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

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.