Saturday, January 12, 2008

January 20, 2009

The End of an Error ...

Evolutionary Politics

Why we should care what candidates think about biological evolution.

Ronald Bailey | January 8, 2008 | reasononline

Biological evolution became a hot topic in the presidential campaign last May when Republican presidential hopefuls were asked during a debate if "there was anybody on the stage that does not agree, believe in evolution?" Three held up their hands, Sen. Sam Brownback (Kan.), Rep. Tom Tancredo (Colo.) and former Gov. Mike Huckabee (Ark.). Evolution deniers Brownback and Tancredo have now dropped out of the race. So what do all the remaining candidates—Republican and Democratic—think about biological evolution? And does it matter?

The rest after the click ...

My comment: The reasoning that is responsible for outlining the Theory of Evolution is the same kind of reasoning and mind set that brought us flu vaccines, space flight (and all of its attendant spin-offs including computers, plastics and an understanding of outer space), the "Green Revolution", chemotherapy in cancer treatment, and the discovery of the roles of DNA and RNA.

To deny the thought process that yields an understanding of evolution is to also deny the thought process that makes our current way of life possible. To deny that thought process is to state that all of the scientific breakthroughs of the last 150 years are not to be relied upon.

Science only accepts things on a provisional basis. That is to say, science recognizes that new evidence may lead to modifications in currently accepted understandings. Religion, on the other hand, finds the underlying answer to all questions to be "the will of God" and strongly discourages any further investigation. Religion is hostile to evidence that may contradict "belief" or "faith". Often, the penalty for questioning religious faith has been death. It has been the case in the history of the Christian world. It is still the case in parts of the Islamic world.

It's the ultimate arrogance to imagine that one has "all the answers", yet that is precisely what religion proposes. Scientific though and method has never suggested that it has all of the answers. What it does state is that the answers it does have are supportable by fact-based evidence as well as tests and experiments that can be replicated. That's how facts are established.

In my opinion, anyone who denies fact-based evidence in favor dogmatic, unquestioning, unsupportable superstition should be barred from holding public office. We don't agree on our superstition sets. Believe me, it's far better to have a leadership that accepts the same facts that can be tested and accepted and supported by the preponderance of real evidence by all of us than to risk having someone in a position of power who's superstitions disagree with yours.

Who's the Saint?

The Moral Instinct

New York Times

Which of the following people would you say is the most admirable: Mother Teresa, Bill Gates or Norman Borlaug? And which do you think is the least admirable? For most people, it’s an easy question. Mother Teresa, famous for ministering to the poor in Calcutta, has been beatified by the Vatican, awarded the Nobel Peace Prize and ranked in an American poll as the most admired person of the 20th century. Bill Gates, infamous for giving us the Microsoft dancing paper clip and the blue screen of death, has been decapitated in effigy in “I Hate Gates” Web sites and hit with a pie in the face. As for Norman Borlaug . . . who the heck is Norman Borlaug?

Yet a deeper look might lead you to rethink your answers. Borlaug, father of the "Green Revolution" that used agricultural science to reduce world hunger, has been credited with saving a billion lives, more than anyone else in history. Gates, in deciding what to do with his fortune, crunched the numbers and determined that he could alleviate the most misery by fighting everyday scourges in the developing world like malaria, diarrhea and parasites. Mother Teresa, for her part, extolled the virtue of suffering and ran her well-financed missions accordingly: their sick patrons were offered plenty of prayer but harsh conditions, few analgesics and dangerously primitive medical care.

It's not hard to see why the moral reputations of this trio should be so out of line with the good they have done. Mother Teresa was the very embodiment of saintliness: white-clad, sad-eyed, ascetic and often photographed with the wretched of the earth. Gates is a nerd's nerd and the world's richest man, as likely to enter heaven as the proverbial camel squeezing through the needle's eye. And Borlaug, now 93, is an agronomist who has spent his life in labs and nonprofits, seldom walking onto the media stage, and hence into our consciousness, at all.

I doubt these examples will persuade anyone to favor Bill Gates over Mother Teresa for sainthood. But they show that our heads can be turned by an aura of sanctity, distracting us from a more objective reckoning of the actions that make people suffer or flourish.

The rest after the click ...

Thought for the day

"Nobody outside of a baby carriage or a judge's chamber believes in an unprejudiced point of view."

-- Lillian Hellman

Friday, January 11, 2008

From the other side of the pond

A friend of mine, a Brit based in Japan, writes:

We've been glued to CNN over here watching the Bill Clinton prostitute what's left of his good name in a shrill effort to push his wife over the edge in NH. I've been a keen Obama man for months now and genuinely fear for him at the hands (not of the Republicans) but the Clinton machine. I'd love to hear your thoughts on this, assuming you are not a die-hard Hillary fan ;o) There are increasing suspicions among intelligent pollsters that Hillary benefited from the old racial "cold feet" syndrome as poorer whites approached the polling booth, if you know what I mean...

Drop me a line when you have a minute and let me know your thoughts on all this.

My response:

Right now I'm one of the undecided. From where I sit, the Democrats have an embarrassment of riches. There isn't a candidate among them who doesn't stand head and shoulders above the Family Values people. Though I'm not a huge Hilary fan - I'm also not anti-Hill. Actually, I think she's the smart one in the family.

