Sunday, May 22, 2011

Apocalypse No

May 21 has come and gone, and we're still here. Apparently Harold Camping misinterpreted something in the Bible. Imagine that -- somebody misinterpreted the Bible.

Anyway, since the dis-confirmation of his doomsday prediction, Camping has gone missing, deserting his followers. This very predictable situation leaves reporters asking, "What will Camping's faithful believers do now?" But we can make some pretty good guesses based on history and social psychology.

A few days ago I started reading When Prophecy Fails by psychologists Leon Festinger, Henry Riecken, and Stanley Schachter. The book serves as a sort of field test of Festinger's theory of cognitive dissonance. In 1954, when the book was first published, cognitive dissonance was a brilliant new theory of human behavior. Now, it has pretty much propagated its way into our pop culture. However, even after 57 years, the book remains a relevant and entertaining study.

From the start, Festinger explains that two beliefs are dissonant with each other if they do not fit together or are inconsistent. Dissonance produces discomfort, and a person experiencing such discomfort may do a few things to alleviate it: change one or more beliefs, acquire new knowledge or beliefs that will increase consonance, or reduce the importance of the information that produces the dissonance.

The failure of Camping's prediction likely creates such dissonance in his followers. If the prophecy wasn't true, how can they believe the rest of the ideology? And what about all the preparations like spending life savings, quitting jobs or abandoning all possessions? If the prophecy was a big part of their lives, then the dissonance will be strong.

A non-believer assumes the followers will discard the belief, but this is not always true. Instead what we'll likely see is a common pattern where the believers recover their convictions and resume proselyting with new enthusiasm. USA Today reports that "
Many followers said the delay was a further test from God to persevere in their faith." It doesn't sound like they're giving up on anything.

I have yet to finish reading When Prophecy Fails, but their study involves a slightly different breed of doomsday zealots: a small group with a sci-fi belief system centered around a woman who channels messages from aliens. It's entertaining so far, but -- spoiler alert -- I heard that the world doesn't come to an end.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Curious Goods

U.S. Marshals will sell the personal effects of Ted Kaczynski, aka the Unabomber, via online auction beginning May 18, 2011.

How fitting that the guy who hated the "industrial-technological system" has his stuff auctioned off using that system.

Although the proceeds will go to the Unabomber's victims, I have no idea who would really want to buy this stuff or how much they'd be willing to spend. However, some of you guys might want to save your money in case one day they decide to auction off Osama's porn collection.

Thursday, May 05, 2011

The Real Story

"The idea that the birth certificate is the real story and Osama bin Laden is the distraction from it tells you everything you need to know about the people who are really invested in the birth certificate story." — Rachel Maddow, on The Daily Show.
"But it is also a deservedly bad moment for some of the destructive forces in American public life, for those who have substituted for ordinary politics a sustained campaign to brand Obama as an outsider, as un-American, as non-American." — David Frum, CNN.

U.S. officials are saying that documents seized from Osama bin Laden's compound indicate that al-Qaeda wanted to carry out a 9-11 anniversary attack.

I couldn't bring myself to participate in any of the boisterous celebrations over bin Laden's death. It all seemed kind of crass. But I do know the world is way better off without this guy.

You'd think this news about an anniversary attack would convince Republican's to give Obama some credit -- or at least admit he's not some kind of socialist alien. But oh I forget, catching one of the FBI's most wanted terrorists is just a distraction.

Monday, May 02, 2011

Chop-chop Video

You may remember a previous blog post a few years back where I interviewed my friend Trung who was, at the time, enrolled in the master's program at University of Missouri Kansas City (UMKC). Trung is also a blogger who shares my contempt for the tea party. Well, apparently the ignorant teabaggers have contempt -- actually, violent hatred -- towards Trung's alma mater.

Trung explains the ongoing situation in his blog. It involves Andrew Breitbart (need I say more?) and secretly (actually, not so secretly) video taped lectures of UMKC econ professors. Of course, Breitbart and his minions are up to old tricks. They gave the splice job to these videos in the same way they distorted and minced Shirley Sherrod's words last July.

Breitbart and his BigGovernment web site are using the obviously edited videos to accuse two labor-studies professors of indoctrinating innocent, malleable minds to the violent ways of union thugs. The complete unadulterated videos, however, reveal the exact opposite. One professor tells students to resist violence because it "gives credence" to the argument that "these people need to be controlled."

But facts be damned. In a twist that's not really a twist because it's totally predictable, the teabaggers are actually the violent thugs. Incited by the erroneous videos, they started with phoning in threats to the university but quickly escalated the situation by trespassing on the UMSL (University of Missouri-St. Louis) campus and threatening students with violence:
In order to distract people from the fact that they were busted lying, St. Louis tea party provocateur Adam Sharp, who's blogged on Breitbart's sites before, apparently trespassed on the UMSL campus on Saturday to harass students and instructor Don Giljum. Sharp attempted to film students in their classroom, pestered them as they walked out of class with questions like "do you condone violence," and was arrested and charged with trespassing. Don Giljum was also taken to the police station because there was an altercation, and as students waited outside of the police station, another tea partier approached them and began taunting them and daring them to "take a swing" at him. This is after a week where the tea party violated students' privacy by putting videos on YouTube showing comments made for the purpose of classroom discussion.
Breitbart, in an April 18 interview with Sean Hannity, said he planned to "go after" educators. And there you have it. We've seen ethnic intolerance, religious intolerance, and every other shade of bigotry from these nuts, but now... academic intolerance.

