A middle-aged man dreaming of the day when he can stop begging for scraps and write for a living.

Sunday, December 30, 2007

Bipartisan Politics

Digby writes eloquently about the current Village Voice hypocrisy about bipartisan governance. She quotes former Oklahoma Democratic Senator David L. Boren:

"Electing a president based solely on the platform or promises of one party is not adequate for this time," Boren said. "Until you end the polarization and have bipartisanship, nothing else matters, because one party simply will block the other from acting."

She correctly points out that Boren and his fellow "backstabbers" were nowhere to be found during the fifteen years of Republican one-party partisan rule, when they effectively locked the Democrats out of the process of government. So, she assumes, it's okay if the Republicans do it, but not when the Democrats do it.

Her deconstruction is spot on, but she misses one thing that I think is critical to the discussion. Since assuming the majority role in 2006, the Democratic leadership in Congress have been doing nothing but push bipartisan politics. Pelosi bent over backward in the House to give the Republicans everything they wanted, as if they were still in the majority. Reid did the same, including honoring any "hold" on legislation from the Republicans, and ignoring the hold put on recent legislation by his fellow Democrat, Chris Dodd. You can not look at the past year in politics without truthfully acknowledging that the Democrats have distinctly not pursued partisan politics, and it has us very annoyed. The Republicans have demonstrated their gratitude for this cooperation by mudslinging, obstructing and doing everything in their power to make the Democratic majority look bad. They've succeeded brilliantly.

So I agree with Digby and Matt Yglesias that we need more partisanship from our leaders, not less. It's time to show the American people who is really responsible for the weight of the problems they're worried about, and who is responsible for blocking every solution to those problems. The Republicans aren't interested in bipartisanship, they're interested in talking about it to make the Democrats look bad. When it comes to politics, they allow only two possibilities: their way or no way. And the media is helping them get away with it.

Monday, December 24, 2007

I need a doctor

Finding health insurance in corporate America is an awful lot like begging for scraps. If you can afford to visit a doctor on your own without insurance, then you really don't need insurance, do you? If you can't afford to visit a doctor on your own, the option plans include "pay on your own anyway, up to a certain amount" or "pay a ridiculous amount per month."

I've been suffering with what I'm pretty sure is shingles for the entire month. It's now time to bite the bullet and go see a doctor. So I went to Blue Cross/Blue Shield's website to look up affordable insurance policies. The most affordable monthly payment I could find had a $5000 deductible attached to it. Think about that for a moment: I'm looking for insurance because I can't afford the high cost of medicine in the US, but in order to benefit from insurance I have to have a lot of money on hand to begin with. My uncle, now a Vice President with Anthem (the company that owns Blue Cross/Blue Shield), once described this as giving people the freedom to make their own choices. Apparently, having a high deductible allows people the freedom to shop around for doctors they like best? He couldn't quite answer how this is supposed to work, since the deductible is doubled if you go out of network. Or how an amazingly high deductible allows people to shop around in the first place. I want insurance because a visit to the doctor costs the same as a fourth of my rent, and I'd really rather not have to choose between eating and getting urgent medical care.

Blue Cross/Blue Shield isn't the only one running this racket. This now appears to be the standard for all modern health insurance policies; my deductible with Aetna through my previous employer was $1000, and for this privilege I paid $100 a month. The days when having health insurance meant you could actually afford to get medical treatment are long gone in these golden days of "compassionate conservatism." There is no mandate for getting health insurance. Being healthy is a privilege in this nation, not a right. The free market has spoken, and the free market has decided that if I'm not rich enough to afford decent health care that it's appropriate for me to have to decide between eating and visiting a doctor.

Gods, but I miss Australia and its socialized medicine.

Saturday, December 15, 2007

A day in the life of a common Joe

This story was lifted wholesale from a comment at reddit.com. I wish I could claim to be the original author, but that honor belongs to liberal_one.

Joe gets up at 6 a.m. and fills his coffeepot with water to prepare his morning coffee. The water is clean and good because some tree-hugging liberal fought for minimum water-quality standards. With his first swallow of water, he takes his daily medication. His medications are safe to take because some stupid commie liberal fought to ensure their safety and that they work as advertised.

All but $10 of his medications are paid for by his employer's medical plan because some liberal union workers fought their employers for paid medical insurance - now Joe gets it too.

He prepares his morning breakfast, bacon and eggs. Joe's bacon is safe to eat because some girly-man liberal fought for laws to regulate the meat packing industry.

In the morning shower, Joe reaches for his shampoo. His bottle is properly labeled with each ingredient and its amount in the total contents because some crybaby liberal fought for his right to know what he was putting on his body and how much it contained.

Joe dresses, walks outside and takes a deep breath. The air he breathes is clean because some environmentalist wacko liberal fought for the laws to stop industries from polluting our air.

He walks on the government-provided sidewalk to subway station for his government-subsidized ride to work. It saves him considerable money in parking and transportation fees because some fancy-pants liberal fought for affordable public transportation, which gives everyone the opportunity to be a contributor.

Joe begins his work day. He has a good job with excellent pay, medical benefits, retirement, paid holidays and vacation because some lazy liberal union members fought and died for these working standards. Joe's employer pays these standards because Joe's employer doesn't want his employees to call the union.

If Joe is hurt on the job or becomes unemployed, he'll get a worker compensation or unemployment check because some stupid liberal didn't think he should lose his home because of his temporary misfortune.

It is noontime and Joe needs to make a bank deposit so he can pay some bills. Joe's deposit is federally insured by the FSLIC because some godless liberal wanted to protect Joe's money from unscrupulous bankers who ruined the banking system before the Great Depression.

Joe has to pay his Fannie Mae-underwritten mortgage and his below-market federal student loan because some elitist liberal decided that Joe and the government would be better off if he was educated and earned more money over his lifetime. Joe also forgets that his in addition to his federally subsidized student loans, he attended a state funded university.

Joe is home from work. He plans to visit his father this evening at his farm home in the country. He gets in his car for the drive. His car is among the safest in the world because some America-hating liberal fought for car safety standards to go along with the tax-payer funded roads.

He arrives at his boyhood home. His was the third generation to live in the house financed by Farmers' Home Administration because bankers didn't want to make rural loans.

The house didn't have electricity until some big-government liberal stuck his nose where it didn't belong and demanded rural electrification.

He is happy to see his father, who is now retired. His father lives on Social Security and a union pension because some wine-drinking, cheese-eating liberal made sure he could take care of himself so Joe wouldn't have to.

Joe gets back in his car for the ride home, and turns on a radio talk show. The radio host keeps saying that liberals are bad and conservatives are good. He doesn't mention that the beloved Republicans have fought against every protection and benefit Joe enjoys throughout his day. Joe agrees: "We don't need those big-government liberals ruining our lives! After all, I'm a self-made man who believes everyone should take care of themselves, just like I have."

Sunday, December 9, 2007

A Non-Libertarian FAQ

Libertarianism is one of the more popular utopian schemes to emerge in the last twenty years. My rather simple understanding of it boils down to one phrase: the free market cures all ills. Suggestions to the contrary tend to garner immediate and vehement (Hi, Denis!) reaction.

I have lots of reasons to have more faith in the government than I do in corporations. One is that government is meant to represent us all, while corporations don't have to answer to anyone but their stockholders. Another is that government -- at least those that pretend to follow democratic ideals -- can be changed with every election until the people find themselves with representation that satisfies them. With businesses, your only hope is either to find another corporation that doesn't follow the same business practices or go without.

