Friday, August 31, 2007

First rule of propaganda: dehumanize your enemy.

Hitler, Himmler and Goebbels knew that. They convinced everyday Germans that Jews were non-human monsters, so people wouldn’t have as many hang-ups about sending the Jews off to ghettos or, eventually, death camps. Unfortunately, this is the lesson from that monstrous time in the 20th century that has been learned by the modern Republican party. Via whiskeyfire, here is what Kevin McCullough, a well known conservative columnist and radio personality, says about liberals.

When liberals are given the choice between acting decently or choosing the riches of perversion - liberals prefer perversion. And if protecting the honor, privacy, and even nakedness of vulnerable women and children is juxtaposed to say the slightest possibility that someone's right to practice perversion might be curbed - liberals will come running to the aid of the pervert. In fact liberals will go so far to protect perversion that they will actually enlist the use of potential victims to make the case, consequences to the unsuspecting females be damned!

Liberals at their core have no sense of true north. They can't determine right from wrong, good from evil, and in this case even help from hurt. Worse yet - they don't care. The hardness of their hearts towards the victim is not only apparent in their actions, but the mockery of their words adds insult to injury.

Liberals will profit mightily by giving aid to perverts, pandering to peeping toms, and giving sanctuary to 31 count indictees of child rape/executioners. They will do this as opposed to protecting the privacy of their own girlfriend, fiancé, wife, mother, or daughters. And when necessary they will even brainwash women to make the case for them.

I can’t help but notice that Mr. McCullough ascribes all sorts of motives and beliefs to liberals, as well as character judgments. You know, I wasn’t aware, until now, that I, personally, “prefer perversion” and can’t determine “right from wrong, good from evil”, and, furthermore, that I didn’t even care that I can’t make that determination. Or that I apparently would rather protect the rights of rapists than protected my own wife and daughter.

This is a great example of why there is that rabid 30% of Americans out there that still think George Bush is a great president. It’s not because he really is a great president. No, it’s because Democrats and liberals hate him. And anything that a liberal thinks is obviously wrong, if not outright evil. Ergo, George Bush must be a great president. They would rather ignore the fact that George Bush and his cronies have systematically and methodically shredded the Constitution of the United States and sent this country to war just because a few people wanted a war, just because they have come to be so brainwashed that they believe that “liberals” are some sub-human species that can’t ever be believed about anything. This is where “liberals WANT the terrorists to win!” meme comes from. Conservatives would rather believe that outlandish proposition than actually acknowledge that liberals might have a point.

Maha, at her blog (Mahablog, naturally), has a very good post about mythos and conservatives. It’s rather long and I can’t really find a short, succinct paragraph to capture what it is about. I would strongly recommend that you go check it out, though. It’s very good. In this post, she goes about defining the “mythos” of the Republican party, which is the lens that everything else is viewed through. If someone believe that Democrats and liberals are “weak on national defense”, then everything else that happens is colored by that preconceived belief. If someone says something, maybe Hillary Clinton in one of her stump speeches, that contradicts that pre-formed belief, then that person is automatically a liar. See? It’s a guilt-free and thought-free process. It costs nothing of the listener and everything that happens, everything that is said, just confirms everything that person already knew.

I think Maha is being a bit generous and perhaps a bit too academic when she uses the word “mythos”. My preferred terminology is “brainwashed” or “indoctrinated”.

Here’s a bit of a personal example. My oldest brother is very conservative. He received his life’s lessons in the Army during the Vietnam days. He is married to a lady from Oklahoma, who is also ultra-conservative. Listening to her, it’s obvious that, in her eyes, Democrats are the source of all evil. When I visit them (which I don’t really do these days, and this is a large reason why), I have to just shut up and take whatever it is they have to say. A number of years ago when I visited, her son, who was maybe 9 or 10 at the time, told me a pretty nasty joke about Democrats. I said something like, “You know, you really ought to be careful about who you tell that joke to. I’m a Democrat.” He looked at me with this look… “Startled” or “surprised” doesn’t do it justice. “Appalled” might be more apropos. He react just as if I had announced that I had murdered twelve people in the last two weeks, and intended to murder him in his sleep that night. He just could not believe, due to his mythos, his indoctrination, that a Democrat could also be a real person. I haven’t seen this person since that time, but I bet, as an adult, his concept of a Democrat hasn’t changed much from his views that he got from his mother when he was a child.

If things continue like this, if we continue to allow these insane people like Kevin McCullough, like Mike Savage, like Bill O’Reilly, like Ann Coulter, to have a national stage in which to preach their dehumanizing BS about people they don’t like, this country will never see a true outreach from either side. Republicans and conservatives all across the country are so convinced that Democrats and liberals are the epitome of evil that they would sooner invite Satan to dinner than consider any point that their sworn non-human enemies might have. Democrats and liberals, on the other hand, are getting really pissed off after being called every single derogatory name in the English language over the last twenty years. This is definitely not a formula for “working together for the common good”.

I, for one, am very insulted and angry that just people can ascribe such misguided and wrong headed notions about what drives me and other like minded people. I admit, I have been calling these people “lunatics” and “insane” for some time. Am I guilty of the same thing I am accusing them of? I can’t decide. I don’t ascribe all sorts of notions of evil to their actions, other than their obvious hatred of anyone who doesn’t look, act and think like them. I also like to believe that I, along with most other liberals, are quite willing to work with people who don’t believe the same things that we believe, as long as everyone does it in a very honest way with each other. It’s just that getting slammed and vilified for every single wrong that occurs in this country (as well as some imagined ones that never occurred and probably won’t) gets old and we get to the point of “Enough is enough!” It’s hard to continually turn the other cheek when you are getting consistently pummeled. Eventually, even Ralphie stands up to the schoolyard bully.

I don’t know how this cycle of mistrust growing toward outright hatred of “the other side” is going to be broken. There was a chance, there, right after September 11, 2001, that this could happen. Unfortunately for everyone else, that’s when George Bush and Karl Rove interjected their “Politics Uber Alles!” credo into every single facet of government and American life. Any chance that this cycle would be broken any time soon was very quickly flushed down the toilet.

Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Are we headed for war with Iran?

It certainly looks like it. Our esteemed “war president”, George Bush, has been ratcheting up the rhetoric quite a bit lately. Glenn Greenwald, in, has a very disturbing article on this.

George Bush, speaking before yet another military audience, yesterday delivered what might actually be the most disturbing speech of his presidency, in which he issued more overt war threats than ever before towards Iran:

"The other strain of radicalism in the Middle East is Shia extremism, supported and embodied by the regime that sits in Tehran. Iran has long been a source of trouble in the region. It is the world's leading state sponsor of terrorism. Iran backs Hezbollah who are trying to undermine the democratic government of Lebanon. Iran funds terrorist groups like Hamas and the Palestinian Islamic Jihad, which murder the innocent, and target Israel, and destabilize the Palestinian territories. Iran is sending arms to the Taliban in Afghanistan, which could be used to attack American and NATO troops. Iran has arrested visiting American scholars who have committed no crimes and pose no threat to their regime. And Iran's active pursuit of technology that could lead to nuclear weapons threatens to put a region already known for instability and violence under the shadow of a nuclear holocaust.

"Iran's actions threaten the security of nations everywhere. And that is why the United States is rallying friends and allies around the world to isolate the regime, to impose economic sanctions. We will confront this danger before it is too late (Applause.)"

Leave aside all of the dubious premises -- the fact that the U.S. is supposed to consider Iran "the world's leading state sponsor of terrorism" because of its support for groups that are hostile to Israel; that Iran is arming its longstanding Taliban enemies; that Iran is some sort of threat to Iraq's future even though it is an ally of Iraq's government; and that Iran's detention of American-Iranians inside its own country is anything other than retaliation for our own equally pointless detention of Iranians inside of Iraq, to say nothing of a whole slew of other provacative acts we have recently undertaken towards Iran. Leave all of that aside for the moment.

Viewed through the prism of presidential jargon, Bush's vow -- "We will confront this danger before it is too late" -- is synonymous with a pledge to attack Iran unless our array of demands are met. He is unmistakably proclaiming that unless Iran gives up its nuclear program and fundamentally changes its posture in the Middle East, "we will confront this danger." What possible scenario could avert this outcome?

By now it is unmistakably clear that it is not only -- or even principally -- Iran's nuclear program that is fueling these tensions. As Scott Ritter and others have long pointed out, the fear-mongering warnings about an Iranian "nuclear holocaust" (obviously redolent of Condoleezza Rice's Iraqi smoking gun "mushroom cloud") is but the pretext for achieving the true goal -- regime change in Tehran. Bush all but said so yesterday:

"We seek an Iran whose government is accountable to its people -- instead of to leaders who promote terror and pursue the technology that could be used to develop nuclear weapons."