Freedom of inquiry by students and faculty is the foundation of education and our university system. It's all too fitting that the teabaggers go after this.

Sunday, May 01, 2011

Dead Not Alive

"So I don't know where he is. You know, I just don't spend that much time on him... to be honest with you." — George W. Bush, March 13, 2002.
"Tonight I can report to the American people and to the world that the United States has conducted an operation that has killed Osama bin Laden, the leader of al Qaeda and a terrorist who's responsible for the murder of thousands of innocent men, women and children." — Barack Obama, May 1, 2011.
So it's been nearly a decade. When the news started rolling in tonight that Osama bin Laden was dead, I half expected that he died of old age. But no, the CIA got him. It's a victory for certain, but not the kind that will put to end any of our wars.

Fireworks are going off in my neighborhood.

How long until Trump demands to see a death certificate?

Friday, April 29, 2011


(Photo from Time.)

Not everybody cares about the royal spectacle. I certainly don't. Didn't we declare our independence from the monarchy in 1776? And yet there are still Americans who feel they need to pay some sort of respect...

NBC's Brian Williams earns my respect this week. After arriving in London to cover the royal wedding, he was updated on the rising death toll due to the storms, tornadoes and flooding across six states, and turned right around and came back home.

Thursday, April 28, 2011

Seriously, Trump?

"I know that there is going to be a segment of people for which no matter what we put out, this issue will not be put to rest. But I am speaking for the vast majority of the American people as well as for the press. We do not have time for this kind of silliness. We have better stuff to do. I have got better stuff to do. We have got big problems to solve. We are not going to be able to do it if we are distracted, we are not going to be able to do it if we spend time vilifying each other... if we just make stuff up and pretend that facts are not facts, we are not going to be able to solve our problems if we get distracted by side shows and carnival barkers." — President Barack Obama, April 27, 2011, on the release of his long-form birth certificate.

"The word is, according to what I've read, is that he was a terrible student when he went to Occidental. He then gets to Columbia, he then gets to Harvard. I heard at Columbia, he wasn't a very good student. He then gets to Harvard. How do you get into Harvard if you're not a good student? Now, maybe that's right, or maybe it's wrong, but I don't know why he doesn't release his records. Why doesn't he release his Occidental records." — Donald Trump, April 27, 2011, trying to keep the crusade alive.
First, let's stop shitting about the President's college records. He was and still is a smart guy. But now that the whole birth certificate nonsense is out of the way, I think the birthers are showing their true colors, in all their ugly racist hues. Of course, the record of Obama's birth will not put an end to the loonies questioning the legitimacy of his presidency...

But really? Now Trump wants to see Obama's college records? Trump is not a "carnival barker." He's a freaking one trick pony.

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

A Slap in the Face

Last night, Jon Stewart reported on... oh hell, you have to see it to believe it:

Part 2:

Yes, so the James Zadroga 9/11 Health and Compensation Act, intended to help the heroes of 9-11 with their medical bills, "requires the WTC Program Administrator to determine whether a WTC responder or survivor is on the terrorist watch list prior to his or her enrollment or certification."

Jon Stewart handled the whole WTF, what a slap-in-the-face angle quite well, so I want to bring up one other issue. The U.S. Terrorist Watch List was intended to stop suspected terrorists from boarding commercial aircraft for travel in or out of the United States. I always felt the list was a bad idea to begin with, but now it has turned into a monster. Since September 11, 2001, the list has bloated to over 1 million names. People can be added to this list without due process -- no trial before a judge or jury will take place before a citizen's right to travel is diminished. Furthermore, there is no system to get your name removed from the list. And if you happen to share a name with somebody on the list? Tough luck.

But now it's not just a "no fly list." The stupid thing is being used in new, novel and purely political ways. I don't know how, in a democracy, we can tolerate a secret list of citizens who must constantly be scrutinized as suspects, yet never be given a day in court. If a "no fly list" can turn into a "no health care compensation list," then how long until Congress turns this into a "no vote list" or worse?

Friday, April 22, 2011

And That's The Way It Was

(CBS video.)

That's the way it was on the first Earth Day in 1970.

In 2011, we still haven't seen a huge shift in our national conscience. Giving nature its own rights still seems a bit far-fetched, but I personally like the idea:
Environmental philosophers and other people say that biological communities — ecosystems, habitats, species and populations — have a right to exist. They’re not just valuable because they’re someone’s property. Environmental lawyers say courts should recognize this right, and could allow people to represent nature as legal guardians or trustees.
Hey, if the U.S. courts insist that corporations are people, then why shouldn't an ocean or a river have rights too?

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Coldhearted Crackpot

"There are two novels that can change a bookish fourteen-year old's life: The Lord of the Rings and Atlas Shrugged. One is a childish fantasy that often engenders a lifelong obsession with its unbelievable heroes, leading to an emotionally stunted, socially crippled adulthood, unable to deal with the real world. The other, of course, involves orcs." — Kung Fu Monkey.
Despite the massive push by the Heritage Foundation and Freedom Works, the film adaptation of Atlas Shrugged is seeing dismal ticket sales. Perhaps all the Teabaggers who worship at the altar of the selfish, coldhearted crackpot, Ayn Rand, really went Galt this time? Or couldn't part with their gold coins for a movie ticket maybe? Or the movie simply sucks?

