Atlantis Alumni

Thursday, May 31, 2007

Why Do Conservatives Hate Social Security?

Truth In Politics.org has an analysis of information contained in a book written by Joseph A Pechman about the tax structure in the United States.

Here's the beef:
The tax system has relatively little effect on the distribution of income. In
contrast, the transfer system has a significant equalizing effect. The transfer
system includes all transfer payments such as Social Security benefits,
Medicare, and Medicaid.

Conservatives hate ALL entitlements because they represent an effort to correct the economic and social imbalances in society. Conservatives are Social Darwinists. They believe that is OK for many, many people to remain poor, for old people to have no health care, and they don't want hard working people to have a secure if modest retirement if it's funded by Social Security payments. This really sheds a lot of light on the dark Hobbsian/Lockeian philosophical underpinnings of conservatism. Conservatives trumpet liberty above all other values. They prefer unfettered capitalism with minimal or no governmental involvement as an economic model, even though we've seen over and over again in the last two centuries how unregulated capitalism leads to excesses and abuses such as child labor, unsafe working conditions, unfair low wages, etc. Conservatives forget that there is an even older pre-Hobbsian Platonic philosophical quest: the search for a just society. Conservative skepticism about the ability of government to solve economic and social problems doesn't mean that government must remain powerless to intervene and correct the worst examples of injustice, and lessen the burden on those in society who are not in a position to help themselves. One of the most curious examples of the warped conservative viewpoint is the belief in something called "moral federalism," attributed to conservative pundit George Will by Andrew Sullivan on Sullivan's website. Will (and Sullivan) think that "moral" issues like gay rights and abortion ought to be left to the individual states to decide. What ever happened to the federal constitution and the guarantees of the Bill Of Rights? I guess we don't need them anymore. If "moral federalism" was how we governed ourselves, we'd still have "separate but equal" in the South! It's necessary to really take a hard look at what conservative thinkers say and write. It's really quite a crock.

Photo: plants, flowers and gifts are available at "Garden Grove" in downtown Cherry Grove

Jim

The Thompson Factor, Ms. Clinton, and DOMA

One of the flowers that I see here on Fire Island that I've enjoyed very much over the years is the Foxglove. This specimen I purchased at Bayport Flowers for my own garden. While you don't have to plant the Foxglove in a protected area away from where deer can eat them, I still like to have them inside the fenced garden where I can enjoy them up close. I'm hoping to establish enough plants so that they'll come back on their own each year.

In the news: the potential presidential candidacy of actor/senator Fred Thompson, a Southern Evangelical who is thought to be the darling of the Republican religious fundamentalist right wing. Just a cursory look at his voting record as a senator confirms his right wing extremist credentials. Is he another Reagan? I don't think so, but he may have enough appeal to really shake up the Republican field. He's no friend to the gay community, that's for sure, having voted against our interests on every bill from ENDA to DOMA.

Speaking of DOMA (The Clinton era "Defense Of Marriage Act,") when is someone going to ask Ms. Clinton if she is in favor of repealing DOMA and, if not, why not? Her husband signed the bill that says that gays and lesbians cannot marry all the while he was having an extra-marital affair with Ms. Lewinski. So much for gays hurting marriage.

Jim

Wednesday, May 30, 2007

The CGRR Is Back Running Again!

Here's something fun. After seven years of operation, I've re-engineered the Cherry Grove Rail Road so that I can run some larger locomotives. Here's a video of the new line in operation.

Jim

Andrew Sullivan: Boomers Will "Hog" Soc. Security

Today on his blog conservative Andrew Sullivan is moaning about the future tax increases that his one time hero Junior Bush has made inevitable by running up huge deficits. Sullivan also claims that he'll only get about half of what he should under Social Security when he retires because "baby boomers" will "hog" it all for themselves. This is typical of the upside down logic of conservatives.

If the money squandered on the Iraq war was combined with the reversal of the unethical tax cuts for the wealthy instituted from the Reagan era onward, Sullivan would get his full Social Security payment, we'd be able to fully fund Medicare, provide healthcare insurance to all Americans, and fix our schools. Conservatives simply have the wrong priorities.

Photo: We lost two sets of beach steps and a ramp to a Nor'easter in April. As of Memorial Day the Brookhaven Town Highway Department had only replaced one stairway leaving an unsafe situation for holiday crowds. Apparently, work resumed yesterday on the other stairway. Our Property Owner's Association was basically gutted a few years ago and replaced by a feel-good but ineffective Community Association. In addition, a private group funded replacement stairways in past years, so the town got used to being able to ignore Cherry Grove's needs. This is going to be a difficult situation to rectify.

Jim

Britney Hits Rock Bottom

I put the above headline up to highlite how the media in the United States is taking a giant shit on the psyche and intellect of the American People.

I put the art my daughter created to the left to show that there is actual hope for the future of our children and our children's children.

Every major newswire is carrying info on possibly the most unimportant person in the world; far less important than any bottom caste street sweeper in India or poor family in Appalachia. Both of the aforementioned groups are far more important to me than anything Britney Spears or Paris Hilton does or says. And as much as I like Rosie (I liked her better as a comic than a talkshow host), I absolutely do not want my inbox or prime time news filled up with gibberish about a spat.

Let's call this for what it is: a distraction, an affront to our basic sensibilities. For many years news organizations have dabbled in entertainment. I do remember Walter Cronkite and Mike Wallace actually attacking issues that mattered. So what happened? And what happened to Mike's son at Fox News? Didn't he take him aside and have the "big boy" talk with him (as in big boys don't work at Fox News)? Distractions abound and real newspeople would see them purely for what they are. Carnage and grist are to keep the peasants busy while the aristocratic Neocons have dinner at their club. Britney, Elizabeth and Paris are what I lovingly refer to as "irritainment". Irritation and entertainment now intermingle in a wondeful collage of vomit.

War for oil is also a distraction. The Democrats rolling over on a war spending bill is a distraction. Why?

Because it turns our attention away from important problems that have no easy answers. Schools, Healthcare, Social Security, Infrastructure and finding long term solutions to stop energy independence and the like are all more important than Iraq, Iran and all the oil put together.

If you want to read what the war is REALLY about, Greg Palast paints the picture better than anyone in Armed Madhouse. For you Republicans out there that actually have the balls to read and think rather than speak, go to Amazon or B&N and pick up Greg's book. He's one of the top five investigative journalist of the 21st Century and he has the guts to tell it like it is in the tradition of writers and journalists that can think and report while chewing gum and walking all at once. It's $9 used on Amazon. And for Pete's sake, please stop telling me Bush is a leader that has just made some "bad choices". His choices are carefully planned and are designed to benefit a few and take from many.

Lest we also forget, our media, the same one's hyping Britney's latest revelation are also treating 76% of America as a fringe group. CNN has labeled the 76% "The Antiwar Crowd". Are they kidding? One of my colleagues told me she only watches Fox news for a half hour in the morning and she gleans all of the news she needs to know about the world from her half hour exposure. She's not stupid, she is kind and decent and they are very good marketers. Check out the scoriating articles Brit Hume has penned lately against good people like Nancy Pelosi and Cindy Sheehan.

Distractions. Distractions from our loss of civil liberties, diversions from our hard questions about why our government is operating like a poorly run business. Government is not about business or to make money; it's about providing for the common good of the people.

Speaking of common good and the little pearl of art shown up above, lawmakers across the land are considering cutting arts programs. Art can be a distraction, typically one that expands minds; that's not good for the other Britney's out there looking to move people away from the real questions.

As asked before by ink slingers that can write much better than I can; is this really for the common good?