In other words, we "seek" a new government in Iran. Are there really people left who believe, with confidence, that Bush is going to leave office without commencing or provoking a military confrontation with Iran?

Bush also added: "I have authorized our military commanders in Iraq to confront Tehran's murderous activities." To underscore the fact that this is not mere rhetoric, the U.S. military in Iraq, following Bush's speech, arrested and detained eight Iranian energy experts meeting in Baghdad with the Iraqi government -- handcuffing, blindfolding, and interrogating them -- only to then release them when the Iraqi government protested. The path we are on -- with 160,000 of our troops in Iran's neighbor, escalating war-threatening rhetoric, and increasingly provocative acts -- is obviously the path to war.

I am just incredulous at how anyone would be buying this at this time. These are exactly the same words, exactly, as we all heard about Iraq in 2002, prior to us bombing them and then marching in our army. And I think it should be obvious to everyone except the most partisan Bush/war supporter that there was never a strong case for going to war. War should be the very last option that a country uses, not the first. Yet, here we are again. At the time, I was amazed at how, all of a sudden, Iraq became the Great Enemy, when it should have been obvious to everyone that they were not involved in the atrocities of 9/11. Yet, 85% of the country seemed to go for it, hook, line and sinker. And here we go again. Iran is now the new boogieman. Many people are predicting that Bush will launch some kind of military action against Iran before he leaves office.

If anyone has lost count, that would be three simultaneous wars. Three. And we are in danger of losing the other two, we don’t even know why we are fighting in Iraq anymore, we are bankrupting the country to try to pay for these wars and we are in mortal danger of breaking our military. And yet, George Bush and his neocon buddies want nothing more than to start yet another war.

I have been hoping and rather expecting that someone would inject some sanity into this. I keep expecting a grownup to show up and say, “NO! This is not acceptable. Stop acting like a spoiled five year old!” But I am not seeing this happen. I am now beginning to think that we really are going to attack Iran within the next 6 to 9 months.

For one thing, how utterly insane would it be to start a war just when Bush is scheduled to leave office? Dump the whole thing on his successor’s lap? “Here, Hillary! Hope you enjoy your present!” But more to the point, I am thinking this might be a way to get our military into some very dire straits. If we were to drop a bunch of bombs, or Heaven forbid, a nuke, on Iran in an attempt to gut their nuclear capability and end up killing scores of civilians in the process, do you think that the Iranian military will stand for that? No, they won’t. And the United States Army and Marines would make a very inviting target, sitting right next door already under extreme pressure from whatever is going on in Iraq right now. The Iranians don’t have to try to figure out how to attack the U.S. mainland when a large percentage of our military forces are within striking distance in the country next door.

You want to see total chaos and perhaps the start of a conflagration that has the potential to engulf the entire Middle East? That’s what would happen if we attack Iran. And one more thought that I just had on the subject. This might explain the perceived need for “Clergy Response Teams” to help pacify the populace that I just talked about.

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Have I mentioned lately how much I hate hypocrites?

I do. Of all persuasions. It just seems that the preponderance of exposed hypocrites (double entendre there, I just realized) in the fold of the Republican party far exceeds anything I have seen on the Democratic/liberal side these days. Oh, it isn’t that I think that Dems don’t carry on with activities that they would rather not have revealed. But Sweet Baby Jesus, what is it with Republicans these days?

The latest hypocrite to be exposed (I rather like saying it that way) is Senator Larry Craig of Idaho, attempting… something or other in the men’s room at the Minneapolis airport. Then there was Florida’s favorite son, Tom Foley, who liked young male pages. And who can forget Jeff Gannon, aka James Guckert? That entire episode was so exceedingly weird that I cannot believe it didn’t get a larger circulation in the mainstream media. Maybe everyone was just too damn embarrassed. It couldn’t have been because everyone wanted to give the Republicans a break on this, could it? And then there is this guy, Florida state representative Bob Allen, who offered several a male undercover officer some oral stimulation in exchange for twenty bucks. And HE was the one offering the money! And Ted Haggard, the evangelical pastor of the Colorado Springs mega-church hiring a male prostitute while getting some illegal drugs. And the “D.C. Madam” scandal implicating at least one Republican, David Vitter of Louisiana.....

This really can’t be all a coincidence, can it? There are some people in the Republican party that look like they loath themselves. Or loath their behavior but can’t change it. Something. But no matter how you look at it, these actions are not the actions of healthy individuals.

As I have said before, I have no problem with people doing whatever they want to do to get their jollies, behind closed doors, as long as it doesn’t hurt anyone else. But if someone is going to participate in such creative diversions themselves, then they damn well better keep their mouths shut when it comes to the rights of others to do exactly the same. Because the Republican party, in addition to being hypocritical, is looking incredibly foolish.

UPDATE: Well, Mr. Craig has come out and vehemently denied that he is gay. After pleading guilty to lewd conduct. In a men's washroom in an airport. With a male undercover cop. Not sure what he was pleading guilty to. But he has denied it all. Which is about par for the course, and is rather the subject I was writing about in this post anyway.

Monday, August 27, 2007

The government is training the clergy to “quell dissent”, in case of martial law.

This is so comforting. Here’s a bit from a post in the Agonist.

A KSLA-TV news report from Louisiana has confirmed the story that Clergy Response Teams are being trained by the federal government to "quell dissent" and pacify citizens to obey the government in the event of a declaration of martial law.

The report confirms the existence of a nationwide Homeland Security program which is training pastors and other religious representatives to teach their congregations to "obey the government" in preparation for a declaration of martial law.

A whistleblower who attended one of the training sessions reports that the feds were recruiting religious leaders to help implement government Homeland Security directives in anticipation of a terrorist attack or a nationally declared emergency.

The first directive was for pastors to preach to their congregations Romans 13, the often taken out of context bible passage that was used by Hitler to hoodwink Christians into supporting him, in order to teach them to "obey the government" when martial law is declared.

It was stressed that the pastors needed to preach subservience to the authorities ahead of time in preparation for the round-ups and to make it clear to the congregation that "this is for their own good."

Pastors were told that they would be backed up by law enforcement in controlling uncooperative individuals and that they would even lead SWAT teams in attempting to quell resistance.

I have so many questions about this. “Clergy Response Teams”? Is this a normal thing for members of the clergy to do, to act as sort of a “Go Team” in case bad things happen? I suppose I can see this for things like trying to minister New Orleans after being destroyed by Katrina. But, Jeesus…. The FEDERAL GOVERNMENT training the clergy? Isn’t that a bit out of bounds, when you think about the separation of church and state. And why, in God’s Name, would clergy go along with this plan? Are they just tools of the federal government?

The next question I have is, are we EXPECTING martial law to be required in the near future? Is this really necessary, at this point in time? Usually, when someone does contingency planning, yes, it is for a future event that may or may not ever happen. Evacuating coastal towns and cities in the case of a tsunami warning, that is a reason to have some contingency plans available. Tsunamis have a way of happening from time to time, and their effects can be devastating. However, no one puts together plans like this in case someone thought that there might be a chance they are going to need them. For instance, we don’t have, to my knowledge, contingency plans for extraterrestrial invasion. That is probably not going to happen. However, someone obviously thinks that martial law, on a country-wide scale, might be possible in the near future.

That is pretty scary. “Controlling uncooperative individuals”? “Quell resistance”? Those are frightening concepts, very Orwellian. Even after September 11, 2001, this country did not need martial law. It seems to me that the country would probably come together, at least temporarily, if we were to be attacked again. So, what is this event that someone is postulating that would cause so much uproar and protest from the great unwashed of this country that would require martial law to be imposed?

Think of that. Martial law essentially means that we would be living in a police state. Basic freedoms are curtailed (for the great unwashed, in any event), in order to have a better chance to preserve…. Something. Just what that “something” might be is worthy of speculation.

UPDATE: After thinking about it, I find the use of the word "pacify" exceedingly creepy. That word has some very big emotional content to it, and I don't like it at all.

Nice camera angle....

From watertiger at dependable renegade. I don’t have any point with this picture, really. It’s just very bizarre and funny.

Friday, August 24, 2007

Another insane person in a position of authority.

This one, a top aide to the general in charge of the California National Guard. He has a web site… Well, I’ll just quote the story from the Seattle Times.

The California National Guard has placed on leave the personal assistant to its top general and started an investigation after questions were raised about a Web site he maintains that advocates mass violence.

"I, honestly, would like nothing more than to assist in the wholesale slaughter of every idiot on the face of the planet," Senior Airman Travis Gruber, of Sacramento, Calif., writes on the site, In other postings and in a related blog, Gruber denigrates African Americans, Jews, Asians, women, gays and people with physical disabilities.

