Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Why Do Republicans Hate the Constitution?

Another incompetent fails at being a terrorist, this time only managing to burn off his pants. In response Republicans are again shouting from the rafters that the Constitution must be thrown away.

Now, I'll grant at this time of year it's the thought that counts and Umar Farouk AbdulMutallab thought about being a terrorist. But he only accomplished being an inept fool. I'll even grant there probably are some more al Qaeda fools who might not be so inept and that better diligence and less bureaucratic nonsense is needed by the government.

Yet, somehow, whenever some unrealized threat occurs Republicans start screaming "the Constitution is not a suicide pact" and demanding it be thrown in the trash to prove how tough we are. I really wish Republicans would grow a couple of balls and stop being terrified of shadows.

Thursday, December 24, 2009

They Labored Mightily, and Brought Forth a Mouse

Maybe it will be better than it looks but it looks like a Christmas present for big pharma and big insurance. Maybe the conference committee will cobble together an improvement. But, at first glance, it looks like the Senate put a great deal of effort into a health care reform bill that will do very little for the millions who need help most.
A mountain was in labor, sending forth dreadful groans, and there was in the region the highest expectation. After all, it brought forth a mouse. ~ Phaedrus (Roman writer, first cent. AD)

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

The Power of Prayer

It's a staple of television series that run out of ideas to do an episode where a magical entity grants some wishes. Always, the wishes backfire because the wish isn't phrased in exactly the right way. (The best of these, of course a Xena episode titled "The Quill Is Mightier," is still pretty lousy.)

This is in way of an introduction to the funny story where Republican fundamentalists prayed that God smite down an unnamed senator to prevent him from making the health care reform vote. They meant for the Almighty to target Sen. Robert Byrd and they meant for God to murder him. Because the prayer was not precise, God picked the most ignorant and incompetent human in the Senate, Jim Inhofe. God, not being they bloodthirsty psychopath that Republican fundamentalists believe in, didn't kill Inhofe He just made Inhofe absent.

By the by, Inhofe's excuse for missing the vote sounds like a lie. The official reason, Inhofe "was absent to fly his wife home to Oklahoma," seems silly as if his wife can't board a plane without an escort. More likely Inhofe was sleeping in with his mistress and couldn't be bothered voting.

Friday, December 18, 2009

Creatures of Habit

We are all creatures of habit. We can do most things without even thinking about them; our bodies take charge and do them for us. ~ Earl Nightingale
It is amazing how much of our lives are on autopilot. We do things without thinking. Consider your morning routine. Everything from waking up to making breakfast to getting dressed gets done unconsciously, or almost so. Our brains can be off doing all sorts of serious thinking while our habits take care of business.

Now, take those habits away for a week and replace them with nothing, say spending a week in a hospital. Those habits become foggy. The routine of nothing has replaced the routine of doing. When you get back to your life the first thing you notice is that you have to think about what used to just happen. What used to be automatic now requires conscious thought. It seems weird, even bizarre, perhaps even frightening like you have lost part of your mind as you consciously walk yourself through life's routines.

But it is perfectly normal. A few days back in your normal settings, hearth and home, and the habits reassert themselves. Life becomes routine again. Comfortable again. The brain can safely wander off again as your body gets back into the rhythm of taking care of itself.

This is one of the odd little facts of human life.

Tuesday, December 08, 2009

How to Lie With Statistics - Fox News Style

Think Progress has been tracking the math-challenged folk at Fox News. Last month Fox pegged support for Republican candidates for president in 2012 at 193%. This month they are doing some fuzzy math over the global warming debate, finding that 94% of the public supported Fox's position (out of a polling total of 120%).

If the book How to Lie with Statistics isn't in your library it ought to be.

Monday, December 07, 2009

New Orleans Saints Football Voodoo

Tell me, why should it be
you have the power to hypnotize me?
Let me live 'neath your spell,
You do that voodoo
that you do so well. ~ Cole Porter, You Do Something to Me
Maybe there is something to Voodoo. You have to start wondering after the New Orleans Saints game yesterday. The Saints should have, would have, lost the game except --
  • Saints punter Thomas Morstead shanks a kick that only goes 29 yards where it bounced off the back of a Washington Redskins player and is recovered by New Orleans.
  • Four plays later, third and 26, quarterback Drew Brees desperately trying to avoid being sacked heaves up a horrible pass that is intercepted. While running back the interception the Washington player has the ball snatched out of his hands as easily as stealing candy from a baby. Touchdown New Orleans.
  • Leading 30-23 with less than three minutes left in the game, Washington lined up a gimme, 23-yard field goal that would have iced the game. Shaun Suisham missed the sure thing.
  • Five plays later Brees completes a 53-yard pass for the tying touchdown.
  • In overtime, a Washington player catches a short pass, is hit hard, the ball comes loose but the whistle is blown before it is recovered by New Orleans and is the Washington player is ruled "down by contact."
  • Upon review, the loose ball is ruled a fumble recovered by New Orleans (the Ed Hochuli Rule).
  • New Orleans kicks their short field goal and wins the game.
Somewhere along the line, all these improbables coalesced into the impossible. New Orleans should have lost this game. It should not even have been close. Yet, they won and continue to be undefeated.

