Thursday, December 31, 2009

Stuff Happened

It's the end of a year and the end of a decade. I don't have the ambition or inclination to synopsize the decade... or the year for that matter. So this will be a stream-of-consciousness kind of exercise.

In 2009, some famous people died: Michael Jackson, Walter Cronkite, Ted Kennedy, Andrew Wyeth. Some people didn't die: Dick Cheney. Rush Limbaugh is in the hospital, by the way. I'm post-dating this blog entry, so if he dies or something between now and the post date, oh well.

Speaking of Limbaugh, some people misinformed us this year. It seemed like a big year for misinformation. Sarah Palin, Glenn Beck, Michelle Bachmann, Orly Taitz, Dana Perino, and teabaggers in general.

It was an equally big year for anger. Though the teabaggers were 99% incomprehensible, the growing rage towards Wall Street was justified... Remember when the chairman and CEO of Goldman Sachs said he was "doing God's work"? "Arrogant" and "offensive" doesn't even begin to describe it.

Oh yeah, and the really big story: we had a regime change. I guess that's what really made those Republicans go apeshit with their teabags. Our new black president doesn't yet have a health-care bill to sign, but he won the Nobel Peace Prize without ending any of our wars. Instead, we'll probably be digging in deeper now in "Againistan." I still like him better than Bush.

In 2009, we still had time for plenty of bogus stories. Death panels, balloon boy, Carrie Prejean defending "opposite marriage," and ACORN destroying the fabric of democracy. These stories were impossible to ignore. Well, at least I found them impossible to ignore. I blogged about all of them.

And yet my blog was 20% lighter than it was in 2008. On the bright side though, I wrote 200 more posts than I did in 2007...

Another interesting statistic: I only dropped the f-bomb twice. No wonder I don't have any street cred.

Anyway, I'd like to think my blog was lighter because it wasn't an election year. But more than likely it's because I joined Facebook. Whose idea was that? Geesh. But I think I made a few new friends, so that's always good. I also learned how to defriend, which apparently a lot of us are learning how to do.

I didn't catch the swine flu, I didn't have sex with Tiger Woods, and I didn't break any bones this year... yet. I have a few hours left though. Maybe I should just sit still?

2009, I tried to make you sound at least a little bit funny. Really I did. 2010, please be good to us!

Monday, December 28, 2009

The Underpants Bomber

I debated whether the Christmas Day Underpants Bomber was worthy of a blog post. I wasn't at all surprised. We're still threatened by terrorists? No shit. I wasn't intrigued. Somebody tried to bring down an airliner? You're kidding me? And I wasn't frightened. Dangers exist in the world? Even on Christmas?

The modus operandi of this near disaster was funny though... like something from every wannabe comedian's act. Will TSA ask us to take off our underpants now? Well, not if airports get these naked scanners:

The real story here is our reaction. That's all we do when it comes to security -- react. It starts with the 24-hour news channel coverage loop which is clearly designed to scare the shit out of us. Then, TSA implements new flight restrictions like asking passengers to stay in their seats for the last hour of the flight. So now any potential terrorist has to launch his plot 65 minutes before landing. Golly, that ought to stop them.

The fact is that every "security hole" we plug has existed since the beginning of commercial flights. That's right. We've always been at the mercy of liquid bombers, shoe-bombers, and underpants-bombers. When somebody actually attempts it, we react. And then somebody will attempt something else, and the fear feeds the endless loop, and maybe one day the airports will give us all paper hospital gowns, anesthetize us, and still.. somebody will find a way to cause harm.

At least one security expert has it right. Bruce Schneier has been saying this for years:
Only two things have made flying safer [since 9/11]: the reinforcement of cockpit doors, and the fact that passengers know now to resist hijackers.
Everything else is a useless, knee-jerk reaction. As a nation, we still act ridiculously naive on these issues.

Anyway, I'm going back to playing with my Christmas toys. Stay safe.

Thursday, December 24, 2009

The Most Wonderful Time of the Year

I am bursting with Christmas spirit! No joke. And what makes me feel so jolly? Maybe seeing that attention-seeking whore Richard Heene (balloon boy's dad) being sentenced to 90 days in jail and ordered to repay the $42,000 in rescue costs. That's a steep price for 15 minutes of fame, and the asshole deserved it.

But besides crass vengeance, another source of holiday cheer is more traditional. Here's my nephew at his very first elementary school Christmas performance (short kid, back row center):

They even sang Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer!

Hey, if you want to learn something about how your kids think, ask them if they believe in Santa Claus, and then ask them if they believe in the garbage man. Like most of us, they've probably never even seen the garbage man, so why should they believe?

A trip to San Francisco to see Wicked with a good friend also put me in a festive mood. I highly recommend you see that show if you get a chance. We also took a little trip to Union Square for dinner. I live so close to the city, and yet rarely go. I should have taken more pictures. Here's one of the ceiling at the Orpheum Theater before they yelled at me about no photography allowed. I'm such a rebel.

Baking is also a big part of Christmas.

Ok, I confess. We just put those pre-baked gingerbread men on a cookie sheet for the photo-op. The decorating, though, was truly our own. And have you ever seen such a pathetic bunch of gingerbread men, women, green skeletons, and three-eyed monsters? I didn't think so.

