Friday, February 23, 2007

Duh: "White House Opposes War Authority Limits"

The Houston Chronicle provides today's no-brainer headline. King George doesn't want to let go of his ultimate authority as "the decider." (Do follow that decider link - it's absolutely priceless!) It was interesting to hear "Fair & Balanced®" Fox News radio's report on it: they led in with Tony Fratto saying, "I think what's clear is that there's a lot of shifting sands in the Democrats' positions right now. It's hard to say exactly what their position is." It didn't get much better from that. Their internet article on the same topic offers some balance in the second half, but the first half is Republican propaganda. Yech. And the tile on the front page? "Dems Want a Do-Over on Bush War Authority." It was particularly interesting looking over the news there because it had a clear us (Fox & Republicans) vs. them (Looney Democrats) theme. And people actually watch this junk? Would you believe Nevada Democrats agreed to let Fox News host a debate amongst their primary candidates? Sign the petition against that.

Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Black & Decker: Power Tools for Our State

Jim Black has been all over the newspapers of North Carolina for the last several months. He was the Speaker of the North Carolina House and recently plead guilty to a charge of public corruption for accepting bribes to advance legislation through the House.

Enter Michael Decker, a conservative Republican representative of the people of North Carolina. He met with Jim Black and struck a deal in 2003 whereby Decker would change parties to Democrat and vote for Black as speaker - for $50,000.[1]

Whose $50k? BellSouth, optometrists, video poker companies, lottery advocates, and Womble Carlyle Sandridge and Rice, among others, presented as checks to Black with the name and date omitted.

Hooray for the SBI finding some of the corruption. What else is left?

Tuesday, February 20, 2007

Church and State

Portugal voted to legalize abortion but less than half the populous bothered to show up at the polls, so the vote doesn't really count. Abortion is one of the most difficult subjects so far as the discussion of the boundary between church and state is concerned because we confront the question of exactly when a person (or person-to-be) is entitled to the protections of the state. I offer that God entrusted the care of the pre-birth child entirely to the mother and as such, the state should not attempt to wrest control from her because to do so could interfere in her relationship with God. Each contemplated abortion is an opportunity for a woman to come closer to God, to learn ways to discern His will, and to wrestle with a challenging question given the particular circumstances. If a law curtails abortion, it also curtails that conversation with God, interposes itself between the mother and God, and robs her of an opportunity to experience God's grace without interference.

The same problem crops up any time we attempt to legislate morality - the law gets between the would-be criminal and God. Do we require moral legislation to have a righteous country? Then is the country righteous if it is filled with law-abiding citizens? Does obeying that law of morality make one more righteous? No, one should obey because of a reverence to God and because of an understanding of morality. Different people have different understandings of morality, and so long as there is no harm to another person (which points out the crux of the abortion problem), the law should not interfere.

Consider Jerusalem public transit. Haredi Jews have taken it upon themselves to enforce a dress code and seating assignments on certain bus routes. This is so that the men can concentrate on their work rather than being distracted by the hot chicks on the bus. Being a man, I understand the distraction point and I have occasionally thought that the Taliban, amidst all their faults, had one thing going right in the dress code, but what business is it of mine (or the Taliban's) to insist on certain modes of dress? No, we cannot insist on other people behaving in a way that we deem right and proper, regardless of the circumstance, and Jerusalem women are right to protest the discriminatory treatment they are receiving at the hands of religious zealots.
Speaking of zealots, Pat Robertson comes to mind. He's the worst thing for Christianity's public image since the Crusades. He gets on the television and spouts his exclusionary hate-speak, such as, "You say you're supposed to be nice to the Episcopalians and the Presbyterians and the Methodists and this, that, and the other thing. Nonsense. I don't have to be nice to the spirit of the Antichrist." And then there are the lunatic statements where he claims that hurricanes are the wrath of God inflicted upon sinners.

But don't take my word for it - not any of it. Go read the Bible or another Holy Book and don't just pull out the quote, but study the message. Understand it in the context in which it was written, and come to your own Truth. Truth cannot be found from a televangelist. Truth is between you and God.


A friend of mine explained the way of things to me in 1998 - that reality is not what's important, but rather people's perception of reality.

Kudos to Grist for bringing the Truthiness of the AmeriCone Dream ice cream flavor to my attention. And kudos to HornDozer for the following piece on truthiness and history since the 1970s. It is my pleasure to introduce him by way of this piece. He's a retired history teacher, and one who stays up on current events. I enjoy discussions with him from time to time about our current events. His piece follows.

Of course it is our need for drugs that pays for all the drug lord operations. And our need of cheap dependable labor that causes the flood of illegals. If we really want to stop both drug related violence and the flow northward of illegal aliens, then we stop buying Mexican drugs and hiring Mexican illegals.

