Sunday, July 29, 2007

“The South’s Goin’ To Do It Again!”

That was the hook to a 70’s song by the Charlie Daniels Band, and it was a big hit in Mississippi and Alabama at that time. I never really quite understood the popularity, other than regional pride. I certainly never quite knew what the “it” was that the song was referring to.

Having lived in the Deep South for about 10 years but not being a southerner myself, I have a few informed opinions about the whole mindset. For one thing, quite a number of people have never really gotten over the fact that the Confederacy lost the War Between the States. You get a hint of that by the fact that many people still refer to it as the War of Northern Aggression. Yes, that’s a bit telling. Even after all this time, it still rankles that the Confederacy lost. Now, I also am of the opinion that those same people really don’t follow through on their thinking. Just what would have the world been like today if the United States had really been half its size? How many of the major events since that time would have had a much different outcome? Slavery of a human race, World War I, World War II and the rise of Communism as a world force are only the tip of the iceberg. The world could have been a much, much different place, if the United States hadn’t been able to influence the outcome of these momentous “fulcrum points” of human history.

However, all many die-hard Southerners know is that their side lost, and they can’t seem to get over that. The battle waged over whether the Confederate flag belongs on the state flag of Georgia shows the depth of the emotion that still dwells in the hearts of many.

What I also believe is that, although it has taken about 150 years, the Confederacy, or rather, the remnants of it, has been driving the direction of this country for the last 30 years. The politics and the overall morality have been dragged to the right, mostly by those in power from the Southern states. The South is the home of Fundamentalist Christianity. The political base that used to be referred to as the “Southern Democrats” or “Dixiecrats” are now in firm control of the Republican party. These two forces have joined together in a very up-front bid to take control of the entire country. They have a very set agenda and truthfully, it doesn’t appear that there is much in the way of restraint on the part of the people attempting to drive the country in the desired direction. George Bush is just the culmination of a long effort by a number of very influential and powerful people to get what they want.

I see what is going on in the United States today is an aftershock of the outcome of the Civil War and all the carpetbagging that went on afterwards. The battle between the North and the South is still being waged, and the outcome is far from certain.

Saturday, July 21, 2007

An example of corporate fascism; how Bill O’Reilly made JetBlue become a foot soldier in his war against “liberals”

One more day, one more outrage. I’ll try to keep the background info short. The DailyKos web site has been, for the last two years, organizing a yearly convention where liberals and Democrats of all persuasions get together and listen to speakers, famous and otherwise, and have open discussions. It sounds fascinating. I read many great things about the one last year in Vegas, I believe it was. I was very envious I wasn’t there. This year’s YearlyKos in is Chicago.

This year, Markos lined up some corporate sponsorship. JetBlue was one. They weren’t doing much, other than had an advertisement on the DailyKos web page, and were offering a couple of free tickets to the event. Well, the right wing nutjobs went crazy, Bill O’Reilly and Michelle Malkin among them. O’Reilly was on his radio program, calling the DailyKos web site “just the same as the Nazis” and pounded on the theme that JetBlue was essentially sponsoring Nazis. He kept repeating this, over and over. Initially, JetBlue was going, “What are you talking about? This is a good business opportunity, liberals take airplanes as well, and we are just trying to get out name out there.” Now, they have totally caved in and removed all contacts with the DailyKos.

Here’s a link to a story in Americablog that will give you more background, if you need it.

Once again, we are treated to the spectacle of these right wing a**holes with a loud mouth, a megaphone and a soapbox upon which to stand accusing the left of something that they are themselves, here and now, actively engaged in. The DailyKos same as a Nazi website? You have got to be kidding me. It is mostly dedicated to promoting and electing Democratic candidates for local and national offices, and, along with others like Firedoglake, is doing groundbreaking work in getting donations for political candidates they are pushing. I find quite a lot of the articles at DailyKos rather boring, lots of statistics about how much money was raised and what the breakdown of this or that is. Yes, there are some very hard-hitting anti-Bush and anti-wingnut articles. But Nazis? Please.

What I see is that O’Reilly and Malkin are doing the exact same thing that they are accusing the left of doing. They are out and out vilifying their enemies, threatening multi-million dollar corporations with “bad publicity”, villains by association, unless they conform to the wishes of these dangerous lunatics. How are these people being allowed to get away with stuff like this on national radio and TV? Why does no one, except the liberal blogs and publications, call these creeps on their unacceptable behavior? Who are these people? This is outrageous behavior by public figures.

I am wondering how long it will be before O’Reilly, Shawn Hannity, Michelle Malkin, Ann Coulter and all the rest of these crazy people who make money for their media conglomerates start calling for their followers to start painting a big “L” on the houses of liberals, or smashing in the windows of businesses run by or catering to liberals. Because, in truth, the only people acting like Nazis right now are the aforementioned conservatives nutcases.

Photo from Wikipedia, re. Kristallnacht

Friday, July 20, 2007

Handy Latin phrase of the day: deus ex machina

From wikipedia:

Deus ex machina (pl. deī ex māchinīs "gods out of machines" or deī ex māchinā "gods out of a machine") describes an unexpected, artificial, or improbable character, device, or event introduced suddenly in a work of fiction or drama to resolve a situation or untangle a plot (e.g. the rope that binds the hero's hands is luckily chewed off by a rat, or an angel suddenly appearing to solve problems).

Example useage in today's terms: What George Bush is secretly hoping for to rescue him from the debacle that is Iraq.

Thursday, July 19, 2007

O.K, according to Joe Lieberman’s logic, Turkey should launch an attack on the U.S.?

Here’s why I reached that conclusion. Joe, along with a lot of his influential neo-cons buddies and their wingnut base, is exceedingly enthusiastic about the U.S. attacking Iran due to the Iranian weapons that are being used by whatever groups there are in Iraq that are attacking the U.S. troops there. Well, if that is a reasonable conclusion, then isn’t it also a reasonable conclusion that Turkey could attack us for the same reason? U.S. made weapons are being used in attacks against Turkish troops by Kurdish terrorists in northern Iraq.

This is from Aviation Week & Space Technology, July 16, 2007.

The Pentagon complains that Iranian weapons and explosives have killed U.S. soldiers in Iraq. Now Turkey says its soldiers along the border with Iraq are being killed by U.S. weapons. Nabi Sensoy, Turkey’s ambassador to Washington, says weapons and explosives the U.S. supplied to the Kurdistan Regional Government in northern Iraq are winding up in the hands of a terrorist group that uses them to attack Turkish troops patrolling the Kurdish-populated areas of Turkey. “We know there have been a number of weapons of American origin,” Sensoy says. “We know that the U.S. is supplying arms to the northern Iraqi administration. We have enough information to prove that [the forces of the Kurdistan Regional Government and President Massoud] Barzani himself [are] not only providing safe haven to the terrorists, but also providing logistical support, food, weapons, ammunition, explosives which are being used by the terrorists in their operations in Turkey.” Sensoy won’t verify news reports that 140,000 Turkish troops are operating near the border, but he declines to say “that Turkey would be able to rule out any alternative [such as cross-border incursions] in the fight against the terrorist organization.”

If I were Turkey, I’d be rather pissed, too. Many people not named George Bush saw this coming.

More on Republican obstruction as tactical strategy.

This is a little bit more, adding to a post I did last week, on how Republicans are using obstruction of any Democratic initiative or proposal as their main strategy. Their main goal, as the quote below shows, is to make sure that the Democratic Congress don’t get anything accomplished, and then the Republicans can complain loudly about that same lack of progress.

In its first 40 hours, the new majority of the House of Representatives kept their promise to voters and passed legislation—increasing the minimum wage for the first time in a decade, empowering Medicare to negotiate lower prices on drugs, cutting interest rates on student loans in half, revoking big oil subsidies and using the money to invest in renewable energy—that provided a down payment for a new direction for this country.

These bills are overwhelmingly popular, and are simply common sense reforms. Yet every one of them—and many more—got held up in the U.S. Senate.

Conservatives boast about the “success” of their strategy in discrediting the new majority. As Senate Minority Whip Trent Lott, R-Miss., put it, “the strategy of being obstructionist can work or fail. So far it’s working for us.”

I find this despicable, as well as incomprehensible. The Minority Whip in the Senate actually states that is what they are doing!! They would rather be able to beat on their chests and complain about the Democratic Congress not getting anything done than to actually accomplish anything that will advance the well being of this country and its inhabitants.

I have heard tell that democracy is a messy thing. Yep, I’ll agree with that. To me, democracy is a great system, as long as everyone involved actually works ethically and responsibly and does not try to “game” the system. That is no longer an operable assumption about the Republicans. This is just one more piece of evidence about the truth of that statement.

