Well, this is the last post of March, my first complete month blogging. The name comes from ancient Rome, when March was the first month of the year and called Martius after Mars, the Roman god of war (Ares in the Greek). In Rome, where they have a Mediterranean climate, March is the first month of spring, a logical point for the beginning of the year as well as the start of the military campaign season; I'll discretely forego any references to the war in Iraq and/or the ongoing presidential primaries.
So as we pass this milestone I'd like to express my sincere appreciation to anyone and everyone who has taken the time out of their days to read my stuff thus far. I don't just mean my vocal friends and family members but also the silent, anonymous handful of folks from around the country whom I've never met but still check in here from time to time.
I'd also like to make a request of you all: if you enjoy what you see, please leave a comment. If you don't like something, please comment as well (courtesy is appreciated). And if you find anything you think would be of interest to the small band of readers here, feel free to drop me an email at the address in the blue blogspot bar at the top of the page. I love getting suggestions for material and I read every one I receive. I can't guarantee that all submissions will make the cut but all are certainly welcomed.
Most importantly if you really like what you read here, please recommend the blog to someone else or link to it from your own sites. I admittedly started this merely as a personal outlet but it's been a lot more fun to do as more people have joined in, and the more folks you bring with you means that I'll try that much harder to create something that interests/entertains/offends everyone equally. I'll talk to you again in April, and thanks again.
Monday, March 31, 2008
Well, this is the last post of March, my first complete month blogging. The name comes from ancient Rome, when March was the first month of the year and called Martius after Mars, the Roman god of war (Ares in the Greek). In Rome, where they have a Mediterranean climate, March is the first month of spring, a logical point for the beginning of the year as well as the start of the military campaign season; I'll discretely forego any references to the war in Iraq and/or the ongoing presidential primaries.
Check out Pennsylvania governor and Hillary Clinton supporter Ed Rendell talking to Fox & Friends morning show host Steve Ducey about how fair their network's coverage of the Democratic primary has been thus far:
Since it's inception, Fox News has based it's foundation for success on three main points: salacious stories about sex/missing, pretty, blonde white girls, a constant barrage of jingoistic Iraq war coverage/terror-alert scare mongering and a policy of perpetual attacks against the Clintons and the Democratic party, Hillary especially. Their mantra of "fair and balanced" is a laughingstock in most serious news circles and would actually be ironically funny if it wasn't so blatantly Orwellian.
Apparently Rendell is comfortable with Fox commentators speculating as to whether Sen. Clinton as president would be subject to "PMS and mood swings" as long as it is fairly balanced with three solid weeks of Obama bashing, interspersed with 30 second clips from Rev. Wright's more inflammatory sermons. But hey, it's just one more example of the Clinton campaign's total disconnect from reality and their willingness to say and do anything to win this nomination. Et tu, Ed? Douche.
I remember when my sisters got their "My Little Pony: First Suicide Vest" play sets when we were kids; It's a special moment in a little girl's life. Now I hope that this is just a friendly American soldier playing around with some local kids but with relatively recent reports that the insurgency is using children as human bombs, you never know. Once again, spiteful monsters and mindless religious beliefs trump decency and common sense.
George W. Bush threw out the first pitch at the home opener for the Washington Nationals yesterday and got the kind of greeting befitting someone with a 30% national approval rating:
To his credit, I have to agree with the announcer that it was probably the best presidential first pitch I've ever seen; many just skip across the plate or are way outside. It should also be noted that the Nationals starting catcher Paul Lo Duca was originally supposed to catch the pitch but for some reason (his 37 mentions in the steroid-laden Mitchell Report, perhaps) he was replaced at the last minute by manager Manny Acta. I'm sure the president's repeated denunciations of performance-enhancing drugs had nothing to do with it though.
Sunday, March 30, 2008
Pictured above is the skull of Homo Antecessor, or "pioneer man" reconstructed from fossils discovered in the Sima del Elefante cave in Atapuerca in north-western Spain. These fossils, along with other animal bones and stone tools found at the site, suggest that southern Europe began to be colonized from western Asia much sooner after the emergence of humans from Africa than was previously thought. The fossils are 1.1-1.2 million years old and are from a possible ancestor of both modern humans and Neanderthals. Here is the complete article from The Guardian UK.
If you're at all concerned about the erosion of our basic civil liberties and the loss of personal privacy in America over the last seven years under the aegis of "fighting terrorism", then there may be some cause for hope in the near future. This article in Wired magazine describes how some of the bigger names in the civil libertarian movement are hopeful that if Barack Obama wins the presidency, the federal government could move towards a policy of greater openness and fuller transparency.
Check out this side by side scale comparison of Earth, the rest of our solar system and some of the larger bodies in the galaxy beyond. Just trying to wrap my brain around facts like these humbles me to no end:
I'll tell you one thing about the universe, though. The universe is a pretty big place. It's bigger than anything anyone has ever dreamed of before. So if it's just us... seems like an awful waste of space. Right?
-Eleanor Arroway, Contact
Saturday, March 29, 2008
I got kind of excited when I read about this winning design from a competition to temporarily remodel the top of the Eiffel Tower in Paris for it's 120th anniversary next year but it turns out that it was just an unsolicited design posted online and there are no plans to make any changes, temporary or otherwise. Too bad; I like the way it seems to graft an organic component onto the steel framework of the structure, enlarging the observation platform as if it were still growing. Oh well, I've already been up there anyway.
Many of you may remember this post about the new Ben Stein pro-Intelligent Design movie Expelled that is opening this April. It seems that an eager evolutionist has made the definitive rebuttal to the film, in a slightly more urban genre. So sit back as Dickie Dawkins, P to the Z Myers, Chuck D (Charles Darwin, not the rapper; although it could be argued that he is a "public enemy" to the creationists), and a bunch of other evolutionary biologists I don't recognize break down some natural selection so you fools can get your learn on. Holla:
Friday, March 28, 2008
You may have heard about this story from Weston, Wisconsin: the parents of a now dead 11 year-old girl decided that praying for her to get well was a better option than taking her to the hospital when she became seriously ill. An autopsy showed that young Madeline Neumann died Sunday of diabetic ketoacidosis, a condition that left too little insulin in her body. Authorities say that the girl, who hadn't seen a doctor since she was three, had probably been ill for about a month, suffering symptoms such as nausea, vomiting, excessive thirst, loss of appetite and weakness.
