport of VAT-monger Eurogroup!

 

VALUE ADDED TAX REVOLT

NOW!

 

 

VAT-struck Greeks go abroad in order to compete on a level playing field, without bribes, kleptocracy, kangaroo justice, police brutality, huge bureaucracy, huge taxation, and 24% VAT. According to the Quadriga of the International Monetary Fund, the VAT-monger European Commission, the European Central Bank, and European Stability Mechanism the preparation for the next batch of Greek reforms did not progress as much as it should have.

Basket Case Logo.svg

 

VALUE ADDED TAX BLEEDS GREEKS

 

 

Many Greeks are infuriated that VAT-monger Tsipras doesn’t give a damn about the refugee crisis, reinforcing a growing feeling that he is out of touch. VAT-monger Syriza has been weakened by corruption scandals. Ministers fail to include many properties in their declaration of assets.  VAT-monger Graecokleptocrats have appointed many kith and kin to senior public-sector jobs. Taxes are rising, VAT stays at 24%, and unemployment remains at 25%. Capital controls, including a measure limiting bank withdrawals to €420 a week, are still in place. Nevertheless, salaries and fringe benefits of Graecokleptocrats skyrocket.  VAT-struck people suffer, but VAT-monger Graecokleptocrats along with their kith and kin enjoy dolce vita in huge luxury.

All this has created a backlash against VAT-monger Tsipras. Around the country farmers, his former allies, have blocked main roads with their tractors. VAT-monger Syriza flags have been set alight. VAT-struck lawyers, doctors, pensioners, and engineers have taken to the streets to protest against a planned pension reform, and truck drivers are threatening to do the same.

 

VAT IS A VERY GOOD REASON FOR GREECE TO SECEDE FROM FOURTH REICH NOW!

 

 

Investing in Greece is a sure way to lose money.  Bureaucracy, taxation, and political corruption are out of this world.  VAT is 24%, public employees demand bribes to do their job, the justice system is not functioning at all with court cases postponed infinite times for more than six years, policemen are brutal beasts and liars, and politicians are bribe collectors.

Greek economic ills are rooted in the huge political corruption and the values and beliefs of Greek society. Greece’s public sector is rife with clientelism to gain votes and cronyism to gain favors – far more so than in other parts of Europe. Maximum pensions for public employees relative to wages are nearly twice as high as in Spain; the VAT-monger government favors business elites with tax-free status; and some state employees draw their salaries without actually turning up for work.

 

VAT IS THE CACOTHANASIA OF GREECE

 

 

Most MPs of Pasok and New Democracy took huge bribes from Siemens. But a judicial ring is behind many postponements of Siemens trials. Some judges are in cahoots with the major opposition party New Democracy.  The impasse in the trial has led the government to suspect a judicial ring linked to major opposition party New Democracy is operating to stall proceedings. New Democracy wants elections before the Pandora Box of Siemens opens up with 200 names of MPs from Pasok and New Democracy. Mitsotakis, a suspect in the Siemens scandal, underlines that this government had demonstrated a monumental ineptitude in implementing the memorandum it had signed on to and in dealing with the refugee crisis.

Greeks now have a terrible choice, super-corrupt New Democracy or super-stupid Syriza.  Recent polls show New Democracy will win next elections, which shows that Greeks tend to recycle their kleptocrats.  This is a live Greek tragicomedy!

 

 

VAT SHACKLES GREEK BUSINESS AND ROBS GREEKS

 

 

There are serious ills in the private sector, too – notably, the pervasive influence of vested interests and the country’s business and political elites. Insiders receive subsidies and contracts, and outsiders find it hard to break in. Astoundingly, young VAT-struck Greek entrepreneurs reportedly fear to incorporate their firms in Greece, lest others use false documents to take away their companies. Greece is one of the hardest places in Europe to start a business. The result is that competition for market share is weak and there are few firms with new ideas.

The stunted system springs from Greece’s corporatist values, which emphasize huge political corruption, social protection, solidarity instead of competition, and discomfort with uncontrolled change. These values are a recipe for a static VAT-monger economy and stultified careers.

Indeed, Greece’s labor productivity (GDP per worker) is only 72% of the level in the UK and Italy, and a mere 57.7% of that in Germany. And surveys indicate that mean life satisfaction in Greece is far below that found in the wealthiest EU countries. Corporatism impoverishes the less advantaged. EU data on poverty rates put Greece at 21.4% – far higher than the mean EU15 rate of 16.7%.

 

VAT ACHILLES HEEL OF GREECE

 

 

The truth is that Greece needs more than just debt restructuring or even debt relief. If young VAT-struck Greeks are to have a future in their own country, they and their elders need to develop the attitudes and institutions that constitute an inclusive modern economy – which means shedding their corporatist values.

VAT-monger Europe, for its part, must think beyond the necessary reforms of Greece’s pension system, tax regime, and collective-bargaining arrangements. While Greece has reached the heights of corporatism, the control of a state or organization by large interest groups, Italy and France are not far behind – and not far behind them is Germany. All of Europe, not just Greece, must rethink its VAT-monger economic philosophy.

Greece constantly accumulates new debt, piling it up on already non-viable debt, pretending that it has solved the crisis, the debt deflationary spiral is enhanced, and the country becomes unreformable. It is something VAT-monger Graecokleptocrats have not managed to address.

The political situation in Greece is very toxic. You have a VAT-monger economic system in free fall. Lenders and creditors are imposing upon Greece new loans under the conditions that will ensure that they will not get their money back! No politician, however skilled he might be, can survive the VAT-monger economic implosion which drags down along with it the political system.  There must be an end to extending and pretending.

Greek justice is completely fucked up.  Trials are postponed more than ten times, stretching up to more than seven years.  Nobody cares and nobody gives a damn, unless you either have political connections or bribe somebody.  Everybody is considered guilty, and everybody is treated like a bad animal.  This is no Europe, this is worse than Uganda!

Greek Mafia is the colloquial term used to refer to various organized crime elements originating from Greece. Indigenous organized criminal groups are well-entrenched in the largest Greek urban centers, particularly in Athens, protected by the widespread political corruption. Outside of the domestic Greek criminal organizations the Sicilian mafia, Camorra, the Albanian, Russian and Georgian mafia groups have been operating in Greece in collaboration with the domestic criminal syndicates. In the United States, ethnic Greek organized crime groups include the Philadelphia Greek Mob and Velentzas crime family.

Greek crime bosses are locally described as νονοί της νύχτας Godfathers of the night. Largely operating as owners of nightclubs, Greek crime groups are able to operate their illegal businesses under the protection of extremely corrupt politicians, judiciary, and bishops. In contrast to the Sicilian mafia or the Albanian mafia, Greek criminal groups follow the same structure organized gangs have within the French Milieu or the Penose in the Netherlands. Domestically, they are largely smaller organized crime cells, sometimes family-based in touch with political families and churches, who collaborate but from time to time also feud with one another.

There are close to 217 known domestic crime lords operating in Greece, closely related to politicians, judges, prosecutors, and bishops. Internationally, the smuggling and racketeering practices have a larger reach, and are not necessarily based on Greek nationals alone. With the need to infiltrate and manipulate multiple types of businesses in order to successfully smuggle internationally, more often than not such organizations resemble professional international cartels rather than traditional organized crime groups.