Merry Christmas!

Friday, December 18, 2009

Medical Mobster Protection Money

Keith Olbermann said it all last night. This health care bill is a perversion of what government is supposed to be:

Visit for breaking news, world news, and news about the economy

Yesterday I learned my health insurance fees would increase by $95 per month starting in January. The increase is because I turned that magic age of 40. The ridiculous rates I pay are because I'm "major risk" with a pre-existing condition -- "pre-existing conditions; you know, like being alive." I'm on no medications at all, and I haven't been hospitalized in 29 years... but still, the medical mobsters can stick it to me. The government won't, in any meaningful way, step in and protect me.

I think there is now one condition that afflicts us all -- debilitating apathy.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

What Not To Get Me

This is a novel gift idea. Give the virus (and not the vaccine). Thanks to my friend Diane for snapping this picture.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009


Stephen Colbert explains how Prescott Financial and Glenn Beck help you by frightening you:

The Colbert ReportMon - Thurs 11:30pm / 10:30c
Prescott Financial Sells Gold, Women & Sheep
Colbert Report Full EpisodesPolitical HumorU.S. Speedskating

I want to tell Beck and his sponsors that I prayed on it before they preyed on me. God said I should avoid those guys and send my gold to Cats For Gold. I'm pretty sure they're legit -- why else would God recommend them? And I've been wanting a few cats anyway.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Budding Cartoonists

When a Massachusetts second grader was asked to sketch something that reminded him of Christmas, he drew this:

The elementary school, in complete bureaucratic overreaction, decided the stick figure image of a crucified Jesus was violent and required the child to undergo a psychological evaluation.

I know more than a few people who wear something similar in gold around their necks. I guess they should all go see the school psychologist too...

I agree with those who say this has nothing to do with a war on Christmas or an attack on Christianity. It's just another dumb safety policy that does nothing to make people safe.

Monday, December 14, 2009

Virtual Bribes

Sweet sweet bribes. If you play any of the cutesy Facebook games, you've inevitably been tempted to take the shortcut to the top: fill out a little survey from sponsors or sign up for an online service and earn some quick virtual cash. These fake bucks buy virtual items in games like Mafia Wars and Farmville.

I know firsthand that these games are ridiculously addictive, and some players (not me though!) agree to exchange a little time and privacy for an in-game bonus.

But beware. Health insurance industry trade groups are gaming the system. Take one of their surveys and, upon completion, they automatically email your Congressional Representative:
"I am concerned a new government plan could cause me to lose the employer coverage I have today. More government bureaucracy will only create more problems, not solve the ones we have."
How many people heedlessly filled out these surveys not understanding the consequences or the issues at stake? We don't know. However, a director for the Blue Cross-Blue Shield group said the coalition of insurers has generated nearly 2 million e-mails and letters to Congress since early summer.

Another factoid I'd like to know is how many Representatives are using these letters as evidence of actual opposition to healthcare reform.

The number of people playing Farmville is phenomenal: over 26 million daily users and in excess of 69 million monthly users. And to the insurance industry, that must look like an endless supply of suckers.

Sunday, December 13, 2009

There Ain't Any Santa Claus

This may be the one time you see Shirley Temple on my blog:

(YouTube video)

Though Shirley Temple was charming, you have to love Jane Withers as the spoiled brat.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Replacing War with Peace

President Obama accepted the Nobel Peace Prize in Oslo today. There was no way he could ignore the controversy of accepting a peace prize as he escalated a war, and indeed, that topic and the notion of just war were the center of his speech:
But perhaps the most profound issue surrounding my receipt of this prize is the fact that I am the Commander-in-Chief of a nation in the midst of two wars. One of these wars is winding down. The other is a conflict that America did not seek; one in which we are joined by forty three other countries - including Norway - in an effort to defend ourselves and all nations from further attacks.

Still, we are at war, and I am responsible for the deployment of thousands of young Americans to battle in a distant land. Some will kill. Some will be killed. And so I come here with an acute sense of the cost of armed conflict - filled with difficult questions about the relationship between war and peace, and our effort to replace one with the other.
He had more to say on the moral justification of force:
I make this statement mindful of what Martin Luther King said in this same ceremony years ago - "Violence never brings permanent peace. It solves no social problem: it merely creates new and more complicated ones." As someone who stands here as a direct consequence of Dr. King's life's work, I am living testimony to the moral force of non-violence. I know there is nothing weak -nothing passive - nothing naïve - in the creed and lives of Gandhi and King.

But as a head of state sworn to protect and defend my nation, I cannot be guided by their examples alone. I face the world as it is, and cannot stand idle in the face of threats to the American people. For make no mistake: evil does exist in the world. A non-violent movement could not have halted Hitler's armies. Negotiations cannot convince al Qaeda's leaders to lay down their arms. To say that force is sometimes necessary is not a call to cynicism - it is a recognition of history; the imperfections of man and the limits of reason.
Obama also spoke of the relationship between peace and human rights:
This brings me to a second point - the nature of the peace that we seek. For peace is not merely the absence of visible conflict. Only a just peace based upon the inherent rights and dignity of every individual can truly be lasting.

