Tuesday, February 20, 2007

My Shit List

Okay, since I've moved I've run into an alarming number of businesses in my new area which have terrible customer service. So, besides Wal-Mart, here are the new additions to my shit list.

Pizza Hut, 1313 E Vine St., Kissimmee, Florida 34744: Ordered a pizza online, it arrived an hour and a half later and was completely cold. One of the pieces was stuck to the lid of the box, and the pepperoni was burned to a crisp. I called the store and they gave me a credit towards my next pizza--as if I would ever call those idiots again.

Wendy's Restaurant, 915 W. Vine St., Kissimmee, FL 34741: Went to the drive-through and was told to wait. There was another car at the window that was obviously friends of the employee, as they were chatting and the employee was offering items to the driver and pulling them away when he reached for them. After about two minutes, I left and will never go back.

Denny's Restaurant, 2509 W. Vine St., Kissimmee, FL 34741: Called them one night around 11:00pm to place a carry-out order, and was told that I couldn't place an order by phone at that hour. They said they would be happy to give me an order to go if I came in and ordered it in person. That's right, they wanted me to show up and wait for the order to be cooked instead of taking it over the phone. Obviously I never went, and I never will.

The managers of these businesses need to realize that they're not doing their customers a favor by waiting on them. I hope all of these restaurants fail because of their lack of brains and service.


Sunday, February 11, 2007

My Problem with Hillary Clinton

I'm a Democrat who's wary of Mrs. Clinton's war stance. At the time she voted to authorize the Iraq war, I was already convinced it was a bad idea. I saw it as artificial hype which the Bush administration made up, out of the blue, in order to precipitate a conflict which wasn't really necessary. After two years of saying nothing about Iraq, suddenly it was all they could talk about, even though there was no watershed event which warranted paying more attention to Iraq. Even if they had the WMDs the administration claimed they did, I didn't consider them a grave or imminent threat to the U.S.--after all, they had chemical weapons in the 70's and 80's, and that didn't present any threat to us at all.
The fact that Mrs. Clinton seemed to have fallen for this made up hype, and voted for it to keep from alienating the rednecks that are pro-war because they think Muslims are just brown-skinned monsters, gives me great pause. I shouldn't have to say to Hilary Clinton, "I could have told you this wasn't a good idea." She should have been smart enough to know it herself.

Monday, February 05, 2007

Worst Super Bowl Telecast Ever

CBS' presentation of Super Bowl XLI had to be the worst telecast of the Big Game ever. Sure, it rained almost the whole game, but is that any reason that every camera's lens was so fogged up (and often covered in water droplets) that the action mostly consisted of twenty-two blurry figures crashing into each other? You couldn't even see the ball most of the time for Christ's sake. Perhaps a couple of lens wipes would have helped...

But that's not all. Who the hell keeps putting Prince into every award and halftime show? Seems the only times you see him in public he's doing some variety show musical number, singing a parade of the hits from the '80s. Wake up CBS, the typical Super Bowl audience is not made up of people who are likely to be Prince fans. The kids don't remember him, and the middle-aged football fans that do remember him think he's a panty-waist weirdo flamer. You might as well book him to perform at a NASCAR race in buttless pants.


Sunday, May 28, 2006

Crystal Light Gives Me a Headache

I don't get headaches very often, and I can count on one hand the number I've had in my life that would return as soon as the Tylenol wore off. I had one of those today.

There are a few things I've noticed that do seem to cause a headache. I get one after smoking too many cigarettes (more than two packs in one day, which is extremely rare). I get one if I don't ingest anything with caffeine in it for a day. It's not my imagination--headaches result each and every time either of these things happen.

So for the first time in years, I bought two bottles of pre-mixed Crystal Light raspberry because there was a good two-for-one deal at the supermarket. A couple of hours after I started drinking the first bottle I developed a headache, and assumed it was caused by not having caffeine. I drank coffee and took two Tylenol gelcaps, and the headache dulled a bit but didn't go away. I took a nap, and when I woke about an hour later the headache was worse than ever. I took three Tylenol and drank a Diet Coke, and the headache went away. After a few hours of feeling okay, I drank more of the Crystal Light--and the pain returned.

It occurred to me to look on the internet to see if there was some known link between Crystal Light and headaches. I found many articles claiming that Aspertame caused headaches, and a few that said Splenda (one of the sweeteners in my Crystal Light) did so as well. There were many others who claimed that changing to a low-sugar diet (often including Crystal Light) gave them a headache which they attributed to "sugar withdrawal," without making any connection between Crystal Light and headaches.

Since I constantly drink Aspertame and Splenda sweetened sodas, and use at least eight packs of Splenda a day in my coffees without trouble, I must conclude that there's something in Crystal Light besides Splenda which causes me, and possibly others, headaches. Beware of it.

Thursday, February 16, 2006

More Proof Fox News is Biased

Still have doubts about the objectivity of Fox News? Consider this:

Dick Cheney, well known to be a media hater and arch-conservative, decides he needs to give and interview about his hunting accident. Naturally, he and his staff chose Fox News, because they know that Fox will make him look good. They were right--Cheney admitted he had been drinking earlier in the day of the accident, and Fox conveniently cut that out of the broadcast.

Even more disturbing, perhaps, is yet more evidence that Cheney doesn't know history: He actually claims that a shooting involving the VP is a unique historical situation. Apparently he doesn't know that then Vice-President Aaron Burr shot and killed Alexander Hamilton. History schmistory...