The Neumanns claim that they believe fully in the Bible and that healing comes from God but that they don't belong to any organized religion and that they are not religious fanatics or distrustful of doctors or hospitals. Now it seems to me that at least one of two possibilities has to be true: 1) either they are religious nutballs and they really thought that talking to the sky was going to cure their daughter or 2) they are two of the worst parents in the world and should be arrested and tried for criminal negligence in the death of a minor.
I happen to think, however that both possibilities are correct. Now I'm all for freedom of religion and the right to believe whatever you want but when it leads to the death of an innocent, society has to draw a line in the theological sand. I can put up with these people teaching their children that evolution is false and that the Earth is only a few thousand years old; it's their right to raise their kids to be as dumb as they wish. You don't need scientific bona fides to jockey a register at the Piggly Wiggly and the "sport" of professional wrestling needs to keep an audience.
But what these people did was willful child abuse, pure and simple. I don't give a good goddamn what they believe; it's not as if they're ignorant of hospitals and modern medical science. This isn't some village dreamed up by M. Night Shyamalan. Hell, their own family members pleaded with them to take her to a doctor. And I'm sure they've noticed that the vast majority of sick and injured people taken into the big white building downtown come out looking and feeling a lot better because of it. Plus it's not as if prayer is the most reliable of options. I'd bet large sums of money that they've prayed for numerous other things before this that have never come to pass, yet they still left their comatose daughter's life in the hands of unproven myth.
The Neumanns say that they are not worried about the criminal investigation because:
"...our lives are in God's hands. We know we did not do anything criminal. We know we did the best for our daughter we knew how to do."
Here is the latest anti-Hillary Clinton ad to hit the Interweb and it's a good one. Because their stances on so many issues are quite similar, I've always felt that the juxtaposition of Obama's upstart campaign being largely built on the genuinely spontaneous, grassroots efforts of everyday Americans with the fact that Clinton came to the game with every inside Democratic player at her side and a bunch of Rovian tricks in her back pocket was very significant.
So if there was ever any doubt about the monolithic nature of her candidacy or it's inherent expectation of inevitability, this video should dispel that notion post-haste. It's as if Skynet had a baby with Eric Cartman's Trapper Keeper, and it ran for office. I hope you all fear the Clintonification of America as much as I do:
Thursday, March 27, 2008
This is pretty sweet. Just felt a small quake about ten minutes ago and within five minutes of the event I was able to create this Google map of the epicenter at the USGS government site (you can click on it to enlarge; I live just south of Walnut Creek). Merely a little 3.2er that hit on the other side of Mount Diablo, nothing to get shaken up about. The Internet is so cool.
Wednesday, March 26, 2008
Oxford Landing is a winery based in southern Australia which has come up with a unique marketing idea. Now the wine snob in me has frequently expressed my displeasure (ie. talked some serious shit) about nontraditional changes to the industry such as synthetic corks and screw caps but I think that this idea seems quite useful and innovative.
Using the tags at the bottom of college campus fliers as inspiration, they've added this perforated flap to the back label of their bottles containing all of the pertinent information you would want to remember if you had enjoyed the bottle at a friend's house or out at a restaurant but were a bit too buzzed by the end to remember it all. Smart. And yes, I'm asking myself why I didn't think of this too.
[Update: A bit of sniffing around the blogosphere reveals that many Australian wine labels seem to include this feature. It seems that a company by the name of Collotype Labels patented this idea, called Wine Find, in 2001 and has been printing and supplying labels to many wineries down under for years. I still think it's clever.]
I ran across this video a while back but it was without a title and I couldn't locate it again until recently. It's computer animation of the inner workings of a cell produced by Harvard University. Of course the actual cell isn't nearly as bright and colorful but I assume to see it would still be just as haunting and fascinating:
If you're wondering about the names for everything you just saw, you can watch the same video with scientific narration in place of the music here.
In a previous post I showed a CBS news report detailing the indiscrepancies (read: lies) between Sen. Clinton's version of events and the actual events themselves. Boy, do I feel embarrassed or what? Here, apparently, is the footage backing up her claim of battle experience. I knew she was hardcore but damn! This chick has ice water in her veins:
Tuesday, March 25, 2008
Check out this news story about Senator Clinton's latest "misstatement" regarding a trip to Bosnia as First Lady. Where I come from we call a misstatement this big a flat out lie:
Isn't it interesting how no politician ever misremembers anything in a way that hurts them? She also said this in an Iowa stump speech:
"We used to say in the White House that if a place is too dangerous, too small or too poor, send the First Lady."Sinbad, who has absolutely no memory of any kind of danger during the trip, sums things up nicely:
"What kind of president would say, 'Hey, man, I can't go 'cause I might get shot so I'm going to send my wife...oh, and take a guitar player and a comedian with you.'"
Was out way too late last night with some friends, so here's Tiger showing us mere mortals how easy it is to control that little white ball. If you play golf at all you know the mixture of joy/frustration I feel every time I watch this guy do anything:
Monday, March 24, 2008
I don't normally like to admit defeat, especially when it involves not being able to find something online; I kind of think of that as being my particular milieu. But this thing has been messing with me for years, literally.
I love the shirt Dave Chappelle is wearing in this Showtime special; it commemorates the Ali/Foreman fight in Kinshasa, Zaire in 1974, the "Rumble in the Jungle". I've been trying to find this shirt FOR YEARS and I can't do it. There are a myriad of shirts commemorating the fight, particularly from Adidas, but this one has thus far eluded me.
If anybody reading this blog can locate one of these shirts for sale for me I will dedicate a day of blog posts exclusively singing your praises, every month, for a year. No shit. I make this pledge, and if no one is up to the challenge I will be forced to plead my case once a month on this blog until I can locate my Fruit-of-the-Loom grail. I'm opening my second bottle of wine, so I'll shut up about it now.
On a more personal note, I've had several black guys I've known say the exact same thing to me about white guys cataloguing their drinking statistics that Chappelle relates here. I didn't realize that it was an exclusively white thing to do for a long time but it turns out that it is. Now I can't help laughing my ass off every time I hear some cracker breaking his night down for me.