I ran across a very useful site that pulls no punches in critiquing the libertarian mindset, and offers some very interesting responses to Libertarian evangelism. I'm posting it here so I can refer back to it again when the need arises.

As I'm sure it will.

The Golden Compass

Yesterday, T and I went to see The Golden Compass, the movie adapted from the novel by Phil Pullman. Pullman is an avowed atheist, and apparently doesn't pull any punches in his writing. I've never read his work so I can't say for myself, but Christians are calling for a boycott across the nation.

That alone was enough to ensure that I was going to go and pay money for this movie.

I'm still not over the shingles. Only through the agency of painkillers both mild and strong have I been able to go out and do things this week; I even managed to clock in 21 hours at work, which is really going to hurt my finances, but this month is pretty much a write-off already. But fortified with a pair of Advil we braved the winter snow (I think we got half a foot) to do some desperately needed grocery shopping before catching an early show.

I can see why the Christians are so upset. The protagonist works for the Magisterium, a church-like organization that wants to control what people think, believe and how they behave. Nicole Kidman stars as the main protagonist who lays on thick the need for most people to be told what to do. Her character also turns out to be behind one of the more disturbing policies of the Magisterium, which I won't reveal because I'm not in the habit of giving spoilers. Other agents of the Magisterium are shown trying to poison people with opinions or information they dislike, stealing private property to nullify others and using children in torturous experiments. As a whole, the Magisterium is depicted as a thoroughly evil organization whose members have generally abandoned any pretense of morality while furthering the organization's ends.

Now, there's no direct attempt to call the Magisterium a religious order, but the allegory is pretty clear. This is an organization that wants to "help" people by taking control of them and making sure everyone does what it wants them to. If Christian organizations feel that this is meant to be a slam against them, well, I suppose a guilty conscience would do that, wouldn't it?

Obviously, I don't have a lot of sympathy for people like Bill Donahue who calls Pullman's work "atheism for kids." As T put it yesterday, "if their beliefs are so special, what are they so worried about?" That's a question a lot of atheists and agnostics like to ask: if various religions really do have a lock on the Truth as they like to claim, why do they complain so much when that Truth is challenged?

You know what I think, and if you don't you haven't been paying attention. But aside from giving religious nuts a firm tweak in the nose, The Golden Compass is worth seeing at least once. I thought it handled an epic story fairly well, and the CGI is nothing to sneeze at either.

Thursday, December 6, 2007

Fundamentalism for the US Constitution

Once again, reddit has spawned another topic I think worthy of discussion. As a former political science student, I just can't stay away from politics and government. One poster posted the following topic: Fundamentalism+Bible=Bad, but Fundamentalism+Constitution=OK?

Political junkie that I am, I had to respond.

I can see the point of this argument, so I'm upmodding it. The Constitution was meant to be a "living document," one that was constantly challenged and updated to reflect modern issues not yet considered by the Founders. Right now we have 27 Amendments, addressing various aspects of our government and society. They appear to have passed at semi-regular intervals, indicating that the Constitution has, in fact, served as the "living document" the Founders intended.

When you consider a "fundamentalist," you are commonly discussing someone who is a literalist to a religious degree, someone who believes a body of text (usually religious) to be infallible and not to be challenged. The Constitution is anything but a holy text, but to some people it may well be.

Certain conservatives and libertarians seem to believe that the Federal Government is de facto prevented from governing outside the limited language of the Constitution. If the Constitution didn't explicitly allow the government to assume a particular role, then the government is automatically prevented from doing so. To them, the States have all power to pass laws and assume various roles, and all the Federal government can do is decide on matters of interstate commerce and national security.

To some liberals, the Federal Government is the final source of central power and the best resource for change on a national level. The lawmaking powers of Congress were meant to be able to impact the nation regardless of individual State wishes, so long as they phrase those laws within the confines of the Constitution. It was a liberal ideal that was enacted within the first section of the Fourteenth Amendment which states:
All persons born or naturalized in the United States and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States and of the State wherein they reside. No State shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States; nor shall any State deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.

Thus beginning the age wherein the Bill of Rights are expressly applied to the States as well as the Federal government. Effectively, the Fourteenth began the Federal Government's tenure as a lawmaking body that supersedes State legislatures.

In effect, "fundamentalist constitutionalists" are fighting against the Constitution itself, or at least the interpretation of the part of the Constitution that was ratified after the Civil War. The writers of the Fourteenth Amendment realized that States could get away with all manner of atrocities in the name of sovereignty, and they used the Constitution to close that loophole. In time, people stopped appealing as much to State legislatures as to the Federal legislature to protect new rights and assume new services to reflect the changing times. This left the States with little more than maintenance, and to experiment with laws more radical (like California) than those imposed by the Federal Government.

When Journalists Allow Themselves To Be Manipulated - A Rebuttal

I found this Say Anything blog listed at Reuters Top News and couldn't help but respond. Essentially, this dimwit is blaming the media for supporting terrorism because they've been reporting it. Here is the text of my response.

Curiously, my impression of journalism over the past seven years is that they've been bending over backwards to accommodate the Bush administration. The fact that they keep reporting how dangerous Iraq is on the ground reflects more on how impossible it is to ignore that news without getting slammed by their international counterparts than any particular desire to be manipulated by "defeatism" politicians like John Murtha.

The general consensus by journalists and residents alike is that while the FREQUENCY of violence is down, the reasons for it and the attacks that do occur still make Iraq one of the most dangerous places to be right now. It doesn't matter that the series of bombings killed 22 or 222 during Gates' visit: the danger is still there, and as the British forces demonstrated in Basra, the reason that danger exists is primarily due to the occupation forces in place. They continue to fight because we're there, and unless we're prepared to place permanent "surge-level" forces on the ground to kill every single resident, it is simply not going away.

It's disingenuous to blame the media for terrorism because the media has reported on terrorist activities. Somehow, a media blackout will make the terrorists lose heart and go away? Do terrorists count on media exposure for their deeds? To some extent that may be true, but these are not propaganda specialists. These are a little more than bullies, and far more complex. They're jihadists, they're patriots, they're men and women with families they're trying to protect in a land where everyone is against his neighbor, and all the neighbors are against the occupiers.

We are already defeated in Iraq. The media has refused to say it, even John Murtha won't admit it, but a majority of Americans have a clue because they want our troops home. We were defeated the moment we defied the UN by forming our own coalition and occupying the country. Trying to shift the blame to anyone but our own government and those dittoheads who cheered them on is pointless.

Wednesday, December 5, 2007

Shingles SUCK

Shingles are an adult outbreak of chicken pox, that lovely childhood ailment that makes life hell for a few weeks. It's no better in adulthood, either. Let's look at the symptoms:

  • Pain, burning, tingling, numbness or extreme sensitivity in a certain part of your body

  • A red rash that begins a few days after the pain

  • Fluid-filled blisters that break open and crust over

  • Itching

  • Fever and chills

  • Headache

  • Upset stomach or abdominal pain

Pain, burning, tingling, numbness or extreme sensitivity in a certain part of your body? Eh, not so much.

Red rash that begins a few days after the pain? Got those all over my arms and feet, and a few around my shoulders.

Fluid-filled blisters that break open and crust over? Thank the gods, no. Or at least not yet.