A substantial amount of Greek organized crime groups are centered in Athens in cahoots with kleptocrats and judiciary. However, many other organized groups operate throughout other cities, and even villages. Criminal clans can have their origins from all over Greece and most political parties. Mafia groups in the bigger cities are especially involved in racketeering, the illegal smuggling of oil, money laundering, weapon and drug trafficking, buying jury and judges, as well as trading votes.

Greece is not democracy, but kleptocracy, the infamous Graecokleptocracy.  The Greek parliament, the grand brothel of kleptocracy on Syntagma Square, is full of thieves, the infamous Graecokleptocrats.  Diogenes could not find one honest Greek MP.  Most Greek MPs are crooks!

The Greek political parties are mafias. The leader of a party has dictatorial powers like the godfather of Cosa Nostra.  He does whatever he wishes, and he can dismiss any MP any moment without real reason.  MPs enjoy parliamentary immunity, committing crimes with impunity.

Two Greek mafias, Pasok and New Democracy, have destroyed Greece, robbing the Treasury, churning pension funds, and receiving myriad huge bribes.  Pasok is the most corrupt political party on planet Earth.  Pasok introduced all stupid laws of immunity and impunity of MPs and ministers of government. Chryse Pege, Golden Source, is the most infamous mafia of the Greek Orthodox Church, organized by the late archbishop Christodoulos.  The corrupt Church of Greece greatly contributes to the moral decline of Greek society.  Nevertheless, religion is protected by lèse–majesté!

The barbarity and corruption of Greek bishops is beyond imagination, heavily involved in skulduggery, orgies, trial rigging, drug and antiquities smuggling, money washing, robberies, inheritance dirty games, election manipulation, and so it goes. Bishop Ambrosios of Kalavryta, godfather of Chryse Pege Golden Source mafia, blasted Education Minister Nikos Filis over his decision to replace the current religious studies from the school curriculum with a lesson on comparative world religions. During his speech at Church, Ambrosios pleaded to Jesus that Fili’s arm would rot before he signed the decree! Ambrosios also had a few words for those not fasting by eating meat. He said he hoped the meat would turn to poison and puncture their stomach!

Criminal groups on the Greek mainland have also profited from the activities of corrupt officials, MPs, and judges. Arms, narcotics, and illegal oil are smuggled by Greek criminal organizations, often in collaboration with Albanian or Russian mafia groups, from local seaports to important destination centers such as the docks of Naples or Antwerp. Outside of the urban centers, the island of Crete is known for having regional family-based crime clans involved in the cultivating and trafficking of marijuana on a domestic as well as an international level. Kidnapping and weapon trafficking are activities of choice as well, often collaborating with the Albanian mafia. An example is the village Zoniana which is a known ground zero for Cretan drug lords. In general, Greek organized crime groups are active on the Greek mainland, as well as in other parts of Europe.

Activity is mainly focused upon the areas of licensure, buying justice and legislature, cigarette smuggling, and the trafficking of marijuana, hashish, and weapons. European cities are deeply affected by Greek organized crime in the form of robbing EU funds and narcotics smuggling. Recently, under pressure from the European union, Greece, and numerous other European countries, have stepped up their war on smuggling, making numerous arrests and otherwise disabling the organizations in collaboration with European law enforcement agencies.

CHARLATANS JESUS AND MUHAMMAD IN OHIO AND CHICAGO


Charlatans

sign
Must be a miracle

An Ohio town’s official nativity scene could subject it to legal action, warns the Freedom From Religion Foundation. The city of St. Bernard recently placed a nativity scene in front of its City Hall building. The display depicts an infant Jesus lying in a manger, surrounded by Mary, Joseph, wise men, and barnyard animals. An angel propped above the baby holds a ribbon bearing the message “Gloria in Excelsis Deo” or “glory in the highest to God.” The scene stands alone at the edge of the public sidewalk.

The Freedom From Religion Foundation has sent a letter to St. Bernard over the city-sponsored nativity scene. FFRF was contacted by concerned members of the Tri-State Freethinkers, a group of atheists, agnostics, and activists favoring the separation of church and state that operates in Ohio, Kentucky and Indiana. Both organizations take issue with the blatant promotion of one religion on government property.

 In his letter to St. Bernard’s director of law, FFRF Staff Attorney Sam Grover writes that the nativity scene “conveys a preference by the city for religion over nonreligion and for Christianity above all other faiths.” FFRF argues that the display violates the separation of church and state, embodied in the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment. It also violates longstanding legal precedent from the case County of Allegheny, where the U.S. Supreme Court held that a crèche display at a county courthouse unconstitutionally promoted a religious message.

Furthermore, FFRF contends, such a blatant official endorsement of Christianity is deeply alienating for those who are non-Christian, nearly 30 percent of all Americans and more than 43 percent of Millennials.

“The City Hall building should accommodate everyone within St. Bernard, not just those in the Christian majority,” notes FFRF Co-President Annie Laurie Gaylor.

The president of Tri-State Freethinkers concurs. “There are over a dozen religious holidays this time of year and one religion should not be given preferential treatment over the others,” says Jim G. Helton.

FFRF states that the city of St. Bernard “cannot continue to display a nativity scene on its property” and asks for a written response after the city takes action to correct the issue.

The Freedom From Religion Foundation and its Metropolitan Chicago chapter have unveiled their annual secular holiday display in the heart of the city.

A colorful banner invoking the Founding Fathers was recently unfurled in Daley Plaza. It greets everyone with: “Happy Winter Solstice,” and pictures Thomas Jefferson, George Washington, Benjamin Franklin and the Statue of Liberty gazing adoringly at a “baby” Bill of Rights. The Bill of Rights was adopted on Dec. 15, 1791.

“At this season of the Winter Solstice, we celebrate the birth of the unconquered sun — the true reason for the season,” the banner reads. “As Americans, let us also honor our the birth of Bill of Rights, which reminds us that there can be no freedom OF religion without having freedom FROM religion in government.”

The display also includes an 8½-foot-tall lighted “A,” which stands for “atheist” or “agnostic” — an emblem conceptualized by scientist Richard Dawkins, author of “The God Delusion.”

The FFRF display is designed to dispel misconceptions about atheists and to affirm their presence in the American social landscape.

“Atheists, agnostics, secular humanists and freethinkers are far more numerous than people realize,” a sign accompanying the display reminds everyone.

The display will have the additional purpose of countering the overt religiosity that is on show at Daley Plaza (including a huge nativity scene and menorah erected annually) and at pretty much every public square in the United States during the holidays.

“It’s important to give revelers a different narrative this festive season,” says FFRF Co-President Annie Laurie Gaylor. “We’re happy to spread our message in one of the great American urban centers.”

FFRF Metropolitan Chicago chapter Director Tom Cara agrees.

“Our objective this time of year is to make sure the nonreligious community is equally represented,” he says. “As those who have no religious affiliation now make up nearly one-quarter of the U.S. population, a demographic that continues to grow rapidly, it is important for people to understand there are many different reasons for the season, and that the holidays should be all-inclusive.”

Cara and other volunteers with the organization’s active Chicago chapter put up the display, and FFRF helped defray the costs.

Today we know very well we are just a sort of apes, all religions are wrong, there is no God, there is no afterlife, and all miracles are hoaxes. God is the most unpleasant character in all fiction! But many people refuse to accept reality that when they die that will be the very end of them, that they will cease to exist.  Hoi polloi live on wishful thinking that they will live forever near God in another life! Hitler used to say that hoi polloi believe big lies, not small lies! 

