Saturday, February 17, 2007

In Memoriam

A great man in the annals of American male history has died:
The co-inventor of the TV remote, Robert Adler, has died.

Adler, who won an Emmy Award along with fellow engineer Eugene Polley for the device that made the couch potato possible, died Thursday of heart failure at a Boise nursing home at 93, Zenith Electronics Corp. said Friday.
His funeral can be see on CSpan, CSpan2, and if you're lucky enough to have picture in picture, TNT.

Seriously, think for a moment how much different your life would be without this invention?

Without a remote, you'd have to get up and change the channel. Television would have remained something that the entire family gathered around to watch what, well basically, the parents wanted to watch. The kids would have found some excuse (except homework, of course) to wander off and do something else, like read a book. TV would not have become the central focus of the home.

So there'd be no reason to develop cable, the VCR, the DVD player, satellite television. You wouldn't have component stere systems. Hell, even my computers have remotes! You'd have to get out and open your garage by hand, even on the coldest snowiest winter evening. The next morning, you'd have to stagger out to the car and start it with a key, braving the subfreezing cold while trying to move around enough in the seat to stay warm while the engine warmed a little.

Movies would still be in vogue. Because there'd be no cable, there'd be no videos, so no Britney Spears....wait, that's a good thing! Paris Hilton!

Of course, no Daily Show or Colbert Report, either. Or CNN. Or the Weather Channel. Or LinkTV or FreeSpeech TV.

People would have to talk to each other.

The NBA, NHL, and MLB empires would be much smaller shells, focused on serving local markets, especially during football season when the NFL had locked up TV coverage on CBS and NBC. There'd be no Fox. No Simpsons. No "Married WIth Children."

Kids might actually go outside and play in the spring, summer and fall (and maybe even in the snow!) rather than watch the X Games on ESPN. No ESPN.

So I'm thinking that, today, as you tune in the Flyers/Rangers game, or the Army/Navy basketball game, or prerace coverage of the Daytona 500, you might want to mute the sound for a minute out of respect for Robert Adler.

I'll be outside, however.

Friday, February 16, 2007

Sticky Post: Fund Raising Time

Once again, it's time to support progressive television. Both LinkTV and FreeSpeechTV are holding their semi-annual fund raising drive.

You aren't going to see the stories on LinkTV and FreeSpeech in the newspapers or the main stream media. That story I posted this morning about the conflict in Jerusalem? They'll cover it for a half hour. The networks? Fox News? Five minutes. Why?

LinkTV had a four hour special called "The End of Oil" which included the world premiere of "Global Impact," about the impact that oil exploration and exploitation has had on indigenous people and developing nations around the world, Willie Nelson on biodiesel fuels (you read about that here at Simply Left Behind last week), and the first report that uncovered the fact that the Bush administration was deliberately supressing scientific information regarding global warming.

These are worthy causes. Please give as much as you can.

Friday Music Blogging

Oasis - Wonderwall

Friday Kitten Blogging

Lazy Friday Morning...

Ground Control To Major Tom

I meant to post about this over the weekend, because I was watching "Arsenal of Hypocrisy" FreeSpeech TV on DISH Network (channel 9415, and really, if you aren't a DISH Network subscriber, you're missing out on two of the best progressive media outlets in the nation).

"AOH" deals with how the public has been misled about the origins and true purpose of the Space Program. Not saying I agree with all the premises and/or conclusions of the producers, however some of the evidence is compelling and it is a must-see, because it was during this show I discovered something I had not know, something that affects me personally. And you.

I missed this story on Sunday, which would have nailed it down that I needed to post about this:
For decades, space experts have worried that a speeding bit of orbital debris might one day smash a large spacecraft into hundreds of pieces and start a chain reaction, a slow cascade of collisions that would expand for centuries, spreading chaos through the heavens.

In the last decade or so, as scientists came to agree that the number of objects in orbit had surpassed a critical mass -- or, in their terms, the critical spatial density, the point at which a chain reaction becomes inevitable -- they grew more anxious.

Early this year, after a half-century of growth, the federal list of detectable objects (4 inches wide or larger) reached 10,000, including dead satellites, spent rocket stages, a camera, a hand tool and junkyards of whirling debris left over from chance explosions and destructive tests.

