Tuesday, March 31, 2009

A very good question indeed

The Sojourners people sent this out today:

Since when do you have to agree with people to defend them from injustice?

- Lillian Hellman

Monday, March 30, 2009

Good one, Jay!

I think he's onto something here:

I have a plan to end the war in both Iraq and Afghanistan. Here’s what we do. We bring all our soldiers home. We send in our investment bankers. They’ll screw up the place in six months. Six months!

- Jay Leno

So, is anybody actually surprised?

I simply give you the headline:

Information Secured Through Torture Proved Unreliable, CIA Concluded

Now go read the article - if you really think you need to.

Saturday, March 28, 2009

The Pope's attitude toward condoms

Really, this is beyond reprehensible:

One of the world's most prestigious medical journals, the Lancet, has accused Pope Benedict XVI of distorting science in his remarks on condom use.

It said the Pope's recent comments that condoms exacerbated the problem of HIV/Aids were wildly inaccurate and could have devastating consequences.
"When any influential person, be it a religious or political figure, makes a false scientific statement that could be devastating to the health of millions of people, they should retract or correct the public record," it said.

The above excerpt is from an article on the BBC website.

The Lancet and the BBC are not exactly slouches in the publishing world.

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

The John Yoo memos

Naomi Wolf may well have a number of detractors but she's no crackpot (you know, of the David Icke variety). I want to direct your attention to her article entitled "Do the Secret Bush Memos Amount to Treason? Top Constitutional Scholar Says Yes". It is, quite frankly, chilling. Here's just a sample:

In early March, more shocking details emerged about George W. Bush legal counsel John Yoo's memos outlining the destruction of the republic.

The memos lay the legal groundwork for the president to send the military to wage war against U.S. citizens; take them from their homes to Navy brigs without trial and keep them forever; close down the First Amendment; and invade whatever country he chooses without regard to any treaty or objection by Congress.
The memos are a confession. The memos could not be clearer: This was the legal groundwork of an attempted coup. I expected massive front page headlines from the revelation that these memos exited. Almost nothing. I was shocked.

As a non-lawyer, was I completely off base in my reading of what this meant, I wondered? Was I hallucinating?

Astonished, I sought a reality check -- and a formal legal read -- from one of the nation's top constitutional scholars (and most steadfast patriots), Michael Ratner of the Center for Constitutional Rights, which has been at the forefront of defending the detainees and our own liberties.

Please. Click through and read the transcript of their conversation. But be sure you're sitting down while you do. And maybe have some smelling salts handy.

Monday, March 23, 2009

Our current moral condition

I want to beg you to go read the latest piece by Chris Hedges. It is entitled "America Is in Need of a Moral Bailout" and, long as I have been reading Hedges and have admired him, I'm still astonished by the insight expressed. Here is a sample of what he says:

We live in an age of moral nihilism. We have trashed our universities, turning them into vocational factories that produce corporate drones and chase after defense-related grants and funding. The humanities, the discipline that forces us to stand back and ask the broad moral questions of meaning and purpose, that challenges the validity of structures, that trains us to be self-reflective and critical of all cultural assumptions, have withered. Our press, which should promote such intellectual and moral questioning, confuses bread and circus with news and refuses to give a voice to critics who challenge not this bonus payment or that bailout but the pernicious superstructure of the corporate state itself. We kneel before a cult of the self, elaborately constructed by the architects of our consumer society, which dismisses compassion, sacrifice for the less fortunate, and honesty. The methods used to attain what we want, we are told by reality television programs, business schools and self-help gurus, are irrelevant. Success, always defined in terms of money and power, is its own justification. The capacity for manipulation is what is most highly prized. And our moral collapse is as terrifying, and as dangerous, as our economic collapse.
Frank Donoghue, the author of "
The Last Professors: The Corporate University and the Fate of the Humanities," details how liberal arts education has been dismantled. Any form of learning that is not strictly vocational has at best been marginalized and in many schools has been abolished. Students are steered away from asking the broad, disturbing questions that challenge the assumptions of the power elite or an economic system that serves the corporate state.
The single most important quality needed to resist evil is moral autonomy. Moral autonomy, as Immanuel Kant wrote, is possible only through reflection, self-determination and the courage not to cooperate.

