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!

Monday, October 19, 2009

An All-Time High

Support for legalizing marijuana has reached an all-time high in the US according to an October Gallup poll. Yes, the American public is slowly coming to its senses. And maybe the government too...

After writing many blog posts on the failure of drug prohibition, I have something good to report:
Pot-smoking patients or their sanctioned suppliers should not be targeted for federal prosecution in states that allow medical marijuana, prosecutors were told Monday in a new policy memo issued by the Justice Department.

Under the policy spelled out in a three-page legal memo, federal prosecutors are being told it is not a good use of their time to arrest people who use or provide medical marijuana in strict compliance with state law.
Well, that's a far cry from federally decriminalizing marijuana, but it's a slow and cautious step in the right direction. We won't be prosecuting sick people who have found relief in the Cannabis plant and happen to live in one of the fourteen states with medical marijuana laws.

Also, it's evidence that President Obama is not just like Bush.

Saturday, October 17, 2009

Time Out

It must be hoax week.

I was feeling a sort of primal rage as I read this mother's blog post titled TSA agents took my son. The post recounts a terrifying incident where a mother carried her infant son through a metal detector at Atlanta Hartsfield-Jackson airport and the baby's pacifier clip set off an alarm which then set off a series of shocking events. TSA agents did what nobody should ever attempt with any human or animal -- they took her child. They carried him away out of her sight, and as she screamed, all other security agents ignored her.

Separating a parent from his or her child is explicitly against TSA rules, but I have such a low opinion of airport security that I would not doubt the incompetence. I started to wonder if maybe there was a farm where TSA employees are bred and emerge from their pods looking exactly like humans but devoid of emotions.

But then TSA did something sensible and responded to the story with their own blog post which includes an 11 minute CCTV video of the incident. And it's not at all likes the mother's story!

We see her carry the child through the detector. She's still clutching the child as she waits inside some kind of dehumanizing acrylic holding cell (really, what the hell are those things?). Once security agents are ready to deal with her, she takes a seat still holding her child. Then it appears that an agent pats down the child while he is still on the mother's lap. Then the mother herself places the infant in his stroller and sits back down no more than two feet away from him. The agents take their sweet time patting down the mother, but finally both mother and son are free to go.

We have heard how eyewitness testimony can be unreliable, but this unreliable? Really? Somebody can't accurately remember their own personal experience 24 hours after the event?

I know that recent news stories (balloon boy, I'm looking at you now) don't merit hundreds of hours of MSM coverage, but they do serve as a real world MacGuffin -- something that catches our attention but is not the pertinent part of the story.

The issue here is that in the current era of reality television, some parents will lie, scheme, and shamelessly exploit their own children and the sympathy of others for a fleeting taste of fame and fortune.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

The Falcon is Grounded

If you've been anywhere near a computer, television, or radio for the last six hours, then you've heard about Falcon Heene, aka "balloon boy."

(YouTube video)

Luckily, the six-year-old adventurer was found alive and well at home in the attic. And believe me, if I had lost my dad's homemade aircraft, I would have hid too! Even at age 40.

The silver saucer-like balloon craft looks a lot like our notion of a UFO... gee, do you think that every time the authorities have credited UFO sightings to weather balloons, they were right? And yet the father had dedicated quite a bit of time in the search for extraterrestrials.

Maybe we take science fiction too seriously. For example, in the above video, one officer seems to be drawing his gun. Who was he expecting?

Anyway, now that "attic boy" has been found, maybe we can focus on the other 797,500 kids who go missing each year?

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Taitz in Wonderland

This crazy storm we're having in the Bay Area made me want to turn off the computer, curl up and read a good book... or a good legal order.

This 43 page document issued by U.S. District Judge Clay D. Land slaps eccentric lawyer / dentist / birther conspiracy theorist Orly Taitz with a $20,000 fine. The document is really quite a read:
Quite frankly, the Court is reluctant to even dignify this argument by responding to it, but it captures the essence of counsel’s misunderstanding of the purpose of the courts and her misunderstanding of her own claims .... To suggest that an Army officer, who has received a medical education at the expense of the government and then seeks to avoid deployment based upon speculation that the President is not a natural born citizen, is equivalent to a young child, who is forced to attend an inferior segregated school based solely on the color of her skin, demonstrates an appalling lack of knowledge of the history of this Country and the importance of the civil rights movement. Counsel’s attempt to align herself with Justice Marshall appears to be an act of desperation rather than one of admiration. For if counsel truly admired Justice Marshall’s achievements, she would not seek to cheapen them with such inapt comparisons.
The judge does a beautiful job discrediting Taitz's mind-boggling claims... which I assume jack-of-all-trades Taitz won't even read. In fact, she is foolishly dismissing it as a form of intimidation.

