Monday, June 30, 2008

Bang the drum slowly

Barak Obama, we're told, rejects General Wesley Clark's opinion that John McCain's service in Viet Nam, an important qualification for people who think dropping bombs is good presidential training, doesn't necessarily make for a good Commander in Chief. I agree.

Obama, of course can't say what he means, lest every word be twisted and used against him in the court of sleazy hyperbolic rhetoric and patriotism, but why would McCain's particular military experience teach him any of the many, many things a President should be expert in? Yes, it's a real military experience, unlike Bush's, but it didn't teach him all about the military industrial complex, the inner workings of the Pentagon and the other entities a president has to be able to work with and control. He is no expert on strategy, or policy or logistics or anything in fact other than the piloting of now obsolete aircraft to drop bombs on civilians.

Even if we insist that military command experience is a great teacher, John McCain is no Eisenhower and John McCain doesn't seem to have gained any real understanding of the problems of military personnel or veterans, at least far enough to have firm, clear and expressed opinions about things like the Geneva Conventions and the treatment of prisoners. He has little enough to impress us with and so we will hear more about the background he has and not about the background he should have had.

We were told years ago, when the simple mindedness of George W. Bush became apparent, that he would pick good advisers and so it didn't matter that he had no knowledge of world affairs, economics, history and trivia such as Constitutional law. He would pick good advisers. It's redundant in the extreme to repeat the results of his advisers' bad advice. Are we poised to repeat the same mistake by electing McCain? Who would his advisers be, TV evangelists? Defense contractor lobbyists?

I confess that my bias is toward intellect; toward people who ideas are relatively straightforward, but not simplistic and emotionally based. I prefer people who are actively learning rather than "taking a stand." I far prefer someone who speaks as the intellectual equal to the best of us and not just like the boys at VFW hall. If any presidency has demonstrated that "regular guyness" is not only insufficient but dangerous, it's our current one. Let's not do it again.

An old saw has it that to a carpenter, every problem is fixed with a hammer. Can our problems best be solved with bombs according to McCain's military training? Will our problems be solved by using powerful family connections, abandoning past commitments and getting into bed with someone wealthy the Way John solved his? Perhaps so. George Bush also tried to solve our problems, and the problems he created, according to his military background: that is to say, with lies, cover-ups, shredded records, invented stories and massive secrecy using the aid of powerful and wealthy allies. That's pretty much what he did during his brief and disastrous business adventure as well. Let's not do it again.

Sunday, June 29, 2008

Just shoot him

So Florida is finally going to kill Mark Schwab. It's 16 years since the 23 year old man was convicted of the kidnap, rape and murder of an 11-year old boy and I so think it's safe to use the cold blood metaphor. Of course the government of Florida won't be shedding his blood, they'll strap him to what looks like a cross, try to get a needle into a vein to make him unconscious with Sodium Pentothal. They'll then hope they guessed right enough about the dosage and that it lasts long enough that he won't feel the searing agony of the pancuronium bromide used to paralyze him flowing through every blood vessel in his body like Liquid Plumber, making it impossible to scream or even twitch. If that goes well, they will stop his heart with potassium chloride. It doesn't always go well.

We've read about Florida's electric chair that has set people on fire, blowing boiling eyeballs out of their sockets while shaking the victim like a rag doll and causing witnesses to vomit in disgust, but for the most part, people don't care because they don't have to watch. We've read about the botched "three chemical" process that has taken over half an hour of indescribable agony to finally kill the strapped down and paralyzed prisoner, but again, not all of us are capable of caring.

It doesn't help that Schwab is as loathsome a man as any; the rape and murder of Junny Rios-Martinez occurred about a year after he got out of jail for raping another boy. The fact that the same government that let him out of jail however is the same government that is going to kill him, doesn't reflect well on the capability of Florida to deal with violent criminals.

But this is not about my horror of trusting demonstrably inept State governments with the legal ability to kill people. It's not about the corrupt and incompetent judicial processes, the correlation between race and the severity of punishment. It's not about my moral and ethical objections to executing criminals: it's about human pigheadedness, the propensity to stick with a decision long after the abject stupidity thereof has been proven. The process now being mandated as a merciful alternative to traditional executions is far too unreliable and cruel to be used on a pet cat, but governments and the supporters of legislative death share much with the pit bull that needs to be put down. Nothing will dissuade them once they have that taste of blood.

