Action Shots: Squirrels and Robins

 

Twice, on consecutive days, I've seen a squirrel come out of this hole. I'm  wondering if there's babies in there.

Twice, on consecutive days, I’ve seen a squirrel come out of this hole. I’m wondering if there are babies in there.

Once squirrel chased another down a tree and across this path. I missed the first squirrel, but here's his pursuer.

One squirrel chased another down a tree and across this path. I missed the first squirrel, but here’s his pursuer.

An American Robin.

Two Robbins foraging on a slope.

Two Robins foraging on a slope.

This is one of the previous two Robbins a few minutes later. He'd (or she) been doing a lot of eating.

This is one of the previous two Robbins a few minutes later. He’d (or she) been doing a lot of eating.

A face-off between two squirrels.

Then one chased the other.

Perhaps he was defending his hoard of nuts. Squirrels are scatters hoarders. The deposit nuts all over the place and it's quite a feat of memory that they can remember where.

Perhaps he was defending his hoard of nuts. Squirrels are scatter hoarders. They deposit nuts all over the place and it’s quite a feat of memory that they can remember where.

The moon.

The moon.

A neighbor's cat. He was crying at a door, but I've seen him go into another house in the past. Then the moment he saw me, he came to get pet.

A neighbor’s cat. He was crying at a door, but I’ve seen him go into another house in the past. Then the moment he saw me, he came to get pet.

I nearly forgot, a saw this bee in a Magnolia.

I nearly forgot, a saw this bee in a Magnolia.

 

Some Thoughts on Brendan Eich

In the U.S. people can be fired from jobs for political views. In 2002, Goodwill Industries fired Michael Italie, a sewing machine operative, for being a member of the Socialist Workers Party. He was not fired for anything he had done at work.

Goodwill makes no bones about the fact that it fired Italie not for any on-the-job conduct but for holding views it does not wish to be associated with. “We cannot have anyone who is attempting to subvert the United States of America,” Dennis Pastrana, chief executive of Goodwill in South Florida, told the Miami Herald on Oct. 30. “His political beliefs are those of a communist who would like to destroy private ownership of American enterprises and install a communist regime in the United States.”

According to Lida Rodriguez-Taseff of the ACLU commenting on the case “The law is pretty clear that a private employer can fire someone based on their political speech even when that political speech does not affect the terms and conditions of employment.”

Bryan Keefer, a research assistant who blogged about political rhetoric online, quit his job after being told that criticism of left leaning politicians could get him fired.

According to Missouri Lawyers Weekly

Most people are familiar with the standard protected classes: race, sex, age, religion, etc. But beyond that, many people feel that if something is unfair, then it must somehow be illegal.

Yet that is often not the case, at least in employment law.

You can be fired for a host of reasons in at-will employment, such as for being a Cubs fan (an option I’m thankful my employers have decided to forego) or for not inviting someone to your happy hour (something you would never do, of course, because you like everyone you work with). And, perhaps most pertinently these days, you can usually be fired for being of the “wrong” political affiliation (not your political affiliation – the other one).

The Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA) is legislation that has been proposed that would make sexual orientation and gender identity protected classes under federal law. However, currently, you can be fired for being gay in 29 states.

A school administrator at a Catholic school in Ohio was fired last year for a Facebook post supporting marriage equality.

Meanwhile, the Cincinnati Archdiocese has a new contract for the teachers in its schools that clamps down on their personal lives, including their ability to voice political beliefs that run counter to those endorsed by the Catholic Church. Teachers are prevented from expressing support for “living together outside of marriage,” “sexual activity out of wedlock,” “homosexual lifestyle,” “abortion,” “a surrogate mother,” “in vitro fertilization or artificial insemination.”

When I first heard that Mozilla’s new CEO had taken a stance about gay marriage, it was in a comment thread. There were some intimations that perhaps people should not use Firefox, but I hesitated to jump to any immediate conclusions in large part because the information was so vague and I didn’t know whether or not it was even correct.