The far-right's love affair with Ayn Rand is odd in some ways and quite fitting in others. On the one hand, she was an atheist and believed in abortion rights. According to Rand, "One method of destroying a concept is by diluting its meaning. Observe that by ascribing rights to the unborn, i.e., the nonliving, the anti-abortionists obliterate the rights of the living." The capitalist Randians try to keep this quote hidden from the Christian Randians.

But Rand's philosophic justification of greed is quite fitting to the Republicans. Altruism is immoral. Social goals are for suckers. Self-interest is the only acceptable motivation in society. Life and love are earned through productivity.

In other words, most of us are blood-sucking parasites. This Randian definition would, of course, encompass the soccer moms, Joe the plumbers, and every teabagger out there... but don't tell them that. Their great delusions keep them believing that they are the "better class" that Rand speaks of.

And as self-proclaimed members of this "better class," they can believe any pseudo-intellectual justifications for the growing inequality of wealth in this country.
Economists long ago tried to justify the vast inequalities that seemed so troubling in the mid-19th century—inequalities that are but a pale shadow of what we are seeing in America today. The justification they came up with was called “marginal-productivity theory.” In a nutshell, this theory associated higher incomes with higher productivity and a greater contribution to society. It is a theory that has always been cherished by the rich. Evidence for its validity, however, remains thin. The corporate executives who helped bring on the recession of the past three years—whose contribution to our society, and to their own companies, has been massively negative—went on to receive large bonuses. In some cases, companies were so embarrassed about calling such rewards “performance bonuses” that they felt compelled to change the name to “retention bonuses” (even if the only thing being retained was bad performance). Those who have contributed great positive innovations to our society, from the pioneers of genetic understanding to the pioneers of the Information Age, have received a pittance compared with those responsible for the financial innovations that brought our global economy to the brink of ruin.
This greed-is-good mentality, disdain for humanity and economic disparity are all related. No man (or woman) is an island -- not even a selfish, coldhearted crackpot.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Not Intended To Be A Factual Pie Chart

I think Senator Jon Kyl has liberated us all from the burden of facts. During the recent budget debate, Kyl took to the Senate floor to claim that abortion is well over 90 percent of what Planned Parenthood does. Except in truth, it's more like 3 percent. By the way, this is the same guy who, during the health care debate, was against maternity care because he didn't need it.

When confronted with these drastically rounded-up numbers, Kyl's office replied: "his remark was not intended to be a factual statement, but rather to illustrate that Planned Parenthood, a organization that receives millions of dollars in taxpayer funding, does subsidize abortions."

That's doublespeak for "it was a lie." And it leaves me with a question that I guess I'm the only one naive enough to be asking: aren't there any real repercussions for these lies? If a Democrat can be reprimanded for saying "uterus," then fallout for this has to extend beyond Twitter, I would hope.

Women represent 51.1 percent of the total U.S. population, and they all need to listen up. To every woman who has ever needed health care services or information but lacked insurance, worked a part-time job, been a student, or been poor, well, the Republicans have just said "F-you."

By the way, as Colbert and Maddow both pointed out, don't try to get a pap smear or colonoscopy at Walgreens.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Picture of the Day

(Via THD.)

I know I've been absent lately. I'm trying to get back into a blogging mood. Please stand by.

Wednesday, April 06, 2011


It's scandalous I tell you. Last week Rep. Scott Randolph (D-Orlando) thought he'd mock the Republican's supposed opposition to all regulations. During a debate in the Florida legislature regarding union dues, Randolph suggested that his wife "incorporate her uterus" to stop Republicans from pushing measures that would restrict abortions. Hilarity ensued.

The Republicans didn't say much about the silly idea, but instead were horrified over the word "uterus." Never mind that it's a specific medical term that should come up in any anatomy class. To Republicans, it's an icky part of the female body.

So they banned the word "uterus" from the house floor. Ironically, the anti-regulation conservatives want to regulate speech and women's bodies. Why not go a step further and ban actual uteri?

Besides being a dickish move to reprimand a Democrat, what's really going on here? A bunch of grown men acting like adolescent boys, feeling embarrassed and blushing over a basic sex ed technical term? Or is it an attempt to halt any possible abortion debate that might actually veer into the realm of medical reality land?

Well, now thanks to this stupidity, the Florida ACLU has set up a site to incorporate your uterus. And of course there is also a Facebook page to make the usage of the word "uterus" less embarrassing to pages in the Florida Legislature. So I'm asking you, in all seriousness, who's in?

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Modern Serfs

"People who work for free are far hungrier than anybody who has a salary, so they're going to outperform, they're going to try to please, they're going to be creative." — Kelly Fallis, chief executive of Remote Stylist.
The above quote comes from this article in Fortune which asks if unpaid jobs are the new normal. Dear god, I hope not. I could be mistaken, but I thought slavery was outlawed.

Yeah, I understand that some college grads will take internships in the hopes of receiving valuable training and "getting their foot in the door." That's fine, but of course, a person who can take such a non-paying job has to already be in some kind of financially stable position (like living with their parents, perhaps).

And while contemplating the article, I remembered that I had worked for free. A friend and I spent a couple of years designing and programming some mobile games. But then that's really not the same, is it? I was working independently in the hopes of pure profits at the end of the road (which never quite materialized).

