Monday, July 30, 2007

The New "Security"

U.S. Touts Arab Arms Sales Package
Rice Says Huge Bump In Military Sales To Arab Nations Will Boost Security In Iraq And Persian Gulf

Hello folks. This is crap! This isn't even a news story! This is propaganda, spread by the administration while it attempts to do two things:
  1. Arm the Middle East, because they really need more weapons there.

  2. Give some huge "discounts" (think of that one dollar off coupon for a tube of Colgate in the Sunday paper) on state-of-the-art weapons and systems, to allow their recipients to kill better and deader.

Now, let's think about this. It doesn't seem like the Middle East needs more weapons, but probably could use less! No one is really talking about how the US (and Israel, oddly enough) are arming Fatah to fight Hezbolla in Gaza. They're not talking about how Saudi Arabia is arming the Sunni's in Iraq, only that Iran is arming the Shiites there.

Does anyone think there needs to be more weapons, and better weapons in that area? Does anyone think there's an upside to giving more guns to the whack jobs who are shooting everyone and blowing everyone up? Will a Fatah mujaheddin with a spanking new rocket launcher really protect an American city from a terror attack? Is it necessary for us to pick out friends from the neighborhood fire-fight, and then give them more ordinance? They're killing people! Real, normal, regular people! Dads and moms and kids and teachers and butchers and bakers and firemen and cops. On both sides. Every day.

And the more guns we give to Fatah, the more Iran gives to Hezbolla. Repeat after me, the enemy of our enemy is not necessarily our friend. This is a lesson the US government never seems to learn. They didn't learn it in Viet Nam, they didn't learn it in Aghanistan, or Panama, or Iran, or Nicaragua, or Lebanon, or el Salvador, and they didn't learn it in Iraq. We have, in the past, given all of those countries arms and coupons for more, because they seemed to be enemies of our enemies (Russia, China, Communism, drug-lords, Iranians). They didn't help with anything besides keeping those countries tied up in bloody and ultra-violent civil disturbances for years. And made their populace hate us.

And then, on the other side of the coin, think about this: Who benefits when the US administration issues weapons coupons? Lockheed does, and General Dynamics, and Grumman and all of our other beloved US defense contractors.
  • Lockheed Martin
  • Boeing
  • Northrop Grumman
  • Raytheon
  • General Dynamics
  • United Technologies
  • Science Applications International Corporation
  • TRW (acquired by Northrop Grumman, 12 Dec 2002)
  • Health Net
  • L-3 Communications Holdings
In the grand scheme of things, I guess I don't much care if we sell arms to violent people, who will buy them from someone else if not us. I don't think it's moral or right, but it's how business is done. On the other hand, I believe it's the deepest and most cynical form of misinformation to assert, as Condoleeza Rice did today, that this obvious corporate welfare handout has something to do with the pursuit of good, and somehow contributes positively to the global war on terror and our overall security. It does not. It contributes to a more violent world. I believe it's already too violent. Stop pouring gasoline on the fire. And stop lying about it.

Saturday, July 28, 2007

Viscious

Of all the things I regret I wasn't taught, the biggest is no one taught me people were vicious. Or perhaps I was told, but at the time I didn't trust the teller. Over the years I have given much to people who never gave anything back. And I trusted people to act in my interests (or let me know if they didn't), and it never came to pass.

People are viciously self-serving and crass and cruel and grasping and greedy. They act only in their own self-interest, and some will go out of their way to undermine others, even when there's no other advantage. It would have been better to know that than to let them victimize me.

Friday, July 27, 2007

The Middle Ages

There are several loud and intransigent groups of Islamists who want to institute Sharia Law in government, basically placing all of government and society under the rule of one organized church, and placing all decisions about the citizenry in the hands of which ever spiritual leader is currently "in power."

There are several loud and intransigent groups of Israelis who want to institute Judaic Law in government, basically placing all of government and society under the rule of one organized church, and placing all decisions about the citizenry in the hands of which ever spiritual leader is currently "in power."

There are several loud and intransigent groups of Christians who want to institute Biblical Law in government, basically placing all of government and society under the rule of one organized church, and placing all decisions about the citizenry in the hands of which ever spiritual leader is currently "in power."

Think about this! It would mean there will never be any reconciliation, communication, cooperation, or harmony among civilizations. There can't be, because each of these "belief systems" is diametrically opposed to the other. There would be no more "secular" society, because none of these systems can tolerate secularism. Any small gesture of allowance and tolerance that is made to any of these groups by governments just makes them stronger. They're unable to admit any concession is anything else but civil secularism bowing to the inevitable. They're dangerous, they're backward looking, they're intolerant, and they want to bring back the fabulous Middle Ages.

