Thursday, August 31, 2006

Death by government? 

In response to the crash of Comair Flight 5191 (47 dead), the government-run air traffic control system is saying it isn't responsible for being sure that a plane is on the right runway. Mmmmm, let's think about that. Meanwhile, the Federal Aviation Administration is admitting that only a single traffic controller was staffed at the time of the accident, even though their safety policies require a minimum of two. I wonder if a private firm, one that could be sued by the families of 47 dead passengers, would be so blithe about cutting corners and shirking responsibility? Until someone figures out who is responsible for putting a plane on the correct runway, I'm thinking it might be wise to minimize flying in the US.

You go girl!

BERLIN, Germany (AP) -- Prosecutors plan to keep an eye on Madonna's weekend concert in Duesseldorf to see if the pop diva repeats the mock crucifixion scene that has drawn fire from religious leaders. Johannes Mocken, a spokesman for prosecutors in Duesseldorf, said Tuesday that a repeat of that scene during Sunday's concert could be construed as insulting religious beliefs. (ed.: ...which is apparently against the law in Germany!)


I don't know whether to be relieved or panicked to discover that America doesn't have a monopoly on religious nut cases influencing government. If offending all the right people is a reliable measure of one's worth (and I suspect it is), then Madonna continues as the gold standard.

State-of-the-art Liberal thinking

I recently came across this amazing quote in an online profile...

"Activism, Books/Reading, Camping/Outdoors, Collecting, Computers, Politics, Travel, 40 hr work week? Child labor laws? Collective bargaining? Safety regulations? Employee healthcare? Social Security? Medicare/Medicaid? Gay rights? Civil rights? Environmental protection? You like? Then... THANK A LIBERAL!"

What amazing delusional arrogance. As though thousands of years of global travel, literacy, the "outdoors," and computer technology all happened because of Democrats! No wonder the donkeys can't manage a candidate of sufficient credibility to win an election. (It's interesting that the writer neglected to mention public education--where he undoubtedly learned his critical thinking skills.)

Dark age attitudes

"The straightforward truth of the matter is free unmoderated chat isn't safe," Geoff Sutton, MSN's European general manager, told Reuters.
-- Thank goodness Microsoft isn't running the world quite yet.

Editors humor

You have to appreciate the humor of the editors at the Ventura County Star, who placed an article on Mac-hating Windows user on the same page as a glowing review of Apple’s amazing new Mac Pro workstation (VNC-8/28/06).

Those charitable Christians!

The First Baptist Church of Watertown, NY has fired a female Sunday school teacher, citing Timothy 2:11-14, which says, “A woman should learn in quietness and full submission. I do not permit a woman to teach or to have authority over a man; she must be silent.” Mary Lambert had taught Sunday school for First Baptist for 54 years. (Leonard Pitts, Jr., VNC—Ventura County Star 8/28/06) – Isn't it strange how much Timothy sounds like an Islamic fanatic? And people wonder why I have no positive interest in religion! I can’t think of a better example to support my belief that the chief threat to the future of America isn’t Islamic fundamentalism, but rather Christian fundamentalism, or rather religious fanaticism in general. You have to wonder if these so-called Christians have ever actually bothered to read the words of Christ in this book from which they are so fond of quoting.

Wonderful world

I see trees of green, red roses too
I see them bloom for me and you
And I think to myself, what a wonderful world

I see skies of blue and clouds of white
The bright blessed day, the dark sacred night
And I think to myself, what a wonderful world

The colours of the rainbow, so pretty in the sky
Are also on the faces of people going by
I see friends shakin' hands, sayin' "How do you do?"
They're really saying "I love you"

I hear babies cryin', I watch them grow
They'll learn much more than I'll ever know
And I think to myself, what a wonderful world
Yes, I think to myself, what a wonderful world

Oh yeah

--WHAT A WONDERFUL WORLD (George Weiss / Bob Thiele)