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Filibuster Central

I have to contain my desire to chew on nails when I see the Republicans and conservative pundits label, usually successfully, a Dem (such as John Kerry) as a “flip-flopper”, because they catch the guy saying something confusing and makes it look like he has totally changed his position on something (sometimes this is actually true, sometimes it is a total fabrication), when the Republicans make a living on doing just that. And does the press ever call Republicans out on that? No. It’s always the Democrats that get bashed.

Here’s a good case in point regarding the use of a filibuster in the Senate. Via Digby:

It is so rich listening to these Republicans decry the tyranny of the majority and stand up for the inalienable right to filibuster after their tiresome "up-or-down vote!" mantra of the last six years. Nobody ever accused them of being intellectually consistent. But this takes real chutzpah. From Think Progress:

When Democrats held up the confirmation of a few of President Bush’s right-wing judicial nominees, conservatives repeatedly complained of “obstructionism.”

Senate conservatives had threatened to deploy the “nuclear option,” which would have eliminated the traditional Senate practice of filibustering.

Sen. Trent Lott (R-MS): “[Filibustering] is wrong. It’s not supportable under the Constitution. And if they insist on persisting with these filibusters, I’m perfectly prepared to blow the place up.”

Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-KY) spokesman: “Senator McConnell always has and continues to fully support the use of what has become known as the ‘[nuclear]’ option in order to restore the norms and traditions of the Senate.”

Today, however, these conservatives are proposing the exact opposite of the nuclear option — a permanent filibuster. The Washington Post reports today that McConnell has requested that all Iraq amendments meet a 60 vote threshold, an effort designed to quietly block withdrawal legislation from ever passing the Senate:

Minority Leader Mitch McConnell responded to Reid with a counteroffer: an automatic 60-vote threshold for all key Iraq amendments, eliminating the time-consuming process of clearing procedural hurdles. … [A]ll the controversial war-related votes held since Democrats took control of the Senate in January have required 60 “yeas” to pass.

“It’s a shame that we find ourselves in the position that we’re in,” McConnell said. “It produces a level of animosity and unity on the minority side that makes it more difficult for the majority to pass important legislation.”

We have gone, in just over a year, from “filibusters are wrong and evil” to a proposal for a permanent filibuster any time the subject of the Iraq war comes up. Just who exactly are the hypocrites here?

P.S. Oh, yeah. And a big Razzie to the people in the mainstream media who are referring to this as a "Democratic filibuster". God, they can't even get that right.

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

“Yeah, let’s just grab us some liberals and a couple cans of Zyklon B! Maybe we can have a brewski afterwards.”

I have seen this story from the U.K. Independent by Johann Hari linked in a number of places. Here is one from Balloon Juice. The basic premise is that an Englishman signs up for the uber-conservative National Review cruise without telling anyone who he really is, where lots and lots of Big Name uber-conservatives talk to the ordinary uber-conservatives, who pay Big Money for the privilege, and then the reporter writes about his experience for a left-leaning English newspaper.

Boy, the insights you get about people when they think you aren’t listening. Here is one of my favorite passages, and it’s right up near the front of the article.

“I lie on the beach with Hillary-Ann, a chatty, scatty 35-year-old Californian designer. As she explains the perils of Republican dating, my mind drifts, watching the gentle tide. When I hear her say, ” Of course, we need to execute some of these people,” I wake up. Who do we need to execute? She runs her fingers through the sand lazily. “A few of these prominent liberals who are trying to demoralise the country,” she says. “Just take a couple of these anti-war people off to the gas chamber for treason to show, if you try to bring down America at a time of war, that’s what you’ll get.” She squints at the sun and smiles. ” Then things’ll change.””

Ummm.... Yes, enlightening, to say the least. Here’s a couple of more interesting little snippets.

"I am travelling on a bright white cruise ship with two restaurants, five bars, a casino – and 500 readers of the National Review. Here, the Iraq war has been "an amazing success". Global warming is not happening. The solitary black person claims, "If the Ku Klux Klan supports equal rights, then God bless them." And I have nowhere to run.”

“To my left, I find a middle-aged Floridian with a neat beard. To my right are two elderly New Yorkers who look and sound like late-era Dorothy Parkers, minus the alcohol poisoning. They live on Park Avenue, they explain in precise Northern tones. "You must live near the UN building," the Floridian says to one of the New York ladies after the entree is served. Yes, she responds, shaking her head wearily. "They should suicide-bomb that place," he says. They all chuckle gently. How did that happen? How do you go from sweet to suicide-bomb in six seconds?”

“Podhoretz and Buckley now inhabit opposite poles of post-September 11 American conservatism, and they stare at wholly different Iraqs. Podhoretz is the Brooklyn-born, street-fighting kid who travelled through a long phase of left-liberalism to a pugilistic belief in America's power to redeem the world, one bomb at a time. Today, he is a bristling grey ball of aggression, here to declare that the Iraq war has been "an amazing success." He waves his fist and declaims: "There were WMD, and they were shipped to Syria ... This picture of a country in total chaos with no security is false. It has been a triumph. It couldn't have gone better." He wants more wars, and fast. He is "certain" Bush will bomb Iran, and " thank God" for that.”

If you want more, go read the entire article. But this confirms the deep, deep suspicion of liberals and Democrats on all sides that these people are actually pretty much insane. Not a little cracked, like your elderly aunt that used to talk to herself and smelt like mothballs. No, totally and categorically insane. And remember, these are the people that make up the remaining base of support for George Bush and his policies. William F. Buckley and Rich Lowry are portrayed in this story as the voices of reason, which in and of itself is pretty insane.

I am appalled to find that perhaps 25 to 30% of this country seems to have lost their minds, that they have pulled up their anchors of rationality and set sail in the wide open ocean of total delusion, based on how they would like the world to be, not how it is. How else can you explain a 35 year old woman, apparently rather successful in business, who is openly advocating murdering one or more liberals just because they criticize President Bush on how he manipulated this country into a war that is turning out to have no upside whatsoever? “Gas chamber”? Isn’t that rather…. Hitler-esque? People get upset when anyone makes a comparison to Hitler or the Nazis, and for very good reason. I cannot think of a more industrialized, sanitized version of pure evil than what Hitler put together in the 1930’s and early 1940’s. But this lady in the story, “Hillary-Ann”, is inviting those comparisons herself, by openly advocating murder of people she sees as her political opponents. Excuse me? And I bet that she sees herself as a good Christian as well.

Perhaps these people are just talking “a good game”, and in their heart, they don’t really mean it. However, based on this story, based on anonymous comments left on right-wing blogs and even more mainstream websites that allow comments, based on inside information about what the fundamentalist Christians are talking about when they think no one outside their group is listening, I truly believe that these people are serious. That is what they believe and that is what they would like to have happen.

I suppose when you have a small but still significant population in a country that is intent on gaining and holding on to power, it isn’t a surprise when you end up with a fascist police state, as evidenced by Germany, Russia, Italy, Spain in the late 20th century. I am very afraid that it could still happen here. I think the chances of it happening are much less than they were back at the height of the pro-war fever dream that we went through from about late 2001 to 2005. Still, we need to be very vigilant.

Oh, and by the way, the Norman Podhoretz quoted above in the article was just appointed as a senior advisor to the presidential campaign of one Rudy Giuliani.

Monday, July 16, 2007

Republican obstructionists.

Here’s a telling quote from Senator Kent Conrad, via The Young Turks.

Cenk: Exactly, that’s a perfect situation. We’re actually going to make you physically filibuster it. Go ahead and give speeches for 24 hours a day. We’re removing the rule that out of politeness and courtesy that we don’t make you do that anymore. We’re going to have you go and read the phone book, and tell us how much you’re against stem cells or the minimum wage, or for rest for the troops.

Senator Kent Conrad: Yeah, I think there’s a growing consensus that we ought to do that. And let me be clear, I’m not saying we don’t have an ability to speak out. Clearly we do. We have a narrow but clear majority in the United States Senate. We have a narrow but clear majority in the House of Representatives. And so we do have more of an ability to have our points of view heard than we did when we were in the minority, but it’s also the reality. The President has the biggest megaphone, and, you know, until Democrats have the White House, they’re always going to be at a disadvantage in terms of getting a message out. With that said, with that said, I think that we could do a better job making our points, and one part of that is to let the American people see just how obstructionist this Republican minority is being. The leader has had to file cloture now over 40 times already this year. And cloture, as you know, is a special procedure to stop debate, to stop filibusters, in order to reach conclusion on legislation. I had a Republican colleague tell me it is the Republican strategy to try to prevent any accomplishment of the Democratic Congress. That is set in their caucus openly and directly that they don’t intend to allow Democrats to have any legislative successes, and they intend to do it by repeated filibuster.

