Monday, January 31, 2011

New Healthcare Law unconstitutional,

Says federal judge Roger Vinson. In a ruling handed down this afternoon in the northern Florida district, the entire law was struck down because it depends upon the offending portion to work- the requirement that individual citizens buy private insurance under penalty of law. The judge said that Congress doesn't have the power to pass that sort of mandate, quoting an opposing Senator: "...if a mandate was the solution, we can try that to solve homelessness by mandating everybody to buy a house,...” What kind of racist, right wingnut Republican said such a silly thing? Senator Obama

Update to Monday Potpourri

In last Monday's"Monday Potpourri", I linked to an article about a study showing that elected officials know even less about the US Constitution than the general public. Here is a clip from a CNN interview in which Senator Chuck Schumer, (D, NY) delineates the three branches of government: The House, the Senate, and the President:

Sunday, January 30, 2011

An unlikely savior

The scene: New Year's Eve, Red Square, Moscow. The plot: A terrorist bombing in one of the biggest crowds on Earth. Method: A "Black Widow" suicide bomber will wander into the crowd; the brains of the operation watches, waiting for her to be in the perfect position for maximum lethality, then triggers the explosive vest via a message sent to the attached cell phone. The flaw: The device explodes prematurely, killing only the woman wearing it. The explanation: An error assembling the belt? No. A mistake by the bomb handler? No. So what went wrong?

A spam message from the phone company wishing their customers a Happy New Year triggered the bomb. Read more here.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Why it is so hard to lose weight

That is the title of an Alternet article by one of my favorite bloggers, Greta Christina. It reminded me of how I explain the difficulty of losing weight to those fortunate few who don't understand.

Have you ever smoked? Did you smoke for a number of years, then quit? If not, run this past one of your friends who did. Imagine cutting down... but never completely quitting. You're not allowed to cold turkey. You have to smoke five cigarettes a day: morning, noon, and night, with two unscheduled "snack" smokes. Never less- five smokes. But never more, either; if you cheat, have too many, you can't make up for it by skipping one the next day- it's not that easy. No, for every one you cheat with, you have to spend a week smoking the same five smokes, but half length cigarettes- just a couple puffs, not enough for satisfaction, then put it out. No matter how much you want one more toke, put it out, try to hold out 'til the next smoke... which will also be too short, until you've worked off that extra one you had.

If you're not a former smoker, ask one- there are tens of millions of us; statistically, I know you know one. Could you do it? Spend the rest of your life smoking five cigarettes a day, never more, never less?

That's what it's like losing weight.

Monday, January 24, 2011

Monday potpourri

Cleaning out the old files...

10 Funniest Windows Error Messages

In Oakland, CA, 2nd graders had sex in class, while the teacher was present, on at least two separate occasions, according to this CBS story. Now, I've gotten used to the idea that kids will screw in class, in front of the teacher, their peers, and the recording eye of cell phones nowadays- judging by this story and this story and this story and this story and this story and this story and this story. But at least those kids were ten or more years old; the kids in Oakland were 7 and 8. Now maybe it's true, as was suggested when I brought the subject up the first time, that kids from the fifth grade on up have always screwed in class, and I just didn't hear about it when I was that age- but I'm finding it hard to believe that of 7 year olds. I tend to blame the coarsening of the popular arts for the sexualization of children these days, but like Tipper Gore and Dan Quayle before me, I get laughed at for suggesting it. I notice, however, that some of the same people who believe raunchy TV and videos have no effect on kids are the same people who think a few words from Sarah Palin will turn adults into mind-numbed robots programmed to kill.

9/11 Museum execs cash in big. "Schoolchildren thought their penny jars and bake-sale proceeds would go toward building a 9/11 memorial at Ground Zero -- not the six-figure salaries of nonprofit execs. But 11 staffers at the National September 11 Memorial & Museum each pulled down more than $170,000 in total compensation in 2009, according to the most recent filings. Four execs took home more than $320,000."Read more here

Did you think it was just a stunt when the newly elected Congress began with a reading of the Constitution? It might have been more needed than you think- according to this study, elected officials tend to know even less about key provisions of the Constitution than the general public!

Ever had a hard time getting out of jury duty? this cat knows how you feel!

The difference between private schools and public schools.

The recent astrology controversy made this blogger realize that Astrology is like Nascar

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Today is the 50th anniversary

Of President Kennedy's inauguration. I wish he could have celebrated it himself. Here is his inaugural speech- one of the best speeches of any kind, by anyone, in my lifetime.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

How is President Obama like President Bush?

They both called for a gentler tone in public debate, and both were ignored by their own parties. One week after one of President Obama's best speeches, with an impassioned plea for civility, Democrats are right back to calling Republicans Nazis.
I'm sure by morning Republicans will be calling Democrats socialists*, and we'll be back to normal.

*I wasn't referring to Bernie Sanders, who actually ran as a socialist.