The cost of going West

So here in the land of $750,000 “starter” homes, and $500,000 “fixer-uppers,” it’s easy to get nervous when you see reports of home starts falling by 4.3% (LAT 8/25/06). The housing market is definitely cooling off. One can only hope it isn’t yet the first stages of the impending California property collapse that has the potential to destroy the American economy and make the great depression look like the 1980s. It’s basic economics and demographics folks, and it is going to happen—sure as the Big One. To start with, consider that California real estate values were in line with the rest of the country for 120 years--because land is land, and land without water isn't worth more no matter how good the views are. That’s right, clear up to the 1970s, even throughout the massive California population boom of the 1950s, housing costs in California were within a few percentage points of housing costs in Iowa. What changed? In the 1970’s two populist political movement took control of the California real estate market: rent control and growth control – and within two—yes, only two—years, housing costs in California started to out pace the nation by double digits. (See Excluded Americans, William Tucker) Of course, developers and California’s existing landed gentry didn’t complain, they were making out like bandits, and getting to masquerade as caring environmentalists in the process. It was the next generation that had to pay the bill, once California’s housing costs passed 200% (and still climbing) of national average. These poor folks are now spending over half their incomes for housing on which their parents and grandparents had often spent as little as 10% (see Discovery of Freedom, Rose Wilder Lane). So where is the bigger problem? It’s in the demographics. The largest portion of the American population consists of the Baby Boomers, which were the last generation to get a toehold in California real estate—and they are now getting up there in years. When they pass on (on the tail of their parents, who are a bulk holders of California real estate) and all those homes suddenly come onto the market at the same time, the value of California real estate is going to plummet, leaving all those in the younger generations who are holding interest-only mortgages facing certain bankruptcy. We’re talking about hundreds of thousands of families going bankrupt all at once. And of course, they will all be lobbying for a bailout, a bailout that will make the Savings and Loan bailout of the last century look like a Republican homeless handout. Guess who’s going to be left holding the bag? It’s you, the rest of America. Californians will have gotten a free ride in Eden for the last 50 years, and you, your children, and grandchildren are going to be presented with the bill. It will be a generational transfer, like the looming Social Security collapse—only with a geographic insult added to the injury.

Go West

So, you may have noticed… I’ve been off line for a few weeks. First, I had to wrap up a beta release of a database development I’ve been working on, then, my laptop’s motherboard self-destructed (which Apple repaired for free within a 5-day turn-around, even though the laptop is over three years old—no wonder Apple is head-and-shoulders above the rest in customer satisfaction polls), and finally I chaperoned my mother to California to see her grandchildren (my sister’s kids)—all of which left little time for snarking. Mom went home Tuesday, and I’m staying on out west for a few more weeks, so you’ll be getting a lot of comments on news from the Los Angeles Times (LAT).

The price of ignorance

And speaking of odd confluences, has anyone noticed that Walmart, the store most popular with red-white-and-blue bleeding Americans, pretty much only sells stuff made in China? No wonder what’s-his-face, Pat Buchanan’s three protectionist-inspired campaigns for President were such flops. Americans are apparently so economically and politically unsophisticated that they’ll buy the cheapest product, even if it means they loose the job they need to buy the product. Oh, don’t get me wrong, I’m absolutely pro-free-market, and don’t support protectionist government policies, but that doesn’t mean that I don’t think Americans shouldn’t buy American. They should just do so voluntarily. Choice without freedom is neither freedom nor choice.

Money for nothing...

I have come across several articles recently on the booming market for luxury good in the United States (LAT, 8/25/06), so it puzzles me that with so much money floating around that we can’t employ Americans to make a decent pocket radio. I tried to find one the other day and was surprised (and disgusted) to find that they are all made in China, and they are all of terrible quality. Yes, you can get them for as little as $2.00, but they don’t work well. So, with all this money floating around, why isn’t there some American company making $12.00 radios that actually work?