But what I really enjoy about this story is seeing a tea-bagging birther face some kind of consequences for her lunacy.

Possibly the looniest part of the Orly Taitz sideshow has been watching so-called Republican patriots give support to a Russian trying to overthrow our democratically elected president. During the Bush era, they would have been charged with treason. Shit, President Obama deserves that peace prize if only for tolerating dissent.

I hope the next chapter of this Taitz comedy involves disbarment.

Monday, October 12, 2009

When the Legend Becomes Fact...

Columbus sailed the ocean
In 1492,
Because he had a notion
He'd find America for you!
That little rhyme is something I memorized when I was six or seven years old. At least it helped me remember the year of discovery, though not the date. I have to be reminded about that: at 2 a.m. on October 12, 1492, a sailor aboard the Pinta first sighted the New World. The rest of the legend, though, is rather farcical.

(YouTube video)

So the oldest existing terrestrial globe dates back to 1492, but even medieval academics realized the earth was spherical. So if Columbus wasn't trying to prove the roundness of the earth, then what was he looking for? Gold. And that's just the beginning...

Nobody taught me any little poems about the tyranny, rape and slavery Columbus brought to the Caribbean island of Hispaniola. And researchers are still learning about the sexually transmitted diseases Europeans brought to the New World.

But I doubt these facts are what Congress has in mind when they consider H. RES. 815: "Expressing support for recognition of Christopher Columbus and his role in the history of the United States and recognizing the importance of students learning about Christopher Columbus."

I fully support teaching history and civics, but I think it's time we stop teaching these legends.

Thursday, October 08, 2009

A Solution in Search of a Problem

Finally, I've met a piece of technology I don't like. I daresay I might even sound like a Luddite.

(YouTube video)

So am I missing something here? Is there an epidemic of children who cannot figure out how to ride a bicycle? This Gyrobike training wheel will cost about $100, and if you believe the testimonials, your tot will be riding sans training wheels in about an hour. So $100 to save a few hours of practice? Whatever happened to pushing your kid down a hill? We're becoming a nation of wimps.

Full disclosure: I did not receive any payment for this awesome review.

Wednesday, October 07, 2009

Crucified Upon a Cross of Blue

Tonight Keith Olbermann delivered an hour-long special comment on health care reform. I think he covered everything: all the fears, all the fear-mongering, all the fraud, all the fraudsters, and a big dose of reality. Kudos, Keith.

We also learned the reasons for Keith's recent absences from Countdown. His elderly father has been in the hospital... Clearly, this battle for health care is personal to Keith. And though Keith is a rich guy and can pay all the medical bills, he sees how it can break a family. If you've always been healthy, and your family has always been healthy, you really need to listen.

Tuesday, October 06, 2009

In The Beginning Was The Word

"You can safely assume you’ve created God in your own image when it turns out that God hates all the same people you do. " — Anne Lamott.
And you can safely assume conservative Christians don't even believe their own Bible when they endeavor to rewrite it. Apparently, the Bible, like reality, has a liberal bias. The dolts at Conservapedia aim to fix that with their "Conservative Bible Project." Yep. They're going to rewrite the holy book removing the liberal distortions that run amok.

One of the funniest project guidelines states "Express Free Market Parables; explaining the numerous economic parables with their full free-market meaning." Personally, I can hardly wait to read the passages on Reagonomics. And the parts where Jesus defends the death penalty ought to be a hoot.

Despite all this so-called liberal bias, idiots have had no trouble quoting the bible to defend all kinds of atrocious things. And why not? The history of the bible is one of... forgive the pun... loose canons. Who's to say who wrote or translated what and why it was included or left out? Not to mention what it all means...

Oh hell. Why rewrite it when you can start from scratch? Remember kids, creating your own holy book can guarantee your entry ticket into heaven or whatever afterlife you create! Just ask Joseph Smith! Or this comedy duo:

(YouTube video)

Monday, October 05, 2009

O, What A Rogue And Peasant Slave Am I!