If I ever had the balls to assume I could hire a staff of fifty to assist me -- without any pay -- hell, I'm sure I could have been way more successful. I could have turned out more products and sucked up all the profit for myself. But that's just not right. I believe the word is "exploitation."

But we are living in anti-labor times now. The Fortune article laments, yes really laments, that using unpaid labor isn't always legal:

Unfortunately for many employers hoping to use unpaid labor to advance their business goals, there are strict federal and state rules that workers must be paid the minimum wage and paid for overtime, and must abide by other provisions in the Fair Labor Standards Act, which applies to about 135 million people working for 7.3 million employers. The FLSA doesn't apply to companies with less than $500,000 in annual revenue unless they engage in interstate commerce -- which can be as little as accepting credit cards or placing phone calls to another state.

The FLSA is there for a reason. In many job sectors a lack of wage laws can create a race to the bottom with each company cutting worker compensation to compete with the other companies that have cut worker compensation. And in the corporate world, that means that every person willing and able to work for free is taking a job away from somebody who needs income.

But now let me make a confession of sorts. It's kind of funny really. Or sad. The last few months I've been working in a "virtual sweatshop." Yes, I've been pimping my human intelligence to Amazon Mechanical Turks. Mostly I've been writing short informative articles for content farmers. I've found the work mostly enjoyable and kind of challenging.

For example, I've written informational pitches for snowboard products, despite the fact that I've never snowboarded, skied or made fluffy snow angels. Talk about creative writing.

But it's not the low pay that makes me creative. And I'm certainly not motivated by hunger. In fact, I can't say I work particularly hard at these assignments. I have no illusions of my work landing me a "real job." For me, as a person with a disability, it's a simple case of accessibility. I browse some HITs (Human Intelligence Tasks), click a button, and have an assignment. No commute. No long hours. No job interviews. No coming face-to-face with people's prejudices.

The pay, however, is embarrassing. I could maybe live off of it... if I moved to Zimbabwe. One of my friends suggested that the turkers unionize. I think he was joking, but I'm not sure.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Neighborhood of Make-Believe

"The fight to stop funding PBS is getting ugly. The Republicans are spreading a rumor that Elmo was born in Kenya." — Andy Borowitz on Twitter.
With all the recent vindictive attempts to cut public funding for PBS and NPR, it's no wonder this video is making the blog rounds. Here is Mister Rogers in 1969 speaking in support of PBS to the United States Senate Subcommittee on Communications:

To me, the most amazing thing about this video is how the Senator starts our rather hostile, but is kind of disarmed by Fred Roger's calm tone and passion. I haven't seen this level of civility in a long time.

For the 30 years that Mister Rogers' Neighborhood aired on PBS, Fred Rogers demonstrated this kind of genuine respect and gentleness towards all people. He was the best neighbor ever. I have to wonder how his testimony would be received today?

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Freedom Packages

Jon Stewart and John Oliver explain why rebels in Libya get the help of hundreds of Tomahawk missiles while those in Bahrain are told, "hey, tone it down, will ya?"

I love the disclaimer at the end of that segment. Also check out the Odyssey Dawn piece where Jon points out that we're out of money and we can't simultaneously fire teachers and Tomahawk missiles.

Monday, March 21, 2011

Number One Eggs

Funny, but just yesterday I was looking over my blog -- laughing at decade old articles, vacuuming the dead links, important stuff like that -- when I noticed the seldom used post label "gross food." I've only used the label twice, starting with a 2008 blurb about a hamburger in can.

Wow, I really should get back to writing about gross food, at least when politics and environmental catastrophes start getting me down. And then today, as if the Internet read my mind, I find this on Boing Boing:

In Dongyang, has already formed such an old custom: the street vendors who sell eggs boy or lad boiled eggs to their own people, would mention a plastic bucket to a school boy to collect the urine.

Students long ago got used to this, one to three grade boys to urinate, they will align the plastic bucket outside the classroom. School teachers, but also acquiesced in such conduct, they will always remind the children during illness in the cold to the plastic bucket can not pee. The children all came to listen.

People who are not familiar with the situation should surprise: the boy with the boy in urine egg is boiled eggs, eggs in the spring of stalls selling all over the boy Dongyang streets. The boy a fifty-one eggs more expensive than ordinary eggs, can always sell out of stock.

Just in case you think the above quote is an instance of Babblefish run amok, here is another article written in proper English.

Yes really, in China, hard boiled eggs soaked in the urine of virgin boys is considered a great delicacy. The makers of these "virgin eggs" place plastic buckets outside elementary school classrooms and boys are reminded to pee in them. The urine is used to boil the eggs which are slightly cracked so the flavor can seep in. They "have the taste of Spring," or so they say.

This is obviously a cultural difference... no wait, it's totally gross. I wonder if this concoction was the actual inspiration for Dr. Seuss.

I do not like spring eggs in piss.
I will not eat them served like this.
I will not eat them soaked in urine.
I will not eat them with Martin Van Buren.

Saturday, March 19, 2011

Team America

So I take it we just entered another war? U.S. forces, along with Britain, France, Canada and Italy, struck targets along the Libyan coast today calling it "Operation Odyssey Dawn." Apparently Gaddafi calls it an act of colonial, crusader aggression, but whatever.