Tuesday, August 15, 2006

Fresh Moments in a Dark World

Surely some of the funniest and most original moments on television this summer have occurred on the SciFi Channel's new hit show, Dead Like Me. Not since Twin Peaks have I had such a good time watching television.

The Cost of War

Israel's defense is hugely underwritten with U.S. tax dollars, which means not only are we dinged for bombs in the first place, we now might be dinged for refunds on the ones that didn't explode. Undoubtedly Israel will get to keep the actually reimbursements, yet another hidden, off-budget subsidy to that war-isom nation. And yet another reason to pay heed to Jefferson's warning against entangling alliances.

Risks

The Lebanese government is warning people against returning to southern Lebanon because the area is littered with unexploded bombs. Now that must be a worrying development for the arms manufacturers. Is Israel going to be demanding a refund for the bombs that didn't explode? And, more worrisome still, this time for the U.S. taxpayers, are the arms manufacturers going to be allowed to write off the expense of payouts for settling on those unexploded bombs?

The Cost of Peace

Poor, pathetic Hezbollah... They are announcing that the Israeli pullout represents a victory. What a laughable, self-delusion! As though Israel had not killed dozens of Lebanese for every single fatality exacted by Hezbollah's pathetically targeted rockets; as though the whole of southern Lebanon wasn't left in total shambles, while most Israelis barely even noticed there was a war going on. Get real, Hezbollah. The Israelis pulled out because the rest of the world, especially those in the West, were horrified, indeed disgusted, with Israel's unconscionable, over-reactive slaughter of innocent Lebanese-the people Hezbollah is supposedly organized to protect, the people that Hezbollah put in harm's way, the people that Hezbollah fighters used as shields to hide behind. Israel pulled out because of the condemnation of the very people that Islamists themselves want to slaughter. Hezbollah, if you have two dimes left over from this debacle, do yourself a favor and buy yourselves a moral conscious-and maybe a clue.

Nuclear thinking

I attended a graduate-student party at one of our huge Midwestern-state universities this past weekend. I had a lot of fun and met many very smart and interesting young people. One particularly delightful young woman turned out to be from Iran. She is here studying nuclear physics. It seems to me that if our government's interest in preventing a nuclear-capable Iran were too terribly sincere, we would not be training Iran's next generation in nuclear science. However, of course, sincerity never has been a strong suit for politics, most especially not for the Bush administration.

Friday, August 11, 2006

National Security

Our right to telephone and Internet privacy has been suspended—because of national security. Americans are being held incommunicado and habeas corpus (in effect, the Constitution) has been suspended—because of national security. American teenagers are fighting in a foreign country’s civil war without even knowing which side they are on—because of national security. YET, we let a foreign company destroy a critical part of our energy infrastructure, affecting between 2.8 and 8 percent of our national oil supply—and that’s not a national security issue???

Captured

Apparently British Petroleum, which operates the section of the pipeline in question has been neglecting maintenance for several years—and they Feds supposedly knew about it. Now BP is admitting that they were overly optimistic about the pipeline’s maintenance requirements – overly optimistic that the problem would not be discovered on their watch, is more like it. This pipeline runs through some of the most environmentally sensitive areas on the planet, and BP let the thing corrode to the point that it was already springing leaks before they decided that maybe it was a problem! And the Feds, under the Bush administration (and to be fair, the Clinton administration also) were regulating the process. Damn! Where is the government when you need them? Oh, wait, I forgot, the oil industry is the government. Talk about agency capture!

Insider Trading

So last week when it was announced that the closure of the Prudhoe Bay-section of the Alaska oil pipeline system was going to cause an 2.6% decrease in the U.S. oil supply, I did what any rational person would have—I went immediately to my local gas station and filled up. Then a curious thing happened; as I watched for the price of gasoline to skyrocket—nothing happened! Excuse me, but isn’t it a basic law of economics that when supply is restricted, price increases to mediate demand? Of course it is! So, what happened, why no change in price? Well it turns out, my local provider informs me, that the stations were told to increase their prices almost two weeks before the Alaska announcement. Huh? Is this a blatant example of insider trading or what? For two weeks, (possibly for several months, based on some reports) the oil industry has been operating on knowledge that was not made public until last week. Where is the government when you need them? Oh, wait, I forgot, the oil industry is the government.

