Sunday, May 31, 2009

Happiest Places on Earth

Where do people feel the most positive about their lives?
  1. Denmark
  2. Finland
  3. Netherlands
  4. Sweden
  5. Ireland
  6. Canada
  7. Switzerland
  8. New Zealand
  9. Norway
  10. Belgium
The United States ranked number 11 -- behind all those other countries with their socialism and health-care. Yeah, somehow I imagine we Americans would be happier if we didn't fear that a chronic disease or tragic accident could bankrupt our families.

The happiness report was released by the Organization for Economic Co-Operation and Development. They used data from a Gallup World Poll conducted in 140 countries around the world last year. Some of the questions asked: Did you enjoy something you did yesterday? Were you proud of something you did yesterday? Did you learn something yesterday? Were you treated with respect yesterday?

I wonder how many people answered with "go to hell."

But apparently this positive psychology research is a big deal. It is a recent branch of psychology that "studies the strengths and virtues that enable individuals and communities to thrive." Like in New York for example:
Although many economists agree that money doesn’t make people happy, disparities in income make people miserable, according to most happiness literature. Happiness, in other words, “is less a function of absolute income than of comparative income,” as Gilbert puts it. “Now, if you live in Hallelujah, Arkansas,” he continues, “the odds are good that most of the people you know do something like you do and earn something like you earn and live in houses something like yours. New York, on the other hand, is the most varied, most heterogeneous place on earth. No matter how hard you try, you really can’t avoid walking by restaurants where people drop your monthly rent on a bottle of wine and store windows where shoes sit like museum pieces on gold pedestals. You can’t help but feel trumped. As it were.”
So here is another list. These 10 things are scientifically proven to make you happy:
  1. Savor Everyday Moments
  2. Avoid Comparisons
  3. Put Money Low on the List
  4. Have Meaningful Goals
  5. Take Initiative at Work
  6. Make Friends, Treasure Family
  7. Smile Even When You Don’t Feel Like It
  8. Say Thank You Like You Mean It
  9. Get Out and Exercise
  10. Give It Away, Give It Away Now
Of course, the skeptic in me says nothing is ever as simple as a 10 point list. Also, they left out hugs.

Friday, May 29, 2009

Greed is not Good

(YouTube video)

In his monologue tonight, Bill Maher linked the banking failure, health care crisis, obesity epidemic, prison population, global warming and war profiteering all to the common problem of greed. "Humans have always been greedy, but they never convinced themselves it was good." Well, I guess not until Reagan came along.

Thursday, May 28, 2009

Group Hug!

When are hugs okay, and when are they just plain awkward? According to the NY Times, today's teenagers never give that question a single thought:

“We’re not afraid, we just get in and hug,” said Danny Schneider, a junior at the school, where hallway hugging began shortly after 7 a.m. on a recent morning as students arrived. “The guy friends, we don’t care. You just get right in there and jump in.”

Of course, principals are responding by clamping down and banning hugs or at least limiting them to a 3 second rule. These drastic measures are either a plot to undermine kids' confidence, practical advice from rabid school lawyers, or the "gateway theory" run amok.

Whatever the reasoning, I'm glad I went to high school back when sex, drugs and song lyrics were the only causes for moral panic. I think the peer pressure to hug might have killed me. I'm just not a hugger.

I wouldn't really say my parents were frigid, screwed-up or repressed, but am I the only one who thought the Keaton family hugged way too much? I'll hug friends and family if they're going away for a long time, or if they're coming back from a long trip. I'll hug the youngest family members because they're cute. Of course I'll hug anybody I'm in a loving relationship with, but that's a different kind of hug.

I loathe hugs from strangers. It's fake intimacy from fake people. But why do I suddenly feel like I'm the one who's maladjusted?

From now on, I'm ending all blog posts with "hugs and kisses." Blame it on the peer pressure.

Saturday, May 23, 2009


"This isn't paradise and you know it. The people here are starving and dying. The whole world uses Somalia as a dumping ground for toxic waste. Even the fish here are radioactive." — Kyle
I think it was inevitable that South Park would have a Somali pirate episode. The complete uncensored version is available now, and it's sure to become a classic.

