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Sunday, December 30, 2007

Airport Security - Finally Someone Sees the Emperor has no Clothes


H.L. Mencken noted many decades ago: “Civilization, in fact, grows more and more maudlin and hysterical; especially under democracy it tends to degenerate into a mere combat of crazes; the whole aim of practical politics is to keep the populace alarmed (and hence clamorous to be led to safety) by an endless series of hobgoblins, most of them imaginary.”

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Question not being asked.

Having listened to the Mitt Romney attempt to ally himself with the Christian right (Joseph Smith is spinning in his grave) and the pundits' attempts to compare it to the JFK "I will not let Rome rule me" speech, I am impelled to make the following observations:

  • Kennedy's speech in 1960 was an attempt to assure the voters that he would not let his hierarchical and dictatorial Catholic religion guide his policy making. The church at the time concurred. We find ourselves now in a very different environment; one where the Catholic Church through its American bishops is explicitly trying to guide policy of politicians through the threat of excommunication if they fail to adopt the anti-abortion policy and others of the church. With five of the nine Supreme Court justices being Catholic, it will be interesting to see how this plays out. The Mormon Church has similar dictatorial stances. Romney -- and the media -- have yet to address that interaction.
  • I think it's time for the media to ask how the faith that all the candidates profess would play in their decision-making process. George W. Bush has said he prays about decisions. I assume all the other candidates with perhaps the exception of Gravel and Kucinich, would pray about their decisions also. A question I would ask is, "How do you know when God is speaking to you and providing you with an answer? Assuming all your advisers (not that you would need any since you're communing with God) pray for the right decision, what if there is a conflict between them. How do you know which is God's path?"

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Johnson, Bush, Vietnam

It’s heart-breaking to listen to the Johnson tapes. In 1965, Johnson was bemoaning the conundrum left him by Kennedy and the mess in Vietnam. He was desperately trying to find a way to leave, telling Eugene McCarthy he would do anything to find a way out. This was before 95% of the casualties yet to come. The problem was that in a democracy, it’s very difficult for the leader to tell mothers whose sons have died, that the war they are in is a war of choice; not one of necessity. The U.S. had been involved in the overthrow of the Diem government in an attempt to find political stability, but nothing we did seemed to help. The result was more troops, a surge if you will. The tapes reveal Johnson knew he was tying the country to a failed policy, but because of political pressure believed he was unable to just leave.


Source: Conference on Vietnam and the Presidency. American Radiowerks.

Saturday, November 03, 2007

Bush admits to being a terrorist!

AP/UPI "During a simulated waterboarding session held in the White House today, President Bush admitted to being Osama Bin Laden and Saddam Hussein. Following his dousing, he reinstated his support for "vigoruos" interrogation techniques." Laura Bush was reportedly overheard saying of his comments, "I knew he was an idiot."

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Bush and Torture

So what's the problem? Personally, I don't believe that torture should ever be used; it doesn't work according to interrogation experts; is harmful to the torturer; backfires; and is immoral. That being said, I fail to understand the Republican and Bushy hand wringing and failure to admit they think torture is a useful weapon. The constant refrain we hear is that if we knew someone had information the revelation of which would save thousands of lives, we should use any method available to us. So admit it; you believe torture is useful. Stop being so disingenuous. You can't have your cake and eat it too.

Rice and the Axis of Evil

The United States missed a huge opportunity after 9/11 to influence the course of Iranian politics but, as usual, blew it. Iran, which had reason to dislike the Taliban, saw 9/11 as a opportunity to create stronger ties with the United States. They actively helped the U.S. in Afghanistan and supplied information about Al Qaeda, often actually capturing terrorists who sought refuge in Iran. Very secret negotiations were being conducted between Iran and the United States that provided support for reformer in Iran who wished to bring a more democratic regime to power.

That all changed with Bush's "Axis-of-Evil" speech that linked Iran to North Korea and Iraq, a long-time enemy of Iran, and the threat to Iran implicit in Bush's speech that we would engage in regime change in those countries. Condi Rice, who should have known better, did not recognize the import of the language and thought Bush's speech was simply a recognition of our support for democracy (despite the fact that we don't have one - one of life's little ironies.)

Reference: Bitter Friends, Bosom Enemies: Iran, the U.S., and the Twisted Path to Confrontation by Barbara Slavin

Saturday, October 27, 2007

Miscellaneous musings

I fail to understand the Democrats' obsequious manner with regard to Bush's funding of the war. "Support the Troops" should mean bring them home now. By not cutting off funding, the Democrats are supporting Bush's bankrupt policies, which continue to become more incendiary and irresponsible, particularly with regard to Iran - $20 per gallon gas anyone?

The latest request for funds brings the cost of the war perilously close to a trillion dollars. Interest on the debt alone will approach $700 billion - that's debt, mind you; about $8,000 for every American. Right now that paper is owned by the Chinese. Not a good idea.

In the meantime the Republican candidates continue to self-destruct. How nice.

Recommendation: DVD "Deliver Us From Evil," a horrifying documentary about the Catholic Church's failure to address the issue of clergy pedophilia.