Obama looks good and, if he plays his cards right, he could be the heir to the RFK legacy. He has the charisma, to be sure ... and I like what he has to say ... and after 20 years of Bush and Clinton dynasties, I suspect an Obama election would be the opening of a window and a rush of fresh air into the smoke filled rooms of American politics.

I am far less concerned about which Democrat gets the nomination than I am with the possibility of a religious nut case who relies on the guidance of bronze age cattle sacrificers who believed every species of animal on the planet lived within walking distance of Noah's house and who feels that the last 150 years of scientific breakthroughs cannot be trusted. And then there's Mr. Magic Underpants! - the shape shifter who can take any position on any issue and still keep a straight face and who imagines (perhaps correctly) that we have the best government money can buy.

McCain has gone over the edge. There was a time ... until 2004 ... that I thought, of those on the right, he might be someone I could live with. After a few choruses of "Bomb, bomb, bomb ... bomb, bomb Iran" sung to the tune of an old Beach Boys hit ... well, I'm one of those old, dyed-in-the-wool peaceniks who believes there are no winners in war ... only those who loose more and those who loose less. It's one thing to defend yourself ... it's quite another to go looking for trouble when you don't have to.

And then there's Rudy "One-note" Giuliani who's claim to fame was standing at ground zero in Manhattan on September 11, 2001 ... impotently shaking his fist at the sky. It's gratifying to watch his recent tanking in the polls ... demonstrating that the American public is finding out what New Yorkers have known all along ... that the more you get to know him, the less you like him! Even The Conservative, a right wing mag here in the States, featured Rudy on the cover ... dressed in a brown shirt, with a 9-11 arm band and belt buckle, and striking a pose right out of Leni Riefenstahl's "Triumph of the Will".

I have some thoughts about whom Obama should be fearful. You can find them here.

Middle-Class Capitalists

By DAVID BROOKS / New York Times

In 1974, a group of economists and journalists got together in a bar and launched supply-side economics. It was a superb political and economic package. It addressed a big problem: stagflation. It had a clear policy focus: marginal tax rates. It celebrated a certain sort of personality: the risk-taking entrepreneur. It made it clear that the new, growth-oriented Republican Party would be different from the old, green-eyeshade one.

Supply-side economics had a good run, but continual tax cuts can no longer be the centerpiece of Republican economic policy. The demographics have changed. The U.S. is an aging society. We have made expensive promises to our seniors. We can’t keep those promises at the current tax levels, let alone at reduced ones. As David Frum writes in “Comeback,” his indispensable new book: “In the face of such a huge fiscal gap, the days of broad, across-the-board, middle-class tax cutting are over.”

The political situation has changed, too. Republicans used to appeal to the investor class with economic policies and the working class with values, crime and welfare policies. But that formula has broken down. The workers are walking away from the G.O.P., and the only way to win them back is by listening to their economic concerns.

As a result, smart Republicans are groping for a new economic model, and as they do, Republican economic policies are shifting. The entrepreneur is no longer king. The wage-earner is king. As the presidential campaign rolls into Michigan, it’s clear that Republicans are adjusting their priorities to win back the anxious middle class.

The rest after the click ...

My comment: If this is the shift, its hugely important. However, none of the candidates seem to have caught on. Like the current administration they echo, they believe they can solve all problems we have with tax cuts ... even problems that don't have anything to do with taxes.

As I've said many times before, government has only two ways to generate revenue. Government can either tax or government can borrow. We are currently living in the maelstrom created by their borrow-and-spend approach ... the belief that somehow one can borrow one's way to wealth and prosperity. It has left us in a position similar to that of the underdeveloped nations that owe the bulk of the GNP to the World Bank ... and haven't a chance in hell of digging out of debt ... ever.

Maybe it's time to try a little pay-as-you-go.

Here's a bit more on tax cuts and how they "pay for themselves" ... or don't.

Thursday, January 10, 2008

Yeah, right ...

“I’m going to raise the level of political dialog in America,” McCain, R-Ariz., said at a campaign rally in central Michigan, “and I’m going to treat my opponents with respect and demand that they treat me with respect.”

Here are a few samples of what the good senator from Arizona has in mind:

  • In a “heated dispute over immigration-law overhaul” last year, McCain screamed at Sen. John Cornyn (R-TX), “F— you!” He added, “This is chickens- - - stuff. … You’ve always been against this bill, and you’re just trying to derail it.” [5/19/07]

  • In a discussion over the “fate of Vietnam MIAs,” Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-IA) asked McCain, “Are you calling me stupid?” “No,” replied McCain, “I’m calling you a f—ing jerk!” [Newsweek, 2/21/00]

  • Discussing his recent trip to Iraq on The Daily Show in April, McCain told host Jon Stewart, “I had something picked out for you, too — a little IED to put on your desk.” [4/24/07]

  • After Rep. John Murtha (D-PA) criticized McCain for his comment to Stewart, McCain told ABC News, “And all I can say is, to Murtha and others, Lighten up and get a life.” [4/26/07]

  • Speaking to Fox and Friends in March, McCain noted that he allows “jerks from the media” to come on board his bus, the “Straight Talk Express.” [4/28/07]

  • At a GOP meeting in fall 1999, McCain “erupted” at Sen. Pete Domenici (R-NM) and shouted, “Only an a–hole would put together a budget like this.” When Domenici expressed his outrage, McCain responded, “I wouldn’t call you an a–hole unless you really were an a–hole.” [Newsweek, 2/21/00]

  • In September, a high school student asked McCain whether the senator was “too old to be president and too conservative to be respected.” McCain “jokingly” responded by calling the student “a little jerk” who ought to be drafted. [9/4/07]

In the interest of full disclosure, I'm currently a resident of the State of Arizona ... the state that McCain hasn't bothered to represent in Congress for the last year and a half.