Like all memorable South Park episodes, Fatbeard is rude, crude, and... fair and balanced? That's the only way I can describe it. The crazy story line is about Cartman and his recruits running off to Somalia to plunder treasure completely oblivious to any danger. But by the end of the show, after they sing a catchy sea shanty, they give us insight into the real Somalia -- a political, humanitarian and environmental train wreck.

Friday, May 22, 2009

Everybody Duck

"When they see the American government caught up in arguments about interrogations, the terrorists see just what they were hoping for — our unity gone, our resolve shaken, our leaders distracted. In short, they see weakness and opportunity." — Dick Cheney, 05/21/2009

"The weakness the terrorists see, Sir, is the weakness of judgment suspended, in favor of self-fulfilling prophecy. The weakness the terrorists see, Sir, is the weakness of moral force supplanted by violence and revenge fantasies. The weakness the terrorists see, Sir, is the weakness... of Dick Cheney." — Keith Olbermann, 05/21/2009
I'm still trying to get my head around Cheney's paradoxical double-flip of criticizing dissent and appealing to the terrorists all in the same gasp. I realize that ingrained deep in the Republican psyche is the stabbed-in-the-back philosophy. Failure in war is always the fault of domestic enemies and treachery in high places. Always blame the dissenters and hippies! Except now, Cheney is the dissenter... Does he even realize that?

I don't want to take away his right to disagree or anybody's right to disagree. But does he get it that he's not the one in charge now? Most of us voted for Barack Obama (he won the election, you know).

And Cheney is engaging in another old game of extreme fear-mongering (plus exaggerations and misstatements). If we don't agree with him, we're all going to die. He must have mentioned 9/11 every 30 seconds in his speech last night. Republicans can't get any blunter than that, or can they?

(YouTube video)

Why is the GOP remixing the 1964 "Daisy" ad? The main offense is that they took White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs completely out of context, but at least they were smart enough to leave out the H-Bomb of the original ad. The message is the same though: the future of America is in immediate danger. In 1964, the perceived threat was Barry Goldwater. In 2009, the perceived threat is closing the Guantanamo Bay Prison.

But I thought we had already tortured this topic. Our world-class prison industrial complex can safely hold these alleged terrorists. Supermax prisoners spend up to 23 hours a day in solitary confinement -- unable to communicate, unable to plot, and unable to escape!

Glenn Greenwald lists the convicted Muslim Terrorists already imprisoned inside the US, and he refutes another popular scare tactic. If there really were sleeper terrorist cells waiting to liberate their imprisoned comrades, then they've already had a long list of potential "target" prisons for 20 years now.

But let's not forget why the Guantanamo Bay Prison was opened in the first place. The location was ostensibly selected for its security. But let's get real. The location was really selected for its legal ambiguity. However, the Supreme Court ruled that Guantanamo detainees do indeed have habeas corpus rights.

So Dick Cheney and the RNC are scared. They're scared of something, but I'm not convinced it's the terrorists. I think their biggest fear is that nothing bad will happen, and then their ideologies, their policies, and their wars will lose even more credibility.

The world hasn't gone completely mad yet. Two top Bush-era officials, Robert Gates and Tom Ridge, say the country's national security is not in jeopardy. And at least one American town realizes that taking Guantanamo prisoners could be good for their economy.

Right now I wish Dick Cheney would take a nice long vacation. I hear Spain is lovely.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Beck the Blogger

I admit I'm not a big fan of The View, but every once in a while Whoopi Goldberg makes the show worthwhile like this morning when she called Glenn Beck a "lying sack of dog mess":

(YouTube Video)

I love seeing Glenn Beck squirm like that. I'm surprised tubby didn't start to cry like he does on his own show. But the most revealing bit was the exchange he had with Barbara Walters.

Walters: You are an investigative reporter.
Beck: No, I'm not.
Walters: Well, you're a reporter.
Beck: No, I am not.
Walters: So you check no facts at all?
Beck: Uh, no. I am a commentator. I am a commentator. I comment on life.

He's an overpaid blogger! I comment on life too, but I'm pretty sure I spend more time checking facts and looking up relevant links than he does. Did you notice how Elisabeth Hasselbeck was mighty quiet? I know she is the conservative voice on The View, but damn, I hope she's catching on that Beck pulls crazy crap out of his ass all the time.

Oh, and you know who else doesn't deserve a professional pulpit and should stick to blogging like the rest of us? John Yoo. The author of the infamous "torture memos" has been given a monthly column in the Philadelphia Inquirer. The MSM is failing us, and they can't figure out why they're going bankrupt. Maybe the problem starts with their morals.