Sunday, March 23, 2008
I know I've been going a little heavy on the videos these last couple of days but I assume anyone reading this blog is interested in more than just what I think about politics and religion; plus it's the weekend and there's very little in the way of news right now. That being said, the 2nd annual Youtube video award winners were announced this weekend and I've gathered the ones that I found particularly entertaining and interesting (for a full list of winners, click here):
Adorable: Laughing Baby This kid laughs himself so hard that he repeatedly falls over from the effort. If you're anything like me, you hate too cute videos of other people's kids but a laughing baby will make you smile at a funeral:
Sports: Balloon Bowl This one proves that it doesn't take a lot of money or effort to create something just this side of magical:
Creative: The Original Human Tetris Performance I assume this one probably took more time to film than any other winner. Every time I watch this I can't help looking for the perfect spot for every piece:
Inspirational: Blind Painter This guy has what I can only describe as an indomitable human spirit in the face of crushing adversity:
Short Film: My Name is Lisa I felt my heartstrings being tugged on here. I later found out that it wasn't created by the little girl as I originally thought but it's still very moving:
Eyewitness: Battle at Kruger Forget what I said about the blind guy. You want spirit? Check out this display of teamwork:
Politics: Stop the Clash of Civilizations It turns out that we're all not so different after all:
To paraphrase one of the winners, these awards are becoming the new Emmys, Oscars, People's Choice Awards, etc. As video becomes more and more web-based I predict a movement away from traditional mainstream media award shows decided by individuals and organizations that have very little idea of what people actually want to see. Youtube is an award democracy; you pick the winners by giving them a little slice of your time, and those slices can really add up.
To commemorate the holiday here is a snippet from one of my favorite comedians, Bill Hicks. We both grew up in the same school district in Houston and he has been called the next Lenny Bruce. He was 32 when he died of pancreatic cancer, one year younger than Jesus (supposedly):
Saturday, March 22, 2008
I never caught The West Wing when it was on network TV but I came across this scene the other day and because it involved Penn & Teller and freedom of speech I had to post it. My own views on the flag and it's destruction can be found here and here. My favorite part is the White House aide flipping out over whether or not they actually did what they appeared to do...in a magic act. I love the 1st Amendment:
Friday, March 21, 2008
Being new to the blogger scene, I haven't yet acquired the instinctive drive to post immediately upon reaching various anniversaries and holidays; I just happened to be posting something else when I noticed it was St. Paddy's on TV a few days ago. As such I let the 5th anniversary of the war in Iraq slip right past me. I've made my feelings on this war fairly well known here and here so I won't go into it again myself. Instead, here's Jon Stewart explaining the correct way to view this war, why we've all been so confused and the perfect gift after five years:
It was recently brought to my attention that I might be rushing to judgement in my condemnation of Ben Stein's new pro-Intelligent Design movie Expelled. I fully admit that I have not seen the film yet, in part because it's release date has been pushed back from February to the middle of April. However I have been reading about the film and it's creators since last August and based on everything I've heard and the sources of that information I feel supremely confident that it will be an intellectually dishonest, wholly unscientific farce.
I first heard about the movie on Pharyngula, an excellent science blog written by University of Minnesota, Morris associate professor of Biology PZ Myers. In this post he describes how he was asked to do an interview for a documentary that misrepresented itself as a debate about science vs. religion and turned out to be a pro ID film which takes his and other scientists' (Oxford Professor and evolutionary biologist, Richard Dawkins chief among them) comments out of context to win a debate that the interviewees never knew they were participating in.
Then there is this story in The New York Times about a film critic for The Orlando Sentinel named Roger Moore who attended an advanced screening of the film at a local megachurch. Apparently he was invited to the screening and then disinvited for some reason but he attended anyway, choosing not to sign the nondisclosure agreements provided by the film's creators. Just to be clear, the creators of this film have been giving advanced screenings to religious and/or conservative audiences for months and have tried to keep actual film critics and scientists from attending.
Finally we have this post from Prof. Myers detailing how he was waiting in line with his family to see a screening of the film when he was recognized by the films producer and pulled from the line by a policeman and told that he had to leave the premises immediately. Again, to be clear, a man who was invited to appear in the film was EXPELLED from the theatre by a policeman at the behest of one of the film's creators. He goes on to relate that Prof. Dawkins was with him and his family and was not recognized, so at least one credible scientific mind will see it and give his impressions hopefully quite soon.
So I ask you, if this film is so dangerous to the "Big Science" establishment, if it's arguments are so deeply profound and potentially Earth-shattering, if it can truly stand on it's own merits against the mountain of scientific evidence supporting the process of natural selection, then why all the secrecy? Why spend months trying to gin up support with conservative and religious groups before it's release to the general public? Why exclude actual scientists and experts on biology from viewing it?
The most logical reason for this is that it can't fulfill any of these promises. It is by all accounts thus far a propaganda film on Creationism dressed up in the pseudo-scientific trappings of Intelligent Design. Can I make this assertion with absolute certainty? No, I can't; I haven't seen it yet. But can I catalogue every attempt by unscrupulous religious hucksters trying to corrupt the science curricula and academic agendas of our nations schools and universities, from the Scopes "Monkey" Trial to the Dover, PA School Board to the unfortunately named Discovery Institute and intuit from past experience and gathered evidence what kind of academic merit this film and others like it deserve? You bet your sweet ass I can.
So I'll go to see this flick when it comes out and I hereby promise to eat a whole mess of crow if I'm wrong and it does indeed prove that God exists and that he created all of us from some celestial blueprint he had in his back pocket (or supposedly just by looking in the mirror). But on the extraordinarily probable chance that it does not, I will stand by my original critique.
[Update: Ok, it looks like I won't be going to see it in the theatre. It seems the worst thing that can be said so far for this flick is that it's boring. I can take mad-as-hell or batshit-crazy but I'm not paying $10.50 for boring; looks like I'll be Netflicking it.]
[Update II: An extensive review by one of Prof. Myer's guests to the screening can be read here.]
Thursday, March 20, 2008
The above picture has been making it's way around the Internets today, posted at an anonymous site run by an Obama supporter. It shows then President Clinton shaking hands with Obama's pastor Jeremiah Wright at the White House on Sept. 11, 1998. And according to Sen. Clinton's recently released schedules from when she was First Lady, she was an attendee at the event that day.
