Monday, January 31, 2011

Half A World Away

So I suppose I've been failing as a blogger by not even mentioning the monumental events going on in Egypt... I guess a revolution catches us all by surprise. But honestly, I've watched these things before. I think we all have. And these uprisings often have hopeful moments and then? They're squashed. Remember Tianamen Square?

But the story in Egypt is still unfolding, and there is room for hope. The Egyptian Army says it will not use force against the people during tomorrow's March of a Million.

I don't know what to expect from my own government. My hope is that they will support Democracy and stop propping up dictators. Am I asking too much?

Sunday, January 30, 2011

Publish Fearlessly

"If we're talking about creating threats to small publishers to stop them publishing, the U.S. has lost its way. It has abrogated its founding traditions. It has thrown the First Amendment in the bin. Because publishers must be free to publish." — Julian Assange on 60 Minutes.

Friday, January 28, 2011

The Birthers Rebirth

This could be filed under my long forgotten "Dinner with My Parents" series, however I didn't have the tapes rolling tonight. But let me just recap that my father is an ultra right-wing septuagenarian raised on WW II propaganda and the fear of Communism -- in case you didn't know.

We had a little family dinner tonight that included me, mom, dad, my oldest sister and her husband whose birthday we were celebrating. My dear old mom had to let us in on an unusual dream she had: for some surreal reason she was walking behind President Obama and he turned around and told her that she shouldn't talk to him "like that" and she should show more respect. I'm not even going to touch that with a ten foot dream-catcher (or something). I'll leave that up to my new-agey friends with their dream dictionaries and "dream cards."

But what followed at the dinner table was, of course, my father ignited in a slightly paranoid factless rant about the president. According to my father, "they still can't find Obama's birth certificate." What? What bullshit! Is this starting up again?

Why yes, it is, and it's a lesson on how the right-wing ignores reality. If the WorldNetDaily headlines read, "Hawaii governor can’t find Obama birth certificate," then is it any surprise that what the Hawaii governor actually said was that there is a recording of the birth in the State Archive!

If WorldNetDaily quotes the Hawaii governor as saying this has "political implications," is it any surprise that his complete quote was about how the birther nonsense has "a political implication for 2012 that we simply cannot have."

Reasoning is hopeless. Birthers will think what they want to think, facts be damned. And they certainly won't pay $100 to shatter their most cherished belief, though that was a very creative idea by the Hawaii state legislature.

I'm tempted to say it just doesn't matter what the old folks cling to. The people who believed this drivel in 2008 will continue to believe until 2012 and beyond. But what disturbs me more is my sister who is not dumb -- but maybe a teensy bit gullible -- and doesn't have time to investigate this stuff on her own. She listened to our father with genuine intrigue -- well I hope to god she was faking it, but probably not.

It's been said "if you repeat a lie often enough they believe it to be fact," and that's the strategy of the conservative media outlets: create a false sense of controversy in order to pander to the delusional birthers and sway any possible "fence sitters."

Though arguing with the illogical is futile, let me just say, yes mom and dad, Obama is an American, and he does in fact deserve a little more respect.

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Making Their Own News

The alternate title for this blog post was "America's Dumbstupid moment."

After President Obama gave his State of the Union address the other night, CNN made the inexplicable decision to allow Michele Bachmann to deliver a rebuttal speech -- not for the Republican party which she is a member of, but for the "Tea Party" (better known as the teabaggers).

Next year I will insist on airtime for the "Dorkmonger Party." Who's with me?

Here is Rachel Maddow's thoughts on the equal billing of the teabaggers "official" response:

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I'm wondering if, as more and more Americans get a look at these "alternative" candidates in action, are they going to flee back to the mainstream candidates?

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Color Coded Conditioning

One day you'll tell your grandchildren about this, but they won't believe you. They'll say in disbelief, "you mean they had a color coded chart to tell you how scared to be?"

"Yes," you'll tell them. "And for nine long years it only varied from yellow to orange and back again."

"Why did they change it to orange?"

"Usually to make us forget about a Democratic National Convention or a Republican scandal."

But then a wizened smile will grow across your face and you'll say, "but the comedians and snarky bloggers ridiculed the dumbstupid thing and eventually the government gave up their dang rainbow charts."