Wow. O.K., color me gobsmacked. I. Am. Shocked. And here I was thinking that Republicans would actually try, after getting their butts kicked up and down the country in the elections of last year, to get some actual work done and stop playing their stupid games. (No, I actually didn’t think that. That’s called sarcasm...) I had actually read a very similar sounding quote out of our state legislature in Washington state from a few years ago, so this doesn’t surprise me at all that someone would actually admit that this is their plan.

What is with the Republicans and conservatives in this country? They are being obstructionists, just for the pure hell of it. If I were to try to point out a single driving factor for these people, instead of 10 or 20, it would be their hatred of Democrats and liberals. They will do everything within their power, by whatever means necessary, to defeat Democrats at every turn. The issue does not matter. The pluses or minuses of their respective positions do not matter. Overwhelming public opinion does not matter. The only thing is to win, to “beat” a Democrat. It is some sort of game to them, called “Politics”. The common good of the country is not even in sight. I get the feeling that if a Democrat were to introduce legislation to recognize that blue is a very nice color for the sky, Republicans would find a way to argue about it and try to score some political points with their angry base.

This little tidbit may be small potatoes in the bigger scheme of things, but it is very telling about the state of mind under which the Republicans operate these days.

As the nation's top doc from 2002 to 2006, Dr. Carmona was ordered not to discuss embryonic stem cell research or the emergency contraceptive known as Plan B, he said last week in testimony before the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform. He was ordered to water down a report on the dangers of secondhand smoke.

He definitely couldn't point out the failings of abstinence-only programs. In speeches that were vetted by other political appointees, he was ordered to mention President Bush three times for every page.

He was even discouraged from going to the Special Olympics, a charitable event that supports disabled Americans, because the organization is linked to a prominent Democratic family. "I was specifically told by a senior person, 'Why would you want to help those people,'" Dr. Carmona said, referring to the family of Sen. Ted Kennedy, D-Mass.

Have we, as a nation, so lost our way that people cannot even understand that there are bigger issues to deal with other than for your frikkin’ political party to “win” every single battle, large and small? Jesus H. Christ. No wonder this country is in the sorry state that it is.

Although I am counting the days when we can elect a Democrat to the presidency and maybe actually inject some sanity back into pretty much everything this government does, I am also very worried. The Rethuglicans will, once again, just as they did in the days of President Bill Clinton, take out their bows and arrows, slingshots, mortars, AK-47’s, bazookas, cruise missiles, whatever, and fire, without letup, at any Democrat who inhabits the White House. The eight long years of the Bush administration will be forgotten, as will the do-nothing, rubber stamp Republican congress. Everything will, once again, be the fault of those eee-vil Democrats.

Just wait. When we have a Dem back in the White House again, the Republicans will be making the case that the botched war in Iraq and the next terrorist attack that this country faces will be the fault of the Democrats. And the mainstream press will just lap this up and spit it out, labeled as “reporting”, without any questions attached.

Photo copyright Steve Rhodes, at Flickr

Bob Geiger reports on some Democratic pushback. Finally.

Quantum physics meets Dick Cheney.

Humor from Tom Tomorrow, via Salon.

Sunday, July 15, 2007

Paging Alfred Hitchcock.

"Hey, I think I see Tippy Hedron in first class!"

Terrorism has pretty much won the day, I think.

What motivates terrorists? There are many reasons, I think. Primarily, terrorism is employed by those who think it will advance their cause, whatever that cause may be. Revenge, to get “press” for your cause, religious beliefs that they are God’s people and meting out punishment to the infidels, to give one a sense of power where they don’t have it otherwise, an expectation of “divine reward” as a martyr, and to instill fear and uncertainty in the population of their intended victims. There are no doubt more. Those are the obvious ones that I see.

I am not going to defend ANYONE who slaughters innocent people for “the cause”, whatever the cause may be. Killing innocent people who, individually, had nothing to do with whatever grievance the terrorist may have is not acceptable. These people need to be tracked down, isolated and arrested as soon as there is enough evidence against them. I am all for proactive police work that will prevent more people losing their lives. However, that police work needs to be done legally, and it shouldn’t be splashed all over the evening news whenever someone needs a political boost in the ratings.

George Bush has done more for the cause of terrorism than Osama Bin Laden ever could have imagined. He has managed to turn Iraq into a breeding ground for terrorists, where it wasn’t before, and he has given Bin Laden and his kind a recruiting tool that they could only dream about. The main point I wanted to write about here, however, is how Bush and his minions have used terrorism to advance their own cause. Please take note that this is the main reason that terrorism is employed by those who actually “pull the trigger”, to advance their cause. The only difference I see is that the tactics employed by Bush don’t actually kill people. However, those tactics certainly are designed to keep the population of this country cowed, so that we will not question any of the actions these thugs may take while in power. All you need to do is look at the color coded alerts being manipulated prior to the elections in 2004 to see what I mean. Keith Olbermann on MSNBC did a little research, that anyone from, oh, the New York Times or the Washington Post could have done but didn’t, which showed that the 14 times that the terror alert status was raised to Orange was preceded, in all cases, by some good news for the Kerry or the Democrats, or bad news for Bush or the Republicans. And they didn’t hesitate to use four-year-old data, either.

Bush seems to have gotten himself into a pickle of late, however. He is trying to have his cake and eat it too. The country, including a lot of influential Republicans, is pressing him on how he has run the war in Iraq. Most of the country wants our troops out, as they are serving no other purpose than targets in a shooting gallery. So, Bush is pulling out his well-worn scare tactics. “If we pull out of Iraq, the terrorists will have a safe haven and follow us home!” he declares. Michael Chertoff, the Director of Homeland Security, says that he has a “gut feel” that terrorists will try to strike inside the U.S. this summer. He even mentioned something about that the terrorists will follow you into “your local mall”. You aren’t even safe from the terrorists while shopping! In other words, fear, fear, fear, fear! Be afraid! We are the only ones who can save you!

See? The terrorists have won. Our own government is using the terrorists, by proxy, to advance their own purpose of staying in power and getting to do whatever they want without any opposition.

However, the problem is that, when Bush is playing the fear card, he is also given weight to the argument that the approximately five years we have been Iraq have not made us one iota safer from terrorism. He says that Iraq could become a safe haven for terrorists, but he ignores the safe haven they already enjoy in Pakistan and Afghanistan. Bush is undercutting his own argument for why we have to stay in Iraq. So, the Bush team is trying to walk a very fine line here. They are arguing that we are much safer than we were before that horrible day in September of 2001. They have been doing a wonderful job, and must be allowed to continue! However, the country is still in very grave danger and could be attacked at any moment! Be very afraid!

I do not understand how Bush and his team can actually be arguing both of these points at the same time. Well, actually, I do. I think the real truth is that these people, primarily driven by Karl Rove and Dick Cheney, know only one way to operate. This is what got them in power. They didn’t have a coherent plan for Iraq or for Al-Queda, and they still don’t. They have painted themselves into a corner when all their rosy scenarios they used as justifications turned to dust. They literally don’t know what else to do. So, the keep pounding on that same old horse that died several years ago. It’s amazing to me that Bush has a popularity rating even in the high 20’s. It should have been obvious to every single person in the United States who can read as to what Bush and his power-mad team of neo-cons have done to this country.

If we allow these people to attack Iran before Bush’s term runs out, this country deserves all that will come out of it.

Friday, July 13, 2007

So, what do Americans look like to Canadians?

Guest blogger here, by invitation of the blogmaster. And his question to me was: what do Americans look like right now from the point of view of Canadians? It’s a serious question, and a complex one which requires some background to appreciate the eventual answer, so bear with me.

The first thing to realize is that Canadians grew up experiencing all of the American mythologies perpetuated by the media: the Revolution, the Declaration of Independence, the Bill of Rights, the Conquest of the West, the Saving of Europe in WWI and WWII, and the benevolent hegemony of American nuclear power keeping us safe from the Russkies from 1950 to 1990. Most of us can sing your national anthem and name your President, and most of us follow American pro sports, turn on American tv channels, and shell out $9 - $12 to eat overpriced popcorn drenched industrial grease while we watch American films. The message that many of us have received for decades is not only that America is great, but that Canada is insignificant. For us, real success is when you Move to America – like Wayne Gretzky, Anne Murray, Mary Pickford, John Kenneth Galbraith, and others. In fact, for a lot of Canadians, the first reaction to America is one of a jealous younger brother looking up to his much older, bigger, stronger, and more accomplished sibling.