Moral autonomy is what the corporate state, with all its attacks on liberal institutions and "leftist" professors, has really set out to destroy.

I truly believe this is an important essay. It was originally published on Truthdig and has been reprinted today over on Common Dreams. As I write, there are already eighty-six comments to the piece on the Common Dreams site.

I will tell you something else that disturbs me greatly. Tenure is disappearing in our universities. Not only that, the number of full time professorships is diminishing so that many higher education classes are taught by part time adjuncts who receive no benefits, have to work other jobs and (needless to say) have no time to do research and to write.

Sunday, March 22, 2009

I'm sorry; it's the geek in me!

First, some "A guy walks into a bar" jokes:

Descartes walks into a bar. The bartender asks, "Would you like a beer?" Descartes replies, "I think not", then disappeared.

A neutron walks into a bar and orders a beer. The bartender sets the beer down and says, "For you, no charge!"

A professor walks into a bar and orders a double martinous. The bartender says, "you mean a double martini?" The professor says, "If I want more than one I'll ask for it."

Shakespeare walks into a bar and asks the bartender for a beer. "I can't serve you." says the bartender. "You're Bard!"

And now for some bumper stickers:

The generation of random numbers is too important to leave to chance.

Black holes are where God divided by zero.

Resistance is futile (if > 1 ohm)

There's no place like

And now this one - just because I live in Tulsa:

Forget world peace; visualize using your turn signal.

I'll get back to politics tomorrow, folks!

Just because it's funny

I don't know if this is true or not (about the Russians, I mean) but it does illustrate how we like to complicate things:

When NASA first started sending up astronauts, they quickly discovered that ballpoint pens would not work in zero gravity. To combat the problem, NASA scientists spent a decade and $12 billion to develop a pen that writes in zero gravity, upside down, underwater, on almost any surface including glass and at temperatures ranging from below freezing to 300 degrees Celsius. The Russians used a pencil.

Found here.

Saturday, March 21, 2009

The (not so) hidden cost of greed

Okay, you great big greedy corporations. So you get to inflate your profits by shipping manufacturing overseas because that way you don't have to pay American wages. I guess it's worth it to you (for the short run, that is) but is it really worth it to the country? And if this sort of thing keeps up, your market is going to disappear on you:

(CNN) -- Officials are looking into claims that Chinese-made drywall installed in some Florida homes is emitting smelly, corrosive gases and ruining household systems such as air conditioners, the Consumer Product Safety Commission says.

The Florida Health Department, which is investigating whether the drywall poses any health risks, said it has received more than 140 homeowner complaints. And class-action lawsuits allege defective drywall has caused problems in at least three states -- Florida, Louisiana and Alabama -- while some attorneys involved claim such drywall may have been used in tens of thousands of U.S. homes.

Homeowners' lawsuits contend the drywall has caused them to suffer health problems such as headaches and sore throats and face huge repair expenses.

The drywall is alleged to have high levels of sulfur and, according to homeowners' complaints, the sulfur-based gases smell of rotten eggs and corrode piping and wiring, causing electronics and appliances to fail.

"It's economically devastating, and it's emotionally devastating," said Florida attorney Ervin A. Gonzalez, who filed one of the lawsuits. It would cost a third of an affected home's value to fix the dwelling, Gonzalez said.
"The breadth of this thing is a lot bigger than people think," said Chaikin of the Parker Waichman Alonso law firm in Bonita Springs. Chaikin said the problem is perhaps more easily recognizable in Florida because humidity exacerbates it.

Personally (and I'm not alone in this), I think it's a national security issue that so much of our manufacturing is done overseas.

Friday, March 20, 2009

Friday cat blogging!