Now, experts say, China's test Jan. 11 of an anti-satellite rocket that shattered an old satellite into hundreds of large fragments means the chain reaction will most likely start sooner. If their predictions are right, the cascade could put billions of dollars' worth of advanced satellites at risk and eventually threaten to limit humanity's reach for the stars.
OK, fair enough: near-earth space is full of debris, most of which would burn up upon re-entry anyway, and couldn't we simply move the working satellites to higher orbits?

Well, there are other concerns we have to address:
The United States has launched 22 missions with RTG (Radioisotopic Thermoelectric Generators) power sources. Three accidents have occurred, though only one has resulted in release of radioactive materials.
That release?
In the single instance of radiological release from a U.S. NPS, the RTG performed as designed. The SNAP 9-A RTG (Space Nuclear Auxiliary Power) was launched in 1964 aboard a Department of Defense weather satellite that failed to achieve polar orbit. The SNAP 9-A, designed to burn up and disperse its nuclear inventory in the upper atmosphere during re-entry, performed as planned. The release of radioactive materials was measured by scientists from the Atomic Energy Commission in air and soil sampling efforts.
Care to take a guess at what it's fuel was?

Plutonium, specifically, two pounds worth. The dispersal? Worldwide by the year 1970. No place on the planet was left untouched by this most deadly of radioactive materials:
[P]lutonium may be extremely dangerous when handled incorrectly. The alpha radiation it emits does not penetrate the skin, but can irradiate internal organs when plutonium is inhaled or ingested. Particularly at risk are the skeleton, where it is likely to be absorbed by the bone surface, and the liver, where it will likely collect and become concentrated. Approximately 0.008 microcuries absorbed in bone marrow is the maximum withstandable dose. Anything more is considered toxic. Extremely fine particles of plutonium (on the order of micrograms) can cause lung cancer if inhaled.
Not good. Not as bad as we were led to believe all along, but still, not something I want to walk around inhaling. Given that plutonium's half-life is either 88 years (Pu238) or 25,000 years (Pu 239), I think it's safe to say we're all walking cancer machines. It doesn't surprise me that 100% of men develop prostate cancers, if they live long enough. Goodness knows what else we've ingested.

So this is a pretty important issue (thanks, "Arsenal of Hypocrisy"!), since there are at least another 19 United States nuclear satellites orbiting the planet, and goodness knows how many former Soviet satellites. What to do about it? Call in "The Terminator" is one solution. Once the satellite's active life has passed, the Terminator will automatically extend a tether down to the atmosphere, which would then drag and slow down the satellite, bringing it into the atmosphere. Obvoiously, this is not something we want to do with nuclear-powered objects, but it will clear significant amounts of non-nuclear debris which might collide with nukes. One other use of tethers might be to fling satellites to higher orbits, and perhaps out of earth's gravity well and into the sun.

Stay tuned. This is one of those problems we don't think about that will come back to bite us in the ass.

Thursday, February 15, 2007

Nobody Should Be Surprised By This

There are inevitable and forseeable consequences to this story:
WASHINGTON - More recruits with criminal records, including felony convictions, are being allowed to join the Army and Marine Corps as the armed services cope with a dwindling pool of volunteers.

The military routinely grants waivers to take in recruits who have criminal records, medical problems or low aptitude scores that would otherwise disqualify them. Most are moral waivers, which include some felonies, misdemeanors and traffic and drug offenses.

Defense Department statistics show that the number of Army and Marine recruits needing waivers for felonies and serious misdemeanors, including minor drug offenses, has grown since 2003.

The number of felony waivers granted by the Army grew from 411 in 2003 to 901 in 2006, according to the Pentagon. Other misdemeanors, which could be petty theft, writing a bad check or some assaults, jumped from about 2,700 to more than 6,000 in 2006.

Army and Defense Department officials defended the waiver program as a way to admit young people who may have made a mistake early in life. They said two-thirds of the waivers granted by the Marines are for drug use, because they, unlike other services, want a waiver if someone has been convicted of marijuana use.
There are 1,750,000 American men in prisons nationwide. Many, if not most, are for low-level drug crimes like marijuana possession on the "Three Strikes" and "Rockefeller" laws, or as Arlo Guthrie once said, "I'm sittin here on the Group W bench 'cause you want to know if I'm moral enough join the army, burn women, kids, houses and villages after bein' a litterbug?"

Now, I can understand there's a shortage of volunteers for the war in Iraq, and the obvious solution, bringing the troops home, is not going to fly in a country where 25% of the people can dictate the foreign policy and possible nuclear annihilation of the rest of the country, but how smart is it that we'll allow real criminals into our armed forces alongside some of these people who were abused by a system designed to jail them for infractions that other countries, at worst, hand out a fine for?