Then your precocious little grandkid will pipe up with, "now when they want us to forget they use the neuralyzer!"


"Grams, tell me more about the good-old days!"

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Comedy and Tragedy

I haven't had time to really digest tonight's State of the Union Address, but at times, didn't Vice President Biden and Speaker of the House Boehner kind of mimic the ancient comedy and tragedy masks?

And maybe that division is appropriate? We're going to build railroads, we're going to cut spending, we're going to invest in education, we're going to cut spending, it's our generation's Sputnik moment, but we're going to cut spending.

I don't know how we can talk about cutting spending without talking about cutting the defense budget, but that topic never seems to come up. Well, President Obama did mention it -- "The Secretary of Defense has also agreed to cut tens of billions of dollars in spending that he and his generals believe our military can do without" -- but I dread the fear-mongering that will ultimately prevent that move.

The energy independence thing is a really cool idea though. Of course, it was cool when Jimmy Carter talked about it... and every president since then.

I know President Obama's speech was supposed to be a bit of a pep talk for our nation, but for whatever reason, I'm feeling overly cynical tonight. At times I felt like Obama was groveling to the teabaggers. At times I thought he was trying to make John Boehner cry.

Friday, January 21, 2011

The Final Countdown

I don't want this to sound like a eulogy, because obviously Keith Olbermann is alive and kicking, but he has now parted ways with MSNBC. I remember there was a time when I had totally given up on the wasteland of cable news -- maybe even all mainstream news -- and then I found a sane, progressive, articulate and unapologetic voice in Keith Olbermann.

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I'm going to miss him. I hope he finds a new home on another forum... though I'm really hoping it's not a sports network. I know he loves sports, but I think such a move might be a waste of his talents.

Keith, don't let this be the end! I'm counting on you!

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

When the Sun Never Sets

The USA Patriot Act was signed into law by President George W. Bush in 2001. A big opportunistic anti-terrorist bill, it was proposed after the attacks on September 11, 2001, and of course, we were told the legislation would keep us safe.

Russ Feingold was the only Senator to vote against the bill. The rest of them, well, I doubt they even read it. It was called "The Patriot Act" after all. But here is what they were approving:
The Act dramatically reduced restrictions on law enforcement agencies' ability to search telephone, e-mail communications, medical, financial, and other records; eased restrictions on foreign intelligence gathering within the United States; expanded the Secretary of the Treasury’s authority to regulate financial transactions, particularly those involving foreign individuals and entities; and broadened the discretion of law enforcement and immigration authorities in detaining and deporting immigrants suspected of terrorism-related acts. The act also expanded the definition of terrorism to include domestic terrorism, thus enlarging the number of activities to which the USA PATRIOT Act’s expanded law enforcement powers can be applied.
Opponents of the law have criticized its authorization of indefinite detentions of immigrants; searches through which law enforcement officers search a home or business without the owner’s or the occupant’s permission or knowledge; the expanded use of National Security Letters, which allows the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) to search telephone, e-mail, and financial records without a court order; and the expanded access of law enforcement agencies to business records, including library and financial records. Since its passage, several legal challenges have been brought against the act, and Federal courts have ruled that a number of provisions are unconstitutional.
The concerns were well founded. It has since been revealed that the NSA, under the direction of George W. Bush, spied on everyone, specifically targeting journalists. Under President Obama, there hasn't been any change. Now we know that the FBI has even circumvented the minimal checks on their power when demanding telephone records.

Of course, we weren't to worry. The surveillance state was only temporary. There were "sunset provisions" in the Patriot Act. Many of the provisions were set to expire in 2005. The war on terror would be over by then, right? LOL.

The USA Patriot and Terrorism Prevention Reauthorization Act of 2005 was passed in July of that year. It was reauthorized again in 2006, and then, well, quite a history of reauthorizations follows, sometimes adding new measures for fighting terrorism or new powers for the Secret Service.

For some reason I was lead to believe that there would be no torture and no warrantless wiretapping under President Obama. But apparently executives rarely give up executive power.

In 2010 (you may have missed this), the Patriot Act with no reforms was extended again. You can find the final vote on the Office of the Clerk of the U.S. House of Representatives site. Yes, that is the correct link to the vote. It was weaseled into a bill titled "Medicare Physician Payment Reform Act." I'm not shitting you. The bill passed by Unanimous Consent.