Maybe it's time to release the skepticism and accept that voodoo is real.

Sunday, December 06, 2009

What If We Held a War
and Nobody Gave a Shit?

We're going to find out. Soon, there will be over 100,000 American troops in Afghanistan fighting and dying in near total obscurity. You see, there won't be enough dying for us to take notice. There will be no showy battles. The troops will try to limit bombings in the cities while crushing any potential Taliban gatherings. The former is nearly impossible as the troops don't speak the language and don't know the culture. The latter, given we can't tell the difference between a terrorist gathering and a wedding party, really just means a lot of random killing in rural areas.

The bad guys are mostly thuggish warlords and drug dealers; the good guys are mostly thuggish warlords and drug dealers. Success is having our thugs in charge and profiting from selling opium to American addicts. Failure is seeing their thugs in charge and profiting from selling opium to American addicts.

Best Case Scenario: A repeat of Iraq. That means a wholly corrupt government, a tolerable level of terrorism, and a permanent military presence mostly hiding from the locals while bleeding billions from the American treasury in perpetuity. Hardly the stuff of rousing war rallies.

Friday, December 04, 2009

Occupation Troops in Afghanistan

The Obama surge will bring all foreign troops to a total of 140,000. Add in 104,000 mercenaries (private contractors) and the total occupation force is near a quarter of a million. Add in another projected quarter of a million for the Afghan national army (currently 100,000) and the total forces for the Afghanistan occupation will be 500,000.

To put that in perspective, there are only about six million Afghans of fighting age in the entire country. Most of those are handicapped by previous war injuries or needed for the food (and poppy) harvest.

The Taliban fighting force is estimated at 25,000 men. By my back of the hand calculations, we outnumber them 20 to 1. We've got grotesquely expensive, high-tech weapons while they have cheap AK-47s so adding in force multiplication and we probably outnumber the Taliban by at least 100 to 1.

It takes a great deal of military incompetence to squander an advantage that large but I am certain the Pentagon is more than capable of continuing to fail miserably in Afghanistan.

Thursday, December 03, 2009

Big Brother Is Watching

Tiger Woods failure in keeping his private life private shows just the tip of the spying machines watching us.

In the novel 1984, Big Brother watched every act of people. Except the Proles, those people too poor and powerless to bother watching. In today's jargon they would be "off the grid." In 1984 it is the government watching over every detail of peoples lives ("spying" is too weak a word). Today it is a corporate oligarchy aided by all of the conveniences of modern life.
  • Tiger's secrets were revealed by his cell phone that remembers everyone he dials. He may also have been tracked by the many available cell phone spying apps on the market.
  • Sprint gave to police customer's gps locations over eight million times in one year. We can safely assume every other cell phone provider has done likewise. Carrying a cell phone means you are being consistently tracked wherever you go.
  • Got OnStar? Everywhere you drive, every traffic law you break, is being tracked. They can, in fact, listen in on conversations you have in your car.
  • Google (hi, there) knows every search and every destination I look at. They know every product I've looked at and every embarrassing site I've visited (purely for research purposes). Information they sell.
  • My cable provider knows my eclectic (downright weird) viewing habits. NetFlix knows my even more strange film preferences.
  • That grocery discount card I use means that Vons knows my shopping habits better than I do. Same with VISA. By sharing that data they can form a complete picture of me as a customer.
  • Of course your employer probably logs every keystroke you type.
  • All those security cameras that watch you everywhere can also come with audio surveillance.
I could go on, but you get the point. You can try living off the grid - walking places, paying cash, refusing to have a fancy cell phone - but you will still mostly fail. Just like Winston Smith couldn't hide by going among the Proles, the corporate Big Brother will still be able to track you. What's worse is that the corporate spies really do believe they are a Big Brother who are tracking our every act and whim so they can "make our lives better."

See also: No Place to Hide; Google as Big Brother; eNotAlone on corporate spying; and Prison Planet on 150 Million Americans Spied Upon

Tuesday, December 01, 2009

Goldman Sachs Gun Culture

Goldman employees are stocking up on the artillery.

I can think of so many ways this is going to end very badly. Goldman Sachs employees are amoral pricks to begin with. Amoral pricks with guns become amoral bastards.
  • Super paranoid people tend to shoot innocent folk
  • High stress + gun + petty argument at home = slaughter
  • Wall Street players tend to keep mistresses; wives tend to shoot mistresses
  • Mistresses sometimes kill their lovers
  • Market crash + gun = massacre
  • Or maybe just suicide
Guys, there is a reason you were not allowed to carry guns in Hell. Being pure evil is a stressful and dangerous profession as it is, don't compound it by carrying a 45.

Standard Disclaimer to Goldman Sachs lawyers: I worship Goldman Sachs and pray to it nightly. Please don't sue me. Or shoot me.