I don't know what to think. I mean, I'm probably thinking the same thoughts I had exactly eight years ago when we invaded Iraq: I don't like war.

There must have been some time in U.S. history when wars were few and far between, but when we get them stacked one after another like this, we (the public) at least have the benefit of a little more skepticism, a little more wisdom, a little more sense of what questions we should be asking. I hope.

For example, do the Libyans want us to intervene in their country? In the lead up to the Iraq war, we were told we'd be greeted as liberators. Remember that? But the famous toppling of the statue of Saddam Hussein was completely staged psyops -- the people you see hanging around in that film footage are mostly members of the U.S. Marines and the international press.

But the Libyan uprising started without us. The blood was already flowing when the Libyans themselves begged the rest of the world for help. Doing nothing would be the same as supporting Gaddafi, who in case it must be said, is a rich, brutal dictator with a loyal army ready to kill with no restraint.

Despite that reality, the public hasn't been sold this war based on any fabricated fear factor. No lies about WMDs or fables about defending our own freedom. It seems to be about helping oppressed people. But the skeptic in me knows that aim has kind of been the most common justification for all our military action in the last 60 years.

Most of which haven't gone so well. Sitting around watching Gaddafi slaughter his people won't go so well either.

So the military action today is the first easy step. But then what? We can depose Gaddafi, but how do we identify all the other baddies? What stops them from becoming the new despots of a new Libya? And is it our responsibility to fix any new problems that arise? Do we then move on to Bahrain or Yemen? Or will we be satisfied as long as the Libyan oil keeps flowing?

I hope that, along with the new governments of Egypt and Tunisia, this is the start of a new more democratic Middle East. I hope this war isn't another painful blunder, and my god, I hope we have an exit strategy.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

State of Emergency

(via Fail Blog.)

Of course, I've been distressed over the situation in Japan and the ongoing crisis at the Fukushima nuclear power plant... but if I laugh at the above magazine cover, does that mean I go to hell?

But now let's discuss the real emergency, at least as the Republicans see it: House GOP Declares Emergency ... Over NPR Funding. Yeah, all because that little prick O'Keefe taped (and edited!) one video of one NPR employee not taking bribes while describing the teabaggers in quite accurate terms.

Another stupid and misguided thing the Republicans are fervently working on is cuts to the U.S. solar industry. Yeah, so solar power facilities are a million times safer, cleaner and simpler to operate than nuclear power plants, so Republicans say "let's cut funding to solar power!" At the exact moment in history when we should be investing in clean renewable energy sources, Republicans want to play childish games.

Speaking of which, the new Pokemon game is pretty cool.

Monday, March 14, 2011

Pi Day

Father: What did you learn in school today?

Son: Umm... pi r 2

Father: No, son, pie are round. Cornbread are squared.

Sunday, March 13, 2011

Shaking the World

I was watching late night TV on Thursday when the EAS warnings started coming in. It was not a test. A tsunami was coming and it even had an arrival time.

I live quite a few miles in from the California coast, but my nephew and his pregnant wife rent a little Santa Cruz bungalow. In retrospect, I should have sent them a text message or something, but they're okay now. As a precaution, they were evacuated in the early morning hours.

Which of course is nothing compared to the awful hell the Japanese are going through. First, a 9.0 megathrust quake hit, violently shaking quake-prepared skyscrapers, altering the earth's spin, and generating a tsunami that swept away Japanese cities.

And like a long distance kiss across the ocean, the tsunami visited California. No matter what your spiritual beliefs, nobody can deny that we are all connected. What the earth does, and what we do to it, and how it responds to our behavior connects us all, at least in a purely terrestrial sense.

But in a whole different sense, I've found it extremely difficult to watch their suffering because I know it could have been us -- me, my family, friends, everybody I know. It's a long-standing joke that when parts of the Golden State fall into the ocean, those of us further inland will have beach front property. Not so funny now -- now that half the town of Minamisanriku is missing.

And yet Japan was more prepared than probably any other country in the world. They made a $1 billion investment in a high-tech earthquake warning system that gave people a few seconds warning. Every second counts if it means time to get under a table or stop heavy machinery. I want this system in California, but our Congress critters are so bloody idiotic and short-sighted that they want to cut funding for the tsunami warning systems that worked so well!

But even the Japanese government, who seem to take every conceivable step to protect their citizens, couldn't make disaster-proof nuclear power plants. As I'm writing this, I'm reading about the second reactor explosion at Fukushima Daini nuclear power plant. This whole thing must feel like the end of the world to them.

There's not much we can do right now, but donate.

Wednesday, March 09, 2011

Dropping the Pretense

It's not about the budget. I'm talking about Wisconsin, of course, where Republicans just ended a three week stalemate by passing a standalone bill that strips public unions of almost all collective bargaining rights.

Basically, Wisconsin Republicans redefined the union-busting portions of the budget bill as non-budgetary, so they could vote on it without the Democrats being there.

But then Governor Scott Walker contradicted the whole process by saying, "In order to move the state forward, I applaud the legislature's action today to stand up to the status quo and take a step in the right direction to balance the budget and reform government." So was it a budget bill or not? Sounds shady either way.

But here's a Wisconsin Senator confirming that union busting isn't about, never was about, balancing the budget:

It's about winning elections by yanking support away from Democrats. But if they have to resort to such guileless, underhanded moves, are they going to win much of anything? It's quite obvious they hate democracy and ignore the law.