Until Wednesday, Gruber was the personal assistant and driver to Maj. Gen. William Wade, the Guard's commanding officer. The job, which Gruber had filled for more than a year, gave him access to the state's leaders, such as Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, whom he trashed in a posting that questions the governor's intelligence. Military law forbids soldiers from using "contemptuous words" about civilian leaders.

Gruber, who said on the Web site that he's 26, does not identify himself as a National Guard member nor does he mention Wade by name; he refers to his boss as "the big guy."

Gruber blogged that when ordered to drive "the big guy" to Oakland this year, he loaded a shotgun with extra shells and filled a pistol "to the brim with hollow-point" bullets because he feared entering the city unarmed.

In a separate posting, he wrote of a woman who once approached him with a question as he waited for Wade at the state Capitol and that he later regretted not "crushing her windpipe" and slamming his car door into her legs for bothering him.

Gruber, in a statement Siepmann issued, said he is "sorry if I have misrepresented or left a black mark on the California Military Department. I was under the impression that I was writing anonymously."

In the statement, he said he does not "condone acts of violence or aggression." He called his sense of humor "dark and distasteful."

Despite its name, the Web site contains no instructions on how to kill people. Rather, much of it is dedicated to social commentary, vulgar humor and sexual jokes. The site contains several pictures of Gruber holding what appear to be automatic weapons, including one of him pointing a gun at black people in tribal garb.

Get that? He only has “a dark sense of humor”. In no way could you construe this person as a violent racist, or anything like that.

Another installment of “Who Can Sound Most Like George Orwell?”

Via Americablog, here is Mitch McConnell, Director of National Intelligence.

Q: Even if it’s perception, how do you deal with that? You have to do public relations, I assume.

A: Well, one of the things you do is you talk to reporters. And you give them the facts the best you can. Now part of this is a classified world. The fact we’re doing it this way means that some Americans are going to die, because we do this mission unknown to the bad guys because they’re using a process that we can exploit and the more we talk about it, the more they will go with an alternative means and when they go to an alternative means, remember what I said, a significant portion of what we do, this is not just threats against the United States, this is war in Afghanistan and Iraq.

Q. So you’re saying that the reporting and the debate in Congress means that some Americans are going to die?

A. That’s what I mean. Because we have made it so public. We used to do these things very differently, but for whatever reason, you know, it’s a democratic process and sunshine’s a good thing. We need to have the debate.

Well, Orwell with a good dash of Abbott and Costello thrown in for good measure. “Sunshine’s a good thing”, even though it will end up with Americans dying because of that. Sure, I’ll buy that.

Where do they get these people?

Yeah, these guys are completely sane, and it’s us “liberals” who are moonbats.

This is from a group called Family Security Matters. Yep, that name sure sounds nice and cuddly. Protective. Empowering. So, what do they have to say about Iraq?

The wisest course would have been for President Bush to use his nuclear weapons to slaughter Iraqis until they complied with his demands, or until they were all dead. Then there would be little risk or expense and no American army would be left exposed. But if he did this, his cowardly electorate would have instantly ended his term of office, if not his freedom or his life.


President Bush can fail in his duty to himself, his country, and his God, by becoming “ex-president” Bush or he can become “President-for-Life” Bush: the conqueror of Iraq, who brings sense to the Congress and sanity to the Supreme Court. Then who would be able to stop Bush from emulating Augustus Caesar and becoming ruler of the world? For only an America united under one ruler has the power to save humanity from the threat of a new Dark Age wrought by terrorists armed with nuclear weapons.

Yep, completely sane. Slaughter the population of an entire country with the most devastating weapons of mass destruction ever devised by man, and not consider the global repercussions? Why not! That would make us MUCH safer than today. Fer sure…. And “President-for-Life” Bush? Um, wouldn’t that be, like, unconstitutional? We want our president to be like Augustus Caesar? Would these people feel the same way about Bill Clinton? Or Hillary Clinton?

Christ, and they call US insane.

Sunday, August 19, 2007

Judgment at Nuremberg

I watched “Judgment at Nuremberg” last night, during TCM’s day long festival of films with Spencer Tracy. It’s a brilliant film, one of the best of the courtroom genre. In addition, it has a wonderful cast. (I got a kick out of seeing Captain Kirk of “Star Trek”, Colonel Clink of “Hogan’s Heroes” and Dorothy from “The Wizard of Oz” all in the same courtroom.) I would highly recommend it to anyone.

For those of you not familiar with the film, it is the story of the Nuremberg trails of Nazis after WWII. However, as much as it is about historical events, it also has much relevance to today. In particular, there are certain things going on in the United States, after the terrible events of September 11, 2001 that have some strong similarities to what went on in Germany in the early 1930’s, during Hitler’s rise to power. If I were a blogger that had any sort of readership, this comparison would, no doubt, set off howls of protest from the right wing. Comparing anyone or anything to Hitler or Germany of the 20th century is dangerous and usually misguided. This comparison, even in passing, should be made with great care, given the extraordinary evil of the Third Reich. Still, I can’t help wondering what might be outcome of things like legalized, structured torture of people who have not been formally charged with crimes, with allowing surveillance, without warrants, of U.S. citizens in contact with non-residents, with the anti-immigrant fervor of many here in the U.S. that looks very much like racism, with a press that has, for many years, become either a compliant partner or an outright organ of propaganda for the government… These are very dangerous things to let out of the box and to become an accepted part of our society.

I will let a couple of monologues from the film speak for themselves. See how much of it could be talking about present day United States.

The first is from Ernst Janning, who is one of the German judges on trial.

There was a fever over the land. A fever of disgrace, of indignity, of hunger. We had a democracy, yes, but it was torn by elements within. Above all, there was fear. Fear of today, fear of tomorrow, fear of our neighbors, and fear of ourselves. Only when you understand that - can you understand what Hitler meant to us. Because he said to us: 'Lift your heads! Be proud to be German! There are devils among us. Communists, Liberals, Jews, Gypsies! Once these devils will be destroyed, your misery will be destroyed.' It was the old, old story of the sacrificial lamb. What about those of us who knew better? We who knew the words were lies and worse than lies? Why did we sit silent? Why did we take part? Because we loved our country! What difference does it make if a few political extremists lose their rights? What difference does it make if a few racial minorities lose their rights? It is only a passing phase. It is only a stage we are going through. It will be discarded sooner or later. Hitler himself will be discarded... sooner or later. The country is in danger. We will march out of the shadows. We will go forward. Forward is the great password. And history tells how well we succeeded, your honor. We succeeded beyond our wildest dreams. The very elements of hate and power about Hitler that mesmerized Germany, mesmerized the world! We found ourselves with sudden powerful allies. Things that had been denied to us as a democracy were open to us now. The world said 'go ahead, take it, take it! Take Sudetenland, take the Rhineland - remilitarize it - take all of Austria, take it! And then one day we looked around and found that we were in an even more terrible danger. The ritual began in this courtoom swept over the land like a raging, roaring disease. What was going to be a passing phase had become the way of life. Your honor, I was content to sit silent during this trial. I was content to tend my roses. I was even content to let counsel try to save my name, until I realized that in order to save it, he would have to raise the specter again. You have seen him do it - he has done it here in this courtroom. He has suggested that the Third Reich worked for the benefit of people. He has suggested that we sterilized men for the welfare of the country. He has suggested that perhaps the old Jew did sleep with the sixteen year old girl, after all. Once more it is being done for love of country. It is not easy to tell the truth; but if there is to be any salvation for Germany, we who know our guilt must admit it... whatever the pain and humiliation.

The next is from Chief Judge Dan Haywood, a retired judge from the state of Maine, brought in by the U.S. military to preside over the tribunal.

Janning, to be sure, is a tragic figure. We believe he *loathed* the evil he did. But compassion for the present torture of his soul must not beget forgetfulness of the torture and death of millions by the government of which he was a part. Janning's record and his fate illuminate the most shattering truth that has emerged from this trial. If he and the other defendants were all depraved perverts - if the leaders of the Third Reich were sadistic monsters and maniacs - these events would have no more moral significance than an earthquake or other natural catastrophes. But this trial has shown that under the stress of a national crisis, men - even able and extraordinary men - can delude themselves into the commission of crimes and atrocities so vast and heinous as to stagger the imagination. No one who has sat through this trial can ever forget. The sterilization of men because of their political beliefs... The murder of children... How *easily* that can happen! There are those in our country today, too, who speak of the "protection" of the country. Of "survival". The answer to that is: *survival as what*? A country isn't a rock. And it isn't an extension of one's self. *It's what it stands for, when standing for something is the most difficult!* Before the people of the world - let it now be noted in our decision here that this is what *we* stand for: *justice, truth... and the value of a single human being!*

Saturday, August 18, 2007

Amazing chalk drawings, Part III

UPDATE: After looking closely at a couple of these latest drawings, I am now wondering if these photos are actually legit. Take a look at the top one, where the chalk guy is climbing down a rope ladder. Look at the trailing rope on the ladder. Doesn't it look like one of the ropes, drawn in chalk, passes IN FRONT of a real person's leg? If that is true, then this can't be a real photo. A chalk drawing can't go in front of a real person. I don't know if anyone is actually still looking at this blog. There used to be. But if there is, would anyone like to comment on whether or not you think these are actual photos of real chalk drawings? Or is this another scam that just makes the e-mail rounds?