Say no. Say no, thank you. Say no, you blind, intolerant heebie-jeebie believing bigot. But say no.

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Terminal

I have, this month, been diagnosed with reasonable accuracy as having not one but two terminal diseases. This situation is thought provoking. It makes me think about why I'm here, what I hope to accomplish, and what it means to accomplish anything. Of course, those are huge subjects, about which I may or may not write more, but I have come to some conclusions about the way I act and behave.

  1. It has always been my habit (well, since I've been an adult) to be self-effacing, and to try to put people at ease around me, even to the point of ignoring my own wants and needs.

  2. I have prided myself on facing problems securely and without putting demands and stress on those around me. Well, the first part is a lie-- I avoid problems like the plague until I'm able to face them myself.

  3. I am a "spritual-friendly" but not a spiritual person, per se. I am able to make room for others' beliefs.
I need to re-think the above. I'm pretty angry right now, and I am not going to keep my normal behavior of self-effacement anymore. At least I hope I don't. And I'm going to write and take more pictures. More! A LOT! I promise that.

Thursday, July 19, 2007

But think of the children!

This is crap government at work. There is a proposal before Congress to fund the SCHIP program (which funds children's health care by funneling money directly to the states). This is a worthy program, and I am sure it's having a good effect for the kids who qualify. The states have quite a bit of leeway as far as who qualifies for benefits, and are much better at distributing the benefits fairly and effectively.

The problem with the program today is it's underfunded. Of course it is... this is the USA where we have horribly over-priced medical care, and the system of distribution is broken from top to bottom.

But back to crap government-- how does Congress propose to increase funds to this program? By adding another tax on cigarettes of 61 cents a pack. Now I'd like to take a minute to inject a bit of logic into this debate, because "send poor kids to the doctor" and "tax those smutty disgusting cigarettes" both seem to make a lot of emotional sense.

I'd like to take a step back for a moment, and look at this from a class perspective. Who is this program going to serve? Lower class kids, that's who. Working class. Working poor. Kids from families who are too well off to qualify for Medicaid, but not well off enough to have private health insurance. They're working. They're trying. Their kids deserve to go to the doctor.

Now, who smokes? Smoking is, today, almost completely a class phenomenon. Rich, educated people don't smoke, poor people do. And in a family with tight finances, when it's time to divvy up the weekly paycheck, guess what? Cigarettes aren't on the "optional" list, they're up there with essentials, like the electric bill. Any household dollars that come out of the budget to cover the increased tax will come out of the "optional" items like fresh vegetables, nutritious meals, outdoor activities, after school care-- the very things that promote children's health, and that most doctors will recommend. Promoting health care for the children of the working poor is a laudable goal. Funding the program by picking their parents' pockets is not.

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

This story isn't true

This story isn't true-- there is nothing about it that rings in the least bit true. This is a story placed by some strange interested parties somewhere. Who knows? It's bizarre! It raises more questions than it answers.

Do we believe that the leader of Al Quaeda in Iraq is an actor? I don't believe it for a minute. Could this be part of the administration's answer to the all night Senate hearings last night? Is someone in the Iraqi government trying to pull the wool over someone's eyes? Check the end of the story, for the tale of a mysterious guy named Bagdaddi who was either killed, or captured, or neither, by either the Iraqi authorities or by the US armed forces, or maybe none of the above. That's who the actor is supposed to be? Did he get killed?

The actor is supposedly used to disguise the fact that the al quaeda in Iraq leadership is foreign. Foreign to what, or whom? I believe the only people in Iraq who are concerned who's an Iraqi or not are the Bush administration. This reeks of managed misinformation. Supposedly the story came from a captured mucky-muck in the organization. Maybe this is illustrative of the lack of quality in information that is procured under torture. Nobody in the world, besides maybe Texas Republicans, is falling for this.

I'm not buying this story. And why is the LA Times reporting it?

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

How is this different from paying a ransom?

Thankfully, Libya's highest court has today commuted the death sentences of the five Bulgarian nurses and the Pakistani doctor who had been sentenced to death for allegedly knowingly and purposefully infecting 450 Libyan children with AIDS. Read the story here. They didn't do it, but they took the fall. Medical experts presented evidence at their last trial that the AIDS epidemic had started much earlier and spread because of unsanitary conditions at the hospital at which the medics worked. Then there was some wrinkle in Sharia law that required that, in the event of someone causing harm to another, a settlement must be paid. The medical personnel were sentenced to death because no settlement was reached.

