Monday, May 18, 2009

Obama: "Doubt Causes Faith!"


Obama spoke at the Notre Dame commencement yesterday, and despite predictions from some "pro-lifers," was not struck by lightning. By most accounts he gave an excellent speech. I'll leave the abortion topic for others to deconstruct, but I want to touch on another topic he covered.

"In this world of competing claims about what is right and what is true, have confidence in the values with which you’ve been raised and educated. Be unafraid to speak your mind when those values are at stake. Hold firm to your faith and allow it to guide you on your journey. Stand as a lighthouse.

But remember too that the ultimate irony of faith is that it necessarily admits doubt. It is the belief in things not seen. It is beyond our capacity as human beings to know with certainty what God has planned for us or what He asks of us, and those of us who believe must trust that His wisdom is greater than our own.

This doubt should not push us away from our faith. But it should humble us. It should temper our passions, and cause us to be wary of self-righteousness. It should compel us to remain open, and curious, and eager to continue the moral and spiritual debate that began for so many of you within the walls of Notre Dame. And within our vast democracy, this doubt should remind us to persuade through reason, through an appeal whenever we can to universal rather than parochial principles, and most of all through an abiding example of good works, charity, kindness, and service that moves hearts and minds.
"

ARRRRRGHHHHH! This is so frustrating. Here is one of the most intelligent people on earth, in front of a crowd of future leaders, taking a few minutes to encourage belief in things that can't be observed or proven! Is this responsible behavior?

Does this work in any realm other than religion. If I'm lucky enough to one day give a commencement address, is it acceptable for me to spend time talking about holding true to belief in resquartervantites? After all, there is no proof for the existence of resquartervantites, you can't see them, they don't actually communicate with you, but if you just close your eyes, click your heels three times, and believe hard enough they can help you to do all kinds of good things. Forget acceptable, would it even be responsible?

Come on Mr. President, doubt shouldn't push us away from faith?! People doubt because there is no evidence supporting claims of faith. I certainly hope you don't use this kind of logic in making foreign policy decisions.

"I kind of doubt that the Iranians have done away with that nuclear weapons program. But you know what, doubt really shouldn't interfere with my faith that they have. No further action required."

I hope he doesn't actually believe this hoooey, and it's all just a show for the believer electorate. While I'm not normally comforted by politicians lying, that scenario just seems more palatable than the idea that the leader of the most powerful country on earth believes in an imaginary sky friend.

Friday, May 15, 2009

Meet The New Boss...


I don't like to just reprint material from other blogs, but earlier this week Andrew Sullivan at The Atlantic posted something I want to talk about. Here's what he said:

"On the totally surreal front, my aspiration is to live in a country where the president actually explains that no-one can or ever will win an imperial war in Afghanistan, that we cannot possibly leave Iraq in the next eight years without a bloodbath, that Iran cannot be prevented from getting a nuclear bomb in the foreseeable future, that an energy policy without nuclear power cannot do anything to stop global warming, and that Israel has lots of nukes, and will never, ever withdraw from the West Bank."

While I'm not sure I agree with him on the nuclear power question (literally - I just don't know enough about the technology), I share his sentiment about the lack of candor coming from our government.

This week Obama announced that he will reinstitute military tribunals for terror suspects, lifting the 120 day hold he had put on the practice when he took office. Apparently he intends to make some "improvements" over how these proceedings had been run, but they will not provide the protections of a court trial.

The President again failed to do all he could to expose torturers, when he "delayed" release of photos showing mistreatment of detainees in American custody. At this point it's unclear if he will ever authorize release. The release of these photos surely would have fueled cries for prosecutions.

As Sullivan pointed out this week, it's reached the point that this adminstration is essentially owning the crimes of the prior administration. For someone who ran on a platform of "Change, Change and More Change," this feels an awful lot like as case of "meet the new boss same as the old boss."

More war. More secrecy.

When do we get the "Change We can Believe In?"

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Swine Flu Again!

OK - I know you are getting sick of hearing about the swine flu, but having stumbled across these I had to share. Apparently we had a swine flu scare in the 70's (I have no memory of it) and it generated some hilarious PSA's.





Please note many of us lived through the 70's!

Out Break!

I figured I'd be dead from swine flu by now, so I didn't plan any posts for this week. Now I have to come up with stuff on the fly.

Monday, May 11, 2009

Kid Charlemagne

This feels like the right tune to start this week:

Vader Comes Back


Looks like Vice President Vader is at it again. Dick Cheney crawled out of his undisclosed location one more time today. This time to agree with the apparent leader of the New Republican Party - Rush Limbaugh.

Talking about former Secretary of State Colin Powell, and agreeing with Rush, Cheney gave us this:

"My take on it was Colin had already left the party. I didn't know he was still a Republican."

Clearly Tricky Dick II is upset about Powell's endorsement of Obama, but even to an outsider like me it seems ballsy to question Powell's party loyalty. After all, Powell was the guy who lied (or at least turned a blind eye to the truth) to the UN in support of the Cheney/Bush folly in Iraq. That's pretty loyal.

Powell put his reputation on the line to support his administration and party, why would Cheney challenge his conservative credentials now? I don't much care for the former Secretary of State, but anybody who has read anything about him knows that he is a conservative. Granted, more moderate than many, but a long way from the left side of the aisle. (To some of us that's a bad thing of course.)

Democratic loyalist should be ecstatic about Dick's recent forays in to the media. To Dems in Washington, Cheney was the gift that kept on giving. A surly, unlikable guy with a dismal approval rating and a knack for making bad decisions. He was the perfect punching bag - he was the perfect opponent. Sheer dislike for the former VP could tip any political debate toward the left.

Seems to me that if Dick Cheney has any kind of party loyalty at all, he would follow his former boss' lead and go clear brush away from the cameras.

Or maybe he could get a gig as a Walmart greeter:

Friday, May 8, 2009

Apologies...

...for the complete lack of posts this week. It's been a loooong and very busy week so blogging was put on the back burner. I hope to get back to it in earnest this weekend.

In the meantime I offer a compilation of the schlocky music I grew up with, and for some reason still love.



Many thanks to those still checking in here.

