Wednesday, December 31, 2008

If the GOP is going to do some “soul searching”, they need to admit a few things to themselves.

Namely, they need to understand the difference between personal attacks and political criticism. Republicans have so blurred the distinction between these two very different things that they actually do not understand there is a difference. Catch the last quote in this bit from HuffPo.

In private, GOP officials admit to being at a politically dangerous crossroads when it comes to minorities. Reaction to Chip Saltsman's distribution of a CD including the song "Barack the Magic Negro" has been mixed. James Richardson, a former RNC staffer, called it "political suicide." Current RNC chair Mike Duncan said he was "shocked and appalled." But Ken Blackwell, the African-American former Ohio Attorney General and another candidate for the chairmanship, dismissed criticism as "hypersensitivity in the press."

"Look, the GOP needs to be inclusive and more sensitive," a high-ranking Republican explained to the Huffington Post. "On the other hand if we are going to fall apart in pieces every time someone yells racism than we are going to lose the next four years.... Because that means that the left is allowed to talk about race but we are not. There has got to be a way to talk about the president's agenda without falling into this trap."

This guy seemed to be talking about whether or not something gets tagged as racism. Fair enough. If I were him, I wouldn’t like it if a valid criticism of the Obama administration was met with cries of “racist!” That would sort of be like what the Republicans do now with cries of “class warfare!” in response to any criticism of their social policies, such as, oh, any attempt to privatize Social Security. That kind of knee-jerk response is classified as an “inappropriate red-herring” in my mind, no matter which side is doing the freak-out cries of victimization as a way of clouding the issue. So, as far as this goes, I am with this guy. But then he says this.

“There has got to be a way to talk about the president's agenda without falling into this trap.”

Uh, excuse please? It seems to me there are unlimited ways of talking about (soon to be) President Obama’s agenda without bringing race into it. It’s called “discussing the issues.” Republicans really ought to try it some time. It actually might work and we might actually get something done here for the actual good of the country that isn’t being tallied as scoring political points off one’s enemies. And a debate about whether or not a political “joke” song titled “Barack, the Magic Negro” is or is not racist is not “discussing the issues.”

Jerk... Even when a Republican is trying to make sense and make a good point, they usually seem to screw it up.

Saturday, December 27, 2008

A homophobic fundamentalist pastor gets bashed by a really insane fundamentalist pastor.

Boy. I am just so amazed that so many fundamentalists seem to have a direct pipeline in to God, such that they know exactly what He is thinking on any particular subject. Sarah Palin seemed to have an understanding that God wanted her to get a pipeline built that would go from Alaska to the lower mainland, through Canada. Up until that, I wasn’t sure that God was really that interested in energy projects.

Rick Warren has been in the news a lot lately, due to his views on many things and also by the fact that he will be speaking during President Elect Obama’s inauguration. Lots of gay and lesbian people are not very happy with that choice. It turns out that some people on the extreme right are none too pleased, either. This is from the Orange County Register, via The Washington Monthly.

Southern Baptist Pastor Wiley Drake bashed Saddleback Church Pastor Rick Warren this week, saying "God will punish" Warren for agreeing to give the invocation at President-elect Barack Obama's inauguration next month.

"I pray He is kind to you in this punishment that is coming," Drake wrote in a widely-released e-mail. In it, the First Southern Baptist Church of Buena Park pastor criticizes Warren's "recent plan to invoke the presence of almighty God on this evil illegal alien," a reference to Obama.


Drake said Warren, also a Southern Baptist minister, is "hurting our denomination, and the Lord's work."

He continued: "God will deal with you on this … God will not wink at this."

Warren did not immediately return messages seeking comment.

"It's an abomination before God and God's going to deal with that," Drake, in an interview, said about Warren's role in the inauguration. "I've gotten several e-mails in response, and overwhelmingly, they have been supportive."

I always get a little thrill of excitement when I see someone from the extreme right turn upon their own. It just shows how little tolerance these people have for anything that doesn’t conform, exactly, to their own points of view. “What goes around, comes around”, I always say. And they deserve it. But it is also interesting to note that Drake, while calling on God to blast Warren into sub-atomic particles, throws in this. "I pray He is kind to you in this punishment that is coming." Uh huh. Yep. That proves, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that Drake is really a caring and compassionate person.

It is just so disheartening to think that idiots like Wiley Drake actually have a pulpit and people listen to him. I swear, people like this would sound at home during the 16th century, going around the countryside and condemning people for consorting with Satan and denying God’s Will. It’s a good thing that accusing people of witchcraft and burning them at the stake or crushing them with rocks has gone out of style, because the mindset behind those actions is still alive and well. Anyone that gets out of line, well then, God is going to take care of you, and fast!

I am not a believer in God, Christian or otherwise. So, as long as the ravings of these lunatics do not affect me or the people and ideas I hold dear, then they can do whatever they like. If they were to all suddenly turn into Whirling Dervishes , that would also be entertaining and just about as useful. But really, if I were a moderate Christian who really cared about my church, I might start fighting back against these fundamentalists. They are really giving God a bad name, you know?

Friday, December 26, 2008

Hey, global warming was great for the Vikings! So why should we worry?

Jeez. I cannot believe some people can be so obtuse. And this isn’t in some fifth tier conservative blog. This opinion column was in the LA Times!

Via the Denialism blog.

The vikings clawed their way back into the national conversation recently, and for those of us who believe they have never gotten their historical due, it was not a moment too soon. Last heard from when they unexpectedly popped up on horseback in last winter’s anachronistic, factually suspect action film “Pathfinder” – a rip-roaring affair that sadly found only a negligible audience – the Vikings often go whole decades without being talked about in any meaningful way on these shores.

All that changed a few weeks back when the Wall Street Journal published an essay on the subject of global warming by environmental sciences expert Daniel B. Botkin. Throwing down the gauntlet in the wake of the Nobel committee’s surprise decision to award Al Gore its coveted Peace Prize, Botkin kicked off his piece with this plucky assertion: “Global warming doesn’t matter except to the extent that it will affect life – ours and that of all living things on Earth. And contrary to the latest news, the evidence that global warming will have serious effects on life is thin. Most evidence suggests the contrary.”

To buttress this admittedly controversial theory, Botkin, president of the Center for the Study of the Environment and professor emeritus in the Department of Ecology, Evolution and Marine Biology at UC Santa Barbara, cited studies proving that global warming would not result in huge numbers of species disappearing, would not result in an epidemic of tropical diseases and would not result in a catastrophic change in the way humans lead their lives. While not denying the reality of global warming, Botkin said that its effects have been vastly exaggerated, and that people should worry more about species disappearing forever because of deforestation in the rain forest rather than global warming in the Arctic.

But the real haymaker, coming right out of left field, was his contention that global warming would not necessarily be a disaster for humanity. Citing Emmanuel Le Roy Ladurie’s “Times of Feast, Times of Famine: A History of Climate Since the Year 1000,” one of those books that we all have on our nightstands but never seem to find the time to read, Botkin pointed out that it was the warming that occurred between 750 and 1230 that encouraged the Vikings to break out of their harsh climate and sail west. Particularly impressive were Erik the Red’s voyages, resulting in the colonization of the previously inaccessible and inhospitable Iceland and Greenland. Chortled Botkin: “Good thing that Erik the Red didn’t have Al Gore or his climatologists as his advisors.”

Those of us who adore Viking lore, those of us who never cease to marvel at their daring exploits, those of us who resent the way the first Europeans to set foot in North America have been completely upstaged by Christopher Columbus, John Cabot, Ponce de Leon and the rest of those over-praised Johnny-come-latelies cannot help feeling a frisson of glee – nay, vindication – now that Botkin has gone where no Op-Ed page contributor, not even in the Journal, has gone before and singled out the voyages of the Vikings as a reason to stop being obsessed with global warming. Never in our wildest dreams did any of us seriously expect the Vikings to enter the global warming debate, not only because they have not been heard from for almost 1,000 years but because of their behavior.

Ah, yes. That’s a great argument. Vikings were the first people to discover North America, but were later upstaged by Columbus. That proves, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that global warming isn’t harmful.

Um, I’m searching for a word here… It’s on the tip of my tongue. Oh, yeah. Dumbass. That’s it.

Well, at least many people have stopped denying that the phenomenon of global warming is real. However, the lame excuses about why it doesn’t matter are even more bizarre than the rationale for the non-existence of global warming. And boy, if someone can get in a shot about Al Gore, or even two, then that REALLY proves their point!