Now, apparently, a settlement has been reached. International, American, and Bulgarian (and apparently other Eastern European) organizations have paid the equivalent of one million dollars to the families for each infected child (fifty have already died of the disease), and the court has acknowledged that. The head of the "victim's organization" presented papers today to the court attesting to their receipt of the settlement. The death sentences have been commuted to life in prison. It's expected that diplomatic maneuvering will gain the freedom of all the defendants.

Some in Libya are still saying the AIDS infection was the result of Western powers trying to undermine the power of Islam and of Libya in general. The defendants have been incarcerated since 1999. Several had submitted confessions, which they charge were obtained through rape and torture. These were volunteer care givers! Their charges against the police were tried and thrown out, and then they were in turn charged with slander and libel by their torturers. Thank God that case was dismissed today as well.

This episode is yet another example of the danger of dealing with the third world in general, and the Muslim third world in particular. I'm sorry to say it so baldly, but these people are freaks! Endemic (and government enforced) ignorance and powerlessness is a heady mixture. People get hurt. But what's worse is this is a blatant case of kidnapping with a very hefty ransom paid. Only this is on a government scale. Once these innocent victims are freed, the Libyan government should be isolated and left to their own self-imposed middle ages. They have proven themselves incapable of functioning in a civilized society.

And just for kicks, I thought I should add that yesterday they received a letter from none other than the administration of our own George W. Bush, expressing the desire of the United States to normalize relations with the fine country of Libya. I know they want Ghaddafi (Duck) to behave, but please. How about if we just ignore them? Bulgaria sent them a whole hospital full of care-givers, and in gratitude, the Libyans arrested and held them in hellish conditions in prison for the last nine years, at least several years of which they were on death row. As soon as those poor nurses and the doctor set their feet on the tarmac of some other country, Libya should be dropped from the list of civilized nations. The lives of the innocent accused should count for something. They'll never get their lives back. Libya should be isolated and ostracized. And Dubya should revoke his friendly overture. Don't deal with kidnappers, George. Don't! Show some spine and some values. Tell them to shove their oil.

Something else I don't like

I've been taking my lunch at home recently-- I live less than a mile from work, and if I drive up the hill to home I can eat and have a Moxie and smoke a cigarette and see Helen and save a bundle in lunch money. Oh yeah!

Driving home, however, at lunchtime, even though it's about 6 blocks, can be a challenge. Downtown Portland in the summer (especially this summer) is going through a big construction and maintenance boom. Add to that the normal daytime-- lunchtime-- foot traffic and cars and pickup trucks full of contractors driving through, and it's sometimes a real zoo and really slow going. But what I really really hate is the people from out of town. You can tell them by the deer in the headlights look they always have. They cut off pedestrians in the crosswalks, they don't use their blinkers, they don't use the separate turn-off lanes (Portland seems to them to be one, big, single lane street), they run yellow lights (and red lights) and then they stop in the middle of a lane in the middle of a block to let some huge, lumbering behemoth of a person get out and waddle and jiggle up onto the curb while the light is green. And then, when Jaba the Hut is safely on their way to their bank or chiropractor, they speed right up back into the traffic lane, as if they hadn't really stopped there at the stupid curb in the first place. They hate the traffic conditions, but they're the source of the bad conditions. Grrrrr...

Some things to remember

Here are some things to remember about the terrorist attacks on September 11, 2001.

  1. They did not involve bombs. Repeat that to yourself. Explosions? Yes. Destruction? Yes! Horrible, senseless loss of life? Assuredly! Were there any bombs involved? No. None. None on the planes, and none on the ground. The knee-jerk reaction to bombs-- the paranoia and the single-minded pursuit of explosives and bomb makers-- has been manufactured. Many public places are now looking at requirements for bomb detection. There are a couple of large, complicated, and very expensive machines that do bomb sniffing. More are being developed, for a market projected in the billions. None has ever found a bomb, because there aren't any.

  2. They did not involve illegal immigrants. The 9/11 terrorists were all legal immigrants in the US on legal visas. They didn't sneak across the border to work in agriculture or as domestics. They applied and were allowed to enter in order to study.

  3. They did not involve citizens of a hostile country. The 9/11 terrorists weren't from Pakistan, or Afghanistan, or Iraq or Iran or any other country which harbors ill will toward the USA. Most all of them were Saudis, which is the one country in the middle east that is most friendly to us (Israel excepted).
It seems to me, just from an efficiency point of view, that we should keep the above points in mind in attempting to budget funds to keep ourselves safe. Let's spend money where it's most likely to do some good.