Stick 'Em In The Red States!

Mind you, I am all for this initiative but it seems to me that we ought to let the red states get a taste of what they have been supporting for six years:
WASHINGTON -- The Bush administration agreed Wednesday to greatly expand the number of Iraqi refugees allowed into the country and to pay more to help Iraq's Arab neighbors cope with the human tide fleeing increasing violence and economic hardship in their country.

The decision to allow about 7,000 Iraqis to come to the United States answers mounting political and diplomatic pressure on the administration to do more to remedy the consequences of a war it largely started. Only 202 Iraqis were allowed in last year.
Now, I realize this sounds slightly bigoted, but the simple fact is, we in the blue states have our fair share of immigrants to deal with. We get news ones annually. They like staying here because, well, they know they won't be lynched.

So here's an idea: take these 7,000. Let's set up a community for them in a red with a lot of bigots...let's say Tennessee...or Kentucky...someplace rural where the rednecks outnumber even the dogs.

Now, let's plop down a town of 7,000 Iraqis. Right there, in the middle of Pennsyltucky. We can even provide them with a prefab community: prebuilt housing, we'll give them their own police and fire departments, sanitation, hot and cold running water (that alone ought to cheese the neighbors off), and then let them be. What we WON'T give them is jobs or stores.

Let them interact with the surrounding towns. Let's see what happens.

But you know damned well that's not how it would play out, but I'd be curious to see how these immigrant interact with the residents. And I think it would be an eye-opening experience for all of us to see what happens when a community opens its arms to strangers in big numbers. Mostly, I think it would introduce a level of learning and tolerance unprecedented in American history.

See, America is so big that its easy to get away from a local problem. "There goes the neighborhood"? Move to a new one, hell, move to a new state! Region! Coast! Get away from the problem!

And then you can sit there in your moss-covered tower and spit invective at the people who stuck it out and were rewarded with a new culture, new friends, new ideas. You can hold antiquated regressive reactionary thoughts in your head, never realizing there's an entire world out there that not only are you missing out on, but that you are by definition a part of and wouldn't it be nice if you kept up?

It's a pity there are so many people like that out in the world. I think this idea can make that population that much smaller.

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Wednesday, February 14, 2007

Hump Day Comedy Blogging

Happy Valentine's Day

Some New York Tail

So I'm walking along, the icy freezing rain stinging my cheeks and brow as I trudge through the small layer of precipitation that had pelted the sidewalks by Grand Central Station and 43rd Street, when the cheer "Free New York City Condoms! For Valentine's Day!" rings out.

As it was very cold, and very windy, and very wet, I couldn't exactly chalk this up to some mirage of the desert. Nevertheless, it took my brain a moment to connect those two....well, three...thoughts together....5....4....3...2...1...did she say "New York City Condoms"?

I pause momentarily in my stride, daring not to stop because, you see, this is a very busy sidewalk and to stop on a normal dry day is to risk a five-person pile up, nevermind in the sleet. I turn and continue on my way to the post office, making mental note to investigate upon my return. If she's still there.

I office my postal activities and gear up for the return walk, wrapping that which needs to be wrapped (not including condom and penis), gloving that which needs to be gloved (again, not including...) and zipping that which needs to be zipped (not including...). I make my approach slowly. Told you. Slick conditions. I had to be sure to give myself ample time to stop.

Sure enough, three pretty young ladies are standing in front of the Equinox health club, handing out...NYC Condoms. Naturally, I grab a couple. I figure it ought to be good for a laugh and maybe a few bucks on eBay.

Funny, they didn't seem particularly embarassed to be handing out condoms to strange men walking past them in a hurry. In fact, the men seemed more embarassed about taking them. I guess the cold and wind and rain had something to do with that.

Of course, one might wonder why NYC needs a condom....

No, I'M Spartacus!

Sadly, Melissa McEwan, who has always been a friend to Simply Left Behind, has fallen on her sword as well. Go over to Shakespeare's Sister and give her some love.