Monday, October 15, 2007

Retirement and Steamboats

Well, here I am recently retired, hoping for lazy days filled with books, both printed and audio, an environment that has yet to manifest itself as the "proverbial "honey-do-list gets longer rather than shorter.

That being said, I ran across an article about the current fleet of steamboats that still ply the Mississippi ("In Twain's Wake" by Wayne Curtis, Atlantic November 2007.) It sounds like a marvelously languid experience. Curtis has a way with descriptive phrases and several that struck my fancy included his description of the calliope: "Its sound was exactly the opposite of a pipe organ’s: Where the latter rouses one with deep bass notes, the calliope thrills with piercingly high ones. It is, however, a thrill I believe best experienced only once."

Sitting around on deck as the steamboat glides up the Mississippi had its charms too: "Afternoons and evenings were spent eating, attending history lectures, and sitting in deck chairs, where the vibration from the engine created a Magic Fingers effect; inevitably, I would find myself in a row of dozing passengers, our heads secured to our chests with great hawsers of drool." That's a vivid nautical image.

The boats stop at assorted locations along the way and Curtis's description of the tourguide at one plantation broght a chuckle: "wandered over and joined an early tour, led by a hoopskirted guide who spoke in that singsong monotone used to hypnotize tourists and make them think that tarnished table settings are interesting."

Wednesday, July 04, 2007

"War on the MIddle Class"

Lou Dobbs is a joke. Here we have an exceedingly rich white guy pretending to be worried about immigration (I bet his nanny is an illegal) and this supposed "war on the middle class," the title of his book. The middle class in this country could be defined as anyone not poor (making less than $25,000 per year) to $400,000 to $500,000 per year. The fact remains that this broad group runs the country since they consistently vote - after all, no one speaks for the truly poor nor cares about them -- and the rich are too few in number to make a difference until after the election when they buy what they want from our esteemed elected officials. So why this Dobbsian concern for the "middle-class?" Could it be he has plans to run for something?

A recent article by Clive Crook in the Atlantic puts some Dobbs' assumptions in perspective:
1. The so-called stagnation of incomes is belied by a steadily improving quality of life.
2. The so-called rising debt of the middle-class is mostly in mortgages that are supported by increased capital property values. In fact, "40% of middle-income households have no credit card debt at all."
What may become a problem is the impending retirement income problems and health care. But Dobbs doesn't seem to care about them Why would he when he has millions socked away.

Saturday, May 19, 2007

Piraha, linguistics, and direct experience

How is how we think connected to our language. This is a question that has always fascinated me, and there is a fascinating article in the April 16th issue of The New Yorker ("The Interpreter" by John Colapinto) that relates the reexamination of Chaomsky's theories of language (the rules of grammar are innate biological constructs.)

An Amazonian tribe, the Piraha, has resisted all attempts from missionaries and others in the outside world to teach some basic concepts (such as numbers larger than three) and knowledge of the past - or future. This small tribe lives only in the present and perceives reality "solely according to what exists within the boundaries of their direct experience." Dan Everett, a brilliant linguist now teaching at I.S.U. who lived with the Piraha for many years, argues their "dedication to empirical reality" explains their lack of interest in art and complete lack of interest in how they came into being -- their tribe has no creation stories. Everett suggests their immediacy of experience extends into their grammar and they state ideas and thoughts as discreet units. The idea that they accept as real only what they observe has made it impossible for them to accept the idea of a supernatural entity.

Tuesday, May 08, 2007

Why does God always get a pass?

If you were standing next to a drowning child and all you had to do was reach out and pull the child in, but you did nothing, you could be charged with negligent homicide. So why does God get a pass when he/she had the power to divert the tornado just a little bit to avoid Greensburg KS? Did he/she really mean to nail Greensburg? If something good happens we praise God; when something really bad happens, he/she gets a pass. Let's face it, if you treated your children the way God treats his children, you'd be in jail for child abuse. Unless of course, there is no God, in which case everything makes sense.

Sunday, March 11, 2007

Biological Weapons

Rats by Robert Sullivan is a fascinating study of rats and their cohabitation with humans. One particularly interesting section was on rats and plague, which, as you may know, is spread to humans by the rat flea. Apparently the Japanese were the first to experiment with the use of plague as a biological weapon during WWII under the direction of General Shiro Ishii. He discovered that the best was to infect a city with plague was to fill clay bombs with infected fleas. An attack was successfully conducted against the Chinese city of Changde. A clue that the outbreak was caused by humans rather than rats was that the rats began dying of plague weeks after the humans, a reverse of the normal situation.

General Ishii also practiced vivisection on live humans. He was never tried for war crimes, apparently having made a deal with the Americans who got copies of his notes and papers which formed the basis for the early American attempts at creating biological weapons. He retired a respected medical man.

The United States began experimenting with biological weapons in the early fifties and tested their weapon distribution methods on unsuspecting Americans. In one case, Navy planes sprayed the eastern Virginia coat with microbes similar to Anthrax but "thought to be harmless," and as late as 1966, soldiers dressed in civilian clothes dropped light bulbs filled with the microbes on the tracks in New York subways in order to measure how the microbes dispersed -- all without the knowledge of the public or Congress.