Of course, the picture is no more damning than the fact that Obama has known and been a good friend of the man for the last 20 years but it does smack of the incredible hypocrisy that runs through every aspect of the Clinton campaign. It also sheds a bit more light on why Clinton herself has been loathe to comment on the whole affair at any length. Again, there is nothing wrong with the former president meeting Wright...except when the Clintons fan the flames of the non-story about Obama. But hey, that's politics, right? For them, it absolutely is.
If you're not familiar with The Onion you're missing out on one of the smartest, funniest satirical publications in the country. Think The Daily Show but 20 years younger and in print. This article illustrates in a comedic way how a news organization can frame a story and affect the overall tone of the message. And of course it brings to mind the scene below from the South Park episode "Night of the Living Homeless":
Wednesday, March 19, 2008
I've been a big fan of Bill Maher since before he got thrown off of ABC for agreeing with a guest that the 9/11 hijackers were not cowards because they were brave enough to fly planes into certain death, even though he was obviously pointing out the differences between physical and moral courage (a lesson many of our pro-war leaders could use). He and I come down on the same side of most issues in many different areas. In fact, his sociopolitical philosophy has been described by friends as Libertarian-Socialist (see the subtitle of this blog).
He has a show on HBO now but he occasionally drops by the cable news shows to give his opinion on what's happening at the time. One of the things I like about the guy is that he has no problem speaking the truth on shows like Hardball where the vast majority of guests merely spout the agreed upon talking points of whatever side they're supposed to be serving. You can even see him shaking his head at times about the reactions the hosts and other guests have to his musings, as he hears them trying to parse language and not make or commit to any comments that are too controversial.
The interview below is a perfect example of this. I agree with everything he says about the lack of actual substantial dialogue about race and between races in this country, the phenomenon of people consistently voting against their own self-interests and how our presence in Iraq is only fueling the terrorist's cause against us. Pay close attention at the very end and you'll see that slightly incredulous look he gives when Matthews calls him a brave man for saying things that are absolutely true yet seem to be categorized as too high-minded and big-picture to be discussed in any substantive way on a daily basis because they don't fit into the horse race narrative of most mainstream media's news and election coverage.
When it comes down to comedians having to do the job of candidly dissecting the news for you, you're officially part of the problem. It's the refreshing honesty of entertainers like Maher, Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert speaking truth to those in power that should make political pundits like Chris Matthews feel ashamed of the dog and pony shows they put on every day:
The guy pictured above is extreme sports enthusiast Jeb Corliss and the outfit he has on is called a wingsuit. It's a specially modified jumpsuit with fabric sewn between the legs and under the arms that shapes the body into an airfoil which can create lift. The suit slows the diver's fall to 1/3 their normal speed, thus tripling their free fall time. Most wingsuit fliers wear a parachute designed specifically for BASE jumping, which opens quickly at low altitudes when their flight is done.
However Jeb is on a quest to be the first wingsuit flier to land while flying solely under the power of his suit, sans parachute. He claims to need only $2 million to build a massive ramp that will allow him to complete his unassisted landing. So if there are any eccentric millionaires reading this, you just found an outlet for your spending; I'm sure Mountain Dew will throw in for a percentage as well.
Despite the sarcastic nature of the title of this post, I really do hope he succeeds at this. It's something that I would definitely like to see happen. But if he does smear himself all over the place, this is going to seem eerily prescient someday. You can watch some video of him flying and BASE jumping from various famous locations courtesy of The New York Times.
Tuesday, March 18, 2008
Science-fiction author, inventor and futurist Arthur C. Clarke died today at age 90. He shared an Academy Award nomination with Stanley Kubrick for best adapted screenplay for 2001: A Space Odyssey based on one of his short stories and was widely credited for the idea of the telecommunications satellite which he never patented, prompting a 1965 essay that he subtitled, "How I Lost a Billion Dollars in My Spare Time."
In a videotaped message to fans on his last birthday, he said that he still hoped to see some sign of intelligent life beyond Earth, wanted to see more progress on alternative fuels and wished for an end to the 25-year civil war between ethnic Tamil separatists and the government of Sri Lanka, where he had lived since the 1950's.
He was convinced that with the emergence of commercial space flight a "Golden Age" of space travel was just beginning:
"Over the next 50 years, thousands of people will travel to Earth orbit -- and then, to the moon and beyond. Space travel and space tourism will one day become almost as commonplace as flying to exotic destinations on our own planet."I, for one, can not wait.
Many of you may have heard about the speech that Barack Obama gave on race and race relations today (the video and transcript can be found here); I just finished watching it online. I found it to be very well thought out, measured and brave; many in the punditocracy are calling it one of the most open and honest speeches delivered about race in America by a politician in our lifetime, and I have to say that I agree.
Obama began his run for the presidency by intentionally not making his race a focal point of his candidacy. He has of course acknowledged his race during the campaign; it's obviously not something that he's tried to (or could) hide. He has reminisced about his father and his African heritage, he has invoked the words of Dr. Martin Luther King and his dream, he has spoken proudly about his church and his relationship with his pastor Reverend Jeremiah Wright, but as a rule he has not run as the "black candidate". In his own words, he isn't running for the presidency of black America or the presidency of white America, he's running for the presidency of the United States of America. However it is his relationship with Rev. Wright and the Reverend's views on race relations that have been focused on so heavily in the news cycle of the past week.
For those of you who haven't been following the story, videos have recently surfaced in which the Reverend during some of his sermons had made incendiary remarks about the United States and it's history of discrimination towards black Americans and their African ancestors. These snippets of film and Obama's admittedly close friendship with Rev. Wright have led people to ask if Obama shares these views or not and what that could mean for his candidacy, thus necessitating the need for him to speak publicly on the subject.
I myself have refrained from commenting up to this point because, not being religious or having strong ties to any religious organization, I did not think that it was a legitimate concern. I assumed that thinking Americans could differentiate between the views of one man and those of the pastor of his church; that it would be quite obvious from the wealth of written and spoken material to come from Obama what his thoughts are on virtually any subject. I now see that I have underestimated the depth of feeling that people have concerning religion in politics and how they can allow these emotions to cloud their judgement about a man who has been nothing if not forthcoming about virtually every aspect of his life.