All religions are big lies. Basic to religion is a presumed distinction between humans and animals, and a presumed uniqueness of humans in the universe. Based on evolutionary biology and astronomy, science rejects this stupid distinction. God is imaginary and religion is a complete illusion. Belief in God is nothing but a silly superstition, and this superstition leads a significant portion of the population to be delusional.

 

EVOLUTION FACT

Evolution is often mislabeled as a theory, but evolution of course is a well-established fact just as the earth’s revolution around the sun is not a theory but a well-established fact. We’ve had compelling evidence for more than a century that our modern human species gradually evolved from now-extinct species that anyone would agree were animals. So we can’t make a sharp distinction between humans and animals.

The human evolutionary line separated from the line leading to modern gorillas about seven million years ago, and then separated from the line leading to modern chimpanzees about six million years ago. Gradually, over the course of the last six or seven million years, various species of the human evolutionary line evolved to be more similar to us modern humans, and less dismissible as animals. But there was never a sharp break in time between humans and animals.

For most of this last six million years, there have been multiple co-existing human species, some more like us modern humans, and some more like so-called animals. It’s only in the last 32,000 years since the extinction of the Neanderthals that the human evolutionary line has consisted of only one species, namely us. There has also always been geographic variation within various human species, just as there is geographic variation within most animal species. Hence, at any given time during the emergence of modern Homo sapiens over the last 200,000 years, there were populations more like us moderns, and other populations less like us moderns and more like animals.

Also, we know that our species hybridized recently with at least two other human species now extinct, namely, with the Neanderthals and with Denisovans. Most of us today carry about 3 percent of Neanderthal genes in our genome, but when our hybridization with Neanderthals was still taking place 32,000 years ago, there were first-generation hybrids who were 50 percent Neanderthal in their genes, a second generation crossed with Neanderthals who were 75 percent Neanderthal, and another second generation that crossed with Homo sapiens who were 25 percent Neanderthal.

So, what do all these facts mean about religion’s supposed distinction between humans and animals? It means that there isn’t a clear distinction. There is variation in time. There is variation in space. But religions haven’t incorporated that fact. If there was a god that created humans in his or her or its image as distinct from animals, when and where did that god draw that arbitrary distinction between human and animals? Was it when we became just 25 percent Neanderthal in our genes, or when we got down to 12 percent, or 6 percent, or now 3 percent?

If we modern humans get judged and sent to heaven or hell, when and where in our evolutionary history did we start to get judged? Do chimpanzees get judged? Did Homo erectus get judged? Did 50 percent and 25 percent Neanderthals not get judged while 12 percent Neanderthals did? Was it possible to have some kind of 50 percent heaven reserved for 50 percent Neanderthals? If a male chimpanzee today dies in the course of killing chimpanzees belonging to another chimpanzee clan, does that chimpanzee get rewarded by going to a heaven where he will be greeted by seventy virgin female chimpanzees?

EXTRASOLAR PLANETS

An area of science with consequences for religion is astronomy, specifically the subfield of astronomy concerned with extrasolar planets, which are planets orbiting stars other than our sun. That issue of extrasolar planets is relevant to the supposed uniqueness of humans in the universe. Chimpanzees and primitive humans could already see with their naked eyes that there are thousands of stars up in the sky. Since Galileo invented the telescope, and as telescopes have been improved, we’ve learned that there are not thousands but trillions of trillions of stars.

But until recently, we couldn’t detect any planets orbiting those stars comparable to the nine or now eight planets that we know orbit our own star. We just didn’t have the methods. Because we’ve never been visited by flying saucers, it has seemed possible, although very improbable, to assume that the only intelligent life in the universe is we humans here on Earth (because, until recently, it’s always been the case that none of the other thirty million species on Earth rival us in intelligence).

In the past few decades, however, astronomers have developed a series of methods for detecting planets outside the solar system. As of May 10, 2016, astronomers had identified 3,264 planets outside our solar system, out of which 100 are the size of our planet Earth. Some nine of those planets lie in what is called the habitable zone of their stars, meaning that they lie at a distance from their star where it’s neither too cold, nor too hot, so life could evolve. Nine habitable planets. Out of the extrasolar planets we know of, 0.3 percent may be habitable by life as we know it.

Most stars that we’ve searched have proved to have planets, so we have to assume that planets are the overwhelming rule, not the exception. If there are at least one trillion stars in the universe, and if most of them have planets, of which 0.3 percent could support life as we know it, that means that there are about three billion planets capable of supporting life.

Experiments in laboratories suggest that it’s easy for a planet in the habitable zone to evolve life. The famous Miller Urey experiments of the 1950s showed that if you expose a container holding water, methane, ammonia, and hydrogen to either electricity or to ultraviolet light or to heat, then they will spontaneously form the building blocks of earth biology including amino acids, sugars, nucleotide bases, and porphyrins. So, it’s likely that the universe contains not just a billion planets capable of supporting life; it’s likely that the universe contains a billion planets actually supporting life.

Probably some of those planets have only living creatures less intelligent than us humans, and probably some of those planets have living creatures more intelligent than us humans. That makes it extremely unlikely that if there is a God, he is more interested in us than in all the other more intelligent life forms that surely exist on other planets. This is another fact that needs to be taken seriously if one wants to reconcile religion with science.

If a flying saucer could achieve the speed of light, the closest stars to Earth are several light-years away, which means that a flying saucer going at top speed is still going to take several years to reach the earth. But it’s extremely unlikely that a flying saucer is going to approach the speed of light. It’s going to take a prohibitively long time to reach us. That makes it implausible that we are going to see flying saucers. Given that there are billions of stars out there, it means that from any planet capable of launching a flying saucer, there are also large numbers of potential targets, many far closer than Earth. Earth is really just one of an enormous number of targets for any civilization capable of sending out flying saucers. That’s another reason that we’ve not yet been visited.

BLOODY BIBLE

It only takes a few minutes with the biblical texts to begin to realize that the Bible is filled with all kinds of horror. There are strange figures dripping blood (Isa. 63) and mysterious objects that kill upon touch (2 Sam. 6:7). Women are threatened, pursued, and even dismembered (Judges 19). The “scream queens” of horror are well matched by the screaming women of the Bible, especially in the prophetic literature, where women weep, cry, and howl in pain. Even when it is men who are crying, their sound is compared to the sound of screaming women, as in Isa. 26:17-18.

Even the repetitions of horror—the endless sequels, the killers returned from the (near) grave to haunt another day, the perky college students who just can’t stop going into the basement to find out what’s making that noise—have their parallels in the repetitions of the Hebrew Bible—the people who can’t stop sinning, the God who can’t stop finding new and appalling ways to punish them (in the book of Numbers: miserable food, disease, poisonous snakes, and strange fire, to name but a few). Bible is a horror movie. Isa. 63 describes God’s appearance on the horizon, dripping with the blood of those he has trampled. In Hosea 2, God, terrorizing Israel (here represented as a woman), threatens to hedge her up with thorns and torture her.

Horror also makes us think about gender, and what it means to have a female body. While both male and female bodies are subjected to outrageous violence and sadism, these bodies are not treated equally. In the Hebrew Bible, and in the prophets in particular, female bodies are disproportionately subjected to violence; rarely do they appear without being threatened. A common trope in horror films is that women who have sex are punished with violence, pain, or death; this is the case in Ezekiel 16 and 23 as well. On the other hand, death isn’t always a consequence of sex; God kills Ezekiel’s wife for no reason a few chapters later, in Ezek. 24:15-25.