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Blackadder Stands Trial

Here's some fun from the classic BBC series Blackadder.

Fans of House might recognize counsel for the defense.



I hate to sound like an old man, but they just don't make TV shows as good as they use to.

Run For The Hills - Swine Flu Is Near!


The media has latched on to a new scare phenomenon: swine flu! If you watch cable news these days, you may be left with the impression that we are headed for a bubonic plague like run of this disease. Alas, examination of swine flu statistics kind of debunks that.

So far we know that 154 people have died in Mexico from swine flu. The World Health Organization reports that about 1,600 Mexicans have been infected. In the United States there have been 64 total cases, and no deaths. Throughout the rest of the world - a mere smattering of cases - most of them not yet confirmed.

While those 154 cases in Mexico are tragic for family and friends of the deceased, they hardly require full blown panic. More than 100 Million people live in Mexico. A very very small percentage of the population has been infected.

In the US, the over the top scare aspect of this is even worse. We are talking about 64 cases in a country of more than 300 million. How is this even news worthy?

To put this in perspective, according to the Center for Disease Control, regular old influenza and pneumonia combined cause about 63,000 deaths per year in the US. Somehow the media doesn't start off every flu season though with a massive scare campaign designed to get ratings and terrify anyone getting the sniffles.

We certainly should be vigilant about monitoring disease and working to prevent it, but I can't help but think that in no time at all Swine Flu will have gone the way of SARS, Bird Flu and Mad Cow Disease. They were good for ratings, controllable, and not quite the threat they were made out to be.

Sunday, April 26, 2009

Storm

I came across this Tim Minchin gem a few weeks ago on another site. Thus far I've resisted the urge to repost it here, but my resistance has worn down.

Enjoy.



(Via)

Friday, April 24, 2009

Torture 101


As this week progressed, and more information leaked about Americans waterboarding terror suspects, my mind drifted back to a Christopher Hitchens article I read last summer. Hitchens, as part of an effort to honestly report on torture, asked the American military to waterboard him. Then he wrote about it.

His retelling is chilling, and leaves little doubt that the technique is just drowning a victim to make him fear for his life. It's amazing how quickly Hitchens himself used a preset signal to get out of the situation, although he did go back for seconds. Read the piece, which is linked above, it's worth your time.

Part of his article included a retelling of a conversation Hitchens had with Malcolm Nance, a counter-terrorism and terrorism intelligence consultant for the U.S. government’s Special Operations, Homeland Security and Intelligence agencies. Nance has more than 20 years experience fighting terrorism. He's hardly a peacenik lefty.

Per Hitchens, here's what Nance had to say about waterboarding:

"1. Waterboarding is a deliberate torture technique and has been prosecuted as such by our judicial arm when perpetrated by others.

2. If we allow it and justify it, we cannot complain if it is employed in the future by other regimes on captive U.S. citizens. It is a method of putting American prisoners in harm’s way.

3. It may be a means of extracting information, but it is also a means of extracting junk information. . . To put it briefly, even the C.I.A. sources for the Washington Post story on waterboarding conceded that the information they got out of Khalid Sheikh Mohammed was “not all of it reliable.” Just put a pencil line under that last phrase, or commit it to memory.

4. It opens a door that cannot be closed. Once you have posed the notorious “ticking bomb” question, and once you assume that you are in the right, what will you not do? Waterboarding not getting results fast enough? The terrorist’s clock still ticking? Well, then, bring on the thumbscrews and the pincers and the electrodes and the rack."


Mr. Holder: Can we please get down to prosecuting the people who authorized and used this technique?

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

266 Times!


266! According to recently released CIA memos, that's how many times CIA operatives waterboarded two Al Qaeda suspects over the course of two months. Abu Zubaydah 83 times in August of 2002. Khalid Sheik Mohammed 183 times in March of 2003.

Let's be clear about something at the outset, these are bad guys. Mohammed is the admitted mastermind of the 9/11 attacks. I have no love for them - indeed what I feel is much closer to hate - but those emotions do not justify torture. As I've said before, we are suppose to be better than that. We are suppose to be an example of freedom and respect for human rights. We are not suppose to torture.

“The degree of civilization in a society can be judged by entering its prisons.”
- Fyodor Dostoevsky, The House of the Dead


Let's recap a little.

John McCain, a man who knows something about torture, says waterboarding is torture. (Although he does disagree with releasing the torture memos.)



Very high ranking Bush officials admit to authorizing the waterboarding of Mohammed.



When can we get down to prosecuting these people?

At least President Obama opened the door to torture prosecutions this week when he said Attorney General Holder is free to investigate people who authorized torture.

Let's hope this AG has more independence from the White House than the last one. Let's also hope he does what's right instead of what's politically expedient.

Saturday, April 18, 2009

Back In Black

Lewis Black shares his thoughts on creationism in that special sensitive way only he can.

Friday, April 17, 2009

A Nation Divided - Can It Stand?


Governor Rick Perry of Texas got in some hot water this week for at least implying that Texas could secede from the union. He thinks the federal government should do more to honor states' rights. At at "Tea Party" event on Wednesday he said this:

"There's a lot of different scenarios. We've got a great union. There's absolutely no reason to dissolve it. But if Washington continues to thumb their nose at the American people, you know, who knows what might come out of that. But Texas is a very unique place, and we're a pretty independent lot to boot."

It does at least imply that the United States could be not so united in the not so distant future. Perry took a beating for this in the media, but on some level I understand where he is coming from. I don't think the problem is federal intrusion on states' rights, but we are a country deeply divided along political and geographic lines. I wonder whether we can continue to operate as a single entity.

After Bush was elected the second time I looked at the electoral map, the polling data and the issues that seemed to decide the election, and I seriously asked myself if I could live in the country that data represented. At the time, the doctored map of North America shown above made it's way around the Internet. It showed the continent basically divided in half - north and south. The northern half was labeled "United States of Canada," and the southern half was labeled "Jesusland." I remember thinking through my anger: "That seems about right."

I suspect that Perry and others in the south are feeling the same about the new administration in Washington. They see their core beliefs threatened, and it makes them angry. How long can we go on like this? Presidential elections are basically a dead heat. A small number of undecideds decide the outcome. About half the country is always unhappy - often very unhappy - with the country's leadership. We really are a nation divided.