And you think oil prices are a problem NOW ...


India's Tata Motors on Thursday unveiled the world's cheapest car, bringing new mobility within the reach of tens of millions of people and nightmares to environmentalists, traffic engineers and safety advocates.

Company Chairman Ratan Tata, introducing the Nano ... price tag $2,500 ... during India's main auto show, drove onto a stage in a white version of the tiny four-door subcompact, his head nearly scraping the roof.

With a snub nose and a sloping roof, it can fit five people ... if they squeeze. And the basic version is spare: there's no radio, no passenger-side mirror and only one windshield wiper. If you want air conditioning to cope with India's brutal summers, you need to get the deluxe version.

But it's cheap. The Nano's closest competitor here is the Maruti 800, a four-door that sells for nearly twice as much.

More after the click ...

My comment: What happens to the price of oil when India and China produce 3,000,000,000 new drives, all wanting to toodle down the block to the grocery store?

The 'Good War' Is a Bad War

by John Pilger on AntiWar

I had suggested to Marina that we meet in the safety of the Intercontinental Hotel, where foreigners stay in Kabul, but she said no. She had been there once and government agents, suspecting she was Rawa, had arrested her. We met instead at a safe house, reached through contours of bombed rubble that was once streets, where people live like earthquake victims awaiting rescue.

Rawa is the Revolutionary Association of the Women of Afghanistan, which since 1977 has alerted the world to the suffering of women and girls in that country. There is no organization on earth like it. It is the high bar of feminism, home of the bravest of the brave. Year after year, Rawa agents have traveled secretly through Afghanistan, teaching at clandestine girls' schools, ministering to isolated and brutalized women, recording outrages on cameras concealed beneath their burqas. They were the Taliban regime's implacable foes when the word Taliban was barely heard in the west: when the Clinton administration was secretly courting the mullahs so that the oil company UNOCAL could build a pipeline across Afghanistan from the Caspian.

Indeed, Rawa's understanding of the designs and hypocrisy of western governments informs a truth about Afghanistan excluded from news, now reduced to a drama of British squaddies besieged by a demonic enemy in a "good war." When we met, Marina was veiled to conceal her identity. Marina is her nom de guerre. She said: "We, the women of Afghanistan, only became a cause in the west following 11 September 2001, when the Taliban suddenly became the official enemy of America. Yes, they persecuted women, but they were not unique, and we have resented the silence in the west over the atrocious nature of the western-backed warlords, who are no different. They rape and kidnap and terrorize, yet they hold seats in [Hamid] Karzai's government. In some ways, we were more secure under the Taliban. You could cross Afghanistan by road and feel secure. Now, you take your life into your hands."

The reason the United States gave for invading Afghanistan in October 2001 was "to destroy the infrastructure of al-Qaeda, the perpetrators of 9/11." The women of Rawa say this is false. In a rare statement on 4 December that went unreported in Britain, they said: "By experience, [we have found] that the US does not want to defeat the Taliban and al-Qaeda, because then they will have no excuse to stay in Afghanistan and work towards the realization of their economic, political and strategic interests in the region."

The rest after the click ...

My comment: No comment.

OK ... one comment.

"Love of power, operating through greed and through personal ambition, was the cause of all these evils."

More about Thucydides in this blog ...

What's Love Got To Do With It?


Male macaque monkeys pay for sex by grooming females, according to a recent study that suggests the primates may treat sex as a commodity.

"In primate societies, grooming is the underlying fabric of it all," Dr. Michael Gumert, a primatologist at the Nanyang Technological University in Singapore, said in a telephone interview Saturday.

"It's a sign of friendship and family, and it's also something that can be exchanged for sexual services," Gumert said.

Gumert's findings, reported in New Scientist last week, resulted from a 20-month observation of about 50 long-tailed macaques in a reserve in Central Kalimantan, Indonesia.

Gumert found after a male grooms a female, the likelihood that she will engage in sexual activity with the male was about three times more than if the grooming had not occurred.

And as with other commodities, the value of sex is affected by supply and demand factors: A male would spend more time grooming a female if there were fewer females in the vicinity.

"And when the female supply is higher, the male spends less time on grooming ... The mating actually becomes cheaper depending on the market," Gumert said.

Wednesday, January 09, 2008

Another dumb comment ...

Portsmouth (NH) Seacosst OnLine

As for pulling out of Iraq, McCain said there is only one man who will determine when that is appropriate and the name he mentioned was not his own.

“There is only one man who should decide when to withdraw from Iraq and that is (General) David Petraeus,” the Arizona Senator said.

OK ... So now I'm confused. Does that mean McCain DOESN'T want to be Commander-in-Chief? He doesn't even have the job yet and already he's trying to duck responsibility.

Here's a guy who is supposed to be a serious contender and he doesn't even know what the job description is!

The military gives orders to the civilian authorities in all those right-wing, banana republic, dictatorships we've been propping up for the last century. In our democracy the military takes its orders from the civilian authorities. At least that's the way it was structured in OUR Constitution.