Amazing chalk drawings, Part II

Just because blooger apparently has a size limit on how many photos you can attach to a post.... Or maybe, there is a problem with one of the files I was trying to load. Don't know which....

Amazing chalk drawings

This guy is apparently very well known in Europe and parts of the U.S. I have no idea how he makes money at something like this, given how temporary it all is. But some of the stuff that he does is pretty extrodinary. These are only a few samples. The top picture in the series illustrates how he must "stretch" his drawing to make it look as if it pops out of the sidewalk when viewed from the correct perspective. All in all, quite an unusual (to say the least) talent to have cultivated.

Friday, August 17, 2007

Whose reality is it, anyway?

Earlier, I wrote a little bit about how reality is currently seen from the eyes of a modern day physicist. I have assimilated that perspective into my own views of “reality”, as that is my nature. I am one who gives great credence into the inquisitive nature of the human race. When we go about investigating the unknown with discipline and integrity, great things can be achieved. The most important thing that one can do is to keep an open mind. If you go about trying to get facts to confirm your own preconceived reality, then you are going about it incorrectly. By doing that, you are not trying to find out what “reality” actually is, you are just trying to bolster your reality as you see it, and are not interested in finding out anything new.

That’s what got me wondering about this question of “reality”. Reality seems to change constantly. So, does that mean that there is anything that can actually be called “reality” that doesn’t depend on human observation and cognition?

As I said, my reality is one that matches the latest views from the world of science, and has very little input from the religious or mystical realms. It’s not that I believe that science has the answer to everything. But my makeup is one that sort of adopts Occam’s Razor as a primary factor. Occam’s Razor is usually stated as “The principle states that the explanation of any phenomenon should make as few assumptions as possible, eliminating those that make no difference in the observable predictions of the explanatory hypothesis or theory.” Now, I will be the first to admit that many of the advances of modern particle physics and cosmology are definitely not simple. In fact, they are downright bizarre. There is no reason, really, for anyone to believe them other than for the fact that the people coming up with these latest theories are following the scientific method (of which I have spoken of many times here), and whose work is being reviewed by many very educated and knowledgeable peers. It is just that, given my education and background, I find those explanations far more likely to reflect “reality” than anything that includes a supernatural deity.

(For the record, I am not attempting to be sarcastic or dismissive by using the word “supernatural”. I am just using that word with its most straightforward definition, “beyond observable nature” or “that which is unknowable”. I think that most everyone today would agree that, whatever one’s definition of God you might use, it is beyond observable nature.)

This has not always been the case with our human species. I think that our species has always been inquisitive and has always sought explanations for the world they observed and experienced. For most of our species’ history, our ancestors did not have anything that could rightfully called science. Therefore, they attempted to resolve the great questions of their times by whatever means they have available. I envision the great questions to be things like “why do these things in nature happen?” (which includes things like lightening, floods, earthquakes, tsunamis, night and day, the nature of the sun, moon, and stars, etc.) and “why do people die, and what happens to us after we die?”

Very definitely, those are very vexing questions. Every culture seems to have attempted to explain them in their own method. I cannot even begin to count how many different ways “reality” has been explained over the course of human history. The gods and goddesses from ancient Greece serve the same purpose as the gods from the more primitive cultures, such as early Polynesians, native Americans of North, South and Central America, Africans, ancient Egypt, pre-Roman England, and on and on. (Again, I am not trying to be dismissive; I just don’t have any other word other than “primitive”.) That is, the purpose of their particular religion was to explain the observable universe. There are some secondary reasons, such as the ruling class cementing their hold on power and over the ruled, but in my mind, that is indeed a secondary reason.

I have wondered how it might be to live in a time and a place where science, as we know it, really didn’t exist. How was it to live in ancient Egypt, where it was just common knowledge that the body was the vessel that held your soul, your Ka. To make it into the afterlife, you had to journey down the Paths of the Dead. If your body had not been properly prepared for your afterlife, your Ka was doomed to wander for all eternity in whatever purgatory they envisioned. Every year, you paid tribute to the White Bull. Everyone instinctively knew this was reality. It was not a matter of questioning, as that would be questioning the gods and the ruling pharaohs.

I could try to give a short summary of many different cultures throughout the history of human civilization, but that would not serve much of a purpose here. I am just trying to illustrate how every society’s “reality” is much, much different than the most every other society. They are all different, but they all depended upon, and still depend upon, one thing; cultural learning. These “realities” must be passed down, from generation to generation. Over time, without any outside influences (such as invasions of hoards of Spanish conquistadors or Roman armies) these “realities” mutate into something a little bit different. These mutations take such a long time that it is difficult, if not impossible, to see those changes from a single human being’s perspective. That is, the “common knowledge” of the day is actually something that must be taught to each succeeding generation. It isn’t something that is likely to be happened on by someone who has not been fully introduced to the subject. I sometimes use the word, “indoctrination”. That has gotten me into some hot water with friends, but that is how I see it. That word obviously has some emotional content to it, but I am using it as unemotionally as I can. You need to teach your children the “ways of the world”. What else is Sunday School at the local church than a way to teach your children what you want them taught?

The reason that I, personally, think that science provides a way to answer some (not all) of the Big Questions is that the different people from different backgrounds and different cultures can come up with the same answers as others, as long as the same process was followed. This is not necessarily true when you are discussing what I refer to as religious viewpoints. However, that is certainly not how a lot of other people see it.

Currently in this country, we have a movement which I call “fundamentalist Christian” whose goal is to make their own reality, based on their own biblical interpretations and teachings (including those mutations I mentioned earlier), and to impose their reality on everyone else in this country. They see science as just another viewpoint, equal to that of any other religion they disagree with, such as Hinduism, Buddhism, or even Catholicism. That is, it can be disposed of, very quickly, without much thought because it differs from their reality. Scientific findings sometimes contradict those views of the fundamentalist Christian. Therefore, that aspect of science, in their minds, can be summarily dismissed. They have their preformed reality, which they do not care to see adjusted, and therefore anything that might contradict their reality must either be regarded as not true. If, in the case of dinosaurs (as I wrote before), the truth is so overwhelming that it cannot be summarily dismissed, it must be somehow assimilated into their view of the world without disturbing the fundamental underpinning belief that their strict interpretation of the literal, word-by-word truth of the Bible is left intact. This leads to some very complex and awkward mental contortions on their part, but it is, in their minds, better than having to adjust their reality.

That is what really upsets me about how fundamentalist Christians. They believe that proven facts, backed up by years and years of research, inspection and re-inspection by very dedicated and educated people, are somehow equal to their more supernatural based views of the world. They believe, for instance, that everyone studying geology, archeology, genetics, ice cores from Antarctica, etc., are all wrong when they state that the world is more than 6000 years old. In the reality of the fundamentalist Christian, their reading of the Bible has the World beginning with Genesis, and if one counts the “Adam begat Adam, who lived a hundred years, and all the days that Adam lived were nine hundred and thirty years”, you can come up with roughly 6000 years accounted for in the Biblical texts. In my reality, this sounds very much like any other religion, which has its own explanations for the beginning of the world. I think it sounds ridiculous. I think that people, in this day and age, who insist that man lived in the same time as dinosaurs, just because they can’t explain the timescale of the world otherwise, sound just as ignorant as those people in the past who insisted that the Earth was flat or that the sun revolved around the Earth. However, in someone else’s reality, the age of the Earth really is only 6000 years, and science is the thing that sounds ridiculous.

That is hard for me to accept, but it is an undeniable fact that people in our current society can’t agree on reality. Everyone has their own notions of reality, which they are loath to give up. This is one reason, among many, that I don’t have a very high opinion of our species, as a whole. We have achieved some incredible things, and will continue to do so. However, we do that in spite of, not because of, people’s insistence that their “reality” is the only one. People are not seeking “the truth”. They only want to validate “their truth”.

Tony Snow to step down as White House secretary.