The extension was only for a year though. Just one more year, yeah, right. Anyway, as you would guess, though hardly notice, the Patriot Act is up for renewal again. I don't expect anybody to make a fuss. Most people probably feel it doesn't apply to them. You don't need civil liberties until -- you know -- you actually have something unpopular to say.

The Patriot Act is anything but patriotic. Let the sun set.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

What We've Learned

Nine days have passed, and the willful blindness hasn't even slowed down yet. Besides the total absence of even the glimmer of personal responsibility that Senator McCain and I have evinced, we learn from all this that the right lives in a perpetual state of victimhood.

We learn that the right doesn't even recognize the irony of its claim of being unfairly blamed for the violence of others, when it has spent the last several years doing exactly that to Muslims — particularly American Muslims. We also learn that the right can simultaneously insist no political party or inclination can be blamed for Tucson — while it itself blames the Democratic party and the left, for Tucson.

We learn that the Right does not understand that if you — if we— foment a political environment in which politics are to be settled by violence, or the threat of violence, or in a rhetorical tide of violent imagery, it no longer matters what those politics specifically are, or if the hearer even understands your politics or agrees with your politics — he may hear only the permission to be violent.

And ultimately we learn — especially from Mrs. Palin's foolishness — this template of what the right would do in an actual open-and-shut slam dunk case in which a partisan of the right attempted to kill one of the left. The right would blame that victim blame him or her for not having brought enough security. Or for not having brought a gun.

— Keith Olbermann, Special Comment, January 17, 2011.

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Monday, January 17, 2011

Advertising Violence

(Billboard in Tucson, Arizona. Image found on Deus Ex Malcontent.)

"...when you saturate the air with hate you cannot control who breathes it in," Dan from Pruning Shears explains in his post about the Arizona massacre. Take a few minutes to read his post, but I'll summarize his insightful points about advertising as best I can.

Advertising works. That's why Coke, Pepsi, Ford, Apple and everybody else advertises when they have a product to sell. In fact, they spend billions of dollars on advertising, often not even knowing which ad "sticks" and which is wasted. But it is a fact that increased spending on advertising will lead to increased sales of the product advertised.

And so when you look at the political climate in Arizona, the violent imagery used by Sarah Palin, the "Second Amendment remedies" suggested by Sharron Angle, the violent fantasies presented by Glenn Beck, and the Arizona Tea Party favorite who urged followers "Get on Target for Victory in November. Help remove Gabrielle Giffords from office. Shoot a fully automatic M16 with Jesse Kelly"... it becomes bloody obvious these people are advertising violence.

And it works -- even if you can't draw a straight line from any one advertisement to the reprehensible act -- it works.

So the "alleged" shooter, Jared Loughner is mentally ill? I have no doubt that he is. But that doesn't make the crime an "isolated incident." David Neweirt proposed there is a level of moral and ethical culpability when violent speech has the following features:
  • It is factually false, or so grossly distorted and misleading as to constitute functional falsity.
  • It holds certain targeted individuals or groups of people up for vilification and demonization.
  • It smears them with false or misleading information that depicts them in a degraded light.
  • It depicts them as either emblematic, or the actual source, of a significant problem or a major threat.
  • It leads its audience to conclude that the solution to the problem manifested by these people is their elimination.
Crazy talk incites crazy people.

I get the feeling that some people honestly believe that if we never find a direct connection between Loughner and any pundit's violent rhetoric, then somehow violent speech is vindicated, acceptable and righteous. It is not.

Saturday, January 15, 2011

Let Freedom Ring

Given the tragic events of the past week, I thought my 2010 post on Martin Luther King, Jr. and peace was ready for a repeat. Also, it's his birthday, so Happy birthday MLK:
"When we let freedom ring, when we let it ring from every village and every hamlet, from every state and every city, we will be able to speed up that day when all of God's children, black men and white men, Jews and Gentiles, Protestants and Catholics, will be able to join hands and sing in the words of the old Negro spiritual, 'Free at last! Free at last! Thank God Almighty, we are free at last!'" — Martin Luther King, Jr.
What is it with the people who surround me? Simply mention Martin Luther King, Jr. Day in passing, and they roll their eyes as if you just told the worst joke ever. Why? They're not even echoing the old Republican objection that "the establishment of a public holiday to honor a private citizen would be contrary to our country’s longstanding tradition." No, they're too ignorant to even know that much. The disdain of my Caucasian friends and family comes from something else.