M

Cherry Grove, Our Summer Home

Here are a couple additional shots of the Cherry Grove downtown commercial area. The recently built "Island Breeze" restaurant overlooks the Great South Bay and, by all accounts, is serving tasty food, much improved this season. This restaurant sits on the site of the old "Michael's," which many of us still miss very much. The proprietor of "Michael's," "Rocky," was a kind man who, along with his family, ran a friendly restaurant that was a social hub in the Grove for many years. "Pasta Night" was my favorite night to go to "Michael's." We'll also never forget the wonderful end of the season parties that Rocky always had "on the house" with the entire community invited, usually at the end of October. Rocky died a year or two ago but he's still in the thoughts of many.

"Floyd's," named after Bret's dog Floyd, is a busy breakfast and lunch venue with outdoor tables and counter. It's a great vantage point to do some serious people-watching.

Jim

Tuesday, May 29, 2007

A Soldier Asks Why Are We in Iraq?


Photo: A quiet moment in "downtown" Cherry Grove.

It's the day after a really beautiful holiday weekend here in Cherry Grove. By all accounts, it was a busy weekend for the business community with bars and restaurants hopping. Dan and I joined our good friend Ed for dinner at Jumpin' Jacks on the beach Monday evening. It was busy and our waitress indicated that she had been kept real busy all weekend. I guess this is a good thing, although I feel as though we're overwhelmed here at times by the crowds. As far as I know everyone had a good time and no one was hurt.

I just read an essay written by a soldier serving in Iraq. This articulate young man questions our reasons for being on Iraq:

My name is Donald Hudson Jr. I have been serving our country’s military actively for the last three years. I am currently deployed to Baghdad on Forward Operating Base Loyalty, where I have been for the last four and a half months. I came here as part of the first wave of this so called "troop surge", but so far it has effectively done nothing to quell insurgent violence. I have seen the rise in violence between the Sunni and Shiite. This country is in the middle of a civil war that has been on going since the seventh century. Why are we here
when this country still to date does not want us here? Why does our president’s
personal agenda consume him so much, that he can not pay attention to what is
really going on here?

Read the rest of Donald's essay here.

I hope he stays out of harm's way and that he pays no price for his forthrightness. Because there are no good answers to the questions he raises, I'd like to get him out of Iraq and bring him and his fellow servicemen and service women home NOW.

Jim

Monday, May 28, 2007

Happy Memorial Day!

There's nothing like the beach on a beautiful Memorial Day weekend!








The Arts Project of Cherry Grove (APCG) has their annual Memorial Day season opening party and selection of the Cherry grove Homecoming Queen event each year during the Memorial Day weekend. There were four contestants for Homecoming Queen this year...and the winner is Lola Galore!




Event co-hosts Bella and Panzi whooped it up!

2006 retiring Homecoming Queen CoCo Love poses with her successor.













A reader asks why I mentioned (unfavorably) Ellen DeGeneres in my critique of Mary Cheney yesterday. The word is that Ellen agreed to keep her mouth shut about gay issues as a component of her TV contract. Watching her show in recent years, it's like she no longer has a sexual orientation of any sort, she's become a neutral. This, after her ground breaking coming out on her sitcom, is, to say the least, a great disappointment to me. She could be a such powerful voice for social justice. I'm much happier with Rosie O'Donnell, who continues to publicly fight the good fight against the right wing.

Here's a dangerous situation on the beach here in Cherry Grove. I hope someone is not injured before the town highway department corrects this.

Jim

Sunday, May 27, 2007

Mary Cheney = Collaborator

Queer Sighted blogger Richard Rothstein asks if as gays have an obligation to fight for our rights or if we should just be left alone to lead "normal" lives. But that's precisely the point: we can't lead normal lives given the oppression directed against us. VP Cheney is a MAJOR oppressor. Why shouldn't I expect Mary Cheney to reject him and his complicity in our oppression just like I had to reject my own family's refusal to accept me as a gay man? To me Mary is a collaborator, and represents the lowest gay life form out there. As long as we have courageous gay men and lesbians fighting openly, I have zero tolerance for the Mary Cheneys, Ellens, or whomever else goes along with the program of hate, discrimination, and second class citizenship directed at us.

Photo: Henry Sterling oversees his annual deck sale

Jim

A Benefit For The Animals

One of the signature events early in the season in Cherry Grove is Henry Sterling's annual deck sale, a benefit with proceeds this year going to PAWS, the Pines Animal Welfare Society. Here's a picture of PAWS organizer Valerie with photos of some of the kittens that need homes. The weather was beautiful and the turnout for the sale was good.

On a sad note, one of the Grove's most colorful figures, Bill "Violet" Silver died in New York City yesterday. Bill founded the garden club, hosted "High Tea," and published a newsletter listing a calendar of community events. The Grove won't be quite the same without him.

The news this morning is not good. The Taliban are launching an offensive in Afghanistan; eight more U.S. soldiers are dead in Iraq; Israel is involved in more fighting; Iran continues to thumb its nose at the world; etc., etc., yet Junior Bush behaves as if all is well. I guess all IS well for him in his make-believe world.

Jim

Saturday, May 26, 2007

End State Killing

It's amazing what will grow out here on this arid, windy sand bar. Here's a delicate little wild flower that grows in the sand. It's a single stalk that stands a few inches high. The blossoms are only about 3/8 of an inch across. But it is a welcome bit of color and beauty along the walkway through the center of the island.

Now for something not so pretty, the death penalty. According to Yahoo AP news, an Ohio inmate took a long time to die during a recent execution:


The 16 minutes it took Christopher Newton to die once chemicals began
flowing into his veins was the longest stretch that any of the state's inmates
executed since 1999 has endured, an Associated Press review shows.
During
that span Thursday — more than twice as long as usual, and 5 minutes longer than
the state's previous longest on record — Newton's stomach heaved, his chin
quivered and twitched, and his 6-foot, 265-pound body twice mildly convulsed
within the restraints.

Now, some people may say that this is fine, that the criminal got what he deserved, etc. But I think that the fact that we as a country continue to officially murder people shows how barbaric our society actually is. Click on the title of this post above and read about the problems with the death penalty. I have always felt that it lowers us to the least common denominator among civilized societies in the world. I think we are about the last Western nation to employ capital punishment. We ought to stop the official killing at home and abroad.

Update on the post yesterday about the town of Brookhaven replacing the beach access stairways in Cherry Grove: they replaced ONE of the three stairways, and they did not return on Friday to replace the others, so we have two truncated ramps that represent a dangerous situation to residents and visitors as the holiday weekend is upon us!

Jim

Friday, May 25, 2007

Town Services - Finally!

Here's a shot of workers from the Town Of Brookhaven Highway Department at work replacing one of several sets of steps to the beach that we lost when a Nor'easter hit in April. In past years, the community has footed the bill and paid to replace lost beach access stairways. I could never understand why we had to replace our own steps while in other communities the towns replaced them. I'm glad to see that the steps will be in place in time for the holiday weekend. I wonder what went on behind the scenes this year that resulted in the town actually doing what it is supposed to do: repair and replace the walks and stairways.

You have to love Michael Moore. He's out there exposing the worst excesses of the Bush Administration and highlighting U.S. societal ills. His latest film, to be released in June, focuses on our third world level health care system. Watch the trailer:




Our health care is 37th in the world behind Slovenia! Great.

Jim

Thursday, May 24, 2007

Official Anti-Gay Discrimination Continues!