I swear, if Al Gore and a bunch of liberals ran in to one of these people’s house, yelling at them that they need to get out because their house was on fire, they would sit there in their jammies, arguing with them and pointing out that Al Gore is fat.

You know, I am beginning to doubt evolution. Strict Darwinism should mean that all these idiots died out long ago.

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Dick Cheney; Worst Vice-President ever?

I have seen this story a couple of times, based on a survey from CNN. Here is part of the story from the Nation.

Twenty-three percent of Americans surveyed by CNN say Dick Cheney is the worst vice president in history.

Another 41 percent say Cheney has been a poor No. 2.

So, as the draft-dodging, corporation-coddling, obscenity-spewing, torture-sanctioning shredder of the Constitution prepares to leave the position he should have been forced from by Congress, almost two-thirds of Americans rank Cheney as bad or worse than Spiro Agnew.

But that was before Cheney acknowledged on national television that he had violated his oath to defend a Constitution that bars cruel and unusual punishment by promoting the use of waterboarding.

I am glad that Cheney is getting the recognition he deserves. In my estimation, he is a monster. This guy ran a shadow government, declared all sorts of things that are not supported by any sort of rational reading of the Constitution, and I firmly believe that he was responsible for pushing for “normalization” of torture as an everyday tactic. I believe that the last eight years would not have been as disastrous as they have been, except for the presence of Cheney and his legal attack-dog David Addington. He deserves all the negative accolades that he gets.

However, I am unsure about the validity of such a question. Outside of Spiro Agnew, who most people under 50 don’t really remember, there haven’t been any memorable Vice Presidents in our collective memories by which we could make such a comparison. Sure, there’s Dan Quayle, but he was memorable only because of the fact he came across as a doofus. He was most certainly not evil. My point is that most Americans have no frame of reference of past Vice Presidents by which to judge Cheney. That’s the relative judgment, i.e., a judgment is being made on the basis of a comparison. However, there is also an absolute judgment. No comparisons are being made. Without any sort of comparison to any past VP, Cheney is certainly the most devious, malicious, paranoid, hard-hearted anti-Constitutionalist that I would ever hope to see again in my lifetime.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Ah, geez!!

It's Christmas, dad is running around acting like an idiot, everyone's really happy, and all Santa brought me was this stupid roll of toliet paper.

Photo from here.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

"Dick Cheney, I am the Ghost of Christmas Past...."

I have several hundred things that I would like to show you.

Saturday, December 13, 2008

Wall Street Rogue Fund Manager: There goes another 50 billion dollars, more or less.

More investors, large and small, lose billions of dollars of investments.

From the NYTimes:

But on Friday, less than 24 hours after this prominent Wall Street figure was arrested on charges connected with what authorities portrayed as the biggest Ponzi scheme in financial history, hard questions began to be raised about whether Mr. Madoff acted alone and why his suspected con game was not uncovered sooner.

As investors from Palm Beach to New York to London counted their losses on Friday in what Mr. Madoff himself described as a $50 billion fraud, federal authorities took control of what remained of his firm and began to pore over its books.

But some investors said they had questioned Mr. Madoff’s supposed investment prowess years ago, pointing to his unnaturally steady returns, his vague investment strategy and the obscure accounting firm that audited his books.


Now thousands, possibly tens of thousands, of investors confront losses that range from serious to devastating. Some families said on Friday that they believed they had lost all their savings. A charity in Massachusetts said it had lost essentially its entire endowment and would have to close.

According to an affidavit sworn out by federal agents, Mr. Madoff himself said the fraud had totaled approximately $50 billion, a figure that would dwarf any previous financial fraud.

At first, the figure seemed impossibly large. But as the reports of losses mounted on Friday, the $50 billion figure looked increasingly plausible. One hedge fund advisory firm alone, Fairfield Greenwich Group, said on Friday that its clients had invested $7.5 billion with Mr. Madoff.

I find it very interesting and coincidental that this is just about the same figure, or even more, that was being bandied about to help save the domestic automobile manufacturing industry. That’s a topic for another post, of course. But this one is just staggering, especially coming on the heels of all the bailouts on Wall Street and the out of control governor of Illinois.

It really is beginning to seem as if there is not a single honest person who controls the power and wealth of this country. All of them are out to get as much as they can for themselves, without regard to what happens to anyone else. Now, of course, this is a vast oversimplification. There are many honest, hard working people out there. But it is getting increasingly difficult to emotionally believe that. It really is beginning to feel like the entire “ruling elite” of this country (both political and corporate) are a bunch of bald faced lying thieves.

I can only hope that this absolute deluge of bad news recently causes the entire country to rethink how things have been done in the last 15 years or so. Regulation and oversight are not evil; they are absolute necessities. There is an old saying (I can’t remember the attribution right now) that goes something like, “Great powers are not destroyed from the outside until the are destroyed from within.” Unfortunately, that is what I think is going on right now in the country. Unless we do something to reverse this trend, the history of the United States of America is going to be documented in books and placed on the library shelves, right next to “The Rise and Fall of the Roman Empire.”

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Governor Blagojevich of Illinois: The new “Stupidest Man of the Face of the Earth.”

Douglas Feith has relinquished his crown. I am not going to try to summarize all the revelations about this asshat. This statement from an editorial from the NYTimes summarizes everyone’s feelings about him, though.

We have seen a lot of political hubris, scratch-my-back politics and sheer stupidity over the years. But nothing could prepare us for the charges brought Tuesday against Gov. Rod R. Blagojevich of Illinois.

From my knothole, “hubris” doesn’t even come close to it. Although I have no training from which to judge such things, I would say that this guy is a sociopath. No, he doesn’t go around killing people, but from all indications, he has absolutely no moral compunctions at all. None. Even armed with the knowledge that he has been under investigation by the authorities for about three years, this guy STILL tries to make money for both him and his wife by selling political “favors”. He tried to shake down Warren Buffet, which doesn’t sound like a really great idea to me. He thought that he could just appoint himself to the open Senate position vacated by Barak Obama, if he got into trouble, as he would have access to more tools to keep his butt out of jail.

Where do these guys come from, and how come they end up with power and money? To be honest, this guy was probably just missed his window of opportunity. He would have gone far in the Soviet Union, circa 1970.

I hope Fitz throws his butt in jail for 800 years.

Sunday, December 07, 2008

Is the Earth’s magnetic field getting ready to flip polarities?

There is some very interesting and somewhat alarming data being collected on the Earth’s magnetic field. Here are a couple of items that fit into that category. The Earth’s magnetic field is about 10% weaker now than it was 150 years ago. That’s pretty staggering. 150 years in geologic time represents a blink of the eye, and 10% of anything is a pretty significant percentage, especially something as powerful as the planetary magnetic field. That change represents a huge amount of energy. The other interesting data point is that there is a very weak spot in the magnetic field over the southern Atlantic off the coast of Brazil where the local magnetic field about 30% of the normal strength of rest of the field.

I have discussed the importance of the Earth’s magnetic field before, in the context of how crucial it was for the formation of life on Earth. It protects the Earth’s atmosphere, oceans and all the life on the surface of the planet from the solar wind. The term “solar wind” is a pretty benign sounding, given how much havoc it can wreak on anything left unprotected. The solar wind consists of massive amounts of highly energized particles streaming off the sun’s corona. Normally, the Earth’s magnetic field funnels all these particles into the polar regions, which results in spectacular displays called the Northern Lights. A planetary atmospheric system left unprotected from the solar wind for millions of years would result in the atmosphere blasted off the surface of the planet and into space. The oceans would eventually evaporate. The result would be a dead, barren planet like Mars. In fact, that is exactly the scenario being discussed among planetary scientists to explain why Mars obviously once had large amounts of water flowing on the surface. Evidence is showing that Mars may once have had a magnetic field protecting it, but it does not now.

If Earth’s magnetic field continues to decay, it could suffer the same fate as Mars. Put on a liner scale, given the present rate of decay, the entire magnetic field could be gone within 1500 years. Global warming and widespread climate change would be a minor annoyance compared to this apocalyptic scenario. Global climate change might be catastrophic to mankind, but many of the current species on Earth would adapt and survive. The Earth, as a living entity, would survive in some form. However, the loss of the protective magnetic shield and the subsequent loss of the atmosphere and oceans would result in a dead planet.