Thursday, August 10, 2006

Responsible reporting in an era of lying politicians...

Journalists should be ashamed of themselves for printing – without a shred of skepticism – their reports about the supposed terrorism plot in England. These articles repeatedly state, “It is thought…” or “We believe…” – in other words, it is NOT known. They report the plan, "revolved around liquids of some kind”, and “would have been sophisticated and extremely effective". Yet, if the enactment only “would have been”, it sounds like the so-called plot never got much past the planning stages, if it was technically feasible at all. For the past five years, our governments have been assuring us that such things are not possible, which was the justification for their glacially slow explosives scanning routines at airports. Either, they have been lying to us about the effectiveness of those very expensive security systems, or this so-called plot was not practical at all – but merely another incident of childish fantasy by those not bright enough to realize exactly what they are up against. Truly, the threat must not have been too terrible or the U.S. would have raised its internal threat level, which it has not (only the level that applies to flights from England instead). Even Mr. Blair, who stated that the situation had been tracked for a "long period of time", was, himself, insufficiently concerned so as to stay on holiday in the Caribbean. Maybe he actually is in Miami, taking lessons from our own mad-king George’s men on how to arrest mentally disabled street people and label them as terrorists. Oh, I'm not saying no threat exists, that the Islamists aren't as scary as it comes, only that when you've been lied to as often as we have been lied to by our elected officials – officials with a special interest in keeping us scared – that some degree of skepticism is appropriate from those in a communications role.

Perplexing...

If you are perplexed about today's terror news -- and all the holes and unexplained elements to the story -- then you should definitely get a copy of V for Vendetta. It can serve as your essential primer.

Monday, August 07, 2006

Now this is encouraging...

V for Vendetta is apparently selling like hotcakes. I've been in three Walmarts in the last week and each was sold out. The three copies I had pre-ordered from Amazon have yet to arrive as well, apparently back-ordered. Word of mouth is a powerfully effective marketing mechanism.

Saturday, August 05, 2006

Update: Rocky v. PeeWee

Israeli Defense Forces on Saturday announced that Hezbollah has killed 78 Israelis (45 soldiers, 33 civilians, and with 600 wounded) since July 12, when the cross-border conflict began. In Lebanon, the Lebanese Security Forces report that the Israeli’s have done disproportionately more damage, with 683 Lebanese dead (an unknown amount of Hezbollah, 683 civilians--many of them children, and with 2,359 wounded). For the United Nations to fail to respond to this grossly disproportionate use of force on Israeli’s part is unpardonable, and demonstrates clearly the impotency of that failed organization.

Thursday, August 03, 2006

V

"VoilĂ ! In view, a humble vaudevillian veteran, cast vicariously as both victim and villain by the vicissitudes of Fate. This visage, no mere veneer of vanity, is a vestige of the vox populi, now vacant, vanished. However, this valorous visitation of a by-gone vexation, stands vivified, and has vowed to vanquish these venal and virulent vermin van-guarding vice and vouchsafing the violently vicious and voracious violation of volition. The only verdict is vengeance; a vendetta, held as a votive, not in vain, for the value and veracity of such shall one day vindicate the vigilant and the virtuous. Verily, this vichyssoise of verbiage veers most verbose, so let me simply add that it is my very good honor to meet you and you may call me V." --V

V for Vendetta was released on DVD this week. For those who were unfortunate enough to miss seeing it in the theatres (or at the Imax), now is your second chance to see one of the most revolutionary films in recent memory.