When it comes to the time when Fido has to go, the veterinarian will simply give him a shot of pentobarbital and he will drift away and be gone in 30 painless seconds. For larger animals there are stronger barbiturates, but even a bullet in the head is a certain and more painless death than the one we have turned to because the electric chair was too grisly and firing squads and hangings are emotionally unsanitary.

Self-important people with Junior College Criminal Justice degrees and people in politics however cling to this medieval drama as though it was a procedure handed down from Sinai. Somehow, the people who insist that the government can't do anything right are sure that the government does this right -- and maybe not often enough. Of course the intentional infliction of agony on a helpless and bound prisoner and it's place in that hilarious concept: the "Judeo Christian ethic" doesn't seem to be discussed here as much as it is in other areas.

But basically, it's all about cowardice. We want government to make the bad men go away and we want them to do it where we cant see it or smell it or hear it. That's all we care about. We care more about that than we do about reasonable doubt, about cruel and unnecessary suffering, and if we have scruples about casting the first stone, why then we pay others to do it.

For Christ's sake, just shoot the guy if you have the stomach for it and since you don't, lock him up forever. There will be plenty of room once you let the dope smokers go home.

Friday, June 27, 2008

Beverly Hills Bonanza

So Jed Clampett found oil on his property and moved to the hills - Beverly Hills, that is. Seems fitting since there's more oil in them hills of Beverly than most people know about. Beverly Center, an eight- level mall near Beverly Hills that attracts a celebrety clientelle, is also attracting oil exploration and drilling people. Indeed, the complex was designed to accomodate a drilling rig or two and the area already boasts dozens of oil wells. High prices, over $140 a barrel today, have the pumps humming day and night and many companies are re-opening old wells and planning to drill some more. Seems "the enviros" aren't so all powerful after all.

Rollin' Rollin' Rollin'
Keep them wells a flowin
Keep them Hummers goin'

Lara's song

"Five years into the war in Iraq and nearly seven years into the war in Afghanistan, getting news of the conflicts onto television is harder than ever. "

Lara Logan

I was never really conscious of Lara Logan's existence until the Daily Show had her as a guest recently. She made a well presented and credible claim that the news from Iraq was being toned down, under reported, redacted and sometimes ignored, and as someone who has been in the thick of it for years as the chief foreign correspondent for CBS, and who frequently has been in the midst of combat, she has a great deal of credibility. That network has been cutting back its staff in Baghdad and some critics say that the public perception of improvement in Iraq has a lot to do with the lack of coverage. Indeed, despite the constant emphasis on danger and terror, it's possible to sit through a very long period of broadcast news without a single story from Iraq.

“If I were to watch the news that you hear here in the United States, I would just blow my brains out because it would drive me nuts,” she said to Jon Stewart.
It might be that she pushed the wrong buttons. Headlines and weblogs have begun to bleat about scandals in her private life, led by such Liberal Media as the National Enquirer and Rupert Murdoch's New York Post. Will Bunch at has a provocative article today and a link to the Daily Show interview.

Backlashes against less than enthusiastic reportage of Bush's war began immediately after the initial enthusiasm. Networks refused to allow a reading of the names of casualties lest it be taken as criticism of George Bush or his invasion. I don't think it's far fetched at all to see this attempt to ruin a brilliant career as a continuation.

Thursday, June 26, 2008

If it feels good, kill him.

The concept of punishment is inseparable in people's minds from the concept of justice. I have a hard time understanding either one. In the youth of our species, the notion prevailed that some sort of balance existed in the universe and that balance had to be maintained scrupulously lest the sun not rise and the crops fail. A more modern knowledge of the universe makes it a bit hard to believe in such things, yet we do. We do at least in as far as we talk about debts to society being paid in kind or in body part. Of course with regard to crimes of theft or property, the notion that justice prevails in the return of value to a rightful owner seems obvious, but in other cases where there is no value to be returned, such as in the case of rape or murder, the accounting model for justice runs into trouble. Does taking away a life provide a new one for the victim or the victim's heirs? Does inflicting pain and suffering or death upon the perpetrator satisfy any debt or does it satisfy the urge to kill we have inherited from our hirsute ancestors?