A few things YOU can do to help get back at William Donohue, the Catholic League, and FReeperville in general:

1) File a complaint with the IRS. Remember that whole "separation of church and state" thing? Well, turns out that Donohue may have breached that wall by interfering in a political campaign:
Here’s what you do:

Download Form 3949-A from Fill out with the pertinent info on Donahue’s org under #2 (the “business name” side). (Put “N/A” in the individual-name fields under #1.) Here’s the info:

2. Business Name: Catholic League
2a-b. Address: 450 Seventh Avenue, 34th Floor, New York, NY 10123

2c. Emp. ID Num: 23-7279981

2d. Principal Bus. Act.: Non-Profit Political Advocacy

Skip to 4. Check off “Other”.

5a.(Describe violation)

“In his role as President of the Catholic League, a 501(c)(3) organization, William Donohue made national television appearances calling for the firing by the John Edwards for President campaign of two campaign employees. The Catholic League has issued press releases on Feb. 6,Feb. 9 and Feb. 13 of 2007 specifically pressuring the Edwards campaign to fire these two employees, thus violating FS-2006-17, which instructs 501(c)(3) groups not to intervene in political campaigns. Donohue’s group has also done similar interventions against John Kerry’s political campaign in 2004; On Feb. 7, 2007, Donohue boasted to Tucker Carlson of MSNBC that he caused two Kerry campaign employees to be fired. Again, this violates FS-2006-17.”

5e — Provide cites.

Then finish w/your name/address/etc. at the bottom.

2) File a similar complaint with the New York State Attorney General's office, which is headed by another staunch Catholic, Andrew Cuomo. Who's father, Mario, had muy run-ins with Donohue and Andy is probably itching for some payback.

3) Finally, fire off a complaint to Donohue himself. Be polite, be specific, and be forthright that he ought to resign from the League and stop harassing politicians.

After all, I AM Spartacus!

What Goes Into A New Law?

By now, you've read about the mini-controversy surrounding the HPV vaccine, in particular about how states across the nation are mandating a vaccination for girls 12 and up:
The girls will have to get Merck & Co.'s new vaccine against strains of the human papillomavirus, or HPV, that are responsible for most cases of cervical cancer.

Merck is bankrolling efforts to pass laws in state legislatures across the country mandating it Gardasil vaccine for girls as young as 11 or 12. It doubled its lobbying budget in Texas and has funneled money through Women in Government, an advocacy group made up of female state legislators around the country.
Take close note of that "Merck is bankrolling..." part.

Here in New York State, Merck is lobbying the state Assembly and Senate hard to pass similar legislation. However, to quote an e-mail passed on to me from a former president of the New York chapter of NOW, "According to the NYS Board of Elections, Paulin, Silver, Bruno, and other legislators accepted hefty campaign contributions from Merck. According to the same source, Friedricke Merck contributed thousands of campaign dollars to David Paterson and Eliot Spitzer. The Albany Times Union reports that Spitzer is asking for millions of state dollars to purchase the HPV vaccine. There are very serious ethical questions being raised here, not to mention serious health concerns for girls."

Those risks are outlined by the "National Vaccine Information Center as follows:
GARDASIL safety appears to have been studied in fewer than 2,000 girls aged 9 to 15 years and it is unclear how long they were followed up. VAERS [Vaccine Adverse Event Reporting System] is now receiving reports of loss of consciousness, seizures, arthritis and other neurological problems in young girls who have received the shot," said NVIC President Barbara Loe Fisher. "At the same time, parents who take their daughters to private pediatricians are going to be shocked to find that they will be paying two to three times the widely publicized $360 cost for the three-dose series. The cost is going to break the pocketbooks of parents and break the banks of both insurance companies and taxpayers, when the reality is that almost all cases of HPV-associated cervical cancer can be prevented with annual pap screening of girls who are sexually active."
In addition, most insurance companies and HMOs have chosen not to reimburse for the vaccine, meaning that patients will be out of pocket the full $360, moreover meaning that the girls who most need the vaccine would be unable to get it anyway, even if it's efficacy and safety were not in doubt.

None of this calls into question the effectiveness of the vaccine, mind you, except of course that no long term studies have been done to see if, in fact, it is effective either in the immediate term or over time.

And of course, there's the olbigatory disinformation campaign being waged by Big Pharma. From the same e-mail, "Merck and other big Pharma Companies have invented a "third party" front group, known as Women in Government (WIG).

To date, WIG has received over $5.7 Million in the four-year period of 2002 - 2005 from Merck (HPV vaccine maker), GlaxoSmithKline (HPV vaccine maker), Digene (HPV test) and essentially every other major pharmaceutical company. And it is this front group that is introducing legislation to mandate this vaccine in states across the country, including New York. While calling itself, Women in Government, and boasting that its members are bi-partisan elected state representatives, it draws the line at public disclosure of how much it's received from Merck and Big Pharma."