I don’t really blame him, for several reasons. Having a high pressure, high profile job like that is difficult under the best of circumstances, but I can see that this would not be a good job to have while dealing with cancer and the treatments he requires. Plus, he has to defend the indefensible, on most days. The White House press secretary and his underlings have been saying some outrageous things for the last few months. I don’t know if I could stand knowing that I was up in front of the world, essentially, and either lying outright or dissembling such that no one could really figure out whether or not you were telling the truth.

But the reason he gave? He’s “running out of money”. Well, that’s a new one. Usually, it’s to “spend more time with the family”. However, I am thinking that for normal, everyday people like you or I, changing jobs while undergoing very expensive treatment for cancer would not be a good idea at all. There are such things that insurers look at called “existing conditions”. You aren’t going to get too many insurance companies willing to sign you up when they know, for certain, you have cancer and are in the middle of getting very expensive treatment for it.

“Running out of money”? Seriously? I hope he has a new gig lined up, one that will pay his medical bills. If I were to do something like that with my current job and expected to go to a new job, with a new healthcare provider that I expected to pick up a very expensive medical tab, it would be signing my own death warrant.

I guess it’s good to be part of the ruling class. You don’t have to worry about stuff like that.

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Physics: Reality is in the eye of the beholder.

This post is going to be about some of the latest theories in physics, and it will probably take off from there. I have lots of thoughts related to this subject, and I am not exactly certain which direction I may end up. As envisioned, this will be part of a series of posts about... well, about what my particular beliefs are. I have already posted some on this subject. Hopefully, I can tie some of this together so that I might be able to understand it better, and if anyone else is along for the ride, well, I hope you might get something out of it.

I am going to start out this post by talking mostly about myself and of my experience in the realm of physics. This is a bit of a change of tack for me, as I usually try to avoid talking about myself in this blog. My thought is that, if anyone is going to read this stuff that I produce here, they need to be at least moderately interested in the subject matter. I find myself distinctly non-interesting as subject matter, and certainly so too would people who have no idea who I am. However, I intend on using this personal information about myself as a springboard into the broader discussion of physics in general and what some of the conclusions and thoughts I have about “what it all means”, if that is possible.

As noted in my bio information on this blog, I have a B.S. in engineering and an M.S. in physics. Now, many people might think that engineering and physics are very similar, since they are related by a common language of math. That is what I thought when I got into the program. I quickly found out that I was very much mistaken. The two disciplines are very, very much different, and the people who inhabit the two arenas are also very different.

Engineering, in its basic form, is about making whatever you are working with in this universe (electrons, iron beams, air compressors, airplanes, computers, etc.) conform to your will and get them to do whatever it is you want them to, in the best manner possible. The “best manner” might be defined as the cheapest, the lightest, longevity, susceptibility to radiation, etc. It all depends on what exactly you are trying to achieve. But that is what engineering is about, a manipulation of materials in order to get them to do what you want. Math is the primary tool used to achieve this goal.

Physics, on the other hand, is an investigation into why the universe is the way it is. Physicists are attempting to come up with the “rules” that governs everything, both matter and energy, which make up the universe. Again, the primary tool is math. This is necessary for several reasons, but one profound reason is that English, along with every other verbal-based language, cannot begin to explain the concepts that modern physics is dealing with in any way that makes sense to a laymen. Many make valiant efforts and they do help, but most laymen, I believe, respond with a giant “what the hell are you on about?” English is not well suited to conveying the concepts hidden in the underlying structure of what we call “the universe”.

Before I entered into my post-graduate work, I had taken some modern physics classes in the course of my engineering degree, and I did very well. I read a lot of the journals and all the articles in Scientific American. I thought myself very well versed in what was going on in the field. I thought the program available to me would be interesting, and you never know when an advanced degree might actually come in handy.

It didn’t take me very long before I started suffering from a “break” from between what I thought I was going to learn and what I was actually getting. I wanted to know more about what I had been reading about. What I was getting was a forced diet of fundamentals that seemed to have nothing much at all to do with what my intentions were. The best example I can think of was my experience with Quantum Mechanics. Most everyone has heard of this subject, most have no idea what it is about. Some people have heard of Schrödinger's cat, but few can probably do an explanation justice. However, Quantum Mechanics is fundamental to everything that has gone on in physics since Albert Einstein.

When I got into the subject, I struggled both with the math and the entire purpose of the subject. I was given no introductory material, no “tie in” to where this all fit in the big picture. What was presented was a new type of math, with its own rules. In fact, I hesitate to call it “math”. All the familiar symbols and operations are largely abandoned, and new ones invented. It almost seemed like a game to me. Or, a better analogy might be learning some fabricated language like Klingon from Star Trek or Sindarian Elvish from The Lord of the Rings. Both have totally fabricated rules and constructs which have absolutely no application outside of that little community of other people interested in the same thing, but there is an “accepted” way of doing it correctly. The same holds true for Quantum Mechanics. You have to learn very obtuse rules about how to manipulate largely arcane symbols in order to achieve the desired outcome. If you learned the rules correctly and could apply them, you got a good grade. If you didn’t, you failed. Notice that neither outcome seems to have anything to do, at all, with the “reality” of the universe. I didn’t see that connection. I still don’t. It was all just a game that someone invented that had no bearing on much of anything.

(Just to finish up on the story of my post-graduate work, I struggled along, trying to recover from a couple of “C” grades, one of which was Quantum Mechanics. I did much better in the more applied physics courses, like optics. I did my research, went before a board, defended my research, and answered the questions as best I could. I received my degree, but one of the board members expressed considerable skepticism that I really understood the material. I was a tad insulted at the time, but I can now see this was a true statement. I have a piece of paper that says I have an advanced degree in physics, but I do not really claim to be “a physicist”, except when I have the need to show off.)

Given all that, I still think that advances in physics, at both the subatomic and the cosmological levels, are truly fascinating. I am not going to try to give a layman’s lesson of modern physics here. I would, no doubt, make a hash of it and if anyone really is interested in the nuts and bolts of it, they are likely to get their information from somewhere other than a nondescript blog that people only stumble across intermittently. I will therefore try to just jump to the conclusions and talk about what those conclusions mean to me. I will try to include references and links to those who might actually be interested in pursuing it a bit further.

One of the more fascinating aspects of all the work that is going on is what it implies the universe actually is. Most everyone understands the different “dimensions” that we, as humans, perceive that make up the universe. Up/down, backwards/forwards, left/right. X, Y and Z on the Cartesian coordinate system. Three dimensions, and because of the work of Albert Einstein, we now concede that time makes up the fourth dimension. We all understand that, because we can experience that directly. Drive a car in a hilly area, and you have automatically moved through all four dimensions.

The “Holy Grail” of physicists worldwide, is to find a single model that explains all four forces of the universe: gravitational, weak nuclear, strong nuclear and electromagnetic. The more people tried, the more elusive that unified theory became. One much explored theory that showed considerable promise since the early 1980’s is called the String Theory. Here’s a quick Wiki introduction to String Theory.

String theory is a model of fundamental physics whose building blocks are one-dimensional extended objects called strings, rather than the zero-dimensional point particles that form the basis for the standard model of particle physics. The phrase is often used as shorthand for Superstring theory, as well as related theories such as M-theory. By replacing the point-like particles with strings, an apparently consistent quantum theory of gravity emerges. Moreover, it may be possible to "unify" the known natural forces (gravitational, electromagnetic, weak nuclear and strong nuclear) by describing them with the same set of equations. (See Theory of everything.)

One of the fallouts of String Theory is, that for it to really work, the universe must be made up of more than just four dimensions. Many more, it turns out. Depending on which actual theory you subscribe to, the final number might be ten, or it might be eleven. It seems that people are now settling on eleven. This eleventh dimension makes many things possible, such as combining what were once five different string theories into just different aspects of the same overarching theory. It also brings in a theory referred to as Super Gravity, which always advocated eleven dimensions. By doing this, String Theory has now morphed into something that is now called Membrane Theory, or just plain M-theory.

It has taken me this long just to get to the matter that I really wanted to discuss, which is the eleven dimensions of the universe this theory implies. This is not just some ivory tower theoretical exercise, inventing more Klingon language rules that don’t have any meaning to anyone except those interested in learning a totally fabricated language. The work that these physicists are doing is really targeted at explaining what the universe actually is, regardless of how illogical or out-and-out ridiculous it all might sound. Many aspects of this incredibly weird universe have been confirmed by direct experimentation. One example is the Gravity Probe B satellite, which has confirmed several aspects of gravity predicted by Einstein’s Theory of General Relativity. One effect is the geodetic effect—the amount by which the mass of the Earth warps the local space-time in which it resides. The second effect, called frame-dragging, is the amount by which the rotating Earth drags local space-time around with it.