Sunday, February 12, 2006

They Still Don't Get It

Secretary of State Condaleeza Rice continues to demonstrate that she, and by extension the President, still doesn't understand the hearts and minds of Muslims, and this misunderstanding continues to make matters worse for America and the world.

When the Palestinians elected Hamas to a plurality in their parliamentary elections, the U.S. response (at least publicly) was this: From Bush we heard a vague insinuation that the election result came about because of corruption and ineffectiveness on the part of the formerly ruling party (Arafat's Palestinian Authority). The people have spoken, he said, by throwing the bums out, which is fine, as long as the new government changes one of the planks of its platform (the one that calls for the destruction of Israel).

This point of view ignores a couple of important points. After a period in which the Palestinian Authority engaged (off and on) in peace negotiations, the Palestinian people elect a party that takes a harder line towards Israel. Anyone but Bush would at least consider that perhaps the real, democratically expressed and heartfelt belief of the Palestinians is that Israel should be destroyed, or at least that there should be no peace. If this is so, then saying to Hamas that they should change their platform to one more tolerant of Israel just proves to the Muslim world that we will deal with them only on our terms, and only if they agree with our worldview from the outset. If you were them, wouldn't you tell us to fuck off? I certainly would.

This isn't the only way the Bush Administration is making this mistake. Secretary of State Rice was questioned on two different Sunday Morning shows about the riots in the Muslim world over the Danish political cartoons. Both times she started with, "we know some people are mad, but..." Then she went on to claim that certain Muslim governments are causing the demonstrations, and that violent demonstration is wrong and should stop.

Again, there seems to be no understanding here. First, it never seems to occur to Rice that Muslims on the street are actually angry, and that's it's not just their evil governments telling them how to feel (like the evil Hamas telling the people they must support the destruction of Israel). Second, telling these people, who are angry, that it's inappropriate to express that anger in their own way in their own countries is really just the evil U.S. Government telling them how they should act and feel, isn't it? The simple fact is that non-violent demonstrations would not be getting the attention that the violent ones are, and the message is being sent all the more strongly. Bush and Rice just don't get it--they want Muslims to demonstrate in a way that's easy to ignore (because after all, it's just the evil governments stirring up trouble anyway, right?)

Let's put ourselves in their shoes for a second. Say the government of Iran declares they're not going to deal with the United States while Republicans are in power, because Republicans favor discrimination against Muslims inside the United States (just for the sake of argument.) How would we react? Would we hang our heads, and say, "yeah, the Iranians are right, we should be ashamed, we only liked Republicans for their tax policy, etc." I don't think so. But that's exactly the reaction that Bush and Rice seem to expect from the Muslim world.

I hope in the 2006 elections we will finally elect some people who see the world as it really is, rather than those who are too stupid to understand anything but their own self-deluded point of view.

Friday, January 20, 2006

Godspeed New Horizons

One of the things I hoped I would see before I die is close-up pictures of Pluto and Charon...yesterday the New Horizons spacecraft launched on a nine-year mission to do just that. If you're looking for evidence that the United States is the greatest nation on earth, here is a bit more...

Friday, January 13, 2006

The Maryland Solution

I'm usually not a fan of boycotts, but I'm about to make an exception for Wal-Mart. You may have noticed, like I have, the seemingly endless stream of reports and accusations about how the company treats its employees: Un-equal pay for women, and discrimination against them in promotion. Forcing employees to work during lunch and after clock-out. Paying people less than they need to afford the Company's own employee health care.

The final straw has come to me amidst a bit of good news, that the state of Maryland has passed a law (over a Republican veto, of course) that requires all large companies in the state to spend at least 8 percent of their payroll on medical coverage for employees, or compensate the state's Medicare fund instead.

The story pointed out that Wal-Mart is, in fact, Maryland's only large company that currently spends less than 8 percent of payroll on medical care.

It turns out that the company believes that it doesn't have to spend a lot on medical coverage because the employees have an alternative: the taxpayer-funded Medicare program for the poor. That's right: the nation's largest and most profitable retailer is shortchanging their own employees, and expecting the taxpayers to make up for it.

So that's all for me. I'm never shopping at a Wal-Mart again, and I would urge everyone who cares about corporate responsibility, lower taxation, workers' rights, and human dignity to do the same.

Saturday, December 31, 2005

Tom Cruise's Science

I kept hearing that Tom Cruise and Matt Lauer shared a tense moment in a Today interview, but I had never seen it, so I went to MSNBC.com to look. From there, as I'm sure Cruise and others had hoped, I went to some Scientology websites to see what's going on.

It didn't take long to find the appeal of Scientology to people like Cruise and John Travolta.

I should say first that I know a little philosophy, and I have one of my own, which I was able to put together and refine without the help of L. Ron Hubbard or others who put conclusions before the evidence. I was actually surprised that Scientology appears to be part self-help (in the pop-culture manner), part dubious medical conclusions (like the one about vitamins having a measurable effect on health of the average person, which has never been established scientifically), part bio-feedback (with the help of an electronic device, no less), part eugenics, part elitism, and with a purposeful avoidance of those tenants of conventional religion that would tend to turn off individualists and egotists. Like all other religions, there are things in it that are true, though usually not for the reason they tell you, and there are most certainly tenants that are demonstrably in error. I suppose it's no worse than Christianity in that regard.