Even after providing the links for the video and transcript of the speech above, I realize that most if not all of you will not have time to watch and/or read them. That's fine; it's over 37 minutes long and I know not everyone is as interested in politics as myself. It is for those readers that I would like to summarize the speech and give my analysis of it. Full disclosure: I am a dedicated Obama supporter but I try to be as honest and objective when discussing politics as my humanity will allow.
First off, I now do think that the need for this speech was warranted. Of course, many people out there will take the opportunity to cherry pick whatever lines they think will hurt Obama the most and use them against him and his campaign; that is to be expected. These same people have done the same thing with Rev. Wright's words ad nauseum. But the fact remains that the discussion of race was going to enter the debate over the presidency at some point and Obama is smart to address the issue proactively. He knows that while we have worked hard to end race problems in the past that the fight is far from over and that we can't pretend that it isn't.
He spoke tonight first about the Declaration of Independence and how it was left unfinished by our founding fathers, specifically the issue of slavery to be handled by future generations. He spoke about how a proclamation of black emancipation freed the descendants of those slaves but that this piece of paper did not do all that was needed either. And he spoke about how it was only in modern day America that a black man like himself could be running for president of the nation a mere handful of generations after his ancestors were still treated as if they were less than human.
In addressing Rev. Wright, he said that he could have left the church after hearing some of his more inflammatory remarks and that if all he knew of the man were what has been seen on television and Youtube lately, he could see why others would think that he should have. But he defended his friend as a force for good in the church and the community, pointing out his efforts to open low-income housing, providing day care facilities for single mothers and administering counseling to and helping to reform the local prison population. He spoke about how his particular church and it's congregation embody the black community in it's entirety, the good and the bad, and to a larger degree all that makes up black America as a whole. And he compared the views of the Reverend with those of his white grandmother who had admitted personal feelings of discomfort regarding race in the past, thus aligning himself with the feelings of people on both sides of the issue and going on to state that he could no more disown Rev. Wright than he could this woman who had loved and raised him.
He explained how many blacks of Rev. Wright's generation, who came of age in the fifties and sixties, still carry the resentment of their treatment during those years and how those feelings, while not discussed in mixed race situations, do come to the fore in black barber shops, neighborhoods and churches. He compared it to the similar anger in white America over affirmative action and political correctness, over having to watch one's usage of language when discussing any aspect of race for fear of being labeled a racist in these hyper-sensitive times. He said that condemning the anger of whites or blacks over these issues without understanding where each of them comes from just widens the chasm of misunderstanding between the races in America. He recognizes that we may not like that this anger and resentment exist but also that we can't just wish them away either.
He spoke candidly and with humility about how we won't move beyond racism in a single election or with a single candidate and that if we focus solely on the worst aspects of racism today that we will only end up doing the same in the next election and the one after that, thus ensuring that nothing will ever change. He emphasized that we must teach our children about the importance of the conservative ideal of "self-help" coupled with a belief that society can be changed and that the achievement of our dreams does not have to come at the expense of the dreams of others. And at the conclusion, he stated that our Union may not be perfect but that past generations have shown that with hard work and mutual respect, it can be perfected.
I've heard all manner of analyses about this speech running the gamut from "best speech on race, ever, period" to "just a hypocritical ploy to appeal to both whites and blacks in his quest to win the presidency and force a liberal agenda on America". Will his words today sway the thoughts and feelings of the average American on the subject of race relations? Probably not. The average American is too busy with work and family to pay much attention to anything longer than a thirty second soundbite on the evening news, and we mustn't begrudge them that fact. The truth is that most people who were going to vote for or against Obama for racial reasons will probably still do just that. One speech isn't going to change the majority of people's minds about a subject that is so deeply ingrained in our national heritage and culture.
No, the most important truth to come from tonight's speech is not what we as a nation feel or believe about race and how it relates to the presidential contest; what is important is what we have seen and learned about Barack Obama the man. He stood on a stage today, flanked not by dozens of supporters and well-wishers as candidates usually are but all by himself, accompanied only by the American flag. He spoke openly and candidly about a subject that is virtually taboo in American politics, in a way that would be considered certain death for most other campaigns. It probably wasn't a smart move politically; most pundits and talking heads will likely say so. But it was most definitely a courageous statement, delivered in a way that evinced heartfelt sensitivity and utmost respect while at the same time proving a willingness to do and say not just what is needed but also what is right in one of the most difficult moments yet of his candidacy. And it was in that moment that Barack Obama didn't just seem to be a symbol of racial unity for the American people; he seemed presidential.
[Update: Leave it to Jon Stewart to deliver the truest, most concise analysis of the evening:
"And so, at eleven o'clock a.m. on a Tuesday, a prominent politician spoke to Americans about race as though they were adults."]
Monday, March 17, 2008
I'm definitely not a fan of Ben Stein. This guy was a speechwriter for Richard Nixon and later defended his crimes, accusing Bob Woodward and Ben Bradlee of hurting the country by exposing Watergate. He's also the star of the new intellectually dishonest, Intelligent Design institute-financed, anti-evolution movie Expelled. As you may have guessed, he and I don't see eye to eye on many issues.
That's why this segment he did for CBS' Sunday Morning about the Eliot Spitzer scandal caught me totally off guard; I actually found myself nodding in agreement with him. So much of this story has been about the prurient details of Spitzer's sexual relationship with "Kristen" that many other aspects have been completely missed or outright ignored by the media. Thanks to Crooks and Liars for the video:
I have to admit that this issue had not occurred to me as it applies to this situation and others but the precedents being set are disturbing indeed. It is dangerous when a handful of appointed bureaucrats have the power to virtually pick and choose which elected officials they will pursue investigations against and perhaps eventually force from office. Now I'm not suggesting that politicians not be investigated after entering public office when it is reasonable to suspect that they may have committed a crime. That's perfectly acceptable; it's what the Justice Department is for.
The reason I find this practice so troubling is because of how recklessly and brazenly partisan the Bush administration has been in it's manipulation and coercion of the federal government and it's employees. The lines between what are supposed to be the objective arms of government and partisan politics are being blurred more and more every day. The firing of the nine federal justices last year, the testimony and pathetically transparent amnesia of then Attorney General Alberto Gonzales before Congress and now this business with Spitzer and the IRS being cases in point. Actions like these send a clear message to all employees of the federal government: either fall in line with our agenda or you will lose your jobs.