It was this insight that drove drafters of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights after the Second World War. In the wake of devastation, they recognized that if human rights are not protected, peace is a hollow promise.
He gave some thought on the religious nature of the war we are in:
Most dangerously, we see it in the way that religion is used to justify the murder of innocents by those who have distorted and defiled the great religion of Islam, and who attacked my country from Afghanistan. These extremists are not the first to kill in the name of God; the cruelties of the Crusades are amply recorded. But they remind us that no Holy War can ever be a just war. For if you truly believe that you are carrying out divine will, then there is no need for restraint - no need to spare the pregnant mother, or the medic, or even a person of one's own faith. Such a warped view of religion is not just incompatible with the concept of peace, but the purpose of faith - for the one rule that lies at the heart of every major religion is that we do unto others as we would have them do unto us.
You won't find many who disagree with these ideals. I just hope he's right about this whole war thing.

Wednesday, December 09, 2009

Transparency for All

Of course, the Department of Homeland Security insists this is no big deal, but somehow a private government contractor posted a TSA air passenger screening manual online. And unfortunately, the supersecret parts of the PDF were redacted by drawing black boxes over them. Oh! Nobody will ever figure that out! The MSM will try to tell you that "hackers" used their elite skills to remove the black boxes, but in reality all it took was a copy of Acrobat Professional.

So what was revealed? Well DHS Secretary Janet Napolitano says "the security of the travelling public has never been put at risk," but I don't believe it. I'm sure many terrorists would love to know what size electrical wire can go undetected by airport screening machines or how to sneak in through the exit lane.

However, if you're traveling this holiday season, I suppose this new level of transparency can be very helpful! Gawker has kindly assembled 10 tips to get you past airport security based on the TSA manual. Tip number seven was the most disturbing to me:
7. Be Disabled:
The FSD may authorize the following modifications for the screening of Persons With Disabilities:
1) ETD searches are not required for:
a. Wheelchair and scooter cushions
b. Footwear of disabled individuals that cannot be removed
c. Prosthetic devices, casts, or support braces
d. Orthopedic shoes
Well, thanks Internet! It's not like this wheelchair user does a lot of traveling anyway, but now the TSA will be sure to overcompensate and give me an anal probe.

Tuesday, December 08, 2009

Damage is Done

Remember the pimp and whore undercover team who caught some ACORN workers giving some really stupid advice? Well an independent report by former Massachusetts Attorney General Scott Harshbarger concludes that neither the amateur sleuths nor ACORN did anything illegal.

However, Harshbarger found that the videos that sparked the scandal appear to have been substantially edited:
The videos that have been released appear to have been edited, in some cases substantially, including the insertion of a substitute voiceover for significant portions of Mr. O'Keefe's and Ms. Giles's comments, which makes it difficult to determine the questions to which ACORN employees are responding. A comparison of the publicly available transcripts to the released videos confirms that large portions of the original video have been omitted from the released versions.
I fully expect the wingnuts to discredit the report and disparage Harshbarger -- and what an easy target he is having been the prosecutor in a notorious satanic child abuse case in the 1980's. But the wingnuts have nothing to complain about. Congress has defunded ACORN. The Republicans got what they wanted. The damage is done.

Maybe it could have been avoided. Why, when Congress and the media were in a frenzy over these tapes, didn't anybody look closely at them? Everybody swallowed the BS about ACORN. Oddly, the lack of reasoning parallels those 80's satanic abuse cases. Nobody asked the obvious questions until after harsh judgments were made.

Monday, December 07, 2009

Ambushing Christmas

A war to "save" Christmas is the biggest load of garbage I've ever heard. Four or five years ago, whenever this thing started, I thought it was a silly fracas created by some idiots who were angry at Macy's and Sears over the audacity of "happy holidays" signs. But I had no idea the war would last so long. None of us did.

The 2009 battle has a new tactic. Now Fox News, led by Bill O'Reilly, is stalking and hounding a Boston area school principal because... something about the banning of Christmas items from the school fundraiser. I really don't even understand the significance or crisis here...

I have a rant building up inside of me about the phony victimhood of Republicans and Christians, but that will have to wait for another night. Right now I'll just say that my best childhood Christmas memories took place at home. Oh sure, I liked the little songs we sang in elementary school and the punch and cookies on the last day before the winter break. I liked them because it meant we weren't doing actual work! I liked these little things because they were a change of pace from workbooks, multiplication tables, and spelling tests.

Skipping these school celebrations does seem a bit dispiriting, but that whole separation of church and state kind of trumps it all. Plus, we're a much more diverse country now with many more races and religions in the classroom.

So my youngest nephew started kindergarten this year. If he never sings Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer with his classmates, what difference will it make to him? Not a whole lot I assume. For better or worse, he's surrounded by the trappings of Christmas on television, the internet, the shops and malls... and oh yeah, at home.

This "war" matters more to Bill O'Reilly than anybody else... probably because O'Reilly profits from the hysteria he causes. But in a year where we've seen some horrible violence from the right-wing fringe, for God's sake, don't put our schools in the crosshairs! That's exactly what Fox is doing when they make sure their sheep get a clear view of the Boston school's street address. This could end in tragedy.

If O'Reilly sincerely wants to save Christmas, maybe he should drop the ambush reporting and dedicate his entire show to peace and joy? But no, Brave Bill is on a crusade against a school principal: "I have to tell you, madam, that you'll appear on this program one way or the other... because we're not letting it go." Yeah, that's what Christmas is all about.