UPDATE: The Congressman defends himself in a CNN interview by comparing the Tea Party to the KKK. His proof? That they speak of wanting to "take the country back"- which, as I pointed out, was the title of a book by Democrat party chairman Howard Dean, and the motto of out-of-power candidates in every election cycle.

A friend sent me

this video, and if I could remember who it was, I'd thank him or her.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

What a long, strange trip it's been

This post has been bubbling around in my head for a while now, and recent events and discussions have brought it to the fore. I keep hearing people bemoaning how things are worse than they've ever been, and I think of my childhood and wonder how they can believe it. In the wake of the Tucson shooting, I hear people talking about the vicious, violent political rhetoric of today and I feel like I'm channeling Crocodile Dundee: "That's not vicious, violent political rhetoric- this is vicious, violent political rhetoric..." That's when I remember that I'm older than many UU bloggers, so my perspective is different. I think it's important for us to reflect just how far we've come, just in my lifetime.

I was born two weeks after the lynching of Emmet Till. It was well past the heyday of lynching; there were no box lunches or commemorative postcards sold- still, I would be a teenager before the practice stopped. Call a black man "Mr. President"? They wouldn't even call him mister- I was nine years old before the Supreme Court ordered federal courts to use honorifics when addressing black men and women. But there was no such requirement for newspapers, magazines, state and local government offices, and the general public to do so, and they generally didn't. The man we know as "Mr. President" would back then have been known simply as "Barry". I was twelve years old when Sidney Poitier's delivery of the line, "They call me Mister Tibbs! in the movie "In The Heat Of The Night" became a stand up and shout at the screen moment so big they based a sequel on that one line; I would be old enough to vote before all mainstream newspapers and magazines would routinely use honorifics.

Violent politics? While I don't remember the first, unsuccessful attempt on President Kennedy's life, I certainly remember the second one. I also remember the assassination of his brother Robert, and Martin Luther King, and several civil rights leaders. I remember the assassination attempts on Wallace, Nixon, Ford, and Reagan. I remember the riots the assassination of Rev. King caused- all told, 150+ killed and 2,000+ wounded across the United States, in addition to property damage so great many neighborhoods still haven't recovered.

Think the targets-on-the-map articles by Palin and the DLC are oh, so violent? I remember the SLA filling the hollows of their hollow point bullets with cyanide before attacking a school board meeting. I remember the Weatherman's bomb throwing. Think Code Pink or the Tea Partiers are the ultimate disrupters of public gatherings? I remember the riots at the 1968 Democrat National Convention. I remember how Vietnam war protests routinely turned into disruptions, if not always full fledged riots, until the protesters learned what a dangerous game that was at Kent State.

Oh, by the way- all of the above occurred while the Fairness Doctrine was in full effect.

And it's not just in the US, or the G-8 nations that progress has been made. When I was born, the majority of mankind lived in absolute dictatorships; today, only a handful of absolute, not answerable to the public in any way dictatorships survive. And the whole world is learning that violence doesn't have to be the answer- the peaceful breakup of first the Soviet Bloc, then the Soviet Union itself show that empires don't have to devolve into endless civil wars. And speaking of wars, we've now had the longest period in recorded history in which none of the European powers have gone to war with another!

For all of mankind's history, from the first curious ape to the last few decades, our politics, philosophies, and religious truths have been based on the underlying fact stated so well in "Jesus Christ Superstar": "Surely you're not saying we have the resources to save the poor from their lot? There will be poor always pathetically struggling..." This is no longer true- as George McGovern wrote in the United Nations Chronicle "Here are some other encouraging statistics: the world now produces a quantity of grain that, if distributed evenly, would provide everyone with 3,500 calories per day, more than enough for an optimal diet. This does not even count vegetables, fruits, fish, meat, poultry, edible oils, nuts, root crops, or dairy products." We now have the capacity to feed, clothe, and house every man, woman, and child on Earth- we need only find the political path to do so. And the history of the last couple centuries have shown that once it becomes technically possible to relieve suffering, it will eventually become politically possible as well- if only to allow the powers that be to enjoy their comforts without listening to the rest of us whine.

All this progress has come while simultaneously improving the environment, not making the situation worse. From the Cuyahoga river catching fire, to being able to develop photographic film inn the waters of lake Ontario, to the destruction of the Aral Sea, economic or technical improvement has often meant environmental degradation in the past; but today's technology means that as the Third World catches up with us, they don't have to go through those destructive stages- they can leapfrog to societies that are both modern and clean, while we developed countries continue to work on cleaning up our past.

Wow... 900 words, and I still haven't gotten to advancements in Gay rights, Women's rights, the rights of minority religions, Voting rights, OSHA and workplace safety, product liability laws, any number of things that makes this a better place to live than when I was born. So when you hear worst-evers and never-befores and other such negative superlatives, take a breath and reflect. We've come a long, long way in a very short span of time; don't let impatience and frustration at imperfection blind you to that fact. Remember that exaggeration and hyperbole are an activist's job, to claim things are much worse than they actually are, so that when s/he compromises, s/he'll be getting what he actually wanted. Avoid the greatest trap of the social activist: believing your own propaganda. You'll feel better.