Being a person for whom the abuse of women and children is sufficiently loathsome that I would readily shoot someone to stop certain crimes, I still maintain that taking an eye for an eye repays no one but fictitious gods, and the universe continues to expand at the same rate and our little world goes on in the same trajectory. Yes, I would love to inflict a great deal of suffering on people who rape children. Given the opportunity I probably would, but I do not try to fool myself that I'm talking about justice. I want revenge because revenge feels good and if feels good because like anyone who reads this, I am an animal and the heir to a host of animal instincts and emotions. Instinct is expressed as the urge to do what feels good. Somehow I believe that justice needs more justification than that.

Short of denouncing judicial killings, the Court has ruled that "evolving standards" have made it less acceptable to kill someone for a lesser crime than killing someone else. While I agree, I would apply that same standard to the unnecessary ending of human life entirely. That strapping people to a cross and pumping their veins full of drain cleaner is tolerated in a nation fulsomely bellicose about its Christianity stretches the bounds of the term hypocrisy.

That's my opinion anyway, although I could be wrong. But I don't think so.

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

The Devil loves Obama

It seems everyone running against a Republican candidate is supported by the bogey man of the day and that's held true throughout my lifetime. Mao Zedong, Ho Chi Min, Nikita Kruschev, the Anti-Christ: they all fully endorsed Democrats, if we're to believe the cannot-tell-a-lie Republicans. So of course it's no surprise to learn that Kim Jong Il would just love to see Barak Obama elected; at least that's what Lyin' Laura Ingraham was jibbering about Monday on Fox News.

Hugo Chavez, Fidel Castro and all the boys over at Hamas are all wearing the Big O T-Shirt these days. Of course one might speculate that any of these evildoing action figures would be smart enough to know that their actual support would harm a candidate and thus would express a fondness for those they would least like to win, but Laura and her limp-brained fans aren't big on logical processes when it's so much fun to hate.

Anyway, now that Kim's axis may no longer be quite as evil, we may suspect that his support will swing over to the Republican side. Will Laura have to decide that he's not so bad after all?

Steve Clemons, a senior fellow at the New America Foundation announced on his blog, The Washington Note, last night that George may overcome Dick's objections and take Mr. Kim off the "terror watch list" by tomorrow. Whether or not he will be moved to some lesser list, like the Nexus of Nasty remains to be seen but I have to wonder if Bush is really trying to engage in some statecraft these days -- just for the hell of it -- or whether he's just trying to slide North Korea to the sidlines so he can concentrate on the remaining axial, Iran. You know, the one with oil.

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Let it all fall down

Subject: Obama's speech...on doing away with our military

Please send this to everyone you know TODAY as it will be pulled off the air soon. Here Obama reveals his true intentions to make the US a third rate nation - vulnerable to attack by every rogue nation on the earth.


It takes a strong stomach to read some of the e-mail I get and I don't have one any more. I don't have the patience to argue with these hydrophobic harangues. I don't have any faith in Democracy either because our wonderful technology has made it possible for a minority of morons and the coven of witches that control them to shout down everyone else. The truth simply doesn't have a chance, nor does decency, honesty or true patriotism. We have become a nation whose behavior would embarrass a tribe of New Guinea head hunters.

Of course the speech in question was made last year and far from being pulled, it's been resurrected like a brain eating zombie, but alleging that some bogeyman doesn't want you to see something is a hallmark of the Republican Hate Auxiliary.

Obama plans to disarm America
screams the lurid title on the MacRanger Blog that is linked to this slime capsule and to a video that actually doesn't say that at all. What Obama seems to have said in October of 2007 is that he would like to develop no more Nuclear weapons, would like to reduce their numbers and make an effort to store the loose nuclear material sitting around since the fall of the Soviets. Of course that's all pursuant, I believe, to a 2002 treaty signed by the Hero George Bush, and Obama's speech was scheduled for the day after an announcement by the Bush administration that it had tripled the rate of dismantling nuclear weapons over the last year, putting the United States on track to reducing its stockpile of weapons by half by 2012. Funny that the howling hordes take no note of it, but then without the manufactured indignation supplied by the radio rabble rousers, no one would take notice of them.

The speech reflects a plan endorsed earlier this year by a bipartisan group of former government officials from the cold war era who say the United States must begin building a global consensus to reverse a reliance on nuclear weapons that have become “increasingly hazardous and decreasingly effective.” I do not recall hearing any foaming at the mouth hate shouters calling any of them "Manchurian Candidates" or Islamic militants, but of course that's what we get from commentors even stranger (and more stupid) than MacRanger himself on his website.

