Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Dumbing down to the LCD

“You don’t have to burn books to destroy a culture. Just get people to stop reading them.” – Ray Douglas Bradbury (b. 1920), American writer of science fiction

We’re rapidly achieving this goal in American education as we increasingly hand over the reins of education to the least well educated among us, then reduce expectations to the pacification required of a teenage babysitter. As long as we’re not bothered by the brats we’ve sired, whoever is handling them is doing a good enough job.

What happens, then, when these coddled and drug-addled miscreants finally attain chronological adulthood? Will they be so willing to reward our non-interference with lavish Social Security and Medicare benefits as we have our elders? Will we finally get what we deserve?

Stuck on the Corner (Prelude to a Heart Attack)

by Todd Snider (From “Peace Queer”)

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Why we can't handle the "truth"

Item: New Obama Order on Transparency, FOIA requests

Can President Obama be expected to keep his promise to facilitate transparency in government?

"Transparency" in politics is truly a joke, one which I wish President Obama would not propagate. While progress toward transparency is admirable and necessary, particularly when one considers the blatant stonewalling that was so much a part of the previous administration, the idea that we can actually get there is laughable and perhaps not always desirable.

Fact is, if a group of politicians sits in a room together knowing everyone is watching, nothing can get done; too much posturing and pandering is inevitable. This has been verified by research. The more dogmatic the position, the less likely that progress toward an equitable resolution occurs.

The only way things get done is through deals that involved compromise. That's where "morality" gets fuzzy and invites corruption. People don't want the truth unless it favors their agendas. Since no two people have the exact same agenda, there must always be compromise if anything is to get done ion a democracy. It's easy to see how a politician then learns to lie to protect this truth; it's the only possible way to get elected. The degree to which they are willing to “lie” for the greater good determines their altruism (though they’d prefer the euphemism, “prevaricate”).
We fail ourselves by electing politicians only on the basis of what they can do for us. Parochial interests necessarily conflict with the good of society as a whole. It's not until we consider what's good for the country that we can get rid of the pork-barreling, pandering, hypocrites we have now in politics.

All politics is ultimately local, and there's the rub. Our vote for the President doesn't even count, yet we attribute everything right or wrong about this country to Obama. That detracts from the necessity of our personal involvement on local levels, going to school board meetings, city council meetings, finding out exactly what the people who work for us are doing to the best of our ability. It's so much easier to abstractly comment on some vague issue we have no control over whatsoever.

“Finding the occasional straw of truth awash in a great ocean of confusion and bamboozle requires intelligence, vigilance, dedication and courage. But if we don't practice these tough habits of thought, we cannot hope to solve the truly serious problems that face us - and we risk becoming a nation of suckers, up for grabs by the next charlatan who comes along.” - Carl Sagan, The Fine Art of Baloney Detection

Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Back to your Baracks!

News item on the Yahoo home page 2:29 a.m., June 30, 2009:

"AP - Honduras' ousted president said he will return to his country in two days and reclaim control from coup leaders, urging soldiers to go back to their baracks and stop cracking down on thousands of his supporters who have protested his overthrow."

Was that a freudian slip? Do the Honduran soldiers each have their own personal Barack or must they share him with others?

Friday, June 26, 2009

Politcs + Power = Predictable result

It's said that we get what we pay for. With politicians, that certainly seems to be the case. Pseudo-religion and political chicanery have produced a batch of legislators who grasp for our wallets all the while professing noble intent. Believing that sexual misconduct wouldn't be involved within this atmosphere of power and greed requires tremendous naivete.

The recent spate of those who've dallied with women not their wives remind us of the importance not of faithfulness, but why so many insist that monogamy is some sort of virtue that the rest of us should aspire to.

Sociobiologists have long questioned whether some men are simply programmed for dalliance, whether the genetically implanted need to further improve the species though diversity of mating trumps the religiously enforced rule to remain faithful. That the futility of such sexual repression makes a liar out of so many, brings the very rule into question: Is it realistic to require marriages to remain forever exclusive?

Dan Umanoff, a doctor whose prolific postings about addictions are so often at odds with the medical community's treatment of the subject, postulates that some evolutionary need is being fulfilled here, that without these perjoratively labeled "addicts", mankind would be hopelessly stuck in a reactionary, conservative past of the nature religion reinforces. Umanoff coins the term "hypoism" to collect all whose addictions, may include drug abuse, sexual promiscuity, gambling, business workaholicism, OCB, or simply ADD, under a roof of excess, suggesting that the allele labeled the "hunter" gene is also found in so many whose contributions to society we so much admire, yet with personal lives so prone to tragedy.