The second thing to realize is that this feeling of the neglected and less significant sibling is what drives much of what Americans see as a hostile, smug, or angry view of them by their neighbours to the north. This is because, as a country of only 30 million people sharing a common culture, land mass, economy, and language with a dominant country of 300 million people, we are of necessity inclined to say, rather than “We are proud Canadians”, “We are NOT Americans!” We simply don’t have the voice, politically or otherwise, to proclaim our “Canadianness” loudly enough that the rest of the world (and indeed, our own countrymen) can hear, so we have to define ourselves by how we are not like Americans. Of course, to American ears, this coupling of the negative form with “American” makes us sound terribly negative, though we are not.

To sum up this preamble, Canadians are and have been mostly admiring of Americans, but somewhat overshadowed, and, being proud of ourselves as distinct from the other nations of North America, are constantly trying to move out of that shadow, notwithstanding the long-term cooperation and friendliness we have between us.

That was the stance until the 1980’s and Reagan. Since then the civic cultures and values of Canadians and Americans have diverged significantly. If you want a reference, look up the book, “Fire and Ice: the United States, Canada, and the Myth of Converging Values” by Michael Adams.

So having said all that: What do we (Canadians) think of you (Americans) now?

1) We are shocked, horrified, and appalled at your political establishment’s responses to events of Sept 11, 2001. We were and are adamantly opposed to your administration’s destruction of Iraq, and we find your current paranoia off-putting. A lot of Canadians deeply resent having to get a passport to visit the U.S., and the attitudes of your border guards and customs agents is are simultaneously hostile and demeaning.

2) We think the intrusion of religion into political discourse and political decisions is demented. And that is not too strong a word. Canadians deeply mistrust politicians of any stripe who wear their religion on sleeves and make their decisions based upon that. Our current Prime Minister, Stephen Harper, would have been elected with a large majority, as the electorate were tired of the corrupt federal Liberals, but for the fact that he is openly conservatively religious. Many, many Canadians have come from places where religious persecution was a matter of government policy, and the vast majority of us, Christians, Muslims, Hindus, Sikhs, et al. don’t want our leaders making religious decisions on our behalf.

3) Torture, indefinite detainment, and secret gulags have physically sickened many of us to contemplate, particularly as we had never believed that it would be possible for an American government to do this as a matter of open, public policy, rather than working discreetly through cat’s paw governments and corrupt leaders. I can’t begin to say how disgusted many Canadians are with these policies. I, for one, have vowed not to enter the U.S. again until the Torture Law is off the books.

4) We resent American politicians and public figures coming up here and mucking about in our politics and our economy. Right now in B.C. our “liberal” (read neocon) provincial government is trying to privatize our public electric utility at the behest of American “free market” economists and businessmen. Likewise, Americans are trying to get our universal healthcare system abolished. Their bought-and-paid-for Canadian politicians are managing to make the system more frustrating through moderate underfunding, but none dare abolish it, because their entire party would then be destroyed by a vengeful Canadian public. And now we have American police coming up here and getting our supine leaders to arrest Canadians on American drug charges (google “Marc Emery” for more info on that).

5) Finally, we are puzzled. Where, we ask, is the public dissent to these policies? All the Canadians I know, know Americans who are horrified with the goals and the policies of your current administration. Where are the demonstrations? The fights? The engagement of principle? And this is what is most destructive. We Canadians can differentiate between the American people as individuals who love their freedom and who are reasonable, caring persons, and the current vile and corrupt American administration only for so long. And we are worried what might happen to us if an American President and Congress try to vilify and marginalize and dominate us the way they have other nations (ie the French).

Please fix yourselves! We can’t do it! We’re only spectators looking aghast at a great country abandoning all of its great ideals which we grew up with.

Thursday, July 12, 2007

Fundamentalist Christians interrupt first ever Hindu prayer in the Senate.

O.K., so when are we, as a nation, going to acknowledge that Fundamentalist Christians are getting completely out of control?

From TPM Café:

Today was a historic first for religion in America's civic life: For the very first time, a Hindu delivered the morning invocation in the Senate chamber — only to find the ceremony disrupted by three Christian right activists.

The three protesters, who all belong to the Christian Right anti-abortion group Operation Save America, and who apparently traveled to Washington all the way from North Carolina, interrupted by loudly asking for God's forgiveness for allowing the false prayer of a Hindu in the Senate chamber.

"Lord Jesus, forgive us father for allowing a prayer of the wicked, which is an abomination in your sight," the first protester began.

"This is an abomination," he continued. "We shall have no other gods before You."

As a commenter at TPM Café noted, “Fundamentalism makes people crazy.”


Yet another Louisiana politician compromised.

From the NOLA blog via Harry Shearer (yes, that Harry Shearer, of The Simpsons and Spinal Tap fame), on his HuffPo column. Yet another politician from Louisiana finds himself under the arc lights of public scrutiny. The senator from Louisiana fessed up to his sins of taking advantage of the services offered by, um… ladies of the evening.

Jeanette Maier, the madam known for operating a high-end brothel with her mother and daughter, said Tuesday that U.S. Sen. David Vitter made occasional visits to her business beginning in the mid-1990s after the two met at a fishing rodeo where she and her prostitutes were hired to entertain local politicians.

After the initial meeting, Maier said she saw Vitter at the bordello and knew him as someone who patronized her call girls. She denied having a personal relationship with him and said he had stopped visiting the establishment by the time it was raided by federal agents in 2001.

"Sometimes we'd cross paths," Maier said of their encounters at the house.
"He was not a big regular client that he's so clear in my mind that I can remember every time he walked in the door."

Vitter, a Republican, did not respond to numerous attempts to contact him for comment.

Vitter this week became the first elected leader outed as a patron of the Washington escort service run by Deborah Palfrey, the so-called "D.C. Madam." He is the first elected official connected to Maier, known locally as the "Canal Street Madam." The only other clients named, a pair of Slidell businessmen, were charged for hiring prostitutes for a private cruise.

The senator apologized Monday night for a "very serious sin in my past" in connection with the Palfrey case, but he made no public appearances Tuesday.

What makes this particular case so newsworthy and elicits shivers of schadenfreude up and down my spine is that Vitter is another one of those “holier than thou” Southern Baptists. He called on Bill Clinton to resign because of Clinton’s philandering (between two consenting adults) with Ms. Lewinski, is anti-gay everything and esteems “family values” over all other considerations. (His wife was also quoted as saying something like, if her husband ever tried anything like what Bill Clinton did, she would probably react more like Lorena Bobbitt, who, you may remember, cut off her philandering husband’s member with a kitchen knife, than how Hillary Clinton reacted, which was to not say much of anything in public.) Yet, there he is, another Conservative Republican and/or Fundamentalist Christian, caught with his pants down around his ankles. Hypocrisy knows no bounds with these people. They only care about their own values when they get caught.

What this particular article does not relate is another part of his mea culpa. He said something to the effect of “I have confessed my sins, and both my wife and God have forgiven me.” It is wonderful to know that this man, who just broke several covenants of his religion, is on such close speaking terms with God that he immediately knew that “God had forgiven him.” Just like that. How touching. Show a little repentance that you actually got caught, and viola! Forgiveness from the Almighty! I wonder if his God is as quick to forgive the transgressions, real or imagined, of Vitter’s political opponents as He apparently is of conservative Republicans. Probably not. Funny how that works.

Look, I am not about criticizing anyone’s sexual preferences or proclivities. I think whatever consenting adults do, even when money changes hands, is between the two of them and their conscience. But boy, do I hate hypocrites. And sanctimonious ones are the worst kind of hypocrites. If someone is going to go around pretending they are the epitome of piety and jump on transgressions of their political foes, then they damn better “walk the talk” themselves. This guy deserves all the ridicule that he is getting right now. “God has forgiven him.” Bro-ther….. Like that makes it all better.

I also find it pretty astounding that Larry Flynt, he of Hustler magazine, is the driving force behind getting this story out. Let’s hear it for the mainstream media in this country! The new Woodward and Bernstein! Larry Flynt! The Washington Post and New York Times outdone by Hustler magazine!

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

Mars Rover Opportunity ready to descend into Victoria Crater

Look at this magnificent photograph of part of the crater wall of Victoria Crater, taken recently by the Mars Rover Opportunity. It is times like this when I find myself dumbstruck by our ability to invent technology that compliments our inquisitive nature.

This photograph is from another world. No one has seen this sight before now. Amazing.

The Mars rover Opportunity--poised on the rim of 2,500-ft.-wide Victoria Crater--will begin its dangerous descent in mid-to-late July after passage of a massive Martian dust storm, which is also affecting Spirit on the opposite side of the red planet.