But I discovered early on what I suspect is the real appeal of Scientology for celebrities like Cruise and Travolta; it's best explained by the following passage from the official Scientology website:

"We instinctively revere the great artist, painter or musician and society as a whole looks upon them as not quite ordinary beings. And they are not. They are a cut above man. He who can truly communicate to others is a higher being who builds new worlds."

Gee, do you think Tom Cruise might believe this crap? Of course he does.

When are people going to realize that true freedom of the mind comes only from rejecting the very concept of rigid, arbitrary belief systems, especially those that embrace the idea of a God who, in some way or another, is limiting that freedom with his supposed desires?

Friday, December 30, 2005

On a Theory of Psychic Powers

I saw an interview this morning with a "psychic" who has been used by police to solve crimes, and it reminded me of a theory I've held for a long time concerning them.

After speaking about the case this psychic "solved," the interviewer asked her for her impressions on two high-profile unsolved cases from the last year: Natalie Halloway's disapperance in Aruba, and the case of a man who disappeared from a cruise ship. The psychic said she hadn't really thought about it much, but did have psychic feelings about both cases nonetheless. Halloway, she said, was dead, or she would have contacted her parents by now. There was more than one man and a yacht involved, and she was on the yacht. Of the man who disappeared from the cruise ship, the psychic claimed to "see" that he went overboard.

As you can see from these examples, it doesn't take a psychic to realize that this one (and all of them) are simply making educated guesses based on what little is known. She doesn't say anything about Halloway that the police and others had not already speculated, and it's not hard to guess that a boat might be involved in a place like Aruba. As for the man's disappearance on the cruise ship, going overboard is pretty much the only possible answer. I or anyone could have guessed these things.

But, having said this, I don't think that most psychics are purposely being deceitful, and here's why: Inside their own heads, they are mistaking what normal people call "flashes of insight" with a psychic experience. They just don't realize that everyone's brain makes subconcious conclusions which flash into the mind's eye. Normal people think nothing of it (like, "hey, I just figured something out), but so-called psychics think it's something unique and special (like, "hey, I just had a psychic vision"). But it's the same thing. The only difference between a psychic and a non-psychic is that the non-psychic realizes that his own insight is the product of subconscious thought and observation, while a psychic thinks the same thing is a supernatural process.

In short, psychics are too stupid even to understand their own mind, and yet we're using these people to help solve crimes. Give me a fucking break.

Sunday, December 18, 2005

Spying on Us

I was watching the local news in Orlando, and they presented a story on the NSA domestic spying scandal. Part of that was to interview local people to get their views, but the question they asked betrayed a distressing lack of understanding of the issue.

Those interviewed in the story each gave their opinion about whether it was ever okay to spy on American citizens, and it went both ways. One man said civil liberties concerns were "ridiculous," because he and his neighbors were not terrorists and therefore had nothing to hide. A woman answered that Bush was doing a "swell" job and people should just get off his back. Both of these people are clearly idiots, but that's another story.

Here's the real problem with the NSA scandal: There is a secret court which grants warrants for spying on Americans. If Bush or anyone else in the government really has a legitimate reason for spying on anyone, that court would certainly grant a proper warrant for that (if it's a legitimate reason, why wouldn't they?). The fact that Bush is purposely bypassing that court, and going ahead with spying anyway, can only mean that there is not a legitimate reason to be gathering that intelligence.

I don't know about you, but I don't think the government should be invading someone's rights and privacy without a reason that would satisfy a court. And that, my friends, is why it's illegal and very, very scary.

Rice's Problem

So Condoleeza Rice comes on Meet the Press today and defends, as she always has, the Iraq war. But this time she tells Tim Russert that even though Saddam didn't have the weapons we thought he did, he was still a threat and "it was time to take him out."

This is a serious problem with the Bush Administration and Rice herself. The fact is that Saddam was NOT a threat that required hundreds of thousands of troops and a decade-long committment costing hundreds of billions of dollars to fix. The time we started the war was of our own choosing--there was nothing external that happened to convince us that "it was time."

If Rice thinks she's going to run for president, I hope the people will remember the constant stream of pro-Bush bullshit (and much of it is bullshit) that has spewed from her mouth over the past few years, and act accordingly.

Tuesday, November 22, 2005

It Makes No Sense

I just don't get religious people. They'll point out the smallest supposed gaps in knowledge in Evolution and Big Bang and declare those theories invalid, even though there's a mountain of objective evidence to support them. But at the same time they claim that Creationism (and by extension Intelligent Design), which is absolutely riddled with contradictions and demonstrable factual errors, and is supported by no objective evidence whatsoever, must be true. The fact that it's a double-standard, that they hold scientific theories to a higher standard of evidence than their religious beliefs, is actually the least troubling part of this. I'm just amazed that such a plainly irrational point of view continues to have such a powerful grip on so many people, simply because they refuse to open their minds and see.

Tuesday, November 08, 2005

On a Theory of Moral Neutrality

I've been inspired by Intelligent Design to come up with my own pseudo-scientific theory about the origins of everything. It doesn't disprove Intelligent Design, and actually uses the same logic, but comes to a startlingly different conclusion. Also like ID, it is not science (after all, just how complex does the Universe have to be before you can conclude there was a designer? And complex compared to what?). On the bright side, it does seem to fit the facts as we know them, and it's no more dis-provable than ID or Christianity.