I would never - ever - want to see the US go through another civil war, and if that's where Perry was going with his comments he should take heavy criticism. I do wonder how long we can continue under our current model though.

Will it survive our differences, or should we consider an amicable divorce?

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

If You Really Loved Me

Tim Minchin has a crystal clear understanding of exactly what real love looks like.

If you don't think this is funny, there's something wrong with you. Seek help immediately.

Monday, April 13, 2009

Three Shots


Here is an incredible story.

High sea piracy off the African coast didn't play out so well for a few pirates this week. After stupidly abandoning a hijacked American ship for a small life boat, four pirates ran out of fuel and became sitting ducks for American forces. Unfortunately, the pirates brought along the ship's captain as insurance, and were left with a stand off.

Fearing for the captain's life, President Obama gave authority to use deadly force if the Navy saw "imminent danger." After one of the pirates had given himself up to American military to get medical treatment, one of the remaining pirates raised his AK47 to the back of the captured captain. Three Navy Seal snipers on a nearby ship were given orders to kill the remaining pirates.

I'm no marksman - in fact I've fired a gun exactly once in my life - but these strike me as an extraordinarily difficult shots. These Seals were on a boat, bobbing in the ocean, trying to hit three targets 75 feet away on another boat bobbing on the ocean, while trying to avoid hitting the captain. All three made head shots and killed the pirates. The captain was unscathed.

I can't imagine the ice water you need running through your veins to do a job like that. You can argue about whether they are always used the way they should be - in this case it seems there's little doubt they were - but the American military has some remarkable people serving in it.

One question: Could we get these three Seals within 75 feet of Bin Laden? I'd prefer the surgical precision of these guys over the "smartest" bomb we have.

Sunday, April 12, 2009

More Easter Happiness!!

Besides Cadbury Eggs, Peeps are the best part of Easter. Here's a new and different look at the world of Peeps. (Not one for the kids)

Thursday, April 9, 2009

The Four Horsemen Talk Tone

Here are four of the leading "New Athiests" discussing a topic I blogged about a while back. The tone in which atheists criticize religion and how believers take offense.



Richard Dawkins, Dan Dennett, Sam Harris and Christopher Hitchens are very smart men and great spokesmen for the New Atheist movement. I admit a certain soft spot for Hitchens' style, but all of them are top shelf.

Income/Spending Should Match


The numbers are outlandish. Obama is asking for another $83 billion to fund the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan through the end of this year. How much longer can this administration spend like drunken sailors on shore leave before they tell America the uncomfortable truth:

"We have to raise your taxes."

I'm ok with big, expensive government, but it seems to me that the US taxpayer isn't getting a very good return on her investment these days. We are spending to bail out wall street, the auto industry, the insurance industry and now for more war. While some of the bail outs might "trickle down" to average Americans, by creating jobs, its hardly creating a direct benefit at this point.

On the war front, can't we just admit this was a bad idea, get the hell out, save lives and money? What exactly are we trying to do at this point? $83 billion would help an awful lot of people with mortgage payments, groceries, medical bills etc..

In the end I have to wonder how we are paying for all this. Big spending government can work (although I do wish they were spending differently), but so does fiscal responisibility. The national debt is growing exponentially these days, and I don't want my kids saddled with debt on our fiscal irresponsibility. They didn't make the terrible choices that got us here.

If America is going to pay it's way out of this crisis, then America needs to start paying. That means higher taxes and less borrowing. We need to be responsible for future Americans.

Vermont Follows Iowa.


This week Vermont followed Iowa's lead and legalized gay marriage. Interestingly, Vermont did it through legislative action rather than a court ruling. Either way, another domino has fallen in the battle for equal marriage rights for gay Americans.

It's not surprising that Vermont took this action. It is widely regarded as one of the more liberal states, and it was the first state to legalize civil unions. Nonetheless, the state legislature had to override the governor's veto to get this passed. Kudos to Vermont for helping lead the way!

I think this is now officially a trend, which will eventually lead to wide acceptance of gay marriage throughout the US. I'm interested in hearing from any readers about if, or when, gay marriage will be legalized where you live.

Please chime in.

Sunday, April 5, 2009

What Is An Open Mind?



(Via)

April 4, 1968


Forty one years ago yesterday the world lost one of its great voices to a racist's bullet. On April 4, 1968 James Earl Ray tried to silence Martin Luther King with a sniper rifle while the civil rights leader stood on the balcony of the Lorraine Motel in Memphis Tennessee.

Ray may have succeeded in taking King's life, but he failed miserably at silencing his voice. It lived on in others who took up the call for racial equality. Now Martin Luther King's message is taught to school children with the same reverence given to the Emancipation Proclamation.

I wonder how Dr. King would feel about the America we live in now. Surely he would be immensely proud that we have evolved to the point of electing a black president. Still, I wonder how he would view the massive wealth gap between whites and blacks. I wonder how much of his dream he would regard as fulfilled.

Here is a clip of the last speech King ever gave - the night before he died. Many have written about how prophetic it was, and it does seem to foretell the events of the next day. I recently saw a documentary in which people close to King said it was a speech he delivered often, which cuts down its prophetic quality a bit. Nonetheless, it is remarkable how much Dr. King was willing to place himself in danger's way in the fight for justice.



Remarkable.

Friday, April 3, 2009

Iowa: Gay Marriage Videos

Here are some videos on the Iowa gay marriage issue.

Some background stories of gay couples who want to marry. How can you be opposed to this?



And here's some ignorance from the Iowa Family Policy Center. What is wrong with these people?

Gay Marriage In Iowa.


Great news out of Iowa today! The Iowa Supreme Court has struck down that state's gay marriage ban as an unconstitutional violation of the equal protection clause in the state constitution. Effectively, this means that gay Iowans can't be denied a marriage license. Kudos to the state of Iowa.

It's about time that gay people be given full rights to marriage. It's hard to fathom why same sex adults who want to marry shouldn't be allowed to. Being someone who gets great joy out of marriage, I'm encouraged to see the same rights being offered to everyone.