In the past, I’ve struggled in the past over the question of whether or not I should boycott a product because of the political beliefs the a company owners. Frequently, my decision turns on how intimately the company is tied up with the beliefs of its owners. To take Hobby Lobby as an example, I wouldn’t boycott the company simply because the owners privately hold beliefs that are counter to my own, but because they have made their corporation an instrument of their beliefs.

Although the above cases regarding people who were terminated for their political views were legal, I can’t help feeling that employers in many of these cases have overstepped their bounds and when I first heard that people were calling for Brendan Eich to resign, I felt conflicted. Then I made an analogy.

Eich, was the CEO, a very different role than that of a lower level employee. My sister, as it happens, is a C-suite executive. There has been the occasional speculation as to whether or not she will be made CEO when, and if, her boss retires. Now, I’m not saying that anyone has said that she will be, but who might succeed the current CEO has been brought up and my sister’s name has, at times, been among them. Now, we live in Baltimore, which has a majority black population. My sister is white, but many of the people with whom she works are black, as are many of the other people with whom her company must cooperate in government or at other companies. Were my sister, or any of the other people who have been talked about as possible CEOs, to give a large amount of money to an organization actively fighting to end affirmative action would this disqualify them from consideration? In all likelihood it would, because it would make it very difficult for her to lead the organization. (For the record, this is not my sister’s view. It’s purely hypothetical.)

Of course, it was unfortunate that Eich was elevated to this position to begin with. He was one of the co-founders of Mozilla and had been the Chief Technology Officer. In 2008, while holding his previous position, he donated money to support Proposition 8, the California ballot initiative to ban same-sex weddings in that state. The company would have been well within its rights to fire him for that since firing people for their political positions is perfectly legal. However, I would have felt that the company was overstepping its bounds much as I feel that Goodwill Industries was wrong when it fired Michael Italie for being a socialist, unless the company felt that it directly affected his ability to do his job. In the case of his role as CEO, it is clear that it did hamper his ability to do his job. In fact, his views directly threatened the company. According to The New Yorker

The real mystery here, then, is not why Eich stepped down but why he ever got hired in the first place. His unquestioned technical ability notwithstanding, this was a candidate who divided the board, who had already been controversial, and whose promotion was guaranteed to generate reams of bad publicity.

What has puzzled me is the hand-wringing that has accompanied Eich’s departure. Conor Friedersdorf, writing in The Atlantic, says

Calls for his ouster were premised on the notion that all support for Proposition 8 was hateful, and that a CEO should be judged not just by his or her conduct in the professional realm, but also by political causes he or she supports as a private citizen.If that attitude spreads, it will damage our society.

Conor Friedersdorf is wrong to wonder what will happen “if this attitude spreads.” This “attitude”, the notion that an employee can be fired for political views, already exists. The only thing surprising here is that an CEO has been held to the same standard as other employees. I hope that conservatives mount an enthusiastic defense the next time a seamster in a factory is fired. Somehow, I doubt they will.

Update: Since posting this, I came across another post pointing out that Brendan Eich resigned, he was not fired and that he was not forced out by employees. I was aware of that and it is why I wrote that the company would have been able to fire him for his political views. However, in retrospect, it could be misleading to someone who wasn’t already informed about the situation.

Can You Spot the Bird?

My sister injured her back, so yesterday I went to visit. I brought my camera with me because, as I said to my sister, “If I don’t bring it the animals are sure to do something cute.” So, I sat outside for a time taking photos. I got one picture that made me think about all those pictures you see showing “nature’s wonderful camouflage.” So, go below the fold and see if you can find the bird…

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When the Stars Align

Some days, I am in the mood for sweets. Other days, I am in the mood to cook. Then there are those special days that I am both in the mood to cook and to eat something sweet. Today was one of those days. There was this jar of poppy seed that I’d bought for something some time ago but never used that’s been haunting me the past few days, saying, “Eat me. Eat me.” Since poppy seed doesn’t last forever and it had been sitting on the shelf for a while, it’s been weighing on my mind. “Got to do something with that poppy seed.” So, I started with the idea of making a poppy seed cake. So, I started thinking, what goes with poppy seed. I got it in my head that an apricot filling with a honey flavored icing would be great. Then, I realized that I had everything I needed minus dried apricots. That seemed to be a big clue to be lazy, so I looked back in the cabinet and found a jar of cherry preserves.