The New York Times is reporting that the FDA (Food And Drug Administration) is continuing the ban on gay men donating blood. This is in spite of calls as long as a year ago from the American Red Cross and two other agencies for the ban to be lifted. The FDA claims they are not being discriminatory against gay men, but then what is it? All blood is tested and anyone can lie. This policy, instituted in 1983, is a remnant of Reagan era anti-gay policies and should be jettisoned immediately. Click on the title of this blog entry, go to the FDA web site and tell them to stop discriminating against gay men!

Big oil is now saying that gas prices will go higher as a result of the push for bio-fuels. "Why should they invest in more refining capacity if we're moving to alternative fuels," they ask. Why indeed! Let's keep their profits high at all costs to the American public. As I said yesterday, we will all have to pay much more for non-renewable energy. However, the profits should not go to the oil companies, rather, the money should be used to improve our overall energy independence picture.

Oh yes, and it's now becoming clear that as many as 200,000 U.S. troops may be sent to Iraq by the end of the year in what some (Condi Rice) are calling an "augmentation" of the "Surge." Junior Bush knows that he can do whatever he wants in Iraq and that the Congress and indeed, the American people, cannot stop him. I wonder if future generations will look back upon this time and wonder why the American people went along with Bush, just as we wonder why the German people allowed Hitler's atrocities. Will we be thought of as "Good Americans?"

In the news: Mary Cheney had her baby. The official White House photo is released showing VP Cheney and wife holding the baby. No where to be found: a picture of Mary and her partner of 15 years with the baby. I find this disgusting. I wish the baby all the best in life, but Mary Cheney ought to be ashamed of herself.

Photo: Bradley romps by a tidal pool

Jim

Wednesday, May 23, 2007

Brigadoon on this Side of the Atlantic

Lerner and Lowe's famed musical Brigadoon is about a town in Scotland that comes to life for one day every hundred years. Many of us who spend the summers on Fire Island believe that this place is another Brigadoon--only we're luckier, because we're able to spend more than just one day, and we migrate back here from elsewhere, every year.
When I moved back to Cherry Grove for the summer months a few days ago my life partner Jim asked me if the island was as I remembered it. Absolutely! In some ways Fire Island never changes. There's the beauty of the dunes and beach, and the sky touching the sea; these wonders may change with the seasons, but not in our hearts. Sure, there are new houses being built where old ones were torn down, repairs are constantly made, and some important larger buildings are being constructed. (For example, see Jim's photo posted today that shows the magnificent new John Whyte Hall in the Fire Island Pines.) People come and go, some move away or others die and presumably land up in a different paradise in the heavens. We, the denizens of this special place, consider ourselves lucky to still be here.
Like many other locals, we started out as "day-trippers." A day at the beach led to a weekend, and then a few week-long vacations. In the 1990s Jim and I rented various houses in the Pines for a month at a time and finally for an entire summer. Then one day in 1999 we decided we were lucky enough to be able to buy a house. The house we own in the Grove isn't large, but it has a wonderful garden that Jim created, unique for the toy train layout he installed. If he didn't have responsibilities back in the city (i.e., yours truly and a winter home) Jim would spend seven months a year on Fire Island. There's no place he loves better.
What happens in Brigadoon on the American side of the Atlantic? Well, some people come here to paint or write, sing and dance, act, take yoga classes, sail sailboats, paddle a kayak or run on the boardwalks. Many more simply swim, read or snooze on the beaches. The island is only a half mile wide, but it's also 32 miles long and full of small towns, houses and docks. Yet there are no cars here, because we're living on a National Seashore; the exceptions are vehicles owned by the police and utility companies. Some of the towns have cement sidewalks but in the Grove and Pines (and in Davis Park) we're lucky enough to have wooden boardwalks. And for those of us who live as a minority in places like New York, Long Island and Philadelphia, the Grove and Pines are unique for another reason: where else can you live where 99% of the town is gay?
Despite the bickering that sometimes occurs in small towns like this one, I like to think the majority of people here realize there's no place else like Fire Island. We know this is a Brigadoon well worth coming to year in and year out. Come visit us and you just might fall in love with this small barrier island yourself.
Dan

Will Al Gore Run?

Here's a photo of the nearly-completed Whyte Hall in the Fire Island Pines. Whyte Hall will be the community center and will host performances given by the Pines Arts Project.

Al Gore is in the news today with the publication of a new book. The buzz is that he still might run for president. Apparently, he's third in some polls even though he has said he is not a candidate. I have mixed feelings about Gore. I believe that he really blew it in 2000 in the debates with Junior. He should have wiped the floor with him, but instead he pandered and waffled and became a different Al Gore in each of the debates. I'm sure he has learned since then that you have to have a core set of beliefs and positions, and stick to them, He spent too much time around the waffler-in-chief Bill Clinton. I think he is tainted by his association with the Clintons. However, he could be a "new" Al Gore based upon his work on global warming, etc. It should be interesting. We'll just have to wait and see what he does.

The Democrats have finally caved on the issue of a deadline for the withdrawal of troops from Iraq. We knew this was coming. Junior gets his way on the war, more troops will die, more money will be wasted, and our image worldwide will continue to suffer. The American public is powerless to stop it. So much for democracy.

Quotable: One of Andrew Sullivan's readers notes that Groucho Marx has a great one-liner that fits flip-flopper Mitt Romney perfectly: "I have my principles. If you don't like them, I have others."

Jim

Monday, May 21, 2007

Bush, Gasoline Prices, And The Energy Crisis

I made a two day round trip back to Philadelphia to pick up Dan and Nikko, our cat, and bring them out to Fire Island. It's fun to have the entire family together out here for the summer. The weather on Monday was spectacular. I hope it continues for the entire week and throughout the holiday weekend.

Do you wonder where Bush is when it comes to the record high price of gasoline? Has he made an address to the nation? Has he called his big oil buddies to try to "jawbone" them to hold down the price increases at the pump, produce more gasoline, etc? We know he's not in favor of conservation. Does he have any compassion for the American driving public in the face of record gasoline prices? It seems not.

We need presidential leadership, not a junior president, who is in the pocket of the big oil companies. A real leader will finally have the courage to be honest with the American public. We must rein in our outrageous levels of oil consumption. Automakers must re-tool and produce cars with much higher gas mileage, more hybrids and all-electrics. America must re-invest in mass transit. Americans will have to sacrifice by drastically reducing their consumption of oil, and by paying much higher prices for the gasoline they use. However, the profits should not go to big oil, rather, the money should be used for mass transit, research into alternative energy forms, etc. Breaking the back of our dependence on oil, especially foreign oil, will have the added benefit of defusing much of the causes for the hatred directed against America as a result of our oil-requirements-driven foreign policy and our oil-based wars, e.g., Iraq. We can do it as a nation, but we need leadership. Unfortunately, I don't hear any of the declared candidates for president being honest with the American public about the realities of our energy situation. Who will have the courage to finally tell the truth about energy to America?

Photo: a favorite trail through the Fire Island dunes...in the "meat rack"

Jim

The Billionaire Ticket

The most interesting thing I heard yesterday on the political talking heads shows was the possibility that New York City Mayor Mike Bloomberg would pair with Nebraska Senator Chuck Hagel and form a third alternative presidential/vice presidential ticket for 2008. Bloomberg is a billionaire and could finance his own presidential run if he chooses to. Ross Perot managed to garner 19 percent of the popular vote when he ran as a third alternative candidate against Bush senior and Bill Clinton. With a general sense of dissatisfaction out there with all of the major party candidates who have declared that they are running so far, some pundits think the Bloomberg/Hagel candidacy could happen. If it did, it's not clear which major party it would hurt the most. And, do we really want to see a billionaire "buy" the presidency? Or, are we that used to the reality that most politicians are wealthy, and that you have to be wealthy to go far in politics that we don' care?