Here's how it goes, point by point:

1. The physical universe operates by laws which are morally neutral. A neutron doesn't care if it's passing harmlessly through your body, or starting a chain reaction that will kill a million people. The behavior of matter and energy are not affected by notions of right and wrong (which are entirely human constructs).
2. Human beings, like the rest of the universe, are not compelled in any non-cultural imperative to be good or evil--being good is behavior one chooses in order to get the rewards of being an accepted member of a culture, but many people throughout history have clearly made a good living at being evil.
3. If there was a designer of the universe, and he created a morally neutral place and filled it with morally neutral (by their nature) people, plants, and animals, then that designer/creator has to be himself morally neutral. This would explain why God lets babies die in floods.

If true (and it does fit the facts, doesn't it?), it can only mean one thing: There may have been a designer, and he may have designed evolution, but he was certainly not the Christian God, who is ALWAYS portrayed as a moral and motivated being. No such being would create a morally neutral universe.

Stick that in your pipe and smoke it, fools.

Sunday, October 23, 2005

Talkin' About My Generation

When I was a kid growing up in the seventies and eighties, it was pretty obvious the world was messed up. The environmental movement was exposing decades of criminal neglect on the part of industry. There was Watergate, Vietnam, race riots, nuclear accidents, and Future Shock. Above all, not a day went by in those times that I didn’t, at least once, think about how the end of the world could come about at any moment.

Adults were generally stupid (though now I know why), and I remember clearly that I and my friends were convinced that we would do a better job running the world when we got our chance.

So now it’s 25 years later, and I realize we couldn’t have been more wrong. Though my generation isn’t quite old enough that we dominate society in an economic sense, we are now the parents of the world, and that’s a very significant thing. So far, the news is not good:

We complain that our schools are not doing a good job, then bitch our kids get too much homework. We bitch when the school year, or school day, is too long. We blame the teacher when our child fails. Meanwhile, in Japan and Germany, where no such objections exist, students are outperforming us handily in academic achievement. Hmm.

Most of the school teachers are now from my generation, and across the board standards have dropped to the lowest common denominator. When I was in second grade, my classmates and I were entering creative writing contests; today, kids aren’t expected to learn to read until the end of the third grade. Standards have to be forced on schools by the Feds to make them do what they were able to do without help 25 years ago, and students still come out thinking that World War II was fought in the 1880’s, the earth orbits the sun each day, and that the Civil War was fought over slavery alone.

My generation seems to also have brought about the death of courtesy, by refusing to pass on the unwritten rules of American culture to their children. You don’t drive in the left lane of a freeway unless you’re passing someone. You hold a door for a lady, and give up your chair if necessary. You don’t cut in front of people in lines. You don’t drive 20mph under the limit so you can look cool (unless you’re actually “cruising,” which is limited to weekend nights in specific places). You don’t swear in public, and you don’t wear flip-flops to a White House meeting with the president. All of these things are lost on us and our children.

People my age are beginning to defile many other institutions, as well. They now run the military from the middle on down, and some of our soldiers are suddenly showing signs that they don’t consider human rights sacred. Not a coincidence. They are rising in the ranks of corporate governance, and corporate greed and corruption are on the rise. Workers are treated more and more like commodities (an intensification of the general dehumanization wrought by my parents’ generation), and no one seems to have a problem using dishonest business practices, even against their own customers (think banks). Quality has taken a back seat to bean-counting in all things.

In politics, we and our children seem to be uniquely ignorant of the values on which this nation was founded. In polls, people say the media shouldn’t be allowed to say whatever they want without government approval. They think that when Jefferson said “All men are created equal,” he meant that only Americans had rights “endowed by their creator.”—Muslims can be tortured and held without trial at will, because they’re not us. The religious right thinks that government should support their point of view, because the world would be a better place as a result—but no one asks the question, “better for whom?” At least our venerable founders were wise enough to realize that even their own religion could pose a danger to the freedom of Man, a lesson lost on my generation (and most religious people of any age).

Families have become so insular that they only function as security organizations. Everyone in my generation assumes the world is out to get them and their children. The crime rate has fallen steadily since 1990, but no one can let their kids out of their sight anymore. When I was a kid in the “crime-ridden” seventies, I walked or rode my bike to elementary school every morning, more than three miles. That’s unheard of today, even though statistics show it’s less dangerous now than it was then. My generation will even vote against its economic self-interest in exchange for perceived protection from terrorists, but never think twice about the much greater risk they take every time they drive their cars.

The bottom line of all of this seems to be selfishness and ignorance. No one thinks about the common good (and here I’ll send out a big “fuck you” to Ayn Rand and the Objectivists in the world). Everyone in my generation thinks their own rights and needs are more important than those of others. They think that the world owes them something for nothing.

And these are the lessons we’re passing on to their children, right now. We should all be very afraid.

Thursday, October 20, 2005

"Sex and the City" Sucks

I just have to say out loud that "Sex and the City" is a blight on television and society. And why stations would put a show that so shamelessly panders to women on at midnight, when probably ninety percent of women are asleep, is far beyond me.

Monday, October 17, 2005

The Computer Mega-Scam

I don’t know if you’ve realized it or not, but internet service providers are trying to pull one over on you.