By calling for a combination of diplomacy and pressure to prevent Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons and to eliminate North Korea’s nuclear weapons programs, Obama seems hardly more radical, pacifist, or to have a plan for appeasement, but you wouldn't know it from the foam flecked lips of "conservatives." It's just too much fun to scream HUSSEIN hysterically while denying any racist motives. I give up.

I give up becuase Americans love to hate. Americans love to justify hating and have no scruples whatever about employing lies, distortions and superstitions to do it. I give up because the military ambition and world domination obsession of this country makes it my enemy.

Go vote for Republicans - build more carriers, more space weapons, giant bombers, more multiple independently targetable re-entry vehicles with 500 megaton nuclear warheads and make the world bow to us, our greed and our SUV's.

I just don't give a damn.

Monday, June 23, 2008

Chertoff's Iron curtain

Something there is that doesn't love a wall, said the poet. I think it's called freedom.

Say you have a nice ranch down near the Rio Grande. The view is fabulous, you use the water for your cattle, you have a little boat to fish with. The deer and the antelope play.

Say you enjoy the San Pedro river, the San Pedro Riparian National Conservation Area on the Arizona border. You can forget it; it's soon to be blocked by a huge corrugated iron curtain right out of the cold war era because we're all so desperately afraid of Mexicans who don't come in to the country on tourist visas, like most illegal immigrants do.

This isn't a diatribe on any racialist or economic basis for xenophobia or the grave danger of people with expired visas cutting your lawn, it's about big government getting away with unquestionable authority by declaring emergencies. It's about Michael Chertoff's Bush-given ability to overturn court rulings and ignore laws passed by Congress because - well just because the commander guy has commanded it. Our Republican Congress gave him the power to waive any laws he needed to to get this fence built and our Republican courts in all their activist glory have now backed him up today by upholding a lower court's ruling that giving Michael Chertoff authority to write and unwrite laws passed by congress does not violate the separation of powers set forth in the constitution. Michael Cherthoff can be the law and neither we nor our elected representatives can stop him sayeth the Bush Court.

Somehow the people who give us the Fatherland and the Motherland seem awfully similar to the people who changed National Security into Homeland Security.

Many people sincerely doubt that this wall will actually secure our border and protect us from undocumented dishwashers. The history of walls lends them some support, but of course when things get bad enough here, perhaps it will help keep us from fleeing to Mexico.

Cross posted from The Impolitic


"I don't have any beliefs or allegiances. I don't believe in this country, I don't believe in religion, or a god, and I don't believe in all these man-made institutional ideas,"

-George Carlin-

Yes, and you had the courage to tell us about it. I'll miss you, George.

Sunday, June 22, 2008

Proactively efforting to impact the thought showers.

Modern English, especially written English, is full of bad habits which spread by imitation and which can be avoided if one is willing to take the necessary trouble. If one gets rid of these habits one can think more clearly, and to think clearly is a necessary first step toward political regeneration: so that the fight against bad English is not frivolous and is not the exclusive concern of professional writers.

-George Orwell-

adies and Gentlemen, I would like to take this opportunity to award the Human Voices Doctor Syntax award to Simon Milton.
"Why do we have to have 'coterminous, stakeholder engagement' when we could just 'talk to people' instead?"
said the Chairman of The Local Government Association, an organization that represents local government officials in England and Wales. I love this guy.

Pretentious and impenetrable babble has metastasized into every English speaking part of the world like verbal melanoma; from business schools, PR firms, popular science TV shows and journalistic covens, and it's a rare writer or speaker who doesn't effort try to include as many copies of "empowerment, " "proactive" and "Impactful" in every sentence he excretes.

Why does anyone need a clumsy, worn out metaphor like "negatively impacted on" when hurt or harmed will do so much better? Of course our institutionalized horror of appearing illiberal by using direct language is responsible for much of it. Careers have been made by those who marshal groups to speak for non-existent "communities" so as to ban words that aren't really offensive to anyone other than graduate students eager to cooperate with professors who need to publish.

Brainstorming, itself a crapulous and unfunny metaphor for talking amongst a group, seemed, or so we were given input told, to be offensive to epileptics even though there is no evidence of it negatively impacting on annoying anyone. Let's call it "thought showering" said one British City Council. Let's not. Let's just call it pretentious babble posing as enlightened vocabulary.

Let us please have a round of applause for Mr. Milton!