Wednesday, December 02, 2009


Today I finished reading How Rome Fell: Death of a Superpower by Adrian Goldsworthy, and although the author wisely warns against predicting the death of the United States based on an ancient empire which dominated Europe and the Mediterranean 1700 years ago, one thing I can say is: wars. Lots and lots of wars. Wars from inside and wars from outside. And with the wars came plunder, debt, and political instability.

Last night President Barack Obama spoke at the United States Military Academy in West Point, New York, about the future of the U.S. military engagement in Afghanistan:
Afghanistan is not lost, but for several years it has moved backwards. There is no imminent threat of the government being overthrown, but the Taliban has gained momentum. Al Qaeda has not reemerged in Afghanistan in the same numbers as before 9/11, but they retain their safe havens along the border. And our forces lack the full support they need to effectively train and partner with Afghan security forces and better secure the population. Our new commander in Afghanistan -- Gen. McChrystal -- has reported that the security situation is more serious than he anticipated. In short: the status quo is not sustainable.
And with that he announced that an additional 30,000 U.S. troops would be sent to Afghanistan. I can't feign shock or awe. The political left has always maintained that the war in Iraq was unnecessary and foolish, but the war in Afghanistan was justified. NATO even said so.

But at this point, eight years on, what are we doing there? U.S. and British forces completed major operations in the first few months. We let Osama bin Laden get away, and he probably isn't even in Afghanistan now. In fact, al-Qaida is scarcely there either. According to the president's national security adviser, former Marine Gen. James Jones, "The al-Qaida presence is very diminished. The maximum estimate is less than 100 operating in the country, no bases, no ability to launch attacks on either us or our allies."

Terrorism doesn't live in Afghanistan. Terrorists can plot anywhere. An al-Qaida cell that plotted the 9/11 attacks resided in Hamburg, Germany.

What we're doing in Afghanistan is exacerbating problems in a Muslim country, propping up a lousy and corrupt Afghan president (who wants us out anyway), and ultimately looking to build some kind of pipeline. It always comes down to wanting another country's natural resources, doesn't it?

If we're serious about fighting terrorism and making ourselves safer, we could do much more police work right here. In the last five years, suspected terrorists in the U.S., those on our actual watch lists, successfully purchased guns or explosives 865 times! I think the most crucial line of defense needs to be at home.

So I'm not going to predict the end of an empire, but sometimes I look at what we're doing and question whether Rome ever really died.

Monday, November 30, 2009

Off the Bus

"You're either on the bus, or you're off the bus." — Ken Kesey
Sarah Palin, the quitter who keeps on quitting, isn't even on her own bus. Her so-called "bus tour" has been hitting small towns to promote her book. It also allows her to meet her fans and spread the word that reading is fundamental. I wouldn't be surprised if Going Rogue is the first non-picture-book her fans have read. Ever.

But here's the funny part. The big ugly bus with the Going Rogue cover painted on the side is a total ruse. It's a prop just like George W. Bush's ranch.

Sarah Palin has been traveling in a Gulfstream II which looks something like this:

How jetset! Another word for jetset is "elite" which is exactly how she loved to portray Barack Obama as during last year's campaign.

Do her delusional fans still think she's just like them?

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Rewriting History

"Fear not the path of truth for the lack of people walking on it." — Robert F. Kennedy, 1925 - 1968
From the mouth of Dana Perino, with no objection from Sean Hannity and his pals: "We did not have a terrorist attack on our country during President Bush’s term."

(YouTube video)

That extraordinary lie is insulting to our entire country. We won't forget that the attacks on September 11, 2001 that killed nearly 3000 people, and the subsequent anthrax attacks, and the 2002 Beltway sniper attacks all happened under the careless watch of President George W. Bush.

I only mention the Beltway sniper attacks because if anybody wants to call the Fort Hood shootings an act of terrorism, then we also must call the Beltway attacks an act of terrorism.

And I'll tell Perino what she owes the American people: the truth or shut up.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Save the Elephants

Last night I watched the Late Show with David Letterman for a change of pace (yes, changing the channel qualifies as a change of pace). Anyway, not sure why, but this little story about Bono made me laugh until my eyes watered (2:47 into video):

(YouTube video)

Monday, November 23, 2009

Purity Pledge

When I first heard that the GOP was considering a purity pledge for candidates, I assumed they were reacting to recent sex scandals. But no, the list of ten resolutions is just the same old laundry list we've been hearing for years:
  1. We support smaller government, smaller national debt, lower deficits and lower taxes by opposing bills like Obama’s “stimulus” bill;
  2. We support market-based health care reform and oppose Obama-style government run health care;
  3. We support market-based energy reforms by opposing cap and trade legislation;
  4. We support workers’ right to secret ballot by opposing card check;
  5. We support legal immigration and assimilation into American society by opposing amnesty for illegal immigrants;
  6. We support victory in Iraq and Afghanistan by supporting military-recommended troop surges;
  7. We support containment of Iran and North Korea, particularly effective action to eliminate their nuclear weapons threat;
  8. We support retention of the Defense of Marriage Act;
  9. We support protecting the lives of vulnerable persons by opposing health care rationing and denial of health care and government funding of abortion; and
  10. We support the right to keep and bear arms by opposing government restrictions on gun ownership.
The first item on the list was enough to make me roll my eyes and clutch my suddenly throbbing skull. Republicans keep telling us they're all about the smaller national debt, and yet, in reality, they are notorious for throwing debt on top of debt.