I think everyone knows what a megabyte is—a unit for measuring a quantity of data. Your computer shows you file sizes in megabytes (or kilobytes for files smaller than 1MB), and when you download, it shows you how many megabytes you have left to go. Unless you have a gigabyte or more, the amount of memory your machine has is reported in megabytes.

If you listen carefully, though, you’ll find that all ISP’s today are advertising their speed in Megabits. So what, you may ask, is that?

Here’s what they think you don’t know. Bytes (and therefore megabytes) are made up of bits, which are much smaller units—eight bits make up a byte. A megabit, therefore, is 1/8 the size of a megabyte. When ISP’s advertise their connection/data transfer speed in megabits, it inflates the number by a factor of eight. They’re hoping casual listener, used to hearing data measured in megabytes, will not realize the subtlety involved.

It’s just another example of how Corporate America tries to cheat and mislead us into buying their products. God bless capitalism.

Tuesday, October 11, 2005

Getting at The Truth in Religion and Evolution

So there was this feature in USA Today recently dealing with the creationism vs. evolution debate, undoubtedly inspired by the trial over intelligent design that's going on in Pennsylvania. They did their usual good job of glossing over the complexities, of course, and honestly I thought the piece was biased against Creationism. But I'm always looking for good quotes, and it did get me thinking about the issue all over again. I've written a longer essay on this subject already, but I just want to reiterate one point here because it apparently can't be said often enough: Religion and Science have different definitions of truth, and different approaches to finding truth, and the scientific approach is reliable while the religious approach is not.

As Jeffrey Palmer, biologist from Indiana University Bloomington, put it, "Evolutionary biology is famously full of controversy, but evolution remains the central organizing concept. If indeed deep flaws in parts of evolutionary biology of the kind speculated upon [by creationists] existed, scientists would be the first to change course."

Why? Because everyone that understands science knows that scientists go where the evidence takes them. Charles Darwin didn't wake up one day convinced that Natural Selection was real, then set out to prove it. He already knew of Gregor Mendel's earlier work on heredity, and then observed genetic variations across single species, a subset of which were using these variations as a competitive advantage. In short, he came to a conclusion based on the evidence he had seen.

The religious worldview works in the opposite way. One starts with an unshakeable first cause for everything (God), then interprets all subsequent evidence in terms of this paradigm. This way of thinking gave us such brilliant ideas such as:

1. The Earth is at the center of the universe.
2. The universe is about 6,000 years old.
3. The stars in the sky are the souls of our ancestors.
4. The world is too complicated to have been created by a natural process.
5. If your house is struck by lightning, you must be living in sin.
6. Two individual humans can create a viable gene pool for future human generations.
7. There were no dinosaurs.
8. Sex is bad.

In fact, arguments for intelligent Design are all, at some level, based on simple human judgment: How complicated does the world have to be before it becomes clear that a "designer" was involved? That's a judgment call, since there's no objective standard for the words "simple" or "complex." They're entirely human constructs. It's all the more ironic that opponents usually attack evolution basically on claims that it's a subjective theory created to discredit religion (essentially a myth), while they're completely fine with their own theory based on an invisible, all powerful being for which there is no objective evidence.

So, which method has a better chance at getting to the truth? Looking at evidence then making a conclusion, or making a conclusion then trying to fit the evidence to it?

Monday, October 10, 2005

Note to GOP: We're a Nation of Laws, Not of Men

Conservatives who lament what they call an "activist judiciary," or accuse judges of "legislating from the bench," are really just pointing out that the courts are indeed an anti-democratic institution. The way they see it, Congress represents the will of the people, so when courts declare a law unconstitutional they are in effect thwarting the right of the people to determine their own governance.

Of course, if you're a rich white Protestant, this argument makes perfect sense. Congress is unlikely to pass a law that will harm you or your friends. The majority wants a ban on flag burning, they want prayer in schools, they want "Under God" in the Pledge, and the courts are standing in the way of that. But would you fell the same way if you were a poor, black atheist? I doubt it.

And what about abortion? All surveys of the American people consistently find that a solid majority is pro-choice. Yet if Congress had the power to make it illegal, they would. The courts won't let that happen. So now which institution is being anti-democratic? Why would the right-wing nut jobs who oppose Harriet Miers declare that they don't want a justice who will uphold Roe v. Wade, despite the fact that most Americans want abortion to be legal?

What I'm getting at is this:

1. I never want to hear again the argument that there should be a ban on flag-burning (or prayer in school or any other stupid Bible-based policy) because a majority of Americans want it. Most of them want abortion, too.

2. America is a land ruled by laws, not men. When conservatives complain that the courts overturn the will of the people, they are forgetting this important point. All the courts are doing is keeping the "men" in Congress from making laws that discriminate against non-WASPs, and that's the way it's supposed to work.

So quit your whining, you theocracy-loving assholes. I live in this country too. And suck my balls.

Wednesday, October 05, 2005

Now, a Word About Sheep

The nomination of Sandra Day O'Connor's replacement, Harriet Miers, graphically points up an interesting facet of the party system in general, and the Republican Party especially: The fact that the people who make up a party's political base act, and are treated as, sheep.