I never knew how much a dead peasant could be worth.

(YouTube video)

Apparently dead peasants can be worth millions. It's an investment scheme in fact. "Dead peasant insurance" is officially known as corporate-owned life insurance and was originally intended to insure corporations against the death of key employees and executives, but it is sometimes used for general employees. Bank of America holds $17.3 billion in such policies.

Let's just get to the creepiness factor. It's bloody insane to give corporations a financial incentive to see anybody dead. I hope I don't need to review the last year of stories about arrogant bailout recipients and blatant fraud. We've all been thoroughly schooled in the lessons of greed.

But I predict it's going to get worse. Stranger originated life insurance is yet another insidious practice where investors pay senior citizens to apply for life insurance, pay the premiums for the policies, and then resell them to speculators. Investment banks are planning to package hundreds or thousands of these policies together into bonds. The investors will receive the insurance money when the insured people die.

If these slick, complicated, risky, idiotic games to turn money into more money sound familiar to you, it's because that's how we got into this financial mess in the first place! Subprime mortgage securities, credit-default swaps, structured investment vehicles, collateralized debt obligations... here we go again.

But now Wall Street is not just betting on the peasants' mortgages -- it's wagering on their lives.

Lazy Blogging Part 2

Sunday, October 04, 2009

Oh Rio, Rio, Hear Them Shout Across The Land...

So Chicago lost its bid to host the 2016 Olympics. The winning bid went to Rio, and I'm not going to lose any sleep over it, because, as my friend Trung pointed out on his blog, there is no economic benefit to hosting the Olympics in your city. In fact, it may actually hurt a city economically along with bringing police repression.

But what does irk me are the wingnuts who are so against President Obama that they cheer over the lost bid. Yes, the assholes actually cheered over the loss. Despite the economic burden, hosting the games has always been considered a point of pride. This blatant stupidity prompted Rep. Alan Grayson to comment "Someone should remind them what team they're really on."

Well, it's certainly not the American team that the wingnuts are now playing for. In a recent article, Matt Osborne opined that conservatives are trying to delegitimatize President Obama with the ridiculous idea that Obama claims to be God:
This meme is a form of wishful thinking from the party of faith-based policy: if Obama is illegitimate in the eyes of God, then it is a Christian's duty to oppose him, no matter what he actually does. Thus questions of policy, like scientific studies, are no longer argued on their own merits, but on the sole merit of opposition to the evil president.

This delegitimating of a president -- and, by extension, his agenda -- explains the odd crowing reaction of Republicans to the failed Chicago Olympic bid. It is as if Obama has lost some sheen of idolatrous perfection and been "revealed" as a fraudulent prophet; but only a wingnut would ever think of a politician as a prophet.
So anyway, can't we all just say "Yay, Brazil!" They will be the first South American country to host the Olympics, and plus, this historic event gives me the perfect opportunity to play the best music video ever:

Thursday, October 01, 2009

Going Rogue

I'm not really the outdoorsy type, but I do like to watch scenery and nature on TV, so I caught part of The National Parks series on PBS the other night. I had never really thought about it, but I guess national parks really are an American invention -- one of our best even.

The story of our national parks is about love of nature, conservation, preservation and democracy, but it's also about politics. Amazingly, this great idea, this great investment, flourished during a time of economic catastrophe.

Of course, I have to wonder how that could be? We're so damn cynical now that even our government hates government. I know our country had "yellow journalism" back then, but did we suffer through anything at all like Glenn Beck?

I was slightly impressed today when one Republican finally went rogue. No, not Sarah Palin. I'm talking about Senator Lindsey Graham. He had a few words to say about Glenn Beck and cable news in general:
"Can you imagine doing D-Day with cable television?" he asked. "Can you imagine writing the Constitution -- you know, O'Reilly says Ben Franklin's giving in on something. Can you imagine having to do that in this environment?"
Or could you imagine the government conserving beautiful forests and canyons so that all could enjoy them? Or employing 300,000 young men for a Civilian Conservation Corps? It couldn't happen now. Somebody would yell "socialism" and everybody would cower.

What we protect is what we value. We protect insurance industries, bankers, greed, and the status quo, but sometimes we have to take action for the greater good. Sometimes we have to try to make things better for all of us.