BIRTHDAY OF FREE PEOPLE

Louise Victorine Ackermann

On this date in 1813, Louise Victorine Ackermann (nee Choquet) was born in France. Her father educated her in the philosophy of the Encyclopedists. While studying German in Berlin, she met Paul Ackermann, a German pastor who had lost his faith, and married him in 1843. They had two happy years before his death. She moved to Nice and wrote highly regarded stories and poems, Contes (1855) and Contes et Poesies (1863). Her home in Paris later became a hub for major writers. “She was the most decidedly Agnostic of them all,” wrote freethought historian Joseph McCabe. Mme. Ackermann is best-known for Poesies (1874), which contains powerful, somber verses against human suffering. She also wrote Pensees d’un solitaire (1883), which included a short autobiography. Her tombstone was inscribed with her agnostic verse. D. 1890.

“[Religions] impose antiquated and narrow beliefs which are entirely unsuitable for a being who knows nothing and can affirm nothing.”

—Pensees d’une solitaire, 1903 ed. Cited by Joseph McCabe, A Biographical Dictionary of Modern Rationalists

Gael Garcia Bernal

 On this date in 1978, actor Gael Garcia Bernal was born in Guadalajara, Mexico. Garcia Bernal became the first Mexican accepted into London’s prestigious Central School of Speech and Drama, where he studied to become an actor. Throughout his career Garcia Bernal has starred in many films, and has shaped the Mexican film industry. Garcia Bernal is known for remaining grounded and thoughtful even as a celebrity. His film credits include major roles in “Amores perros” (2000), “Y tu mama tambien” (2001), “El Crimen del padre Amaro” (2002), “The Motorcycle Diaries” (2004), “Babel” (2006), “Even the Rain” (2010), “Casa de Mi Padre” (2011), and “No” (2012). Garcia Bernal won a BAFTA for best actor for playing Che Guevara in “The Motorcycle Diaries” and “No” received a nomination for Best Foreign Film at the Oscars.

In the movie “El Crimen del padre Amaro,” Garcia Bernal plays a young priest who forms a relationship with a teenaged girl who he eventually impregnates. He pressures her to get an abortion, and the unsafe and unregulated procedure kills the girl. The film examines blind faith and the amount of power the Church has in Mexico. The film received positive reviews, but caused a lot of controversy. The Roman Catholic Church attempted to stop the film from being released in Mexico.

Garcia Bernal married Argentinean actress Dolores Fonzi in 2009. They have two children, Lazaro and Libertad.

“I am . . . culturally Catholic, but spiritually agnostic.”
“Yo soy . . . Culturalmente católico, pero espiritualmente agnóstico.”

—— Gael Garcia Bernal in an interview with El Universal, a major Mexican daily newspaper based in Mexico City, Feb. 2, 2003.

Mark Twain

On this date in 1835, America’s iconographic humorist and writer “Mark Twain” (né Samuel Clemens) was born in Florida, Mo. He grew up in Hannibal, in the slave state of Missouri, which became the inspiration for the setting of his classic books Tom Sawyer and The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. “When I was a boy, everybody was poor, but didn’t know it; and everybody was comfortable, and did know it,” he wrote in his autobiography. His mother, Jane Lampton Clemens, was gentle, yet nevertheless an advocate of the downtrodden, and “could be beguiled into saying a soft word for the devil himself,” he recalled. His father died when he was 11. Samuel left school to work and by 13 was a journeyman printer at the Hannibal Gazette. Traveling east to work as a printer and writer, he returned to Missouri to spend two eventful years as a cub-pilot on the Mississippi. His nom de plume was inspired by the call, “mark twain,” that river workers made to signal a safe passage of two fathoms’ depth. After a 2-week volunteer stint for the confederacy, Twain went west, working as a reporter in Nevada and California. When his story, “The Celebrated Jumping Frog of Calaveras County,” was published in the east, he became a national celebrity. Twain supported himself as a traveling correspondent and lecturer. Innocents Abroad was published in 1869.

After marrying Olivia Langdon in 1870, he soon built an opulent house in Hartford. It was at his Hartford home, and summers spent at Quarry Farm, his sister-in-law’s home in Elmira, N.Y., where he produced Tom Sawyer, followed by Prince and the Pauper, Life on the Mississippi, and Huck Finn. That beautifully written 1884 novel, whose thrilling denouement is Huck ‘s decision to be damned to hell rather than betray his friend, a runaway slave, contains the immortal lines: “Hain’t we got all the fools in town on our side? And hain’t that a big enough majority in any town?” Twain’s later books included Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court (1889), “The War Prayer” (a scathing indictment of war and religious hypocrisy, 1905, not published until 1923), The Mysterious Stranger (published posthumously, 1916, debunking Providence), and Letters from the Earth. Twain’s surviving daughter Clara delayed publication of this blasphemous yarn told about humans from Satan’s perspective until 1962. Europe and Elsewhere — containing “The War Prayer” and many other freethinking writings — was edited by Albert Bigelow Paine, who also helped edit Twain’s autobiography, published in 1923. Pudd’nhead Wilson (1894) begins each chapter with an aphorism from “Pudd’nhead Wilson’s Calendar,” including: “There is no humor in heaven.” “The man with a new idea is a Crank until the idea succeeds.” In his book Following the Equator (1897), he famously said, “Faith is believing what you know ain’t so.” Twain’s sardonic humor increasingly coated indignant social criticism. He called the Book of Mormon “chloroform in print.” In 1907, he wrote Christian Science, exposing Mary Baker Eddy’s “desert vacancy, as regards thought.” In the late 1890s he became a passionate critic of American imperialism, opposing the Spanish-American and Philippine wars. Twain suffered many personal tragedies, from his brother Henry’s tragic death in a steamboat accident in 1858 to the death of his baby son, Langdon, at just 19 months, the death of his beloved daughter, Susie, from meningitis at age 24, and the premature death of his daughter, Jean, in an institution, during an epileptic seizure. His wife, Livy, died in 1904. D. 1910.

“I cannot see how a man of any large degree of humorous perception can ever be religious — except he purposely shut the eyes of his mind & keep them shut by force.”

—Mark Twain, Mark Twain’s Notebooks and Journals, Notebook 27, August 1887-July 1888, edited by Frederick Anderson (1979). Cited by James Haught in 2,000 Years of Disbelief.

John Toland

On this date in 1670, John Toland was born in Ireland, where he was rumored to be the son of a Catholic priest. He was “Educated from the cradle in the grossest superstition and idolatry,” he later wrote in Apology (1697). By age 15, he had rejected Roman Catholicism by “his own reason.” He studied at Glasgow College from 1687-1690, aligning himself with Presbyterianism. He earned a Master’s Degree in Glasgow in 1690. He then studied at Leyden, Holland. A Dutchman, Benjamin Furley, wrote John Locke that Toland had become “a free-spirited, ingenious man,” but “having cast off the yoke of spiritual authority . . . has rendered it somewhat difficult for him to find a way of subsistence in the world.” Patrons, including the deistic Lord Shafesbury, helped him. The Encyclopedia of Unbelief (source of quotes) terms Toland “perhaps the first professional freethinker.” Toland directed the bulk of his writing, more than 100 works, against established religion while shrewdly qualifying his statements to avoid prosecution. Toland was the first to be called a “freethinker” (by Bishop Berkeley). At Oxford, Toland wrote “Christianity not Mysterious” (1696), in which he credited “cunning priests” with the promotion of irrationality. Toland returned to Ireland for a visit, where his book was castigated from the pulpits and by the Irish House of Commons, which ordered the book burnt and the author arrested. One member of the House even moved “that Mr. Toland himself should be burnt.” Toland moved to London. By 1704, Toland, who had translated the pantheistic work of Giordano Bruno, called himself “a Pantheist,” and is believed to be the first to use the term. In his “History of the Soul’s Immortality,” Toland asserted that this doctrine was a self-serving invention by Egyptian priests. He also wrote a Life of Milton (1698) and political tracts. The courts of Holland, Hanover, Vienna and Berlin received Toland; he dedicated his Letters to Serena (1694) to the Queen of Prussia. His pamphlet “Nazarenus” (1718) contained early samples of biblical criticism. “Pantheisticon” (1720) rejected supernaturalism. His essay “Tetradymas” contains bible criticism and a description of the murder of Hypatia. D. 1722.