Going into the 230-ft.-deep Victoria will be a high-risk operation "but the science is compelling and the exploration is compelling, so we're excited about this," says John Callas, Mars Exploration Rover project manager at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) in Pasadena, Calif.


Victoria is many times deeper and wider than Endurance Crater that Opportunity explored in 2004.

After Endurance, the team figured, Why not head for Victoria? And they made it, but not until getting stuck for weeks in a sand ripple, a scary experience. Opportunity must climb or push through another ripple at the last couple of feet as it heads in, but now the team knows what to do.

They also know through ground testing and experience at Endeavour that the 20-25-deg. slopes of Victoria should pose no serious problem, at least initially. Opportunity has already driven on even 30-deg. hard rock slopes. The issue farther in will be whether the slopes are sandy with potential traps, or hard and easy to drive on.

Victoria has many layers of exposed bedrock, billions of years worth. It was formed by a large meteorite impact as far back as 2-3 billion years ago. "This is an ancient crater with ancient rock," says Squyres.

Importantly, over the eons, wind and perhaps water have eroded the walls, forming an even larger crater with rock promontories and alcoves that expose bedrock still in the same layers laid down when the planet was formed and unshattered by the meteorite.

With Victoria, "we will really be making the first good vertical slice through an impact ejecta blanket and crater walls on another planet," says Squyres.

Opportunity will spend weeks or months in Victoria, named after the only ship in Ferdinand Magellan's fleet to complete a circumnavigation of Earth. Opportunity will enter at Duck Bay, a site named by Magellan on the voyage.

These two rovers, Opportunity and her twin sister Spirit, are astounding little machines. They flew tens of millions of miles across space, only to be rather unceremoniously dumped on the surface of Mars surrounded by a bunch of large airbags. They were initially designed to last around 90 days and travel no more than 600 yards. Each of them has now lasted three and a half years and driven over 15 miles. They each, on opposite sides of the planet, have confirmed that Mars once had standing and flowing water. They have taken pictures of clouds and small tornadoes.

As awestruck and excited as I am about the discoveries made on another planet, I find that I am also rather sad. What we have learned is that Mars almost “made it”. Except for the lack of a few unknown features (such as a larger mass to give a greater gravitational field, very active volcanoes belching out a protective atmosphere and a large magnetic field to protect the atmosphere from the solar wind), Mars could have been another Earth. It had all the basic components. Just imagine another habitable world, just next door. It’s quite sad that it didn’t quite get there.

This is just one more piece of evidence that our own Earth is a very unique and singular place, that we better take care of. There is no guarantees that it will remain as the nice, tranquil place it is now.

(Picture and quoted text from Aviation Week & Space Technology, July 9, 2007. I am not providing a link, as it is a subscription only site, and a rather expensive one at that.)

The wit and wisdom of The Lord of the Rings, as it applies to the administration of George W. Bush.

Thanks to the IMDB, three times over.

Aragorn: Are you frightened?
Frodo: Yes.
Aragorn: Not nearly frightened enough.

Gandalf: There is only one Lord of the Ring, only one who can bend it to his will. And he does not share power.

Hero Orc: The trees are strong, my lord. Their roots go deep.
Saruman: Rip them all down.

Gollum: It came to me, my own, my love... my... preciousssss.

Frodo: Mordor, Gandalf, is it left or right?

Gandalf: The fate of the world will now be decided.

Sam: Can't you hear yourself? Don't you know who you sound like?

Sam: This looks strangely familiar.
Frodo: Because we've been here before. We're going in circles!

Saruman: We have only to remove those who oppose us.

Smeagol: ...and take it for ME.
Gollum: For us.
Smeagol: Yes, we... we meant for us.

Frodo: It's sticky, what is it?

Gimli: Certainty of death. Small chance of success. What are we waiting for?

Monday, July 09, 2007

Vacuous thoughts on watching television.

I rarely watch network television, and I don’t have HBO or Showtime, so I have missed (but yet not missed) hits that “has everyone talking”, such as The Sopranos, Six Feet Under, etc. I mostly watch news (which is pretty much limited to KO on Countdown), some sports (a lot more when college basketball season starts), lots of movies (thank the Lord for Turner Classic Movies!), and various odds and ends on the Science Channel, the Times Discovery Channel, the History International Channel, and the Biography Channel (great stuff to be found on these, although they have WAY too many reruns for my taste). The only time I dip into all the other fare available is when I go on a business trip. During my last one, where I didn’t have a rental car and was pretty much stranded at my hotel the entire time, I came away with the following questions.

- When did TNT become the all Law and Order channel? Yes, they also show Charmed and Without A Trace, but only as “sandwich bread” to L&O’s canned pastrami. Exhibit A, 16 straight hours of L&O on the 4th of July. (And also, every time I see Fred Thompson, I get the shudders when I think this guy has an outside chance of becoming our next president!)

- TNT does have a nice weekly show in The Closer, but Kyra Sedgewick is really starting to grate on my nerves. Her shtick was kinda cute to begin with, but now I want to reach through the screen and slap her. Go see an analyst, for heaven’s sake! Jeez!

- Who decided it was acceptable to run advertisements for the network’s other shows DURING a different program? And they aren’t subtle at all. These ads take up the entire third of the screen, are full of zoom-in, zoom-out motion, and are accompanied by video game sound effects! Hey, we’re watching a show here! I guess they figured they should do that just because they can. To me, that is beyond annoying. It’s a major reason to stop watching that particular network, if I watched it in the first place.

- I think someone should take Billy Mays out behind the woodshed and beat him senseless with an ax handle. This is they guy, if you don’t know, that does all those commercials for crap that you “cannot buy in stores”. Dust mops, car wax crap, Orange Glow cleaner, Zorbees cleaning rags and several others. How does someone get a gig like that in the first place? And how can anyone talk in a monotone low shout all the friggin’ time?

- Is the new advertising paradigm to have commercials that are for two different things, simultaneously? I have noticed several of late. One is for GMC cars and trucks, and the new Transformers movie. I suppose GMC paid the movie company a ton of cash for product placement rights, but really, what is the commercial for? Are we supposed to go out and buy a Chevy truck? Or go see a movie? It’s confusing to us that don’t multiplex very well.

- What is up with the new advertising campaign for Shell Oil? I see some guy looking thoughtful at a kid drinking the last dregs of a milkshake, and the captions announce that this guy “has a problem”. Or maybe that is in a different commercial. I think I have seen three variants on this commercial, one of which introduces the actors who play the people on the commercial! And I have yet to figure out just what the heck the commercials are about anyway! Aren’t commercials like that supposed to convince me that Shell is doing a great job on something or other, or make me feel all warm and fuzzy when I buy their products? I have yet to figure out what this is all about, and the series has been on for at least three months. You would think that they would have moved to the next step by now. After all, those “Taster’s Choice” commercials finally got those two people together.

- I see ESPN is really scrounging for programming. That’s what happens when you have about five channels (ESPN, ESPN2, ESPNU, ESPN Classics, ESPN News) to fill. So, I initially laughed when they started showing poker. Who wants to see people playing cards? But that apparently caught on big. Just another high stakes reality game when the view can see people either strike it rich, or be humiliated on national TV. But now, they have moved to “competitive eating”. Excuse me, but.... WHAT? Competitive eating? As a spectator sport!?! On national TV? You gotta be kidding me.

I am beginning to think that there are WAY too many channels on television these days. There certainly needs to be a lot less 24-hour news channels, where minutia can become a national obsession at the drop of a hat.

Sunday, July 08, 2007

The End Times are near! (Sooner or later, give or take several thousand millennia.)

Listening to and reading about the fundamentalist Christians who subscribe to the Rapture, those End Times are very, very near and will no doubt happen within the lifetimes of those who believe in such things. The rest of us seem to think that this entire concept is nonsense and go on about our daily lives, content in the knowledge that when the Earth does indeed perish, it won’t be because some cosmic clock on God’s wall ran out and He decided to push the Ultimate Button.

One of the myriad of things that detract from this particular scenario is that “true believers” of all religions, cults and whatever lays between them have been predicting the end of the Earth for as long there has been a written record to record it. It seems that all three Abrahamic Religions (Judaism, Christianity, and Islam) have such a concept. Because Orthodox Jews believe the Talmud specifies things exactly (such as a day equals 24 hours) and should not be given a more “symbolic” reading, then, by their calculations, the world will come to an end at or before the year 2240, which is 6000 years after the creation of Adam and Eve. Islam has two different versions, Shia and Sunni. They seem to not be so prescient as to predict the actual date of the coming destruction. And, of course, Christianity has literally a plethora to choose from. There is the End Times of Catholicism, Protestantism, Preterism (who seem to have got it very wrong, since they predicted the end to be in the First Century, A.D., within the lifetimes of the Disciples of Jesus), Jehovah’s Witnesses, the Church of the Latter Day Saints, Rastafarians, etc. etc. There’s even the Heaven’s Gate people, who were so convinced that the End Times were upon us that they committed suicide so that they could ride in a spaceship with Jesus that was hidden in the comet Hale-Bopp.