Change in a Teabag

I cringe every time I hear the word "teabag" now. I thought that, in time, I would recover, but apparently the Republicans want to tea party like it's 1999 or something. Even Republican National Committee chairman Michael Steele, one of the few Republicans not invited to any tea parties at all, says a Republican renaissance is "being delivered in a tea bag, and that's a wonderful thing." It is? The imagery doesn't really work for me. I'm picturing the soggy teabags my parents leave laying all over the house. Not a wonderful thing. Stephen Colbert mocks, and the word tonight is "I Know You Are But What Am I?":

The Colbert ReportMon - Thurs 11:30pm / 10:30c
The Word - I Know You Are But What Am I?
Colbert Report Full EpisodesPolitical HumorGay Marriage

Also, I'm trying to figure out the part of Steele's speech where he declares an end to the "era of apologizing for Republican mistakes of the past." Did I miss that era? Or was Steele talking about all his groveling to Rush Limbaugh?

Monday, May 18, 2009

Ticking Time Bombs

The imminent threat of a terrorist attack was Dick Cheney's justification for torture. Terrorists are poised to set off dirty bombs and biological weapons annihilating entire US cities -- according to Cheney and the popular TV show 24. But real experts, like former Army interrogators in the war in Iraq, tell us how unrealistic a torture fantasy show can be:
“These are very determined people, and they won’t turn just because you pull a fingernail out,” he told me. And Finnegan argued that torturing fanatical Islamist terrorists is particularly pointless. “They almost welcome torture,” he said. “They expect it. They want to be martyred.” A ticking time bomb, he pointed out, would make a suspect only more unwilling to talk. “They know if they can simply hold out several hours, all the more glory—the ticking time bomb will go off!”
“In Iraq, I never saw pain produce intelligence,” Lagouranis told me. “I worked with someone who used waterboarding”—an interrogation method involving the repeated near-drowning of a suspect. “I used severe hypothermia, dogs, and sleep deprivation. I saw suspects after soldiers had gone into their homes and broken their bones, or made them sit on a Humvee’s hot exhaust pipes until they got third-degree burns. Nothing happened.” Some people, he said, “gave confessions. But they just told us what we already knew. It never opened up a stream of new information.” If anything, he said, “physical pain can strengthen the resolve to clam up.”
But now, after all these years of FOX propaganda, evidence is gathering that Cheney's authorization of torture wasn't really about the theoretical ticking time bombs anyway. The Bush administration tortured for political gain:
Perhaps the sharpest rebuke to Cheney's assertions has come from Lawrence Wilkerson, the retired Army colonel and former senior State Department aide to Colin Powell, who says bluntly that when the administration first authorized "harsh interrogation" during the spring of 2002, "its principal priority for intelligence was not aimed at pre-empting another terrorist attack on the U.S. but discovering a smoking gun linking Iraq and al-Qaida."
I don't know if these revelations will change public opinion, but most certainly we need to rephrase our dialog about these issues: "Pollsters should be asking if Americans support using torture to extract false confessions for political purposes, because that's what happened."

Also, somebody needs to present Cheney with this bit of logic: if torturing people led to false justifications for war, and if thousands of Americans died in that war, then didn't torture cost American lives?

Nothing looks the same in the light.

Sunday, May 17, 2009

True Believers

The above picture is one of eleven cover sheets featured in the GQ article And He Shall be Judged, a damning exposé on former defense secretary Donald Rumsfeld.

The amateurish cover sheets adorned top-secret intelligence briefings approved by Rumsfeld and featuring triumphant images from the Iraq war effort. But it's the quotes above the images that reveal way too much about Bush's crusade. Straight from the Bible they came: "Therefore put on the full armor of God, so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground, and after you have done everything, to stand."