Monday, July 16, 2007

No food in this post

Believe it or not, this is not about food. IHOP intends to buy Appleby's. Yawn.

WSJ Article from Google News

Notice in the article there is almost no mention of food. These are restaurants. They serve food. If this is successful or a complete failure it will be a result of the food. I don't have high hopes.

More things I don't want to hear about

I have Google News set as my browsers' home page, both at home and at work. Google News gives me a kind of blind statistical outline of the news. What are people publishing, and what are people clicking on? Imagine the largest news organization in the world, but with no editor-in-chief, and hence no editorial direction. That's Google News.

The problem with Google News is that it can't discern the difference between an actual news story and PR patter that's released and managed by someone-- usually a hired PR organization. I've already written about political reassessments (Lady Bird Johnson dies, and then is resurrected), scare tactics (Osama Bin Laden somehow clambers out of the ant hill in which he lives and waves his antennae threateningly), and obvious commercial marketing efforts (Harry Potter book and movie will be out some time soon).

Here's one other thing I don't need to read about on Google News:

  1. Rudolph Giuliani. I couldn't ever understand the complete and instantaneous reassessment of this man after 9/11. He had been going through a difficult, public, and hair-raising divorce, he'd obviously become very wealthy while serving in public office, and had been shown to be an evil, cretinous man who, when his term as mayor was finally term-limited out, would recede back into the woodwork and disappear. Instead, the city he worked for was hit hard by terrorists, hundreds of his employees (you know, the members of the unions he detested!) were killed in the line of duty, and he put on a hardhat and suddenly became a hero! One of my bosses at work even began to carry around a book he co-wrote (with a ghostwriter), about Leadership (with a capital "L") of all things! Uggh! The man is an operator, an opportunist, and a creep. Now we find him, several years later, being talked about as a presidential candidate-- puhleeze! It's possible he could beat Mitt Romney (another cartoon candidate) against a split democratic ticket-- other than that, the guy should just bow to the inevitable, and stop thrashing around on his way to the political dustbin. If there's a story about Rudi on the internet, you can be sure it was posted there by political operatives of one camp or another. He's not a topic, he's a non-topic. Stop writing about him, because no one wants to hear it.

Sunday, July 15, 2007

Enough, already!

OK, I have to say something about the shit we keep hearing about. It's got to stop... STOP already. Why do the news outlets all get on one freaking idea and pound the living hell out of it. Here are some things we've heard anough about:

  1. Lady Bird Johnson. This woman hasn't been seen or heard from in more than 20 years. It's possible that some Texan dowagers spent some time around a tea table with her, blotting their lipstick and tsk, tsking the world of conservative Texas politics, but nothing has been heard from her outside of the Kiwanas Club of greater Houston. It should stay that way. I'm sure she was a fine lady. She became a public figure by dint of her marriage to a questionable Texas politician, who accidentally became president. He died a couple of years after being voted out of office (in favor of Richard Nixon... uggh).

    Please just let her go. Retroactive reassessments of bad politicians in the past is not becoming, and should not be appropriate, no matter which party is in power. The Republicans tried to somehow deify Nixon when he died, when it was clear to anyone with half a brain he was a crook, a fraud, and a power addict, who was prepared to break any law to maintain his standing and that of his cronies. LBJ was more or less the same, and his family was richer. I am pretty sure Lady Bird passed away surrounded by her grasping-- I mean loving and doting-- family members in her huge home. An old lady dies-- a widow for 30 years of a man who sent at least 25,000 young Americans to their deaths defending Freedom and Democracy against the ravages of Communism in that last bastion and holdout of those values, Vietnam, because he couldn't come up with a vision that would allow him to say NO. It wasn't glorious it was a waste. Yay. Let her go.

  2. Osama Bin Laden. What if the next time he's heard from no one pays attention. Don't even tell me about him. He's a first class dork, is likely insane, thinks way too highly of himself, and if he ever comes closer than 1200 miles from the closest electricity and indoor plumbing he's sure to be blasted to smithereens along with his family, his henchmen, and his concubine camels. The only possible reason to cover anything he says in the news, even in an undated video released anonymously on the internet, is to keep Americans on edge. The guy blew his wad on 9/11, as well as his apparently effective crew of thugs. Bummer. Someone who can do something that big could probably have accomplished something good for his people. He didn't. As long as he lives in a hole in the dirt, he's free to go about his business. He and his family will live the rest of their lives in their own "ground zero." He's now an ant. He should be forgotten.