Thankfully, many scientists are predicting that this doomsday scenario is unlikely. Fluctuations of the magnetic field appear to be the norm. Another scenario is that the Earth’s magnetic poles are getting ready to flip. That is, what used to be the “+” magnetic pole on the northern axis of the globe, after some rather wild fluctuations, will end up at the south pole. This has happened many times in the past, and will undoubtedly happen again in the future. The instability of the field before this occurs could lead to loss of radio and satellite communications, the possibility of intermittent failures of power grids, etc. for possibly years. However, compared with the possibility of the slow death of the entire planet, these effects should be considered relatively minor.

Photo from here.

Sunday, November 30, 2008

Wal Mart employee trampled to death during Christmas rush. I see the poor economy hasn’t reduced shopper’s insanity.

I am serious. There really isn’t any word other than “insane” to describe this.

NEW YORK - Police were reviewing video from surveillance cameras in an attempt to identify who trampled to death a Wal-Mart worker after a crowd of post-Thanksgiving shoppers burst through the doors at a suburban store and knocked him down.

Criminal charges were possible, but identifying individual shoppers in Friday's video may prove difficult, said Detective Lt. Michael Fleming, a Nassau County police spokesman.

Other workers were trampled as they tried to rescue the man, and customers stepped over him and became irate when officials said the store was closing because of the death, police and witnesses said.

Police said about 2,000 people were gathered outside the Wal-Mart doors before its 5 a.m. opening at a mall about 20 miles east of Manhattan. The impatient crowd knocked the employee, identified by police as Jdimytai Damour, to the ground as he opened the doors, leaving a metal portion of the frame crumpled like an accordion.

"This crowd was out of control," Fleming said. He described the scene as "utter chaos," and said the store didn't have enough security.

Dozens of store employees trying to fight their way out to help Damour were also getting trampled by the crowd, Fleming said. Shoppers stepped over the man on the ground and streamed into the store.

Damour, 34, of Queens, was taken to a hospital, where he was pronounced dead around 6 a.m., police said. The exact cause of death has not been determined.'

A 28-year-old pregnant woman was taken to a hospital, where she and the baby were reported to be OK, said police Sgt. Anthony Repalone.

Kimberly Cribbs, who witnessed the stampede, said shoppers were acting like "savages."

"When they were saying they had to leave, that an employee got killed, people were yelling `I've been on line since yesterday morning,'" she said. "They kept shopping."

I read about these kinds of events every year. It happens with depressing regularity. And what’s really strange and unnerving about this is that you realize that a large majority of those early Christmas shoppers every year are women. These are women doing this, who I would like to imagine have a bit more humanity and compassion to them than men. That is a bit of a reverse-sexist opinion on my part, but that has how I have always thought of it. I find it very unnerving that rational thinking processes can be halted and raw emotion substituted by nothing more than a early Christmas sale at a place where you can buy all sorts of junk already at a very low price (which is the subject of a different post altogether).

The mob mentality is a really funny thing. You see it at political rallies and old Universal horror films where the townsfolk are whipped up into a frenzy and storm the castle with pitchforks and torches. But shopping? This is especially indefensible when you stop to think that the same items are going to be available for the next month. Yes, you might save a few bucks, but is that really worth all this? What I find even worse is that the shoppers became very angry and some refused to leave when they were asked to leave because of the death of the employee. That's doubly insane. Just think about that. This poor man isn't going home anymore. He went to work in what you would think is a very safe environment, and he ends up dead. I doubt his family understands. I certainly wouldn't.

I guess I am of the opinion that an event like this is really a peek inside the psyche of our society. It isn’t just a one-off “damn, who would have ever thought that?” kind of event. It is a demonstration of our base, primitive nature. If our society devolves, at some time in the future, to the point that food and water are scarce commodities, I will be very scared. Add angry men with abundant attitudes and guns to the mix and the situation described above, and it won’t be pretty.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Schadenfreuden, NBA style.

Well, I guess I can only get wring a dab of pleasure from seeing the news that the Seattle Supersonics, er, make that Oklahoma City “Thunder” (what a stupid name, sounds like something you would see in the Arena Football League, not the NBA) is something like 1-12 and have just fired their head coach. Aw, geez Loiuse. You wanted a GOOD team, then, one that might actually win some games? You should have gone out and raided some other city, like the LA Clippers. LA has two teams, and the Clippers seem to win a game now and then.

Clay Bennett is a major league asshole. Rich, but an asshole nontheless.

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Anime review: Scrapped Princess (including a rather lengthy aside about Hayao Miyazaki)

Now, the first question that might pop in to someone who has looked in on this blog before is, what is a blog that has been almost exclusively about politics for the last eight months doing writing about a Japanese anime? Isn’t that sort of far-afield from politics, not to mention rather adolescent, especially for a blogger who posting name is “zeppo”, rather inferring someone in the 50+ age group (which would be a correct inference, but not by that much)?

Well, I do like to do a number of different things with this blog, for no other reason than to keep myself interested. Many well-established bloggers seem to do this as well. Steve Benen at Washington Monthly just posted this.

As you've probably noticed, plenty of political bloggers occasionally tackle unrelated subjects. Yglesias writes about basketball; Ezra writes about cooking; Drum writes about cats, football, and his unusual computer problems. And what do I do when I'm not obsessing over the political news of the day? I'm obsessing over the science fiction news of the day (TV, movies, comics, video games, you name it).

So, a post about a Japanese anime on what is primarily a political blog isn’t that unusual, really.

O.K, I am into anime. I admit it. At least, certain ones. Big deal. I like to try to keep myself from getting stale and try new things now and then. Plus, I have never really fully grown up anyway. And finally, I need some pure escapism in my life. Work isn’t doing it for me and the world situation is pretty depressing, when you get right down to it. I need a relief valve.

I really became aware of Japanese animation when I started watching the works of Hayao Miyazaki, the brilliant animator. His films are, in my estimation, vastly superior than anything Disney ever put out. The storylines and characters in his films are significantly more interesting than anything ever put out by Disney, including Pixar. The plots are complex, the characters are definitively not two-dimensional, and the soundtracks are incredible. Spirited Away remains one of my favorite films. Howl’s Moving Castle, Princess Mononoke and Porco Rosso are also incredible films that I would recommend without a moment of hesitation. The imagination behind these films, and the amount of detail in the sets and characters are truly astounding. I would recommend anything by Miyazaki or his studio, Studio Ghibli. The DVD’s, although kind of pricey, would make a great Christmas gift for some family with kids. Yeah, the kids could be the excuse for the gift, but I bet the parents would be hooked as well.

Given my enthusiasm for Miyazaki, I suppose it wasn’t that much of a leap for me to start sampling Japanese anime, as well as some other feature length films. I am fortunate in that my television cable provider has a free On Demand section that is pretty well stocked. There are a couple of places that have anime content. I was just poking around one weekend and stumbled across them. I found a few that I liked, mostly for the off the wall humor. There are many others I have watched an episode or two that don’t interest me at all. Many anime series seem overly pretentious and very superficial. I think it is obvious who the target audience for those is. But then I found Scrapped Princess. Luckily, I caught the first episode before On Demand rotated it out for the next installments. (I am very glad that this On Demand section exists and most of this stuff is free. I certainly wouldn’t have spent a lot of money with this type of experimentation. If I don’t like something, the only thing I have lost is a few minutes of my life.)

I initially got hooked on Scrapped Princess because the quality of the artwork is fantastic. It’s not quite to the same level as Miyazaki, but it is very close. The amount of detail in the background scenery is fantastic, and some are only shown for several seconds before the story moves on. The voice actors for the English version are very good. The depth and range of emotion they exhibit really bring their animated characters to life. I found the second and third episodes were full of some very funny bits, which is always guaranteed to catch my attention. But by the time the story got really rolling, I was really taken by the incredibly interesting and compelling storyline and the depth of the characters. Now, for those who are not fans of anime, you might be saying, “Come on. Depth of characters in a cartoon?” Yeah, really, there is. Trust me on that one.

I am not going to say a lot about the actual anime itself. Here are some things Wiki has to say about it.

Scrapped Princess is notable for high quality animation, its music, which is composed by Masumi Itō, and its themes. It begins as high fantasy and then quickly mixes into varying degrees of post-apocalyptic and science fiction elements through the application of Clarke's third law. The atmosphere has undertones of sadness, though many of the characters and situations are superficially light-hearted.

The story takes place in a fantasy world and revolves around a 15-year-old girl, Pacifica Casull, who is a girl child born in a set of twins into the royal family of the kingdom Leinwan and then abandoned. The 5111th Grendel Prophecy predicts that she is the "poison that will destroy the world" before the sun sets on her sixteenth birthday. As a consequence, she is dropped off a cliff as an infant. Believed to be dead, no one realizes her continued existence until after Pacifica is already 15 years old.