Number two and number nine on the list kind of go together. The government won't be running health care and our current system already rations in a truly American way. Number three on the list? I thought cap and trade was a market-based approach.

But let me skip to number six. We can't define victory in either war, and anyway we've been told the withdrawal from Iraq is already underway. Our only existing cause in that occupation is to support Iraq's mythical democracy. But the real foolishness is that part about the President -- the commander-in-chief -- abdicating his role and obeying military commanders who want more troops. This is a frightening recipe for permanent war, and it's officially part of the Republican plan. It's totally ineffectual for fighting terrorism, and oh yeah... see pledge number one up there? Can't fight a war without money, honey.

Number eight on the pledge list is another non-surprise. Republicans are really determined to reinforce that whole "party of no" image! It's all about what they oppose. There are no new ideas. In fact, the GOP's biggest innovation might be this whole pledge thing.

It's pure politics, and it's insane. Why elect somebody whose loyalty is to a party and not their country or constituents? We hear a lot of controversy over the pledge of allegiance lately, but I believe there should only be one mandatory pledge. Every day, every elected official should put their hand over their heart and pledge allegiance to the people.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Let it Snow

It's a slippery slope. First TSA takes our babies (or not) and then they take our snowglobes. Both contain liquid, but only the snowglobes have been banned from flights.

Confiscating liquids at airport security checkpoints is, of course, the ongoing reaction to the 2006 terrorist plot to bring down airliners with liquid bombs.

But I'm not being totally snarky with my remark about babies containing liquids. We all do, and many of the ingredients for explosive mixtures, such as potassium nitrate, ammonium nitrate and phosphorus, were originally manufactured from putrefied urine, though that process seems a little too complicated to carry out in an airplane lavatory.

So anyway, just consider this blog post a friendly holiday warning to pack your favorite snowglobes in your luggage, and if by chance your wintry tchotchkes mysteriously disappear, look for them on eBay.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Dances With Smurfs

"I'm just a normal kid like you, except I ask questions." — Eric Cartman
I guess everybody can impersonate Glenn Beck now -- even a cartoon character. In last night's South Park episode, Dances With Smurfs, Eric Cartman turned his elementary school's morning announcements into his own punditry show slamming Wendy, the student body president, as a "a socialist dunghole." Sound familiar? Cartman even mastered the old Fox trick of a statement followed by a question separated by a colon.

In the end -- well, you really have to see it -- but it's kind of like if President Obama admitted to being an alien from another planet (like Lou Dobbs). But I digress. Watch the episode at least for the part where Butters runs with his pants down.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009


It's a great achievement of the Internet. The number of idiots doubles every 18 months. In a few short years we will reach the idiolarity, where the level of stupidity exceeds the ability of anyone to contain it. There will be an explosion of stupidity transforming the way we live and work.

Idiolarity is pronounced id-ee-uh-lar-i-tee, but once the idiolarity arrives, everyone will be too stupid to pronounce it anyway.

(Credit to my friend ChaosJester for this rant.)

Fraud News

Does Fox News just not care anymore? Are they not even trying to be real journalists? Why does it take a comedy show to reveal that Fox's Sean Hannity used film footage from a completely different protest to make the GOP's health care rally appear more heavily attended?

The Daily Show With Jon StewartMon - Thurs 11p / 10c
Sean Hannity Uses Glenn Beck's Protest Footage
Daily Show
Full Episodes
Political HumorHealth Care Crisis

The news media is in a downward spiral. Nine months ago I wrote about Sean Delonas' vile racists cartoons printed in the NY Post. At the time there was a disingenuous controversy over whether the illustrations were intentionally racist. Well, stop the presses. Sandra Guzman, a former NY Post editor fired after speaking out against the cartoon, is now speaking out against the racist and misogynistic atmosphere at the Post. In addition to her shocking allegations of sexual harassment, she had this to say about the atmosphere in the newsroom:
In the complaint, Guzman said that multiple editors knew that the cartoon was offensive, but didn't do anything about it. It was, she alleges, par for the course when it came to the paper's coverage. Guzman alleged that she had once learned that the Post had planned to run a cartoon in the newspaper depicting Jews as sewer rats. She also alleged that "Charles Hurt, the Post's Washington D.C. Bureau Chief and a high ranking journalist at the newspaper, had confirmed to Ms. Guzman that the Post had such a policy in place, telling her that the Post's 'goal is to destroy Barack Obama. We don't want him to succeed.'"
This is the fraud and paranoia that Rupert Murdoch builds his empire upon.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Red Flags

I procrastinated digging through the shit pile of misinformation surrounding Major Nidal Malik Hasan, the gunman who killed 13 at Fort Hood last Thursday. But now it's apparent that the man had ties to Muslim extremists, and his military colleagues missed some glaring clues:
Major Nidal Malik Hasan, the gunman who killed 13 at America's Fort Hood military base, once gave a lecture to other doctors in which he said non-believers should be beheaded and have boiling oil poured down their throats.