My point here is not to try to explain how this hugely complex experiment went about trying to prove these effects actually exist, or even what these effects actually are. My point is this. Experiments such as this are actually proving that these theories are not just Klingon language. These theories are actually describing the universe as it truly exists! It doesn’t matter if we, as humans, as so limited in our ability to perceive anything other than our boring three spatial dimensions and one temporal dimension. The actual work proving these theories seems to be running about 80 years behind the advances in the theories themselves, but direct experimentation is showing that the theoretical math the world’s physicists are coming up with actually do describe the universe.

This is staggering information, and is truly difficult to assimilate into any sort of rational mental picture of the universe that ordinary humans (i.e., non-physicists) can grab onto. Just think. Subatomic particles, such as electrons, proton and neutrons, are not really particles at all. They are waves; they are vibrating strings. They are knots of energy. “Matter” at that level has no meaning. Matter warps time/space, and makes gravity wells in the fabric of the universe. Time is not constant; it changes depending on the point of view of the observer. The universe is expanding, but if the universe contains everything known, then what is the universe expanding into? These are truly breathtaking concepts. The universe is not at all what our human senses perceive it to be. It is something truly strange.

In my next post on this subject, I will try to produce some coherent thoughts regarding the effort by many people in our society to discredit science and to elevate uninformed opinion into something, in their eyes, that is equivalent to thousands of man-years on the part of many, many incredibly talented and inquisitive people all over the world trying to explain the universe that we inhabit.

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Local Seattle sports story meets national political scandal.

Here’s a story that, on the surface, isn’t going to interest anyone who is outside the Seattle area, or isn't a die-hard NBA fan. Long story short, after eight years or so of being run into the ground by a combination of a terrible ownership group (Howard Shultz, Starbucks CEO) and a terrible General Manager (Wally Walker), the Seattle Supersonics, and their poor sisters, the WNBA Storm, were sold to a group from Oklahoma City. Both the old and new ownership groups mouthed the correct words about “wanting to keep the franchise in Seattle”. But, there were several things that made everyone feel very uneasy.

· Although Key Arena, where the Sonics and Storm play, was refurbished to make it almost a brand new facility just twelve years ago, both ownership groups had made statements about how it was an outdated facility and no one could make money with an NBA franchise while stuck there.

· Oklahoma City has a brand new facility downtown in the Brickyard area that doesn’t have a major league tenant, but played host to the New Orleans Hornets of the NBA after their facility, the Superdome, was laid waste by Hurricane Katrina and its unfortunate aftermath. This season, the Hornets thanked their erstwhile hosts and packed their bags, back to New Orleans. While there, the Hornets, an orphan team that did not belong to OKC, played to full houses.

· Seattle has seen several attempts in the last 20 years to move our local, established major league teams elsewhere. The Seattle Mariners were eternally on the verge of moving somewhere, usually Tampa Bay, as they played in the concrete mushroom called the Kingdome to crowds that could only generously called “anemic”. The Seattle Seahawks were actually gone for several weeks, as Ken Behring, packed up the company offices and equipment such as weight machines, and moved everything to Los Angeles. He gave a statement on TV saying how “sorry he was” but the move had been forced on him, etc. etc. Only last minute maneuverings by politicians and local heavyweights to put local ownership groups together, back by, in the case of the Mariners, money from Japan’s Nintendo, saved the franchises and put together packages that produced two new, state of the art stadiums, Quest Field for the Seahawks and Safeco Field for the Mariners.

With interest in the NBA at a very low ebb and Seattle suffering from multi-million dollar stadium fatigue, everyone here saw the Sonics being ripe for the picking. And since the new ownership group was from OKC, everyone here automatically assumed that was the ultimate goal of the new owners, regardless of what they said. Seattle has been lied to in very recent memory by rich owners with an agenda that did not match that of the city. And given that one of the first things that happened is the team traded its two players that could be called stars, Ray Allen and Rashard Lewis, things did not bode well for the future.

In the beginning, the majority owner made some statements about how he wanted to find a way to build a new stadium. However, his time frame made no sense if that is really what he wanted. Given the history of Seattle and the constant threat on its sports teams, you would think that any new owners who really wanted to put together a new stadium proposal would move slowly and diplomatically. However, it was not long before the threats changed from veiled to outright. Given that the state legislature would go into recess in a matter of months by the time the new owners time frame ran out, it seemed it was a fait accompli. The move was going to happen. And mostly, Seattle responded with a big yawn. Since these two franchises are the only ones that have ever provided the city with a national championship (the Seattle Totems hockey club won the Stanley Cup in something like 1908, but no one counts that one), the collective “I don’t give much of a fig” attitude is very indicative of how much Seattle has had its fill of greedy owners who only want what they want, and don’t care about the city.

Now, however, one of the minority owners decided to open his big mouth to a newspaper in OKC. In that interview, this guy actually admitted that they never bought the Sonics to keep them in Seattle, and the plan was always to move them to OKC. Which everyone already knew, but since it was never actually said out loud, everyone could always deny it if they felt like it. The first stirrings of passion are being felt in Seattle. We may not care much about the NBA anymore (crooked refs, anyone?), but boy, we detest being screwed over.

Here’s one little tidbit that I found interesting.

Understand: This was a calculated move. McClendon wants to enrage Seattle. He wants to stoke the resentment. He wants to provoke me into reminding you, mostly liberal Seattle, that McClendon was a big contributor to Swift Boat Veterans for Truth, the reprehensible and completely discredited group that distorted and lied about John Kerry's war record during the 2004 election.

Great. We have, as part of the ownership group of our original sports franchise, one of the people who swift boated John Kerry. If that doesn’t tell you anything about this particular man’s ethics, I don’t know what will. That is, he has none. He will do and say anything to achieve his goals, and only goes through the motions so that he can persuade someone, maybe only himself, that he has some sort of plausible deniability about what is going on.

Personally, I haven’t liked the NBA for years. I used to be an avid watcher of the Sonics, back in the days of Gary Payton and Shaun Kemp in their heyday. The made the NBA finals one year and lost to Jordan and the Bulls, 4 games to 2. That’s how good they were for a while. But gradually, I lost interest. The game is boring. Great, teams score 120 points a game. Tell me, would you like to have one ice cream cone? Or twenty seven? All at once? After the third or fourth ice cream cone, they start losing their attraction. The teams have great players who are superb athletes, but the team concept has been totally lost. I don’t care about the game as it is now played, and I get a kick when the U.S. loses to one of the international teams who do know how to play as a team.

I am also fed up with this idea that glittering palaces that would have made Kublai Khan envious is the ultimate goal in sports. What ever happened to just going to watch a game? That is why I like going to the local college basketball games (or did like, until UW imported an Athletic Director from the SEC, who has decided to run the sports department like a Fortune 500 company, soaking anyone he can) instead of the professional variety. I recently went to a Suns game in Phoenix, which has a brand new stadium downtown. I was shocked and almost sick when I saw it. The thing was like going into an upscale mall. It contained a veritable maze of shops and places for food and beverage. Half of it seemed to be luxury boxes (which I was able to sit in for once in my life), which were equipped with 12 hi-def televisions, even in the bathroom. The pre-game was a cacophony of noise, blaring music, flashing lights, girls dancing, inflatable gorillas, air-guitar contests, etc. It was truly an assault on your senses. When the game actually started and all the noise and lights shut down, it was BORING. I realized then, the game had become secondary, at least to the people who matter. Games are where the deals are made in the luxury boxes. Owners make bundles of money on every single thing that is sold. The game itself is almost a sideshow.

That is what the NBA is now. Although I will be sorry to see the Sonics leave town, as it will seem that the city has lost a bit of itself, just as if we lost the monorail or the Space Needle, I will not miss the NBA at all. I especially do not like an industry where multi-million dollar arenas go from "state of the art" to "outdated and never able to make a profit" in only twelve years. Unfortunately for the future of the team, I am thinking that my fellow Seattleites feel the same.

Monday, August 13, 2007

Huh. Karl Rove to retire by the end of August.

I won’t go into the details of this, as all the bloggers have been on their form today on this subject. Go check out FireDogLake, for example. But this is surprising to me in one way. Given the lengths that Bush and the White House has gone to protect good ol’ Turdblossum, I had expected that Rove would have been there to the bitter end, sort of like the foundation of a falling down old house when it finally collapses. The foundation is still there. That’s what Rove was to the Bush presidency.

I have seen some speculation this morning that the only reason that Rove would “retire” at this point in the game, and only give 18 days notice about it, is that one of several investigations is getting very close to Rove and some nasty revelations are about to be uncovered. I find this a bit unconvincing, as there have been plenty of nasty revelations about this slug of a man so far, and nothing seems to have damaged his relationship with Bush so far. So, the other branch of speculation is that Rove has become so toxic that all Republicans running for office next year, from president down to first term congresscritter, want Rove to be gone so he won’t drag down the chances of the Republican party.