Itching? Oh yes. Those rashes are infernal. They were, in fact, my first symptom and they looked for all the world like bugbites. I tried a few methods to combat this, and finally fell back on Melaleuca's "Renew" lotion. They used to use just allantoin and their patented melaleuca oil which did wonders for my skin, but now all they offer is their "Renew" product which has a bunch of other stuff that does nothing for me. However, I've found it to still be the best product I can find. It has an amazing effect on quelling and reducing the itchy rashes.

Fever and chills? For about a week or two I suffered the rashes, then all of a sudden this Sunday I was struck by an avalanche of symptoms including fever and chills. They still hit me completely at random, day and night.

Headache? Yes, but it's the least of my concerns.

Upset stomach or abdominal pain? That's what really got me on Sunday, and it's persisted to varying degrees all week. I'm most comfortable when I stay very still and move as little as possible. Great for when you're sitting in front of the computer browsing or playing World of Warcraft, but working? Getting up to use the bathroom? Trying to roll over in bed? My entire world is pain, and I have to remind myself to eat.

I tried going to work after taking some heavy narcotics (leftovers from my adventure with the dentist), and barely managed to get in half a shift. They're already shorthanded so this is really not good, but all of them agreed I was in no shape to continue. So I can look forward to more half shifts until this goes away.

The best part: this is likely to continue for at least a couple of weeks. So my conclusion? Shingles suck.

Sunday, December 2, 2007

Sex and American Values

I am about to embark on a topic I revisit at least once a year, saying much of the same things in different ways. This may offend some people, and it may bore others. Read at your own risk.

Long ago I had a fiancee. We dated for four years, and over the course of the last year our relationship broke down irreparably. We were both in college at the time, and while the distance between Troy, NY and the capital wasn't that great, it represented a lot of time by bus. She went through the year having a series of nervous breakdowns over her major, which she changed twice. I went into a steady decline until I simply stopped going to classes altogether due to stress and spending too much time in Troy helping her. We were fighting too much, going through the motions too much, and neither of us were getting what we wanted out of it. Still, the breakup was traumatic for me. It's a hell of a way to say "happy birthday" to someone.

I mention this because it bears directly on my opinions regarding sex, monogamy and commitment. This woman was my first long-term sexual partner (both our mothers had fits when our secret was discovered). She wasn't my first, although I was hers. She was deeply conservative about such matters, so fidelity and monogamy were paramount. I wronged her by not admitting my previous partners, and I didn't truly accept that until much later. But it wasn't the sex that concerned me. It was love.

After she broke up with me, I had to decide what I was going to do about it. I realized that I still loved her, and always would. But how could I move on if I couldn't stop loving her? How could I possibly love anyone else with that in the way? My conclusion was that if I couldn't be with her and couldn't stop loving her, then I was going to have to learn to love more than one person at a time. That was the point when I accepted that the human heart can grow to encompass as much love as you can manage.

Since then I've had both open relationships and monogamous relationships. Curiously, the monogamous relationships were always the most difficult. Not because I couldn't be faithful, but because I discovered I can't stand being treated as a possession. I am mine. I may choose to give myself to another, but that doesn't give them property rights over me. Likewise, if I dally with another person it does not mean that I have no love left for the person I'm with. In my mind, monogamy is like restricting yourself to only one friend: it sounds romantic, but it's hardly natural. Sexual fidelity is a social construct, not a biological one.

However, monogamy is ingrained into Western culture, and American culture in particular. We impeached a President over the kind of sexual infidelity that would have gotten a French or Italian leader re-elected. We're horrified by the thought that our sexual property might ever be sullied by someone else. Our religions scream at us that sex is only proper between a man and woman who have been given the official religious blessing.

This morning I ran across a quote from an online novel called Tales of Mu that phrases the issue more succinctly than I've ever known: "You were taught that sex is the most degrading, depraved, disgusting, disturbing, nasty, noxious, filthy, foul, venal, evil, sinful and just plain wrong thing in this plane of existence, and you should only share it with the person you love most?"

That pretty much sums it up for American culture. Oh, there are always variations and people embrace it to greater and lesser degrees, but I can think of no better way to summarize the American attitude toward sex. It's dirty, horrible, sinful and shameful. The fact that we're inundated by it in our media and entertainment doesn't diminish that summary at all; it just makes it more exciting.

I'm keenly interested in demystifying sex in our culture. There are cultures in the world where children grow up knowing exactly what sex looks and sounds like because their parents do it with each other with them in the room. Somehow, these cultures still manage to avoid more than their fair share of sexual predators. Bill Clinton got a blowjob and outside of the US, the world opinion was largely unanimous: so what?

Do I think everyone should abandon all sexual restraint and engage in a massive sexual orgy? No, although that would make for some interesting evening news. Do I think monogamy is wrong? No, but I know it's wrong for me. What I think is that we need to wean ourselves away from our puritan attitudes and accept that sex is what we make of it. It can be pure physical gratification, it can be a powerful expression of intimacy and it can be abused as a tool of dominance. We need to decide for ourselves, as individuals, what sex means to us. What it means to everybody else is entirely up to them, and it's not our place to dictate to them.

My ex-wife and I talked about this extensively before we were married, and while I thought we had a good understanding it turned out we didn't. As soon as I put that ring on her finger, I was transformed from a person into property. It was inevitable that our marriage didn't last.

My lady and I have also talked about this extensively, and we still re-visit the issue on occasion. So far we're still in perfect harmony over the issue, and I know I'm insanely lucky to have found her. We've managed to maintain a remarkable state of bliss for the time we've been together, and there is every indication that we'll keep it up a lot longer. So ironically, we've achieved the classically romantic ideal without conforming to classically romantic rules.

Sex. Love. They're so much better when we stop obsessing about them and start embracing them.

Monday, November 12, 2007

Empirical Evidence

I got sucked into a philosophical discussion on reddit.com, and two people effectively brought up the same issue regarding the lack of evidence for God. I was therefore inspired to write the following. Here it is for you to consider and tear apart.

We have the language to describe what we see, feel and experience; in other words, everything that we can tangibly define and share. I know my hand because I can see it, feel it, taste it, smell it (even if I'm not cognizant of its scent) and hear it as it interacts with other objects. I can relate these experiences with other people who come into contact with me and confirm with them that they have similar experience with their own hands and with mine. Thus we have the basis of common understanding.

It's possible to question our experiences even further, but such metaphysical discussions are pointless for this conversation to the degree that the question of God becomes meaningless.

Now we turn to the world around us. We can describe water and trees in such a way that everyone understands what we mean. Even if we don't share the same language, we can still make ourselves understood for simple concepts like that. We are sufficiently rooted in a common reality that communication becomes possible at high levels until abstract concepts become possible. This, then, gives us the foundation for establishing what satisfies the criteria for empirical data for our physical bodies.

Furthermore, every culture on earth has the foundation for mathematics to some degree, which is largely abstract, and all mathematical concepts thus discovered have been compatible. This means that our common reality is not restricted only to the physical world, but also the abstract.

Then we turn to the concept of God. Every culture on earth has some sort of supernatural creation myth, although not one of them shares common elements when developed in isolation. Thus, the common reality model fails. None of us share a common reality with regard to the supernatural, creating an impossible situation with regard to empirical data. In the millennia, probably eons of human experience with thousands of disparate cultures, we've discovered evidence of a multitude of common discoveries, but not one god or creation myth in common.

This is not proof of anything, nor does it disprove anything. It only suggests that we are a species that instinctively seeks patterns in the world around us, and we try to fill in the gaps when we have incomplete data. This is where the role of the supernatural enters our lives.