Saturday, June 21, 2008

The walls still have ears

“It is not all that I would want. But given the legitimate threats we face, providing effective intelligence collection tools with appropriate safeguards is too important to delay. So I support the compromise, but do so with a firm pledge that as President, I will carefully monitor the program, review the report by the Inspectors General, and work with the Congress to take any additional steps I deem necessary to protect the lives – and the liberty – of the American people” said Barak Obama yesterday.
Obviously he is less of a polemicist than I am. I would have hoped for his utter objection and opposition to the FISA bill that passed the House of Representatives yesterday, but in his calm fashion, he seems to be far less dogmatic and more practical and dare I say more conservative than I am by saying in essence that this is an improvement because it restores oversight and so he will support it with the pledge that further improvements are to be expected.

A good compromise fully satisfies no one and perhaps, although I loathe the actions of the Bush administration and it's swashbuckling lawlessness, it may be necessary to allow domestic surveillance but subject to legal guidelines: perhaps it may be a good compromise.

Perhaps what Obama shows here is leadership. It takes a stronger man to recognize the objections of people he does not agree with and to accept what practically can be acieived at any given moment rather than to play up to hard core supporters by chest pounding and foot stomping obstinacy that divides and does not achieve much. Sometimes a grudging admiration leads to more respect than unrestrained approbation.

Friday, June 20, 2008

Screw the pledge and the flag it rode in on.

If there is any fixed star in our constitutional constellation, it is that no official, high or petty, can prescribe what shall be orthodox in politics, nationalism, religion, or other matters of opinion or force citizens to confess by word or act their faith therein. If there are any circumstances which permit an exception, they do not now occur to us.

US Supreme Court - West Virginia State Board of Education v. Barnette (1943)


Americans don't really care much for freedom and the evidence for that is strong. They don't like people who exercise that freedom or resist having it taken away from them. That's why the ACLU is the bogeyman of the authoritarians, secular and religious, and why people with various objections to being forced to say things they disagree with, or forced to swear oaths in support of symbols, or forced to assume postures indicating worship and adoration of secular idols have to resort to such organizations to avoid the nasty consequences of conscience. I hear far more anger directed at the ACLU than at the KKK and most often it's because the former is hard at work making sure you can still say what you like and not be forced to say things or to perform quasi religious rituals you do not like. The US is the sort of country where a candidate who doesn't assume the position of worship when singing the sacred song or pledging himself to worship a piece of cloth and the God/State it represents generates more furor than one who breaks the basic foundational laws that are the State.

Few things irk this authoritarian country more than such disobedience and the courts and laws that support its legitimacy. Obama is still paying a price for having a less than a passionate personal epiphany while singing the Anthem while even Liberal Air America host Ed Schultz decries the failure of most NBA players to look reverent, hands on heart in a Roman salute when the song is played.

We have no lack of impassioned orators swooning their way through speeches extolling those who died for the flag, as though the flag had anything to do with the liberties we, on occasion, call freedom, but in my opinion we have no free country when people are required to recite worshipful formulae, make sacred gestures and wear tokens of reverence.

That's why the furor continues in the case of the Minnesota school that has a policy of punishment for failure to stand up when illegally required to make a religious oath to a piece of cloth. Perhaps it's coincidental, but I've noticed a lot more of those Taiwanese car flags today and an unusual number of UNDER GOD bumper stickers. They weren't, at any rate, put there in support of three students who were suspended from a public school for sitting down while flag rituals were being conducted. If anything it's a protest against the audacity of the ACLU to write a letter to a Minnesota school board to remind some small minded pedants what freedom ( and the law) is all about.

Strangely enough even such strange bedfellows as Stop the recognize the policy as an infringement, if only as an infringement on freedom of religion. Many religions balk at the swearing of oaths. The question of whether they would recognize the rights of the non-religious to such protection hasn't been answered.

People on both sides of the flag idolatry issue have some strange opinions as to the antiquity of it all. Those who insist the pledge was written by a Socialist seem to forget that it was Eisenhower who in 1954 made it into a religious pledge and caused me to stop reciting it. Everyone seems to have forgotten that the hand on heart salute was adopted only in the 1940's and before that the Nazi salute was recommended. Our current anthem was signed into law as such in 1931 and putting religious messages on the money stems from the religious frenzy surrounding (and justifying) the Civil War. In fact religious frenzy and war go hand in hand and much of the current emotion stems from the confusion between the invasion of Iraq, obedience to the president and worship of the flag. It's not a coincidence. It's not fundamental to our Country's ideals. It's made up as we go along. It's all designed to foster unquestioning obedience and suppress objection. It's time we woke up to the truth.