Although I despise the lawlessness of the whole border scene, and the Mexican government and the drug cartel, I equally despise the illegal hirers and drug users. (And I might add the lawlessness of Enron, Tom Delay and all the other corrupt bigwigs in today's America including the Bush Administration. and its Neocon thugs/idiots.)

But as to Mexico and our border: before I would move to a position of alarm concerning the dangerous and dastardly things going on currently, I would have to see stats to help me understand that it is worse than the last decade--or even century. Is it worse than the Mexican Revolution? Or the murder 10 years ago of Luis Donaldo Colosio, the leading presidential candidate in Tijuana. Or the drug wars that killed no one knows how many in Juarez 15 years ago? Etc etc.

What I am thankful for is that they want to kill each other--and not me nor other turistas. That way I can still travel/live down there in relative safety. Granted I am more secure in my hometown than in Nuevo Laredo. But I have no desire to go to NL. And I refuse to live my life in fear of being killed by situations in which I am so statistically secure. (I don't have the figures, but I would wager that the number of gringos killed in Mexico by drug lords or their violence is minimal.) Find me statistics. I don't want to deal with "truthiness."

Read this whole article on truthiness. It is my new favorite word. It so definitively describes the way Republicans have operated in this country since before the Reagan Administration and the Republican Party conspiracy with the retard, reactionary, fundamentalist Christian right. The Republican Party at that time set up "think tanks" to arrive at truthinesses that "prove" that what the Retard Right fears, and feels in their gut is the absolute truth, and that they (the Republicans) are the ones to set up programs to allay the fears and strive for the things that the RRs believe "in their gut" to be true.

Unfortunately, a whole lot of what they feel or fear in their gut is not the truth. Just truthiness.

And this is what we have spent our tax dollars on since the Reagan Administration. That and on making the Republicans richest patrons more wealthy.

That is my History 101 since the late 1970s--with the exception of the Clinton Administration when we paid off the debt, improved governmental service to citizens and avoided overwhelming wars.

Of course my History 101 was predicted to a great extent by George Orwell in 1984.

Thursday, February 15, 2007

What is terrorism?

The United States Department of Defense defines terrorism as "calculated use of unlawful violence to inculcate fear; intended to coerce or intimidate governments or societies in pursuit of goals that are generally political, religious, or ideological." Isn't that exactly what Bush did in invading Iraq under false pretenses?

Friday, February 9, 2007

Spin it up!

Get those facts dry! There have been a couple of examples of spin running wild in the news lately. Let's begin in Spain the environment minister proposed finishing off the bull after a bullfight in a slaughterhouse rather than by sword in the middle of the arena. [1] The reaction was more along the lines of, "She wants to ban bullfighting outright!" "This will destroy our national culture!" "We should not be importing other culture's values and adulterating our own!" [2] Um... right.

And then we're off to Spin City, Washington, DC for the next story. Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi is third in line to be President. As such, she is entitled to some special protection. The custom now is for the Speaker to take a military plane. Pelosi, having her district in San Francisco, asked if it would be possible to use a plane that could make the trip without stopping to re-fuel. [3] Republicans quickly spun that up into family junkets. [4, 5, 6, 7] Um... right.

Tuesday, February 6, 2007

Duke Lacrosse Justice

"Group raises $750K to help pay $3M cost of Duke lacrosse defense," says the Durham Herald-Sun headline. Perhaps Mike Nifong should pay the rest of it himself.

NASA: Hotbed of Sin

Back in the Mercury/Gemini/Apollo days, NASA only had a few men to keep tabs on. They worked hard to put on the appropriate public image as family men (or the occasional bachelor enjoying his free time). NASA has carefully cultivated the image of the magical space traveler, and with so many applicants from which to choose, one would think they would get the best of the best. Now the astronaut corps includes 97 of both genders. Humans being humans, we get the occasional glimpse behind the veneer. It takes people who are driven to become astronauts, and when you're driven, sometimes you get driven the wrong direction - like for that hot co-worker.

Murder, she wrote, says the prosecutor. Why didn't she just push the other astronaut out the airlock?

The Smoking Gun, of course, has the actual charges.

Monday, February 5, 2007

Free speech salvo

On Friday, Arizona police arrested a 64-year-old man — a fugitive since 2001 in a bizarre war that mixes free speech, copyright law, and the Church of Scientology.

So this guy gets on a conversation group on the internet and acts like he wants to procure a "Tom Cruise Missile" in a verbal slight against the Church of Scientology. He's charged with interfering with a church. Excuse me? Maybe picketing the street in front of a church would be interfering, but online banter?