It's already clear that conservatives are nervous about Miers, due mainly to her lack of a track record. After all, the last time something like this happened, they got David Souter, a supposed conservative who turned out to be anything but. ABC News reported that, "Conservatives in some cases are expressing outright opposition, some are in wait-and-see mode and some are silent, all bad signs for a Bush administration used to having the full backing of all wings of the GOP when it takes on the Senate's minority Democrats over judicial selection."

The hard-right loonies are even more irritated: Troy Newman of Operation: Rescue called for Bush to withdraw Miers' name from consideration, saying, "My position to these leaders is that we cannot afford the babies cannot afford to wait and see. . .We did it with Souter, we did it with O'Connor and we did it with countless others. Now's the time to be vocal."

Yet, within three hours of Bush's announcement of Miers, the Republican National Committee sent an e-mail to the base exhorting them to support, and show their support, for the nominee. The reason, it said, that Republicans needed to rally was: "Before Ms. Miers was even announced many Democrat groups said they would oppose her."

Do I really need to go on? Why would a party tell its rank-and-file to support a nominee on faith, when the leadership of that party is not convinced? It's because they're sheep. The party leaders treat them as if they have no thoughts except those placed there by the party, and for the most part they actually do think only what they're told. Doesn't that strike you as a bit un-democratic?

Tuesday, October 04, 2005

Thank God for Sandra

Well, I haven't had much to say for the last few days--not much has happened, it seems. But I couldn't let pass the replacement of Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O'Connor, whom I respect so much, without a comment.

So, thank God [sic] for O'Connor. Although the Rehnquist court was conservative in it's make-up, it turned out to be extraordinarily centrist in it's decisions. I can't think of a decision (except in the Eminent Domain case) made by the Court in the last ten or fifteen years which I thought was outrageous, partisan, or arbitrary. The main reason for this must be O'Connor, the swing vote in hundreds of cases, who consistently and objectively erred on the side of The People. You couldn't ask for more from a Court or a Justice.

Saturday, October 01, 2005

Democrats Begin to Play Their Hand for 2006

For the first time in years, it seems, a new sign is emerging that Democrats might be working together on a cohesive message for the 2006 campaign: "The Culture of Corruption." The idea is to paint Republican officials in Congress and the White House as people who manipulate government, law, and the truth in order to promote conservative causes and, especially, enrich themselves and their friends at the expense of the taxpayers. Those who have been paying attention have known this for years, but the new Democratic PR push could gain traction with the public because of the unwitting cooperation of Republicans themselves, who suddenly are having trouble hiding their dirty laundry.

The General Accounting Office recently completed its investigation of the Department of Education over allegations of using taxpayer money to promote partisan ends. The GAO concluded that the department engaged in illegal covert propaganda when it made a fake "news story" and paid a syndicated columnist to promote "No Child Left Behind." They also paid taxpayer money to a consulting firm to determine who in the media was favorable to the Republican party.

In response to the GAO report, Ted Kennedy said, "The taxpayer-funded propaganda campaign coming from the White House is another sign of the culture of corruption that pervades the White House and Republican leadership."

When Majority Leader Tom Delay had to leave his post this week after being indicted for breaking campaign finance laws, Nancy Pelosi was there: "[this is] the latest example that Republicans in Congress are plagued by a culture of corruption at the expense of the American people."

When you combine these scandals with recent revelations that Bush staffed the entire government with incompetent cronies, and that Bill Frist is an inside-trader, and that more no-bid contracts for Katrina cleanup were given to companies connected to the Bush Administration, it seems like a natural theme for the Democrats to seize on. Can you win elections simply by making your opponents look bad? Just ask the Republicans, who did it in 2000 and 2004. But perhaps the more important thing is that Dems are working on some unified strategy here, which implies they may be better organized than in the recent past.

Friday, September 30, 2005

Environmentalism for the Rich

House Republicans, concerned as ever that the Endangered Species Act is preventing rich people from making money, has just voted in an overhaul of the law that leaves no developer behind (remember when I said that everything Republicans do is designed to help big business in some way or another?).

The main change in the new act is this: If a developer wants to cut down a forest to build a strip mall, and the EPA decides that building that mall will kill off an endangered species, the government must pay that developer the money they would have made on the development. So, if you're a real-estate mogul, all you have to do is buy sensitive land, declare your intention to rape it, and the government will pay you not to do that. Sweet deal, eh? For everyone but the taxpayers and endangered plants and animals, because the government will be in a position of deciding how much money they're willing to spend to protect a habitat. When faced with the choice of protecting a snail, or paying a developer $50 million not to build something, what do you think Republicans are going to choose?

As West Virginia Representative Rick Nahall put it, the bill represents a "dangerous precedent that private individuals must be paid to comply with an environmental law. What's next? Paying citizens to wear seat belts? This bill will not improve species' ability to recover."

The twisted "bright side" to all of this is that other revisions to the bill make it almost impossible for the feds to designate an area as protected habitat, so there's little to stand in the way of building that mall in the first place. Worse, it allows the Secretary of the Interior (a political appointee) to decide the scientific criteria which will be used to determine whether a development will harm a habitat. A rival bill that would create a team of scientists to advise him was defeated.

The Republicans' justification for all of this? Well they can't just come out and say that they're pandering to their rich developer friends and campaign contributors, so they came up with this gem: they simply claim that the Endangered Species Act does nothing to protect species anyway, so we might as well gut it so someone can make some cash instead.