Now of course I'm not accusing George W. Bush of writing a memo instructing someone to specifically take down Eliot Spitzer. He's been too busy flying to other countries and embarrassing us as a nation with his dancing. I'm just positing that the outright politicization of what are supposed to be nonpartisan branches of the federal government should be something that angers and upsets American citizens and that it can have dangerous consequences for democracy when it infects our tax and justice systems. And I agree with Ben Stein that political appointees should not have sole discretion to decide which elections by those same citizens they are going to nullify with their bureaucratic meddling. Their only guidelines should be the laws of the United States. Period.
Saturday, March 15, 2008
The photo above is of Ashley Alexandra Dupre, also known as "Kristen", in St. Tropez last year (and something tells me she didn't pay for the plane ticket herself). In case you've been under a rock for the last week, she's the prostitute that Eliot Spitzer has been spending time with when he wasn't busy prosecuting people for soliciting prostitutes in the state of New York.
As I stated in a previous post, I have no problem with prostitution or the people who engage in it on either side of the transaction. So why the picture of Kristen? Because Conan O'Brien did a bit on his show the other day where he reveals the cast of NBC's upcoming TV movie about the scandal (made up of course) and I saw a legitimate excuse to put a picture of a hot-ass prostitute in a bikini on my blog. So there she is. Enjoy:
[Update: Kristen resigns! That's right; she's stepping down as a representative of the Emperor's Club. Just found this exclusive video of her press conference:
I had no idea what a blumpkin was either. Good luck getting one of those for free.]
If you're a regular reader you may have noticed the big red letter A at the right of the page, signifying that I have officially joined the Out Campaign. It is a public awareness initiative for freethought and atheism endorsed by prominent atheist Richard Dawkins (or The Great Dawkins, as the otters call him).
Sarah Silverman was doing it with Matt Damon, Jimmy Kimmel was doing it with Ben Affleck, so I guess it was inevitable that Lil' Bush would eventually do it with John McCain. My favorite line was the one about having McCain's black baby.
If you don't remember, during the 2000 Republican South Carolina primary voters got phone calls purporting to be pollsters asking how they felt about the various candidates. One of the questions was whether they would be more or less likely to support John McCain if they knew that he had fathered an illegitimate black child.
Now of course he had never done anything like this but he and his wife had adopted an infant Bangladeshi girl years earlier, so when people who had gotten the calls saw them on stage together voila, there was his Nubian love child. This despicable campaign practice is called push-polling: it's a way of spreading false information about a candidate while acting like you're just asking questions and taking down polling information. It was invented by Lee Atwater, a trusted advisor to Reagan and Bush I and a political mentor and close friend of Karl Rove's.
Bush II won the 2000 South Carolina primary, by the way. And now McCain will accept his endorsement and fundraising dollars because he's finally learned what side his bread is buttered on. Take it Lil' Bush:
Friday, March 14, 2008
I wrote about Ralph Nader's current bid for president in this post a while back and I did it with full disclosure of my identity, leaving myself open to possible retaliation from his "Nader's Raiders" goon squad. Some fellow on Youtube decided to take a more private approach and posted this anonymous "manifesto delivered by Speak N' Spell to spooky techno music." I agree with a lot of what he says, especially the stuff about Dennis Kucinich's wife. I like Kucinich but I'm convinced he sold his soul to Lucifer every time I see that Howdy-Doody face of his with that total Betty hanging on his arm. Here's his faceless screed:
The United States Treasury Department has just issued the newly redesigned five dollar bills. This move should thwart the latest efforts by counterfeiters since they've been bleaching the ink off of ones and reprinting the old fives on the special paper that is made exclusively for the U. S. Mint. They printed fives because up until now they were the only bill besides the one that used the old designs. These new bills with the giant purple numeral five on the back virtually scream, "I'm legitimate and I'm totally gay!"
In an earlier post, I railed against the cost of the Iraq war because, among other reasons, experts have said that it's total cost will reach into the trillions. We throw around words like million, billion and trillion when discussing money without really realizing just how much scratch we're talking about but if you happen to be robbing a bank or anything like that it's useful to have some perspective. Here are some helpful comparisons:
- one million dollars in one hundred dollar bills weighs about 22 pounds and stacks up about 4 feet high.
- one billion dollars in one hundred dollar bills weighs about 11 tons (22,000 pounds), as much as 3 adult elephants and stacks up about 4/5 of a mile high.
- one trillion dollars in one hundred dollar bills weighs about 11,000 tons (22,000,000 pounds), as much as the dome of St. Peter's basilica in Rome, the largest dome in the world and stacks up about 800 miles, or about 4 times as high as the International Space Station currently in orbit.
So if you ever find yourself in that bank vault unsupervised, grab as much as you can carry but just know that you'll be nowhere close to making yourself a billionaire.
Wednesday, March 12, 2008
I know I said in my last post that I was done for the night but I had to put this up when I saw it; I think I'm becoming an addict. If you haven't been keeping up with the Democratic primary candidate back and forth this week, surrogates from both the Obama and Clinton campaigns said some inappropriate things about the competition and each subsequently resigned after issuing apologies.
Trying to be as objective as I can, I truly feel that the remarks and the history of such remarks by Geraldine Ferraro were much more egregious than those by Samantha Power. I also think that the Obama camp handled the matter as quickly and responsibly as possible. Clinton has yet to condemn Ferraro's comments and there are no indications that she will any time soon.
It seems to me that these incidents and each campaign's respective reactions to them are accurately foreshadowing what will make up the rest of this primary season: an even-handed, reasonable, conciliatory approach to politics versus no-holds barred, opportunistic, Rovian politics as usual. I was watching a recording of Countdown with Keith Olbermann earlier tonight and caught his Special Comment at the end of the show. He breaks the situation down for us with an earnest plea to Senator Clinton:
I had a lot of errands to run today and I have still more things to do around my palatial estate tonight so I don't have much time to blog. Fortunately, I foresaw that there would be days like this so I keep a folder full of fun little things to post in lieu of actually coming up with original thoughts. I know, it seems lazy on my part but it takes longer than you'd think searching for interesting stories and writing and editing every day.