Funny - he did picket, and follow members. But still, where do you draw the line? "Odd behavior," as folks in that article keep harping on, must be tolerated until it infringes on the rights of others, otherwise we're legislating conformity.

Saturday, February 3, 2007

Save the planet - ride a bus

In the words of yesterday's N&O headline, "Panel Blames Warming on Man." Well arrest him, already! Seriously - we have known for years that there was some dramatic climate change underway, and the primary controversy has been due to corporate-funded disinformation campaigns. ($16 million in financing for the campaigns and Exxon Mobil is frequently mentioned among the perpetrators.) But what kind of change is it?

2006 was one of the hottest years on record, state by state[1]. Man is responsible for the change[2]. If you shut down the Gulf Stream by melting the Greenland ice sheets, the whole North Atlantic area (England and Europe come to mind) suddenly drops 9 degrees C[3]. Melt all that ice and where does it go? Into the ocean, of course, raising the sea level and changing the coastline dramatically[4]. Is it any wonder I don't live on today's coast?

We need to undertake a coordinated effort to address our greenhouse gas emissions. The Kyoto Protocol is one such effort, to which most countries agreed, with Australia and the United States the most notable shirks and among the worst polluters, too. The United States is 17th in the world in per-capita oil consumption [5] and first in oil consumption as a country [6]. We need to figure out how to conserve. Hint: not by using hydrogen fuel cells. They are hopelessly inefficient, especially when charged by electricity from a coal or oil generating plant.[7] We need to genuinely conserve, and one of the best ways we can do that is by public transit.

I had an interesting conversation with a staunch Republican friend of mine not too long ago about the price of gas. My premise, for the sake of the discussion, was that gasoline should be taxed to a cost of $5/gallon (brought there gradually), and the revenue generated should be put into establishing usable public transit systems. Her argument was that it was a regressive tax unfairly targeting the poor. (That and taxes and government are bad in the first place.) What if the public transit were genuinely efficient? Then the automobile would become a rich man's convenience and the train, bus, and other transit would be for the common folk. A subway ride in Mexico City costs 15 cents. Why not have bargains like that here?

When I lived and worked on a bus route, I took the bus to work. With my present job location, it would turn a 15 minute commute into a 1-hour ordeal to take the bus, so I drive or ride my bicycle. Biking and public transit is my personal answer to the climate change problem, that and NC Green Power to offset CO2 emissions from my electricity usage. What do you do?

Most bus systems have their schedules online for easy reference. Some, like TTA, even have door-to-door routing. You tell it when and where you want to go, and it tells you which buses, which changes, and even how long you'll spend walking. TTA's routing system even includes routing with the various city transit systems in the area. Very convenient.

Friday, February 2, 2007

Count the votes

Finally someone with authority has gotten the message that unless you can actually re-count the vote, there's no sense in having fancy voting machines. In the two counties where I've lived, I've been fortunate to have mark-sense ballots - mark a sheet of paper to fill in the box or connect the arrow. Alas, not everyone is so fortunate, and were I to have to vote on an ATM, I would be complaining to the elections board at every opportunity. Rebecca Mercuri was one of the first electronic voting experts on the news after the 2000 election heist, and she has steadfastly recommended the Mercuri method of voting: regardless of the means by which the voter expresses intent, have them verify it on a piece of paper that goes into the ballot box for re-counting should that become necessary. is a repository of related information.

Fun & Games

My neighbor, at my request, offers instructions on how to configure the ThinkPad to use the built-in 2D accelerometer for gaming, like tilting the table in NeverBall, at left, instead of the simple boring hard drive protection system. Amit Singh gives the instructions for a MacBook Pro. Props to abaxter for putting it all together.

Drug dealers

I count among my friends people who pay the mortgage courtesy of the pharmaceutical industry. That said, I still have to wonder where this world is headed.

Wired News offers a Requiem for the Silver Bullet, explaining that private pharmas won't make new antibiotics because there's no money in it, and this leads to thousands of needless deaths annually. Too bad people don't have to take antibiotics for the rest of their lives.

Consumer Reports suggests that you can save money with generic drugs (duh), even as pharmas push new medicines that do essentially the same thing as the older drugs. What would you do with $4 billion? They market directly to the patient. It's true that one medicine may work better than another of the same class based on a particular patient's quirks, but when I go to the doctor and tell him the generic drug works great and he offers me scrips for brand-name alternatives and lectures me on the benefits of brand-name drugs, I switch doctors. I want a doctor who puts my health above that of the drug companies.

Indian culture on the IMAX screen

Independent Weekly has a review of Mystic India, a new IMAX film showing at Exploris in Raleigh. They say the narration is corny, the typical IMAX swooping is missing, but there are some fantastic views of architecture. "Unity in diversity" sounds like what I've encountered so far working with folks on that side of the globe.