And you know, none of this fixes the economy one iota. It's Gov. Walker dicking around with people's lives while pretending he's the new Reagan.

Tuesday, March 08, 2011

Conservatives Hate NPR

"Step one: act like gun-toting racists. Step two: catch NPR exec on tape acknowledging reality of step one. Step three: scandal!" — Tom Tomorrow on Twitter.
This NPR "scandal" keeps popping up in my Google news headlines, so I guess this means the MSM hasn't yet learned to ignore the lying, video splicing, misogynistic accused felon also known as James O'Keefe.

O'Keefe is behind this latest ruse where Ron Schiller, NPR's senior vice president for fundraising, was secretly videotaped conversing with actors posing as members of the fictitious Muslim Action Education Center.

Here is one of Schiller's "scandalous" comments about teabaggers: "Xenophobic, I mean basically they are; they believe in sort of white, middle-America gun-toting. I mean, it's scary. They're seriously racist, racist people."

Funny because that's what I've been saying all along. Wow, he's an elitist liberal just like me, but I didn't know that being caught in the act could cause such a stir.

Let's be clear that nothing illegal happened in this setup. This fact gets buried at the bottom of all these stories, but when the pair of actors wanted to give $5 million to NPR, Schiller refused to take it.

However, he did make some dumb moves. Number one was going to lunch with two unknown men from an unknown activist group. Dumb.

And then Schiller made a comment that will haunt NPR for years. He said NPR "would be better off in the long run without federal funding." This is counter to what the organization believes.

But who would take this off-comment during a shitty prank seriously anyway? The GOP of course. They've destroyed ACORN already and now, with purely political motivation, they're out to get Planned Parenthood, PBS and NPR -- the last two because, you know, real journalism is warfare and they don't want any of that.

Ron Schiller resigned from NPR today. He can be thankful for one thing though. At least O'Keefe didn't invite him onto his dildo boat.

Monday, March 07, 2011

Them's The Breaks

This chart from the Center for American Progress shows 10 safety-net programs facing huge cutbacks versus the tax breaks for the wealthy that face no cuts at all.

I just got finished watching Jon Stewart interview Rand Paul (here's the link). But all I gather is that trickle-down theory is as popular as ever, and Republicans have a whole lot of sympathy for the wealthy.

See those proposed cuts for supplemental nutrition for poor families, LIHEAP, and community health centers? Cutting those programs will directly harm the elderly, poor and disabled. Hey Palin, I think I found those death panels, and your Republican pals are the directors.

Thursday, March 03, 2011

The Petty Party

This is the stuff that boils my blood. The Republicans in Congress, led by John Boehner, have really put their pettiness on parade:

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The story I had not previously heard about was the nixing of the Green Initiative program in the Congress cafeteria, replacing biodegradable tableware with plastic and styrofoam. That's not just thumbing your nose at Democrats, that's thumbing your nose at the environment and the future.

The many aspects of the greening program reduced energy and water consumption in Capitol buildings by 23 percent and 32 percent, respectively. But uh-oh! The composting portion of the program cost $475,000. Well... that ought to fix the budget.

But here's the part of the story that feels like a kick in the head, the new environmentally-unfriendly products in the Congress cafeteria are being provided by Koch Industries.

The only thing Boehner does well is take care of his billionaire friends.

Wednesday, March 02, 2011

Funeral Rights

We can call it a reaffirmation of the First Amendment, but just because it’s legal doesn’t mean it’s right.

I'm talking, of course, about the U.S. Supreme Court's decision that those shitheads at the Westboro Baptist church can protest at military funerals.

I totally agree that speech should not be restricted just because it's offensive. The whole reason for the First Amendment is to protect offensive speech. Nobody needs a First Amendment to protect mundane speech.

But my God, Fred Phelps and his hateful little family of rainbow sign-making lawyers disgust me. Shortly after the Supreme Court announced this ruling, a leader of the Westboro church said they will now "quadruple" the number of funeral protests. Well, I hope the counter-protesters can septuple their efforts with their angel wing shields.

However, how is this ruling compatible with the "free speech zones" used at political gatherings? Remember how these secluded zones, surrounded by chain-link fence, would be setup half a mile from anywhere George W. Bush was speaking? Remember how the Secret Service instructed local police to use the zones to quarantine anybody who disagreed with Bush?

Much Orwellian rationale has been offered as explanation for these zones, but it's censorship pure and simple -- keep political protesters out of sight of the MSM so their message doesn't get out.

I guess our country is very "selective" about supporting the First Amendment.

However, it's nice to know I can protest at burials. Now I'm dreaming up creative sign slogans as I'm patiently waiting for a Phelps family funeral to attend.

Monday, February 28, 2011

Gaddaffy Duck

I couldn't resist posting this picture of "Gaddaffy Duck." The first time I ever heard the lame pun was back in 1986 when "duck" was more of a... suggestion... to the safari suit clad dictator, since we were busy bombing his little kingdom all to hell at that time.

Now though, Gaddaffy Duck is more of a commentary on Muammar Gaddafi's mental state. The Libyan uprising began on February 15, followed by a bloody crackdown, and protesters still seem to have control of Tobruk, but somehow Gaddafi insists "all my people love me." And then he blames the uprising on al-Qaeda, which is either pure lunacy or a transparent plea for some American love.