He also told colleagues at America's top military hospital that non-Muslims were infidels condemned to hell who should be set on fire. The outburst came during an hour-long talk Hasan, an Army psychiatrist, gave on the Koran in front of dozens of other doctors at Walter Reed Army Medical Centre in Washington DC, where he worked for six years before arriving at Fort Hood in July.
His colleagues were also psychiatrists. I'm not sure what that says about the profession if people with the proper knowledge and experience could not see that Hasan was dangerous. Hell, American high school students, ever since Columbine, have been expected to report any threats immediately. You'd think these professionals would know better. Military base shootings have happened before.

But we are slow learners in many ways. As if on cue, the anti-Muslim rhetoric is being revved up by, of course, the religious-right:

(Media Matters video)

So Pat Robertson believes that Islam is "a violent political system bent on the overthrow of the governments of the world and world domination." Funny, but I guess that's also how Muslim extremists see other religions too! And with a prominent figure like Robertson sounding like he's embracing a new crusade against the 1.5 billion Muslims in the world, we're doomed for perpetual conflict.

Our religions aren't helping us. Well, certainly not fundamentalism. I'm not sure what comes first though. Fundamentalism and then violence? Or a warped desire for violence which searches for some kind of justification in religion. Whatever the religion, the mindset is the same.

Rational and politically moderate people will continue to look for answers for a long time. But the conservative media has predictably jumped to blame who else but President Obama. Unless they can find a red flag titled "Hasan Determined to Strike in US," I think they need to stick to reality. And until a proper investigation is completed, maybe our only response can be sorrow.

Sunday, November 08, 2009

Fact Check This One

Saturday Night Live hasn't made me laugh since the last time Tina Fey impersonated Sarah Palin. But last night's SNL intro was funny in the same way -- a perfect imitation of a conservative (or a bunch of conservatives) is itself a good joke:

(Vodpod video)

That pretty much sums up the media's "off year" election coverage. It was so totally absurd it left me speechless for the last five days.

And I'm waiting on the edge of my seat for CNN to deliver a thorough fact check -- not of the election -- but the comedy sketch, of course.

Tuesday, November 03, 2009

It Takes Time

A year ago it felt like a new world was upon us. Barack Obama won that anxiety inducing election, and we all dodged the McCain/Palin bullet.

I'll repeat what I wrote that night: this historic win is not the answer to everything.

Unsurprisingly, in November 2009, we do not live in a utopia, and I never expected we would. The economy is recovering, but it still sucks. We're not out of Afghanistan, but I was grievously aware that Obama thought that war was "the good war."

President Obama did put a stop to the CIA torture program, but has not held anybody accountable for the many crimes committed. He has not closed the Guantanamo Bay prison yet, nor held trials for all prisoners, and that issue disappoints me greatly. I wanted President Obama to take a firm stand and swift action, but the opposition was fierce.

In the last year, the opposition to change has actually been more farcical than fierce. I don't want to recap the whole teabagger thing because you already know about that.

I'm surprised Congress has made any progress at all on a health-care reform bill. President Clinton couldn't get one passed in eight years, and we want to fault Obama for not being snappy enough?

I think we will get a health-care reform bill and I think we will close Guantanamo Bay, but these things take time. Bush had eight years to fuck things up...

Bush. What did the first year of his incompetency get us? A terrorist attack and an unwinnable war. Maybe I'm hitting below the belt here... no I'm not. It's about time that Democrats remind Americans that Obama has kept us safe.

And he has also been more presidential than Bush. And I believe Obama alone has improved our standing in the eyes of the world.

I never had great expectations, but I had and still have moderate expectations. I still believe Obama mostly has the right ideals for this country. I'm just waiting to see a little more action...

And if you still don't like him, 2012 is right around the corner, and the Republicans, no doubt, will have another moron bullet ready for us.

Monday, November 02, 2009

I'll Have the H1N1 Omelet

I'm starting to feel a little guilty about my light-hearted swine flu posts earlier this year. I'm afraid that karma is going to bite me in the ass and it's really going to hurt this time.

In case you missed it last Sunday, 60 Minutes did an informative piece on the manufacture, distribution and safety of the H1N1 flu vaccine:

Watch CBS News Videos Online

The H1N1 vaccine -- just like the seasonal flu vaccine -- is produced by growing the virus inside eggs which come from secret farms. These farms are considered so important to national security that among the first to get the vaccine are the egg farmers themselves. I assume they don't object to the privilege.

Which reminds me, I'd like to thank 60 Minutes for not interviewing a single moronic celebrity for their report. Secretary of Health Kathleen Sebelius put it bluntly, "I tend to like to get my health advice from doctors and scientists. And that's what we would urge people to do."

Yes, I agree with her, but a lot of people don't. Fear and skepticism about the vaccine is being fueled by the likes of Glenn Beck, Jenny McCarthy and Bill Maher. It was almost funny watching Bill Maher attempting to backpedal and debunk himself on the Realtime season finale two weeks ago. I wonder if his feelings were hurt by that open letter from the editor of Skeptic magazine.