Personally, I'd like to see a third alternative ticket happen. I have never been a fan of the "two-party" system. This is not something that the Founders set in stone by incorporating it into the Constitution. It evolved over time and has morphed into an undemocratic framework which presents the American voter with limited options. I'd like to see more candidates with alternative viewpoints. Of course, that would work best with an educated populace that has not bought into the crap that they have been fed by mainstream politicians year after year. Let's see what happens!
Photo: the architecture of Rio Grande, Brazil, February, 2007

Jim

Sunday, May 20, 2007

This One's For Dan

To Dan,

We’ll do it all
Everything
On our own

We don’t need
Anything
Or anyone

If I lay here
If I just lay here
Would you lie with me and just forget the world?

I don’t quite know
How to say
How I feel

Those three words
Are said too much
They’re not enough

If I lay here
If I just lay here
Would you lie with me and just forget the world?

Forget what we’re told
Before we get too old
Show me a garden that’s bursting into life

Let’s waste time
Chasing cars
Around our heads

I need your grace
To remind me
To find my own

If I lay here
If I just lay here
Would you lie with me and just forget the world?

Forget what we’re told
Before we get too old
Show me a garden that’s bursting into life

All that I am
All that I ever was
Is here in your perfect eyes, they’re all I can see

I don’t know where
Confused about how as well
Just know that these things will never change for us at all

If I lay here
If I just lay here
Would you lie with me and just forget the world?

5:00 AM: It occurred to me that this blog should be about more than just me bitching about politics, conservatives, etc.

So, let me explain. I have a great life. I have a wonderful love of 24 years who has made my dreams come true. This blog entry is for him.

I also enjoy the company of exceptional animal companions. They break my heart when they die, but they so enrich my life while we co-exist. I have friends who I treasure, and hobbies that I love. I have my health as I approach old age...and I have music to enjoy anytime I want.

Read the lyrics above from the band "Snow Patrol" and then go check out the song "Chasing Cars" here. You may not like it but currently it resonates deeply with me.

I consider myself very fortunate. Life is good.

Jim

Saturday, May 19, 2007

More Bad News On Global Warming

7:00 AM: Here's a closeup of the Beach Plum blossom. Literally millions of these flowers cover the dunes here on Fire Island this time of the year. It is a beautiful sight to see.
In the news this morning is a report on global warming that focuses on the amount of carbon dioxide (a "greenhouse gas" produced by human activity) that has been absorbed by the Southern seas. Apparently, the seas, which contain natural carbon, also help by absorbing CO2, are already saturated with the substance, something that scientists did not think would happen for decades. This is bad news for the planet, since the seas act as a CO2 "sink," mitigating the effects of man made CO2. The Southern sea is the biggest CO2 sink on the planet and it's already full of CO2. Scientists are saying that this will accelerate the pace of global warming. World population increases, and the peak period of oil production, which is expected to take place over about the next decade, will further stress the world's ecology. It's not a pretty picture, with forecasts for water and food shortages, the extinction of thousands of plant and animal species, human disease and death. Still, the Bush administration, which has been notably anti-science, is in denial about global warming.

Bush's buddy Tony Blair, on his last trip to the U.S. as UK PM, tried to get Bush to give in on related issues, but Bush refused.

Americablog is quoting the British press on Blair's final failure:

The Independent: NO to CO2 emissions targets. NO to a successor to Kyoto. NO to
a carbon trading market. As Blair leaves Washington, US hardens stance on
climate change

Quotable: Andrew Sullivan on Sean Hannity: "a semi-literate, fascist hack"

Jim

Friday, May 18, 2007

What Conservatism Has Become

11: 30 Am: I don't agree with Andrew Sullivan on very much, but he has been on the right track in criticizing the conservative movement, or at least what that movement has become under people like George Bush. One of Sullivan's readers sent in the following scathing indictment of conservatism:

What American 'conservatism' has become fits closely within the definition of
fascism: an intensely nationalist movement intent on defining membership in the
'nation' on linguistic, religious, and (increasingly) ethnic/racial criteria,
accompanied by an unquestioning loyalty to (male) authority, enshrined in family leaders, business leaders, religious leaders, and especially, the leader
of the nation, who is seen as embodying the Nation. Loyalty to the Party or
Movement and its ideology is of great importance. Violence is the preferred
means of accomplishing goals. Diplomacy, compromise, negotiation, are all
identified with (feminine) weakness. The rule of law is also despised, because
it lacks the immediacy of (violent) action, and its emphasis on balance and
its concern with proper procedure is also seen as a sign of (feminine) weakness.

Read more Andrew Sullivan here.

Jim

Immigration Compromise

8:00 AM: On Fire Island we have a shrub called the Beach Plum covering the dunes. In mid Spring the Beach Plum produces a beautiful white flower. For a week or so it looks like winter has returned because the dunes look like they have a covering of light snow. Eventually, the flowers turn pink before withering. In the late summer the Beach Plum produces fruit that is edible. Some people collect the fruit and make jam. I'd like to try that sometime.
The immigration compromise legislation hammered out by a bipartisan group of senators and the White House seems to have merit. Anything that the rabid right immediately attacks must have some good points. It will be interesting to see how the senate debate unf0lds on this one. The right wing nut cases are opposed to anything humane, such as a plan to allow undocumented aliens to stay and work toward citizenship, which they consider "amnesty." They conveniently forget that undocumented workers do the work that few others would do for wages that few others would accept. The businesses that have hired these workers for so many years and profited from their cheap labor will suffer no penalty, so why should the workers themselves pay a heavy penalty?


Jim

Thursday, May 17, 2007

Sand Castles And The Future

7:00 AM: In the news this morning: World Bank President and Bush crony Paul Wolfowitz wants to cut a a deal that would absolve him of wrongdoing over the sweet deal he gave his girlfriend at that bank - this BEFORE he resigns. Only in Bushworld do people like Wolfowitz and Gonzales behave as though they can do anything they want and it doesn't matter, even if it's wrong and they get caught at it.

Here's a picture of a great sand castle that Bradley and I came across on the beach a few days ago. It may have been constructed by some high school kids from Long Island. This time of the year students make senior trips - sometimes to the beach. It was marked "Commack H.S."

Another of the joys of living out here on Fire Island is that I can listen to my favorite FM radio station anywhere: FM 91.9, WSHR. WSHR is operated by Sachem High School located in Lake Ronkonkoma, NY, which is on Long Island. The school is quite large with about 15,000 students. The radio station plays an eclectic mix of jazz, oldies and youth-oriented hard rock that you don't hear on the usual NY rock stations. At times the students themselves are the disc jockeys and it's invigorating to listen to their youthful on-air exuberance. Listening to these kids gives me hope for the future.

Jim

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Can you remember anytime in history???



















I have to say, I am disappointed in our elected officials. Iraq is a plain waste of everything; lives, money, good will. We're still pandering to the Saudis.

I keep hearing conservatives and psuedo-conservatives babbling endlessly that the liberal left has no plan. "You have no plan, you just criticize!" I hear it all of the time, even in some New York newspapers that know better. The Far Right typically has a plan, usually one that isn't completely thought out (except for talking points) and typically laced with language and focus that is roughly equivalent to an 8th grade reading level. Iraq, Iran, Oil, oil, Oil, money, more money (taxes) and oh yes, oil. Really, there's not any planning going on except in the lobbyists offices.