This lack of a common frame of reference for God or the supernatural creates severe problems when trying to justify our beliefs. Commonality only arises when we start indoctrinating cultures into our own beliefs; thus people become predisposed and any empirical evidence becomes tainted. Since we know that we have no problems with independently developed abstract concepts, there should be no reason for the human race to have developed such disparate concepts of God and creation. So we cannot compare the difficulties of establishing empirical evidence for physical bodies with empirical evidence for God. We are literally speaking of apples and oranges.

Friday, November 2, 2007

The Return of the Do-Nothing Congress

An unusual event happened this week. Bush and Pelosi agreed that this Congress hasn't done anything. The difference, of course, is who they blame. Pelosi seems to blame the Senate, referencing "the obstructionism of the Republicans in the United States Senate." Naturally, our Glorious Leader just blames the Democrats for essentially not obeying his imperial decrees. What I find highly ironic is that he criticizes them for trying to increase domestic spending. They want to stop his war, currently running at a cost of $30 billion per week, so they can fund health care for a small fraction of that cost. In theory, this denouncement makes sense to conservatives.

The final verdict is that Congress has been a failure. Conservatives are angry that Congress hasn't done enough to appease their demands. Liberals are angry that Congress has done too much to appease conservative demands. Pretty much everyone except the neocons are angry that Congress has provided only a token resistance to the Bush regime. So yes, the Congress elected with the mandate to bring an end to Bush's tyranny is an abject failure any way you look at it.

I don't expect anything different from Bush. He's a mediocre President thrown into extraordinary circumstances, and used them to push every single policy that ever made a conservative drool. The resulting disaster was, in my opinion, inevitable. But Republicans have long learned the blame game, shifting responsibility away from themselves and onto "obstructionist" Democrats even when the Democrats had been effectively shut out of the process of government.

I did expect different from Reid and Pelosi, leaders for the majority in the Senate and House respectively. There are all sorts of things they could have done to block the conservative agenda, even if they didn't have a prayer of accomplishing much with the Decider using his veto as if making up for lost time. Reid, on his part, doesn't even want to. Pelosi just whines that she doesn't have the supermajority she needs to block conservative bills from passing in Congress. Both of them have been complicit in passing a variety of bills that further compound the crimes being committed by our government since the beginning of the year, and both of them just shrug and say it isn't their fault.

Leaders need to lead. I don't care if "Blue Dog" Democrats are voting like Republicans, or the Democrats haven't passed any good legislation because of Republican obstructionism. These people know why they were elected, and they know what is expected of them. Still, they're determined to continue the traditions handed down to them from the days of the Republican majority. I blame both Reid and Pelosi for not doing what they can to fulfill the mandate handed to them by the voters, for caving in to Bush's demands at every opportunity and for buying into the Republican propaganda when they really ought to know better. I've said before that it's less important for them to pass good legislation than it is for them to try to pass it and make sure the media reports exactly why that legislation isn't getting passed. If it's the Blue Dogs, name them individually. If it's the Senate Republicans, shout it from every rooftop. If it's Bush's veto, plaster it on the television to remind the people exactly who is flouting their will.

Instead, we have corrupt politicians who took the mandate handed to them and decided they knew better. Now they're paying the price, and they have only themselves to blame. For the next election, I'm going to urge everyone to vote against every incumbent in office, be they Democrat or Republican, even if it means voting for a third party. I don't see any other way to fix our very broken government.

Addendum: Since Pelosi acknowledges this Congress hasn't done much of anything, maybe she'll consider allowing an inquiry for impeachment? That's also something a significant number of American people want, and the excuse that it would "distract" Congress from doing their job no longer cuts it. It could help bolster flagging popularity polls, but that's just a side-benefit.

Friday, October 19, 2007

Telecom Amnesty

Personal news later. First, my letter today to Senator Salazar regarding the pending Telecom Amnesty bill in the Senate.

As our legislation prepares a bill that provides complete and total amnesty to telecommunication companies for violating the law at federal directive, Chris Dodd has dared to take a stance by putting a "hold" on that bill. Apparently, your Majority Leader has decided to ignore that hold and push for a vote. This brings two critical things to light: the first is that the contempt of our nation's leaders for the rule of law is now clearly visible, and the second is that leadership in both Congress and the Senate needs to change. If Senator Reid is determined to undermine Senator Dodd's hold against custom and rule, Senator Reid is no longer worthy to represent the Democrats in the Senate.

We cannot tolerate violations of the rule of law by our nation's elites any longer. If we are to regain any sort of respect amongst ourselves and our world neighbors, we need to restore our respect for the law no matter how much money we have or our standing within the community. Any leader who wants to continue to represent us needs to fight loud and long to restore the rule of law. I want to hear that you're leading the charge to back Chris Dodd and help defeat this amnesty bill. I want to see the Senate return to its role of passing good legislation instead of rubberstamping the Bush agenda.

Good luck, Sir. I hope you'll find the courage to do the right thing.

Thursday, September 20, 2007

My Fabulous Roller Coaster Ride

I've talked a lot about everything except myself. For those of you dying to know what's going on (and thank you both), here's the rundown: it's been a hell of a roller coaster ride in the SpaceGhoti home the past couple of weeks. Stress levels are running high, finances are quirky and the availability of hot water varies from day to day. Fun times, right?

So, to begin. At the beginning of the month we the hot water ran out in the apartment complex. Grant Plaza isn't the most modern building with all the conveniences of home, but we could always depend on scalding hot water. Okay, call the building manager and let 'em know what's up. Friday passes. No feedback, and no hot water, either. Call several more times, including the backup maintenance number. No response, and again no hot water. Of course, this is Labor Day Weekend, so people are out for an extended period of time. I figure on Tuesday we'll see some action. I call, but get nothing.

Finally at the end of the week I get fed up and find the number for the city's Health and Safety. I probably should have done it before then, but I'm kind of stupid that way. The lady on the phone assures me that this is a high priority and will likely have an inspector out the same day. I get a reference number. Finally, the ability to take a hot shower in time for the weekend.

It never happens. We spend the rest of the weekend without hot water, still calling management the whole time. We also get a letter from someone claiming to be the owner wanting the money directly. I add that question to the voicemails I leave for the building manager. I get no word on that.

Monday I call Health and Safety again and mention the reference number. I'm transferred to the city inspector who says he never heard anything about it. But he goes out and makes his inspection. Finally the management company does something, and the next day we have hot water for a few hours. Then it goes cold again.

The inspector and I end up on a first-name basis, because I'm calling to report whenever the hot water goes out. Generally we have a day without hot water, followed by a few hours of hot water in the evening, then another day or two without it. As of this date, we have not had consistent hot water for more than two days in a row; we've certainly been without it more often than with it. Consequently, we eat out far too much because washing dishes in cold water doesn't fly.

At the moment we have hot water. I figure it might last through tomorrow morning.

In the middle of all this I'm discovering I have zero motivation to work for my employer anymore. Too much politics, too many arbitrary policies handed down, no opportunity for feedback in either direction and my boss just doesn't give a damn what I think about anything. Complaints? Problems? Suck it up. I spend more time hunting for new jobs than I do performing my old one. Not a good sign. I do a couple of interviews.

Then T gets a letter from the alleged property owner. This one says that the banks are likely to foreclose on the building, so we're going to need to move in the next month or two. Stress levels, already high, skyrocket. T isn't eating much, and not sleeping well either. A lovely conundrum: her libido explodes when her stress increases, while mine implodes. Gods, I need to find her a harem.