Well, I have news for people who have that line of thinking going. It isn’t going to help. It won’t matter if Rove is still in the White House or not. His specter will still be over every major scandal that has hit the modern Republican party in the last eight years. It has been his hand on the tiller (on everything political that is, Dick Cheney has been driving the terrorist/Iraq war part for just as long), and just because he isn’t currently there isn’t going to change the facts of the matter.

I am really hoping that this is the beginning of the end of the worst assault on the Constitution (both the letter and the spirit of) that this country will ever see. Rove had decided early on in his political career that this country should be in the permanent control of the Republican party, that said Republican party should be able to do anything they wanted to without any need to justify their actions to the population of this country, or, if pressed about it, blame someone else for anything that didn’t go exactly according to his plan, and that the Republican party should do anything they could, both legally and illegally, in order to hold onto power indefinitely.

That, I believe, was Karl Rove’s vision of the future of this country. I, for one, am glad to see that he failed. How what he had planned is any different than, say, the Soviet party in Russia, I do not know.

Sunday, August 12, 2007

The New Political Contest: How much can Republicans sound exactly like George Orwell?

Via Devilstower, at DailyKos. (Sorry, can’t figure out how to get a link to the individual post.)


Freedom is Slavery


"Freedom is not a concept in which people can do anything they want, be anything they can be. Freedom is about authority. Freedom is about the willingness of every single human being to cede to lawful authority a great deal of discretion about what you do."

O.K., is there much more that needs to be said there? Do these people not READ? Do they not realize how they sound? I shuddered the first time I heard about the “Homeland”. And how we have it ingrained in a major branch of the U.S. government.

There is absolutely no question in my mind that many of these people on the right would like to install a fascist police state here in the U.S. What boggles my mind is a) apparently how blind many people are to that possibility and, b) how many people really are O.K. with that concept.

Saturday, August 11, 2007

The weird attitudes of George W. Bush

Among the many, many things that George Bush has done and the attitudes he holds that absolutely confound me is this one. He continually says and/of infers that the “war on terrorism” is biggest thing that this country has ever faced. It is mandatory for the future of this nation that we win this “war”, and win it in his way. Everything else seems to take a back seat, when this “war on terror” is the subject.

However, when it comes to actually fighting this war and giving the military the tools it needs, things suddenly change. On the civilian side of things, we are never asked to sacrifice anything. We are not told to hold back on gas purchases. We are not told to ration any scarce product. In fact, we are told the best thing that we can do is “go shopping”. Any talk of raising taxes to help with the war effort, to Bush, is an anathema. That is just unthinkable to him, and he apparently doesn’t see any problem, for the first time in this country’s history, with cutting taxes and unlimited spending for two simultaneous wars.

Additionally, it is quite obvious to everyone that this volunteer force that we have today is being ground down. Deployments keep getting increased, time away from the conflicts keep getting cut. It is shameful to have people getting killed on their third deployment into Iraq. Yet, once again, Bush sees nothing wrong with the approach he is adopting, and continually adds more and more stress to our already stressed out military. Reinstating the draft cannot even be mentioned, much less debated with any integrity. Personally, I would be against this move, but politically, I cannot help but be angry about Bush’s dependence upon someone else’s children, husbands, wives, brothers and sisters going off to fight his war for him, on his terms.

I am sorry, but these are not the actions of a rational person. Bush will not accept any criticism, whatsoever, of how he has bungled his war of convenience. This has gone way past ineptitude. We are now into the realm of the psychological, and perhaps even the pathological. The harm that this man, along with the rest of his administration of enablers and manipulators, is doing to this country may end up being irreparable. To see him at a press conference, essentially blaming Congress (now that Congress is in the hands of the Democrats) for everything from not funding his war his way or not giving unfettered ability to spy on anyone he desires without any oversight other than that provided by his own administration is maddening.

Perhaps the most upsetting thing to me about Bush’s attitude is a small thing, in the context of everything else that this man has done to this country. There will be no “reckoning” down the road for George W. Bush. His continual smirk tells you that this is a man who will never experience that “Come To God” moment. There will not be a moment where the scales fall from his eyes and he sees, for the first time, what he has truly wrought. No, this is a person who will go to his grave surrounded by his small group of confidants and supporters who will tell him, along with his conscience, that he was right and everyone else was wrong. He will never suffer because of his decisions. Suffering is the duty of someone else. I find that infuriating.

Friday, August 10, 2007

Well, the mortgage meltdown has started, and it has the potential for widespread effects.

The Federal Reserve is buying securities backed by high-risk mortgages. To my understanding, this is very unusual. Someone in the government thinks that the situation is dire enough and volatile enough that the U.S. government needs to go in and start propping up private businesses in the form of mortgage lenders.

From emptywheel at the Next Hurrah.

Aug. 10 (Bloomberg) -- The Federal Reserve added $19 billion in temporary funds to the banking system through the purchase of mortgage-backed securities to help meet demand for cash amid a rout in bonds backed by home loans to riskier borrowers.

The Fed accepted only mortgage-backed debt as collateral for this morning's weekend repurchase agreement. Losses in U.S. subprime mortgage investments have been rippling through global credit markets, driving interest rates higher and sinking share prices. The Fed also added $24 billion yesterday, the most since April, as demand for cash increased.

The New York Fed's additions lowered the Federal funds rate to 5.375 percent, according to ICAP Plc, after it began trading at 6 percent, the highest opening rate since January 2001. The Fed's benchmark overnight rate is currently 5.25 percent.

Yes, the approach of allowing American business to do anything they want to make a quick, and quite risky, buck is fine with the Bush administration. But it seems to be the government’s business to bail them out when their get rich quick schemes fall apart, which many people could see coming from a mile away. We might just see what the fiscal upheaval the 1980’s looks like when combined with a huge federal deficit from unchecked spending from two simultaneous wars and tax cuts for the rich.

Tuesday, August 07, 2007

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

Thanks to the IMDB.

Bart: I'm Bart Simpson. Who the hell are you?

Tom Brady: [shouts] Everyone sucks but me!

Homer Simpson: Sometimes, Marge, you just have to go with your gut.
Marge: You *always* go with your gut. How about for once you listen to your brain?

Mr. Burns: Oh, so mother nature needs a favor? Well, maybe she should have thought of that when she was besetting us with droughts and floods and poison monkeys.

Marge: There's no shame in being a pariah.

Grampa: [to Homer] Make me proud... or at least less ashamed.

Mr. Burns: I can't be responsible for what my goons are ordered to do.

Mr. Burns: Thank you, come again. Smithers, release the hounds.

Kent Brockman: ...and the fluffy kitten played with that ball of string all through the night. On a lighter note, a Kwik-E-Mart clerk was brutally murdered last night.

Homer: Kids, just because I don't care doesn't mean I'm not listening.

Mr. Burns: Smithers, you could learn a thing or two from this braying moron.

Homer: These candidates make me want to vomit in terror.

Rupert Murdoch: What the bloody hell?

Homer: The sun? That's the hottest place on Earth.

Ned Flanders: Science is like a blabbermouth who ruins the movie by telling you how it ends. Well, I say there are some things we don't want to know. Important things.

Homer: I don't mind being called a liar when I'm lying, or about to lie, or just finished lying, but NOT WHEN I'M TELLING THE TRUTH.

Homer: Boy, everyone is stupid except me.

Homer: D'oh!

(Note: Do a search on "wit and wisdom", if you would care to see the other entries in this series.)

A high speed passenger rail system for America?

It seems as if every major country in Europe, plus Japan, has a high speed rail system that compete effectively with air travel for short to medium length trips. Additionally, Europe’s railroads have banded together in a cooperative manner to coordinate their departure and arrival times, such that it is easy for a traveler to make a long journey using (I believe) a single ticket and making connections, just as a airline traveler would make connections. England and France combined their forces to build a truly spectacular rail system that travels underneath the English Channel. Japan has had high speed rail, in the form of their Bullet Train, since the 1960’s.

Where is the United States in all of this? We are still studying the issue and building prototypes. Yes, our prototypes go really fast! But as for implementing anything that would be useful in even our children’s lifetimes, that isn’t even on the drawing board. As much as we like to envision ourselves as being on the technological “cutting edge” of everything, the U.S. is behind where we were in the 1950’s, when it comes to travel by rail.

The reasons for this are many, no doubt. Complex issues rarely have simple answers, as much as George Bush and his bunch of neo-conservative Republican followers would like to believe.