Snap, it's time in history to reclaim our government!

Here are some things this liberal would like to see on the agenda.

1) Kiss Iraq goodbye in the next year.
2) Enlist some retired soldiers and commanders to outline an immediate agenda and recommendations on Vets rights and needed benefits. Create hotlines and immediate intervening agencies with budgets that can handle vets in dire need (and no, we don't really have that now eventhough the military says we do).
3) Cut major weapons systems spending 30% in 2008 and insert a mandatory cap on military spending as a percentage of the budget in 2009 and beyond. Create a committee in Congress of the newest elected officials that review each proposed new weapons system. Insert severe means of justification and a review cycle.

I know, we have the Senate Armed Services committee. Seems like we still have lots of $10k toilets courtesy of Haliburton. Perhaps we should rethink defense contracts coming from the State Department, eh?

4) Install a new, modern system monitored by the GAO that creates a mandatory bidding system with congressional oversight for all government agencies including Medicare and the military. N0-bids must be approved by the same vote in congress that it takes to impeach.
5) Dump "No Child Left Behind". Start over. Survey 20 ideal schools and utilize their best practices in public or private schools. If it means more money, than do it; we can live without a bridge to nowhere in Alaska. Children should be first in line, everything else is second.
6) Abolish tax breaks for the super rich. That's an easy one.
7) End the "Department of Homeland Security". It's essentially worthless and has done little to nothing to save us from anyone. Utilize the CIA and NSA the way they were supposed to be used. Police work stops terrorism. Create a special education area of the FBI that trains and funds local police departments to spot and investigate potential terrorist activity. There should be direct linkages between the state and federal law enforcement agencies. Create a new computer network that actually works and tracks all criminals including terrorists. It should plug into Interpol and the Israelis as well.
8) Start an immediate program for energy independence. Create tax free zones for energy research (big oil should not be allowed to develop in them). Use DARPA or a DARPA like program to stimulate new technologies for energy use.
9) Tax outsourcers for every worker they hire outside the US. Non-compliance or failure to report to the government of exactly where and how the employees are outsourced yields a $1 million fine per occurence.
10) Put strict rules in place for lobbyist donations, jobs congressional members and employees can take after service (as in they need to wait 2 years before they can go grab the $1 million paychecks from the drug, oil, etc. industry).
11) Repeal the ridiculous bankruptcy law written by the Credit card lobby.

Any thoughts on some new things you'd like to have congress work on? I can't remember anytime in history when we've had more questions and needed more answers from our elected officials. If they can't start to answer our questions, let them have their cushy pensions and let's find someone else that CAN do the job.

M

U.S. "Taliban" Leader Falwell Dead

7:30 AM: Most of what I would like to write about the death of Rev. Falwell has either already been written or is not fit to print. He was a despicable person, but the blame for the damage he did over the years must also be shared by politicians and the media, who continue to embrace or give forums to intolerant, fundamentalist religious bigots. The fundamentalist extreme religious right are nothing less that our own home grown Taliban. Why are their spokesmen invited on national TV programs like "Meet The Press" to spew their hate? Why do politicians get a pass for speaking engagements at Bob Jones University, a bastion of hate and intolerance. Until it's no longer acceptable to embrace or give forums to these intolerant extremists, the death of a Falwell or a Robertson will not make much difference.

The Republican candidates for president had another debate last evening, their second. This time there was a little more heat on the stage with some of them taking shots at each other. Giuliani took some flak for his pro-choice position, and Romney was criticized for his flip-flops. Andrew Sullivan notes that the three Republican front runners cover the complete spectrum on abortion with McCain being anti-choice, Giuliani pro-choice, and Romney willing to say whatever he has to in order to pander to whomever he is talking to at the moment. The bottom line for Republicans is that they really don't have a candidate at the moment who can win the election against a generic Democrat. The Democrats will have to lose the election on their own, which they might do, especially if they nominate Ms. Clinton, who is a polarizing figure. Look for more Republican late entries into the race, including Newt Gingrich and Fred Thompson, and maybe even Michael Bloomberg. It will be fun to watch the Republicans try to figure out how to win the presidency post "Dubbuya."

Photo: red fox comes out from under the walkway near the "Sunken Forest" on Fire Island

Jim

Tuesday, May 15, 2007

The Iranian Nuclear Conundrum

7:00 AM: The lead story in the New York Times this morning focuses on Iran's nuclear program. Iran is making progress processing uranium faster than was previously thought. This puts them on the fast track to being able to develop nuclear weapons. This is not good news for sane people who are afraid, not only of an Iran with the bomb, but of what the current U.S. administration might do: using this development as a pretense for starting another war.

Our options are limited when it comes to Iran for exactly the same reason that we find ourselves isolated in Iraq. Under Junior, we have squandered the good will and trust of our allies and friends around the world. We've dropped the ball on the Middle East peace process, and we've failed to maintain an even-handed diplomatic approach in our dealings with both sides in the Palestinian dispute. We are in no position to broker a peaceful settlement of the Palestinian question, we are mired in the Iraq situation while the administration "stays the course," and we are severely limited in terms of options in dealing with Iran. Add to this our dependence on Middle East oil, and our refusal to wean ourselves from foreign oil and act responsibly when it comes to energy conservation. We have a disastrous foreign policy driven by an irresponsible energy policy.

The only hope I see in this is that somehow Junior can be restrained from taking unilateral action against Iran. This will have to come from our own military, which has been stressed and stretched to the limit in Iraq. The generals must say "No!" to Junior, and the administration must send a clear signal to Israel not to take preemptive action. If we can make it past the next election without a crisis involving Iran, the next president, who will have his or her hands full with damage control, may be able to put together the diplomatic push needed to finally get a handle on the Iranian situation. The thought of Junior starting another war with Iran is just too depressing to contemplate.

Photo: fox cub on the move

Jim

Monday, May 14, 2007

Monday, Monday

7:00 AM: In the news this bright, sunny Monday morning: Hillary Clinton is beginning to pull ahead of Barak Obama in key states. Her husband and former president Bill Clinton will play a more public role in her campaign. Obama needs to add substance to his campaign. Obama says he'll roll back Junior's tax cuts on the very wealthy. A Taliban leader is killed in Afghanistan. Oh, and 124 people are killed in Iraq over the weekend with the worst incident occurring in Kurdish controlled northern Iraq. I knew we were not going to be able to get started this morning without some additional horrible news from Iraq. Yesterday, Senator McCain was asked why he has persisted in his support of the war given the fact that the U.S. Congress AND the Iraqi Parliament have voted in favor of timetables for a U.S. withdrawal. His answer, because I know better. So much for democracy. Gas prices continue to rise with prices approaching $4.00 a gallon in some areas. U.S. automaker Chrysler is being acquired by a financial group that specializes in fixing troubled companies. To this we've come - the U.S. auto industry is in serious trouble. Finally, be sure to add a $0.02 cent stamp to that $0.39 cent stamp you have in your drawer, because postage rates go up today.

Out here on Fire Island it was a beautiful weekend. Sunday was almost like a summer day at the beach. The wind was out of the North, so temperatures on the island were relatively warm. I saw people sunbathing in the nude on the beach for the first time this season, and someone actually went swimming in the ocean, although water temperatures are still a bit chilly for most of us. Bradley went swimming, but he's been "in" since April!

Photo: red fox cub taking a late afternoon snooze just outside his den.

Jim

Sunday, May 13, 2007

Immigration: Just Throw Them Into The Streets!

7:00 AM: Happy Mother's Day to my own mother and to all the Moms out there!