Indeed it's not a laughing matter. A recent and excellent article in Wired explained how the antivaccinationists are creating a panic that is endangering us all:
The [Los Angeles] Times found that even though only about 2 percent of California’s kindergartners are unvaccinated (10,000 kids, or about twice the number as in 1997), they tend to be clustered, disproportionately increasing the risk of an outbreak of such largely eradicated diseases as measles, mumps, and pertussis (whooping cough). The clustering means almost 10 percent of elementary schools statewide may already be at risk.
This is the key to a public health catastrophe. People want the right to make individual choices, but the greatest protection comes from herd immunity: "in diseases passed from person to person, it is more difficult to maintain a chain of infection when large numbers of a population are immune. The higher the proportion of individuals who are immune, the lower the likelihood that a susceptible person will come into contact with an infected individual."

It's ironic that the parents who cavalierly refuse to get their children vaccinated never experienced the tragedy of a real epidemic because their own generation was vaccinated!

So when more H1N1 vaccines become available, I will try to get one, if that bad karma doesn't get to me first.

Saturday, October 31, 2009

Thursday, October 29, 2009

We Interrupt this Program...

On October 30, 1938, the Martians invaded New Jersey.

Since I thought hoax week 2009 was so much fun, I decided to experience the greatest hoax of them all: Orson Welles' radio broadcast of The War of The Worlds. I put the mp3 on my iPod and listened to it alone in the dark...

It starts off as a dance music broadcast -- or at least what they called dance music back then. But the party is interrupted by an Intercontinental Radio News report of enormous blue flames shooting out of Mars. Then, minutes later, another report that a meteor has fallen to Earth! Then, a minute later, reporters are ready at the scene for continuous coverage of the meteor. But then the meteor starts to open! It's really a spaceship, and it has tentacles!

"Good heavens -- something's wriggling out of the shadow," the fake newscaster reported. "It glistens like wet leather. But that face -- it… it is indescribable."

The whole thing is so not scary. The timeline alone is unbelievable. I guess it's just one of those things where you had to be there in the 30's, listening to the miracle of modern radio and trusting -- trusting that this was an urgent news bulletin and taking it all as fact. These people weren't stupid, but the world outside our own atmosphere had not been demystified yet. So thousands of listeners panicked:
Believing that the nation had been invaded by Martians, many listeners panicked. Some people loaded blankets and supplies in their cars and prepared to flee. One mother in New England reportedly packed her babies and lots of bread into a car, figuring that "if everything is burning, you can't eat money, but you can eat bread." Other people hid in cellars, hoping that the poisonous gas would blow over them. One college senior drove forty-five miles at breakneck speed in a valiant attempt to save his girlfriend.
But still, there is the annoying detail that during the broadcast there were three announcements stating that this was a dramatization of The War of the Worlds by H.G. Wells. The newspaper that day had also listed the program as an adaptation of the book.

Could it be that the reports of mass panic are also a hoax?
But historians also claim that newspaper accounts over the following week greatly exaggerated the hysteria. There are estimates that about 20 percent of those listening believed it was real. That translates to less than a million people.

At the time, newspapers considered radio an upstart rival. Some in the print press, resentful of the superior radio coverage during the Munich crisis, may have sought to prove a point about the irresponsibility of the radio broadcast.
Somehow I'll sleep a little better knowing common sense prevailed during that historic misunderstanding. However, I'm still greatly disturbed over the dangerous crap that educated people are willing to believe today.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Interview with the Glampire

Maybe Adam Lambert is trying to save money on a costume this Halloween? The overly dramatic American Idol runner-up will be going as a "glampire."

The Onion has some advice on how to find a masculine Halloween costume for your effeminate son, but it's a little too late for Adam:

How To Find A Masculine Halloween Costume For Your Effeminate Son

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

From Vietnam to Afghanistan

Not to be a real downer or anything, but it's about time our country started talking about Afghanistan again. But who to listen to?

I'm not going to listen to that totally discredited war criminal Dick Cheney. He says President Obama is "dithering," but Bush and Cheney dithered around for years before asking the tough questions seven years after invading Afghanistan! And then, of course, they invaded Iraq, and the entire world wished the Bush administration had dithered before entering two simultaneous quagmires.

But there are more credible people than Cheney. We could listen to the former Marine Corps captain who recently resigned over the Afghan war saying, "I have doubts and reservations about our current strategy and planned future strategy, but my resignation is based not upon how we are pursuing this war, but why and to what end."

But I have the most respect for the man once called The Most Dangerous Man in America, Daniel Ellsberg. He has seen all of this -- just different names and places -- forty years ago when he was working as a military analyst and leaked a top-secret Pentagon study of US government decision-making about the Vietnam War. Now he has a lot to say about Afghanistan:

(YouTube video)

At about 14:45 into the video, Ellsberg says about the Afghan army, "no doubt you could put more money into them, but where would it go? Switzerland?" I suppose that's where a lot of drug money ends up, and with the latest news that the brother of the Afghan president and a suspected player in the country’s booming illegal opium trade is also on the CIA payroll, Ellsberg's comment is forthright.

And his conclusion is sobering. If Obama does send more troops, if he does prolong this bloody stalemate, he will do so only to appease his political opponents who will accuse him of being weak, unmanly, and abandoning a "winnable war." We've seen it all before.