Monday, June 16, 2008

Hen's teeth

Political correctness: it's another all purpose diversion, used to dismiss valid arguments by referring to the alleged motivation behind them. Strangely, the fact that the PC accusation is so often politically motivated, never seems to attract comment.

Take the subject of evolution. Our knowledge of the genomes of many species is so advanced that we can contemplate reverse engineering animals like birds so as to bring out the hidden genes they retain from their Theropod ancestors. Laboratory experiments have led to scaly, lizard-tailed chickens with hands like a Velociraptor and a mouth full of teeth. Our collection of fossils is vast and the origin of species through natural selection is thoroughly founded. That's what makes it a theory and not special pleading: an argument based on nothing but selective credulity, which is based on politics.

It's politically correct among some people; or perhaps religiously correct (although in the world of Right Wing politics that's the same thing) to insist that Evolution is only a theory and a flawed theory and so baseless conjecture needs to be offered as an equal if not superior explanation. I say baseless because to use statements like "it just can't be" or "I don't understand" or "you can't get something from nothing" or "intelligence can only come from intelligence" as first principles is neither factual nor intelligent much less are these credos the building blocks of theory.

I can't understand why Pi is an irrational number.
Irrational numbers seem irrational.
I can't tell you absolutely what the number is, I can only get arbitrarily close.
God doesn't make up funny numbers.
Pi is only a theory.

I'm a Christian and Christians believe only in Hebrew legends.

If I were of the right political persuasion or subject to the right dogmas, I could easily insist from these "axioms" that mathematics can be dismissed as Politically Correct and I might substitute some number from legend that somehow does not correlate with observed reality but is a nice round integer - more compatible and more correct according to my politics.

You would think I wouldn't have to beat this subject to death, but here we go again. Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal, said to be on the short list for running mate with the idiot McCain, wants his kids to be exposed to the "best science" because he's a "Christian" and to be politically correct according to Christian politics, that means ancient and resoundingly debunked legends handed down from illiterate goatherds on the edges of civilization. Jindal insists that the denial of all observed facts packaged as Intelligent Design is a "legitimate scientific discipline." It's not. It's none of those three things, but perhaps it makes Bobby Jindal just dishonest enough to appeal to American voters.

Saturday, June 14, 2008

Home of the Brave

Brian at The Impolitic today points out what the lapdog media should have been bellowing about -- but hasn't. John McCain has told us that in the name of fear, the Supreme Court should not have upheld the principles of justice that used to be one of our main bragging points.

"Our first obligation is the safety and security of this nation and the men and women who defend it. This decision will harm our ability to do that."

said the former prisoner of war to a crowd of New Jersey admirers: this man who has made so much of having been tortured and held without regard to his human rights and who apparently has forgiven his captors for his mistreatment back when he was an "enemy combatant."

Let's be clear here. McCain is calling for activist judges in the worst sense of the word; judges who being terribly afraid of some rag-tag saboteurs taking over Casper, Wyoming will deliberately break their oath of office by breaking the law.

When the phone rings at three in the morning, do you want it answered by a snivelling coward, a fear monger, a man to whom his oath of office and the Constitution it requires him to uphold is merely a convenience to be set aside at will?

Friday, June 13, 2008

Attack of the killer tomatoes

I found out about the salmonella scare early this week; sitting in front of the TV while eating a take-out sub sandwich loaded with nice, juicy tomatoes. I guess I've lucked out, since I didn't get sick, but it's hard to forget that "oh shit" feeling you get as the potentially lethal food slides down the throat. I have no statistics to back it up, but the number of food scares seems to be far larger than it once was, and now that one hardly ever knows where the stuff comes from, how it's been processed and handled, or who handled it -- a bit of fear is probably justified. Tainted spinach, peanut butter, ground beef and even medicines like Heparin have made headlines of late. Where's the FDA? Inspections have declined as the number of producers has increased, according to the GAO.

The GAO, commenting yesterday on the FDA's new plan to focus on the riskiest food products says it really can't be evaluated because the agency has revealed nothing about how this plan would be carried out. Perhaps, like Dick Cheney, the FDA will take their case for keeping essential knowledge about what we pay for a secret all the way to the Supreme Court. Perhaps not. All we have been told so far is that it's a "strategic vision."