The first big, obvious reason is that high speed rail requires an incredible investment in the infrastructure. High speed rail cannot practically exist when it is required to run on the same rails as the major freight rail operators. These lines are choked with freight trains and the rails are sometimes in need of repair if trains are to be able to run without severe speed restrictions. Additionally, there really can’t be traffic crossings for cars and trucks on a high speed rail line, as a collision between a stationary vehicle and a high speed train traveling in excess of 120 mph would be rather catastrophic. If the United States is to attempt a high capacity, high speed passenger rail system, it is going to require the construction of an entirely new rail system, apart from the one that exists now.

The unfortunate reality is that this new rail right of ways would consume an incredible amount of land. Putting together a continuous ribbon of land that runs in a direct route between destinations without sharp curves outside of the city limits is a difficult proposition, to say the least. In the eastern part of this country, it would be probably cost prohibitive for a commercial venture to buy out all the businesses and homes that would have to be condemned to acquire the land necessary to put in a new rail system. The government, with its hands off, “business knows best” attitude, is certainly not going to step in and be a major factor in making this come to pass, which is what would have to happen if someone wanted to acquire the necessary land to build such a system. In the western parts of the country, the land might be available for such a line, but the distance between the destinations would no doubt diminish the attractiveness to the traveling public when it takes, even at high speeds, more than 15 to 18 hours to get to where you want to go. Compared to air travel, even with all its inconveniences, the positives become overwhelmed with the negative of how long it takes.

Another large factor is the entrenched positions that the airlines enjoy. Even with the terrible service the airlines provide, travel by air still is safe, relatively inexpensive and (usually, but not always) effective in getting you to your desire destination. No one in their right mind would willingly go up against these megaliths of modern Corporate America, where the initial outlay of capital would be in the tens of billions of dollars before a single earned dollar could be expected.

Finally, there is just the perception by the population of this country that travel by rail is an outdated concept, akin to traversing the Atlantic Ocean by steamship. Rail travel may be good for commuting to work in high traffic areas like Chicago, Washington D.C., New York, etc., or for vacationing retirees going to Florida for the winter, but not for the more “mundane” needs of the traveling public. It would take a long time for a high speed passenger rail system, such as those enjoyed by Europe and Japan, to catch on here in America. And by “catching on”, I mean “a hugely profitable business venture” for someone. That is the only reason anything gets done in this country anymore.

So, in summary, I think it is very unlikely that America will have any sort of national high speed rail system, ever. There may be some enterprising people who see some local need that could be filled with rail. Perhaps a rail corridor could be built, for example, that runs between Cheyenne in Wyoming, Denver, Colorado Springs and Pueblo, Colorado. The land is there, and there probably is a minimal amount of continual business and personal travel between those cities to make it profitable. Other places already have some sort of local system, like the Amtrak Acela on the east coast, and the Cascades running between points in Oregon, Washington and Vancouver, British Columbia (which is not high speed, but it is a nice, dependable and well run system). But I believe that the unfortunate truth of the matter is that this country will never approach anything like the rail systems that are in operation, currently being constructed and now on the research drawing board around the world.

Monday, August 06, 2007

Solar eclipse as viewed by Hubble

This is a pretty amazing shot of the shadow of the moon racing across the face of the Earth during a solar eclipse. Only those people in the middle of the shadow see the total eclipse. Everyone else sees a partial eclipse.

I found this shot rather reminiscent of the sequence in the sci-fi film 2010, where the monoliths on Jupiter start multiplying and end up generating so much mass that it turns Jupiter into another sun. It all started with a big black spot.

Sunday, August 05, 2007

"Leave It To Beaver" as film noir.

Just for a little variety, here's a post I wrote for another web site quite a number of years ago after watching "The Blue Dahlia" on either TCM or AMC back when it was a decent channel and didn't interrupt movies every 10 minutes for 10 minutes worth of commercials. I thought that Alan Ladd doesn't really play a tough guy very well. Veronica Lake, however... Well, she is another story altogether....

However, seeing Ward in this entirely different role (besides playing second fiddle to John Agar in "The Mole Men", I mean) I was wondering how "Leave It To Beaver" might play as Film Noir.

Perhaps it might go something like this....

WARD: Hey Dollface. Anything cooking for dinner?

JUNE (spoken in a sultry voice while leaning against the Fridgedair and smoking a cigarette): Depends on who's asking.

WARD: You're good, Dollface. You're really good. I can't figure what side you're playing in all this. Who are you protecting?

JUNE: Maybe I'm just looking out for myself for a change. How do you like your steak? Well done or.... pink?

WARD: You know very well how I like it, Gorgeous. Soft and tender... Juicy.


BEAVER: Hi Mom, Hi Dad. Gosh Mom, what happened to your dress? That tear goes all the way up the side. You can see your whole leg and everything! You didn't let me go outside last week when *I* ripped my shirt sleeve.

WARD: Well, well... Look what who just blew into town. Didn't your mother teach you t' knock when you come into a room?

BEAVER: Gee Dad, this is the kitchen....

JUNE: Don't start on him, big man. I know about your little urges to knock people smaller than you around. Why don't you try it on me for a change?

WARD: Dollface, that idea isn't half bad. Right now, though, I have some unfinished business. Kid, where's that brother of yours? I gotta have a discussion with him about a little matter of some dough he calls "allowance".

BEAVER: Gosh Dad, I don't know. I haven't seen Wally. Really, I haven't!

WARD: Don't give me that old soft shoe, kid. You know something and I want to know what it is, and fast!

BEAVER: Well.... Last night, he said he was going to see Eddie Haskell after school. Please Dad!That's all I know! I swear!

WARD: Haskell! That punk... I should have known it!

JUNE: What's the matter, big man? Worried about someone undercutting your fatherly influences? You make me sick sometimes. I feel an intense desire to go brush my teeth before dinner. I don't want the bad taste in my mouth to spoil the asparagus.

WARD: Knock it off, June! I know where you were going, and it wasn't to get any Pepsodent out of the medicine chest. I don't slave away 6 hours a day, four and a half days a week, just to come home and listen to a lush like you whine and complain about not having enough gin in the house. I should have divorced you when I had the chance....


WALLY: Hey, Pops. Long time, no see. You know my associate, Mr. Haskell, I assume?

EDDIE: Hello, Mr. Cleaver... Mrs. Cleaver... Nice weather we're having, isn't it?

WARD: Don't pull that "tough guy" routine on me, buster, or you'll find yourself grounded so fast your head will still be spinning next week!

WALLY: Take it easy , old man, take it easy. No reason to get excited…. Me and Eddie here, we just want to have a little talk about some dough that is owed to us. Isn't that right, Eddie?

EDDIE: That's right, Mr. Cleaver. You see, Wally and me, we... we have a big date on Saturday. Yeah, that's it. A big date. And the cost of chocolate malts has gone up considerably, in case you haven't noticed. We just want what is coming to us, that's all.

WARD: Ha, ha, ha! You must be out of practice, Eddie. Is this routine of yours meant to scare people into paying your extortion money?

EDDIE: Now, Mr. Cleaver.... You shouldn't be like that, unreasonable like. I don't like unreasonable people, you know. They make me irritable. And you wouldn't like it when I get irritable.

JUNE: Oh, you have a "date", do you Eddie? You have a real short memory these days. *We* were supposed to meet on Saturday. Or have you forgotten?

WARD: June? What is he talking about?

JUNE: Oh, you know how it is... This little man likes playing a big man. He put the move on me. I strung him along to see what it was that he knew. It was like playing a fish on a 10 pound test line.

WARD: Why, I outta kill you as you stand, but June just mopped the linoleum this weekend! Get out! Get out before I bust your ugly mug!

EDDIE: Oh, I'm going, I'm going. I know when I am not wanted. But I'll be back. You can count on it. So long, Wally. Your parents are really a drag, you know? Goodbye, Mrs. Cleaver. You keep on looking good, O.K.? Wouldn't want anything to happen to that pretty face of yours.

WARD: Out! Now!


WARD: Doesn't anyone around here know how to shut a door without slamming it? Now June, I want to hear all about this! Just what do you know about... fishing?

JUNE: Let go of me, you lunkhead. I've been around the block a few times. I have as much right to know about fishing as the next broad.

WARD: We'll talk about this later. Wally, to your room without your supper! We'll talk later.

WALLY: No one tells me what to do!

JUNE: Wally, out. I'll explain later.

WARD: You know something, dollface? You're really something. You handled that magnificently! I guess I ought to trust you more often. Now then, what's for dinner?

JUNE: Glad to hear that I made an impression. As for dinner.... You know how to cook, don't you? All you have to do is put your hands on the little knobs and twist them...

BEAVER: Ah, you guys are gonna kiss again, aren't you? Boy, I hope I never get married.