Pacifica is rescued by a court wizard and adopted by the commoner Casull family. Her foster siblings-Shannon, a loner swordsman, and Raquel, a motherly magician-became her protectors. Both siblings are extremely powerful, and more often than not they easily break out of whatever difficult situation they face.

Her siblings travel with her throughout most of the story, protecting her from the numerous attempts on her life by people who fear the outcome of the prophecy, should she survive. Both siblings' skills see constant use. By contrast, Pacifica is a mostly typical fifteen-year-old, and her inability to defend herself is a recurring source of self-doubt for her. As the series progresses, the truth about the prophecy slowly comes to light, and even as the more of the truth is revealed, more questions arise. Pacifica must discover her hidden destiny, even as powerful beings that are not human who are supposedly the gods of this world - continuously fight against each other, over her fate, seeking to either protect or destroy her. It turns out that Pacifica is not in fact "a poison who will destroy the world" in that sense...but in fact mankind's last hope, and all part of a plan. A plan that was set in motion a long, long time ago by not primitive humans but highly intelligent and advanced ones, at that. Can destiny be written beforehand? The answer lies deep in the past, five thousand years ago during the Genesis Wars...

I just found the character of Pacifica very sympathetic. It’s not every 15 year old that could put up with constantly being on the run from people trying to kill them, and being constantly told that they are an abomination and should have been destroyed at birth. That could do some pretty serious damage to a person’s psyche, for real. But throughout all, she remains an exuberant, moody, tempermental teenager. What started out to be a standard mythical kingdom “sword and sorcery” storyline has taken a decidedly interesting turn into the realm of futuristic, post-apocalyptic science fiction, where science, magic, technology and biology are not individual things but are all blended together. I also think some very interesting statements are being made about organized religion and the structure upon which societies are founded. There is a multi-layered plot with multi-dimensional characters.

Another thing I liked about this anime is something I find attractive in some of my favorite films. Unlike American cinema and television, Japanese cinema, and this anime in particular, doesn’t always spend a lot of time filling the audience in with the backstory and getting everyone up to speed before they feel they can go on with the current story. I can always tell the “exposition” part of any plot, and I find it rather annoying. This anime just jumps in with both feet what could have easily been the middle of the storyline. It tells the audience, “Here we go, and it’s your job to keep up with what is going on here.” Truthfully, I had to watch these episodes several times before I really understood all the underlying story lines and themes. I rather like that. It makes you use your imagination and thought processes to figure out what is going on. It involves the audience, rather than making them passive spectators.

I readily admit that, to really become a fan of anime, you really need to overcome a few obstacles. First, as I stated above, you really need to find the right one. All anime are not created equal. Then, there is this thing that Japanese have for their animated female characters to have really big, creepy eyes and overly large breasts. Some of the characters have really irritating voices, as you can tell they are adults speaking with children’s voices. Like I said, irritating. It actually took some time for me to get over those things. And finally, you need to be able to admit to yourself that animation can be interesting on a level at much higher levels than your average Bugs Bunny/Road Runner cartoon. Animation, both of the television series and feature films, can have very interesting, compelling storylines, if they are given a chance.

I would highly recommend Scrapped Princess to anyone already into anime, but also anyone who is interested in trying something new, or just looking for a good Christmas gift for that family with some older kids in it.

Photo from here.

UPDATE: I have finished watching the entire series of twenty-four episodes. I’m still taking it all in and trying to figure out a few things. I don’t want to insert any spoilers here, in case anyone reading this hasn’t seen or completely finished the anime.

The plot certainly had a fair share of twists and turns, many of which I didn’t see coming. It kept jumping around from a Medieval sword and sorcery yarn to a post-apocalyptic science fiction story, and then back again. One interesting thing about Japanese animation in general (at least as far as the ones I have seen) is that the bad guys are never truly evil and the good guys are not always knights in shining armor. The characters are usually multi-layered and are always conflicted as some point in time. That tendency certainly makes for a more interesting story, but it also can throw the viewer a curveball now and then. Characters you might have believed were part of the good guys turn out to do some pretty horrible things. Characters you are certain are evil turn out to have some really interesting reasons behind their actions. Some terrible things happened to some very nice people. The next to last episode really shocked me, actually. I was beginning to feel rather betrayed and upset that I had invested all this time in watching this series and then THAT happened. But everything changed, once again, in the last episode, and I ended up feeling better.

All in all, the story was very compelling but full of some pretty big holes, if you start to think about it. But then, this is an anime, after all. If you can’t use your artistic license in an anime, then you are never going to be able to use it. And Japanese animation certainly doesn’t use the standard Hollywood formulaic recipe for their stories. Even a film like Wall-E, which I enjoyed a great deal, turned out to be pretty predictable in the end. Wall-E wasn’t going to stay a vegetable robot without character forever. He was going to return to his usual loveable robotic self eventually. Wall-E and Eve were going to get together in the end. The humans were going to come back to Earth. The “evil” computer onboard the spaceship was not going to win out. It was a very nice, funny story that actually had a message contained in it. But I thought it was still rather formulaic and predictable. Scrapped Princess was anything but.

There was one very interesting animation technique that I noticed they used that I haven’t ever seen before. The animation is multi-level, of course, which gives the illusion of depth to an otherwise two-dimensional picture. But the director of Scrapped Princess chose to mimic an optical aspect of live action film. Because camera lenses cannot focus on every object in their field of view, the cameraperson has to chose what object he is focusing on during each shot. If he focuses on objects rather close to the camera, then objects in the background are going to be slightly out of focus. Likewise, if he chooses to focus on an object in the distance, objects closer to the camera will be slightly blurred. The animators of Scrapped Princess put that aspect of optics and lenses, which is actually not always that beneficial, into the animation. Additionally, the synthetic “focal length” is changed occasionally, such that the focus of the picture changes from a character speaking in the background to a character speaking in the foreground. I have never seen that in an animation before. It is just one more aspect of Scrapped Princess that makes it very interesting to watch.

Saturday, November 22, 2008

Don’t the Christmas commercials seem particularly forced this year?

Several I have seen really are almost manic in the desire to impart that Christmas (read “shopping”) spirit. All you have to do is look at the retailers themselves and look at all the stores that are closing or corporations going out of business completely to see that things aren’t really that normal this year. Here is a list of some retailers whose Christmas (read “shopping”) season won’t save them.

- Circuit City stores... TBD

- Ann Taylor - 117 stores nationwide are to be shuttered

- Lane Bryant

- Fashion Bug

- Catherine's to close 150 store nationwide

- Eddie Bauer to close stores 27 stores and more after January

- Cache will close all stores

- Talbots closing down all stores

- J. Jill closing all stores

- GAP closing 85 stores

- Footlocker closing 140 stores more to close after January

- Wickes Furniture closing down

- Levitz closing down remaining stores

- Bombay closing remaining stores

- Zales closing down 82 stores and 105 after January

- Whitehall closing all stores

- Piercing Pagoda closing all stores

- Disney closing 98 stores and will close more after January.

- Home Depot closing 15 stores 1 in NJ (New Brunswick)

- Macys to close 9 stores after January

- Linens and Things closing all stores

- Movie Galley Closing all stores

- Pacific Sunware closing stores

- Pep Boys Closing 33 stores

- Sprint/ Nextel closing 133 stores

- JC Penney closing a number of stores after January

- Ethan Allen closing down 12 stores.

- Wilson Leather closing down all stores

- Sharper Image closing down all stores

- K B Toys closing 356 stores

- Lowes to close down some stores

- Dillard's to close some stores.

I guess the "Magic Kingdom" isn't totally insulated from reality... And those are only the retailers. This is hitting all aspects of the economy. Boeing recently announced they may be looking at layoffs next year, even though they have a huge backlog in the commercial airplane orders. DHL is closing down its U.S. operations. Washington Mutual, or what is left of what used to be WaMu, announced massive layoffs here in Washington state.

It’s really difficult to get that Christmas spirit (read “opening up your wallet and spending your hard earned cash) given this environment. If you are one of the unfortunate many that have lost or may lose your job in the near future, I wish you luck and I hope that you land on your feet soon. But I have seen some recent predictions that unemployment in the U.S. may hit 10%. That’s a number not seen since the 1930’s. And even if you aren’t in danger of being unemployed, you might not be too willing to be a huge spender and run up a large bill on your credit cards this year, like so many people used to do in the past, given that your 401K is worth about 50% less than it used to be.