I think there is a deep denial or willful ignorance about how King profoundly changed our country with an unyielding belief in peace and justice. How unshakable were his beliefs?

A decade before King was assassinated, Izola Ware Curry attempted to kill King as he sat in a Manhattan department store signing copies of "Stride Toward Freedom." Curry, a part-time maid from Georgia, plunged a letter opener deep into King's chest. King forgave her, and, when asked about the incident, spoke of the urgent necessity for nonviolence to govern the affairs of men.

On January 30, 1956, Martin Luther King, Jr. suffered another tragedy. His home was bombed. After he checked on his family, he said this to the angry crowd:
"Don’t get panicky. Don’t do anything panicky. Don’t get your weapons. If you have weapons, take them home. He who lives by the sword will perish by the sword. Remember that is what Jesus said. We are not advocating violence. We want to love our enemies. I want you to love our enemies. Be good to them. This is what we must live by. We must meet hate with love."
While researching MLK today, I found this rare and forgotten comic book about the Montgomery Bus Boycott. One particular little panel of the comic stands out to me: "if a man can see his home bombed and not fight back -- except with love -- then there is hope for all of us." I have no problem honoring that man.

Friday, January 14, 2011

The Signs They Are A-changin'

Due to a few millennia of the earth wobbling on its axis, the stars have shifted in the night sky making traditional horoscope signs nearly a month off! This must be fixed immediately -- at least a few of my dopey Facebook friends are following the wrong astrological sign!

Luckily, Minnesota Planetarium Society's Parke Kunkle has come to the rescue with a newly calibrated list of dates:
Capricorn: Jan. 20-Feb. 16.
Aquarius: Feb. 16-March 11.
Pisces: March 11-April 18.
Aries: April 18-May 13.
Taurus: May 13-June 21.
Gemini: June 21-July 20.
Cancer: July 20-Aug. 10.
Leo: Aug. 10-Sept. 16.
Virgo: Sept. 16-Oct. 30.
Libra: Oct. 30-Nov. 23.
Scorpio: Nov. 23-29.
Ophiuchus:* Nov. 29-Dec. 17.
Sagittarius: Dec. 17-Jan. 20.
Notice there are now 13 signs? The ancient Babylonians discarded Ophichus because I guess they were superstitious about the number 13, but we modern folk aren't superstitious at all! (Except when we follow primitive myths.)

My sister, a Virgo, proudly displayed her zodiacal characteristics on a wooden plaque on her bedroom wall: fastidious, good judgment, and organized it said. She has lived up to it.

My sign, Cancer, stuck me with anxious, timid, and clingy. Jesus, no wonder I rejected this shit from the beginning. But now apparently I'm a Gemini, and my self-esteem is already improving. I'm lively, entertaining and romantic, though kind of fickle.

Yes, astrology is silly. And just to prove how silly it is, astrologers are debunking astronomers, decrying their lack of research on the subject. Astrologers say they are quite aware of the precession of the equinoxes, but it is irrelevant because their work is actually based on movements of the planets in our own solar system. Ah okay, but still no logic on how these solar zones of influence rule my personality and life? I didn't think so...

If you're confused but still want to follow your daily horoscope for entertainment, my advice is pick whatever sign you like best, and go with it!

But whatever you do, don't get it tattooed on your butt.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

We Can Do Better

But at a time when our discourse has become so sharply polarized – at a time when we are far too eager to lay the blame for all that ails the world at the feet of those who think differently than we do – it’s important for us to pause for a moment and make sure that we are talking with each other in a way that heals, not a way that wounds.

Scripture tells us that there is evil in the world, and that terrible things happen for reasons that defy human understanding. In the words of Job, “when I looked for light, then came darkness.” Bad things happen, and we must guard against simple explanations in the aftermath.

For the truth is that none of us can know exactly what triggered this vicious attack. None of us can know with any certainty what might have stopped those shots from being fired, or what thoughts lurked in the inner recesses of a violent man’s mind.