HELPING PHYSICIANS NAVIGATE THE LOGISTICS OF HEALTHCARE

Doctors conduct a meeting around a conference table

 

Chances are that during your last medical exam there were three of you in the room: you, your doctor, and your doctor’s computer.

For most of us, that’s the most obvious sign that the business of medicine is changing fast. As your doctor asked about your symptoms and health history, he also was creating sophisticated electronic medical records that eventually will be used for treatment, referrals to specialists, billing, and even to ensure quality control. Properly treating patients today requires not only an understanding of the most effective medical therapies, but also leadership, teamwork, and complicated data analysis – skills traditionally taught in business schools, not medical schools.

That, too, is changing: Nearly half of all U.S. medical schools, including Stanford, now offer dual MD/MBA degree programs.

“I went into medicine with the ‘country doctor’ ideal in mind,” says Christopher Krubert, a physician and operating partner with the private equity firm Advent International who teaches The Business of Healthcare at Stanford Graduate School of Business. “But I realized pretty quickly the complexity of being a practitioner makes it impossible to focus solely on clinical care. You can’t get away from it. And that world has gotten even more complicated in the past 20 years.”

Back then, Krubert says, “80% of your job was being a clinician, and the other 20% you were a businessman. But today the business side takes up more than 20% of your time. So where’s that time coming from?”

As physicians struggle to answer that question, we asked Krubert to discuss the ongoing integration of medical and business training. He received an MBA from the Stephen M. Ross School of Business at the University of Michigan in 1993 and an MD in 2000 from the University of Chicago, where he trained in emergency medicine. He advises businesses in the healthcare industries.

So what’s driving the need to make doctors smarter about business?

I count nine major factors, everything from the logistics of patient care to the complexity and treatment of illnesses, to consumer awareness among patients. But it starts with industry consolidation. Insurance companies are acquiring competitors, merging and getting bigger, in part fueled by the passage of the Affordable Care Act. But hospitals are consolidating too. The local hospital is going by the wayside, and hospital groups are getting bigger and more powerful. The doctors feel that their clout is getting less and less, so they’re moving toward consolidation themselves.

Most people assume a doctor just needs to know how to bill patients and work with insurance companies. You’re saying it’s more involved than that?

Think about the logistics of patient care today. Because we can keep people alive longer and the population is aging, those people naturally have more medical complexity. And then there’s the obesity trend; it’s rising across the U.S. Both of those realities trigger multi-disease states — diabetes, heart disease, pulmonary issues, musculoskeletal issues, psychosocial issues, to name a few. The patient may require many specialists, and someone has to coordinate that care.

Which is why doctors need to learn more about leadership and teamwork?

The practice of medicine was historically that of an independent practitioner — one doctor treating one patient. Today, doctors have to increasingly work with many more practitioners, care coordinators, and others to care for a single patient. And the treatments themselves are getting more complicated. Gene therapy, more complex pharmaceutical and therapeutic options. All that’s good, but it’s getting harder for a doctor to keep up with all of it. Being part of a larger group can provide the resources a doctor needs to optimize care.

Doesn’t operating in a larger business environment bring its own set of challenges?

Networks of physicians are becoming like air traffic controllers, attempting to navigate the complex world that is healthcare today. Some primary care doctors are now seeing 40 to 50 patients in a day. That can leave them with only four to five minutes per encounter, which often results in them referring the patient to a specialist. Through all this, they have to keep costs manageable, because cost has become a major issue. Seventeen percent of our GDP is now spent on healthcare, and that keeps going up. Everyone is focused on costs, and doctors are being stringently measured on cost and efficiency.

Is that all being done through electronic medical records?

Electronic medical records have become a necessary part of the process, although sometimes they’re frustrating in that they can add more time to the encounter while actually reducing the doctor’s interaction with the patient. The upside is that we can track and monitor data better. Plus, reimbursement is slowly moving away from the accepted “fee for service” to more of a value-based payment structure. Today, if someone comes to me with chest pain, I simply treat them and bill Medicare for treatment of chest pain regardless of the outcome of that patient. In the future the system will be looking at the outcomes of patients over time, then pay me more or less depending on the quality and efficiency of my services, partly based on patient surveys and partly on objective measures.

So that’s where data analytics comes in.

Data can be the grand clarifier of what’s working and what’s not, and doctors need to be championing it in their practices. But let me add that keeping things personalized and human remains paramount.

One of your Stanford students, Alexander L. Fogel, recently coauthored an article proposing that medical schools join with business schools to build a four-week clinical rotation into the med school curriculum that would teach new doctors leadership, teamwork, and data analytics. Will that help to solve the problem?

I think it’s a great idea and a great start. It’ll help young doctors understand what they’re getting into. You don’t want them going in thinking, “I’m looking for a career as an independent,” when in fact the environment is completely different. It creates an awareness of what’s going on and merges the important elements of medicine and business. It also shows them how to best navigate this system to achieve the best outcomes for their patients.

Are impending changes to the Affordable Care Act going to make this better, or worse?

Let’s step back from the political element and look at the overall healthcare market. Patients are getting sicker, but there’s not enough money to go around. The current cost escalation is not sustainable, so everyone is understandably focused on costs. The key will be to save dollars not by rationing but by looking for ways to be more efficient and cost-effective while still delivering great care. How the system will change exactly is up for grabs, but it’s still going to require a shift from the way doctors are practicing and the way consumers are expecting healthcare. There has to be a movement toward understanding not only what’s the best care, but also what’s the most efficient care for the best value. As I said, healthcare is currently about 17% of the U.S.’s entire GDP. If we cut out all of the inefficiencies in the system, I estimate that we can reduce that by about 20%.

Most of us like the idea of being treated by doctors who aren’t preoccupied with mundane things like billing and reimbursement. Should patients worry that their medical needs are becoming an afterthought?

I wish that wasn’t the case, but yes, for now I think that can be a risk. Doctors are human. It’s getting harder to practice clinical medicine. They’re working more hours, but often they’re not making more money and sometimes they’re making less. Can they sustain that before they give up? Will it start impacting patient care? Can we still attract the best and the brightest into the field? The first stage of addressing that will be to eliminate inefficiencies. Doctors need to become as efficient as they can. Any time you overload a system, there’s more room for error. At the same time, we need to ensure that practicing medicine isn’t all about focusing on costs — that doctors stay focused on the needs of the patient.

Is it tough to change physician behavior?