This is looking like a very large downward spiral, with negative feedback that continually reinforces itself. I guess I never really realized how interdependent everything is on a large amount of people going out and buying stuff, much of it they may or may not need. It’s a consumer society indeed. It’s all a very elaborate house of cards that was wobbly to begin with. The fact that a large number of fat cats in the banking and house loan “industry” wanted to soak the consumers and make as large amount of money as they could, and the fact that they had willing marks on the consuming end who wanted stuff (like houses they couldn’t afford and SUV’s they had to refinance their existing house loans to buy) for pulling out those few cards on the corner that started this whole thing on its way to collapse.

Let’s hope that this plays itself out soon and there’s something left to salvage.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

I find myself fascinated by the fracturing going on within the Republican Party.

It’s kind of like staring at a car crash sitting on the side of the road. You know you shouldn’t be gawking. There are some people there who are having a very bad day. But still, there is this morbid fascination with the very fact of a crash, with all the bent fenders, flashing lights on the police cars and maybe even an ambulance or two. You think to yourself, “Wow, how did that happen? That’s terrible! I’m glad it wasn’t me.”

That’s sort of how I feel about the beginnings of what looks to be a crack-up of the modern Republican Party. It’s kind of amazing to watch, especially since the Republican Party under the “leadership” of George Bush and Karl Rove looked to be zooming down the freeway, unimpeded, at 80 mph, passing everyone in sight.

O.K., that’s enough of my car crash and freeway metaphor. After a while, it just becomes too cumbersome to keep up.

There are many Conservatives who are being pretty blunt about this. Chuck Hagel, retiring Senator from Nebraska, really let his own party have it the other day. While he was at it, he took a pretty nice shot at Rush Limbaugh as well. David Frum and Kathleen Parker have been sharply critical as well. The one person I have been following that has been very up front and articulate about the current problems of the Republican Party is David Brooks of the NY Times. This guy drives me nuts. Quite often, he is a very good read. I thought he did a terrific job as election night analyst on PBS. Other times, man, his ideology jumps out and pokes him in the ribs, I guess, and he comes out with some really astounding rationalizations and flat out false statements when he is trying to make a point about how bad Democrats and liberals are. This tendency has been what has earned him the nickname of “Bobo” among the liberal blogosphere.

Here is part of one of his more lucid moments.

It's only been a week since the defeat, but the battle lines have already been drawn in the fight over the future of conservatism.

In one camp, there are the Traditionalists, the people who believe that conservatives have lost elections because they have strayed from the true creed. George W. Bush was a big-government type who betrayed conservatism. John McCain was a Republican moderate, and his defeat discredits the moderate wing.

To regain power, the Traditionalists argue, the GOP should return to its core ideas: Cut government, cut taxes, restrict immigration. Rally behind Sarah Palin.

Rush Limbaugh and Sean Hannity are the most prominent voices in the Traditionalist camp, but there is also the alliance of Old Guard institutions.

For example, a group of Traditionalists met in Virginia last weekend to plot strategy, including Grover Norquist of Americans for Tax Reform, Leonard Leo of the Federalist Society and Tony Perkins of the Family Research Council. According to reports, the attendees were pleased that the election wiped out some of the party's remaining moderates. "There's a sense that the Republicans on Capitol Hill are freer of wobbly-kneed Republicans than they were before the election," the writer R. Emmett Tyrrell told a reporter.

The other camp, the Reformers, argue that the old GOP priorities were fine for the 1970s but need to be modernized for new conditions. The reformers tend to believe that American voters will not support a party whose main idea is slashing government. The Reformers propose new policies to address inequality and middle-class economic anxiety. They tend to take global warming seriously. They tend to be intrigued by the way David Cameron has modernized the British Conservative Party.

Moreover, the Reformers say, conservatives need to pay attention to the way the country has changed. Conservatives must appeal more to Hispanics, independents and younger voters. They cannot continue to insult the sensibilities of the educated class and the entire East and West coasts.


The debate between the camps is heating up. Only one thing is for sure: In the near term, the Traditionalists are going to win the fight for supremacy in the GOP. They are going to win, first, because congressional Republicans are predominantly Traditionalists. Republicans from the coasts and the Upper Midwest are largely gone. Among the remaining members, the popular view is that Republicans have been losing because they haven't been conservative enough.


Finally, Traditionalists own the conservative mythology. Members of the conservative Old Guard see themselves as members of a small, heroic movement marching bravely from the Heartland into the belly of the liberal elite. In this narrative, anybody who deviates toward the center, who departs from established doctrine, is a coward and a sellout.

This narrative happens to be mostly bogus at this point. Most professional conservatives are lifelong Washingtonians who live comfortably as organization heads, lobbyists and publicists. Their supposed heroism consists of living inside the large conservative cocoon and telling each other things they already agree with.
But this embattled-movement mythology provides a rational for crushing dissent, purging deviationists and enforcing doctrinal purity. It has allowed the old leaders to define who is a true conservative and who is not. It has enabled them to maintain control of (an ever more rigid) movement.

In short, the Republican Party will probably veer right in the years ahead, and suffer more defeats. Then, finally, some new Reformist donors and organizers will emerge. They will build new institutions, new structures and new ideas, and the cycle of conservative ascendance will begin again.

I left quite a bit of his original column intact, just because there are so many points in there that I think are quite valid. This really is an ideological battle for control of the Republican Party. But what I find amazing is Brooks’ statement, and I have seen this from many others as well, that the remaining core of what Brooks calls the Traditionalist camp feels they need to become more militant, more conservative, not less. As more and more of the less rigid ideologues of the Republicans are voted out of office or finally give up on their party and becomes independents or even moderate to right Democrats, the more the core of the Republican Party contracts. There is no “big tent” for the Republican Party. There isn’t even a “moderate to smallish-sized tent.” No, the Republican Party of the Traditionalists requires that all card-carrying members, without exception, hold to the edicts laid out. They must believe that abortion is the murder of innocent babies, brown people are scary and either want to blow you up, take your jobs or live off “the dole” here in the U.S., war is always preferable to any other option, that global warming is a myth and that Democrats are evil-incarnate and therefore cannot be correct about anything, ever. If anyone deviates from these stated principles, they are expelled from the Congregation of True Believers.

David Brooks says as much in his column. If this column and many others like it aren’t evidence of the coming crack-up, I don’t know what is. What I find fascinating about this, I guess, is that this is so self-inflicted. For a political party, this is very self-destructive behavior. This is not based on any rational logic, at all. It is tribalism at its worst, driven by raw emotion and hatred of anything new or different. The Traditionalists of the Republican Party seem bound and determine not to learn any lessons, at all, from the elections of 2006 and 2008. If any political party had experienced the worst back-to-back defeats since the 1930’s, I would assume that a little self-introspection would be called for, and sooner rather than later. But all this seems to have done is make the Traditionalists angrier and more determined to be “right.”

I, for one, cannot understand how any rational human being can listen to Sarah Palin, especially in her unrehearsed moments, and come to the conclusion that this person should be in charge of anything, much less this country. She comes across as a total doofus, someone you might see as someone’s ditzy neighbor in a bad 1970’s sitcom. Yet, in the Traditionalists view, she is the new leader, the standard bearer for the Republican Party. Talk about self-destructive behavior. If this last election should have taught them anything, it is that, not only does most of the country think that she is not qualified, they also think she is a joke, something to be parodied on Saturday Night Live. And yet, several weeks before the election, I heard one person, just dripping with so much certitude that it made his socks damp and gathered in puddles around his shoes where he was standing, state that he wished that he could vote for Palin for President, since she was “obviously the most qualified of the four candidates.” I could only shake my head.

I am not a psychologist or sociologist. I have no training that would help me identify such illogical behavior by so many supposedly intelligent people. The willingness to buy into self-delusion on a massive scale, however, does seem to be at the heart of the Traditionalists’ “World As They See It.” My only response is to shrug my shoulders and quote that most famous rational yet fictional character, Mr. Spock. “That is not logical.”

This behavior does reinforce the notion that I have had for quite some time, that self-preservation is not always the highest priority for individuals of our species. Self-destructive behavior can be seen all around in our society, such as that exhibited by alcoholics, drug addicts, compulsive gamblers, cheating husbands and wives, etc. I suppose we can now add the Traditionalists of the Republican Party to that list. They may be quite content with their ideology and hatred of everything “other”, but they are surely driving the current edition of the Republican Party to second-tier status as a purely regional political entity that has some very difficult litmus tests for their member to pass before they can be called one of the “true believers.”