Quote of the week

I am listening to this man right now on Bill Moyers Journal. He is so right:

[T]he only possibility of getting this country out of the crisis, the only possibility that really deep set reforms can occur (including the protection and renewal of the productive base of the economy) is labor has to become more powerful. We need more protests. We need more noise in the street. At the end of the day, political parties tend to legislate what social movements and social voices have already achieved in the factories or the streets or in the civil rights demonstration.

-- Mike Davis

For your entertainment

Until I get my own computer back! :-)

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Blogging interruption

Dear Readers,

My computer is in the shop at the moment and so there will be an interruption in my normal posting routine. (Not sure how long that will be but I just didn't want anyone to worry.)

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

It bothers me that the newspapers are dying.

Hello, folks.

I know that times change and that print newspapers may well be going the way of the steam locomotive. However, right now I'm concerned about the lack of first rate investigative reporting. I don't think the blogs are able to pick up that slack.

And so, the cartoon below (that I found over on All Hat No Cattle) expresses my dismay about the matter:

Please don't shop at Wal-Mart --- Part 28

Here is a comment found on YouTube under this video:

"Instead of listening with your pocket, listen with your heart"

Oh, if only.

Amazing video. I hope she doesn't get in trouble for this!

I personally have vowed to never shop at Wal-Mart.

And I have vowed the same thing.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Irish trivia

Here are two VERY nice things about Ireland:

Ireland is the best place on the planet to avoid an earthquake. No epicenter has ever been recorded there.

Ireland has more dogs per capita than any other EU country.

You learned it here!


"Ireland, thou friend of my country in my country's most friendless days, much injured, much enduring land, accept this poor tribute from one who esteems thy worth, and mourns thy desolation."

~ George Washington, speaking of Ireland's support for America during the revolution.

Monday, March 16, 2009

Just because it's so damn true

We're the 15th greatest country in the world!

I remember when I was a little kid in the 50s and I truly believed the much repeated propaganda statement that asserted, "America is the greatest country in the world!" Interestingly, the way that manifested in my mind was that I felt terribly sorry for all those people so unfortunate as to have been born somewhere else.

Do take a look at an article published by The Nation entitled "U! S! A! We're Number .... 15?" if you want to know what our actual standing is by a number of measurements. Here's a little bit of what it says:

The first bit of bad news is that America was slipping well before our most recent downturn. Whereas during the 1980s we were consistently No. 2 in the world (Switzerland occupied the top slot in 1980, while Canada did from 1985 to 1990), by the mid-1990s we had slipped to six. And by 2006 (the most recent year available), we had even fallen out of the Top 10 (to slot 15). Income clearly doesn't capture every dimension, since the United States still holds the No. 2 position in terms of income per capita. Rather, other aspects of American society make it less "developed" than it should be, given the resources available here.
There is, for example, the issue of nearly 50 million people who don't have health insurance. There is the fact that college completion rates have been flat since the '70s despite an increasingly technological economy. And there is the wage stagnation for the bottom half, a problem that has dogged us since the oil shock of 1973. But there is one larger force underlying these trends that has been gaining steam over the past three decades, and that's income inequality.

Income inequality has been rising since the late '60s and is greater in the United States than in any other developed (i.e., rich) country. Income inequality can matter for general health, knowledge and our shared standard of living, for several reasons. First, the more that Americans have vastly different economic means at their disposal, the harder it is to generate political support for investments that would raise all boats. For instance, inequality often leads well-to-do people to abandon the public school system -- or to move to particularly well-funded districts, where house prices are highest. Some scholars even posit that high inequality harms our health, as a result of the stress from relative deprivation and increased efforts to keep up with the Joneses (or, as the case may be, the Gateses). While this claim remains highly controversial among health economists, the observation that more-unequal countries generally display worse health than more-equal ones is not in dispute.

You know, sometimes I don't think conservatives even want us to be the greatest country - certainly not greatest in terms of "best to live in". Rather they want us to be the most dominant. And I would submit that this is not the same thing at all.