Physicians are strong-minded people. We want them to be. But they’re also highly intelligent people and used to understanding data. They’re open to changes that will help their practice get better. They understand the value proposition of running a smart business: Their patient gets better care, they earn a good living, and their life gets easier. They’re very responsive to rational choices and are willing to make changes if the outcomes are better.

INSIDE THE BOOM OF MERGERS AND ACQUISITIONS

 

Mergers and acquisitions are booming today. Slower earnings growth, shifts in technology, interest rates that could soon rise and record stock prices have combined to create a perfect storm for mergers and acquisitions. And some are concerned that the whirlwind also could be signaling dark days ahead.

Synergies have been used to justify some of the worst and best M&A transactions in history. M&A is supposed to be about value creation, and for many deals, synergies are cited as the primary means to that end. But relatively few companies provide hard numbers to support these claims. Even seasoned executives and M&A advisors use the term in varying ways that engender different interpretations. And empirical evidence on the role of synergies in determining M&A outcomes is hard to find.

 

Start with a straightforward definition: synergies are the source of the tangible expected improvement in earnings that occurs when two businesses merge. When it comes to synergies, value-creating acquirers are different from others in the way they do three specific things: They limit the control premium that they pay on the basis of a rigorous assessment of the synergies that they expect to achieve. They are candid with their investors about their synergy expectations, publicly describing explicit synergy commitments when they announce a deal. They practice rigorous postmerger integration (PMI) to capture synergies fully and rapidly, and they are transparent with investors about their progress.

Not all M&A is pursued in the name of achieving synergies; for example, sometimes an asset simply may be perceived as undervalued and therefore a good deal. In other cases, companies want to acquire a critical technology or capability that they lack.

 

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The recent upsurge bears striking similarities to prior waves in the late 1990s and mid-2000s. And while certain market conditions are different now, historical comparisons suggest the surge in deals may be nearing its peak.

Peak M&A activity reflects inflated stock prices, which is often followed by a market correction or crash. This happened in both the late 1990s with the tech bubble, and in the mid-2000s with the housing bubble. Clearly, 2014 and 2015 look like the upswing of a new peak, so it’s easy to infer what happens next.

There’s no one element driving the trend. Rather, it’s a confluence of market conditions and major changes in technology that are transforming multiple industries. To be sure, one major influence is low interest rates. Rates are expected to rise as soon as next month, which will make borrowing money more expensive. Striking deals now is a useful way to lock in the historically low rates we are seeing. In addition, companies are sitting on a lot of cash. Corporate share buybacks, which had surged in recent years, have finally slowed down. So companies need to find alternate uses for that cash. Mergers and acquisitions fit the bill.

The record level of the stock market also influences the pace of deals, because many companies use their shares as currency, creating higher premiums for sellers. The S&P 500, Dow Jones industrial Average and Nasdaq Composite Index are all at or near record highs.

Another major influence is technological changes. Deals like AT&T-Time Warner and GE-Baker Hughes reflect strategies designed to address major shifts in their respective industries. AT&T, for instance, knows it will not be able to continue to rely on its phone services to drive growth, so it is aiming to vertically integrate. Likewise, the GE-Baker Hughes deal will create a new type of oil services company that combines an industry-leading equipment manufacturer with one of the top services firms. There are fundamental things happening in these industries” that are pressuring these companies to come up with new business models. Those are fundamentally important deals that have been thought about and worked on for months. Deals like these are mainly traditional M&A transactions that are built around perceived synergies.

Another category that has gotten a lot of attention, but in some cases has been stymied, is tax inversion mergers, aimed at reducing corporate tax levels by transferring ownership to lower-taxed countries. Some are expecting tax reform that could reduce the desire for tax inversion strategies, and possibly see a good chunk of the corporate cash stashed overseas brought back to the U.S. and made available for new deals. That could change the M&A landscape.

Acquirers should do their homework: they must be in a position to publicly announce the synergies they expect to result from the combination. Most successful acquirers go after a significantly larger synergy number than they publicly announce, and they achieve the synergies much faster than they project publicly. The thinking is simple: if we can’t get the synergies within 12 to 18 months, they are not likely to happen. Management teams that put themselves on the line do so secure in the knowledge that they plan to outperform—a good strategy for management and shareholders alike.

In the competitive bidding market for corporate assets, many acquisitions transfer all, if not more than all, of the synergy value from the acquirers’ shareholders to the seller’s shareholders. This is why more than half of all deals destroy value for investors.

Value-creating M&A requires discipline in the assessment, valuation, and delivery of synergies. Take the example of Martin Marietta and TXI. The two companies announced a $2.7 billion merger in January 2014 to “create a market-leading supplier of aggregates and heavy building materials, with low-cost, vertically integrated aggregate and targeted cement operations.” The combined company had a market capitalization of about $9 billion. The announcement highlighted the expectation of significant synergies: “The transaction is expected to generate approximately $70 million of annual pretax synergies by calendar year 2017.”

Martin Marietta paid a P/E of synergies of 5.8x, which is lower than our data set average of 6.5x for the materials industry. Investors reacted to the deal with a 20-day rTSR of 18.7%. Martin Marietta followed up on its synergy estimates on February 11, 2015, indicating that the company expected to exceed its original estimates by 40%. Nine months after closing, the company’s TSR had outperformed the industry index by 8.3 percentage points.

Another significant contributor to the merger trend is the slow pace of profit gains. Sales and earnings growth are at their lowest levels in five quarters right now and companies are searching for ways to solve this problem. It’s hard to grow revenues organically, and even harder to find new ways to cut costs. Mergers and acquisitions can solve both problems.

Particularly in sectors like consumer staples, technology and pharmaceuticals, acquisitions can provide new markets, sales channels and geographies for acquiring companies’ products and drive revenue higher. And, they can create cost efficiencies by allowing companies to take advantage of economies of scale and scope, pricing and purchasing power and back-office consolidations.

Acquisitions are also a useful way to supplement — or substitute for — internal research and development and innovation. Internal development is costly, risky and time consuming, so companies will often turn to M&A as a result. Acquisitions can be cheaper, faster and less risky to get to market than internal R&D. The major downside is that companies risk becoming overly reliant on M&A as a growth strategy and risk limiting the development of the company’s internal knowledge base, thereby threatening future R&D and creating a vicious cycle, where more acquisitions are necessary to keep growing.

With the pace of technological change and new market development around the world, R&D or innovation deals are very necessary these days. It’s really difficult for any company to stay on top of all changes in the competitive landscape, and it’s not necessary.

There’s nothing wrong with pursuing innovation through acquisition. You can’t really be desperate and try to do something and have that be a good bet every single time. But if you do it as a supplement — use alliances and outsourcing and acquisitions — there’s nothing wrong with that, and that’s a good corporation innovation strategy. Companies that successfully use acquisitions for growth generally do so as only a small part of their overall strategy.

Even with interest rates at historic lows, there is concern that companies on acquisition sprees are running up too much debt. Companies are leveraging up significantly. One of the reasons for the increase in debt is that investors have a lot of money and few good options for it. Hedge funds, VCs, private equity, they don’t know what to do with their funds, so they are willing to buy corporate bonds that are funding M&A. There’s not a lot of opportunity right now. But while prior eras of rising debt were driven by leveraged buyouts and competition among private equity racing to grab high-flying names, this time the debt has better fundamentals.