So yes, we must examine all the facts behind this tragedy. We cannot and will not be passive in the face of such violence. We should be willing to challenge old assumptions in order to lessen the prospects of violence in the future.

But what we can’t do is use this tragedy as one more occasion to turn on one another. As we discuss these issues, let each of us do so with a good dose of humility. Rather than pointing fingers or assigning blame, let us use this occasion to expand our moral imaginations, to listen to each other more carefully, to sharpen our instincts for empathy, and remind ourselves of all the ways our hopes and dreams are bound together.

— President Barack Obama, January 12, 2011.

I was going to post some snark about Palin reloading, but after hearing the President's speech -- he was at his best tonight -- I decided Palin wasn't worth my time or effort. If the President is calling for a different sort of conversation, I suppose I can give him that.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Don't Mess With Us

As I mentioned in my previous blog post, those despicable shitheads at Westboro Baptist church plan to picket the funerals of Arizona shooting victims -- including the youngest victim, Christina Green.

In response, Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer signed emergency legislation barring protests within 300 feet of a funeral and within an hour from its beginning or end. Hell, this kind of restriction may not pass constitutional challenges, but hopefully it will allow the family to bury their nine year old child in peace!

There is one more line of defense though, and that's being provided by a counter-protest group using "angel action." Participants wear 8- by 10-foot "angel wings" to shield the mourners from the haters. It's a brilliant idea and I hope it works out peacefully.

Another piece of hasty extremist-inspired legislation also grabbed my attention today. New York Rep. Peter King wants to make it illegal to carry a gun within 1,000 feet of government officials. It's great to see some representatives finally standing up to the NRA, and I understand the utmost need to protect our democratically elected government from extremists... but how about protecting all of us? I don't want a gun within a 1,000 feet of me either! In fact, Rep. King is reminding me of all the congressmen and women who rejected health care reform when they already have great health care for themselves.

But I don't expect anything better than meek and unenforceable gun legislation to make it past the NRA. You mess with them, and one of their proud supporters will design a commemorative automatic rifle especially for killing you.

Sunday, January 09, 2011

It Has to be Said

"When you look at unbalanced people, how they respond to the vitriol that comes out of certain mouths about tearing down the government. The anger, the hatred, the bigotry that goes on in this country is getting to be outrageous. And, unfortunately, Arizona I think has become sort of the capital. We have become the Mecca for prejudice and bigotry... It's not unusual for all public officials to get threats constantly, myself included. And that's the sad thing of what's going on in America. Pretty soon, we're not going to be able to find reasonable, decent people who are willing to subject themselves to serve in public office... Let me just say one thing, because people tend to poo-poo this business about all the vitriol that we hear inflaming the American public by people who make a living off of doing that. That may be free speech. But it's not without consequences." — Pima County Sheriff Clarence Dupnik.
Apparently the message hasn't reached Fred Phelps and his Westboro Baptist church. They plan to picket the funerals of Arizona shooting victims.

Saturday, January 08, 2011


"The crossfire is intense, so penetrate through enemy territory by bombing through the press, and use your strong weapons — your Big Guns — to drive to the hole. Shoot with accuracy; aim high and remember it takes blood, sweat and tears to win." — Sarah Palin, March 2010.

"My sincere condolences are offered to the family of Rep. Gabrielle Giffords and the other victims of today's tragic shooting in Arizona." — Sarah Palin, January 8, 2011.

Bullshit, Sarah. You put U.S. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords in your cross-hairs last year (don't try to hide it), and now she's been shot, point blank in the head, and although Giffords made it through surgery, a nine year old child, an Arizona Chief Judge, and four others are dead.

The 22 year-old shooter, Jared Loughner, has a recent history of paranoid rants regarding mind control, currency, the government, the Constitution, and grammar. I'll take a wild guess that he's a paranoid schizophrenic -- the exact type Palin and Sharron Angle were trying to incite with talk of "Second Amendment remedies." To me, it doesn't really matter whether Loughner was a follower of either of those vile women -- he delivered the result they wanted -- the result the "tea party" wanted.

And by the way, isn't Arizona one of those states where people can carry guns almost anywhere? Why did bystanders have to tackle Loughner to the ground? Gee, weren't they all supposed to be armed and ready to shoot him down? I guess it never works out that way in reality...