Republican voters (especially the ones that make $100k/year or less): Is this what you wanted? Do you know you voted for a party that cares only about millionaires and doesn't give a crap about the poor, middle class, or environment? Suckers...

Thursday, September 29, 2005

Ever Seen a Live Giant Squid?

This is the first photo of a living giant squid, a creature previously known only through the stories of sailors and the occasional dead body washing up on the beach. Observing the world's largest invertebrate in it's natural environment has been one of the "holy grails" of marine biology.

The one seen here is about 26 feet long, and attacked a normal squid set as bait at the end of a long line. The giant squid, caught on the line, then spent more than four hours trying to free itself, and lost part of a tentacle in the process. See more amazing photos here.

Wednesday, September 28, 2005

Pennsylvania Theocracy

If you're one of those who think that Intelligent Design is a scientific theory, or one who thinks that the separation of Church and State is a fundamental part of American political philosophy, take a look at what's going on in Pennsylvania this week.

Families of several students are suing the Dover Area School board over a decision last year to teach Intelligent Design in public schools, and point out weaknesses in Darwinian Evolution. The school board, like many people who don't know real science from voodoo, insist publicly that ID is a "scientific" theory, and that it has nothing to do with religion. Apparently, "science" is now the process by which one makes up wild, untestable stories to explain what they don't know. Privately, they're talking about Creationism: Board member William Buckingham is quoted as saying, "Nearly 2000 years ago someone died on a cross for us. Shouldn't we have the courage to stand up for him?"

Two reporters who printed this quote are to testify in the trial, because Buckingham denies he said it. He would be smart to deny, of course, since he's basically saying that government should be run without separation of church and state. It doesn't occur to most religious whackos out there, but atheists and non-Christian religious whackos have the right not to live in a Christian theocracy.

America's founders, who were themselves devout in a way that few of the pretenders to religion are today, still had the wisdom to know that even their own religion can present a danger to the Freedom of Man. Today, Christians think that since they're absolutely right, and that society would be better if we all lived by their particular fairy tale, then it's okay to force their religious views on others through the force of law. It's very much like what they tried to do to the Native Americans, and we saw how that turned out.

Tuesday, September 27, 2005

Why They Were Still Lies

Like many of you, I get these regular e-mails from factcheck.org, and in general they're pretty helpful in examining the claims Republicans and Democrats are constantly making about each other. The latest was this one, http://www.factcheck.org/article349.html, concerning an advertisement critical of the Bush administration called "They Lied, They Died." FactCheck concludes that the quotes by Bush, Cheney, Rumsfeld, and Rice concerning the rationale for the Iraq War were not "lies," because there's always the possibility that they believed what they were saying at the time, and therefore bad intelligence was to blame. Even if true, that conclusion misses the point in a couple of important ways.

First of all, no matter what, there's no doubt from this article that these guys are idiots. When U.S. troops were in possession of two-thirds of the country, Rumsfeld claimed that we hadn't found the WMDs because the area we controlled "happens not to be the area where weapons of mass destruction were dispersed. We know where they are." Cheney said, "my belief is we will, in fact, be greeted as liberators. . . ." Give me a fucking break.

Second, Bush makes the claim of Saddam Hussein's contacts with Al Queda at the time he knew full well that those "contacts" never amounted to anything. Isn't a half-truth the same as a lie?

Third, there's a little thing called the "Downing Street Memo," which is basically independent evidence that the intelligence was being manipulated to fit Bush's preconceived notions about Iraq. If there was pressure to produce intelligence that "fit the policy," then Bush and the others repeated that intelligence as the truth, then this is tantamount to lying. Judging by how completely wrong the intelligence was, it seems likely that this is exactly what happened.

Sunday, September 25, 2005

Spend, But Don't Tax

There's been a lot of talk lately in the media about how hurricane Katrina "exposed" the depth of the poverty problem in America, as if nothing is real unless there's a television camera pointed at it. Everyone knows there's poverty, it's just that those above the line don't think much about those below, unless a big storm comes along and destroys what little the poor had to begin with.

But something else was truly exposed by Katrina: The complete failure of the Republican economic policy. Even without the storm, federal spending has gone up by one-third over the last four years, while revenue has gone down because of tax cuts aimed mainly at the rich (all the middle-class and poor got was a few hundred dollars in hush money, remember?). The unbelievable economic growth that was supposed to follow from the tax cuts has failed to materialize. As a result, the debt and deficit are skyrocketing, and China alone has now lent us almost a trillion dollars to help pay for it all.

Along comes Katrina to wipe out a few cities, and the pressure is really on. For Democrats and other sensible people, the solution is obvious--cancel the tax cuts for the rich, and resume funding the government at a sustainable level. It's so obvious, in fact, that it's the first idea that was floated around in the media, and the first thing Bush had to vow that he would not do.

The Republicans have a couple of ideas of their own, and they're fighting right now in congress over which way to go. One side wants to borrow more money from China, Saudi Arabia, and Japan, while the other side wants to cut programs for the poor and cancel improvements to the country's roads and infrastructure. Here are some of the proposals; for each, think about whether the cut hurts the poor or the rich:

--Delay the Medicare prescription drug benefit for one year
--Increase Medicare premiums by 20 percent and charge patients 10 percent of home care costs
--Eliminate adult-education programs for those who didn't finish high school
--Eliminate programs to fight drug trafficking
--Cancel the Moon-Mars program (hurts thousands of working people in the South)
--Cancel improvements to the interstate highway system (hurts millions of working people who commute to work every day)

And they're doing all of this to avoid taxing rich people at the same rate we did in 2000.