Of course the right has already started it's fear drumbeat. Republican Iowa Representative Steve King wasted no time warning that the ruling will turn Iowa in to a "gay marriage mecca." Naturally he also said the Iowa legislature has a "responsibility" to amend the state constitution to take marriage rights away from gay people.

Iowa should hope it will become a "gay marriage mecca." In this economy I expect that hospitality businesses in Des Moines and Iowa City might welcome an influx of people looking to spend their hard earned cash. Why is King afraid of this? Does he have some kind of fear of catching the gay? Does he not like being around people who love each other and want to make a commitment?

We will see if another Prop 8 style campaign springs up in Iowa, but for now I just want to say congratulations to all those people who just gained the same rights that I have always had. You deserve it.

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Atheism Explained

Sam Harris talks about my peeps.



I'm somewhat uncomfortable of his description of atheists as being "spiritual," because it's such a loaded term and I'm not sure he's using it the way most people think of it. Nonetheless, he does a nice job of dispelling some of the common myths about atheists.

Sunday, March 29, 2009

More War?


As Washington continues it's drumbeat for yet more war in Afghanistan, I really wish the people in charge would step back for a minute and examine what it is we are doing there and whether success is even possible.

This week President Obama announced that we will be sending more American soldiers in to Afghanistan. It's unclear exactly what the goal of these troop increases are though. On the one hand we are hearing that they will aide in training Afghan security forces. On the other hand Obama is making statements like these:

"The focus over the last seven years I think has been lost," Obama said. "What we want to do is to refocus attention on al Qaeda. We are going to root out their networks, their bases. We are going to make sure that they cannot attack U.S. citizens, U.S. soil, U.S. interests, and our allies' interests around the world."

That sounds like the troops will be used for a hot war with al Qaeda.

Recent polling shows that Americans are wary of more war in Afghanistan. For good reason.

While training Afghan security forces seems like a good idea, didn't we just go through this same debacle in Iraq. Month after month we were told Iraqi security forces would be ready to secure Iraq soon, and still thousands of American are there for security purposes. Why do we assume Afghanistan will end any better?

On the al Qaeda front, finding and eliminating al Qaeda operatives is a worthwhile goal, but do we need more troops to do it? Given that al Qaeda is an organization without borders, it seems unlikely that huge numbers of ground troops in Afghanistan are going to eliminate the problem. Bin Laden and company will just set up camp somewhere else. Wouldn't use of intelligence and highly trained special forces for localized operations against terrorists be more effective. Particularly in light of the fact that invasions of sovereign middle eastern countries may be doing more to grow al Qaeda than anything else we are doing.

We should be cognizant of history's lessons of war in Afghanistan. The British and Soviets found out the hard way that Afghanistan may be where empires go to die. Do we want to follow route?

Friday, March 27, 2009

Marketing Truth

This seems like the perfect way to wrap up this week.

I give you Bill Hicks on marketing.



Plus the ultimate Coke ad.

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Where The Wild Things Are

Oh Man! I can't wait to see this!



Where The Wild Things Are was one of my favorite books as a kid. It seemed like most children's books were about happiness and light, but Sendak's slightly darker vision of childhood appealed to me a little more. Of course I was happy that in the end Max got to come home to a warm supper.

Here's a reading of the Sendak book if you're interested.



For what it's worth I know where at least four of the Wild Things are. They live with me.

(Via)

Chomsky On Politics

Here's Noam Chomsky talking about the US political system. Specifically the system's inherent protection of the rich and powerful. He's right, and if I may state the blatantly obvious, he's incredibly smart.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Imagine No Religion


It appears that the in the midst of declining attendance and tough economic times, the Catholic Church is closing parishes across the eastern and midwestern US.

According to CNN, the reduction has to do with the declining number of Catholics out there. Take this tidbit for instance:

"There are reportedly 67.1 million Catholics in the U.S., according to The Official Catholic Directory 2008. Compared to the 2007 number of 67.5, that's about a 400,000 decrease in one year. And the Pew Forum found that approximately a third of its survey respondents who were raised in the Roman Catholic Church no longer attend the church."

That's still a lot of Catholics, but that's also a huge decline in a single year.

Those types of numbers aren't just limited to the Catholic Church though. According to a recent USA Today poll, the third largest "religious affiliation" in the United States is "no religion," which comes in at 15% of those polled. (Up from 8% in 1990) By comparison, the second largest group behind Catholics was Baptists at 15.8%. (Down from 19.3% in 1990)

Of course the "no religion" group can, and probably does, include a lot of believers who have simply rejected any form of organized religion. The "spiritual but not religious" types. Even though that doesn't go far enough in my opinion, the increasing rejection of organized religion is on the whole a move in the right direction.

In the case of the Catholic Church, it's not hard to see why the numbers are declining. It's an organization that opposes many mainstream American values like equal rights for women and gays, birth control, choice on abortion and embryonic stem cell research. It's an organization allegedly dedicated to ending poverty, yet it has amassed wealth comparable to a fortune 500 company. (Back when such companies had wealth.) It's an organization allegedly dedicated to the protection of the weak, that allowed pedophiles access to children.

Eventually even the most ardent believer is going to look at that kind of track record and question whether the morals of the church are in line with basic human values. And that's without looking at the fact that it's whole belief structure lacks evidence.

Maybe the worm has started to turn on religion in the US. Still - we have a long way to go.

Saturday, March 21, 2009

The Inquisition.

This one's for my kid.

Nobody expects The Spanish Inquisition!

Friday, March 20, 2009

Gitmo Prisoners Were Innocent




Every time I think we've reached rock bottom on revelations about misconduct during the Bush years, I discovery that there's at least another sub-basement to go.

This week it was revealed by Lawrence Wilkerson, a Republican former chief of staff to former Secretary of State Colin Powell, that Guantanamo is loaded with innocent people swept up by U.S. forces unable to distinguish terrorists from bystanders. Some of these men have been sitting there for six or seven years.

To make matters worse Wilkerson, who is also a retired Army Colonel, revealed:

"U.S. leadership became aware of this lack of proper vetting very early on and, thus, of the reality that many of the detainees were innocent of any substantial wrongdoing, had little intelligence value, and should be immediately released."