  3. Harry Potter. Shut up already, and stop covering this marketing bullshit. The movie's not out yet. The book isn't out yet. There's nothing that can be said about them that isn't just carnival barking. It's not news, it's reading the catalog out loud.
New isn't news anymore-- it's political posturing, and it's security organizations legitimizing their existence, and it's marketing. Come on journalists! Your's used to be an honorable calling.

Friday, July 13, 2007

The problems with improvement

I don't guess it's real obvious, but I've significantly improved my home computing experience recently, with the addition of the "Littlebuk" workstation, a rocking dual 64 bit, 2 Gig of 800 mhz RAM, Athlon data-guzzler, feeding the (fairly) new wide-screen LCD monitor, and hosting the two great Swan speakers. It makes for a lovely, fast, efficient, and amazingly low-cost computer.

To keep the cost down, I opted to install the newest Fedora Linux distribution, Fedora 7, because I've had some experience with it, and it supports all the doo-dads I have-- sound, video, scanner, camera-- and it's actually quite responsive and beautiful. It even runs in 64 bit mode. And believe me, it's beautiful, fun, and rewarding, and there's a shitload of software that works on it that's all free. Woot!

Now, the problems... *sigh*

Fedora 64 bit runs Firefox beautifully. On the LCD screen, text looks sumptuous, it's exquisitely readable, and feels quite refined. The web nowadays, however, is full of two things: Video and Flash. Neither of those works "out of the box" on the Firefox x86_64 veersion, but I thought I'd be a snob and not enable them. I've done that for a month, and let me tell you, I'm missing it. At first it seemed great-- ads on websites would show up saying they need another plugin and then shut up. Heaven forbid! This seemed to be heaven, because I didn't have to watch people shill their products to me. Like finding that your TV cable was messed up and wouldn't deliver advertisements!

However, after a few weeks, Is started noticing it wasn't just the advertisers that use Flash. The content providers use it too! A lot! It's gotten so easy and routine to watch video content online that I stopped noticing it. Until it wasn't there.

Oh well, no problem, video just requires a plugin, and all the video widgets just pointed me to a download page for the required plugin. Click, click. Hmm... Wait. Guess what? The plugins don't work with 64 bit Firefox. There are a couple of workarounds, but they are mutually exclusive, and they're compromises. Apparently it's possible to install 32 bit Firefox on a 64 bit system, but it's not clean or neat or automatically updatable. It's also possible to install some software that acts as a 64 bit wrapper to 32 bit plugins, which also requires manual updating. But the worst thing is that, for some reason, I can no longer download the flash-player from the Adobe website, because it appears to think I've already got the software. It looks like I have to get it from the windows machine and then copy it over. Drat! And there's still no guarantee it will work, or what a successful installation will look like, or what to do if it doesn't work.

The other change that isn't working that well is Picasa. I love that program, and used it every day on the Windows machine. I was tickled it was available on Linux, until I figured out it was quite a few versions behind the Win32 version, the integration with PicasaWeb is non existent, and some of the features for managing photos in folders only work with the Wine File add on instead of the native Linux file manager. This makes it weird to do even simple things, and makes it awkward and inconvenient to use.

Finally, the camera integration isn't great. On Windows, I used to plug in the camera and the software would automatically download any new pictures on the camera, putting them into dated folders (which it created automatically if necessary) that correspond to the day the photo was taken. In Fedora, the program wants to download all the photos in the camera every time, whether they've been downloaded already or not. And instead of the day they were taken, the program stores them in a folder with the date the photo was downloaded. This requires much more work on my part, to remember which pictures I've already downloaded, and if I don't do it for a few days, there can be organization problems. I could change the way I do photos, and allow the software to delete all the pictures off the cam whenever it downloads, but that's kind of problematic, since I'm keeping parallel sets of pictures in Windows for now, while the Linux problems shake out. Foo...

I'll write more later, I think. I would like to straighten all this stuff out over this weekend. Yeah!!

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

There are a couple of things...

So like, I have to make this observation, because it's necessary. Sometimes maybe the only reason to be alive is Aretha. And Aretha is enuf. Lissen... and the bass. Ummph, oh yeah.

Sad or Tragic?

What's sad is the way humans tell themselves stories-- sometimes incredibly outlandish or irrational stories-- to provide comfort and predictability to their world.

What's tragic is these stories are usually sufficient.