Micahel Jackson is certainly among those whose eccentricities has evolved music beyond those he once emulated, but whose personal peccadilloes left him the subject of an endless barrage of bad jokes. Whether we can have one without the other seems to be the unanswerable question; can someone whose gone through extraordinary lengths to build a career through personal obsession suddenly relinquish that quest once the "goal" has been attained? How long can Michael Phelps stay out of the water before he turns into just another fast swimmer?

Many atrocities have been committed in efforts to keep the hypotic "hungry", therefore retaining the desire to achieve even through artificial means. Saltieri's deceit of Mozart gave us some of the best music this world has ever seen, yet likely contributed to his early demise.

Today, we have a couple of million inmates in American prisons, some guilty of no more than adherence to their biological urges, yet we construct complex systems whereby these hypoism victims can be judged and set aside from society despite increasing evidence that such behavior can be re-directed constructively. But then, perhaps those in a position to extend forgiveness and progressive treatment have a vested interest in status quo, in bringing everyone down to their level instead of up to the levels of society's mavericks.

We're not paying our politicians enough to promote progress, and we clamor for non-reform. Every neoconservative position taken, every fanatically religious position adopted, every anti-evolutionary position voiced, is yet another impediment from the duplicitous exhortation for us to be what we want to be.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Our friends, the Zionists?

When the United Nations agreement to wedge the terroristic Jewish state in Palestine received our backing (in an apparent betrayal to our oil buddies, the Saudis, to whom we had pledged our unwavering support) all watchers knew there would be trouble. Most figured the hostile surrounding Arabs would simply wipe them off the map, but their survival first amazed, then worried onlookers. Would Israel project the harsh treatment many had received at the hands of the Nazis onto their newly-subjugated Palestinian neighbors?

Certainly a case can be made that gestapo-like tactics have kept the Palestinians down, economically and politically. It's a mixed back certainly worthy of much more scrutiny than most Americans--whose tax dollars flow their at a rate of over $3 billion per year--are willing to give it. Our affluenza has made us more than willing to stave off our enemies by proxy, some religious nuts even prophesizing Armageddon using modern day Jews as a tool to bring it about.

President Obama's recent unequivocal speech makes their present denial of an Arab state untenable. The United Nations created this state; it should be their responsibility, not just ours, to ensure that the indigenous population of that area is not systematically oppressed.

More than a thousand words

A Palestinian boy reacts as youths frighten him by pointing their toy guns at him in an alley in the West Bank refugee camp of Al-Amari in Ramallah. AP photo by Muhammed Muheisen

Obvious comment to be made after reading this:

"Let your kid text during dinner! Let your kid text during school! It pays off," 15-year-old Kate Moore said Tuesday after winning the LG U.S. National Texting Championship.

After all, she said: "Your kid could win money and publicity and a phone."

For the Des Moines, Iowa, teenager, her 14,000 texts-per-month habit reaped its own rewards, landing her the competition prize of $50,000 just eight months after she got her first cell phone.
Will that $50,ooo be enough to cover her phone bills thus far as she "practiced" for the competition?

Saturday, May 16, 2009

Amazing to see how vociferously (even stupidly) they defend their own...

From US magazine:

Miss California Carrie Prejean has Sarah Palin on her side.

The conservative Alaska governor released a statement Wednesday night (as picked up by Fox News) slamming "the liberal onslaught of malicious attacks" against Prejean, 21, who first ignited controversy for coming out against same-sex marriage at last month's Miss USA pageant.

"I can relate, as a liberal target myself," Palin said. "What I find so remarkable is that these politically-motivated attacks fail to show that what Carrie and I believe is also what President Obama and Secretary Clinton believe -- marriage is between a man and a woman."

Continued Palin: "I applaud Donald Trump for standing with Carrie during this time. And I respect Carrie for standing strong and staying true to herself, and for not letting those who disagree with her deny her protection under the nation's First Amendment Rights."

"Our Constitution protects us all -- not just those who agree with the far left," Palin went on.


Once again, Sarah Palin betrays an astonishing lack of understanding what the First Amendment is all about.

Lesson One: It is NOT about telling the media who they can or cannot criticize.