'Subprime' named Word of the Year

CHICAGO, Illinois (AP) --

Even the American Dialect Society knows how risky home mortgages are these days.

The group of wordsmiths chose "subprime" as 2007's Word of the Year at its annual convention Friday.

"'Subprime' has been around with bankers for awhile, but now everyone is talking about 'subprime,"' said Wayne Glowka, a spokesman for the group and a dean at Reinhardt College in Waleska, Georgia. "It's affecting all kinds of people in all kinds of places."

About 80 members of the organization spent two days debating the merits of runners-up "Facebook," "green," "Googleganger" and "waterboarding" before voting for an adjective that means "a risky or less than ideal loan, mortgage or investment."

The choice signifies the public's concern for a "deepening mortgage crisis," the society said in a statement.

Change? Change?

To quote Jon Stewart, "I can make change. Anybody got a ten dollar bill?"

Tuesday, January 08, 2008

Bush sums it all up in seven seconds

"In the seven years that I've been the President we've had a recession, corporate scandals, the 9-11 attack, major national disasters... uhhh... two wars in Afghanistan and Iraq--all that created was uncertainty."
-- Bush from the Rose Garden, today.

My comment: Well, now, that's quite a list of accomplishments. But you missed a few. We've also had Alberto-gate, Torture-gate, Wiretap-gate, E-mail-gate, and a bunch of other stellar moments.

Is it too late to add "Impeachment" to the list?

Given a history that includes the inability to find oil in Texas and a National Guard career capped with an A.W.O.L. it would make for an absolutely unrivaled perfect record!

A Surge of More Lies

by Congressman Robert Wexler

A new troubling myth has taken hold in Washington and it is critical that the record is set straight. According to the mainstream media, Republicans, and unfortunately even some Democrats, the President's surge in Iraq has been a resounding success. In fact, nothing could be further from the truth.

This assertion is disingenuous, factually incorrect, and negatively impacts America's national security. The Surge had a clear and defined objective - to create stability and security - enabling the Iraqi government to enact lasting political solutions and foster genuine reconciliation and cooperation between Sunnis, Shias, and Kurds.

This has not happened.

There has been negligible political progress in Iraq, and we are no closer to solving the complex problems - including a power sharing government, oil revenue agreement and new constitution - than we were before the Administration upped the ante and sent 30,000 more troops to Iraq.

Too many Democrats in Congress are again surrendering to General Petraeus and have failed to challenge the Bush Administration's claims that the surge has been successful. In fact -- it is just the opposite.

The reduction in violence in Iraq has exposed the continuing failure of Iraqi officials to solve their substantial political rifts. By President Bush's own stated goal of political progress, the Surge has failed.

Of course raising troop levels has increased security - a strategy the Bush administration ignored when presented by General Shinseki before the war in Iraq began - but the fundamental internal Iraqi problems remain and the factors that were accelerating the civil war in 2007 have simply been put on hold.

The military progress is a testament to the patience and dedication of our brave troops - even in the face of 15 month-long deployments followed by insufficient Veteran's health services when they return home. They have performed brilliantly - despite the insult of having President Bush recently veto a military spending bill that enhanced funding and benefits, and increased care.

Despite the efforts of American soldiers, the surge alone cannot bring about the political solutions needed to end centuries of sectarian divide.

As it stands, little on the ground supports the assertion that Iraqis are ready to stand up and govern themselves. Too few Iraqi troops are trained, equipped and combat ready, and they cannot yet provide adequate security. Loyalty is also an issue in the Iraqi army as Al Queda and Sunni insurgents infliltrate their defense forces. The consequences turned deadly just recently when an Iraqi soldier purposely killed two U.S. troops.

On the streets of Baghdad and Mosul, the Sunni and Shia factions have paused their fighting, awaiting guarantees and protections that have not yet been delivered. As Iraqi refugees return, there is no mechanism to help them rebuild their lives, nor recover their now-occupied homes. Neighborhoods once mixed are now segregated.

In Northern Iraq, Kurdish terrorists conducting nefarious operations across the border into Turkey have compelled our NATO ally to strike at bases, inflaming tensions between Baghdad and Ankara.

The surge is working? We suffered more U.S. casualties in 2007 than in any other year of the war. We can't afford any more of this type of success.

How can we create the situation that is most likely to deliver political progress in Iraq? Not by continuing the surge and occupation. Our best chance (there is no guarantee) is by putting real pressure on the Iraqi government to force action. Telling the national and local Iraqi leaders that we are withdrawing our troops can help accomplish this goal. Today, the majority Iraqi Shia government led by Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki has little incentive to act when American troops remain in the country to provide security and stability.

Based on the Administration's plan, John McCain's proposal of a 100-year US occupation could be a reality!

The Democratic Congress must act aggressively to first cut off funding for the surge and then the entire war. Many of my colleagues avoided a showdown with the administration because they mistakenly believed such a fight would endanger the safety of the troops.

In fact, we must accept that every soldier killed or injured in the coming months should have already been home. Every billion dollars of war-appropriations we spend from here on should have been spent on genuine priorities here at home such as children's heath care.

Enough is enough: While the Administration over-commits American forces in Iraq, we see Al Qaeda-regrouping and Osama Bin Laden still at large. We remain seriously bogged down in Afghanistan, and are witnessing a crisis in Pakistan that has left a nuclear country on the brink of a meltdown. America's resources and attention are desperately needed elsewhere and our soldiers must no longer be needlessly sacrificed as we wait for Iraqis to stand up.