To all of you who call yourselves Republicans--is this what you wanted?

Saturday, September 24, 2005

Favoring Big Business Over People, Again

In case you haven't noticed by now, and you're an idiot if you haven't, just about everything the Republicans do benefits big business in one way or another, usually at the expense of the rest of us. The most obvious way is through tax policy, as former President Clinton pointed out last Sunday: "If you give your tax cuts to the rich and hope everything works out all right, and poverty goes up...then that's a consequence of the decision made." But tax breaks aren't the only way they're doing it.

Let's take a short tour through the Bush legacy on the environment. His first act was to allow the construction of logging roads in the National Forests, a practice banned by the Clinton EPA to slow the growth of logging the public forests for private profit. Who gains from more logging on public land? The millions that want to enjoy pristine forest land which belongs to all, or the few companies that reap huge profits from selling what doesn't belong to them?

Then, Dick Cheney brings together a "task force" of current and former oil company executives to craft a new energy policy for the nation. No independent scientists were asked for their input. The final recommendation: Drill more oil, especially in the Alaska National Wildlife Refuge. Who benefits from this?

After that, it was the Kyoto Treaty on global warming. Despite the pleas of a vast majority of scientists, Bush (the baseball-team owner) insists that there's no good evidence for warming, so there's no reason for the United States (by far the biggest single contributor of greenhouse gases) to enter such a treaty. Who gains from this? Is it the people of New Orleans and Texas being pounded by increasingly strong hurricanes, or the farmers facing the fact that the breadbasket is moving north as drought becomes more common, or the residents of coastal cities dealing with higher sea levels as glaciers melt? No, it's the polluters who gain, huge corporations that now don't have to spend a few dollars (out of their billions in profits) to control the emissions that are literally destroying the world for the rest of us.

Now, the EPA wants to relax the "Community Right-to-Know" rules, by which companies that handle dangerous substances have to report yearly on how many pollutants are stored and have been released. Up to now, releases of under 500 pounds in a year were okay. Now, the Republicans want a change to allow the release of 5,000 pounds without reporting it. Instead of reporting every year, the proposed change allows companies to make reports every other year. Who benefits from this? Parents who want some safeguards against greedy companies poisoning their children to save money? Nope. Once again, big business is the big winner.

Friday, September 23, 2005

Yep, Dems Can Be Too Partisan Too

I'm used to Republicans putting party loyalty ahead of the good of the country, and even common sense, but it's worth noting that at times Democrats are just as blind (though blindly doing good is still better than blindly doing evil).

Take the John Roberts nomination. Some of the biggest names in the Democratic party, including Edward Kennedy, Barbara Boxer and John Kerry, announced yesterday that they will not support him.

Honestly, I'm pretty damn liberal, but Roberts is a nominee of George W. Bush, and that simply has to be taken into account. Bush is obviously going to nominate a conservative, so if you're in the minority party you really have only one hope: That the nominee the president sends up will be a moderate, instead of a Robert Bork or Clarence Thomas. By all accounts, that's exactly what Bush did in the case of John Roberts.

Were Kennedy, Boxer, Kerry and other Dems expecting Bush to nominate Hillary Clinton or Al Sharpton? These guys need to realize that politics is often about compromise, and that Bush has made some effort by nominating a man who isn't a radical, and that's really all they can expect. If Dems can't vote for this guy, then they can't vote for ANY Republican candidate, and that makes them almost as bad as those single-minded and simple-minded whackjobs on the other side of the aisle.

Thursday, September 22, 2005

Government by The People in Florida?

Here we go again. In 2002, Florida voters passed a constitutional amendment by referendum mandating the building of a light-rail transportation system to connect the state's five largest cities. For the next two years, Bush and the Republican legislature declined to fund the project, until in 2004 a committee of Jeb's close friends floated a ballot measure to repeal the earlier one, and spent millions to promote it. It passed (the ignorance of Florida voters will be discussed later).

Also in that 2002 election, voters passed an initiative demanding that Florida reduce the size of classes in the public schools to the national average. Before the vote, Jeb Bush was actually caught, on tape, telling a meeting of Republican boosters, "I have some devious plans to deal with this [class-size amendment] if it passes." For the first time (three years later), the state board of education requested the funds to comply with this constitutional amendment. The price tag: $1.9 billion.

So how do you think the Republicans reacted? The first line from a September 21, 2005 Orlando Sentinel article says it all: "Florida's governor and top lawmakers, confronted with a nearly $2 billion price tag for new classrooms, vowed Tuesday to push voters to reconsider their expensive demand for smaller public school classes."

Just who the hell works for whom? When voters say they want something, isn't a governor bound by the will of the people? Apparently not.

Add to that this scare tactic from Senate President Tom Lee, who immediately released a statement to the effect that this could only be paid for through "program cuts or massive debt." He failed to mention that it could also be paid for by tax increases.

And there's the real heart of the matter. Republicans will not raise taxes for any reason. Why? Because taxes are bad for business. So the truth is that the government in Florida cannot afford to reduce class sizes because big corporations need their tax breaks. And to Bush, these tax breaks are more sacred than education and public transportation, and worst of all, more sacred than government by The People for The People.