No one can seem to agree on much of anything, other than the End Times will be very apocalyptic.

The major End Times movement these days in America is, of course, Dispensationalism. No one really calls it that. That’s much too cumbersome and unwieldy a name for a movement that has an absolute conviction that they are, without question, the final authority on the End Times. It is simply know as The Rapture.

The Rapture, in its present form, was formulated in the 1820’s and 1830’s by a radical Calvinist by the name of John Nelson Darby. The teachings were circulated by the notes of the Scofield Reference Bible. The history of this movement, and the introduction into North America, make for some fascinating reading. The modern movement has built upon this concept that, initially, could only be considered as a cultist idea. It is now a full-blown industry, with millions of copies of the Left Behind books being sold and movies being made for those “true believers” who are convinced that we are staring at the headlights of the End of Days bearing down upon us all.

There are numerous things that I find very distasteful about this movement. One obvious one is the fanaticism of the adherents. Fanaticism of any kind makes me very nervous. When someone is absolutely convinced that their view of reality is The Truth, without any facts or evidence other than their conviction to back them up, they become very difficult to reason with. In fact, fanaticism and reason are rather contradictory in nature.

People might criticize me for believing that science is able to provide many (but not all) of the answers to questions that, for centuries, were being provided by the multitude of religions around the world. I suppose I can be criticized for my "fanaticism" regarding fact-based science, just as I am being critical of others for their fanaticism about their religious beliefs. However, as I have written before, science is based on proven facts and observed phenomena. Reasoned speculation is included, but only when it is based on those facts and phenomena that others can agree on and replicate. And when new facts are discovered and phenomena observed that don’t support that reasoned speculation, then that speculation must be junked or modified to fit the new framework. That is called the scientific method. That is what I believe in, not specifically the results from that method. Those results are changing on a daily basis, so one must not become too wedded to them. You might get the rug yanked out from under you at any time. This is simply not the case for those who engage in fanaticism, religious or otherwise, where they put their entire faith in the answers, and not the methods that produced those answers. They don’t care if the rug gets yanked out from underneath their feet. They just simply refuse to acknowledge that has occurred.

With that, I hope I can head off any discussion about my own fanaticism. I believe there is a difference.

Now, let’s return to the discussion about The Rapture. I recently saw a clip of a thirteen-year-old girl making a statement that went something like, “People who say that the Rapture isn’t true are just the same as people who stand in the middle of a freeway and refuse to believe in the truck that is just about to run them down.” It was phrased in that kind of language. She may have come up with that metaphor by herself, but I doubt it. More likely, she has had this notion of the End Times force-fed to her by her parents and others in a position of authority, until she know believes that she has come to this conclusion by herself. You cannot convince me that this girl had done serious study of all the writings available on the subject and has come to this conclusion on her own. To me, this is a mark of fanaticism. On the face of it, Jesus swooping down and scooping up all the True Believers to take them to Heaven, while leaving the non-Believers to seven years of torment before the Earth is destroyed, does not make any sense. There are no good reasons to believe this, other than someone else told you it was true.

I also object to the almost giddy delight to which the proponents of this movement make their pronouncements. Many people seem to take great pleasure in the fact that they are certain they will be among those that are personally rescued by Jesus, and that everyone else (including their neighbors, classmates, co-workers, and even family members) will be left to eternal torment. I have read some passages from the book “Left Behind” noted earlier. There is a passage that describes Jesus, walking astride a flaming Earth, casting the non-Believers into crevices with a flick of his hand. In my mind, that is not a very pretty picture for anyone. And, even though I am no one’s idea of a Christian, I also find it very insulting that people would project their intolerance of other people’s faith onto Jesus. I have no doubt that a person named Jesus existed, preached a message of faith and peace, and was killed for it. However, my personal idea is that the Jesus, the real person who existed over 2000 years ago, would find this idea repugnanat that he would personally stalk the earth and kill everyone who didn’t believe him, much less believe in a very certain, narrow brand of Christianity. Catholics and Jews need not apply, even thought Catholicism and Judaism existed long before Protestantism, to say nothing of the followers of Islam, the Buddha, etc. The people who believe this version of The Truth are condemning, in their minds, perhaps over 95% of the earth’s population to eternal torment. And they seem quite cheerful about it.

I strenuously object to that. They are setting themselves up on a special pedestal named “Salvation” and smirking that everyone else is doomed. I suppose that the idea that you and your tribe are special and somehow better than everyone else that has ever existed is central to being human. After all, each individual person experiences the universe through his or her senses. It is all filtered though something called “the Self”. That automatically puts you at the center of the universe. At least, your particular universe. It’s not hard to understand how a person experiences the universe can be warped into a belief that you are somehow special. Each person is unique to the universe, yes. Special, no. Therefore, I find the idea repellant that a person or group of persons can, by the very fact that they believe something that, on the surface is a rather outlandish concept, come to believe they are better than everyone else. I disliked it in high school cliques. I dislike it in major religious movements. Anointing yourself and your group as “The Chosen People” no doubt makes it easier to survive very difficult times, whether you are Jewish slaves in ancient Egypt or black slaves picking cotton in the broiling sun in 1820’s Louisiana. However, for those who don’t belong to the “Chosen People”, the claim looks very egotistical and delusional.

I also think that, when people start believing the End is right around the corner, they can start acting in a very dangerous manner to the rest of us who don’t subscribe to such theories. If you were to believe that, for example, your house was going to burn down next week, then there would not really be a pressing need to paint the living room or even vacuum the carpet. Another way to put it is in the old saying, “no one has ever washed a rental car”. If someone refuses to believe the Earth is going to actually be around for much longer, then there really isn’t any need to try to take care of it. Long term planning, such as the conservation of scarce natural resources, isn’t necessary. Neither is worrying about too much pollution. “Hey, it’s a nice place, but we’re just on vacation here. We’re leaving tomorrow. Why bother taking care of it? We’re heading for a MUCH nicer place than this.” That seems to be the reasoning behind a lot of the objections to environmentalism. I have heard many complain about the militancy of some environmentalists. I have yet to see them acknowledge the militancy of their own cause.

Even more destructive is when people of power or people with a megaphone and a pedestal start advocating a certain course in attempting to steer world events so it will advance what they see as the necessary preconditions for the coming apocalypse. I have seen some speculation (and I freely acknowledge that this is just speculation) that some people would like to see Israel really start a war in the Middle East, as that would advance their timetable by fulfilling the necessary milestones that are first required to occur before the End Times begin. That idea was behind some of the support from part of the U.S. in the very recent, very disastrous war that Israel had with Hezbollah in Lebanon. That is a very dangerous course indeed. If this is true, then select groups of people were actually advocating full-scale conflict in the Middle East, in which vast numbers of innocent people would be killed and the entire region destabilized, just because it would advance their particular religious beliefs.

This world and all its inhabitants do not belong to those who subscribe Rapture theory. They should not be allowed to treat it, and us, as their possessions. One person’s “Truth” is another person’s cult, and the number of ardent proponents of any particular faith or religion does not confer “Truth” upon it. Otherwise, I have a hard time understanding why we shouldn’t all worship the Gods of ancient Egypt or Greece.

Yes, I believe in the end of the Earth, as well as the ultimate end of the entire universe. I just don’t believe that either of those two events will occur in the next billion years, and it certainly won’t happen in the manner that it is being depicted now by a small percentage of the population of one particular religion. What we should be concerned about, and actively doing something about, is a possible collapse of our society due to the effects of global climate change and the depletion of easy, relatively inexpensive energy sources. The possibilities that exist from those two things coming to pass could make what happened in New Orleans during and after Katrina look like a spring shower. Yet, we are closing our eyes and effectively burying our heads in the sand, rather than try to confront the problems that could be right in front of us. It makes me very angry that some people would rather feel very good about themselves, secure in the knowledge that they will be “Saved” when Jesus comes down to personally escort them to Heaven, when the rest of the population of the Earth is sentence to eternal punishment just because they had the audacity to believe something other than they do.

Saturday, July 07, 2007

Flying witches invade Mexico!

Or else they are UFO’s, no one seems to know which. Here’s a link to an interesting video. Not sure how long it will work, as the link to the same video has been removed from You-Tube.