The Surge has failed. If my colleagues gullibly accept the moving rationale for the Surge, just as so many have for the war itself, we will have failed as well.


Just a thought ...

Romney, in New Hampshire, is saying that the voters there are telling him that "government is broken". I tend to agree ... but, given 7 years of a Republican administration in the White House and something on the order of 12 years of Republican control of Congress, I think it might be a good idea to ask "who broke it?"

A few well chosen words about Pat Robertson and his Revelations

Pat Condell has a Revelation of his own ...

or watch the video here ...

Thought for the day

"Both Obama and Hillary are effective reminders we are truly stupid to have spent more than 200 years excluding people."

-- James Love

The Memling Index

Yes, next to the other candidates Mitt looks like the old Marvel comic character Galactus. He’s like an energy sucking mutant in an evolutionary state between a giant with a out-of-whack pituitary gland and celestial body with it’s own gravitational pull.

Dennis Kucinich, whose modest net worth most closely resembles the average Americans, looks like a deer tick compared to Romney. Keep in mind Kucinich might not be rich but he certainly isn’t poor - his net worth is now somewhere over $200,000 making it more than twice the size of the median net worth of the average American family.

Actually, if you were to imagine the above scene in 1:1 real world scale, with Kucinich playing the role of the normal sized human and Mitt Romney being larger than him relative to there differences in net worth, Romney would be as tall as 6.7 Sears Roebuck towers stacked on top of each other ...

Get it all on the Memling Index site ...

Plus ca change - plus c'est la meme chose...

(The more things change - the more they remain the same...)

Monday, January 07, 2008

Responding to a friend

I received a note from a friend along with his request that I view the following video regarding the impact of immigration on our society. Keep in mind, my friend is vigorously anti-illegal alien. One of his arguments is that "they're illegal .. breaking the law". I remind him that he's never in the 12-13 years that I've known him EVER seen a speed law HE was willing to obey and that as soon as he starts obeying the law, I'll start taking that argument more seriously.

or watch the video here ...

We exchanged a few comments back and forth after I watched the video. The exchange ended with the following ... (my response to him):

His comment: WE need to help these people IMPROVE their lives where they are now.

Mine: Absolutely. And if you ask ANY of them, they' rather be in their homes, with their families and friends, eating their foods, celebrating their holidays in the lands of their birth ... just like us. They're not here on vacation, living 10 and 20 to a room, picking our fruit for pennies.

His comment: Bringing the rest of the world up to our standards should be the goal.

Mine: We represent 5% of the population of the planet and consume 25% of the natural resources in order to maintain our lifestyle ... the lifestyle to which it is proposed we elevate other peoples of the world.

With that maintenance ratio, in order to bring the other 95% of the population of the planet up to our standards it would require something on the order of 23.7 planets as rich in natural resources as our planet earth. I'm not sure how one would go about bring them up to our "level" however noble the sentiment might be. There are no other planets on the horizon that fit the required profile. Just this one.

I agree that we have an obligation to help "them" improve their lives. In order to do that we're created a military budget that is equal to all of the other nations on the planet ... combined! ... while our generous contribution in foreign aid to underdeveloped nations (usually extended in the form of military aid and weapons) is on a per capita basis a fraction of the contribution made by other developed nations like Japan.

USA’s aid, in terms of percentage of GNP has almost always been lower than any other industrialized nation in the world. Granted, the dollar amount is high but our GNP has always been at the head of the pack ... by a bunch. The fact remains, on a per capita basis, we're pretty stingy when it comes to giving back. Here are some charts that help explain the point

  • Half the world — nearly three billion people — live on less than two dollars a day.
  • The GDP (Gross Domestic Product) of the poorest 48 nations (i.e. a quarter of the world’s countries) is less than the wealth of the world’s three richest PEOPLE combined.
  • Less than one per cent of what the world spent every year on weapons was needed to put every child into school by the year 2000 and yet it didn't happen. Given that the USA represents fully 1/2 of the military budget for the planet earth, we're talking on the order of 2% of what we spend on weapons in this country if we took that task upon ourselves.

The poorer the country, the more likely it is that debt repayments are being extracted directly from people who neither contracted the loans nor received any of the money or benefits. In our quest for corporate profits we made deals with dictatorships to pay them for the resources extracted from their countries. We paid them in cash by way of loans and in military aid to prop up their regimes. They pocketed the cash but we insist that the nations they no longer rule honor their debts .. and we take no responsibility for the swindle .. though it's hard to believe we didn't know what the score was going in. The net effect of foreign aid is that the developing world now spends $13 on debt repayment for every $1 it receives in grants. In short, if we complain about the rest of the world being run by corrupt officials, we need to recognize our role in helping that happen ... through our whole hearted, enthusiastic, financial and military support of corrupt regimes. (Chili, Argentina, El Salvador, Nicaragua and Guatemala, just to name a few ... not to mention our support of the pre-Castro dictator, Batista, in Cuba.)

According to UNICEF, 30,000 children die each DAY due to poverty. And they “die quietly in some of the poorest villages on earth, far removed from the scrutiny and the conscience of the world. Being meek and weak in life makes these dying multitudes even more invisible in death.”

That is about 210,000 children each week, or just under 11 million children under five years of age, each year.

The richest 50 million people in Europe and North America have the same income as 2.7 billion poor people. “The slice of the cake taken by 1% is the same size as that handed to the poorest 57%.”