Monday, November 17, 2008

I’ve decided to become a Minimalist Blogger.

Beyond the fact that “Minimalist Blogger” is a bit of an oxymoron, and therefore very humorous in an absurdist sort of way, I find the concept refreshing new and new; something that fits in exactly with the newly invigorated mood of this country. Blogging based on volume alone (either definition of “volume” will do, thank you very much) is very passé. That’s just not good enough anymore. A good blogger must show restraint coupled with just the right amount of subtlety, but still having the presence to make a dynamic statement when one is called for. This is not unlike a good jazz vibes player. A good vibes player selects his or her moments where the contribution to the overall artistic effort will be maximized. Vibes, even when played with gusto, are rather understated instruments. No loud, bellicose trumpet for me. I will strive to be the Lionel Hampton of blogs! Artistry will out!!

That said, boy, don’t those Seattle Seahawks suck canal water? Jeez.

Vibes photo from Wiki.

Saturday, November 15, 2008

The economic crisis keeps gathering steam.

As I have said many times before, I have no training, or even understanding past the basics, of our economic system. But I do read a number of people who do. Paul Krugman of the NY Times just won a Nobel Prize for his work in economics, and he continues to be very concerned that the governments of the world are not adequately addressing this now global crisis. If he is worried, then I am worried.

The United States tried to do something several weeks ago with the $700 billion bailout package that was rushed through Congress. Oh, you certainly can’t fault anyone for not being enthusiastic enough in the response. There were a few words of caution put forward by politicians of both sides concerning this bailout package. Why this particular amount of money? Who was it to go to? What was the money to be used for, exactly? What kind of oversight was going to be provided? But the predictions were so dire that politicians gulped several times, crossed their fingers that they were doing the right thing, and pulled the trigger. The consequences of this action, both the good and the bad, are yet to be determined. All that seems apparent is that, even though $700 billion is a very large amount of money, it isn't going to be nearly enough.

What bothers me about this is not the fact that the government of the United States is rather embracing socialism, without ever saying so. Our society is based on many of institutions of this country, and it appeared to me that several of them were about to get their legs kicked out from under them by the fact that credit was drying up, quickly, on a global basis. Credit, whether we like it or not, is the grease that makes our economy grow. (It’s not really a coincidence that George Bush asked everyone to “go shopping” in response to the events of 9/11 and our subsequent invasion of Iraq.) No, I believe that we needed to do something. And something we did.

What is really under my skin is the continuing reports about how many people out there seem to think that this sudden influx of money, lots of money, is somehow a declaration of an open season for “getting as much as you can”, whether you deserve it or not. Reports of AIG executives having “retreats” at very posh vacation spots keep trickling out. Maybe, just maybe, one of these might be expected out of fat cats who think that “avarice” is synonymous with “good business practices”. But after they got toasted in front of a Congressional hearing, you would have thought that would have been an example to both AIG and the rest of the industry. No, reports, including those about more AIG executive outings, continue to leak out. The bailout money is reportedly being used by corporations to give their executives large bonuses, to pay stockholder dividends and, amazingly enough, to finance the purchase of other companies.

These people are the ones that really upset me. These are the people who are running our economy, and they are treating it like their private playground. They see no larger purpose in anything they do other than to continue to enrich themselves. Even being caught and castigated in public, by Congress, doesn’t really reach their stunted psyche. They have no understanding, no concept, that this is not about them. They fully believe that it is their right to grab as much as possible for their own. I actually think that they do no understand why anyone might be upset with this behavior, that’s how far gone they are.

In my mind, these are the monsters in our society. These are the villains. It isn’t the people who would like to marry other people of the same sex. It’s these assholes in charge of the corporations of America. Oh, yes. They do provide the cogs that run our economy and have given us our high standard of life here. But I believe that the “industrial magnates”, to use a term from the Gilded Age, only see this as a side benefit. Their main purpose is to continue to enrich themselves. We may not have the same high-profile robber-barons of that era, such as J. P. Morgan, Cornelius Vanderbilt, John D. Rockefeller and Andrew Carnegie. But we certainly have the same mindset prevalent in leaders of today’s industry. Their mantra seems to be, “Get as much as you can, and it doesn’t really matter how you do it.”

I really don’t know how some people live with themselves.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

The messages I am receiving from advertising on television.

I haven’t picked on television commercials for a while. That was somewhat of a staple of this blog when I first started. It’s an easy target, and I get so annoyed at the basic message being sent out. So, maybe to try to get back into doing something other than politics, I’ll give it a bit of a go here.

These are things that I have learned about our society from watching television commercials. Based on the regularity with which I am subjected to these nuggets of American Culture, I suppose these points are vitally important. I figured that I better write them all down before I forget them all. Then where would I be?

- When a person is drinking coffee, they must grasp the cup firmly with BOTH hands, tilt their head back with their eyes closed, and take a deep breath and sigh contentedly. I assume that this is a method of clearing clogged sinuses. When a person is drinking coffee with friends (usually three total), not only must everyone hold their cups firmly with both hands, they also must all hold the cups very close to their faces and all three must have their heads very close to each other. A group sinus clearing, I suppose.

- Many of the same things that apply to drinking coffee also apply to eating soup. When eating soup with friends or family, no one is allowed to set their bowl of soup on a table. No, the proper way to eat soup, apparently, is again to hold the bowl very close to one’s mouth (most soup eaters are excessively messy, as everyone knows) and keep their heads very close together. And everyone must smile a lot. That is a by-product of the large amounts of MSG consumed, I believe.

- If you are a male that has, shall we say, “performance issues”, there are several things you must do. The first is that you should be very proud of this and the fact you are relying on some pharmaceutical assist, so much so that you should get together with your over-50 buddies that play in your rock and roll garage band and play and sing songs about your drug-enhanced experience to the tune of old Elvis Presley songs, which may or may not be in the public domain. You should also schedule a vacation with your wife or girlfriend to a vacation resort that will let you move two “his and hers” bathtubs out on the beach, so both of you can sit out on the beach, in bathtubs, while watching the sun go down. Where the water comes from to fill these bathtubs out on the beach is unknown, as there may be no obvious source. It may be that you don’t really need water and you and your wife/significant other can just sit around in dry, empty bathtubs in your undies. And finally, if your “exuberance” lasts for more than four hours, you need to go find a doctor to schedule immediate emergency surgery.

- In order to buy really cool tires for your all-terrain vehicle (which probably doesn’t ever get more “off-road” than the local Food Mart parking lot) or hopped up muscle car, you must be really young, good looking and have rock and roll music blasting at full volume. Buying the right tires is obviously the most important, coolest thing any young person can ever do. It will get you dates with really hot chicks that have a thing for tires equipped with all-weather treads. Or it may be this is just some sort of very obscure metaphor for something else entirely. But, big tires obviously matter!

- Everyone, no matter his or her station in life, must have a broker or financial consultant. If you don’t have one, you desperately need to find one. If you already have one, you must be very dissatisfied with him. If you don’t have one and aren’t looking for one, then you must be a person who handles his or her investments without such such aid on the web, or with minimal help from consultants who are available to assist you 24 hours a day but otherwise let you do whatever you damned well please but won’t ever let you lose money, ever. You must spend a lot of time on this activity, and must never be satisfied, ever. If you don’t have large amounts of money in stocks, mutual funds, foreign currencies or other such investments, there is something seriously wrong with you and you will probably die penniless and alone, without anyone to take care of you.

- The smaller something is that you are eating, the more important it is to grab it with both hands and hide the fact exactly how small it actually might be. You don’t want people to see your really tiny chicken sandwich and start laughing at you.

- Speaking of which, it is always acceptable to demean and ridicule someone based on the fast food they are eating at lunch. Cheeseburgers and fries are very laughable items. Original recipe chicken strips are MUCH more honest, believable and grown-up.

- Drinking too much beer causes hallucinations, such as large horses playing football, talking Dalmatians and beautiful young women who desire to rip the clothes off any male found drinking, in large quantities, the correct brand of beer.

- And finally, only elitist rich a**holes drive Cadillacs, so you better go buy one right now so you can be an elitist rich a**hole too!!

Sunday, November 09, 2008

So, can we now discard this notion in this country that science is something not to be trusted?