Thursday, January 13, 2011

There's something about being President

Most of the time, when we think of the President, we think of him as the leader of his party. It's only natural; most of the time he is- after all, people run for President so they can do things, and use "the bully pulpit" for that purpose.

But there are other times... rarely, at times of national pride and accomplishment, like the Moon landing; more often during times of heartache, when we really need the president to be The President of the United States. And there is something about being President that affects the occupant of that office, something that elevates them to another plane of performance at those moments- no matter who they were before, or who they will be after, they become in that moment the archetype we carve into the sides of mountains. They become my President, our President. It happened last night, at the memorial in Arizona.

Here is the finest moment, an ad lib, added to the prepared speech at the last minute:

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Dedicated to us all

Rhetoric redux

There are still today quite a number of blog posts decrying the political atmosphere they say- while admitting there's no evidence of it- contributed to the mass murder in Arizona. The latest angle, echoed in at least two UU blogs, ( Rev. Dr. Marilyn Sewell and RevThom ) concerns campaign imagery. Says Rev. Thom, "Giffords’ opponent in the last November’s midterm election traded in disturbing imagery. His campaign photos depicted him dressed in camouflage and holding an assault rifle." But when I Googled for more such campaign pictures, I found this...

Yes, that's Representative Giffords holding an assault rifle. And not just any assault rifle, but a semiautomatic version of the famous Soviet AK47.

Look people, as I noted in my previous post, nobody has an exclusive on over the top rhetoric. (Note that the phrase "Over the top" is of military origin, from WWI) Now, many have said that the right does so much more of it that the left's few examples hardly count, and to you I say, with feeling, Bullshit.
Perhaps it's because I'm older than many of my fellow bloggers; born in the 50s, I grew up in the 60s... my first memories of political violence was the assassination of JFK- by a communist. I remember the SDS and the SLA, who considered murder, bombs, and bank robbery political acts. I remember Bernadine Dhorn and the Weathermen, and their bombs. I remember vandalism at college campuses, the destruction of ROTC classrooms, and attacks on draft centers. I remember mass rioting, cities all across America burning. I remember the 68 Democratic Convention devolving into shouting inside and rioting outside. Maybe you don't remember, but what got Nixon elected- despite the fact that even a lot of Republicans thought he was a pig- was that the nation was sick of the hooliganism of the left. So I repeat- nobody has any room pointing fingers on political rhetoric.

And worse, it's insane to ascribe reasons to irrationality. From William McKinley to Harvey Milk, from Reagan to Giffords, none of their actual or attempted assassins have had a coherent political philosophy. If you wanted to ban those things that are proven to incite political assassination, you'd have to ban Twinkies and Jodie Foster movies. Call for the moderation of political rhetoric all you want- I did plenty of it in the last few election cycles. But pretending that standard political phrases and/or tactics that have been around for decades or centuries are newly minted, violent, or racist hate speech is indulging in the demonization of your enemies (who should be your loyal opposition), not warning against it.

Monday, January 10, 2011

Explanations for the recent bird and fish kills

It started with 5,000 dead blackbirds in Arkansas. Then 100,000 dead fish in Arkansas... then more dead birds in Louisiana... then reports from around the world. Science has yet to provide answers- but Hollywood has! See 6 Disaster Movie Explanations For All These Dead Birds

That awful, violent, Palin/Tea Party rhetoric

I've been reading a number of UU bloggers writing about how right wing rhetoric lead to the tragedy in Arizona. They may have a point- listen to this exhortation: "You Have the Power: How to Take Back Our Country and Restore Democracy in America" Take our country back from whom? Why, obviously from the black man in the White House- just another example of racist Tea Party rhetoric, with that extra little "restoring democracy" dig as a reference to Obama's non-citizen status that the TP types all believe, that democracy has been subverted and they must "restore" it by throwing him out. I've had it explained to me at length a number of times.

Of course, "You Have the Power: How to Take Back Our Country and Restore Democracy in America" is actually the title of Howard Dean's book. I will grant that it was written by a white man, though.

Well, ok, but what about the map with the targets on it? There I have to agree; that's irresponsible at best and incitement to murder at worst- I mean c'mon, look at it:

Oops, my mistake, that wasn't Sarah Palin's map with the surveyor's targets on it, that was the Democratic Leadership Council's "Targeting Strategy" map, with shooting range bull's eyes on it. That's a relief; it's ok when Democrats do it.

At least that's not as bad as when Glenn Beck said he'd cut Obama's nuts off! Oh, wait, my mistake again; that was Jesse Jackson
Hmm. This is getting complicated; why don't we try to find out if Jared Loughner is sane enough to have even had a coherent political stance, then try to sort out whether that stance is left or right from all the conflicting nonsense before we start saying whose rhetoric is to blame?