Of course, I can't make any predictions about the ensuing civil war, or Gaddafi, or what will happen when he leaves (one way or another), or what the U.S. role should be in that,or...

Oh, look. Is that Charlie Sheen giving an interview on TV?

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Let the Culture Wars Resume

Today President Obama decided that the Justice Department will cease legal defense of Section 3 of the Defense of Marriage Act, which defines marriage as a legal union between one man and one woman.

After this announcement, Senator Diane Feinstein stated that she intends to introduce "legislation that will once and for all repeal the Defense of Marriage Act."

If my father has caught news of any of this, he's probably having fifty conniptions... like he nearly did on Christmas eve, when somehow, I guess it was a bad idea now that I think about it, we were watching Miss Congeniality over at my sister's house. Well, somebody (not me) brought up some minor controversy over a beauty pageant. No, it was not the controversy where that ditz defended "opposite marriage," but some other totally different controversy, but the point is my dad reflexively assumed we were discussing that case. So he instantly got himself into one of those loud, boiled, acrimonious speeches that makes sense to him alone.

Somewhere in between hyperventilating and foaming at the mouth he brought up a California case where the judge was known to be gay. In the mind of a septuagenarian straight white male, this is indisputable proof of bigotry. Because in his world, men just like him are the de facto standard for neutrality. Because if there are two sides of a coin, then his side is always somehow neutral.

But then, when my dad took a breather, my niece... she's my sister's stepdaughter through her most recent marriage... said, in a very tiny, polite voice, "Oh, but I think everybody has biases." And that shut my dad up, at least for one night.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Appeasing the Gods of Deficit

So I was going to post the Daily Show clip where Jon Stewart accuses Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker of "appeasing the gods of deficit" by closing the budget gap (created by millions in tax cuts for businesses) by ritualistically killing the unions. It's a pretty good take on the situation so watch the clip anyway, but the end kind of rubs me the wrong way. Ever since the March to Restore Sanity, Jon's been pushing this whole "both sides meme," and either he's not getting it or I'm not getting it.

Yeah, Fox supported the Tea Party protesters and condemns the Wisconsin union protesters, and the flip side is true for MSNBC. But the union protesters are a lot less crazy, didn't bring guns, and actually have their livelihoods at stake. The tea partiers? I've written enough about them, but they want "their country back" and don't want certain people to have health care. I think I'm smart enough to point out which side is loony, and Jon should point it out too.

However, back to the whole budget deficit thing, this is important because way too many Republicans are trying to tell us that things like social safety nets and collective bargaining by unions, all the things Republicans never liked anyway, are just too darn expensive. But the Rachel Maddow show is challenging this whole myth that unions cause budget crises:

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Monday, February 21, 2011

Respect for the Law

Ohio Governor John Kasich thinks that police officers who do their jobs are "idiots," and he says it a few times just in case you missed it.

Unsurprisingly, he wants to push the same union-busting bologna that's going on in Wisconsin.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Nobody Goes to Jail

Over drinks at a bar on a dreary, snowy night in Washington this past month, a former Senate investigator laughed as he polished off his beer.

"Everything's fucked up, and nobody goes to jail," he said. "That's your whole story right there. Hell, you don't even have to write the rest of it. Just write that."

I put down my notebook. "Just that?"

"That's right," he said, signaling to the waitress for the check. "Everything's fucked up, and nobody goes to jail. You can end the piece right there."

— Excerpt from Why Isn't Wall Street in Jail? by Matt Taibbi.
That Rolling Stone article is a must read. Matt Taibbi explains how the entire system that is designed to monitor and regulate Wall Street is so fucked up that it actually serves to protect financial criminals. This is how the system works for the richest:
Criminal justice, as it pertains to the Goldmans and Morgan Stanleys of the world, is not adversarial combat, with cops and crooks duking it out in interrogation rooms and courthouses. Instead, it's a cocktail party between friends and colleagues who from month to month and year to year are constantly switching sides and trading hats. At the Hilton conference, regulators and banker-lawyers rubbed elbows during a series of speeches and panel discussions, away from the rabble. "They were chummier in that environment," says Aguirre, who plunked down $2,200 to attend the conference.
And these super-wealthy elite criminals are amazingly skilled at whipping up a distracting frenzy of populace rage against... unbelievably... health care, socialism, and unions. I don't know what will convince them to re-aim their pitchforks.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Being Hard on the Bieber

I never dreamed the world would give me reason to blog about this kid:
"You guys are evil... Canada's the best country in the world. We go to the doctor and we don't need to worry about paying him, but here, your whole life, you're broke because of medical bills. My bodyguard's baby was premature, and now he has to pay for it. In Canada, if your baby's premature, he stays in the hospital as long as he needs to, and then you go home." — Justin Bieber in his recent Rolling Stone interview.

So my first thought is that our health care system must be pretty awful if a 16 year-old Canadian pop idol is speaking out against it.

No, wait, my first thought is why the hell should we care what Justin Bieber thinks.

My second thought is that our health care system must be pretty awful if a 16 year-old Canadian pop idol is speaking out against it.

My third thought is that Glenn Beck will now have to work Bieber into one of his grand conspiracies. Wait, maybe that was my second thought.