None of this would be as big a concern...after all, this vaccine does seem to work and was approved by the FDA...if it wasn't for another drug that Merck is known for: Vioxx:
On September 30, 2004, Merck voluntarily withdrew rofecoxib from the market because of concerns about increased risk of heart attack and stroke associated with long-term, high-dosage use. Rofecoxib was one of the most widely used drugs ever to be withdrawn from the market. In the year before withdrawal, Merck had sales revenue of US$2.5 billion from Vioxx.
Withdrawn, but only after leaked internal memos indicated that, in fact, Merck knew about these dangerous side-effects, all while waging a public campaign about its safety.

Pass this story along to people. See if your legislators are under pressure from Merck to pass a mandatory HPV inoculation statute. This needs some sunlight.

Tuesday, February 13, 2007

I Chime In

I wanted to copy Amanda Marcotte of Pandagon on this after reading some of the "Christian" comments at her (now DoSsed) blog, but I can't find her email. If someone who has it would be so kind as to email me with it, or bring this to her may recall she was one of the bloggers that John Edwards hired for his campaign and then cowardly fired in response to William Donohue's original complaints and then confusedly rehired, only to see Amanda resign a few days later.

I wrote to Bill Donohue (know your enemy, folks!)of the Catholic League earlier today regarding his kick in Amanda's teeth.

For the record, Amanda questions a critical piece of Christian dogma, the Virgin Birth.

Mr Donohue,

As a liberal, Protestant and ordained minister, I have to take deep offense at your laying claim to Our Blessed Mother.

Amanda Marcotte's most recent comments, while perhaps hyperbolic and overstated, fall squarely in the purview of not only her First Amendment rights as an American, but also within the rights of any Christian to question the dogma of ANY church, Catholic or Protestant.

You need to back off and stop speaking for "all Christians," sir. You do NOT speak for me. I, too, question Jesus' parthenogenesis. If I don't, how can I answer my flock's questions?

You should too, sir, but instead, you would beat this woman about the head with a stick.

I may be wrong, but I believe Jesus might not like that very much.
There's a grander irony in that Donohue isn't paying attention to the right wing dogma. Evangelicals, of which I count myself as this is the church I was raised in, have this....thing....about Catholics.

See, we're taught, in hushed whispers and lowered tones, that...the listen closely children, the Anti-Christ is the...Pope!

This was the defining moment for me, that my church would make such a ludicrous claim, but they managed to make a case for it, twisting some evidence, contorting others. It was at this point that I decided organized religion, of the sort that Donohue and other low-normals preach, was not for me.

Donohue has a lonnnnnnnnnnnnnng history, particularly in New York City, of hate, but god forbid you should look even the slightest bit askance at a church that has blatantly allowed pedophiles to run rampant through its ministries and to put mannon before God's work.

The Catholic League's Board of Directors should tell you all you need to know about this unGodly man:
Members of the Catholic League's board of advisers include conservative author and media analyst L. Brent Bozell III; conservative radio host and syndicated columnist Linda Chavez; right-wing pundit and author Dinesh D'Souza; former Republican presidential and senatorial candidate Alan Keyes; and National Review Washington editor Kate O'Beirne.
ALAN KEYES?!?!?!?!?!?!

UPDATE: Apparently, the IRS is reading Blogtopia Skippy)

He's Not The Only One!

Al-Qaida's No. 2 calls Bush an alcoholic

CAIRO, Egypt - Al-Qaida's No. 2 said President Bush was an alcoholic and a lying gambler who wagered on Iraq and lost, according to a new audiotape released Tuesday.[...]

"Bush suffers from an addictive personality, and was an alcoholic. I don't know his present condition ... but the one who examines his personality finds that he is addicted to two other faults — lying and gambling," al-Zawahri said in the audiotape.
Which is not inconsistent with an unrecovered alcoholic, which Bush certainly is. But this is not the first time the claim that his addictions are affecting him has been made:
The September 21, 2005 issue of the tabloid National Enquirer cited unidentified "family sources" as saying that in the wake of the crisis caused by Hurricane Katrina, Bush had been caught by his wife drinking. The article also quoted Justin Frank, a Washington D.C. psychiatrist and author of Bush on the Couch, saying, "I do think that Bush is drinking again. Alcoholics who are not in any program, like the President, have a hard time when stress gets to be great."
And then there's this:
A year ago, this web site discovered the White House physician prescribed anti-depressants for Bush. The news came after revelations that the President’s wide mood swings led some administration staffers to doubt his sanity.