Saturday, March 14, 2009

Quote of the week

Heck, it may well be the quote of the decade as far as our future is concerned:

Science and the scientific process must inform and guide decisions of my Administration on a wide range of issues, including improvement of public health, protection of the environment, increased efficiency in the use of energy and other resources, mitigation of the threat of climate change, and protection of national security.

The public must be able to trust the science and scientific process informing public policy decisions. Political officials should not suppress or alter scientific or technological findings and conclusions.

-- Barack Obama

And logic, too, while we're at it...

I spoke below (in my post about pi) regarding how appallingly illiterate as a culture we Americans tend to be when it comes to mathematics. This, sadly, is also true of the basic fundamentals of logic. I just now stumbled upon a wonderful page that offers clear and easy to understand examples of the classic logical fallacies. You can find it right here.

Of course, the most frequent fallacy (that I've noticed, at any rate) brought into play during political arguments is that of the "straw man". This is what we call the tactic of misrepresenting one's opponent's position and then knocking it down.

You know what would be fun? Taking each of the fallacies on the page I've linked to here and coming up with a recent example of it being employed on the public stage.

Happy Pi Day!!!

Well, folks. Now it's official. Take a look:

Washington politicians took time from bailouts and earmark-laden spending packages on Wednesday for what might seem like an unusual act: officially designating a National Pi Day. That's Pi as in ratio-of-a-circle's-circumference-to-diameter, better known as the mathematical constant beginning with 3.14159.

The U.S. House of Representatives on Wednesday approved
a resolution introduced two days earlier that designates March 14, 2009 (3/14, get it?) as National Pi Day. It urges schools to take the opportunity to teach their students about Pi and "engage them about the study of mathematics."

Backing the measure is a collection of technology and engineering groups, including the Association for Competitive Technology, the American Chemical Society, the Biotechnology Industry Organization, IEEE, TechAmerica, and TechNet.

They sent a
letter after the vote to House Science Chairman Bart Gordon (D-Tenn.) thanking him for introducing the measure, which is also sponsored by Rep. Ralph Hall of Texas, the panel's senior Republican. "Thank you for recognizing the importance of math and science education to a knowledge-based economy," it says.

And I say, "Three cheers!" Because the mathematical illiteracy in this country is appalling. (And this affects all sorts of things - including our politics. If people have no understanding of statistics, for example, they will not know how to interpret scientific studies and very poor policies are often the result.)

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Yup. You're right, Bill.

This sums the issues up nicely. And, I must say, I agree with absolutely everything he says here:

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

That border fence

My goodness, this is interesting:

A national consumer advocacy group sued the federal government Wednesday on behalf of a University of Texas law professor seeking documents about the planning of the border fence.
The government is nearing completion of 670 miles of fencing along the U.S.-Mexico border. The project has met widespread opposition in South Texas, where segments will touch hundreds of private property owners and leave thousands of acres of farmland between the fence and the Rio Grande.

The Texas group has suggested the fence disproportionately impacted low-income minorities.

"Researchers have found statistically significant differences between the income and race of property owners whose land will be affected by the wall versus those whose land will remain unaffected," the lawsuit reads. "Affected property owners are, on average, less wealthy and include more people of color than property owners whose land will not be affected."

Anybody surprised?

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Billboard slogans

I got the following message from the Democratic Party this morning:

Last week, I asked if you had a message you'd like to send Rush Limbaugh. The response was overwhelming. We received tens of thousands of submissions, and
we picked the top five:

* "Americans didn't vote for a Rush to failure"
* "Hope and change cannot be Rush'd"
* "Failure is not an option for America's future"
* "We can fix America, just don't Rush it"
* "Rush: Say yes to America"

Now, we're putting it up for a vote. Decide which slogan Rush will see in his home town.

The slogan with the most votes will be put on a billboard where Rush can't miss it.It's up to you to let Rush know that Americans reject his desire to see President Obama -- and our country -- fail.

Vote for your favorite slogan now:


They're good, aren't they?