I can only see this as a cynical and crafty move by Rumsfeld:
The Scripture-adorned cover sheets illustrate one specific complaint I heard again and again: that Rumsfeld’s tactics—such as playing a religious angle with the president—often ran counter to sound decision-making and could, occasionally, compromise the administration’s best interests. In the case of the sheets, publicly flaunting his own religious views was not at all the SecDef’s style—“Rumsfeld was old-fashioned that way,” Shaffer acknowledged when I contacted him about the briefings—but it was decidedly Bush’s style, and Rumsfeld likely saw the Scriptures as a way of making a personal connection with a president who frequently quoted the Bible. No matter that, if leaked, the images would reinforce impressions that the administration was embarking on a religious war and could escalate tensions with the Muslim world. The sheets were not Rumsfeld’s direct invention—and he could thus distance himself from them, should that prove necessary.
So this is why I never again want a "true believer" as president. Bush was too easily manipulated. Convinced he had a calling from God, he shunned diplomacy, rushed to war, and was simply reckless.

It's a miracle we didn't all die in a big mushroom cloud.

Saturday, May 16, 2009

A New Kind of Search

I was always curious about A New Kind of Science by Stephen Wolfram, but never curious enough to spend my own money or time on the book. In a previous era, I was a very nerdy college student with a PC and a 2400 baud modem. I had early access to the underworld of fringe science and free text files. So the idea of reading over 1100 pages from Wolfram, an author who is overly impressed that a simple computer program can produce output that seems irregular and complex, seemed kind of anticlimactic.

But since Wolfram is obviously into rehashing old ideas, he built a search engine, WolframAlpha, which launched yesterday. It's certainly different. Remember that Cute Cat Theory I discussed a few days ago? Well, try searching for "cute cats" and all you'll find is that "Wolfram|Alpha isn't sure what to do with your input." I doubt this thing can survive!

But to be fair, it's not trying to replace the old search engines. This engine is all about computing answers. I'm not really sure how I can put it to use yet, but here's a handy table comparing the popularity of the names Michael and Elvis:

(click to enlarge)

And here's one chart I get when I enter "greenhouse gas emissions":

(click to enlarge)

And here are the demographics of Zimbabwe:

(click to enlarge)

That's all cool, but it took quite a bit of poking around to get results. WolframAlpha doesn't understand the simple human queries that I thought it would handle. If it can't be HAL, I might as well stick with Google and WikiPedia... Sadly, the only time it does act like HAL is when it can't complete a computation. At least it's not killing anybody yet.

Friday, May 15, 2009

The Big Partisan Smokescreen

The Republicans don't understand that torture is not a partisan issue. Take that old Newt Gingrich for example. Does he honestly believe that if he can prove that House Speaker Nancy Pelosi knew about torture, then everybody will forget about George W. Bush, Dick Cheney, Alberto Gonzales, Douglas Feith, David Addington, John Yoo, Jay S. Bybee, and William Haynes?
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi is engaging in a "despicable, dishonest and vicious political effort" to withhold what she knew about the CIA's harsh interrogation techniques, former Speaker Newt Gingrich said Friday.

Gingrich said Pelosi "lied to the House" when she earlier claimed that the CIA had never briefed her about the Bush administration's use of interrogation methods like waterboarding, which is considered torture by the current administration.

"I think that the House has an absolute obligation to open an inquiry, and I hope there will be a resolution to investigate her. And I think this is a big deal. I don't think the speaker of the House can lie to the country on national security matters," the Republican leader said in an interview with ABC Radio.

Pelosi has been under fire from critics who say she was fully briefed on the techniques in 2002 and 2003. On Thursday, the California Democrat accused CIA officials of misleading her, reiterating a claim that she was briefed on such techniques only once -- in September 2002 -- and that she was told at the time that the techniques were not being used.
I know torture is abhorrent and illegal, and this is not about politics. You can't fool me, persuade me, calm me, or dazzle me with your smokescreens or a million "provocative" editorials. Even if Pelosi did know about torture (and I doubt she did), then we, the torture opponents, do not lose the argument! This is not like Clinton and blow jobs. This is not about getting even with the Republicans. This is about pursuing justice even if it's our highest officials who are guilty.

So yes, Mr. Gingrich. Let's gather up everybody who has lied to the House and the American public about torture and war and weapons of mass destruction. Let's investigate all of them.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

I Will Survive

Perhaps you thought I was crazy when I said it should be up to Miss Universe to greet the space aliens when they arrive, but recent research into ecology theorizes that Freaks Survive Because They Are Strange:
If a blue jay sees a normal-looking salamander, it will eat it. But if the same bird sees a freak, it may let it go.

University of Tennessee researcher Benjamin Fitzpatrick says this discovery, which his team reports in the open access journal BMC Ecology, suggests why rare traits persist in a population.