Although GOP loyalists dismissed the reports an anti-Bush propaganda, the reports were later confirmed by prominent George Washington University psychiatrist Dr. Justin Frank in his book Bush on the Couch: Inside the Mind of the President. Dr. Frank diagnosed the President as a “paranoid meglomaniac” and “untreated alcoholic” whose “lifelong streak of sadism, ranging from childhood pranks (using firecrackers to explode frogs) to insulting journalists, gloating over state executions and pumping his hand gleefully before the bombing of Baghdad” showcase Bush’s instabilities.
So maybe Al Zawahiri isn't too far off the mark...certainly, Iraq has and will drive many other men to drink. And worse.

The Bullshit In The China Shop

It seems as though the United States has decided to latch onto China as its dance partner when it comes to any major issue. Take today's news, for example, regarding the Doha free trade talks:
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The White House on Monday promised an aggressive push to reach a global trade pact through the Doha round and discussed some benefits for China if it were to move toward a more flexible exchange rate.

"A free and open international trade regime is vital for a stable and growing economy, both here at home and throughout the world," according to an annual report on the U.S. economy prepared by the White House Council of Economic Advisers.

"The United States will continue to work aggressively toward multilateral trade liberalization through the World Trade Organization's Doha Development Agenda negotiations," the report said.
Now, let's take a quick look at the backstory here: China's yuan is tied to the dollar (so much so that the dollar is referred to in China as the meiyuan at the fixed rate of roughly eight and a quarter yuan to the dollar. This rate was basically fixed (there is some daily fluctuation within a narrow 3 cent band) in the wake of the Asian financial crisis of 1997.

Practically, this means that Chinese exports to the United States will remain cheap as the dollar declines on the foreign exchange. They'll also remain cheap if the dollar rises. In fact, they're just cheap, which is why we import so much stuff from China. They can make it cheap and sell it cheap here.

For lots of reasons, this is a bad thing. First, it means we become more and more dependent on Chinese exports to satisfy our market demands, and we've seen what that means in our petroleum policies. Second, it means other countries have to find other ways to compete with China for our trade dollars, which means trade is not as powerful an instrument of diplomacy and policy-making as it could be. Finally, it supports a Chinese government that we may not always see eye to eye with, but who can afford to buy up huge amounts of our deficit financing. We give them the money to buy our debt. Sort of like our savings bank holding our mortgage, only the bankers don't particularly like you and don't particularly care if you keep your house or not, so long as they continue to make money off you and so long as you don't get really drunk at one of their parties and do something stupid like hitting on a wife, or picking a fight with that neighbor everyone avoids.

But trade is not the only place we are locked into a spiral with China:
The current President, George W. Bush, has indicated that he does not intend to submit the treaty for ratification, not because he does not support the Kyoto principles, but because of the exemption granted to China (the world's second largest emitter of carbon dioxide).
And of course, there's that whole issue of the neighbor that nobody likes:
North Korea will begin initial steps toward denuclearisation within 60 days of the announcement of the agreement. South Korea, China, the United States and Russia -- but not Japan -- will provide 50,000 tonnes of fuel oil or an equivalent value of economic or humanitarian aide in return.

North Korea will shut down its Yongbyon nuclear complex, including its 5 megawatt reactor and its plutonium reprocessing plant, within the 60 days and seal all facilities there.
China will, of course, oversee the denuclearization program of North Korea and will takes steps to monitor South Korea as well. North Korea is an interesting conundrum in and of itself and probably merits its own post here.

As China emerges in the early 21st century as a rival to the United States, one can see how this duality can play out either nicely for both sides (the US and China develop good communications, have strong economic ties and advance a similar agenda in Asia and beyond) or poorly (China flexes its muscles, the United States takes steps to mitigate their hegemony, or vice versa...basically the Cold War all over again)

One can hope that cooler heads will prevail, but then again, one would have hoped George W. Bush wouldn't have been elected President. Twice.