But in reality, sustained violent rhetoric always has a body count.

Friday, January 07, 2011

Feeling Old

Here are some cute French kids trying to make sense out of 1980's technology:

(YouTube video.)

See, even today kids think 8-track players are "the bomb." And what about the kid who tries to use the 3-1/2 diskette as a camera? Not a bad guess really -- the way that little metal part slides open and shut. But let's not forget that kids are pretty smart! As the Indian "hole-in-the-wall" experiment showed us, kids can pick up computer skills on their own with no supervised instructions.

I'm sure those French Kids would have figured out the diskette and the track ball if they had a compatible computer system to use in their experimenting. But in isolation, each one of those artifacts is useless.

And realizing that these once-cool things are "artifacts" makes me feel plenty old.

Thursday, January 06, 2011

Still Hot

In fact, they're hotter than ever. Here's the latest from Duran Duran, All You Need Is Now:

Wednesday, January 05, 2011

Welcome Back Funny Guys

Somehow I forgot that Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert were back this week. That two weeks hiatus slipped by so quickly...

Just before their winter break, The Daily Show was kicking butts over the 9/11 first responders bill. Last night Kirsten Gillibrand was on thanking Jon for amplifying the stories of the first responders and helping the stalled legislation pass:

The Daily Show With Jon StewartMon - Thurs 11p / 10c
Kirsten Gillibrand
Daily Show Full EpisodesPolitical Humor & Satire Blog</a>The Daily Show on Facebook

The first responders bill, by the way, was staunchly opposed by teabaggers.

Tuesday, January 04, 2011

Magic Versus Science

Score one for science. And also Australian authorities who made Power Balance, the California company behind the Power Balance bracelet, admit that there is "no credible scientific evidence" that supports their claims.

What kind of claims did the company make? That their silicone wristbands with Mylar holographic disks would "safely restore and optimize the electro-magnetic balance within the human body -- IMMEDIATELY."

And that their Mylar holographic disks contain "the same material used to keep static away from electronic components" and "has been embedded with an electrical frequency that restores your body's electrical balance, promoting free exchange of positive and negative ions that aligns your body's energy pathways."

In other words, they spoke a lot of sciency sounding mumbojumbo. My god. My body's energy pathways? I never saw that in any biology book. And why is my body's electrical balance off? Wouldn't I be short-circuiting all my electronics if I was carrying around some kind of charge? And how do you put an electrical frequency inside a silicone bracelet?

And why wouldn't any of the other trendy "wristbands for [insert cause here]" do the same job? Lucky for Power Balance most people wouldn't even know how to do a basic experiment to test that idea.

And lucky for Power Balance they had some celebrities like Shaquille O'Neal shilling for them. Of course even after these magic amulets have been debunked, people will still believe.

A friend of my sister's wears one of these things faithfully. On Thanksgiving she tried to demonstrate it to my mother. The friend removed her bracelet, lifted her arm and showed that her shoulder was stiff and could barely move backwards. "Without the bracelet, I can barely move my shoulder back." Then she put the bracelet back on. "But see! With the bracelet, I can move my arm like this!" And with a graceful and dramatic sweep, yes, she did move her arm, but only by rotating her entire torso a good 20 degrees! My mom is no science scholar, but she's not a sucker either. Also, nothing in the world would make my mom part with $29.99 for a piece of rubber jewelry.

But Power Balance seems almost defiant on their Twitter page. It's as if there is no shame in quackery. So they will probably adjust their claims, and go on with business as usual serving more and more eager customers.

The placebo effect is one hell of a fascinating aspect of human healing.

Monday, January 03, 2011

Angry Birds

I'm always amazed at the public's penchant for drawing the most ludicrous conclusions when the completely plausible ones haven't been given a chance.

On New Year's day, residents of Beebe, Arkansas woke to find the corpses of 3,000 red-winged blackbirds littered across their streets, yards, and driveways. But wait! "It gets creepier" according to Time magazine. Last Thursday, approximately 100,000 dead drum fish washed ashore a river near Ozark -- which is about 100 miles west of Beebe.

Which conspiracy should we choose? God? Satan? UFO's? Obama? China? BP? Or is it the apocalypse? Well, my dad was already ranting tonight about how there is "something they're not telling us!"