Predators detect common forms of prey more easily, the scientists figure. The majority that share a common look are always on the dinner menu, while oddballs are left to reproduce.
So let the aliens first identify the dim-witted, silicone-implanted bigot as this planet's prey, and maybe they'll leave the rest of us alone?

No, I haven't gone insane, but I thought this aspect of evolution was refreshing. Finally a theory that doesn't postulate that freaks die a sad and lonely death!

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Playing the Martyr

"Well, I think it's great that Americans are able to choose one or the other. We live in a land that you can choose same-sex marriage or opposite marriage, and you know what, in my country and in my family, I think that I believe that a marriage should be between a man and a woman. No offense to anybody out there, but that's how I was raised and that's how I think it should be between a man and a woman." — Carrie Prejean
There is nothing particularly shocking about these comments made by Carrie Prejean, whose official title is now "Miss California who is against gay marriage, does soft porn, has breast implants, and has shirked her duties with the Miss Universe Organization but was pardoned by Donald Trump and his penis." However, I have a few comments to make anyway...

Of course, she can have her "honest belief" about gay marriage. That's fine, and she doesn't need to apologize, but don't tell me not to judge her. She was in a beauty pageant parading across the damn stage begging us to judge her. That's the whole point of these events!

But even though I'm judging her, I won't call her a "dumb bitch" like others have done. No, she's not a dumb bitch just shameless, opportunistic and completely unquestioning. "Americans are able to choose" she says? No they're not. If you're gay you can't choose to get married in most states. That's what this whole controversy is about! No wonder the religious right has adopted her as an icon. She can now team up with Sarah Palin, Joe the Fake Plumber, and Jonathan Krohn. Start printing the bumper stickers now!

Oh, and I'll also add the word "bigot." If you want to deny civil rights to a group of people, then you're a bigot. It's that simple. No offense, Miss Prejean.

Prejean and Trump held a press conference today which added a whole new level of offense and martyrdom. "This should not happen in America. It undermines the Constitutional rights for which my grandfather fought for," Miss Prejean whinged! What? What part shouldn't happen? What part did she not predict? That she'd put her crown in jeopardy by breaking her contract and becoming an advocate for the National Organization of Marriage?

Or did she think that free speech only applied to her? That only she could express herself, and nobody else would ever express disapproval of her? Yes, that's the nature of free speech. You get to say what you want, and others can say what they want too.

Finally, what the hell does Miss California do? Oh, here's the ironic answer: "Our specific platform is all about diversity and embracing what is so unique about California."

I've got a better idea. If we're ever invaded by space aliens, Miss Prejean, as a representative of the Miss Universe Organization, should be the one to greet our intergalactic invaders first. Let's hope they're not gay.

Monday, May 11, 2009

Cheney Rats Out Bush

I was counting on this happening eventually, but I thought it would come as the result of a criminal investigation. Vincent Bugliosi explained how and why Bush administration officials would start ratting each other out:
What I'm saying is that even people of character aren't usually loyal to each other when their own life is on the line. But these moral weaklings will all probably sing like canaries against each other, since they all appear to be almost amoral individuals who are devoid of any character. If they are willing to lie to the American public about a matter of war and peace that resulted in the deaths of over 100,000 people, certainly they'd be willing to tell the truth to save their worthless hides from the gas chamber or electric chair. Indeed, I suspect that the prosecutor's biggest problem won't be to get them to talk to save their lives, but to make sure they don't embroider the truth and start telling lies in an effort to get a better deal from the prosecutor.
Well, they're starting to sing even without any prosecutor (if video doesn't show, click here):

Sunday, May 10, 2009

Cute Cat Theory

Activism, the internet, and cute cats -- there's a relationship here that I never would have dreamed of. The theory is that when oppressive governments try to censor the internet, they inevitably make activists out of everybody, because people who previously had no interest in subversion are suddenly determined to get their rightful dose of cute cats:
With web 2.0, we’ve embraced the idea that people are going to share pictures of their cats, and now we build sophisticated tools to make that easier to do. as a result, we’re creating a wealth of tech that’s extremely helpful for activists. There are twin revolutions going on - the ease of creating content and the ease of sharing it with local and global audiences.
Blocking banal content on the internet is a self-defeating proposition. It teaches people how to become dissidents - they learn to find and use anonymous proxies, which happens to be a key first step in learning how to blog anonymously. Every time you force a government to block a web 2.0 site - cutting off people’s access to cute cats - you spend political capital. Our job as online advocates is to raise that cost of censorship as high as possible.
Okay, the point isn't really about cute cats. "Cute cats" are symbolic of everything banal on the internet. When everybody is using a tool, it makes it harder for the government to sweep it away -- even behind the great firewall of China.