All in all, I think it came out very well. The apricots probably would have been better. The honey icing was essentially a meringue frosting made with honey instead of a sugar syrup.

cake

slice

Photos That Didn’t Fit

Sometimes, I participate in WordPress’ Weekly Photo Challenges. This week’s challenge was ‘street life’ and I’ve put a related post up over on my other blog where I put most of the photography. I use the challenges as creative inspiration to make new photographs and only occasionally put up old ones. So, after seeing this week’s challenge, it was a bit disappointing that we had a rainy weekend. However, yesterday was beautiful, and I was able to get out and take pictures. Since street photography is usually about people, it was a little bit of a challenge for me because I’m always so afraid of being intrusive. However, it gave me the opportunity to have small conversations with people, which was nice.

As always, if anyone ever appears in a photograph and doesn’t like it, just let me know and I’ll be glad to take it down.

There were a few pictures that didn’t fit in my little collection, so I’ll post them here instead.

crocuses

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Petition: War on Women, JP Morgan Chase Version

tl;dr: JP Morgan Chase refused to do business with a company that markets condoms to women because it’s policy of not serving “adult” businesses. The mother/daughter team who founded the company out of concern for women’s health, have put up a petition at Change.org asking Chase to reconsider their position.

Some people have a problem with the phrase “War on Women.” Mostly, people object to the hyperbole, that it is not, in fact, a “war.” However, I don’t think it’s hyperbole to say that there are individuals in the U.S.A. who are waging a war on non-procreative sex. This isn’t just a war against women, although people with uteruses, most of whom are women, bear the brunt of these laws. Make no mistake about it, gents; these laws are meant for you, too.

I came across an article today, via Little Green Footballs (ht/FemNaziBitch), with the title “Chase Refuses to Process Payments for Condoms.” This sounded so over the top, my outrage was immediately put on hold by the thought, “Maybe this is the Onion.” After all, I don’t want to be one of those fools that goes all ballistic over what is to everyone else obvious satire. Right? I mean, with that Hobby Lobby case, and everything, the idea of a corporation suddenly having morals is a pretty obvious joke, right? Right? RIGHT? The link led to a site that I’ve only seen once or twice before, so I decided to type “Lovability” and “Chase” into Google’s search box to see if I could find some independent confirmation.

A little detail that you probably didn’t know about fojap, she used to be a regular reader of The American Banker, a fine, reputable periodical covering news of interest to the banking industry. They’re a sober trade paper, at least they were when I used to read it a couple of decades ago. It doesn’t look like much has changed. So, I feel that I can trust them when I see “JP Morgan, Condoms and the Problem of Reputational Risk” by .

Reputational risk is just was it sounds like, the possibility of a company’s reputation being negative in public opinion. Companies take measures to insure that the public has a good opinion of them. In the case of banks, there’s an added issue that is not simply the public’s perception of a company’s reputation, but the regulators’ perception of the public’s perception. Skowronski and Hochstein point out that “regulators have become increasingly preoccupied with who banks are doing business with.” They describe a Justice Department effort called “Operation Choke Point.” The original intent of the effort was to crack down on banks who processed payments from online scammers. According to The American Banker, other agencies joined in:

In August, New York Financial Services Superintendent Benjamin Lawsky instructed 117 banks, including the nation’s four largest, to develop safeguards aimed at preventing unlicensed online lenders from accessing the payments system. Lawsky also filed suit against online lenders that he said were violating New York’s interest-rate cap. “We’re really trying to take a shock-and-awe strategy,” Lawsky said. “We want to make payday lending into New York, over the Internet, as unappetizing as possible.”

Meanwhile, the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. also stepped its reviews of banks’ relationships with online lenders and other businesses that might pose heightened risk for banks.

This eventually expanded to include online lenders who were operating legally.