Monday, March 09, 2009

People --- too many people

I've been an admirer of Chris Hedges for some time now. Today I came across an article of his entitled "We Are Breeding Ourselves to Extinction". Here's how it gets started:

All measures to thwart the degradation and destruction of our ecosystem will be useless if we do not cut population growth. By 2050, if we continue to reproduce at the current rate, the planet will have between 8 billion and 10 billion people, according to a recent U.N. forecast. This is a 50 percent increase. And yet government-commissioned reviews, such as the Stern report in Britain, do not mention the word population. Books and documentaries that deal with the climate crisis, including Al Gore’s “An Inconvenient Truth,” fail to discuss the danger of population growth. This omission is odd, given that a doubling in population, even if we cut back on the use of fossil fuels, shut down all our coal-burning power plants and build seas of wind turbines, will plunge us into an age of extinction and desolation unseen since the end of the Mesozoic era, 65 million years ago, when the dinosaurs disappeared.

We are experiencing an accelerated obliteration of the planet’s life-forms—an estimated 8,760 species die off per year—because, simply put, there are too many people...

Now here's what one commenter said:

Thom Hartmann has an intersting take on this subject. He says that a major part of the problem, if not the nub of the problem, is that populations grow out of control in societies where women do not have equal rights and equal standing.

Well, so there you have it. The solution.

Sunday, March 08, 2009

Authentic patriotism

International Women's Day

Sadly, this day is largely ignored in the United States:

International Women’s Day is annually held on March 8 to celebrate women’s achievements throughout history and across nations. It is also known as the United Nations (UN) Day for Women’s Rights and International Peace.

You might like to take a look at the official site.

Quick fact:

There is widespread global agreement that the education of girls is one of the most important investments that any developing country can make in its own future. Numerous studies have also demonstrated that educating women and girls is the single most effective strategy to ensure the well-being and health of children, and the long-term success of developing economies.
Girls with more education grow up to be women who have fewer and healthier babies, make more informed choices about caring for their families and become more skilled workers.

So, having a day like today is important - not just for women but for global society.

Finally, I leave you with this:

We have to start looking at the world through women’s eyes’ how are human rights, peace and development defined from the perspective of the lives of women? It’s also important to look at the world from the perspective of the lives of diverse women, because there is not single women’s view, any more than there is a single men’s view.

-- Charlotte Bunch

Saturday, March 07, 2009

Outstanding smack down

A conservative's lament

A true Republican tells us Why Rush is Wrong:

On the one side, the president of the United States: soft-spoken and conciliatory, never angry, always invoking the recession and its victims. This president invokes the language of "responsibility," and in his own life seems to epitomize that ideal: He is physically honed and disciplined, his worst vice an occasional cigarette. He is at the same time an apparently devoted husband and father. Unsurprisingly, women voters trust and admire him.

And for the leader of the Republicans? A man who is aggressive and bombastic, cutting and sarcastic, who dismisses the concerned citizens in network news focus groups as "losers." With his private plane and his cigars, his history of drug dependency and his personal bulk, not to mention his tangled marital history, Rush is a walking stereotype of self-indulgence—exactly the image that Barack Obama most wants to affix to our philosophy and our party. And we're cooperating! Those images of crowds of CPACers cheering Rush's every rancorous word—we'll be seeing them rebroadcast for a long time.
In the days since I stumbled into this controversy, I've received a great deal of e-mail. (Most of it on days when Levin or Hannity or Hugh Hewitt or Limbaugh himself has had something especially disobliging to say about me.) Most of these e-mails say some version of the same thing: if you don't agree with Rush, quit calling yourself a conservative and get out of the Republican Party. There's the perfect culmination of the outlook Rush Limbaugh has taught his fans and followers: we want to transform the party of Lincoln, Eisenhower and Reagan into a party of unanimous dittoheads—and we don't care how much the party has to shrink to do it. That's not the language of politics. It's the language of a cult.