Debt levels are all relative. It’s never about the absolute level of debt; it’s about the ratio of debt to earnings. If companies are making $10 and borrowing $5, that’s more concerning than if they’re borrowing $50 and making $1,000. The debt-to-earnings ratio has increased, but it is still nowhere near the leverage mania that we had prior to the financial crisis. It’s not a red flag, but it is a yellow flag.

CONSTRUCTIVE NONCONFORMITY

 

For those lucky enough to find a career doing what they love, work is a daily joy that challenges the mind and stokes the flames of passion. But for too many, work can feel like a transactional necessity, a soul-crushing exchange of time, effort, and freedom for a paycheck.

According to a 2015 Gallup Poll, 68 percent of employees said they didn’t feel engaged at work, a figure that’s held steady for well over a decade. But typically, when people join an organization, they’re excited and eager to dive in. So what grinds the honeymoon down and turns it into an ordeal?

“I hear a lot of people saying, as soon as they get in, they feel the pressure to conform” to company culture and norms, said Francesca Gino, a Harvard Business School professor who studies workplace behavior and wondered why employees became disenchanted with work.

To conform, many employees deliberately or unconsciously express emotions, offer opinions, or agree with ideas that appear popular, even if they’re not accurate reflections of their true selves. Or they may go along with prevailing notions and standards without questioning the status quo to seem like agreeable “team players.”

In the short term, fitting can seem appropriate, easing what can be an unnerving transition into a new environment. But Gino’s research suggests that tamping down individuality triggers feelings of inauthenticity. Over time, that can create anxiety that leaves people unenthusiastic and uncommitted to their jobs.

Ultimately, that can prove detrimental to employees and employers alike. Disengaged workers experience higher levels of boredom and stress, which can lead to burnout and greater staff turnover. Job performance also tends to suffer. Productivity, innovation, and creative thinking decline as complacency sets in and commitment to the company wanes, a distinct business disadvantage.

“There are good reasons for why people do it, and yet we don’t realize that it’s costly,” said Gino, who conducted fieldwork and case studies of maverick restaurants, investment firms, and manufacturers around the world that embrace what she calls “constructive nonconformity.”

While most businesses say they want engaged workers or will hire “new blood” to bring fresh perspectives, few give more than lip service to the importance of creativity and fresh ideas. Leaders worry that if staff freely express themselves or are allowed to handle decisions or situations on their own, quality and other institutional standards may decline or productivity could lapse because workers will prioritize their own needs ahead of the organization’s.

“Instead, it’s just the opposite,” said Gino. “When you give people the opportunity to be who they are more often, rather than checking themselves at the door when they come into work in the morning, they actually bring out the best in themselves.”

Fighting conformity doesn’t require sweeping changes or moving people into new positions, Gino said.

“Small wins are important,” she said. Tweak existing protocols and then test them to see if they deliver positive results. “Often, the best way of driving big changes at the top is to have good evidence that small changes and a different approach toward work can have meaningful impact.”

Other helpful interventions include:

  • Hiring for attitude and personal qualities, along with specific skills;
  • Asking employees to identify their strengths and then jointly determining how best to draw upon them;
  • Encouraging lively debate and challenges to assumptions without combativeness;
  • Modeling unconventional behavior that defies staff expectations;
  • Creating an atmosphere of collaboration, not competition;
  • Finding opportunities to let employees problem-solve and show their personalities.

There’s no one-size-fits-all approach, Gino says, but every industry and company can find ways to benefit from being flexible and nonconformist. The most successful organizations try to strike a thoughtful balance between freedom and structure, and executives or managers have clearly defined what’s fair game to tweak and what’s not.

Urging employees to be more authentic doesn’t mean lowering expectations, eliminating rules, or letting workers show up to the office in pajamas, she cautioned.

“You want people to be good in executing, but you also want people who … don’t take procedures and traditions for granted, but ask, ‘What if they were to be different?’ Because that’s what leads to innovation, and that is also what leads you to stay engaged,” Gino said.

CHARLATANS JESUS AND MUHAMMAD IN PORT JERVIS


CharlatansImage result for images of PORT JERVIS

 

Preet Bharara, the United States Attorney for the Southern District of New York, announced today that the United States has settled a federal civil rights lawsuit against the CITY OF PORT JERVIS (“PORT JERVIS”) in Orange County, New York.  Under the agreed-upon Consent Decree, PORT JERVIS will repeal a local law enacted in December 2015 that bans places of worship from two of the City’s central business and commercial zoning districts.  The Consent Decree also provides that the lawsuit can be reinstated if Port Jervis fails to amend its zoning laws to comply with federal law prohibiting discrimination and unreasonable impositions on religious freedom by January 23, 2017.  The Consent Decree was entered on November 23, 2016, by U.S. District Judge Kenneth M. Karas.

Today we know very well we are just a sort of apes, all religions are wrong, there is no God, there is no afterlife, and all miracles are hoaxes. God is the most unpleasant character in all fiction! But many people refuse to accept reality that when they die that will be the very end of them, that they will cease to exist.  Hoi polloi live on wishful thinking that they will live forever near God in another life! Hitler used to say that hoi polloi believe big lies, not small lies! 

All religions are big lies. Basic to religion is a presumed distinction between humans and animals, and a presumed uniqueness of humans in the universe. Based on evolutionary biology and astronomy, science rejects this stupid distinction. God is imaginary and religion is a complete illusion. Belief in God is nothing but a silly superstition, and this superstition leads a significant portion of the population to be delusional.

U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara said: “With this lawsuit and consent decree requiring the City of Port Jervis to repeal or amend a local law that banned places of worship in two of its central business districts, we help to ensure free religious exercise in the city.” 

According to the Complaint, filed in federal court in White Plains on November 21, 2016:

PORT JERVIS violated the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act (“RLUIPA”) by passing a local law in December 2015 that banned the use of land for purposes of places of worship in two of Port Jervis’s main commercial and business zones, the Central Business District and the Service Commercial District.  Prior to the passage of the local law, use of land for these purposes was permitted as of right in these districts.  While City officials claimed that the local law was justified by concerns relating to parking, commercial development, and liquor licensing, PORT JERVIS continues to permit nonreligious uses in these areas that will have similar effects.  Accordingly, the Complaint charged that PORT JERVIS treated religious assemblies on unequal terms with comparable nonreligious assemblies or institutions, in violation of RLUIPA.

Moreover, PORT JERVIS substantially burdened the religious exercise of the Goodwill Evangelical Presbyterian Church (the “Church”), which had sought to establish a place of worship in PORT JERVIS’s Central Business District.  After the Church was in contract to purchase property in that district and had received assurances from City officials that it could use the property as a branch of the Church, PORT JERVIS adopted the local law to ban places of worship in the zoning district.  The local law precluded the Church from its intended use of the property for religious exercise and caused the Church to suffer delay and expense in establishing a permanent place of worship in the City.  The Complaint charged that PORT JERVIS substantially burdened the Church’s religious exercise, also in violation of RLUIPA.

Pursuant to the Consent Decree entered on November 23, 2016, PORT JERVIS has until January 23, 2017, to repeal the local law banning places of worship from two of its central zoning districts.  PORT JERVIS also has agreed not to treat religious assemblies or institutions on unequal terms with nonreligious assemblies or institutions, and not to implement any land use regulation in a manner that imposes a substantial burden on the religious exercise of any person, assembly, or institution.  PORT JERVIS has further agreed to comply with certain notice, training, and recordkeeping requirements to ensure that City officials are knowledgeable about and comply with RLUIPA, and to allow the Government to monitor PORT JERVIS’s compliance.