We start looking at new properties, find some things we like but only one we can afford. That one doesn't accept cats, and we're not giving up ours. No rush; we've got time and we really, really need to save as much as humanly possible to be able to afford this move. We're generally not good at that, but we don't have a choice.

This week I learn I landed one of the jobs I interviewed for. It's a lead position for a night deployment that goes through the end of the year. There's a two week unpaid break, then another deployment going through to spring. The employer has a good reputation for hiring people on if they perform well, and I've already impressed them enough that I'm starting in a position of authority. Benefits through the agency are better than what I have with my current employer, and I'll be getting a slight (very slight) raise. I hand in my notice, with a scathing review of my experience with them. My boss goes into spin mode.

We get confirmation that the lady claiming to be the owner is, in fact, the owner. We find this out not through the building manager (whom we haven't heard from in over a month), but by calling the management company directly. I also keep calling them (along with the inspector, Ray) to let them know when the hot water is out. I contact the owner and leave a message asking how she would like to handle prorating rent for the days without hot water. She calls back a little while later and talks my ear off about how the management company has been screwing her over, she hasn't seen money from them in months and how she's having to take them to court. After half an hour of this, I bring the topic back to the prorated rent. She admits she doesn't even know what our lease terms are, and whatever I can send would be GREATLY appreciated. She understands that she's putting the tenants in a bad position with this foreclosure and isn't demanding full rent. Sweet. I point out some other problems we've had with the management company, things she wasn't aware of before that can give her ammunition in court. It seems the company won't even return calls to her lawyer, which suggests they may default in court. Even if they don't, I volunteered as a witness against them.

So, up and down. New job, but it's contract and night work. T hates it when I'm not there at night. We have SOME hot water, but we have to move and can't really afford it. We won't need to pay full rent out of respect for that fact. And I have to deal with another week and half of extreme stress as I try to put my affairs in order at my old employer.

Oh, did I mention that it'll cost more to fix my old laptop than to replace it? It's no wonder people get addicted to the lottery: it's impossible to achieve financial security any longer. I'm betting the reason we're having this subprime lending mess is because the prime lending market was shrinking too fast.

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Bill to Restore Habeas Corpus Failed. Yet...

This evening I wrote yet another letter to Senator Ken Salazar (D-CO).

As I've vented much spleen over your voting record this session, I thought I'd take the time to praise your vote in the matter of restoring Habeus Corpus. Although the bill was defeated (with help from your Republican counterpart, Senator Allard), you did the right thing by voting for it.

I want to urge you to encourage the Senate to submit that bill again, unchanged, over and over again until the media starts asking why so many our nation's leaders feel that Habeus Corpus deserves the gruesome death it was given in 2006. This is the sort of thing Congress should be doing when a bill is defeated or vetoed: keep resubmitting it, possibly with even more stringent requirements than before. We do NOT accept the lack of a supermajority as an excuse for failure. You can use that to your advantage, by bringing attention to what you're trying to do and why your political opponents are stopping it.

Remember the mandate given to you in the 2006 elections: you were given the majority in both the House and the Senate because the American public isn't buying into the White House's propaganda anymore. The Beltway pundits are more disconnected from American thinking than any other time in history. Their power is waning, and you need to encourage your fellow Senators to do what is right, not what is expedient.

Do NOT wait for the 2008 elections before you fix the damage the Bush administration has done. Do NOT make the excuse that the Republicans and Blue Dog Democrats are blocking progress. Keep voting the way you just have and keep re-submitting bills designed to restore the rule of law and bring our troops home. Congress looks incredibly weak, but you have an opportunity to change that. I hope you take it.

Update: Denis Bider corrected me on the spelling of "habeas" rather than "habeus." It has been updated in the title, but not the letter since that's actually how I wrote it to Senator Salazar. Thank you, Denis.

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Religious Freedom in America

The Muslims hate our freedoms. That's the word from neoconservatives, and it's been enthusiastically swallowed by much of modern America. I mean, how can a people who riot over cartoons about Mohammed truly claim to respect freedom?

Well, now the shoe is on the other foot. No rioting or bombing, just a whole lot of censorship and pious demands for apologies from horribly offended Christians. It seems that Kathy Griffin stirred up the religious pot by stating in her Emmy acceptance speech, "A lot of people come up here and thank Jesus for this award. I want you to know that no one had less to do with this award than Jesus. Suck it, Jesus. This award is my god now."

To demonstrate precisely how she felt she said backstage, "I hope I offended some people. I didn't want to win the Emmy for nothing."

Bill Donahue and other religious conservatives have denounced it and are demanding an apology. Naturally, they're not getting one. But they have successfully leaned on the folks at the Emmy Awards, so the offending remarks will not be aired when the show is aired on television.

So there's your lesson, folks. We have freedom to worship with the choices we're given. I mean, you can be Catholic, Baptist, Lutheran, Methodist and even a Scientologist if you want to be that wacky. But Muslim? Atheist? Clearly you're a threat to society.

Monday, September 10, 2007

The Plot Twist That Wasn't

There are great moments in storytelling when the author dramatically reveals the plot twist that makes the story: when Darth Vader reveals that he is Luke's father, or when we discover that Bruce Willis has been a ghost through the entire movie. Sadly, Petraeus' revelation to Congress that the Surge is working Iraq isn't one of them. We knew what he was going to say almost word-for-word a long time ago.

Surprisingly, CNN actually reported more than just the White House Press Release.

"I hope, General Petraeus and Ambassador Crocker, that you can persuade us that there is substantial reason to believe that Iraq will turn around in the very near future," [Rep. Ike Skelton, D-Missouri] said.

Did that sound like skepticism? I dearly hope so.

And referring to congressional critics of Petraeus' independence, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell said, "I also resent the comments of those who sat comfortably in their air-conditioned offices thousands of miles away from the firefights and roadside bombs and tried their Washington best in recent days to impugn the general's good name."

This, of course, from a corporate-sponsored politician who sits comfortably in his air-conditioned office thousands of miles away from the firefights and roadside bombs he sent thousands of American troops to face.

Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Illinois, a vocal critic of the war in Iraq, has accused the White House of twisting data to suit its needs.

"By carefully manipulating the statistics, the Bush-Petraeus report will try to persuade us that violence in Iraq is decreasing and thus the surge is working," said the Senate's No. 2 Democrat, addressing a Washington think tank last week.

Durbin's criticism was echoed by David Walker, head of the nonpartisan Government Accountability Office, who also raised questions about how the statistics were compiled.

In testimony before the Senate Armed Services Committee on Friday, Walker said he is not comfortable with the methodology used to track the death toll driven by sectarian violence.

For instance, he said, a body found with a gunshot to the front of the head is classified as an ordinary crime, while a body with a gunshot to the back of the head is attributed to sectarian violence.

So at least somebody is calling the administration on its bullshit. Let's see if the rest of the Democrats grow a spine and show some genuine opposition.

The U.S. military data obtained by CNN indicates that 165 Iraqis were murdered in Baghdad last month, a slight increase from the previous two months. However, the number represents a significant decrease since the Baghdad security plan began earlier this year.

It is not clear how the U.S. military obtained the number, but CNN statistics -- compiled from numbers released by the Iraqi Interior Ministry -- suggest 428 Iraqis were murdered in Baghdad in August, their bodies dumped in the streets. In July, 612 Iraqis were murdered, according to the Interior Ministry.