In another article which appeared in The American Banker last July, Peter Weinstock wrote:

So, what is happening here? Is it that the banking regulators are protecting the public from bankers that are colluding with others by providing access to the banking system to enable such third parties to take advantage of consumers? Or, are some of the bank regulators seeking to preclude certain businesses because regulators believe such enterprises provide services that are inherently harmful to consumers? In short, are the regulators seeking to ban certain products? (emphasis mine)

Weinstock cites a speech given by Sarah Bloom Raskin, a former member of the Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve System at the 2013 Banking Outlook Conference at the Federal Reserve Bank of Atlanta. Raskin suggests that regulators have a responsibility to consider anything that affects the stability of a bank. Since reputational risk can influence a bank’s profitability, it is appropriate for it to be regulated.

Consider that in today’s financial institution sector, a substantial portion of a bank’s enterprise value comes from intangible assets such as brand recognition and customer loyalty that may not appear on the balance sheet but are nevertheless critical to the bank’s success.

It is clear from her speech that she is mainly concerned with how the bank treats its customers, not who its customers are.

If bank profitability is going to improve in a context of low interest rates and higher compliance costs, lending income may remain low. Profits will need to come from elsewhere. One source of profits would be products that are not interest-rate dependent, but fee-dependent.

…. The pressure to generate enhanced profits through high fees is palpable, and banks may choose to move aggressively down these paths. But when a bank already suffers from a poor reputation…, it likely will face difficulties in introducing new fee-generating products or activities without inviting further criticism and damage to its reputation. So an evaluation of the effects of the new product or activity on the bank’s reputation prior to launch is arguably necessary.

However, it seems that this logic has been conscripted to serve the purpose of forcing commercial banks to refuse to do business with payday lenders. Furthermore, that effort has then been expanded to push banks to refuse to do business with a variety of other companies.

Skowronski and Hochstein note that the FDIC issued a letter “urging financial institution to do a better job managing the risk associated with their third-party processor relationships. That sounds fine, except some of the merchant categories listed as “high risk” are obvious choices. “Debt consolidation scams” and “Ponzi schemes,” for instance, should be unbankable, while others seem to be there simply because they’re icky (tobacco sales?).”

The FDIC’s list of merchants associated with high-risk activity is as follows:

  • Ammunition Sales
  • Cable Box De-scramblers
  • Coin Dealers
  • Credit Card Schemes
  • Credit Repair Services
  • Dating Services
  • Debt Consolidation Scams
  • Drug Paraphernalia
  • Escort Services
  • Firearms Sales
  • Fireworks Sales
  • Get Rich Products
  • Government Grants
  • Home-Based Charities
  • Life-Time Guarantees
  • Life-Time Memberships
  • Lottery Sales
  • Mailing Lists/Personal Info
  • Money Transfer Networks
  • On-line Gambling
  • PayDay Loans
  • Pharmaceutical Sales
  • Ponzi Schemes
  • Pornography
  • Pyramid-Type Sales
  • Racist Materials
  • Surveillance Equipment
  • Telemarketing
  • Tobacco Sales
  • Travel Clubs

From Skowronski and Hockstein:

This type of scrutiny should have everyone – banks, businesses and consumers – concerned. It’s one thing to ask banks not to do business with Iranian terrorists. It’s even conceivable why a bank would want to avoid doing business with porn sites, given they are a high-chargeback business that large swaths of the public frown upon. And, yes, payday lenders aren’t exactly going to win any popularity contests. But cutting off a company that makes contraceptive or prophylactic products puts us in murkier waters.

Which brings us back to the incident that originally prompted this post. According to the website The New Civil Rights Movement:

Chase Paymentech, the payment processing service offered by JPMorgan Chase, has refused to process payments for Lovability, a condom company, because they consider the action a “reputational risk”.

Loveability Inc., which Facebook classifies as a “health and beauty” company, was founded by mother-daughter team Pam and Tiffany Gaines “to empower women to take responsibility for their sexual health.”

….
Daily Kos reports that Pam and Tiffany were notified this week that Chase considered them an “adult oriented product” and would not process customer payments, lest their reputation suffer from the association. It seems not to have occurred to Chase Paymentech that condoms save lives, prevent unwanted pregnancies that lead to abortions, chronic poverty and child abuse. Condoms also stop the spread of STDs.

What part of any of that is a “reputational risk” to Chase bank?