I strongly doubt that anyone with a legitimate press card acted in any way to deny Carrie Prejean her right to make a absolute fool out of herself. To the contrary, they've been shoving mikes under her nose hoping she'd say something even stupider than the laughable beauty contest political statement. Just because the neocons "Dixie Chicked" Natalie Maines doesn't mean the uberLibs did the same to most recent blonde to spew stupidity in front of a microphone. Many simply exercised their First Amendment rights to ridicule her. And it was soooo easy!

For Veep wannabe Sarah to even suggest the First Amendment played anywhere into this scenario shows remarkable ignorance as to what it's all about. The Donald or anyone else running the pageant could have denied her the right to speak at a function they financed into a mike they paid for. They didn't. If she said something they didn't like, they would have been perfectly within their rights to fire her. The Donald did not. Only when public funds are involved is this even a controversy.

Lesson Two: It is NOT acceptable for a government official to even suggest to a public librarian that certain books ought to be removed from a library. That is totally unacceptable prior restraint, fully subject to the United States Constitution. Even in a little town like Wasilla, Alaska.

Lesson Three: This one was learned by the voters in the last election who resoundingly acknowledged that Sarah Palin is too stupid to be Vice-President. My guess is that far from preventing her run for the Presidency in 2012, Democrats would do what Rush did to Hillary: encourage her to run!

Friday, April 10, 2009

New school religion: narcissism

A letter writer in Thursday's Houston Chronicle, Neil Stovall, commits an error of false logic when he connects the downfall of public schools to the elimination of a school-imposed religious preference. Religion is part of the world geography curriculum in public high schools, particularly when discussing a peoples' cultural exigencies. What I'm not allowed to do is devalue a particular religious belief any more than the facts of a situation such as colonialism allow. In that case, I'd be remiss if I didn't mention how religion was used as a political weapon, something our forefathers sought to avoid when they wrote about separating church and state. Christianity has never prevented violence, though there’s plenty of evidence to support the contention that it provokes it. When I teach about compasses, I'm not allowed to point them in a moral direction; my own sense of morality will not permit it.

Schools do teach a form or morality which is rarely discussed. The pervasive self-esteem myth has assumed a religious dimension to the point where we jeopardize our jobs if we do not pass a prescribed number, thus perpetuating the false belief that the primary purpose of school is to promote an unrealistic comfort with mediocrity. Religion, therefore has not left the schools, it has simply morphed into a socialistic devaluing of our culture through the lowering of mass expectations, thereby perpetuation the institution itself rather than the students it purports to serve. Principals have gone from the unyielding upholders of discipline to the pandering liaisons between the school and parents. Just as priests once obfuscated the sacred doctrines as a means of retaining political power through mysticism, modern administrators erect barriers (in the name of security, of course) to prevent parents from having a more direct involvement in schools. The “Pass TAKS” mantra has replaced means to pass it--namely reading—as teaching to the test has replaced the assignment of projects once designed to improve critical thinking skills. After all, if children are actually taught critical thinking skills, it stands to reason they might actually use them to criticize, and the institution cannot allow such subversion from within.

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Bainbridge takes on pirates...again

The last time pirates boarded an American vessel at sea, as far as I can tell, was during the early 19th-century when the Barbary pirates based along the Mediterranean coast of Algeria manage to capture the pride of the fledgling American Navy, the Philadelphia and captained by William Bainbridge, after she ran aground in pursuit of a pirate vessel near the Tripolitan harbor in 1803. Rather than concede to the rapscallions this powerful frigate, a daring plan was implemented by a young Lt. Stephan Decatur to set her afire without loss of life. Even the British were impressed. It took Decatur and Bainbridge the better part of a decade to make that part of the Mediterranean safe for commercial shipping.

Two centuries later, Bainbridge is again chasing pirates, only this time as the nameplate of a nuclear-powered frigate. The latest news reports indicate that the crew of the Maersk Alabama, including 20 Americans, overpowered their armed attackers, sending them adrift in a lifeboat though with their unfortunate captain. Perhaps the droning of Navy choppers overhead can convince those would-be extortionists of their untenable position and that handing over Capt. Phillips unharmed would be in their best interests.

Saturday, March 28, 2009

War on Terror Cannot be Won

What Bushies and his neocons never seem to understand is that we cannot "win" a war against insurgency any more than police can win a riot. We can only quell and mollify. Certainly we need to eliminate as much of the murderous al-Qaida who actually instigated the terrorism as we can, but in a manner that those most directly affected will accept as right and sensitive to their morality and culture.