So I present to you the extended trailer for the much anticipated sequel, "Harold and Kumar Escape from Guantanamo Bay". I haven't heard much about this one but Neal Patrick Harris makes a return appearance so, 'nuff said. When NPH calls, you have to accept the charges. I'll be witty and interesting tomorrow, I promise:
Tuesday, March 11, 2008
For all of you Family Guy fans out there, here are all three rounds of their epic battle. For those of you who aren't fans, if you watch one part of this show it should be these scenes. You won't be disappointed. Ding, ding:
Several years ago I read Hunter S Thompson's "Fear and Loathing on the Campaign Trail '72" which detailed his adventures following the 1972 presidential primaries and general election for Rolling Stone magazine. I still remember most of what happened and it has felt kind of familiar lately but I didn't realize how much it mirrors what is happening in the Democratic primary today, and especially what could happen up through the convention. I knew there was something I liked about McGovern. Stephen Colbert breaks down the comparison excellently despite his obvious right wing slant:
On a similar note, I just wanted to give a quick shout out to Barack Obama for his 20 point win in the Mississippi primary tonight. He's now up by 130 delegates over Hillary Clinton. Still a long time until Pennsylvania too.
As many of you have probably heard by now, New York Governor Eliot Spitzer has been linked to a high end prostitution ring by federal investigators. There have been numerous calls for his resignation after prosecutors unsealed an affidavit detailing a rendezvous in a Washington hotel room last month.
I have to say that I've been a fan of Spitzer's for quite a while now. As state Attorney General he took on major corporate interests and organized crime figures responsible for inflicting crimes upon the citizens of New York and beyond. He kind of reminded me of Bobby Kennedy going after the mob during his brother's administration in the sixties. That said, I must admit that I'm deeply disappointed in him after all of this.
Not because he visited a prostitute or anything as trivial and simple-minded as that. Not even because he cheated on his wife of 20 years. How can we know what the status of their marriage is or the arrangements they've made with each other? That is a private matter for them and their family that is none of our business. No, I'm disappointed because this is just one more example of the rank hypocrisy exhibited by one of our elected officials.
Of course, I blame the American people just as much as I do these public servants (and yes, I include myself in this group to a degree). This practice we have of putting these people up onto a pedestal, insisting that they be squeaky-clean idealists, that they have a happy family life, that they be photogenic and look good speaking in front of a bank of microphones, that they be absolutely free from "sin", etc. These are only human beings, no better than you or I. Then when they inevitably fall from grace for whatever reasons, the hysterical, hyper-partisan political climate that we've all embraced as a country shifts into overdrive and they are maligned as monsters and crooks that must be held up as examples of whichever side of the political spectrum they inhabit, when they (and each of us, for that matter) are merely deeply flawed individuals, trying to do the best we can in an imperfect world.
But again, what bothers me is the hypocrisy: you prosecute people for organized crime and prostitution, so now you're going to have sex with a prostitute? To David Vitter: you slammed Bill Clinton on his extra-marital affairs in the nineties, so now you're going to cheat on your wife? To Mark Foley: you're in charge of the Congressional Missing and Exploited Children's Caucus, so now you're going to hit on and proposition young congressional pages? To Larry Craig: you take every opportunity to condemn homosexuality and block equal marriage rights for gays, so now you're going to have sex with another man in an airport restroom? Aside from the pedophilia (which is a morally grey area at best when it involves seventeen year olds), I have no personal moral objections to these men's actions, but couldn't you at least decide to engage in an activity that was somewhat different from the exact same one you've gone on public record for vehemently opposing?
Which brings me to the subject of prostitution (settle down). As I alluded to in a previous post and promised to expand upon at a later date, I have no problem with the use of illegal substances by consenting adults in the privacy of their own homes and I view prostitution in much the same light. Full disclosure: I have never slept with a prostitute. Not that I would be ashamed of it if I had but I just haven't. Some buddies and I did find ourselves at an Asian "massage parlor" in downtown San Francisco one night and many of the girls were very attractive but I opted out of the transaction when I found out that I couldn't just get a massage. Again, I did this not out of some moral objection but more for the reasons of possible uncleanliness and almost certain disease (plus it would have been a lot more expensive).
Of course, the Interwebs have been abuzz on this subject for the past 36 hours and I have seen many common sense questions being asked. Among them: why is it illegal for me to pay a prostitute for sex but a director can pay two people to have sex on film and then make money selling the DVD? Why is there such a social stigma against prostitutes and johns while Ron Jeremy and Jenna Jameson are treated like celebrities by the media? Why is it that if I pay two people to have sex in my bedroom while I watch it's prostitution but if I watch these same two people on a DVD in my bedroom it's just pornography? And what I consider one of the clearest and most succinct questions on this subject: why is it illegal to sell, what it is perfectly legal to give away?
As I stated in this post, I think that Americans have some massive hangups when it comes to sex and sexuality but I think the problem goes deeper than that. We are an anachronism as a society: we enjoy greater amounts of wealth and pleasure as a people than any civilization in history and yet we inflict upon ourselves unbelievable amounts of guilt and shame for this same enjoyment; a sometimes almost imperceptible but often blatant self-imposed penance. Now I don't want to solely blame the proliferation of religion in our society for these hangups so I'll only blame it for the vast majority of them.
I regret starting this line of thought as I am now out of time to properly elucidate upon it but I promise to in the near future. I do hope that what I have written today on this subject will spur some interesting discussions amongst all of you and your families and friends. More to come (pun completely unintended).
[Update: Eliot Spitzer resigned as governor of New York state the day after this post was written.]
Of course the war in Iraq has cost us many things as a society: the lives of thousands of brave American soldiers, the respect of the various other nations of the world, our national credibility and moral authority, etc. But nothing justifies the use of the word "cost" so much as the financial cost to our nation: the trillions (that's 12 zeros) of dollars that will have to be paid back by ourselves and the next several generations of Americans. The inimitable Tom Tommorow puts all this cash into perspective in his latest strip at Slate.com.
[Update: The link above will take you to Slate.com's main page first. You will have to pull down the list of recent pages on your browser window and skip back two pages past their redirect page to get to the comic strip. Sorry.]