In the meantime, according to the Friends Committee on National Legislation, Center for Arms Control and Non-Proliferation (2006, 2007) our military spending has risen from about $360Billion in 1998 to almost $650Billion (in constant 2007 US dollars). It's almost doubled in ten years!

  • The US military spending was almost 7 times larger than the Chinese budget, the second largest spender.
  • The US military budget was almost 29 times as large as the COMBINED spending of the six “rogue” states (Cuba, Iran, Libya, North Korea, Sudan and Syria) who spent $14.65 billion ... in TOTAL!

I don't know ho long we can keep up this pace. The USSR lost big time when they tried to play this game with us. They went totally bankrupt; crashed and burned trying to keep up. They're gone now. We have no real competitors but we haven't slackened the pace one bit. If anything, we've picked up the pace and WE"RE THE ONLY ONES STILL PLAYING!

I'm told we're suppose to be Christian nation, but I believe we have our priorities backwards. Where we should be making peace and helping our brothers by sharing our good fortune, we have elected to hoard our wealth and make war to protect it and advance it further. We have corporatized war through the use of military mercenaries (who are paid a rate four times or more than our volunteer soldiers ... who are doing their service for love of country). I wonder what these mercenaries are going to do when we tell their corporate bosses we want peace and they can't profit handsomely from war any longer? I wonder if they will pack up their weapons and seek another trade.

What ever happened to the sermon "Whatever you do the the least of us you do to me also?"

We have replaced it with Cain's flippant response to God when he was asked where Abel might be: "I'm not my brothers keeper!" Has Cain replaced Christ as our role model?

I'm proud of our country. I'm proud that we've invented and innovated and created wealth where none existed before. But I am ashamed at what we do with it.

So, my point? Aside from the facts that; given the finite resources on this planet, given the fact that it would take 23.7 planets like earth to elevate the rest of the world to the level we enjoy and that we only know of one planet that fits the bill at this point ... what's the plan?

Until we get over ourselves ... until we overcome our attitude that "he who dies with the most toys wins" ... until we get past our narcissism and realize that we are, all of us, trapped on a small lifeboat and none of us will survive if we don't work together ... there is no viable plan. Unless, of course ... having hold of the bulk of the provisions and most of the guns ... the plan is to push everyone else off the boat. Frankly, my conscience is not built like that.

Yes, we should extend a hand and help to elevate others, but that's not going to happen without significant sacrifice on our part. So, when you come down to it, I don't really think we're prepared to give up our Hummers. We'd rather they all just die quietly in their little corner of the world and leave us to play with our toys.

We're a Christian Nation when it comes to making political points and playing "gotcha" with those damed secularists ... but when it comes down to doing something ... like taking care of the poor (many of whom we created) ... maybe we're not quite all THAT Christian.

That's just my take on the situation. I may be wrong. I hope I've missed something and someone will show me the error ... but I think it covers the bases.

Two-Buck Huck

After the Rapture - Huckabee's vision of the Red State / Blue State base

by Timothy Egan in the New York Times

The rap against Mike Huckabee, the Baptist preacher and ex-Arkansas governor now doing for the Republican Party establishment what three-alarm chili does for an afternoon nap, is that he’s too inexperienced to be president, too na├»ve — a rube straight out of Dogpatch.

Few of Huckabee’s critics have actually come out and said what many of them think. The language is coded, as it usually is with class and race in this country. The Wall Street Journal, the anti-tax jihadists at the Club For Growth, the National Review – these pillars of Old School Republicanism have signaled that Huckabee is Not One of Ours. But they’re careful to say it’s not about class, because, of course – it is!

Class war is forbidden in the Republican playbook. But Huckabee, despite an inept last week of campaigning, has forced the Republican party to face the Wal-Mart shoppers that they have long taken advantage of. He’s here. He’s Gomer. And he’s not going away.

The rest after the click ...

My comment: It's terribly amusing and a little scary to watch the Republican party implode. For years the cynical so-called fiscal conservatives found the religious right to be useful idiots. They were supposed to vote for candidates, not field them. By playing to the religious right's social conservativism, the borrow-and-spend, put-it-on-my-kid's-tab conservatives were able to manipulate the gullible Family Values folks into voting against their own economic interests. For the better part of the last two decades they smiled smugly as the rich got richer at the expense of the poor and the middle class - knowing that God was on their side. But now that they've mainstreamed the religious right, they are reaping the whirlwind. They may have had God on their side at one point - but their being on God's side was never a consideration.

Well, the genie is out of the bottle. Those vast numbers of anti-intellectual creationists, stoked on their bronze age belief system are on the march - and their first target for retribution is the cynical Rovian GOP operatives who thought they could fool all the people all the time. Kiss Mitt and the Kennebunkport crowd with their fake Texas accents and their social-promotion Yale MBAs good-bye.

The problem is that the fundamentalist true believers might just succeed in putting one of their own in power. That would leave us with a hand on the nuclear button guided by a head and a heart that believes in the Rapture - and that they can bring it about. After all, God is on THEIR side and they'd be happy as clams to send the whole planet straight to hell in a handbasket to prove the point.