-- David Frum

I wonder if the powers-that-be in the Party listen to him. It will be really interesting to see how all this unfolds.

Saturday cat blogging!

Friday, March 06, 2009

Karen Armstrong on compassion

Dear Readers,

My friend David in Montreal sent me the video posted below. As most of you know, I keep three blogs. One is on meditation and I strive to keep that one deliberately non-sectarian. Another is political (this one) and I keep it as a private citizen. The third was initially intended for the spouses of Episcopal clergy in the Diocese of Oklahoma; it is about spiritual growth and reflection and draws mainly from the mystical and contemplative teachings of Christianity. I have had a hard time deciding where to post the Armstrong speech and so I'm using it on all three blogs.

It's a little over twenty minutes long but I'm sure you'll agree that it is well worth your time. And I think you will also see why it is appropriate for all three blogs:

Watch it and weep

Back in the spring of 1989 I went on a whale watch off the coast of Boston. At the end of the event our naturalist-guide said that the number one thing we could all do to help the whales was to ask for paper instead of plastic bags at the supermarket. Already the ubiquity of plastic bags was starting to damage the ocean's ecosystem.

I am working very hard to reduce the amount of plastic I use and throw away. I take my own cloth bags when I buy groceries, I recycle as much plastic as I can and I've started using some wonderful bar shampoo that is wrapped in paper. A website you might like to explore for inspiration is called Fake Plastic Fish, the lead description of that site being, "Fake Plastic Fish... they're cute, and if we don't solve our plastic problem, they could be the only kind we have left."

How very true.


Remember this?

You measure a democracy by the freedom it gives its dissidents, not the freedom it gives its assimilated conformists.

- Abbie Hoffman

It's always worth keeping in mind.

Tuesday, March 03, 2009

It's square root day!

Take a look at this:

The math-buffs' holiday, which only occurs nine times each century, falls on Tuesday — 3/3/09 (for the mathematically challenged, three is the square root of nine).

"These days are like calendar comets, you wait and wait and wait for them, then they brighten up your day — and poof — they're gone," said Ron Gordon, a Redwood City teacher who started a contest meant to get people excited about the event.
The last such day was five years ago, Feb. 2, 2004, which coincided with Groundhog Day. The next is seven years away, on April 4, 2016.

So now you know.

And you heard it here.

Just because it's funny and TRUE!

Sunday, March 01, 2009

Where is the outrage?

Well, I was immediately attracted to an article published on Common Dreams entitled "America’s Stupid Health Care Debate: Keeping Some Ideas Off the Table" and you can see why from these excerpts:

It is a sad commentary on the pinched and strictly censored level of political discourse in this nation that any serious consideration of Canada's successful approach to health care is simply out of bounds in America. It is nothing short of absurd that even though the nation that is closest to the US geographically, culturally, linguistically and economically has, since 1973, had a system of provincially administered single-payer government-run health systems which have kept the country's health costs at about 3/5 of what they are in the US as a percentage of GDP (9.7% vs. 17% for the US), at the same time serving all people and (not surprisingly) achieving better health statistics than the US, no one in Washington has talked about inviting Canadian health authorities down to explain how their system works and whether it might make sense here.
There has for years been a huge ongoing propaganda campaign by US health care companies and their lobbies to denigrate Canada's system, but the big truth that they cannot deny is that it is loved by Canadians. The best evidence of this: Despite years of conservative governments in Canada, and in the various provinces, no political leader has ever tried to re-privatize health care in Canada. Clearly such an effort would be political suicide, so popular is the system there.
The truth is that every other modern country in the world has long ago figured out that you can't have cost-effective, universal health care unless the government is the paymaster, with prices set by the government. The truth too is that no country that has moved to such a single-payer system has later rejected it--a good indication that the people of these countries are satisfied with the results and with what they're getting for what they're paying.

Sometimes I really don't understand this place. I mean the U.S., of course.

The fact that there are fifty comments to this article on the Common Dreams site says something about how strongly people feel about this issue.

Irony or something?