A U.S. military chart indicates monthly casualties in Baghdad, which spiked in November at 2,200, dropped to 980 last month. The chart does not break the casualties down into deaths and injuries.

The military data focus only on Baghdad and do not address the increase in violence in other parts of the country since the Baghdad security plan kicked off in February.

I think that's a fairly significant caveat there at the end. The military data focus only on Baghdad and do not address the increase in violence in other parts of the country. They increased spending and troop numbers in order to try to secure Baghdad, reducing but not eliminating the violence in that area, but it increases elsewhere. Meanwhile, the locals think that all the Surge has done is made things worse, and more Iraqis than ever support attacks against coalition forces.

Heck of a job, Petty.

Friday, September 7, 2007

Petraeus Speaks

The Washington Post has published an article by William Branigin in which he reports the contents of a letter by Petraeus to the troops without any fact checking or analysis whatsoever. Apparently, this is called "journalism." Let's look at the highlights.
U.S. forces have achieved generally encouraging, though "uneven," results in an offensive aimed at shoring up security in Iraq, but Iraqi leaders have failed to make satisfactory progress on the political reconciliation the military effort was designed to facilitate, the top U.S. military commander in Iraq told his troops in a letter today.
Hmm...it seems that the surge is going well, but it's going to take some more time. Who could have ever predicted that? Of course, Patraeus won't be writing the report himself, it'll be written by the White House. Three guesses as to what it will say, and the first two don't count. But I digress.
Cautioning that "innumerable tasks remain and much hard work lies ahead," he offered a football analogy: "We are, in short, a long way from the goal line, but we do have the ball and we are driving down the field."
So we'll probably have to keep "surging" for at least another six to nine months. Just like they said six months ago. And six months before that. And six months before that. And six months before that. But this time they really mean it!
He said sectarian violence "continues to cause death and displacement in Baghdad and elsewhere," although at "considerably reduced levels" from eight months ago. He cited a decline in the number of attacks across Iraq in eight of the previous 11 weeks, saying they had dropped to a level in the last week of August not seen since June 2006.
For some reason, this claim doesn't seem to fit the facts. It probably stems from the new method for discerning the difference between insurgency and criminal killings: "If a bullet went through the back of the head, it's sectarian. If it went through the front, it's criminal." So, how do they count it if an insurgent was facing the person who shot them? That would make for a lot of criminal G.I.s.

That leads me to another question: how do they distinguish between civilian and insurgent kills? Or is everyone killed in an air raid an insurgent by default?
"However, the overall trajectory has been encouraging, especially when compared to the height of the sectarian violence in late 2006 and early 2007," he wrote.
Especially when you consider how many insurgents die while facing the person they're trying to kill. Of course, the number of troops that have died so far this year is higher than it was last year, leading to an overall count that's climbing toward 4,000 (for some reason we never hear about the number of soldiers wounded, just the ones who have died). I'm sure that's progress too, considering how many more troops we've put in the line of fire.
The general wrote in conclusion, "I will go before Congress conscious of the strain on our forces, the sacrifices that you and your families are making, the gains we have made in Iraq, the challenges that remain, and the importance of building on what we and our Iraqi counterparts have fought so hard to achieve."
So, in summary, the Surge is working but it needs more time to work. All of the things that haven't worked out are no fault of our own, so we need to stay longer to make them work. The strain of this action means they might authorize the withdrawal of one brigade, approximately 4,000 out of the 30,000 troops currently fighting for oil democracy in Iraq. That's mighty generous of him.

Tell me again why we aren't rioting in the streets?

Thursday, September 6, 2007

The Dangers of Religious Indoctrination

I'm always reading about people's justification for their belief in God and support of their religion, so I'm always inspired to come back to the topic. Most of these claims are based on cyclical logic. "There's no evidence to refute the Bible, so the Bible must be true." "The only way to earn God's salvation is to believe."

There’s no substance to these claims. Claiming the authority of a book that has been refuted as a source of authority doesn’t convince anyone. There’s as much evidence for the Flying Spaghetti Monster as there is of the God of the Israelites, and as much incentive to sit at his Noodly Appendage.

Religion demands faith — unquestioning belief — as opposed to reasoned consent. The Bible is the infallible Word of God not because it’s been tested empirically and found to be perfect, but because it says so right in its text. We know that God watches out for us and meddles in our daily lives not because we have verifiable proof, but because people we recognize as authority figures have told us so.

This is the trap of religion. It conditions us to accept authority without question. Ever wonder why there are so many scandals in the religious and political world? Ever wonder why so many people are lead astray through the guise of religion and religious principles? Because the people who use religion to further their aims know the weakness of the religious-minded: if you tell them what they want to hear, they’ll support you without question. And they’ll give you a truckload of money to do it. Of course, once the hypocrisy gets out they tend to go for blood, but inevitably they'll turn to yet another con artist promising them everything they want to hear.

Sure, people do wonderful things in the name of religion. People also do wonderful things in the name of secular principles. They do equally bad things for those very same reasons. Belief in God or membership in any religion does not guarantee any sort of moral behavior or enlightened understanding. We can create those things without religion. The only thing that religion does is give us membership in a social setting, and that’s far more comforting than any words from a long-dead priest.

Saturday, September 1, 2007

The Religion of the Free Market

There's a common theme pushed by Republicans and Libertarians alike: the notion that the Free Market (hallowed by thy name) will automatically correct itself when problems arise. If wages are too low, workers will switch jobs to companies that pay more. If a company puts out a bad product, engages in monopolistic tactics or uses environmentally unfriendly practices, companies with better standards will gain the advantage and edge out the offending business.

The problem, argue these Free Market proponents, is that the government intervenes before the market can correct itself. The government then imposes costly and impractical solutions rather than allowing the natural evolutionary process to complete. So we end up with businesses that lose money and productivity, showing more concern for appeasing the government than putting out good product.

It sounds very rational, doesn't it? Very compelling. The problem is that history doesn't support it. The world has had countless opportunities for pure market conditions to flourish, and in every instance it has created an environment that gave us the wisdom of caveat emptor: let the buyer beware.

"Not so!" cry the clerics of the Church of the Free Market. "There has never been a true free market! Government has always meddled!" Perhaps this is so. But how long do you allow an experiment in free market environments to continue before you declare it a failure and institute some controls? Is it akin to our Glorious Leader telling us Iraq will be a success in the next six months for four years in a row? Britain tried it, and was forced to institute controls. France and Germany tried it, and they had to impose government restrictions on business practices. Russia embraced capitalism as enthusiastically as anyone after the fall of the Soviet Union, and the subsequent abuses are practically the stuff of legend so they've been instituting government controls. China is the latest newcomer to the capitalist scene and our news is filled with all sorts of complaints about the life-threatening consequences of their corner-cutting practices, all hallmarks of a free market environment. Are we boycotting Chinese goods? Are Chinese businesses going to feel the heat and correct themselves? No, they're going to take their chances and push their profits until their government forces them to behave. That is what free markets do. They always have, and until human nature changes, they always will.

So Free Market religionists will complain about things like mandatory minimum wage increases and talk about individual responsibility. They'll predict doom and gloom for everyone because of minimum wage. But the evidence is against them; just ask Oregon how badly they're hurting because of minimum wage.