Sunday, January 06, 2008

The Microwave Magician

PopSci - Best of What's New 2007

I’m not sure if I’m watching a magic trick, or an invention that will make the cigar-chomping 64-year-old next to me the richest man on the planet. Everything that goes into Frank Pringle’s recycling machine — a piece of tire, a rock, a plastic cup — turns to oil and natural gas seconds later. “I’ve been told the oil companies might try to assassinate me,” Pringle says without sarcasm.

The machine is a microwave emitter that extracts the petroleum and gas hidden inside everyday objects — or at least anything made with hydrocarbons, which, it turns out, is most of what’s around you. Every hour, the first commercial version will turn 10 tons of auto waste — tires, plastic, vinyl — into enough natural gas to produce 17 million BTUs of energy (it will use 956,000 of those BTUs to keep itself running).

Pringle created the machine about 10 years ago after he drove by a massive tire fire and thought about the energy being released. He went home and threw bits of a tire in a microwave emitter he’d been working with for another project. It turned to what looked like ash, but a few hours later, he returned and found a black puddle on the floor of the unheated workshop. Somehow, he’d struck oil.

More on Popular Science after the click ...

McCain and Foreign Policy

McCain: ”It’s not American presence that bothers the American people, it’s American casualties, and if Americans are safe wherever they are in the world, American people don’t mind that. So, what I believe we can achieve is a reduction in casualties to the point where the Iraqis are doing the fighting and dying, we’re supporting them, and over time then there will be the relation between the two countries.”

Given that's basically the picture in Iraq as I write this, the Iraqis are, in fact doing most of the fighting and they're certainly doing by far most of the dying ... and we seem to support that. So ... no change.

We can just stand by while Iraqis fight and die as long as we get our oil and they're the ones who pay the price for our needs and wants. Good call!!

That explains it. They hate us for our freedom!

Just a little perspective

Tulsa, Oklahoma - 1921

Even if Barak Obama is not elected President of the United States in November, 2008, the fact that he has been confirmed as a viable candidate for that office is extremely significant.

In order to put his victory in perspective on only needs to look at an incident that happened in Tulsa, Oklahoma in 1921, a brief 87 years ago - within the living memory of someone here with us today. You won't find the incident outlined in your high school history book. It's part of the history about ourselves as Americans that we choose to ignore. Our textbooks don't cover it; even our teachers are not aware of it as they teach to the standard tests that never mention the incident. It's not part of the "feel-good" image we have of ourselves and, therefore, we tend to look the other way.

Racial unrest and violence against African Americans permeated domestic developments in the United States during the post-World War I era. From individual lynching to massive violence against entire African American communities, whites in both the North and the South lashed out against African Americans with a rage that knew few bounds.

From Chicago to Tulsa, to Omaha, East St. Louis, and many communities in between, and finally to Rosewood, white mobs pursued what can only be described as a reign of terror against African Americans during the period from 1917 to 1923. Although the number of lynching had declined from 64 in 1921 to 57 in 1922. In 1921 Tulsa was the site of one of the worst race riots in U.S. history. From the evening of May 31st, to the afternoon of June 1, 1921, more Americans killed fellow Americans in the Tulsa riot than probably anytime since the Civil War.

The official death count in the days following the riot was around 35, but evidence has surfaced through an investigation to suggest that at least 300 people were killed. Rumors still persist that hundreds, not dozens, of people were killed and that bodies were crudely buried in mass graves, stuffed into coal mines and tossed into the Arkansas River. If so, the Tulsa race riot would go down as the worst single act of domestic violence on U. S. soil since the Civil War; worse than the 1965 Watts riot, the 1967 Detroit riot, the 1992 Los Angeles riot and the 1995 Oklahoma city bombing.

Those events left a total of 301 dead. Two days of violence and arson directed by whites against African American neighborhoods left hundreds dead, hundreds injured, and more than 1500 African American owned homes and 600 businesses destroyed. Also destroyed in the African American neighborhoods were 21 churches, 21 restaurants, 30 stores, 2 movie theaters, a hospital, a bank, the post office, libraries, and schools.
We all remember the 1965 Watts riot, the 1967 Detroit riot, the 1992 Los Angeles riot because we are taught that part of our history, but when white people riot there is only silence. Even the piece above neglects to mention that the rioters in this race riot were white Americans and the victims were black Americans. You have to read between the lines to parse out the unmentioned facts.

... and the cause of this riot?
A grand jury investigating the riot indicted about 20 African American men, but no whites. Many of the African American men fled. No one went to jail. The case against Dick Rowland was dismissed at the end of September, 1921. His dismissal followed the receipt of a letter by the county attorney from the girl he was accused of assaulting, in which Sarah Page stated that she did not wish to prosecute the case.
Dealing with our institutionalized American brand of racism began with "Reconstruction" at the end of the Civil War in 1865. We have not overcome it, yet. Obama's victory in Iowa with support from Democrats, Independents and disgruntled Republicans doesn't mark the end of our ingrained racism but it just might mark the end of the beginning of the struggle within our American psyche.

My father was 9 years old in 1921. The riot is not ancient history.

In 1997, following increased attention to the riot brought on by the seventy-fifth anniversary of the event, the Tulsa Race Riot Commission was created to study and develop an "historical account" of the riot. The study "enjoyed strong support from members of both parties and all political persuasions." The Commission delivered its report on February 21, 2001. The report included recommendations for substantial restitution; in order of priority:
  1. Direct payment of reparations to survivors of the 1921 Tulsa Race Riot (read "African Americans")
  2. Direct payment of reparations to descendants of the survivors of the Tulsa Race Riot ("African Americans" again)
  3. A scholarship fund available to students affected by the Tulsa Race Riot ("African Americans" again)
  4. Establishment of an economic development enterprise zone in the historic area of the Greenwood District ("African Americans" again)
  5. A memorial for the reburial of the remains of the victims of the Tulsa Race Riot (not spelled out but "African Americans" again)
- Wikipedia

Find more about the Tulsa Race Riot of 1921 here ... and here ...