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Monday, February 12, 2007

No Anglish Need Apply

Interesting story coming out of Ireland, in the wake of all the brouhaha over "English-only" legislation in this country:
SPIDDAL, IRELAND - Can you imagine having to take an exam - or "The Exam," as it's ominously known around here - before you could buy a house? In this vibrant, friendly town on Galway Bay, potential home buyers must submit to a rigorous oral test to see if they're worthy of receiving the keys to a new home. They aren't tested on housekeeping skills, or health-and-safety know-how, or willingness to lend cups of sugar to neighbors in need. Rather, they're tested to see if they can speak Irish Gaelic - because fluent and committed Irish-speakers are welcomed here over others.

In order to protect the use of the Irish language - to "preserve the region's cultural identity" - the Galway County Council enforces strict regulations about who can - and can't - move in.

"We're discriminating against the rest of the world," explains Tina Curran, an office worker. "We're closing ourselves off to outside influences by only letting certain people in."
What is it with white people that they feel the need to exclude?
Some supporters of the bill had asked Crafton to soften his original 2006 "English Only" bill, which have required all government communications to be in English.

Councilman Adam Dread, who opposed the bill, says some of its support came from political maneuvering from council members who had convinced Crafton to tone down the first bill.

"It was backroom dealing, trading out votes for other things," Dread says. "This makes our city look ignorant."
The irony should not be lost on any of us.

Iraq The Vote

There is an interesting dynamic developing in the Democratic Presidential race:
AMES, Iowa (Reuters) - Democratic presidential contender Barack Obama drew a contrast with rival Hillary Rodham Clinton on the Iraq war on Sunday and said it was unclear how she planned to end the conflict.

On the day after he formally launched his 2008 White House bid, Obama said on a campaign swing through Iowa that even before the war began it was possible to see the dangerous consequences of a U.S.-led invasion of Iraq.

"Even at the time, it was possible to make judgments that this would not work out well," the Illinois senator told reporters, indirectly contrasting his stance with presidential rivals Clinton and John Edwards, who both voted to authorize the war in 2002.

Clinton, now a war critic who has promised to end the conflict if she wins the White House, has been criticized by some Democrats for her 2002 Senate vote on authorization and for not renouncing the vote.
So, we have three possible positions to take on the vote to authorize the President to go to war in Iraq: Voted for it, and stand by that vote; voted for it, but repudiated it; would not vote for it.

Of course, Obama's cynical calculation of his position on the Iraq war vote in 2002 is meaningless: he wasn't a senator and is therefore free to say whatever he feels will draw the most attention. Since the war is going badly and the majority of people in the United States (certainly, the majority of Democrats) oppose the war now, this is the easiest position to take, requiring no finessing.

Too, Edwards gets a bit of a free pass on this, since it wasn't until he was out of the Senate that he declared his vote was "wrong", whatever that means. Kinda easy to paint your former colleagues as warmongers when you don't have to face them in chambers any longer. Had he done it during the 2004 campaign, he'd have shown a bit more backbone.

Which leaves Hillary's stance. Say what you will about her vote to authorize war and her nuanced excuse for that vote (like Obama, I would have voted against the war. Like Obama, that's an easy thing for me to say) the simple fact remains that she's correct: the vote in October 2002 was about leaving Bush the option to use force if necessary.

Now, let's take a closer look at that vote.

1) If Hussein had WMDs AND was threatening to use them against the United States, then tying Bush's hands behind his back might have had unforseen consequences, such as the destruction of Jerusalem or Riyadh or Kuwait. The intelligence that Bush and Clinton had access to indicated this was the case, and it was imperative that weapons inspectors get back into Iraq and find them. To have the cudgel of being able to enforce that demand was an imperative. Bush promised to allow inspectors time to complete their work. The one thing that gets overlooked in all of this was the unknown that Bush had an agenda against Iraq that pre-existed September 11. HAD ANYONE KNOWN THAT PIECE OF INTELLIGENCE, no doubt they would have voted against the authorization bill.

2) If Hussein did NOT have WMDs, but was bluffing (as he substantiated in his November 2002 reply to the United Nations, something the United States, even Democrats, poo pooed), then allowing weapons inspectors would have been the last thing Hussein would have wanted, therefore (as noted above) it was imperative that Bush have at least some military backing to force his hand.

Under either circumstance, then, that vote had to be in favor of giving Bush the authority.

To her credit, Hillary has said "Had I known then..." Hindsight is 20/20, and considering that nearly 70% of Americans at the time supported the war, it's very unfair now to hold her up to ridicule for that vote. I'd wager that about half the people who heckle her now were all "Oh, let's get Saddam!" back then. I'd even wager about a third of those are Republicans who are stirring the pot to foment a rift in the Democratic primary system.