Still, some countries, China especially, have become quite adept at creating their own Web 2.0 clones with censorship built right in. While one study has concluded that it is difficult to carry out web censorship consistently and effectively, we know U.S. corporations will always be up to the lucrative challenge.

Friday, May 08, 2009

Why Don't I Have Any Other Friends?

The best 30 Rock segment ever:

"I don't have a lot of personal life experience, but if I have learned anything from my Sims family, when a child doesn't see his father enough, he starts to jump up and down and then his mood level will drop till he pees himself."

And how is this relevant? In about 4 weeks the new Sims 3 comes out which means you may not hear from me for a couple of days. But don't worry. It will just be a little break, and then I'll be back.

Thursday, May 07, 2009

Oh, Pat!

Nobody -- absolutely nobody -- should ever take Pat Robertson seriously. So try not to laugh too hard as you watch this video where Pat responds to Maine's marriage equality law saying, "You mark my words, this is just the beginning in a long downward slide in relation to all the things that we consider to be abhorrent":

Of course, Pat's argument is the classic "slippery slope" fallacy. Pat offers no justifications or legal precedents showing how marriage equality will lead to legalizing bestiality or that other sick crap he was dreaming about.

But here's what I really find funny. Gay marriage opponents are always mentioning their favorite story about the woman in India who married a snake. However, homosexuality is illegal in India. So, by Pat's logic, it must be the ban on gay marriage that leads to these bizarre unions!

Oh, Pat! I sense that you're trying your hardest to equate homosexuality with child molestation, but the facts don't support your fear-mongering. In fact, despite what certain fake plumbers think, America is slowly moving toward a more tolerant view of homosexuality. Maybe the Republican party should try to progress with the rest of us?

Wednesday, May 06, 2009

The Pizza Party

Back in the early 90's, when I was deeply enmeshed in the Bay Area BBS scene, we used to have pizza parties just like the Republican Party:

The Daily Show With Jon StewartM - Th 11p / 10c
Republicans: The Lost Party
Daily Show
Full Episodes
Economic CrisisPolitical Humor

After watching that last guy babble on about whatever, all I can think is "mmm... turtle cheesecake!"

Come to think of it, our BBS parties were much more fun.

Tuesday, May 05, 2009

Evolution and Politics

"I think you believe in evolution, but you're afraid to say so because your conservative constituency might find that offensive." — Chris Matthews on MSNBC 5/05/2009

How long can the GOP last when they pander to the least educated voters? How long can Rep. Mike Pence last when he speaks pure gibberish?

Yes, President Obama ended the ban on federal funding of stem cell research last month. Why is it that whatever pisses off the GOP seems to thrill me? Believe me, I'm thrilled... and oh... what is this? It's a strange feeling... I think it's called hope. Here are some areas of research that I hope one day will help me and many people I know with disabilities:

American researchers have created a "switch" that allows mutations or light signals to be turned on in muscles stem cells to monitor muscle regeneration in a living mammal. This research could lead to a drug that allows people to grow new muscle cells to replace those that are damaged by cancer or muscular dystrophy.

Researchers in London have discovered a novel matrix of neural stem cells and a biodegradable polymer can quickly repair brain damage from stroke in rats.

The National Institute of Health says wisdom teeth are prolific sources of the kind of adult stem cells needed to grow new teeth for you.

Well, if scientists can't grow me a whole new body, they could at least get me some new teeth!

Senator Arlen Specter is just as enthused as I am. In a recent interview with CBS News he suggested that if Republicans had been more aggressive about cancer research, GOP luminary Jack Kemp would be alive today.
Specter: And one of the items that I'm working on, Bob, is funding for medical research. I've been the spear carrier to increase medical research. And I've even established a Web site,, to try to get people to put more pressure on Congress to join me in getting more funding. This medical research has been a reawakening--the ten billion dollars. We were about to lose a whole generation of scientists. And now they're enthused. There are fifteen thousand applications to be granted. If we had pursued what President Nixon declared in 1970 as the war on cancer, we would have cured many strains. I think Jack Kemp would be alive today. And that research has saved or prolonged many lives, including mine.
Here's hoping we can fund and encourage more medical research. My mother just restarted treatment for lymphoma today, and I need all the hope I can get.