The good citizens of Farmer's Branch, Texas just voted overwhelmingly to make it illegal to rent living quarters to undocumented aliens. It seems as though property values in the town were not keeping pace with surrounding communities. The blame for this, of course, is the high number of undocumented workers and their families living in the town. If the new ordinance ever takes effect (it has been challenged in court,) landlords will be forced to evict undocumented workers and their families, or face fines.

The issue of undocumented immigration is a problem to be sure. We do need to find solutions that will enable us to address the problem in a humane fashion. However, throwing entire poor families out into the street is not the answer. The right wing has made this one of their red meat, hot button issues. This is pure and simple, a resurgence of nativism, another disgraced ideology, like Social Darwinism, that extremists on the right are using to create a new bogeyman and yes, once again, distract the public. Combine nativism, add a dose of xenophobia and throw in a little racism, and there you have it: the right wing's answer to undocumented immigration. Throw "them" into the streets!

How cruel can some of these people on the right be? Take a family like the one I saw interviewed on TV yesterday, a father who does construction work, his wife, and their two kids. They live modestly in a sparse but clean small apartment in Farmer's Branch. The father is working hard to make a living for his family. He can do better for them in Farmer's Branch than he can in Mexico, thanks in no small measure to U.S. trade policies which make it lucrative for our businesses to exploit foreign workers by keeping wages low in Mexico and elsewhere. What father would not do whatever he could for his wife and his children? No matter, we have to throw them out of their living quarters so that our property values recover, say the good Texans of Farmer's Branch.

This is a bad law that demonstrates, once again, that fundamental human rights for all people, whether they are "documented" or not, should never be put to a popular vote. The Founders understood this, and that's why we have a Constitution. The good citizens of Farmer's Branch need to read it. They also need to stop being cruel and heartless.

Photo: Red fox cub peers out from under the walk where her den is located.

Jim

Saturday, May 12, 2007

Close Encounter With A Beautiful Pup

6:30 AM: One of the highlights of the early season out here on Fire Island are the walks I take with Bradley down through the dunes on a path through the middle of the island. On a few rare occasions over the years we've been treated to the sight of red fox kits, as they romp just outside their den in the late afternoon. Yesterday was a foggy afternoon, and the pups were out enjoying themselves, foraging for food or just lying in the sand outside the entrance to the den. I had my camera with me and the cubs cooperated, even after one of them saw Bradley. The kits are growing big now, and more and more humans are in the area, so it's time for mom to move the den.



I enjoyed Marc's essay on Iraq as a distraction. Dan and I often chuckle about how easily the American public is distracted, especially by sports, or just plain fooled, especially by politicians. Sometimes the politicians can by quite subtle. Ms. Clinton, for example, was recently asked why she thought that our troops would need to remain the the Middle East after the end of our involvement in Iraq. She quite candidly and smoothly answered, without batting an eyelash, that it was because of the oil reserves in the region. Now, did I miss something or is that not a candid admission that the real reason we're in Iraq in the first place is because of oil, not WMD, etc? This should have been front page news! But, as Marc pointed out, too many Americans just go along with the program and think it's OK for us to continue to act like the world's energy hogs, forgetting conservation, even going to war to insure that our gluttony when it comes to energy can continue. Hillary's refusal to admit that her senate vote authorizing Junior to invade Iraq was a mistake, is, unfortunately, better understood in this context.



A reader writes:



"By the way, VA is NOT the site of the worst mass murder in US history,not
even of the worst school massacre in US history. That happened in Bath,
MI in 1928, and guns were not involved (seehttp://www.crimelibrary.com/serial_killers/history/bath/index_1.html).
A really depressing read."


Thanks for the information, I guess.



Jim








Friday, May 11, 2007

Iraq - the biggest distraction?

When you look around Times Square, there are tons of lights, people, businesses and so on. Yet there are cars flying through the intersections, taxi and buses picking people up and dropping people off.

However, most of Times Square is a one way street. And one way streets criss-crossing Broadway.

Just closing and slightly moving off Broadway is one of my absolute favorite musicals, The Producers. It's a play written by Mel Brooks and it's about two producers that woo a whole bunch of old women into investing in a bogus play that turns out to be a hit. Go figure.

A classic line in The Producers: "It ain't no mystery whether it's politics or history the thing you gotta know is.... Everything is SHOWBIZ".

Now there's not much showbiz going on in Iraq, except for the embedded reporters and the feel good stories coming out a war zone and the attempt to make believe that we'll actually beat every historical precedent ever set in conflict by defeating an amorphous enemy that lives in the region.

Well, maybe there is some showbiz.

It's been my take since the beginning that Iraq is a no-lose situation for the Republican Party. "Nationalism will bring us victory" or some such nonsense has become pervasive in the national media. Supporting troops, supporting the US, supporting The Patriot Act (which by the way, was in play before 9/11). And if (longshot) Iraq had gone well, the American people would have whooped and threw up their hands and squealed with delight; all was forgiven.

All smells like a distraction and showbiz to me.

The tip of Iraq is that it is a distraction. It's a distraction in a place where we should never have been. It's a distraction to keep common American's from knowing that their civil liberties are getting tossed down the drain. It's a distraction to pour massive amounts of our public funds into a select few companies where even less few will profit handsomely.

Unfortunately the tip is what I think we see most. I know Iraq is wrong on all fronts. Killing people has never been right, ever. Killing people for finite resource redistribution (oil) is worse because others profit from someone else's misery.

I had a friend ask me the other day (in a craven way): "So what? If it's for oil, good. We need it to keep our country running you idiot." To which I replied: "Record profits for a resource that is no more finite than it was 10 years ago?" "We can develop alternative means of energy independence very quickly in the vacuum of oil; it's just a question of when and based on our current President or more likely his handlers - timing seems to be everything." I got a harumph and that was it. By the way, my friend drives a massive SUV and he just plugs away at his day job like everyone else.

He buys the gibberish government has been putting out. Here's where it gets kind of interesting though. The administration can't create anymore distractions. People are starting not to give a shit about gay marriage or Terry Schaivo's husband. The reality is starting to cut through the poor quality show biz put on by our President and his handlers.

This may be what saves us. I worked for a very large company early on in my career. I was in a meeting with the head of market research and he had anecdotal data that tracked consumers for almost 50 years solid. He said something that resonated with me for a long time: "People think with the wallet. It's been shown over and over again in our studies." The company I worked for was a pre-packaged foods company (one of the largest in the world). Thus his data is probably pretty good.

So to the point of Iraq being manifested is that it is a no-lose distraction for the White House and OPEC. Perhaps their own success of a $4 a gallon gas pump will also be their undoing? Government is for the people, not for companies, not for foreign interests and it isn't there to make a profit. I operate under the basic premise of this: we should do good things for others with no expectation of reciprocation in return. Iraq is the diametric opposite of the aforementioned concept.

And what about our troops? What about the troops? What about the children? What will they think? What if we cut and run? What will history say? The troops are being squandered and quite a few of our kids were just killed in Virigina for no good reason. The troops are the showbiz backdrop for the Republicans. It's a misuse of some of the best Americans of our century and I think history WILL see it accordingly.

History will say we elected someone to the Whitehouse that had a long history of making bad decisions with bad people and that he replicated a scenario we thought we had learned from in the 1960's. Let's look at the last five gulf wars in Iraq. Did GW or Condi or Colin Powell look at any of that history?

Maybe the engineers in the constitution set up some one way streets through the distractions so even the most clever partisan hack will fall on himself eventually.