Wonkette sums up the Romney campaign in one paragraph ... again

Mittens, beaten down by societal prejudices against white males, grew up in the seedy back alleys of the Michigan governor’s mansion — had he taken one wrong turn, he could be living the wasted life of some of his childhood friends as a lawyer, or a doctor. He was always perseverent, and he channeled that energy into investment banking — not the highest paying job, but money isn’t everything. Then he ran the Olympics and was Governor of Massachusetts, still looking for that big break in life. No one knew Mitt Romney in Iowa when came here to run for president with only two nickels to rub together (each nickel being worth $100 million dollars, as is a custom in Mormonism).

Here ...

On Aging

My name is Alice Smith and I was sitting in the waiting room for my first appointment with a new dentist. I noticed his DDS diploma, which bore his full name. Suddenly, I remembered a tall, handsome, dark-haired boy with the same name had been in my high school class some 40-odd years ago. Could he be the same guy that I had a secret crush on, way back then?

Upon seeing him, however, I quickly discarded any such thought. This balding, gray-haired man with the deeply lined face was way too old to have been my classmate.

After he examined my teeth, I asked him if he had attended Morgan Park High School.

"Yes. yes, I did. I'm a Mustang," he gleamed with pride.

"When did you graduate?" I asked.

He answered , "in 1965. Why do you ask?"

"You were in my class!", I exclaimed.

He looked at me closely. then, that ugly, old, bald, wrinkled, fat ass, gray-haired, decrepit son-of-a-bitch asked:

"What did you teach?"

What makes a conspiracy theory?

Two interesting reads -


Political Assassination 101
by Joseph Palermo

The French philosopher Michel Foucault called the unfolding of history the "exteriority of accidents," which was his way of saying "shit happens." Any historian will tell you that political assassinations are not surprising or new. As grade school students we all learned that President Abraham Lincoln was the first president to be assassinated, shot with a pistol by John Wilkes Booth at Ford's Theater. And Booth was part of a "conspiracy."

Charles Guiteau assassinated President James Garfield in Washington, D.C. with a handgun. And Leon Czolgosz assassinated President William McKinley in Buffalo, New York, also with a pistol. There was an assassination attempt on President Theodore Roosevelt.

Introductory history textbooks often claim that World War I was sparked by the assassination of Archduke Ferdinand in Sarajevo. And the Bolsheviks assassinated Czar Nicholas II and the entire Romanoff family to make sure they never returned to power.

And then:

Barack Obama, RFK, and Blackwater

also by Palermo

In 2008, Obama is gaining momentum, and hopefully people inside his organization are cognizant of the fact that he constitutes a very real threat to the likes of Blackwater, Dyncorps, Halliburton, and the hundreds of other private companies currently profiteering from the Iraq occupation.

Blackwater, that reactionary private mercenary outfit headed by the right-wing Christian nationalist Erik Prince stands to lose big time with an Obama presidency. Under George W. Bush Blackwater went from a marginal company with about $27 million in government contracts to a behemoth currently receiving over $1 billion in federal largesse.

It was revealed after the massacre of 17 Iraqis in Baghdad by Blackwater mercenaries that the U.S. State Department cannot function in Iraq without the services of the well-connected private company. Blackwater has a lot riding financially on keeping the Iraq occupation going and a lot to lose if it is ended. (Please read Jeremy Scahill's book Blackwater: The Rise of the World's Most Powerful Mercenary Army.)

Under an Obama Administration Blackwater would no doubt be cut down to size along with Bush's other crony capitalist entities. The Blackwater Boys no doubt have close friends and ideological soul mates deep inside the federal security services.

My comment: I wouldn't be surprised.

Actually, there was one more interesting read this morning that I think is somehow related:

Melissa Etheridge speaks out for Dennis Kucinich

"In a voice that rang clear as a bell she enunciated a list of her concerns about what is happening to this country's democracy. What struck this interviewer the most about her comments was how impassioned she was about how corporate control has shut out sincere political discourse. As she said, "The consequences of this action is we see infomercials rather than a debate. The system is infected and pressing down on those who are progressives.


"That ended our talk and was truly her biggest fear: If the corporations are allowed to say who can and who cannot speak to us, then they are saying what kind of democracy we can or cannot have."

My comment: In truth, the main stream media in this country is owned by seven entities. In the past there were rules, laws and regulations that prevented corporations from monopolizing the media. The organization that owned the newspaper in a city or town (or market as we are fond of saying these days) could not also own the television station AND the radio station. Over the last twenty years or so that has all changed.

What happens to the "market place of ideas" that is the cornerstone of democracy when all the messages you hear originate from a single source? or a group of sources that all have the same agenda? Could it be that your opinions might be manipulated? Isn't that what a conspiracy is all about? Controlling the events and then controlling the story?

Connect the dots.

Conspiracy theories after the fact are one thing. Seeing it coming is quite another thing altogether. So, for the hell of it, lets speculate on the odds.