I didn't support this war for the same reasons I didn't support Gulf War I, or any "war" we've waged since and including Vietnam. War is almost always wrong. We had no national interest vested in it, and as such, we had no business letting our boys and girls die in it. That Hillary or John or anyone else voted to authorize the use of force as opposed to simply voting against it is a matter of disagreement, but that won't stop me from voting for either of them, if I believe they are the best candidate for the job. Period.

And I've voted for Edwards and Clinton whenever I have had the chance to, and will have to take a long hard look at my vote in the New York primary should the two of them survive the process to that point (same with Obama, even though this will be my first opportunity to vote for him).

All three have said we need to get our troops home, and all three have stated that it's up to Bush to do so, so any of those three positions I can support. To look back now four, five and soon six years is pointless.

A Bear Really DOES Sit In The Woods!

MAPLEWOOD, New Jersey: The last thing Lorraine Grossman expected to see as she gazed out the kitchen window of her daughter's home was a 211-pound (95-kilogram) bear.

"I was making a pot of coffee, and I turned around and there he was in the window looking at me," said Grossman. "For a minute I didn't realize there was a glass between him and me."

The scream Grossman let out was loud enough to startle the wandering bear, who turned tail and scurried some 40 feet (12 meters) up a tree.

More than 50 neighbors gathered to watch and the beast soon grew tired. As the bear gave a lazy yawn, the crowd cooed loudly in appreciation.
Next on Simply Left Behind: Is the Pope Catholic?...

Sunday, February 11, 2007

Coming Home To Roost

As you may have learned in high school Economics class, the stock market is a lagging indicator of an economic recession. Even while it gathers new heights and has a dazzling period of increase, the country and its citizens goes to hell in a handbasket. Finally, however, everything runs out of steam and the markets collapse and that, generally, is what puts the average American into the frame of mind that we're in a recession.

That day may be coming. Despite the fact the warning signs have been there for a while now, the marketeers are finally getting edgy about making payments on their pied-a-terres on the Upper East Side:
NEW YORK (Reuters) - Volatility could be the name of the game on Wall Street next week as rising crude oil prices revive inflation fears and stock investors await congressional testimony from the Federal Reserve's chairman.

Investors hope the Fed's chief Ben Bernanke will speak plainly about how he sees the outlook for interest rates in the months ahead after data showing the economy is strong.

The outcome of this weekend's Group of Seven finance ministers' meeting will attract investors' attention early next week as they look to see what, if anything, is said about foreign-exchange rates.
Housing, oil prices, and exchange rates. All three of those have been at the heart of American economic woes (despite the "good news" of price indices and GDP "growth" for the past six months) for years.

Mortgage defaults are at record levels at three mortgage lenders who normally lend to people who's credit is less than A-1: Countrywide, they of the hideously often repeated commercials, announced Friday that they would be hit with enormous numbers of defaults and payments were slowing down on other mortgages nationwide, causing the Dow to slip 56 points. Further, HSBC and New Century Financial gave similar warnings.

Add to that, consumer spending dropped for the first quarter in 50 years last quarter (the Christmas quarter, no less!), and spending for new homes declined by near-record let's take the foreign exchange markets into account. These rates help determine the interest rates our deficit-financing notes and bills pay. After all, it's not enough that they pay, say, 5%, but if that five percent actually loses a foreign investor money in his own currency (say the dollar is trading six percent less than when he originally purchased them), he's going to dump them, which drives prices down and forces the US to issue additional debt in order to attract new investors, with higher interest rates.

Which get passed onto us in the form of higher taxes, and higher domestic rates. Which means more mortgage defaults, and bankruptcies.

And by now, we all know the effect higher oil prices have on us. Keep in mind that much of the larger oil producing nations are well past peak oil (some 30 years ago, the US hit peak oil production, which is why we import so much of the stuff...Iran, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Venezuela, Norway, the UK and Iraq all passed peak oil about the same time), so just to make up the shortfall of declining oil supplies, OPEC and other oil producing nations will have to "find" another 30 billion gallons of crude each year.

This doesn't take into account the fact that oil demand is increasing more quickly that oil production forecasts have allowed. It has been estimated that 2007 will see a tipping point in the oil industry that will skyrocket oil prices.

This may be the lighting of the fuse.

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