So for years my government knew it was sweeping up innocent people, imprisoning them, and refusing to let them go. Moreover, according to Wilkerson, Rumsfeld and Cheney knew about the problem and refused to address it because it would be seen as a black spot on their leadership. Well thank goodness we kept Don's and Dick's names squeaky clean! After all, their leadership is universally regarded as a shining light of hope across the globe. If we marred their reputations they never would have been able to pull off all the good work they did while in office.

My country held - and probably tortured - innocent people. We are just suppose to be better than that. We may have internal disagreements about how to best protect ourselves from those who want to hurt us, but can't we all agree that imprisoning innocent people is not what America is about?

But, also, what about our own soldiers? One country's grunt is another country's "enemy combatant." Didn't the Bushies think about how this would impact treatment of captured Americans? We at least owe it to them to be an example of mercy and justice. They are the ones likely to bear the brunt if we aren't.

Here's Wilkerson on Maddow talking about the issue:



President Obama, how about getting the shutdown at Gitmo done and turning some attention to the prosecution of people who imprisoned innocent men?

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Ham of Truth!

Every time we have ham my poor wife has to listen to me recreate this bit. Now I can subject the world to it!

"It's a Universal Truth - That's F-ing Good Ham!"

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Fusion Centers: America’s Domestic Spying Facilities



Today I offer something a little different. A guest post by one of my favorite libertarians:

By Odie

When Bill invited me to write an article for his blog, I was quite flattered. As part of his invitation, he requested that I “try not to go all crazy ass Austrian School economist on [him].” Since I don’t want to take advantage of his hospitality, I’ll do my best to avoid those tendencies. (For those of you that don’t know me, I used to practice law, but now I’m an economist—I have an M.A. in economics and I’m working on a Ph.D.)

Therefore, I decided to pick a topic that on which he and I (and hopefully you) will probably agree. There’s a new institution in American life that hasn’t attracted much attention, but should: The Fusion Center. If you haven’t ever heard of fusion centers, you’re in the majority. Contrary to the implication of their name, fusion centers are not hubs of scientific inquiry about physics. In reality, they are data gathering and data mining facilities that combine the resources of government and law enforcement agencies at the federal, state and local levels in order to effectively and efficiently disseminate security information. While that might sound relatively benign, the implementation is potentially insidious.

In essence, fusion centers are facilities for domestic spying. According to the ACLU,

"These state, local and regional institutions were originally created to improve the sharing of anti-terrorism intelligence among different state, local and federal law enforcement agencies. Though they developed independently and remain quite different from one another, for many the scope of their mission has quickly expanded—with the support and encouragement of the federal government—to cover “all crimes and all hazards.” The types of information they seek for analysis has also broadened over time to include not just criminal intelligence, but public and private sector data, and participation in these centers has grown to include not just law enforcement, but other government entities, the military and even select members of the private sector."

One of the scariest aspects of fusion centers is that they encourage law enforcement to profile and report any activity that seems slightly suspicious, even if it’s not criminal in any way. For example, the Los Angeles Police Department issued Special Order #11 on March 5, 2008. This special order states that it is a policy of the LAPD to “gather, record and analyze information of a criminal or non-criminal nature, that could indicate activity or intentions related to either foreign or domestic terrorism,” [Emphasis mine] and it lists 65 behaviors that LAPD officers “shall” report. Included in the list are activities like:

• using binoculars
• taking pictures or video footage with “no apparent aesthetic value”
• drawing diagrams
• taking notes
• taking measurements

(A copy of the LAPD Special Order can be found in the Findings and Recommendations of the Suspicious Activity Report (SAR) Support and Implementation Project, June 2008, Appendix B.)

This special order directs LAPD officers to file a suspicious activity report (SAR) when they observe any of the listed activities. Unsurprisingly, both the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and the Director of National Intelligence praised the LAPD for Special Order #11. DHS, in partnership with the Major City Chiefs Association, issued a report recommending expanding the LAPD SAR program to other major cities. (DEPARTMENT OF JUSTICE, GLOBAL JUSTICE INFORMATION SHARING INITIATIVE, MAJOR CITY CHIEFS ASSOCIATION
AND DEPARTMENT OF HOMELAND SECURITY, FINDINGS AND RECOMMENDATIONS OF THE SUSPICIOUS ACTIVITY REPORT (June 2008)
.)

You may be wondering how the LAPD SAR program is linked to fusion centers. Consider the following: DHS , the Department of Justice, the National Intelligence Agency, the FBI and other federal agencies routinely partner with state and local agencies through fusion centers. The question is not whether the LAPD SAR program is being implemented in your locale, but rather which similar program is being implemented in your area.

At this point, it seems appropriate to ask whether there are any rules governing the operation of fusion centers. The answer is, “Yes.” The Department of Justice (DOJ) has established some guidelines for the operation of fusion centers. These guidelines are available online here. But some of the guidelines seem more problematic than protective. If you don’t have time to read all of them, let me bring to your attention some of the more troublesome guidelines. For example, the guidelines include a 6-page list (which it says is “not comprehensive”) of potential information the fusion centers could incorporate. Some of the sources the list includes are:

• Preschools, day care centers, universities, primary & secondary schools and other educational entities providing information on suspicious activity.
• Private physicians, pharmaceutical companies, veterinarians.
• Internet service and e-mail providers, the FCC, telecom companies, computer and software companies, and related government agencies.
• Apartment facilities, facility management companies, housing authorities.
• Private sector entities such as food/water production facilities, grocery stores and supermarkets, and restaurants.
• The gaming industry, sports authority, sporting facilities, amusement parks, cruise lines, hotels, motels, resorts and convention centers.
• State and child welfare entities.

Maybe I’m paranoid, but I’d rather that DHS, DOJ and other law enforcement agencies stay out of my son’s day care unless it’s completely necessary.

As of December 2007, there were fusion centers active in 40 states. Of the 10 state without active fusion centers, fusion centers were under development in 8. The only two states without any fusion centers active or underdevelopment were Hawaii and Idaho. The issue is not whether any information about you is collected, but which information, how much, and the manner of its collection. Once fusion centers acquire information, they compile it and distribute it to law enforcement and government agencies at all levels. What information do they have? We don’t know because of the secrecy surrounding fusion center. But we know they exist. Hopefully the sun will shine on this operation sooner rather than later.