The entire thing looks like a Mexican version of Ed Wood’s “Plan 9 from Outer Space”, replete with the shaken cop wiping his sweating brow, but without Tor Johnson. I must admit the video is interesting looking, but I don’t think I necessarily subscribe to the witch theory. And I am thinking extraterrestrials, if they exist, probably don’t go in for the pointed black hats and capes. You never know, but I’m kinda doubtful.

Here’s a link to something that the flying witches could be, although I am just about as dubious that this exists as the witches. Still, the videos do look very similar. And, if these do exist, what would one of these be doing in Mexico, anyway?

And here I thought the Bush administration was merely incompetent.

No, they have taken the concept of incompetence to an entirely new level. Like the Munchkin doctor said of the Wicked Witch of the East, “She’s not merely dead, she’s really, most sincerely dead.” Here’s a statement, via TPM Muckraker, from an Official White House Spokesman.

Q Scott, is Scooter Libby getting more than equal justice under the law? Is he getting special treatment?

MR. STANZEL: Well, I guess I don't know what you mean by "equal justice under the law."

Yes, this is taken somewhat out of context, but the hilarious thing is, that is what the guy really meant to say. Go read the entire exchange.

THIS is the best they can come up with? These clowns apparently don’t even care anymore that they look like complete fools on national television and the press.

On another, but related, point, I am somewhat amused about, but more saddened by, the Pandora’s Box that Bush apparently opened up by inserting himself into the legal process regarding Libby’s prison sentence. I wrote an earlier post about the Pandora’s Box that Bush and his neo-con crowd opened when they invaded Iraq. George Bush is getting to know Pandora rather well these days. George W. Bush, meet the Law Of Unintended Consequences.

It seems that Bush didn’t check out anything about commuting Libby’s prison sentence with, oh, the Justice Department or the prosecutor in the case, and he ignored some rather obvious guidelines about commutation of prison sentences, such as the notion that the person must first be serving his actual sentence in order for it to be commuted. He also didn’t check up on the fact that, by saying that the sentencing judge should have taken into account Scooter’s long years of government service, this being his first conviction, he is such an upstanding and fine citizen, etc., etc., Bush is directly contradicting the position he is taking by trying to impose sentencing guidelines on federal judges, where there are NO extenuating circumstances. No, he just made his decision, just because he wanted to, consequences be damned. He’s also confused Judge Walton, given that he now doesn’t understand how Bush can recommend “supervised release” for Libby’s sentence that Bush has already commuted.

Well, doesn’t this give just about every single defense attorney in the country whose client is up on a federal charge the freedom to appeal the sentence based on what Bush just did for one of his staff? All sentencing guidelines now are free to be questioned. This could really clog up the court system, even more than it is now, and actually let some people off the hook who really should have gone to jail.

Jeebus, these people are so ridiculous. They can’t even come up with coherent arguments that are supposed to defend their criminal and immoral actions. They just sit up there and spout gibberish that we are supposed to swallow without any questions. And they most certainly don’t seem to get the fact that they are not allowed to have one set of rules and laws for themselves, and a different, much more strict one that includes lots of harsh punishment, for everyone else. I’m sorry, but our system of government doesn’t work that way.

Here’s a more concise version of things from Christy at FDL.

Thursday, July 05, 2007

A thirty-second morality play (in one act).

John: Hello, miss. Say, would you care to go back to my hotel with me? I have lots of cash.

Undercover officer: You are under arrest for solicitation of prostitution!

John: You caught me red-handed. But, could you explain to me one thing about this? Why is it legal and ethical for multi-billion dollar pharmaceutical companies to make additional billions of dollars by selling their ED drugs to men with sexual problems, thereby allowing those men to have sex with women where they otherwise could not, but it is illegal for men to pay women to have sex with them, where they otherwise might not, and both parties are subject to large fines and possible jail time, not to mention public humiliation?

Undercover officer: Uhhh.... Shut up! You have the right to remain silent, you have the right to an attorney (if the Bush administration allows you to, that is)...

Wednesday, July 04, 2007

Tony Snow really is a tool.

A tool, in every sense of the word. I mean, I am very sorry that Tony has had a recurrence of colon cancer. I hope he enjoys a full recovery. However, I feel that doesn’t prevent me, or anyone, from criticizing his performance in front of the media while trying to defend the Bush administration by obfuscation, insults and outright lies. T-Rex at FireDogLake has a video as well as some choice tidbits from the Snow press conference where the press corps was all over the commutation of Scooter Libby’s prison sentence.

I didn’t think that the public face of the Bushies would be allowed to be so insulting. They seem to just have given up trying to pretend that everyone else is in the wrong and they are blameless in whatever issue comes up. Here’s a good exchange that illustrates that point.

Snow was asked by a reporter if anyone in the administration would ever apologize for what prompted the entire investigation — public disclosure that Valerie Plame, the wife of sharp anti-war critic Joseph Wilson, was an undercover CIA officer.

“Yeah, it’s improper to be leaking those names,” Snow said. Pressed on whether someone in the administration owed the American public an apology, Snow said, “I’ll apologize. Done.”

As annoying as that response is, that quote doesn’t give the actual flavor of Snow’s words. His words were just dripping with contempt. He also totally blew off one reporter’s rather pointed, rather elaborate question and just said “yeah”, and pointed at another reporter for the next question. He seemed really, really pissed off and disdainful of the whole process, including all the reporters who dared question some of the motives of the President’s commutation of Libby’s prison term. He acted like some juvenile delinquent being questioned by his parents about where he was last night and how come the fender on the family car is all smashed in. He was surly and rude, and obviously thought that reporters should not be allowed to ask the questions they were. I could see "How dare you question me or the President!" written all over his face.

These guys aren’t even trying to pretend they are answerable to the American public anymore.

Happy July Fourth!

Remember all those Constitutionally guarenteed freedoms that we are celebrating today are under attack by the Bush administration. I wrote my senator about one aspect of that yesterday.

Monday, July 02, 2007

Well, well. Scooter Libby gets his prison sentence commuted.

Can't say I am much surprised. It's all in keeping with the contempt Bush treats everything he touches that the rest of us value. 90% of me is outraged. I must admit, the other 10% is saying "I was expecting this. Now that it's done, even though I believe Scooter should spend some time in prison (after all, Paris Hilton did SOME time), this shows, once and for all, that Bush is all about getting his way, regardless of how many laws or conventions or traditions he wipes his feet on. I hope the rest of the country is watching."

My understanding is that commuting someone's sentence is very unusual if the person hasn't even begun to serve it, and he/she hasn't exhausted all his/her appeals yet. Nope, this was pure political expediency. And Bush was so gutless, he didn't even do it on camera or let anyone ask him questions about it.

I wonder if he is ever going to hold another open press conference again. I don't think I would want to be in Tony Snow or Dana Perino's shoes this week.

UPDATE (7/3): Also as expected, the blogs are alive today. Go check out FireDogLake and Digby (links over to the right) if you want to see some outrage. Everything Bush and the Rethug party does these days is packed full of hypocracy. How is it that Bush can arrive at the conclusion that LIbby's prison sentence was "excessive", and he is pushing for minimum sentencing standards for everyone else? As noted by Jane, Christy and Digby, Bush is saying that the laws are just for the little people, not for them. Every single f**king day, they make it more and more plain that they believe they are part of some elite ruling class of this country, and they can do whatever they please, whenever they please, and they don't feel they are answerable to anyone. Yet, if some of us "lower life forms", such as Democrats, illegal immigrants, people of color, etc., break the law, then they want the maximum sentence. These guys disgust me. I hope Christy is right, that Bush just handed the Dems the 08 election, the Presidency and both houses. If the Dems are smart enough now to relentlessly pound on the Rethugs for all their unconscionable actions. This is not a democracy anymore. We are on the road to restoring it, but we have a long way to go.

Actual reality vs. desired reality

An alternative title to this post could be, “Pragmatism vs. wishful thinking”.

This is one aspect of human beings that drives me absolutely nuts. Many people, it seems to me, don’t seem to be able to deal with reality as it stands. They insist on inventing solutions (or non-solutions, as the case may be) based on what they desire reality to be, not how it really is. Others acknowledge the actual reality of whatever situation they are dealing with, and then build any plans or theories with which then intend to address that reality. Personally, I call that pragmatism. It doesn’t matter how you got “here”, or whether or not you like “here”. It’s what you do next that counts. However, many people in today’s admittedly very complex society cannot seem to handle reality on the ground. They would much prefer to interface with the world assuming that reality should really reflect their personal beliefs. These two approaches to life are starting from much different points of initialization. That is, as my alternative title suggests, pragmatism vs. wishful thinking.

Now, that entire preceding paragraph was pretty much psychobabble; pretty talk that may or may not mean much of anything but certainly sounds terribly deep. Therefore, let’s go with an example or two to illustrate what I mean.