Monday, October 26, 2009

Older Than The Universe

What started 70 trillion trillion trillion trillion trillion trillion trillion years ago got really funny on ABC's Nightline this past weekend:

(YouTube video)

At about 3:30 into the above video, ABC's Martin Bashir starts asking Scientology PR person Tommy Davis about Xenu. You know Xenu, right? The dictator of the "Galactic Confederacy" who, 75 million years ago, brought his people to Earth in spaceships and then boiled them in volcanoes... and well, seems every clown on the street knows a bit of this story already.

But Davis wanted to act like he was offended by Bashir's questions. Seems more like Davis was embarrassed. But every religious person I've ever known will tell you about their beliefs with great enthusiasm. In fact, they usually view it as their duty to spread the word. So what was up with Davis?

It's like the P.T. Barnum trick of The Great Egress. You have to pay a quarter if you want to see it. Or in the case of Scientology, you have to pay a lot more. And instead of a sideshow tent, your super-secret training will be aboard a Scientology owned cruise ship sailing the Caribbean.

So back to Mr. Davis. He must be really pissed that television networks and those rogues on the Internet want to give this information away for free!

I'm skeptical of any so-called religion that puts secrecy and profits above altruistic contributions to society. And although it's easy to poke fun at Xenu, the entire deity club shares this: they are all much younger than the universe, and even younger than their creators.

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Life Imitates Idiocracy

(YouTube video)

From New Scientist:
The fungus now decimating frog populations around the world does its damage by impairing the animals' ability to absorb electrolytes through their skin. This discovery may eventually lead to treatments that make the disease less lethal.
But now Jamie Voyles of James Cook University in Townsville, Australia, and colleagues have an answer. In diseased frogs, the skin's ability to take up sodium and potassium ions from the water decreases by more than 50 per cent, they found. As a result, the concentration of these two ions in the frogs' blood fell by 20 and 50 per cent, respectively. This ion loss – similar to the hyponatraemia that a human athlete might experience from drinking too much water too fast – eventually leads to cardiac arrest and death.

The researchers found they could delay death by giving diseased frogs an oral electrolyte-replacement solution – a sort of froggy Gatorade.
But we all know frogs prefer Brawndo.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Suffer a Witch to Live?

From BBC News: Five women were paraded naked, beaten and forced to eat human excrement by villagers after being branded as witches in India's Jharkhand state.

That link includes a video which is disturbing and hard to watch. The screaming alone is chilling. The article goes on to explain that "Hundreds of people, mostly women, have been killed in India because their neighbours thought they were witches. Experts say superstitious beliefs are behind some of these attacks, but there are occasions when people - especially widows - are targeted for their land and property. "

I'm not sure there is anything that people outside of India can do about these crimes. We are all aware of the modern India but not the tribal cultures. We should be more aware though because this is about the gratuitous torture of women.

Stories about witch hunts have been making the news for years now, but not until this anachronism -- a cell phone video of a witch hunt -- are we outraged. People can still be barbarians even with shiny new technology in their hands.

By the way, the King Jame's Bible quote "thou shalt not suffer a witch to live," has no relationship to the India story, but has often been used to justify religiously-based genocide. The real Bible quote was actually about the crime of poisoning.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

We're All Marxists Now

Imagine a world without the Internet...

I'm scaring myself and it's not even Halloween yet! Of course, nobody is talking about closing down the Internet, but what does seriously disturb me is Glenn Beck whining against net neutrality.

On his show yesterday, the lachrymose Fox pundit equated net neutrality with a Marxist takeover of the Internet. Yep. The Marxists are coming and they will stifle creativity, hurt competition, and control Internet content. As usual, Beck has it precisely backwards. Net neutrality is about maintaining a free and open marketplace:
The principle of net neutrality is about keeping the hands of several powerful network operators – AT&T, Verizon, and Comcast – off the Internet, preventing them from taking steps to change the basic open nature of the Net that has led to its success. Net neutrality keeps the Internet as a free and open marketplace, so that a small number of telephone and cable monopolies can’t choke off competition and innovation.

Net neutrality was a founding principle of the Internet, and was the law of the land until 2005. The courts and the regulators changed the rules in 2005 when they eliminated the nondiscrimination requirements that had applied for decades to phone service and, up to that point, to most residential Internet access. Implementing net neutrality is a return to the basic principles that make the Internet work for consumers and innovators.
Maybe Beck doesn't understand the word "neutrality." Maybe Beck doesn't understand the Internet. I know he doesn't understand freedom. But most likely Beck completely understands that he is working for those astroturf groups who will profit from a choked off Internet.

The odd thing about this issue is that it cannot be summed up as "big business versus the little guy." The opponents of net neutrality are mostly telecommunications companies such as AT&T, Verizon, Comcast and Time Warner.

But the supporters include many big tech companies as well as small businesses and not-for-profit organizations. Hell, even the Christian Coalition of America is a supporter. But now, according to Beck, they all share the common bond of Marxism.

And why? Here are the FCC rules everybody is fussing about:
  • Consumers are entitled to access any legal Internet content
  • Consumers are entitled to use any Internet applications or services
  • Consumers are entitled to connect to any devices that won't harm the network
  • The same rules apply to cable/DSL and wireless Internet
  • Internet providers can't block or slow competitors' online services
Wow! They took that right out of the Communist Manifesto!