Wednesday, August 02, 2006

Our Own Incompetency

"WASHINGTON (AP) -- Evidence collected on the deaths of 24 Iraqis in Haditha supports accusations that U.S. Marines deliberately shot the civilians, including unarmed women and children, a Pentagon official said Wednesday."


If you are a voter, please contact your Representative immediately to demand that a full-scale review of military training and operations is undertaken such that this sort of thing cannot happen again. In a democracy, it is everyone's responsibility to stand up against such abuses of power.

More on Competency

Hezbollah launched 190 rockets into Israel today -- and only managed to kill one man on a bicycle. While we can only suspect Israeli incompetency in regard to their claims of accidentally targeting civilians, Hezbollah's incompetency seems a bit more clear cut.

This "war" is like watching Rocky Balboa kick the shit out of PeeWee Herman.

Update, 8/3/06: Israel now says Hezbollah rockets killed seven Israelis yesterday, still not a great return on Hezbollah's expenditure in rocketry. To date, 603 Lebanese civilians and non-combatant soldiers have died (the number of Hezbollah unknown), while in Israel the number is 66, only 26 of them civilians. With a civilian kill rate of over 10-times that of Hezbollah's, Israel is looking more like a terrorist then the terrorists.

Not all Barbarism is Middle Eastern

The Chinese government is leading an extermination effort that has reduced the country's dog population by an estimated 50,000. The pets were eliminated in an attempt to control an outbreak of rabies. Not that the Chinese are any strangers to mass exterminations, sick birds and democracy demonstrators come to mind, but the reports indicate a new level of barbarism that is shocking. Thousands of these animals are reported to have been kicked and beaten to death in front of their helpless owners. I can't say it enough, how you do something is always at least as important as what you do.

The Truth is in the Middle

Watching Fox and CNN is like watching reports from two ends of the chain in a children's game of telephone. Can these two organizations really be reporting on the same reality? Of course not. They are both propaganda networks with their own political agendas that color all of their reporting. The only way to discern a shred of truth these days is to channel flip back-and-forth between the various news networks -- and to guess that the truth is somewhere in between.

State Responsibility

I was as appalled as anyone when the Federal Supreme Court ruled that it was okay for local governments to seize the homes of individuals and hand them over to private developers to build shopping malls. Of course, what the Supreme Court really said was that eminent domain rules are an issue for the states to decide. Ohio recently became yet another state ruling that cities may not seize private property to line the pockets of developers, adding evidence that the states can take responsibility for regulating themselves in the fashion that the State’s Rights supporters on the Supreme Court envision. At least I hope that's the case...

According to the Institute for Justice (http://www.ij.org), a Washington, DC-based legal defense group, 25 states have passed laws limiting their government’s eminent domain powers. Six additional states have constitutional amendments to limit eminent domain power on their ballots for November.

Progress in Texas

And speaking of dead children, Andrea Yates, who clearly did kill her five children by drowning them in a bathtub half-a-decade ago, was finally found not-guilty, by reason of insanity. Even Yate’s former husband, father of the dead children, believes she was psychotic. Yates claims that Satan was inside her and that killing the youngsters was the only way to save them from hell. It is surprising justice that hyper-Christian Texas would tolerate the argument that belief in Satan equates with psychosis.

George was Right

Evidence continues to mount that Illinois’ former-governor George Ryan did the right thing in commuting the death sentences of every Death Row inmate in Illinois a few years ago. Though prosecutorial abuse continues in Illinois, justice does occasionally get its day...

Julie Rea-Harper was released from prison in Illinois this week, after a jury overturned her conviction in an earlier trial. She had been convicted of having stabbed to death her 10-year-old son. While no hard evidence was available in the first trial, prosecutors had managed to convince a jury that she killed her son rather then let her husband have custody of the child following their divorce. That conviction was overturned on a technicality; apparently, the jury didn’t know that an inmate in Texas had confessed to killing her son.