M

Virginia Vs. Bloomberg

7:00 AM: The New York Times is today reporting that the Attorney General of the state of Virginia has sent a warning to New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg informing him that it is now a felony offense in VA. for a non-law enforcement entity to attempt to buy a gun under false pretenses. Bloomberg has been aggressively pursuing 27 states that provide some of the guns used to commit crimes in the Big Apple. As part of the NYC effort, private investigators hired by the city are sent into other states to try to buy guns for someone else, which is against federal law. Well, Virginia, the state that was recently in the news as the site of the worst mass murder in U.S. history, can be justly proud of its determination to protect its gun dealers and the gun lobby. Said a spokesman for the mayor: “We wish that Attorney General McDonnell was as aggressive in enforcing the laws that prevent illegal guns from getting in the hands of criminals as he was in enforcing the laws that protect the gun lobby." This is a not-so-nice epitaph for the victims of the VA. Tech. massacre.

On a happier note, for dog lovers anyway, the New York City Parks Department has made it official: dogs can run off lead in certain city parks at designated times. They were doing it anyway, so, while this is just an acknowledgement of a de facto situation, it is also a humane recognition that dogs need and love to run and there is no reason why responsible owners should not be able to exercise their dogs. In Philadelphia, the same situation exists where I take Bradley several times each day. However, it's against the law for him to be off lead. The police look the other way and do not harass the many dogs and their owners who use the local "dog park." We even have our own weekly "DPHH," "dog park happy hour," on Friday evenings. The owners have a beer and chat while the dogs romp off lead. Out here on Fire Island it's a bit tougher. We run our dogs on the beach but we have to be on the lookout constantly for the authorities. When I lived briefly on Long Island, it was horrible. There is not one single legal place to take your dog for exercise in the entire county. No wonder I hated it so much!

I understand that Rev. Al apologized yeaterday in regard to remarks he made suggesting that Mitt Romney was not a man of faith. Good for Rev. Al. Something tells me that gay Americans will have a long wait for Romney's apology for his hateful anti-gay behavior and statements in regard to the gay marriage struggle while he was governor of Massachusetts.

I've invited my friend John LaRocca, who is another dog lover, not to mention a wonderful progressive thinker and writer, to join in the conversation here at HTP. I've known John for about 40 years, although we haven't seen each other in many years, since John lives in Scottsdale, AZ. I'm looking forward to his contributions, whether they be about politics, dogs, or whatever is on his mind. Welcome, John!

Photo: Frida (1990-2001) on the beach at Fire Island with a full moon. You're still in my heart, girl.

Jim

Thursday, May 10, 2007

Rev Al vs. Mitt

8:30 AM: So, did Rev. Al Sharpton really imply that Mormon Mitt is godless? I think the Rev. knows that Mormons believe in God. Maybe Rev. Al was confused by all of the Mittster's flip-flops. First, he's pro-choice, then he's anti-abortion. First, he's in favor of gay rights, now he's against those godless gays. Gosh, it's enough to keep your head spinning! Is Mitt godless, or is it the godless gays, I dunno.

This morning's other big news story concerns the "moderate" Republicans who went up to the palace, er, I mean, the White House yesterday to tell his majesty that he's lost all credibility, even with them. Poor little King George.

Photo: Linderhof castle in Bavaria. I took this photo in 1987. Dan and I did a driving tour of the area. More castles to follow!

12 Noon: Bradley and I had a nice walk to the Pines this morning. It's foggy and mysterious on the island today. In the Pines I was glad to see that construction of the new Pavillion complex is progressing nicely. You can now walk past the new structure and continue on to the Pantry. Also, "Bay Bar" is open with new cutie Mike serving AM coffee!

Tony Blair has resigned saying "Ten years is enough." I suppose so. Luckily, we won't have to endure 10 years of his buddy Bush Junior.

Jim

Wednesday, May 9, 2007

Cheney In Iraq

8:30 AM: Well, this morning I saw a photograph of Vice President Dick Cheney getting off a helicopter in Iraq. He is there for a "surprise" visit. That's the only kind of visit he can make. He can't announce he's coming for obvious reasons. Even so, he had on this bullet proof vest that made him look like an NFL linebacker. Meanwhile, talking heads this morning were discussing the inevitability of a U.S. pullout, and the likelihood that even Republicans in congress will abandon Bush in the Fall if there is no progress with"The Surge." So, if you are a soldier fighting in Iraq, or a family member of one, how must you feel about the Iraq war?

I'm still stuck with an old computer and dialup out here on Fire Island. I'm working on a solution and hopefully I'll be able to get back online with a wireless high speed connection before long. I miss not being able to post pictures easily. Yesterday the dog and I found some lovely sand castles on the beach that were created by some high school students from Long Island. It must have been a senior trip to the beach for a day. I took some photos and I'll post them when I'm able.

The Island and Cherry Grove are finally awakening after the long, cold winter. The pizza parlor and the grocery store are open in the Grove, and Ms. Skinner has the post office open as well. This morning was foggy with lots of dew on everything, but it's burning off now. Time to get out for a morning walk.

Jim

Tuesday, May 8, 2007

You Voted for What?



















Score yet another victory for the scumbag lobbyists from the drug industry.

The Senate shot down a vote to import drugs from other countries under the guise of "we're keeping America safe".

Never mind that the rest of the Western world doesn't pay exhorbitant prices and still gets the same drugs, we seem to know something they don't know.

Look, I'm not going to couch my editorials in anything other than facts. Yep, what I write is opinion however since I live in a fact based reality, the conclusions I draw come from hard data.

In this case, what I am encouraging everyone to do is go out to www.congress.org and signup up for how your elected officials are voting. They have this thing called a weekly vote monitor. It will email you how your elected officials are voting. Since Congress doesn't seem to want to curb the scumbag lobbyists from influencing our elected officials, we need to watch how our elected officials vote. We should:

1) Tell them when they are NOT voting in our interests.
2) Tell them when the issue they are addressing doesn't answer the whole question or even part of it.
3) Tell them how they should be voting.

I am really tired of elected officials pretending they are a daddy figure. I see it all the time in how they communicate with the public. They talk down to common citizens as if they were the epitome of higher reasoning and innovation. They were elected so they think we bought their opinions, their thinking and their views hook, line and sinker. Except I don't remember my Father taking money from a lobbyist so I could buy inflated athsma and diabetes medication. Matter of fact, he was one of those middle class guys that got up at 6 am and got home at 7 pm every day so his kids could afford a good school and good doctors when they got sick.

Our elected officials need to reflect the needs and focus and vision of their constituents, not just their own agenda. I don't really care anymore what party they belong to or their affiliations or any of that other stuff. It's irrelevant.

What' is relevant is that when they vote in the clouded interest of some shady lobbyist (such as 49 Senators just did in the case of drug imports) we should send them packing. The drug prices in this country are outrageous and they are that way because the drug companies have lobbied the government with success. And we are all paying for it. Take the first step: go watch and see how your elected officials are voting on the issues that matter to you.

M

PS What does this picture represent? Well, a bullmarket or the "Wall Street bull" tends to represent the bottom line. I thought it prophetic that while one tourist is riding the bull, another is endeavoring to insert his head up it's rear (or at least seems to be pondering it). It seemed like a good metaphor for how big business is working our government.

What's Wrong With This Picture?

7:00 AM: Bush throws a "white tie" dinner for the Queen complete with all the trimmings, while the governor of Kansas attempts to deal with the aftermath of a disastrous storm without the national guard resources that Bush has squandered on Iraq. Bush's 200 year verbal gaff was telling. This is indeed reminiscent of 200+ years ago - in France. Will heads soon roll?