Let’s talk about sex. Specifically, teen sex. Many people, mostly on the conservative and/or Fundamentalist Christian side of things, would like to pretend that teen sex doesn’t exist at all. Or, if they acknowledge it, would like to address it in a way to make it such that it conforms with their desired reality, i.e., that teen sex shouldn't exist. Now, I am certain that most of us remember what it was like to be a teen. Sex was a driving factor in your daily life, either thinking about it, planning on doing something about it, actually doing it, etc. At least for the boys. I have no idea what the girls were thinking. And that was in the 70’s. From what I have gathered listening in on some student conversations (in some public places, like a high school gym during a basketball game**), things have only accelerated since then.

Given this reality, it seems the pragmatic way to deal with the problems of unwanted teenage pregnancy, children borne out of wedlock, the spread of STD’s, etc., is to start with the premise that teenagers, at least a large percentage of them, are going to have sex, given the chance, then go from there. Given that a large number of teenagers are going to have sex, regardless of what the conservative Christians of this country would like to believe, it would seem to me that the best way to approach this problem would be through proper education of the social and biological risks involved, access to counseling, availability (not easily available, but availability all the same) of condoms, etc. You should give the kids enough information to know what they are dealing with, and give them some tools to prevent some unwanted results, such as a baby or disease.

However, the conservative Christians would prefer to try to bend the reality of the situation more to their liking. The premise of “many kids are going to have sex, whether you like it or not, so you better deal with that in a realistic way” is not one that they particularly care for. So, they invent their own. “Kids should not be having sex!”, is their starting position. And everything they do regarding this subject is based on their desire to get actual reality to fit back into their preferred reality. Abstinence-based sex education is just about all they will accept. To me, this position seems to me to be bordering on delusional. They need to stop and think what they were like as teenagers. This seems all the more crazy when another topic that conservative Christians care deeply about is abortion. If they would like to reduce the number of abortions in this country, then you would think they would be more willing to deal with the problem of unwanted pregnancy in a realistic manner. You would think….

I do not want anyone to think, based on my example above, that I am all for teens having sex whenever and wherever they want. I am not. I am in the process of adopting a soon-to-be 12 year old girl. I am not yet to the point where I really have to address this issue, but I better be ready for it rather soon. Sex is a basic drive for our species, as it apparently is for all species. If it weren’t, then there would be a lot less species around. Personally, I would prefer for teens to hold off on having sex until they really have a good idea of what they are getting themselves into. However, given that most teenagers have a couple of things working against them here (specifically, a lack of maturity and raging hormones), then I would suggest that a better course of action is to attempt to nudge them toward Solution A (abstinence), at least until they are of an age they have a chance of understanding the ramifications of actually doing the deed, but be prepared with Solution B (everything else) when Solution A doesn’t work. An even better alternative is to work Solutions A and B together, woven together into an overall solution package.

In any event, this post wasn’t specifically about teens having sex. I was only using it as an example. I was attempting to write something about the different starting points in people’s “realities”. I could have picked any number of examples with which to illustrate this. How people view the Iraq war is another good one. It becomes more and more obvious to most people that the Iraq war was a big mistake and we are hip deep in a quagmire from which we have no idea how to extricate ourselves. Yet, there still seem to be some pockets of resistance to this reality. The “surge” in Iraq is working, violence is going down, etc., etc. I see some people on the right push these talking points every day. Joe Lieberman did it just this week.
It should be more than obvious that it ISN’T going well, that violence is not abating and may actually be going up, and that by keeping our troops in Iraq means we are just delaying the point in time when things fall apart when we do leave. The situation in Iraq is not good, to put it mildly, and to say otherwise is rather delusional. Yet, they truly desire for the Iraq war to be going well (to support whatever agenda they have going on), so the “everything is really rosy, no matter what else you may see or hear” approach is the only one they can take. The issue of global warning and the resultant climate change is another example. Calling your enemies “global warming Nazis” isn’t really going to change the situation for the better.

I am trained as an engineer and a scientist. To me, facts are indispensable to the entire process of thinking logically. If you start with a preconceived and desired but yet untruthful premise, then your entire logical process is flawed. GIGO; garbage in, garbage out. You are not going to come away with an approach to anything that has a snowball’s chance of success if you aren’t willing to start with a realistic premise that is grounded in facts. Just ask George Bush and all his neocon enablers how well that worked out for them re. the war in Iraq.

**I wasn’t trying to listen in on this conversation of group of 7 or 8 young high schoolers. It just happened that I overheard this. I was just sitting in the stands, and they were having this overt, rather loud conversation about three rows in front of me. They didn’t appear to be seniors, and a couple looked as if they might be freshmen. They seemed to be trying to impress each other about how nonchalant and “worldly” they could be about the subject. Only one girl seemed vaguely aware that I could hear what was going on and she looked somewhat guilty in my direction. The conversation was about oral sex, and who was doing who and what everyone was saying about it. Needless to say, I was pretty astounded when I realized what they were discussing and the graphic terms that they were using. As I said above, things certainly have “progressed” since the time I was in high school. Not something I would have preferred, but nonetheless, a new reality that needs to be dealt with.

Sunday, July 01, 2007

Why We Fight.

I watch the 2005 film “Why We Fight” last night. I was enraged and depressed after it was over, even more than after I saw “Fahrenheit 911”. The film was aimed in several different directions, but each was pretty devastating in its critique. One direction was regarding Eisenhower’s warning, back in 1961, about letting the industry whose job it is to produce armaments, big and small, for the military get out of control. It also took aim directly at George Bush, Dick Cheney, Don Rumsfeld, and all the rest of the cabal about how they used the terrible events on 9/11 to stampede America into a war that they had wanted from the beginning of their administration. I was incredibly angry every time Bush showed up on the screen, spouting what we now know to be complete nonsense about the need to go to war.

The film made the case about, no matter how much we would like to believe the opposite, that this country is one of the most militaristic the world has seen. The United States currently spends more on its military than the rest of the world, combined. Yes, we need a strong military. However, things are out of control. There is no reason why we should be building weapon systems designed for the Cold War today. We do not need more attack submarines. We do not need new, outrageously expensive anti-ballistic missile systems that are yet to work. Yet, the forces at work in our country today make it impossible for any single person, including the president, to turn the spigot off and return to some sanity to the process.

The film was also devastating in its critique of how the war has been managed. And this was only up to 2005. I was appalled to find out that 90% of the victims of the first attacks on Iraq were civilians, including women and children. The U.S. launched something like 50 attacks using so-called “smart bombs” in the first week of the war. None of them scored a direct hit on their intended targets. We feel so good about ourselves that we are limited “collateral damage” by using these weapons. Yeah, I guess they beat firebombing an entire city like Kobe or Dresden, like the Allies did in WWII. But if you aren’t hitting your intended targets, then what good are they doing?

This country has strayed very far from the ideals, like freedom, dignity and respect for all humans, that we espouse. We are deluding ourselves about how righteous we are, how we are the beacon for the rest of the world. Our actions speak for themselves. That is what the rest of the world believes, not the pabulum that is produced for domestic consumption.

Here are some good quotes from the film, from the IMDB. And I must say, John McCain has really changed his tune since he hit the campaign trail.

John McCain: The United States is the greatest force for good in the world.

John McCain: We have, not an obligation to go out and start wars, but certainly to spread democracy and freedom, throughout the world.

John McCain: ...When does the United States go from a force for good, to a force of imperialism?

Charles Lewis: We elected a government contractor as vice-president.

Karen Kwiatkowski: I think we fight because basically not enough people are standing up saying, "I'm not doing this anymore."

John McCain: The question is, where is the line between being a force for good, and imperialism?

Karen Kwiatkowski: I have two sons and I will allow none of my children to serve in the United States Military. If you join the military now you are not defending the United States of America, you are helping certain policy makers pursue an imperial agenda.

Charles Lewis: We [Americans] have this idea that we have lots of information available. There's so much that's not available and so much of the truth, quote, unquote, is obscured by political actors who don't want the world to see what they're doing.

Karen Kwiatkowski: We have a congress that failed, in every way, to ask the right questions, to hold the president to account. Our congress failed us miserably, and that's because many in congress are beholden to the military-industrial complex.

Joseph Cirincione: In some ways, the military-industrial complex may become so pervasive that it is now invisible. This is about, you know, ideas and influence and what's safe for your career. Being seen in opposition to strong defense policies is a liability. Not just for a politician who wants to run for president, but for an expert who wants to make a name in town, or a journalist who wants to get his or her story on the front page of the paper. In this way, restricting the level of discussion to this rush for war.