I hate to belabor the subject of creeping deregulation and crawling chaos. There are far too many examples, and some of them deadly examples, of the results of turning over responsibility for public safety and even national security to for-profit groups and depending on the kindness of corporations. Besides, I'm starting to feel a little queasy.

Meanwhile we still don't know where the killer tomatoes are coming from.

Tuesday, June 03, 2008

American family values -- no foreigners need apply

These days, it's not just justice wearing the blindfold: it's the law, the people who enforce it and the great majority of the people who don't give a damn.

The country of refugees and pilgrims is more dedicated to the letter of the law than anything else, at least as far as immigration is concerned. True, industry may look the other way because we couldn't afford to eat without illegal immigrants, but when it comes to the educated, the motivated and the talented, we're not willing to make any accommodation: we're not willing to offer any alternate route to citizenship no matter how someones skills might benefit the country.

Take Arthur Mkoyan, a 4.0 high school valedictorian from Fresno, CA. He speaks only English and since he was a baby, knows only the United States. We just can't wait to send him and his parents back to what used to be the Soviet Union, whence his parents fled for their lives. They were never granted that asylum, although any Cuban looking for better opportunities would be if he can get here illegally. All appeals having run out after all these years and the American kid has to be deported to a country he doesn't know and where he's an illiterate alien doomed to a life of misery. Freedom wins again.

Because they wish to appear merciful, ICE has allowed him out of jail to attend his graduation and make his valedictory speech before he's discarded like a bag of garbage. Of course his younger brother is a legal citizen, having been born here, so the family may have to be broken up, but who cares? It's all in a day's work for the ICE men and God, I love freedom and family values!

So move over Michelle Obama, I'm ashamed of this country to the point where I don't know whether to reach for my passport or my gun. It's the country of "I've got mine and screw you, it's not enough." It's the country of fear and intimidation and self righteous contempt for decency. If I'm ever really proud of this country, it will be when it starts acting as though the law was made for people, not people for the law. It will be when the much bragged about Christian Values aren't just a euphemism for "fuck you." It will be when the anger of the stupid, the willfully ignorant, the selfish, the war lovers and the cowards no longer lifts its light beside the golden door to hell.

And that's not going to happen.

Sunday, June 01, 2008

Passing gas

What with the cost of gasoline these days, we can expect a renewed outbreak of gimmicks, scams and slinky salesmanship designed to relieve the panicked and gullible of some extra cash. Since I began reading car magazines and accessory catalogs as a kid in the 1950's there have always been gadgets: magnets you clamp on your fuel line, resistors to put in series with the ignition cables, little pills that go in the gas tank, things you put in the air intake, little propellers that fit under a carburettor (remember those?) and all kinds of additives. None of them ever worked at all. They still don't.

More recently tire shops have begun to sell the idea that filling your tires with pure Nitrogen for about ten bucks a tire will increase your gas mileage. They have arguments like the one that says they will stay up to pressure longer than the 80% nitrogen, oxygen and carbon dioxide you breathe for free, and your tires will last longer. Humbug. Yes, it will prevent the inside of your tires from oxidizing, but that's isn't a problem in the first place. It will slightly slow air loss from the tires, but if you check them once a month -- as you should do anyway -- you don't have a problem in need of solving. Will you live long enough, considering the $40 and monthly refills to see any benefit? Medical science isn't promising immortality any time soon.

Sales of new SUV's are off and resale prices are down significantly. Common wisdom has it that what we really need is tiny cars with tiny engines screaming their lungs out to produce enough acceleration so that Mom's megatruck won't run you over, but is that the answer? Not always. My wife's little PT Cruiser, for instance, doesn't get the highway mileage of my Corvette and is about equal around town. In fact the 400 hp car is relatively equal to a Hyundae Sonata in the mileage department because it's made of lightweight composites and has a 6 speed transmission -- and that brings me to my point: learn to drive a manual transmission and you'll save a lot more gas than you will with any of the things that bolt on or pour in your ride, and your slow car will be a little bit faster too.

That shoebox look may be a real sexy thing if you're 16 and have a bone through your nose, but shoebox aerodynamics cost you money and that $300 wing you bought from J.C. Whitney is only going to make it worse. If you drive at any speed, aerodynamics matter -- a lot. If you don't need all wheel drive, don't buy it. It adds a lot of weight and reduces mechanical efficiency.

But hey -- you just had to have that Escalade didn't you?