I really want to blog about something other than politics. It was always my intention to have this blog be about a whole lot of different things, a place on the web that a few people might stumble upon once in a while and say, “Hey, that was kind of interesting. I wonder what else is on here?” Lately, though, unless something has just fallen in my lap, it has pretty much been exclusively about politics. I don’t suppose I can blame myself. It’s been a pretty brutal, thuggish, surreal and ultimately inspiring and history-making two years. I’m so tightly wound about the whole situation that it will probably take some time for me to unwind and be able to actually concentrate and write something worthwhile. Hopefully, I will get there.

One of the many things that I hope will change for the better in these United States is the view that science is suspect and not to be trusted. It seems as if the United States, as a whole, has come to the viewpoint that ignorance is not something to be ashamed of, but to actually be celebrated. It’s those pointy-headed intellectuals who are causing all the trouble, such as pointing out that the Earth, our Earth, is in trouble and the human race may suffer from our neglect of the only planet we have, or by observing that religious fundamentalists who insist on a 6000 year-old universe are at odds with every scientific conclusion in every realm of science (e.g., geology, cosmology, genetics, archeology, etc.) Somehow, the people who promote logical thinking based on scientific facts and reasoning have become “the enemy.” I find that beyond comprehension, and that must change if (in the short term) we want to remain competitive with the rest of the world and (in the longer term) want to survive as a species.

Knowledge, and the ability to act upon that knowledge, one of the few things that sets us apart from the rest of the animal kingdom. Oh sure, opposable thumbs really helped. Willful ignorance, on the other hand, is likely to sentence us to irrelevance, if not total oblivion. I hope this distrust of science and the conclusions about the universe we inhabit that have been reached by using the scientific method is discarded as a primary motivation in our country.

Thursday, November 06, 2008

Sitting in a hotel room on the evening after a historic election in America.

I’m in Ft. Worth, Texas, for a business meeting. I’m not really sure when I will have the opportunity to actually post this, as I am not equipped for wireless. “Where were you, granddad, when President Obama was elected?” “Ft. Worth, Texas, grandson. I remember it well, never forget it. I had the greasy pork chops.” You might guess that this is not the place I would have chosen to be during such an amazing evening. But, that is where I was. I could have been glued to the television all evening at home as well as here. My only real annoyance is that my hotel (in Texas, remember) did not have MSNBC. I ended up flipping between PBS and CNN. I really wanted to hear what Rachel had to say.

What an amazing thing we just saw. I was just in awe at some of the pictures that were shown and some of the numbers as they coming in. Obama won the District of Columbia something like 97% to 3%, and he carried some traditional “red” states such as Virginia, North Carolina and Indiana. I am not black, so I know, without a doubt, that I don’t have any clue about the emotions that black people in America were feeling last night. I had some tears in my eyes when I saw pictures of black women, young and old, jumping up and down, hugging each other and crying. I had a broad smile that lasted for a long time when I saw pictures of people of all shapes, sizes and colors, celebrating their victory, our victory, or listening in rapt attention to President Elect Obama’s speech. The fact that he is a black man both did and did not matter, at the same time, which is quite an accomplishment on his part.

This is a historic moment in American history, and not too many people are trying to dismiss it as anything less than one of the more important events that have happened in this generation. I lived in Alabama and Mississippi during the 1970’s. There was a restaurant in my little town that still had “White Only” and “Black Only” signs over its outside service windows. White girls going out on a date with black boys at the high school in the town next to mine was a cause for not just concern, but out and out panic and a demand for immediate action. I missed the terrible events of Birmingham and Philadelphia, Mississippi by only a handful of years. So, I feel I have a little understanding about just how historic last night was.

We grew up a bit as a nation yesterday. Oh, I have no delusions about the sorry state of race relations in the country. However, this may go a long way to working those issues out. This is Jackie Robinson playing for the Dodgers raised to the nth power. Many people are saying much about what this means, and I am not going to pretend I am adding anything to that conversation. These are just my private thoughts. But watching the statements of both Colin Powell and Condoleezza Rice, both Republicans, was quite amazing. They knew what this meant, and were not shy about saying it. I swear that Dr. Rice’s voice was quivering. (On a tangential thought, I am sure she will make a fine President of Football Operations for the San Francisco 49’ers. You go, girl!)

Here are some other random thoughts, in no particular order.

For all the joy and feelings of good will that was bouncing around last night, there are still some very unhappy people in this country. The person I rode into work with this morning is one of them. He was saying how upset he was and how stupid the people of this country are. He predicted “dire things” will happen, but never really specified what these might be. My only response was something along the lines of, “Hey, given how strong your feelings are about this, I am not about to change your mind in 30 seconds. But given what George Bush and the Republicans have done to this country in the last eight years, I would have thought that you might be happy with a change.” But some people are so set in their ways, all they can see is “socialist” or “tax and spend liberal”, or even “terrorist sympathizer.” I am very discouraged that there are so many people like that in this country. I feel sorry for them, really, which would no doubt really piss them off further. But really, how closed minded do you have to be to still think those things of the President Elect if you have ever watched a single speech or debate? Where are these outlandish opinions coming from? Well, I know where they come from, but why do people still feel that way after almost two years of campaigning?

Television coverage… Well, like I said, I really would have rather watched MSNBC. PBS was O.K. It certainly was more low key and less high tech than CNN. CNN, just like most of our society, seems to be all about splashy, attention demanding high tech glitzy… diversions. CNN is much too enamored of their cute graphics, touch screens, whizzing in-and-out captions (with very loud sound effects). That 3-D “holographic interview room” was just incredibly lame. Jeez. We want to know the details about the election, not how cute your graphics department boys can get. Wolf Blitzer really is a dope sometimes, and he doesn’t ad-lib very well at all. At one point, he got all excited with the next round of states where the polls had just closed, and he said something like “now here are the latest projections of our projections.” Yep, got a little tripped up there, Wolf. I was actually impressed that PBS had David Brooks of the NY Times on as the conservative analyst, opposite the liberal analyst Mark Shields, and “Bobo” Brooks was actually very good. He doesn’t have a very good reputation among the progressive bloggers, as he is known for putting forth some pretty specious arguments and for being, at times, very intellectually dishonest. But last night, he was great. He was very up-front about what a great night it was for Obama and the Democrats and how many problems that the Republican Party faces. I may have to reassess his columns in the NYT. At least, until he turns into a twat again. Then, I reserve the right to, once again, change my mind.

I thought the concession speech by John McCain was very gracious and sincere. Where has this guy been for the last eight months? I don’t believe that a gracious concession speech is enough to clear his name, after all the things he tried to fling at Obama in this campaign. I hope John McCain does some long, deep soul-searching in the next few months. Perhaps he might start asking himself questions like, how he ended up so far astray from the values that he says he cherishes. Even George Bush said some very nice things about the President Elect and his family. Again, that in no way excuses what he has subjected this country to, but it was nice to hear him say something gracious and not say something really stupid like “nook-you-lar” or “the Democrat Party.”

Here’s another off-the-top-of-my-head thought… If the networks are reporting that the wife of one of the two candidates in a presidential election are reporting was seen in tears a few hours before the first polls have closed, then perhaps it probably is going to be a long night for that particular candidate. Wife… tears… not a happy time. They probably weren’t arguing about whether John keeps forgetting to put the toilet seat down.

Here’s another one for you. I really, really, REALLY hope that Sarah Palin becomes the most visible face of the Republican Party. If she does, I think the party will fracture into two pieces. I don’t think the big business, small government types in the party are going to let the lunatics run the asylum. Oh, they’re fine to rile up when they need the “value voters” to come out in force on Election Day. But they really don’t want them to actually set the agenda for the party. If that happens, I think the Republican Party is doomed, as it currently exists. Now, I am of the opinion that this country needs two strong political parties, if for no other reason than to keep each other in check. A country with only a single strong party is just asking to become the next Soviet Union. But this concept really only works well if both parties really sort of play by some sort of established rules and don’t really try, like the Karl Rove-led Bushies did, to smash the Democrats and cast them into the political backwaters of this country for years to come. That ain’t kosher. But, it won’t bother me in the least if the current brand of Republicanism is totally discredited. Let them spend a generation in the hinterlands, a regional party made up of the old Confederacy and a few other sparsely populated Rocky Mountain states. They can be the Party That Says Not Only No, But Hell No!! Let’s see how that suits them for a while. Maybe they will eventgually get their act together and start acting in the best interests of this country, rather than to enrich themselves and to gain total political domination in perpetuity. Go, Sarah, go! See how much of an embarrassment you can actually be at the TOP of the ticket, instead of as number two!