Saturday, August 25, 2007

The Tragedy of Mother Theresa

I've had the joy of tweaking a few wingnut fanatics over at Weasel Zippers, particularly over their blog headline: CBS Going After Religion, Hints Mother Teresa was as an Atheist... For those of you who missed it, letters from Mother Theresa during the last years of her life indicate that she had completely lost her faith and was following the motions because it frightened her. She wanted those letters destroyed because she knew it would undermine the cause of religion, but people released them anyway and CBS, in a rare display of journalism, let us know about it.

Right now religious apologists are going on about how the "Heavenly Father" worked through her in spite of her tribulations. It's a classic religionist argument that assumes the existence of God when no such existence has been or can be verified. This guy knows it only because he believes it and has that belief reinforced by other believers. I'm no psychologist, but I think they call that wish fulfillment.

I have to call bullshit. Mother Theresa was a very frightened, very pathetic individual. She ignored the millions of dollars in donations that she could have used to create better facilities and buy better resources to help the sick and poor she was famous for helping. She carefully hid the fact that she no longer believed in God or the religion she was following so as not to tarnish the good name of the Roman Catholic Church. She wrote letters agonizing over her lack of faith, but begged that the letters be destroyed. Evidence suggests she died without ever reconciling her loss of faith. And when you have no belief in God, that's called "atheism." So Mother Theresa, one of the celebrities of the religious world in the Twentieth Century and famous for her self sacrifice, was an atheist on the day she died. No wonder religionists are upset.

It underscores the point that we really do not need a religion or God to goad us into altruistic works. We can find our own rationale for it, even if that rationale isn't quite so rational. In spite of this revelation, no one is belittling the efforts Mother Theresa made toward easing the suffering of her fellow human beings. People have already pointed out that she could have done so much more without much trouble simply by accepting the help other people offered her. She refused, and now it may be apparently because she was too caught up in her own internal suffering to pay attention. I can now understand that she was a small-minded person given a glimpse of a larger world, and all it did was frighten her. That makes her a thoroughly tragic individual, and I will pity her and those like her always.

Thursday, August 23, 2007

Comparing Vietnam to Iraq

Today our Glorious Leader finally dropped the taboo his administration had placed on comparing Iraq with Vietnam. He essentially warned that if we leave Iraq before a lasting peace is created, we will see a repeat of history in which Iraqis descend into civil war and mounting bloodshed. This is true, and no one denies it. He then went on to explain that because of this, he will not allow the US to leave Iraq until that peace is achieved. This is where things begin to fall apart.

"One unmistakable legacy of Vietnam is that the price of America's withdrawal was paid by millions of innocent citizens whose agonies would add to our vocabulary new terms like 'boat people,' 'reeducation camps' and 'killing fields.'"
It sucks to contemplate that sort of blood on your hands. So I can understand wanting to stay until we can be sure it won't happen. Except that we can't. There's simply no way on earth that we can stop this. The Sunnis and Shiites aren't going to miraculously start cooperating just because we tell them they have to. They're not going to stop attacking each other and burying their heads in sectarian nonsense because we said so. Hell, we can't stop doing it ourselves (if not to the same degree of violence) in our own nation. Everybody is entitled to their opinion; the key is learning to cooperate, a concept conservatives had abandoned during their majority in Congress. We're really not so different from the Iraqis; we're just less eager to blow ourselves up in the name of our invisible gods.

The point is that the Vietnam analogy is wildly accurate, just not for the reasons that pro-war advocates would like. Like Vietnam, we should never have gone to Iraq. Like Vietnam, we don't have a strategy that can neutralize the insurgents' tactics. And like Vietnam, our very presence there is creating the incentive the Iraqis needs to fight us. We should never forget that we are the best recruiters for insurgency and terrorism the Middle East has ever seen. No matter what we do or how long we stay, the place is going to be bathed in blood. Once we leave, that bloodshed is going to escalate -- and there's nothing we can do to stop it.

So why should we leave? I can think of three reasons off the top of my head. The first is that we should not be sending our people off to die so that we can browbeat the Iraqis into conceding their oil resources to us. The second is because the longer we stay, the more resentment we create and the greater the violence when we finally do leave. But most of all, the only reason to leave that truly matters is because they asked us to.

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

The Freedom of Information Act

The Freedom of Information Act was signed into law in 1966 to require the government to release any unclassified information requested by the public. Today, the Department of Justice has declared that as a department of the Executive Branch, it is not subject to the FOIA. I wish I could call this a surprise, but it isn't.

The Bush administration has made no secret of its desire to make the other two branches of government irrelevant, as well as vigorously defend its right to act in absolute secrecy. All for the good of the nation, of course. The concept of the unitary executive goes back a long way, even preceding the Nixon Administration, but no President has taken the concept as far as our Glorious Leader. It therefore comes as no surprise that neoconservatives are calling for him to become "President-for-Life", even if they found it necessary to quietly remove the article in question.

People have been talking about the parallel of incidents between Rome and the United States for some time, and some of us have been watching our Glorious Leader quietly set the foundation for declaring martial law and establishing permanent rule. Is it really paranoia if it's true?

Open government is the only way for a true democracy to exist. The Bush Administration doesn't give a damn about democracy, and never has. It has always worked toward one goal: a political hegemony wherein they hold all the power. As Bush himself joked, "If this were a dictatorship, it'd be a heck of a lot easier, just so long as I'm the dictator." Except that it's becoming increasingly clear that he wasn't joking.

I don't know what I can do personally to stop this imperialist government. I don't know what I can do to help prevent Bush and his cronies from attempting to overthrow our government and install themselves as our permanent masters. But I do know that if I see a legitimate opportunity to do so, I will do it. It isn't yet too late to protect our nation from these megalomaniacs, but it's going to be harder and harder the longer we wait. The Democrats have betrayed us. Our President has declared that the opinions of the voting public is only "one voice of many" (If someone can find the link to that transcript I'd appreciate it). The media is only interested in keeping their corporate masters happy, and their corporate masters want only unflinching praise of people who serve their interests -- like Bush and the neocons. A significant portion of the nation only watch Fox News to understand what's happening in the world, and they've successfully defended their right to misrepresent the news. This will not end without a fight. But unless we do something, this nightmare will not end. It will only result in a new American dictatorship.

Monday, August 20, 2007


A while ago I encountered a rather disturbing website, whyfirefoxisblocked.com which explains that Firefox is evil because it allows you to use an addon called Adblock to...well...block ads. This is apparently the greatest possible sin of any browser because it apparently allows you to steal web content without paying for it.

The funny thing is, I don't recall paying for any web content in the first place.

It's a remarkable piece of FUD that attacks Firefox because it allows third parties to create and use popular addons like Adblock because they found a need and wrote an addon to fill it. Adblock wouldn't be such a threat to these people if it weren't so popular. Nevermind that the majority of the people who use Firefox don't have the first clue about addons and don't care. Nevermind that Adblock was created precisely because there's so much junk cluttering up our screens and wasting our bandwidth that those of us who do have a clue are pleased at how easy it has become to filter it out. I could do the same thing by modifying my hosts file and redirecting all those addresses to Adblock just makes it more convenient.

It's the notion that ad-blocking is theft that really gets my goat. It's the same premise the RIAA and the MPAA use when claiming loss of income due to piracy. The people who use Adblock like myself are people who are inclined not to click on ad links because they tend to annoy us. I stopped using the Opera browser in spite of its technical superiority precisely because it doesn't offer a widget to compare to Adblock. If it did, I would use it. Nobody on the web has lost any money because I refuse to click on ads; Adblock just makes it easier for me to surf without all those annoying popups, java adverts and other things that spam me.