The case is being handled by the Office’s Civil Rights Unit.  Assistant United States Attorney Samuel Dolinger is in charge of the case.

EVOLUTION FACT

Evolution is often mislabeled as a theory, but evolution of course is a well-established fact just as the earth’s revolution around the sun is not a theory but a well-established fact. We’ve had compelling evidence for more than a century that our modern human species gradually evolved from now-extinct species that anyone would agree were animals. So we can’t make a sharp distinction between humans and animals.

The human evolutionary line separated from the line leading to modern gorillas about seven million years ago, and then separated from the line leading to modern chimpanzees about six million years ago. Gradually, over the course of the last six or seven million years, various species of the human evolutionary line evolved to be more similar to us modern humans, and less dismissible as animals. But there was never a sharp break in time between humans and animals.

For most of this last six million years, there have been multiple co-existing human species, some more like us modern humans, and some more like so-called animals. It’s only in the last 32,000 years since the extinction of the Neanderthals that the human evolutionary line has consisted of only one species, namely us. There has also always been geographic variation within various human species, just as there is geographic variation within most animal species. Hence, at any given time during the emergence of modern Homo sapiens over the last 200,000 years, there were populations more like us moderns, and other populations less like us moderns and more like animals.

Also, we know that our species hybridized recently with at least two other human species now extinct, namely, with the Neanderthals and with Denisovans. Most of us today carry about 3 percent of Neanderthal genes in our genome, but when our hybridization with Neanderthals was still taking place 32,000 years ago, there were first-generation hybrids who were 50 percent Neanderthal in their genes, a second generation crossed with Neanderthals who were 75 percent Neanderthal, and another second generation that crossed with Homo sapiens who were 25 percent Neanderthal.

So, what do all these facts mean about religion’s supposed distinction between humans and animals? It means that there isn’t a clear distinction. There is variation in time. There is variation in space. But religions haven’t incorporated that fact. If there was a god that created humans in his or her or its image as distinct from animals, when and where did that god draw that arbitrary distinction between human and animals? Was it when we became just 25 percent Neanderthal in our genes, or when we got down to 12 percent, or 6 percent, or now 3 percent?

If we modern humans get judged and sent to heaven or hell, when and where in our evolutionary history did we start to get judged? Do chimpanzees get judged? Did Homo erectus get judged? Did 50 percent and 25 percent Neanderthals not get judged while 12 percent Neanderthals did? Was it possible to have some kind of 50 percent heaven reserved for 50 percent Neanderthals? If a male chimpanzee today dies in the course of killing chimpanzees belonging to another chimpanzee clan, does that chimpanzee get rewarded by going to a heaven where he will be greeted by seventy virgin female chimpanzees?

 

EXTRASOLAR PLANETS

An area of science with consequences for religion is astronomy, specifically the subfield of astronomy concerned with extrasolar planets, which are planets orbiting stars other than our sun. That issue of extrasolar planets is relevant to the supposed uniqueness of humans in the universe. Chimpanzees and primitive humans could already see with their naked eyes that there are thousands of stars up in the sky. Since Galileo invented the telescope, and as telescopes have been improved, we’ve learned that there are not thousands but trillions of trillions of stars.

But until recently, we couldn’t detect any planets orbiting those stars comparable to the nine or now eight planets that we know orbit our own star. We just didn’t have the methods. Because we’ve never been visited by flying saucers, it has seemed possible, although very improbable, to assume that the only intelligent life in the universe is we humans here on Earth (because, until recently, it’s always been the case that none of the other thirty million species on Earth rival us in intelligence).

In the past few decades, however, astronomers have developed a series of methods for detecting planets outside the solar system. As of May 10, 2016, astronomers had identified 3,264 planets outside our solar system, out of which 100 are the size of our planet Earth. Some nine of those planets lie in what is called the habitable zone of their stars, meaning that they lie at a distance from their star where it’s neither too cold, nor too hot, so life could evolve. Nine habitable planets. Out of the extrasolar planets we know of, 0.3 percent may be habitable by life as we know it.

Most stars that we’ve searched have proved to have planets, so we have to assume that planets are the overwhelming rule, not the exception. If there are at least one trillion stars in the universe, and if most of them have planets, of which 0.3 percent could support life as we know it, that means that there are about three billion planets capable of supporting life.

Experiments in laboratories suggest that it’s easy for a planet in the habitable zone to evolve life. The famous Miller Urey experiments of the 1950s showed that if you expose a container holding water, methane, ammonia, and hydrogen to either electricity or to ultraviolet light or to heat, then they will spontaneously form the building blocks of earth biology including amino acids, sugars, nucleotide bases, and porphyrins. So, it’s likely that the universe contains not just a billion planets capable of supporting life; it’s likely that the universe contains a billion planets actually supporting life.

Probably some of those planets have only living creatures less intelligent than us humans, and probably some of those planets have living creatures more intelligent than us humans. That makes it extremely unlikely that if there is a God, he is more interested in us than in all the other more intelligent life forms that surely exist on other planets. This is another fact that needs to be taken seriously if one wants to reconcile religion with science.

If a flying saucer could achieve the speed of light, the closest stars to Earth are several light-years away, which means that a flying saucer going at top speed is still going to take several years to reach the earth. But it’s extremely unlikely that a flying saucer is going to approach the speed of light. It’s going to take a prohibitively long time to reach us. That makes it implausible that we are going to see flying saucers. Given that there are billions of stars out there, it means that from any planet capable of launching a flying saucer, there are also large numbers of potential targets, many far closer than Earth. Earth is really just one of an enormous number of targets for any civilization capable of sending out flying saucers. That’s another reason that we’ve not yet been visited.

 

BLOODY BIBLE

It only takes a few minutes with the biblical texts to begin to realize that the Bible is filled with all kinds of horror. There are strange figures dripping blood (Isa. 63) and mysterious objects that kill upon touch (2 Sam. 6:7). Women are threatened, pursued, and even dismembered (Judges 19). The “scream queens” of horror are well matched by the screaming women of the Bible, especially in the prophetic literature, where women weep, cry, and howl in pain. Even when it is men who are crying, their sound is compared to the sound of screaming women, as in Isa. 26:17-18.

Even the repetitions of horror—the endless sequels, the killers returned from the (near) grave to haunt another day, the perky college students who just can’t stop going into the basement to find out what’s making that noise—have their parallels in the repetitions of the Hebrew Bible—the people who can’t stop sinning, the God who can’t stop finding new and appalling ways to punish them (in the book of Numbers: miserable food, disease, poisonous snakes, and strange fire, to name but a few). Bible is a horror movie. Isa. 63 describes God’s appearance on the horizon, dripping with the blood of those he has trampled. In Hosea 2, God, terrorizing Israel (here represented as a woman), threatens to hedge her up with thorns and torture her.

Horror also makes us think about gender, and what it means to have a female body. While both male and female bodies are subjected to outrageous violence and sadism, these bodies are not treated equally. In the Hebrew Bible, and in the prophets in particular, female bodies are disproportionately subjected to violence; rarely do they appear without being threatened. A common trope in horror films is that women who have sex are punished with violence, pain, or death; this is the case in Ezekiel 16 and 23 as well. On the other hand, death isn’t always a consequence of sex; God kills Ezekiel’s wife for no reason a few chapters later, in Ezek. 24:15-25.