Odie is an economist and lawyer in Milwaukee, where he lives with his adorable son and somewhat annoying wife.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

It's Hard To Be A Liberal

Sometimes you have to take a hard look at your own side of the debate and admit how absurd you can look.

Dammit it IS hard to be a liberal.

Monday, March 16, 2009

Bonus Mania


The AIG bonus story has gotten plenty of press over the last few days - and rightly so. The idea that a company in "need" of billions in tax payer subsidies is also handing out millions in bonuses, justifiably angers taxpayers.

But truthfully it's just too easy to jump on the "bonuses are ridiculous" band wagon at this point. I'd like to look at this from a slightly different, although equally critical, angle. How did AIG executives not understand the public relations nightmare these bonuses would create?

These folks must have been watching the news when the president publicly decried these very kinds of bonuses a few months ago. They must have been paying attention when the million dollar office refurbishing played out in the media. They must understand that it's no longer the high flying 1990's - right?

It looks like the wall street sense of entitlement is even stronger than I imagined. Even looking at this issue strictly from a business perspective, how did AIG executives fail to notice the reputational hit the company would take when word of bonuses leaked out? Did they think it wouldn't leak? (That just seems naive.) Did they assume it would just blow over? (That's just stupid.)

In the end, the decision to hand out millions in bonuses probably points to incompetence at the helm of this company. Since the American taxpayer is handing over her hard earned money to this lot, can we at least put someone in charge who knows what they are doing?

Friday, March 13, 2009

Can You Tell Me How to Get....

Ricky Gervais gives us some new insights in to Elmo.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Watch Your Tone!


I'm in danger of becoming all religion all the time this week, but I want to drop another post on the topic.

I had an interesting exchange with a friend today about the tone (among other things) of my criticisms of faith here. She feels that my tone is too harsh in addressing difficult issues like faith. Naturally I disagree.

I've come across this issue before, and I think the last thing we need in the debate over faith vs. atheism is more deference to faith. (Here's an interesting discussion of this issue.)

I don't understand why opinions about the existence of god should be treated with any more respect than opinions about - say - politics. We regularly see public exchanges about political ideals that border on fist fights, and while you occasionally hear about changing the "tone in Washington", I've never heard anyone say that one side or the other of the political spectrum is entitled to deference and respect just because.

Yet I hear that argument all the time when it comes to "faith." Why is that? What is it about believing in god that entitles the believer to more respect or deference than any other opinion? It makes very little sense. If the believer can back up his beliefs, and wants to engage in a debate about it, he should welcome my challenge even if it comes in strong terms.

The "watch your tone" argument is particularly annoying in light of the tone that so many believers take with atheists. I'm not suggesting they should tone down their rhetoric, I can take it, but when a former president of the US has said atheists shouldn't be considered citizens; and when states still have laws on the books (although unenforceable) keeping atheists from holding office, maybe believers should take as good as they give.

Hey - I'm not really that harsh anyway. Now George knew how to be harsh.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

What If God Disappeared!

Would we even recognize the world anymore?

Monday, March 9, 2009

Cali Gets Sane?


A California state legislator has proposed legalizing marijuana to help deal with that state's budget shortfall. This makes so much sense its silly. Setting aside the fact that pot possession and use never should have been illegal in the first place, and legalizing it allows adults to make decisions for themselves, this makes fiscal sense.

Check out these stats. Turns out that pot is California's largest cash crop by a wide margin. Pot comes in at $14 billion per year. Remarkably the number two cash crop in Cali is fruits and vegetables, at a meager $5.7 billion per year. That difference is staggering, and speaks to just how popular marijuana is.

Tom Ammiano, the legislator proposing the law, estimates that pot would bring a billion dollars per year in to the state's tax coffers. Given that the state has a $42 billion dollar revenue shortfall right now, seems like the state could use the money.

But think about the savings this kind of law would bring with it. Enforcing marijuana prohibition in California alone costs $170 million per year. Each of the 1,500 estimated prisoners in California jails for pot offenses cost $40,000 per year. All in all, that's a lot of savings.

I hope California seriously considers passing this law. Maybe if the rest of the country sees that the world doesn't end when pot is legal, they will consider legalization as well. Maybe then we can the start turning back the tide on the costly and unjust "war on drugs."

Saturday, March 7, 2009

Worlds Apart!

Sometimes you just need a shot by shot remake of Journey's Separate Ways video!

Enjoy.

Thursday, March 5, 2009

The Elf Delusion.


Here's a odd little story. Apparently the people of Iceland have a longstanding, folklore based, belief in elves. Icelandic people actually believe elves are real. In fact, when Alcoa wanted to build a plant there it had to allow a government inspector in to certify that the site was elf free.

Now I suspect that most Americans consider belief in elves ridiculous, and they would be right. After all, there is no empirical evidence for the existence of elves. But America has it's own "folklore." Religion.

Without any emperical evidence millions of Americans believe in an all knowing, all powerful, god who watches over all they do. Plus he's ready to punish them for all eternity of they don't act just so. Believers get preferential government treatment in the form of tax breaks, and I suspect that if the right people thought angels inhabited a plant site we'd spend some tax money investigating.

Belief in elves is ridiculous, but so is belief in Jesus.

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Defenders of Marriage.

As the California Supreme Court gets ready to rule on whether Prop 8 survives or not, I give you this cogent analysis of "defending marriage" - in song!



Here's hoping that the Cali Supremes find gay people get to keep the same rights as the rest of us. With any luck it will open the floodgates for other states to follow.

Monday, March 2, 2009

Left Behind for Socialism.

Ok the crazy ass revelations reading fundamentalists are at it again. Take a few minutes to watch this interview with Tim Lahaye, author of the crazy ass Left Behind apocolyptic revelations loving book series. Turns out Obama's a socialist!



Set aside the crazy ass - no evidence havin - the world is going to end with jesus on a white horse smiting the non-believers stuff. (We can have some fun with that in another post) Enough with this Obama is a socialist stuff! He isn't. Unless he has just been lying about his positions, Obama is a Clinton style, down the middle new Democrat.