Except the people who study this stuff for a living are telling us a lot. The most plausible answers regarding the dead birds involve lightning strikes, fireworks, or high-altitude hail.

The fish deaths are most likely disease related since it seems to have affected only one kind of fish. It's not likely to be a pollutant.

The Arkansas Game and Fish Commission said there is no indication of a linkage between the bird deaths and fish deaths. But this won't stop the media from a morbid "shark attack summer" kind of frenzy. It's good for ratings, and anyway, people like my father will never believe the two separate events are a mere coincidence.

In other news, Arkansas cats were thrilled over the all-you-can-eat buffet.

Sunday, January 02, 2011

Public Domain Day

Yesterday was Public Domain Day. Every year on January 1, thousands of works enter the public domain due to copyright expiration.

But don't go looking for the titles pictured above on Project Gutenberg just yet. They could have been entering the public domain under the law that existed until 1978, but under current law, they won't be available until 2050.

When a work enters the public domain, the content is no longer controlled by anyone. Instead, it becomes a common treasure. What that means is that a poem can be turned into a song, a book can be made into a movie, a play can be adapted for a modern audience, historical photographs can be used in documentaries, text can be freely translated into different languages or new file formats and distributed online, or professionally printed into a leather bound copy and sold... by anyone. There are a myriad of other uses for public domain works.

Artists have always built from the creative works that preceded them. The perfect example is Walt Disney who, in 1923, produced a short film titled Alice's Wonderland. Disney, of course, went on to make animated versions of many other popular tales: Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, Cinderella, Peter Pan, Dumbo, Bambi... the list goes on.

And yet the company that built their empire on public domain works doesn't want anybody else to do the same. That's why the Copyright Term Extension Act is pejoratively called the Mickey Mouse Protection Act. It's no secret that Disney and its friends had a skillful and greedy hand in the legislation.

And when these extensions run out, I'm sure they will lobby again and again in perpetuity. Disney borrowed from the public domain, but will never give back.

I'm not so concerned whether I can personally get a book or a song for free or not. I'm concerned about the cultural impoverishment that will result as fewer and fewer relevant works are freed for creators to draw upon.

Saturday, January 01, 2011

Good Morning 2011

I wanted to post this picture last night, but I was actually out and about for new year's eve despite this awful head cold. Anyway, yesterday's Bad Cats calendar page sums up my dreadful feelings pretty well.

You may have noticed fewer blog posts in 2010. To me there is no mystery why: in April, I became unable to read the news -- the ecological catastrophe in the Gulf of Mexico was utterly depressing. For three straight months, oil gushed from the Deepwater Horizon rig -- 205.8 million gallons of crude oil total. Then they added chemical dispersants into the water to hide the oil. The poisoning of the gulf is just one aspect of this disaster. The other big story is that, no matter how often the oil companies tell us to trust them, they don't have absolute power over nature, there are no fail-safe systems, and people in charge will often make crucial decisions that ultimately kill people in order to save money.

Don't tell me BP couldn't have predicted the catastrophe. The UK firm suffered a similar blowout on an Azerbaijan gas platform 18 months earlier. BP's little secret was revealed by WikiLeaks.

WikiLeaks was another big story in 2010. The whistleblower site may not be perfect, and its editor in chief, Julian Assange, has been likened to a terrorist, but don't let that overshadow the disturbing truths they have revealed. I'm coming to the realization that we need WikiLeaks now more than ever and they are now very much a part of the fourth estate... even as the media and the government would like to convince you that any real journalism is warfare.

Although I take some solace that WikiLeaks is doing the difficult and dangerous work to publish the truth, I'm very much dismayed that the 2010 U.S. electorate was grossly misinformed. Hello teabaggers! Most Economists who have estimated the effect of the health insurance reform law believe it will NOT increase the federal budget deficit over the next ten years. And notice how none of your conservative candidates gave a rat's ass about the "Ground Zero mosque" after the election was over? Now please take your misspelled signs and go home and enjoy your tax cuts.

I know I'm making 2010 seem like a real downer, but I suppose it had some bright spots too -- like health insurance reform, student loan reform, the end of "Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell," and the economy -- it seems to be getting better.

Good morning 2011. Don't disappoint me!