This guy is trying to pull a classic scam wherein he claims scarcity where there is none. So I found his email address and wrote him the following message:
Wow. Just...wow. I haven't seen so much rationalization and false assertions since the Evangelicals opened the Creationism Museum. Now let's see who you REALLY are...

Oh my god, it's Old Man Steve Ballmer! Quick, everybody hide the chairs!

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Two Dollars and Seventy-Two Cents

On my way back from installing equipment at a client office (don't ask; I only wish I were freelance) I passed a gas station advertising $2.72 for regular unleaded. It came as something of a shock to me, as I never expected to see gas prices that low again. It came as another shock to realize that I actually considered that price to be low.

Not a lot of people are talking about the price of gas these days. There's a bit of a grumbling over the fact that gas companies won't modify the price of gas when the temperature changes, effectively selling by volume instead of energy potential. The Boston Local News reports that gas is down nine cents in the last week, and twenty-nine cents since the end of May. Other than that, nada.

We've seen a significant drop in the price of gas, so why isn't anyone talking about it? Yes, $2.72/gal for low-grade fuel still hurts, but not nearly as badly as the $3.09 I've paid. And nobody even thinks about the fact that there's still a 9/10 stuck to any gas price, making us think the gas is actually a penny cheaper than it really is. Gas companies are notorious for lying, cheating and swindling people out of money. They're in the same league as the telephone companies when it comes to hoarding money and claiming hardship when the time comes to upgrade their service.

We really do have a short attention span in this country. We'll analyze a crisis to death, and when we're bored we'll find something new to discuss. Nobody cares that the President and his entire administration needs to be impeached, removed and prosecuted for innumerable crimes. Nobody cares that Congress continues to sell us out to that very same administration. Nobody cares that we're rapidly losing all the ground we gained in Afghanistan because we're allowing this criminal administration to distract us with a second, wholly unrelated war in an oil-rich nation, and won't let us out until the new rulers of that nation sign an agreement giving us a sweetheart deal for their oil. And apparently, nobody cares that gas prices have dropped.

How did this happen? When did we stop paying attention? Or has it always been this way, and nobody has ever been able to motivate us sufficiently to care about it? We are truly our own worst enemies.

I'm rather curious about this change in gas prices, especially with the oil companies moaning about how it'll hurt them to expand their infrastructure, but at the same time it's implausible to spend money on renewable energy resources. It's a mystery, and one that does not please me at all.

Tuesday, August 7, 2007

Just a Piece of Paper

On December 5, 2005 Doug Thompson reported on CapitolHillBlue that he talked to three people who confirmed Bush ranting and allegedly saying, "Stop throwing the Constitution in my face. It's just a goddamned piece of paper!" Doug Thompson does not have the most impressive credentials as a journalist as he's been known to post things and then retract them because it turns out he couldn't actually verifying what he was reporting. As a general rule, it's best to verify your facts before you report them.

Most conservatives seem to think the matter satisfactorily debunked. All I can find in my web search is that while most everyone has an opinion on the matter, no one can give a definite up or down confirmation. The White House certainly isn't talking about it, and neither are the Republicans who were reputed to be in the meeting. Myself, I'm inclined to believe it.

I'm biased when it comes to our Glorious Leader, and I've never by shy about my criticism. But when you look at the man's track record, I find it very easy to believe he'd make such a statement about the Constitution -- the very document he has sworn to uphold and protect. He has gone out of his way to bully Congress into passing legislation that is in direct violation to the Constitution not just once, not twice, but multiple times. He's passed numerous Executive Orders that outline instances in which he can justify suspending the Constitution. He's based his entire administration on the principle of the "unitary executive," making the President a monarch in all but name which is directly counter to not only Constitutional principles but the very clear and extensively documented plans of the Founding Fathers.

Anyone with an even passing familiarity with the Constitution knows that George W. Bush has become one of its greatest threats. At every turn his administration has operated in secrecy, and he has continually reassured us that they're working in our nation's best interests and that we just have to trust them. The problem is that our government was built explicitly around the idea that we are not to trust people with power, and that we have a system of checks and balances precisely because we don't trust anyone with power. Thanks to the machinations of our Glorious Leader and the people who created him, that system is now broken. We have a court that's been stacked in favor of the principle of a "unitary executive" and a legislation that's been so bullied that it's behaving like a battered wife.

The Constitution is a piece of paper that laid out for the first time exactly how a government is limited with regard to the rights of the governed. It was a revolutionary document when it was first inked, but what has made it more than just a piece of paper was the fact that it was actually enforced. The Constitution of the Soviet Union outlined even greater freedoms for the people, but it was never enforced. It was never anything more than a piece of paper. As we continue to allow our Glorious Leader to undermine the Bill of Rights we ensure that our Constitution gradually becomes, as Thompson alleges Bush to have said, "just a piece of paper."

Saturday, August 4, 2007

Battered Legislation Syndrome

Our federal legislation reminds me an awful lot of a battered wife. Battered wives make all sorts of excuses for their abusive husbands, and do everything they can to enable them to continue abusing them. The Senate has just done this for our Glorious Leader in passing his amendments to FISA. No surprise, the administration is calling for the House to do the same.

For those of you who haven't been paying attention, FISA stands for the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act of 1978, a law designed to protect Americans from government surveillance without a warrant. The law created special courts where the law enforcement agencies could seek those warrants in secret so the targets wouldn't be able to find out they were being targeted. FISA even allows for law enforcement to seek those warrants seventy-two hours after surveillance has begun. It sounds fairly comprehensive and straightforward, right? Well, that's why the news that the NSA has been wiretapping American citizens without FISA warrants at the instruction of our Glorious Leader is such a scandal: it's blatantly illegal, and with no good reason. It's also been ruled illegal by the courts, and keeps getting shot down at every turn. So Dubya has demanded changes to FISA to effectively legalize his illegal activities.

Over the past six years, this President has run roughshod over our courts and legislation, all the while claiming to have done nothing wrong. He continues to do so to this day, seeking retroactive approval for actions that clearly violate the rights of our people. To have Congress again act as a rubberstamp for the imperial ambitions of the Bush administration is infuriating. It's bad enough that the House leadership refuses to pursue impeachment in the interests of passing good legislation, even though everything they try to pass gets vetoed. It's bad enough that Congress has chosen to take an August vacation in the middle of an ongoing crisis. But to continually capitulate to this administration's demands after telling the people how unreasonable and illegal they are is beyond the pall. I now regret the 2006 election, and I won't give my vote to anyone who continues to enable this imperial government. The Senate has demonstrated conclusively that they can't be trusted, and we'll see if the House follows suite. The Democrats have failed as leaders, and they don't deserve reelection since they're only motivated by political expedience. Where to cast my vote in 2008...that's the question. The Democrats have already ensured that it won't be for them.

Update: The House has passed the bill, and Colorado's own John T. Salazar is one of the Democrats who was spineless enough to vote for it. I urge everyone to punish the Democrats by voting for someone other than Republicans or Democrats in the next election. I know I will.

Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Evil Blog Contest

John Chow dot Com, a blog that claims to help you make money, is giving away a 24″ wide screen LCD monitor. To enter you have to write about it and send him an email to let him know you've done it.

Being the greedy sort that I am, I am therefore entering in the faint hope that I might actually win it. The contest is sponsored by BlueFur, attempting viral advertising about the fact that they’re hosting Canada and the rest of the world.