A socialist probably would support single payer government run health care. A socialist might consider nationalizing failing banks and insurance companies instead of handing them wads of tax payer money. A socialist - and get ready for this one because it's going to blow your mind - might stand up and honestly tell people that their taxes have to go up to pay for the mess we are in right now. A socialist would actually raise taxes to pay for programs. A socialist could - you know maybe - raise the federal minimum wage to a level where people can live on it. A socialist might strongly support unions, or government funded day care for working families.

There's all kinds of things a socialist would do, but Obama isn't promising to do these things.

If he was a socialist, I would have voted for him. I didn't.

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Gonzo


Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas has moved on to my cable movie comfort list. It's become one of those films I can pick up at any point, watch for a while, and enjoy as much as the last time I saw it.

Hunter Thompson has long been one of my favorite writers, and I have read Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas a number of times. It's a great book - although in my opinion his best was Fear and Loathing on the Campaign Trail '72 - but the movie took a while to grow on me. It was jarring to see the excesses of the book shown on screen.

A few nights ago I came across the film again and stumbled right in to the "wave speech." This short part of the book is rumored to have been Thompson's favorite piece of his own writing. Seeing Johnny Depp deliver it again reminded me of what a gifted writer Thompson was.

Here is the text:

"Strange memories on this nervous night in Las Vegas. Five years later? Six? It seems like a lifetime, or at least a Main Era — the kind of peak that never comes again. San Francisco in the middle sixties was a very special time and place to be a part of. Maybe it meant something. Maybe not, in the long run . . . but no explanation, no mix of words or music or memories can touch that sense of knowing that you were there and alive in that corner of time and the world. Whatever it meant. . . .

History is hard to know, because of all the hired bullshit, but even without being sure of “history” it seems entirely reasonable to think that every now and then the energy of a whole generation comes to a head in a long fine flash, for reasons that nobody really understands at the time — and which never explain, in retrospect, what actually happened.

My central memory of that time seems to hang on one or five or maybe forty nights — or very early mornings — when I left the Fillmore half-crazy and, instead of going home, aimed the big 650 Lightning across the Bay Bridge at a hundred miles an hour wearing L. L. Bean shorts and a Butte sheepherder's jacket . . . booming through the Treasure Island tunnel at the lights of Oakland and Berkeley and Richmond, not quite sure which turn-off to take when I got to the other end (always stalling at the toll-gate, too twisted to find neutral while I fumbled for change) . . . but being absolutely certain that no matter which way I went I would come to a place where people were just as high and wild as I was: No doubt at all about that. . . .

There was madness in any direction, at any hour. If not across the Bay, then up the Golden Gate or down 101 to Los Altos or La Honda. . . . You could strike sparks anywhere. There was a fantastic universal sense that whatever we were doing was right, that we were winning. . . .

And that, I think, was the handle—that sense of inevitable victory over the forces of Old and Evil. Not in any mean or military sense; we didn’t need that. Our energy would simply prevail. There was no point in fighting — on our side or theirs. We had all the momentum; we were riding the crest of a high and beautiful wave. . . .

So now, less than five years later, you can go up on a steep hill in Las Vegas and look West, and with the right kind of eyes you can almost see the high-water mark — that place where the wave finally broke and rolled back."


Here's Depp delivering it brilliantly:



The passage so perfectly captures his feelings of loss about the 60's, and shows the sense of hope and destiny that Baby Boomers once had. As a Gen Xer I've long raged against the failings of the Boomers - and there is a lot to rage over - but I admire that they have the 60's to look back on.

Gen X doesn't have anything similar. I can't longingly look back at the 80's and say "we were winning." I hope we get more things right in middle age than the Boomers did, but it's hard to deny that they did "young" exceptionally well.

Hunter - we miss you.

Sunday, February 22, 2009

Rescue the Risky


Now that wall street and the banks have gotten their chunk of taxpayer money, the Obama administration has finally gotten around to helping average Americans by proposing a foreclosure aid package. Naturally it has been met with some skepticism because it might aid people who made bad financial decisions. (Note that sarcasm doesn't come through particularly well in print)

Really? Now we are worried about rewarding people who made bad financial decisions? We didn't seem all that worried about it when we were handing billions to banks who gave risky loans. We didn't seem to mind rewarding risky financial behavior when we gave billions to an auto industry that drove itself in to the ground. Rewarding bad behavior wasn't that big a deal when taxpayers were handing over cash to Goldman Sachs and AIG. Now that it is individual citizens though we have to worry about whether we are rewarding bad behavior.

The housing market is a mess, and we need to do something to fix it. Fact is that all of us who own, or intend to own, homes stand to benefit from stabilizing the housing market and stemming the tide of foreclosure. The fact that a few bad planners stand to benefit from this should be the least of our concerns.

Oh - and if the new administration is finally going to turn it's attention to helping the little guy, how about doing something about health care. Remember that promise?

Sunday, February 15, 2009

Lego Your Doubt!


This is awesome! The fairly recent trend of converting stories and movies in to Legos is tremendous, but a Lego Bible is just fantastic. Take a few minutes and kick around in here. The above depiction of Job is just one of the highly entertaining things you will find.

Shout out to Unreasonable Faith for tipping me off to this one

You Made Me Promises Promises


Over the course of the presidential campaign both parties made an awful lot of promises. The folks at this site have put together a pretty comprehensive list of Obama's promises, and are keeping track of whether they are kept.

It's very early in the administration, but it will be interesting to see how many of these he can keep. (Actually according to the site he's kept a surprising number already, given how long he's been in office.)It's unreasonable to think he can keep all of them. Situations change, making some impossible to keep. Some were just flat out lies. I'm particularly interested to see if he keeps his promise to draw down in Iraq.

It's been lost in our terrible economy, but it wasn't that long ago that getting out of Iraq was a major plank in the Obama platform. He drew a lot of early support over being right on Iraq from the outset. It will be interesting to see if he is able to keep his promises on that front.

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Woody on Life.

It's late, I'm tired, and sometimes life feels like you're stuck on a movie line in front of a boorish intellectual. Take it away Woody:



"If only life were like this..."