We'd have done much better in Afghanistan had we poured money and rebuilding immediately after the initial 2002 invasion coupled with a more direct and stronger hounding of OBL's Taliban in Bora Bora. This was the only time when we likely had them on the ropes, but let them off when we diverted resources by invading Iraq.
We sacrificed our moral high ground at that point. Our high-handedness and failure to study the British examples produced the chaos and increased resentment. The clumsy use of torture (of course we’ve always used it; everybody does, but discreetly and sparingly) and the sanctioning of it gave the antiwar extremists legitimacy.

We created them monster that we later have to defend ourselves from. It’s called “blowback.” It’s also called “come-uppance” by some who would either support us or not oppose us had not President Bush declared “You’re either with us or against us.”

Right now, the Afghan economy is supported almost entirely by the opium trade, but all we do is destroy their fields and tell them not to plant. In the meantime, we're allowing Turkey to plant opium since it is the only source of our analgesics. Perhaps we ought to extend that monopoly to Iraq, thereby both lowering our price for it and providing them with a legitimate means of making a profit. There are not many other cash crops that can be grown in that semiarid environment. It's about being "smart", something sorely lacking in the former administration that was ideologically based.
“If we don’t stop extending our troops all around the world in nation-building missions, we’re going to have a serious problem coming down the road.” - George W. Bush

Boy, was that man smart!

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

AIG call and stall

When my wife lost her job last year, the income reduction left us perilously close to home foreclose. In a last-ditch attempt to stave it off, I contacted AIG to cash out my Sun America annuity February 27 thus beginning a pattern of call-and-stall which I can only conclude was deliberate and methodical.

The AIG representative did send me the form I requested which I immediately filled out, had notarized and faxed to the number given before noon that Friday. Three hours later I tried calling for confirmation (I had been asked for a PIN which had not been requested before after frantically searching my records for any sign of a PIN, I called another AIG number only to find out that the four-digit PIN was merely the last four numbers of my SSN so I called the original number initiating a the next in a series of 20-30 min. holds). I finally spoke with a representative who said she had no way of knowing if the company received my fax and it might be as long as 48 hours before that could be ascertained. Nearly 48 hours later (that Friday) I found another open half-hour and called to see if they had indeed received my request. They hadn’t.

I took off from work the following Monday, calling again (the extension number I had been given to expedite my call hung up on me three times-I reverted to the original number which resulted in an additional 20-min hold) only to find out I had submitted the wrong form, and that the correct one would be mailed to me. I was also told that it could be downloaded from their site and was given a form number. Possessing reasonably competent Internet skills, I located the AIG site and search engine, entered the form number given only to be told there was no such form available. Using common sense, I located two forms that appeared to request annuity account liquidation, (one called ERISA and the other non-ERISA). Just to be certain, I sacrificed another half-hour to confirm I indeed had the right form and filled out correctly. I recited the information I had written line-by-line to the representative and asked directly if there was anything else I needed to fax. He said that since I had already sent the notarization, the form I was sending would be sufficient to release the funds.

I finally faxed this document at 11 a.m., calling back near 5 (only 10-min. hold this time!) to find out if the fax had been received. Again, the canned response to my increasingly irritable challenge was that it may be as long as 48 hours before they could even ascertain whether the form had been received. I took off that Wednesday, calling ion the morning only to find out that I had not submitted documentation proving the necessity of obtaining these funds. I asked if “Notice of Default” would be sufficient and was told it would. Again, I promptly submitted the required form, calling in the next day to see if it had been received. I was told that it had been received and that to expect another 5-7 working days before the request could be processed.

So nearly three weeks after the initial request and my mortgage default hanging in the balance (Texas law permits foreclosure proceedings to begin only 20 days after notification of default) I can only wait and beg the mortgage company to have patience while AIG holds the money I’ve paid them, taking full advantage of the time value of this insignificant (to them, not me) amount.

March 18, 2:30 pm update:

I received a check for $600 today with the following explanation dated March 13 from Angie Davis, Distributions Team 2:

"We have received your request to surrender your annuity under a hardship qualification. We were unable to process your request asyou (sic) cannot surrender the annuity under a hardship. We have processed a hardship withdrawal for the maximum available."

Can somebody please explain their logic for their NOT releasing the full amount of that annuity ($1631)?