Update: Its since been reported that Rea-Harper's defense was handled by the local Public Defender's office. You get what you pay for is an old, but true maxim, so it seems equally true that those accused who have to rely on public defenders will get exactly as much justice as they paid for -- which is to say not much.

Appalling Oppression Reported in Provincetown

Straight people in Provincetown, Massachusetts are issuing press statements and holding public meetings to protest being called bigots because of their opposition to Gay marriage. Rumor has it that the local KKK is forming an anti-defamation league in response to charges of racism.

Tuesday, August 01, 2006

Responsibility, act II.

Israel is by no means the only one to blame in this skirmish. Not by a long shot. The citizens of Lebanon have long embraced Hezbollah, knowing full well that they are indiscriminate killers. (In addition to attacks on Israeli civilians too numerous to count, Hezbollah killed 241 US peacekeepers and 56 French peacekeepers in 1983, and kidnapped and murdered even more UN peacekeepers in the 1980s.) The Lebanese have essentially been bribed to look the other way by Hezbollah's schools, medical clinics, and aids centers. And in exchange, the Lebanese have sold much of their own moral authority and forsaken their right to claim themselves as innocent bystanders. What's being done by the Israeli's to (the disenfranchised) women and innocent children is abominable, however Lebanese men who have tolerated Hezbollah as neighbors are a lot less innocent then many of us would like to believe. This is not a black and white situation; there are more then two degrees of culpability. If the Lebanese truly wish to wear the mantel of victimhood, then they must disarm the Hezbollah themselves and not tolerate their weapons and violent activities within Lebanon.

Say what? Did that really happen?

In a totally unexpected move, the U.S. District Court in Alexandria, Virginia put up a website to publish exhibits from the trial of convicted terrorist Zacarias Moussaoui. This sets a precedent of such magnitude that its affects on American jurisprudence will likely be not be fully known for years. One has to wonder what motivated such as action. Could it be that the case against Moussaoui was so shaky and the arguments against him so weak that the Administration feels a continuing need to lobbying the American public for support? It's not like the posted material, taken by itself, is likely to convince anyone of anything. It's more likely the intention in publicizing the material was simply to dazzle the public with complexity, hoping that an impressive show would shift public opinion in some measurable way.

Of course the awake among you will point out that Moussaoui plead guilty, so what would the quality of the case, or public opinion of it have to do with anything? Well, that's a good question. I can only imagine that someone in the Administration was looking down the road, trying to anticipate challenges in successfully trying those currently held at Guantánamo Bay. If publishing the Moussaoui documents can be demonstrated to effect public opinion, then they'll have identified a potential new tool for the government's arsenal of tools to control public opinion. Sure it sounds perfectly Machiavellian, but hey, it's Washington, could we expect anything less?

More blame...

Another, more controversial Washington-based group, the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR), has issued a statement calling Israel a terrorist state. "Whenever civilians are attacked to achieve a political goal, the charge of terrorism must be applied, whether the terrorist is an individual, a group or a state," said CAIR Communications Director Ibrahim Hooper. CAIR said it is accusing Israel of state terrorism based on statements by Israeli officials who have said "they intend to make the civilian population of Lebanon suffer in order to put pressure on Hezbollah." Despite CAIR's controversial pedigree (they've been accused, possibly by those with axes to grind, of being Islamist at the least and terrorist at the worst), their arguments seems pretty sound.

So exactly how free is the press in the U.S.?

International reports indicated that Condoleezza Rice was told in no uncertain terms that she wasn't welcome in Lebanon; this following the Qana massacre. More interestingly, it was also reported that she was in talks with the Israelis at the time of the Qana incident, but that they failed to tell her about what had happened, and only admitted to it after Rice's own people informed her of it many hours later. With allies like Israel, who needs enemies? They're the walking definition of duplicitous. So what does this have to do with free press? Well, there was little or no mention of this diplomatic embarrassment in U.S. news reports, and the incidents seem too significant to have been casually not covered.