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Roid Rage


Well, another high profile ball player on my favorite team has admitted to using performance enhancing drugs. I thought I was numb to these kinds of stories, but this one has hit me harder than I expected.

While A-Rod has been stand-offish and a bit odd, he always seemed so talented that he wouldn't need PED's. Apparently he thought he did. By his own admission, he used steroids from at least 2001 to 2003, while he was on the Texas Rangers.

If players of his caliber were using roids as recently as 2003, I have to assume a majority of players are. If the super stars need it to keep up, the dregs surely need it just to stay in the league. That's depressing. I love baseball, and I'm afraid PED's will eventually ruin it. While I have a libertarian bent when it comes to drug use, I think you cross a line when you use drugs to gain an unfair advantage on the field of play. It makes the game less fair and less real.

A few days ago a good friend, who is also a huge baseball fan, drew an analogy between baseball and cycling. I'm afraid it may be a good one. I use to love pro cycling. I recorded major races like the Tour De France and Giro D'italia. I watched every stage. A few years ago though it became apparent that doping was so prevalent in cycling - and that testing was doing nothing to slow it down - that I just lost interest. I stopped caring because the product seemed fake - almost like pro wrestling.

I hope baseball isn't headed down that path.

If hardcore fans like me are asking these questions though, MLB should be worried.

Sunday, February 8, 2009

How About Reality Based Instead?


This week Obama fulfilled another campaign promise, when he signed an order establishing the White House Office of Faith Based Initiatives. This was a bad idea when W. did it, and Obama's version isn't any better.

This kind of mixing between government and religion brings a host of problems. Will these "faith based" programs evangelize while handing out soup, effectively using tax dollars to preach? Will faith based programs discriminate in hiring, effectively causing government subsidized discrimination? Why do we need the "faith based" aspect of these programs at all?

I'm all for government helping those in need. As a matter of fact, I wish government would do a lot more in this area. I would gladly pay higher taxes to know that a minimum standard of living existed for all Americans. Why we need religion involved in this escapes me though. Unless the purpose is to draw people toward faith (an exercise government should not be involved in at all), why is there a need for "faith based" anything?

Instead of using my tax dollars to fund religion, I propose we establish a secular Office of Need. (Or something to that effect) It could do all the "good" things these faith based programs are suppose to do, without blurring the church-state line. I don't tithe on Sundays, I'd like it if my government didn't force me to through my tax bill.

Besides, it's just silly that smart people think "faith" is a virtue. It worries me that two consecutive administrations seem to think it is.

Friday, February 6, 2009

Cause I'm The Tax Man!


I'm a little behind the curve on this one, but how is it possible that at least three separate Obama appointees made the "mistake" of not paying their taxes? It raises some very interesting questions.

Wasn't this suppose to be the administration of responsibility and planning? I expected a better vetting job from Obama & Company given how carefully they ran the campaign. It's frankly disappointing that they managed to miss such an obvious problem as failure to pay federal taxes. After all, one would assume that the President might have access to - oh say - federal tax records. One might also assume that checking on tax payment history would be near the top of the vetting appointees to do list.

Still, I'm even more disappointed that people seeking important positions in our government don't take their obligation to pay taxes seriously. These people are suppose to believe in the power of government to improve people's lives. Government needs money to do those things. Guess where that money comes from? It just isn't that hard to hire an excellent accountant to make damn sure your taxes are paid. It's the very least we can expect from the people we ultimately trust with our tax money.

Despite Obama's lack of foresight on these appointees, I was impressed with how he dealt with the fall out. Frankly admitting he "screwed up" and taking responsibility was a breath of fresh air.



Compare Obama's approach with this.



Nuff said.

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Dude...Where's My Medals?


Stop the presses! A twenty something celebrity with the world as his feet and a bajillion dollars smoked some pot! How will we ever explain it to our kids? Can he still be a role model? Is he worthy of his endorsements? He better apologize now!

America's drug policy, particularly as it relates to marijuanna, is ridiculous. It siphons public funds to stop a non-problem that will never be stopped. It makes teenagers engaging in normal teenage behavior in to criminals, and it takes personal decisions out of the hands of capable adults.

The Phelps story highlights just how dumb our laws and attitudes toward pot are though. The idea that this young man, who by all accounts has worked tirelessly to acheive greatness, is incapable of making decisions about his own body is just dumb. To possibly make him a criminal for a victimless crime is outlandish. We may question the wisdom of abusing his lungs given what he does, but surely it should be his choice to make.

Instead of issuing an apology, Phelps should just move to Amsterdam.

Sunday, February 1, 2009

Super Prediction


It's that special time when everyone on the web turns in to a football expert. I'm no exception. Here's how today's big game in Tampa will end:

Pittsburgh: 31
Arizona: 14

The Cardinals have had almost no running game all season. Although they have had some success running in the playoffs, Pittsburgh's run defense is too good for that to continue. That will make the Arizona offense one dimensional, and the Steelers' D is too good for a one dimensional attack to work. The Steeler's line backers are going to pin their ears back and blitz Warner to death.

Arizona's defense just isn't very good, and Big Ben will be good enough to win his second championship ring. Of course the Steelers will be helped by a defensive touchdown.

Before you go out and bet the farm on my prediction, please keep in mind that I have no idea what I'm talking about.

Enjoy the game.

White House of Sport


I read an interesting article today about sports facilities at the White House. Apparently over the years the People's House has had indoor pools, an outdoor pool, tennis courts, a putting green, a quarter mile track, an outdoor basketball court, a horse shoe pit, and a bowling alley. It's pretty cool to explore all the sport preferences of our nation's leaders, and how they have influenced the White House.

Apparently Obama is considering turning the White House bowling alley in to a basketball court. It's a small thing (very small), but in light of the criticism the new President has thrown at Wall Street for misusing public funds, perhaps he should forget the hoops court on the public dime. Even if private funds are used for the renovation, it might be better for the Prez to ask contributors to give that money to a soup kitchen or battered women's shelter instead.

A little leadership by example in tough times could go a long way.

Friday, January 30, 2009

Cake or Death!

It's late on Friday, and it's been a long week. So instead of something boringly serious I give you Eddie Izzard.



Plus a few interpretations of his work.