Monday, May 04, 2009

Why Aren't You in Jail?

Are we really becoming this short-sighted? Debtors' prisons are back:
Edwina Nowlin, a poor Michigan resident, was ordered to reimburse a juvenile detention center $104 a month for holding her 16-year-old son. When she explained to the court that she could not afford to pay, Ms. Nowlin was sent to prison. The American Civil Liberties Union of Michigan, which helped get her out last week after she spent 28 days behind bars, says it is seeing more people being sent to jail because they cannot make various court-ordered payments. That is both barbaric and unconstitutional.

In 1970, the Supreme Court ruled that it violates equal protection to keep inmates in prison extra time because they are too poor to pay a fine or court costs. More recently, the court ruled that a state generally cannot revoke a defendant’s probation and imprison him for failing to pay a fine if he is unable to do so.
This is another example of our nation repeating history because we didn't learn the lesson the first time. Of course, the major flaw of this system is that by putting indebted people in prison, society prevents them from contributing their labor and thus makes it harder for them to pay it off and thus makes it harder for creditors to recoup their investment.

And of course, you won't see the Wall Street types going to jail even though the banks they run seem hopelessly insolvent: "The International Monetary Fund has estimated that U.S. banks will require $275 billion to $500 billion in additional capital."

It's a case of one set of rules for rich people, and another set of rules for the rest of us. It's a bit like drug prohibition. We have over half a million drug offenders incarcerated, and yet look at all the politicians who can admit to drug use and still go free.

So when we get around to rethinking these laws and prison terms regarding debt, drugs, and other crazy stuff, one question we should each ask ourselves is "self, why am I not in jail too?"

Saturday, May 02, 2009

Socialist Nightmare

What do you see in this video? Socialist nightmare and nanny state? A creative approach to promoting safety? Or does it just make you smile?

The video shows Denmark police hugging bicyclists without helmets, and then giving them helmets. I like seeing the reactions of people who are not expecting kindness, and none of the Danish bicyclists seem suspicious which is a surprise to me.

Because it seems we have become suspicious of kindness:
Kindness was mankind’s “greatest delight”, the Roman philosopher-emperor Marcus Aurelius declared, and thinkers and writers have echoed him down the centuries. But today many people find these pleasures literally incredible, or at least highly suspect. An image of the self has been created that is utterly lacking in natural generosity. Most people appear to believe that deep down they (and other people) are mad, bad and dangerous to know; that as a species - apparently unlike other species of animal - we are deeply and fundamentally antagonistic to each other, that our motives are utterly self-seeking and that our sympathies are forms of self-protectiveness.
Most people, as they grow up now, secretly believe that kindness is a virtue of losers. But agreeing to talk about winners and losers is part and parcel of the phobic avoidance, the contemporary terror, of kindness. Because one of the things the enemies of kindness never ask themselves - and this is now an enemy within all of us - is why we feel it at all. Why are we ever, in any way, moved to be kind to other people, not to mention to ourselves? Why does kindness matter to us? It is, perhaps, one of the distinctive things about kindness - unlike an abstract moral ideal such as justice - that in the end we know exactly what it is, in most everyday situations; and yet our knowing what the kind act is makes it easier to avoid. We usually know what the kind thing to do is - and when a kindness is done to us, and when it is not. We usually have the wherewithal to do it (kindness is not an expert skill); and it gives us pleasure. And yet we are extremely disturbed by it. There is nothing we feel more consistently deprived of than kindness; the unkindness of others has become our contemporary complaint. Kindness consistently preoccupies us, and yet most of us are unable to live a life guided by it.
I must not be "most people" because I don't believe kindness is a virtue of losers. Maybe it starts with how you define "loser." That droning bore "going Galt", those guys celebrating greed, and that other guy with the Ponzi scheme are the losers to me.

Right now I'm finding it hard to discuss kindness without sounding maudlin, so I'll leave it here reminding everybody that hugs and bicycle helmets are cool.