Lastly, I am sooooo glad this election is finally over. I was so burned out, and yet, so scared at the same time. I just could not imagine what this country would be if McCain and Palin were in charge for four years. I am so relieved that it is over and the outcome has been all that I could have wished. Oh, there were several races that I sure wish had turned out differently (e.g., Michelle Bachman and James Inhofe), but for the most part, this was pretty good.

I am just wondering how Medgar Evers and Dr. King would have felt today. Pretty damn good, I would think.

I am very proud of this country today. I can actually believe that maybe, just maybe, brighter days really are ahead of us.

Sunday, October 26, 2008

I'm out of town for a couple of weeks...

I'm not too fond of business trips, and especially not fond of two of them back to back. So, there won't be much in the way of new posting activity here until... after election day! At which point, I may have quite a bit to say. I'm going to be in Texas on election night, so it is going to be a somewhat interesting experience, to say the least.

Sarah Palin has apparently gone completely off the deep end!

Yeah, I know that, in politics, hyperbole on the campaign trail is to be expected, and you really need to paint your opponent in the most unflattering light possible. But, you know, it seems that if such as strategy is to be effective, it needs to be at least somewhat plausible. This... This is just ridiculous.

From HuffPo:

"See, under a big government, more tax agenda, what you thought was yours would really start belonging to somebody else, to everybody else. If you thought your income, your property, your inventory, your investments were, were yours, they would really collectively belong to everybody. Obama, Barack Obama has an ideological commitment to higher taxes, and I say this based on his record... Higher taxes, more government, misusing the power to tax leads to government moving into the role of some believing that government then has to take care of us. And government kind of moving into the role as the other half of our family, making decisions for us. Now, they do this in other countries where the people are not free. Let us fight for what is right. John McCain and I, we will put our trust in you."

She has made that “next step” in the progression of accusations; from wanting to “redistribute YOUR wealth” to “socialist”, directly now to “communist”. “Barack Obama is going to gather up YOUR income, YOUR property, YOUR television set, YOUR pickup truck with the gun rack in the rear window, and give it all to someone else! You will be left with nothing!” That seems to be what Sarah Palin is saying in the above quote.

Communist? Communist!?!? The strategy that the Republicans seem to have settled on these days involve using plays from the 1930 playbook about race and the 1950 playbook about the Great Red Scare. They may be really stoking the fires that burn within the hardcore 35% that will always go with whatever wingnuttery they hear, so long as it accuses a Democrat of something they don’t like. But winning over any undecideds that remain? I am pretty dubious. To me, this makes Palin look like one of the screaming Blue Meanies.

I really did enjoy this story from the Daily Telegraph in the U.K. It appears that some Republican strategists are much more willing to talk to an English daily than an American one, in some pretty upfront terms. I’m not resting easily until this is over, but boy, if all the Republican insiders can do is worry about the Democrats not having the 60-40 super-majority in the Senate, this is all looking really good.

It can’t happen to a more deserving bunch of people.

Saturday, October 25, 2008

Thoughts on McCain/Palin “supporters”, racism and the worst run presidential campaign ever.

The last few months have been excruciating. Even though I am a terrible cynic, I still seem to be enough of an idealist that I end up being crushed when Republicans and conservatives throw away all pretense of playing fair and ethical. As a person who really believes in rational behavior and fact based logic, I am just astounded when I see "adults" act like spoiled twelve year olds who will throw tantrums when they don’t get want they want or think they can get away with outlandish lies and they won't get caught.

I was going to say something about the strange, sad case of Ashley Todd, the McCain campaign worker who came up with a pretty outlandish story of being assaulted by a “six foot four black man” who robbed her at knife point, carved a “B” (a backwards one, interestingly enough, like something one would do when looking in a mirror and not really think about what it is going to look like to someone else) into her cheek and told her that she would be an Obama supporter, all because this guy supposedly saw a McCain bumper sticker on her car. As everyone now knows, this story was a complete fabrication on her part.

Now, what bothers me about this is not that one psychologically troubled person can make up an absurd story for whatever reason. She probably honestly thought she would be helping the McCain campaign, plus she would be getting some media attention out of it as well. What she really needs, at this point, is some professonal help. And I don’t believe for a minute that McCain campaign, at the beginning, had anything to do with staging this. However, what I am extremely bothered by is how the right wing nut jobs (I’m talking about YOU, Drudge), including some local officials in the McCain campaign, latched on to this and pushed it in order to…. And that’s the rub. What exactly were they trying to accomplish? Scare the electorate about black men in general? The idea is that a big scary black guy is just waiting around every corner to jump out and accost young white women?

If that’s the idea behind all this, then these morons have just shown themselves for the racists they truly are. They have apparently dropped trying to relive the 1960’s. They have traveled further back in time to the 1930’s and 40’s, where all one had to do was accuse a black man of anything, and everyone, including law enforcement, automatically assumed the guy was guilty. No real evidence was needed. More often than not, the accused was grabbed out of his home, hogtied and then lynched. That seems to be the images these racist a**holes were trying to conjure up by pushing this story.

Fox News seemed very interested in pushing this. From a story at HuffPo:

Earlier today, John Moody, executive vice president at Fox News, commented on his blog there that "this incident could become a watershed event in the 11 days before the election. If Ms. Todd's allegations are proven accurate, some voters may revisit their support for Senator Obama, not because they are racists (with due respect to Rep. John Murtha), but because they suddenly feel they do not know enough about the Democratic nominee.

"If the incident turns out to be a hoax, Senator McCain's quest for the presidency is over, forever linked to race-baiting."

This is just extremely bizarre logic, if one could even refer to it as logic. Even if this were true, why would a single attack on a McCain worker, regardless of how horrendous it was, make Obama supporters suddenly “feel they do not know enough about the Democratic nominee?” What has that got to do with anything? I certainly never saw Fox News say anything of the sort about the reported violence against reporters and Obama supporters at Sarah Palin rallies. To Fox News, those alleged incidents (even though a number are on video) are something beneath notice. But one attack on a McCain (white female) worker by a (scary black) Obama supporter is somehow supposed to alter the thinking patterns of a nation? And this guy is an executive vice-president of the network!?! And now that this ridiculous story has been shown to be a complete fabrication, with Todd facing some punishment over giving false statements to law enforcement officials, where is Drudge? Where is Fox News? Where are the McCain campaign officials who pushed this story to the media? Are we going to hear any apologies, heartfelt or otherwise? No, probably not. That’s not the wingnuts’ style. Just go on to the next big “story” and pretend that the last one never existed… That’s how Republicans and conservatives operate these days.

Truly, I do not understand how these people can live with themselves. Yes, I desperately want the Democrats, MY team, to win this election. I cannot stand what the power mad crooks and thugs have done to this country in the last eight years. But I would never think about stooping to the depths that these people do, on an every day basis, to try to achieve those goals.

“Repugnant” doesn’t even come close.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Cassini comes within fifteen miles of Saturn’s moon, Enceladus.

The picture and following text are from the Oct. 20th issue of Aviation Week and Space Technology. Sorry, no link, as it is a subscriber-only web site.

NASA/ESA Cassini spacecraft imaged Saturn’s moon Enceladus from only 26,000 mi. as Cassini climbed away after passing within only 15 mi. of Enceladus’s surface Oct. 9. The daring dive was made to sample the geysers of water and other contents that explode from fissures in the surface such as the giant canyon that cuts across half of the 330-mi.-dia. Enceladus. The resolution of this raw unprocessed image is 1,650 ft. per pixel. A second dive is planned Oct. 31. Enceladus is one of several areas around Jupiter, Saturn and Mars where the search for water is intensifying in relation to the search for alien life (see p. 56). NASA/JPL/SSI image.

The Enceladus flyby down to 15 mi. is enabling the Cassini fields and particles teams to start indentifying specific constituents, like more complex carbons, that had not been seen in the plumes before an August approach down to 31 mi., says Cassini project scientist Bob Pappalardo. During the earlier flyby, the dust analyzer instrument could tell that the plumes form a fist-shaped structure at higher altitude above Enceladus. But this time, flying much lower, the instruments could detect “individual finger-shaped plumes” making up the jets as Cassini zoomed through at 40,000 mph., Pappalardo told Aviation Week & Space Technology.


Cassini scientists are elated, Pappalardo says, because this new information could help build evidence that Enceladus may harbor a subsurface ocean, warm enough to host a stew of living organisms a billion miles from Earth.

These are just absolutely astounding photos. I just can’t find any appropriate words about how amazing I find our ability to explore our solar system. Just think, for a moment, about how many brilliant minds have contemplated might what actually be out there and what it might look like. And now, we are finding out!