Well, when I first read that post, I thought that my own would be a fairly quick one. I wasn’t quite sure why JP Morgan Chase would consider an association with this company, Lovability a risk. Now that I have looked into it further, it has turned out to be a more complicated story. In our contemporary society where few transactions do not involve the banking system, and I’m including business to business transactions as well, keeping a business out of the banking system is tantamount to banning it.

In the meantime, I would suggest that you consider signing the Gaines’ Change.org petition asking Chase Paymentech to remove condoms from its list of prohibited items.

I Should Have Been an Abortion

If you haven’t been spending tons of time reading atheist blogs, you may be unaware that the topic of abortion has been raging like wildfire. There are so many aspects to this argument, that I’m only going to discuss one paragraph I’ve read. It was “A Response to a Pro-Life Atheist and the Friendly Atheist,” by Avicenna.

I know this is a hard lesson to swallow because these things look like us and indeed all of us were once foetuses. When we think of abortion we think of what would happen had WE been aborted. About all the experiences lost and all the life unlived. We never think that we would probably not care if we had been aborted or not since we would in effect have been just cells.

This idea is not abstract for me because my biological mother was fourteen when I was born. She was never taught about her own biology and did not know she was pregnant. Her period had not yet become regular and she didn’t think much of it when she missed it a few times. Finally, it was only when she began to show in the fifth month that her aunt told her she was pregnant. Even still, she was unsure how it could have happened since she thought you had to be married in order to get pregnant. If they had found out earlier, I would have most certainly been aborted. Even though it wasn’t legal at the time, her female relatives are confident that they would have been able to find a back alley abortionist.

When I say I should have been an abortion, I’m not expressing some bizarre sense of self-hate. I’m saying that what my biological mother should have done, had she had a clue that she was pregnant earlier than she did, was to have an abortion. No one would hesitate to say that I shouldn’t have been conceived. Some people may think she should have used a condom. Others may think that she should have not had sexual intercourse. However, everyone agrees that I should have not been conceived.

My biological mother had wanted to be an engineer. This wasn’t a particular crazy thought. There are engineers in her family. Her brother is today a software engineer. Instead, she dropped out of high school and worked for a number of years as a maid. She eventually went back to school and doesn’t have a bad life at all now. Of course, a few years later, in her early twenties, she found herself pregnant again and had an abortion. Since then she got married. She got her GED, the general equivalency diploma, and she went on to take courses at a community college that enabled her to get a job that paid well. It’s hard to predict the future, but many of those things might not have happened if she had been forced to bear a second child.

She never did become an engineer and sometimes I feel a little guilty about that. If I hadn’t come along, she may very well have become one. Let’s not forget, that everyone agrees that I shouldn’t have been conceived.

The Stanley Institute

On our drive yesterday, we passed by a small yellow building. My sister said that it looked like a church. I said it looked like a one room school house. Indeed, it had been both, but it had mainly been a school house. It had been erected by the local African American community after the Civil War. First built in the nearby town of Church Creek in 1865, it was moved to its current location in 1867. For much of its history it went under the name of Rock Elementary School and was later called the Stanley Institute after the first president of its board, Ezekriel Stanley. It was an elementary school until 1962 and continued to be used until 1966.

The first teacher was a young woman of mixed race from New Bedford, Massachusetts, Emma Piper.

A one room school house.

More photos that I took can be found here.

New Bird: American White Pelican

There was some excitement for us today. We went to the Blackwater Wildlife Refuge and saw some American White Pelicans. They are not common in this area, so I’m glad my sister was there or I would have thought I was terribly mistaken. The volunteer at the visitor’s center confirmed that the Pelicans have been seen there in recent years. He said a few days ago several people reported seeing a flock of thirty to forty, which seems to be exactly what we saw today.

A flock of pelicans.

Another first for me was a muskrat. I’ve seen their lodges before, but this is the first I’ve seen one the animals.

muskrat

Finally, Blackwater has a lot of Great Blue Herons. We saw several on both visits, but they’re so beautiful, I thought I’d post a picture anyway.

heron

We didn’t see as many different types of birds as we saw last time, although we heard many we didn’t see. Also, we still haven’t seen one of the rare squirrels.