On education, one reader wrote: "So long as we fund education with property taxes, no underprivileged child will ever get an equal (or even decent) education. (And that is probably the most fundamentally unfair public policy we allow.") So, what's the answer? Where does the money come from for education? Maybe if we funded the war from property taxes and education from income taxes, the public would finally rise up and demand an end to the war.

Jim

Monday, May 7, 2007

Monday Open Thread

7:00 AM: Yesterday I came across an interesting essay on what is wrong with conservatism penned by a professor of information science. Read it here.

I'm off to the periodontist this morning, then my canine buddy Bradley and I will make our way back to Fire Island. Temperatures this week are supposed to rise. It's going to be a good week to work outside in the garden and on the house.
So this is an open thread day. That means that you, the readers are supposed to discuss posts or leave comments. How about it?
Photo: Brazil Feb. 2007
Jim

Sunday, May 6, 2007

Education: Not A Priority In The United States

12 Noon: Marc asks "What ever happened to critical thinking?" Here's my response in the form of a question for today: What ever happened to the notion of a "liberal education?"

"Liberal education, which consists in the constant intercourse with the greatest minds, is a training in the highest form of modesty, not to say of humility. It is at the same time a training in boldness: it demands from us the complete break with the noise, the rush, the thoughtlessness, the cheapness of the Vanity Fair of the intellectuals as well as of their enemies. It demands from us the boldness implied in the resolve to regard the accepted views as mere opinions, or to regard the average opinions as extreme opinions which are at least as likely to be wrong as the most strange or the least popular opinions. Liberal education is liberation from vulgarity. The Greeks had a beautiful word for "vulgarity"; they called it apeirokalia, lack of experience in things beautiful. Liberal education supplies us with experience in things beautiful. " - Leo Strauss (1959)

When I first attended college back in the late 1960's, there was still some attempt to insure that college graduates could do more than merely take their place as cogs in the corporate world. We had to complete two years of "basic studies." This curriculum was meant to expose students to various disciplines. You had to select on an elective basis, a minimum number of courses in fields outside of your intended major. The idea was a good one and one that opened up my mind even if it took many years for me to reap the benefits. Being in this program made you think about lots of things outside of your core interests. It prepared you in ways you didn't realize at the time to experience and deal with the world. Today I'm afraid the notion of a "liberal education" is passe.

Education in general in this country is in terrible shape. We lack the will as a people to insist that EVERY child receive a quality education in a decent school with competent, dedicated teachers. We can spend billions on Bush's folly, but for our kids we can only offer some of them vouchers so that a fortunate few can escape the fate of the many who are stuck in sub-standard schools. This is truly an outrage. It is insane. We have mortgaged our future in so many ways, but the most shameful way is in how we have let our children down.

Jim

Saturday, May 5, 2007

Where are the questions?



















I was watching Bill Maher last night and Sean Penn made a great point; we can't divorce criticism from democracy. It shouldn't happen. Could it be that our priorities are out of whack as a nation? Much more to the point; why have we become a nation of non-critical thinkers?

That is to say, the nation seems less able to ask questions than it seems to look for answers without identifying the problem first.

How can I make this observation? Let me give you a simple example: I work in the computer industry. I work with IT people every day of the week. You know, the guys that keep computers running for big business world wide.

Now I'm going to give you, yes, give you the answer to the hard part of the SAT. Ok, maybe not the SAT but a hard question to answer in life.

Why do computers fail so often? They fail at home, they fail at work, they fail with legions of people that are experienced and there just to service them.

I can't tell you that this is the case in every single circumstance but I can tell you computers reflect the humans that use them as well as the humans that buy them and the humans that sell and design them. Go figure.

That's still not the answer to the $64,000 question. Computers or attempts at computer solutions typically fail because people in business don't ask the right business question to solve their problems. That's the answer. If you don't know the question, how in the world are you going to solve the problem?

I see it every day of the week in every variety of customer situation. People in general tend to say they don't need to write down the problem they're trying to solve or identify it, they all say to me "I do that in my head intuitively, I'm way smarter than that.". The point is that people tend to pick technology before they know the problem they're trying to solve.

You'd be suprised how many of these Einsteins have failing technology.

The lack of critical thinking is one that keeps the whole computer industry in business and keeps a ton of blogs churning out gripes about how bad companies suck and why their performance is lackluster. PS Everyone still buys computers from those same companies. Why?

Because it's easy to think everyone knows the answers and that there's no need to write down or critically think of the questions. When you ask a question, you define the scope of a problem. Not all questions are good one's but at least it's a beginning. When a question is asked, we can look at a variety of answers, not just the one's getting presented to us. We can identify problems and seperate them into solvable parts. Typically big problems can be complex thus they require answers that may not be as simple as "invade Iraq".

In The United States today, we are picking answers to problems before we know the questions.

Now let me jump to politics. You see, people like Karl Rove, Henry Kissinger and many others know the above. Framing a discussion and putting it in your own language or terminology puts you largely in control of it. If we abolish the question and critical thinking part, all that's left are someone else's answers. Isn't that easy? Well, no.

My Dad used to say you have to watch the Republican party because while one hand is doing one thing the other is picking the pockets of John Q Public. A framed debate about non-issues such as Roe V. Wade is exactly what Karl Rove lives for. Gay marriage is another such issue. Our country is inherently a place that tends to opt for equality over persecution. A few simple questions:

How can homosexuals get basic rights afforded to recognized married couples?
How can homosexuals get equal options for healthcare, insurance, estate rights and so on?
Should it be up to each state to determine?

I'll move from a question to my own statement: Thus gay marriage is only an issue for people that make it one, it's obvious to everyone else that a union between two people really shouldn't be open for questions by others and it should be recognized by everyone including the Federal Government. Gay marriage shouldn't be an issue. It is because it rallies old prejudices amongst an electorate and distracts people from the real issues.

I'll be going into greater detail on the distractions in another discussion.

Our founding fathers created a society of open thinking and reasoning. Unfortunately that leaves room for people like Karl Rove, Grover Norquist and others to manipulate thoughts and ideas into answers. I'm using the term "answer" loosely. Unfortunately these thoughts and ideas are distracting us from asking the right questions to frame our own debates. It's happened a long time and it isn't exclusive to Republicans. Democrats do it as well and so do Independents.

Here are some questions I have:

How can we have healthcare for every citizen in our country?

How can we make sure our elderly are taken care of in body and soul?
How can we treat our elderly like the knowledgable people they are and learn from them?

How can we make our schools better? How can we make our students better learners?

More importantly: how can we make sure schools are "safe places" for any child to go and learn?
How can we make sure everyone that wants to work can? How can we make sure they get a good wage?

How can we make housing affordable for anyone that wants it?

When will our streets be free from crime?

When will our foreign policy give more food to people and less ammunition?

I haven't started to scratch the surface of my questions. Perhaps some of you will post some questions and get the discussion started. Let me keep going here for a minute: "Talking Points" are pat answers to non-issues and non-questions. I know, I'm hacking up the English language a bit. Give me a little artistic license.

We're used to getting fed the answers, from Television and Radio to your favorite Blog, answers are easy to find. The questions part, now that's hard. While we're busy losing our minds over the silliness in Iraq, the question has never been answered as to why we are there. Not to anyone's satisfaction anyway. More importantly though, whilest we all dwell on the obvious and evident carnage that is taking place for no good reason, what other questions are not getting asked? Are we losing freedoms at the expense of security? Why does money have so much to do with our government officials? Why aren't we discussing things like campaign finance reform anymore?

Anyone else have some questions?

Marc