Okay, my fourth thought, and hopefully final thought on this topic, is how mean it is to ask these loaded political questions to a dumb kid. I'm really not sure how I would have answered the same questions at that age, especially that question about abortion. Bieber said, "I really don't believe in abortion. It's like killing a baby?"

When the reporter pointed out that sometimes women are raped, Bieber said, "Um. Well, I think that's really sad, but everything happens for a reason. I don't know how that would be a reason. I guess I haven't been in that position, so I wouldn't be able to judge that."

Well, many people including myself cringe at the idea that rape is somehow predestined and "happens for a reason," but don't overlook the last part of his statement, "I guess I haven't been in that position, so I wouldn't be able to judge that." I think that indicates a lot of empathy that is completely missing in our increasingly angry political atmosphere. And maybe his opinion isn't set in stone or he realizes that there is still a lot he doesn't understand.

Either way, I'm thankful my parents never pushed me out on stage with a microphone and a funny haircut.

Oh wait, I have a fifth thought! If the wingnuts sink to the level of attacking this kid on his pro-Canada health system views, then they better watch out. Just look what Bieber's rabid tween fans did when that obscure jazz singer Esperanza Spalding won the Grammy for best new artist! Don't mess with them!

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Repealing the 20th Century

Remember when the Republicans unveiled their so-cool-it-hurts Speak Out America website last year? Remember the hilarious free-for-all that resulted on their open suggestion forum?

Remember the hundreds of "new ideas" that went something like, "The USA don't need socialist measures such as 8-hour work days, weekends off, paid vacations, banning child labor, or the minimum wage if we want to stay competitive against giants like India and China."

Remember I commented that some Republican candidates would actively support these "constructive" proposals?

Well, it kind of makes me sick to say I was right. Missouri State Sen. Jane Cunningham (R) wants to eliminate child labor laws in the state of Missouri. The bill would, among other things, eliminate the prohibition on employment of children under age fourteen.

What the hell is this supposed to accomplish? The party that doesn't want corporation to pay taxes also wants to permit corporations to enslave children?

And just in case you need more evidence that Republicans want to "take our country back... to the 19th century," the Kentucky Senate recently approved legislation to allow the Christian Bible to be taught in public schools. Of course, they claim they want to teach it as literature, but we all know that's bullshit. It will be impossible to hire an unbiased teacher for such a controversial course.

The Republicans are seriously pandering to the nuttiest fringe of their party. Moderates have little to no interest in radically regressive legislation that turns us into a third-world country. And yet, somehow, I don't think we've reached peak insanity yet.

Saturday, February 12, 2011

That's A Wrap

Laugh at the punny headlines, but also read Ethan Zuckerman's blog about Mubarak's resignation. Ousting a dictator is not enough. Egyptians must rebuild their government now, and then comes the question of our era: what role will Facebook play in the transition?

And what role will Facebook play in the next revolution? History is set to repeat itself in Algeria already as their government shuts down the internet and deletes social-networking accounts. It doesn't surprise me that these repressive governments ruled by elderly men can't do anything right when it comes to social networking. Ever try to explain Facebook to your parents?

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Don't Let Them Eat Cake

Good news everybody! The U.S. is not the fattest nation. According to a recent world report on obesity, other rich, industrial nations like Saudi Arabia and United Arab Emirates are fatter. So... the First Lady should scrap her child obesity campaign, right? Not so fast, fatties. More young people are having strokes, and that's not something we want to become the world leader of.

Wednesday, February 09, 2011

Halfway to Sunset

I didn't expect to be blogging about the USA Patriot Act again this year. I assumed the extensions to the Bush-era anti-terrorist surveillance bill would pass without fuss, and the sun would fail to set yet again. But something happened.

The House didn't pass the USA Patriot Act extension. Apparently they considered it so uncontroversial that they moved it to the floor under a provision that requires a two-thirds majority to pass. One-hundred-twenty-two Democrats voted against it, and they were joined by 26 Republicans, including eight freshman "tea party" candidates. Of course, the headlines will read that it was some kind of "tea party rebellion" that thwarted the extension, ignoring the 122 nays from the Democrats, and ignoring that most of the tea party caucus voted to pass the extension.

Seeing this new Congress in action leads me to a few questions: are the TP candidates posing as libertarians or authoritarians? What happened to the "small government" rhetoric? They certainly have a strange understanding of freedom as Rachel Maddow pointed out last night. Just look at their policies:

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And yet Congress went through all that trouble to read the Constitution on the House floor just to cast votes against the Fourth Amendment a month later.

The bright side is that the issue of civil liberties can be common ground for the right and the left, but Glenn Greenwald has these sobering thoughts:
Last night's unexpected Patriot Act vote illustrates the tantalizing promise of such an alliance. Things would be vastly improved on the civil liberties front if the American Right was even minimally faithful to the political principles they claim to support. But the nature of that movement means that last night's vote is far more of an isolated aberration than anything likely to change the bipartisan dynamic in a positive way. Indeed, the very weak status of civil liberties in the U.S. is compellingly illustrated by the fact that an alliance with this deeply unprincipled and authoritarian movement is one of the few viable means for stemming the tide of the erosion.
Greenwald also believes that the Patriot Act extensions will indeed pass when they are voted on again in a few weeks under standard procedures that require a majority for approval.

But with more attention on the issue now and the votes of some unallied Freshman, maybe they will surprise us again? They do seem kind of fickle.