Monday, March 10, 2008
Theo Jansen is the Dutch creator of what he calls "Kinetic Sculptures", where nature and technology meet. Essentially these sculptures are robots powered solely by the wind. They don't seem to handle as well as a fine German automobile but they're still pretty cool. You can check out these amazing machines and a few more like them here. Enjoy:
As some of you may know, the site for the George W. Bush Presidential Library has been chosen at Southern Methodist University in Texas (which, incidentally, seems to think I am an alumnus and will not stop asking me for donations. I'm poor; leave me alone!). One of my brothers-in-law sent me this from The Chronicle of Higher Education. They held a design contest for the structure and posted the best submissions here. My favorite is the one with Lady Liberty's double finger salute/foreign diplomacy expression pictured below. Check out the video:
I assume that nobody reading this blog is a regular viewer of Bill O'Reilly and as the average viewer of his show is apparently 71 I doubt if many of them even know what a blog is. Regardless, I saw this and thought it was hilarious/disgusting (which pretty much sums up my opinion of the guy every time I see him):
I guess what bothers me more than anything else about this is that this guy has over a million viewers every night and I have to assume that the majority of them aren't like me and just watching for the laugh factor (if you got that pun you watch too much cable news). This is the first I've heard of Godwin's Law though. Interesting; I may have to invoke it in future political debates.
Sunday, March 9, 2008
Saturday night was daylight saving time so I hope you remembered to set them forward to skip that extra hour of sleep. I know, I know, I hate this one too but it just makes the one in November that much sweeter. At least it's on a Sunday (can you tell I don't go to church?)
Incidentally, DST was not invented by Benjamin Franklin as many believe. Nobody in the 18th century really kept schedules accurate enough to need it. It was the invention of rail and communication networks that neccessitated a standardization of time. This prompted the idea in 1905 and the United States adopted it in 1918, one of it's early goals being to reduce evening usage of incandescent lighting which was a primary use of electricity at the time. I wrote this before going to bed last night because I'm sleeping in today. Take that, DST.
Saturday, March 8, 2008
Just a little commercial from Great Britain I found on another site. Every time I watch something like this from another country it just serves as another reminder about how many hangups Americans have concerning sex and sexuality in general; i. e. you would never see this commercial on American television. Funny just the same though:
I'd say the lesson here is to always have some fresh lunch meat on hand. Of course, that line of thought sets up some good kielbasa jokes as well. On the same topic, it seems Texas' state Attorney General is a lot less comfortable around the old cucumber than the Brits appear to be. It's the existence of free thinkers like this fellow that made me want to leave that state in the first place.
I came across this article in Wired magazine today that features a graduate student at Arizona State University who implanted a rare earth magnet into the tip of his ring finger. The magnet gives off a noticeable oscillation when exposed to electromagnetic fields, giving him the ability to locate electric stove tops and motors, and pick out live electrical cables. It is even hinted in the article that you would be able to sense whether your hard drive was about to crash before it happened.
I know that I proclaimed in this post that I will someday own an implanted cell phone but I am by no means a hardcore body-modification kind of guy. Just the same, I have to say that this is pretty cool. He has given himself the ability to sense EM fields! This may not excite you all as much as it does me but my fellow nerds out there who have been reading about this kind of thing in science fiction for years know how I feel. I've always felt a bit limited by having only five senses anyway. Here's to the next step.
As anyone who reads this blog with any regularity can attest, I am most certainly in the bag for Barack Obama. In fact, as Dan Savage, who is a correspondent for Real Time with Bill Maher on HBO and happens to be homosexual says, I'm probably a little gay for Obama. So when I had a bit of a spirited back and forth with one of my brothers-in-law recently in the comments section of this post, I stopped for a second and tried to discern how biased I am for this guy and the reasons why.
I had made the argument (now moot, of course) that if Hillary Clinton lost either Texas or Ohio that she should bow out of the primary race for the good of the party (full disclosure: I'm not a Democrat and I am pretty disgusted with the way those elected officials have comported themselves over the last few years). His argument was that she has worked her entire life to get where she is now and that, were he her, there is no way that he would give up in the eleventh hour of a hard fought campaign just for the sake of party unity. I can totally see why he (and she) would feel this way and I can't argue against that. If my only argument was to preserve party unity, which it's not.
I am by no means a political scientist and my knowledge of political history in America would be quite obviously dwarfed by someone who is but I don't think that I'm going out on a limb here by stating that I think we are witnessing a pivotal moment in American politics. Not just that we are essentially choosing between a black man or a woman to be our next leader but what we are seeing happen with new voters (and new young voters specifically). I freely admit that I did not vote in 1992 or 1996, the first two presidential elections in which I was eligible. The reason? I just didn't care. Now you can chalk this up to my legendary cynicism or to the overwhelming ennui of Generation X (Jesus, how outdated does that terminology sound?) but the fact remains that millions of young people in this country have mostly eschewed politics for the simple reason that they didn't think that it mattered in their lives.
But no longer. Barack Obama has shown those youngsters (and that's officially the first time I've used the term 'youngsters' in my adult life; glad it was typed and not uttered) that there is something to care about in American politics. That they matter in the political process. That they are, to quote The Man, "the change that we seek". And when I look at the Democratic primary race right now, and I handicap it (as I feel compelled to do), I see one of two scenarios: 1) Barack Obama wins the nomination (and henceforth, the presidency) and an entire generation of Americans find themselves inspired by and permanently invested in the democratic process and the dream that is America, or 2) Hillary Clinton wins the nomination by the grace of the Democratic superdelegates (and maybe the presidency) and an entire generation of Americans find themselves just as disconnected and disenfranchised as I was back in '92. We can't afford as a nation to lose this generation of voters to the predictably sleazy politics of the last century.
This isn't merely a race for the presidency of the United States of America; it's a litmus test of the spirit of the American youth. It's a choice between engaging millions of young voters in the democratic process or disillusioning these same voters for what will surely be an entire generation. I feel particularly inspired when I see young people out en masse for Obama when I can remember every one of my buddies in college (myself included) not giving a damn about who was the leader of the free world at the time. I just hate to see us start to backslide as a nation in the face of so much progress. Just something for you to think about.