Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Conspiracy or Stupidity?

I love a good conspiracy theory as much as the next paranoid freak. There are some conspiracies I believe (the Kennedy assassination was a CIA coup) and others I do not (9-11 was an inside job). I have found that there certain rules of thumb that help deciding whether to don that tin-foil hat.
  1. Never ascribe to conspiracy what can more easily be explained by stupidity. Almost everything that went wrong on 9-11 can be explained by humans being human. People were confused, scared, panicked and reacted as humans will by doing a whole bunch of stupid things. Conversely, the Kennedy assassination requires us to believe that Lee Harvey Oswald was not a fallible human but capable of herculean feats. Some theorists have suggested the Gulf oil spill was a conspiracy but isn't it more likely that BP engineers are simply ignorant twits?
  2. When you eliminate the impossible what ever remains, however improbable, must be the truth. The line is from Sherlock Holmes, the fictional master detective. It is fair to say that millions of dollars have been spent over the past forty years trying to prove the Single Bullet Theory to the Kennedy assassination is true. The best they have managed in all this time is to break down the strange trajectory of that one magic bullet into smaller bits and declare that the parts equal the whole. The single bullet theory was concocted by Arlen Specter to explain the nasty truth that the evidence required at least four bullets but a lone gunman could have only shot three times. If the magic bullet is impossible then there must have been a conspiracy. In the case of 9-11, the best case for such a denouncement is the theory that jet fuel is not energetic enough to have melted the steel girders of the Twin Towers and that thermite demolition charges were used. The theory is weak because there is no supportive evidence and no attempts to test the theory. Also, there is ample evidence for alternative explanations.
  3. There is no such thing as coincidence. The Warren Commission requires a staggering array of coincidences to make Oswald the lone assassin. There is no similar collection of coincidences surround the official 9-11 story.
  4. Commissions are formed to reach preordained conclusions. The Warren Commission went so far as to bend the laws of physics to prove a lone gunman killed Kennedy. The 9-11 Commission was formed to conclude that no one in government or the military could have prevented the attacks. The Gulf oil spill commission was formed to place blame on low level bureaucrats and BP middle managers. Bottom line is that commissions are a worthless waste of paper.
  5. Don't believe "I don't remember." People vividly remember the most important day in their lives and they remember everything that led up to it. When Condoleezza Rice said she didn't remember key conversations, she was lying.
  6. Lies don't prove conspiracy. People lie most frequently to cover their asses. Only if a lie doesn't involve ass protection can you suspect deeper motives.
  7. Conspiracies require motive. The most compelling motive for assassinating John Kennedy was to grease the wheels for an expansion of the Vietnam War that Kennedy opposed. And that's what happened. The most compelling motive for a 9-11 conspiracy was to create permanent war to impose an imperial Republican presidency. If that was the motive they were wholly unprepared to act on the fruits of the conspiracy. It is hard to believe they could have been so skilled at conspiracy yet so inept at follow up.

Sunday, June 27, 2010

The Afghan War in Perspective

The total number of al-Qaeda in Afghanistan would fit in this bus.
The total number of Taliban would fit in a minor league ballpark.

On the other side, the total number of NATO-led forces in Afghanistan would fill the largest football stadium in the United States to overflowing.
Penn State's Beaver Stadium only seats 107,000 people.

Add in the Afghan National Army (108,000) and you would need the Indianapolis Motor Speedway to hold them all.
The entire United States military has 1.4 million members in active service (the size of Philadelphia). Add in the ready reserve (1.24 million people) and the total men at arms available to the United States is 2.6 million.
Chicago, population 2.8 million.

Chicago versus a bus? No wonder it is taking so long.

Saturday, June 26, 2010

The Rules of Life

For everyone (else) who needs some guidance in their pitiful existence, here are the basic rules of life.
  • Rule #1 - Do not talk about Fight Club. Alternatively, do not talk about internal party discussions (for politicians), the war we are fighting (for soldiers), oil on Gulf beaches (for BP executives).
  • Rule #1 for barbarians - Pillage first, then burn. Never burn before pillaging.
  • Rule #2 - See Rule #1.
  • Rule #6 - A friendship between people of the opposite sex will eventually evolve into one of them falling in love with the other. (aka: the "When Harry Met Sally" Rule)
  • Rule #12 - Romance between coworkers never works out. (See Rule #6)
  • Rule #17 - Make sure he is dead.
Two hunters are out in the woods. One of them falls to the ground. He doesn't seem to be breathing, his eyes are closed. The other hunter takes out his mobile phone and calls emergency services. “My friend is dead!” he cries to the operator, “What can I do?” The operator, in a calm voice says: “Don’t worry. I can help. First, make sure he's dead.” There is a silence, then a shot is heard. Bang! The hunter’s voice comes back on the line. He says: “OK, now what?" ~ The funniest joke in the world
  • Rule #21 - All numbers pertaining to a rule are completely and utterly random.
  • Rule #23 - Never spill a Marine's coffee if you want to live.
  • Rule #34 - Whatever it is, there is porn of it.
  • Rule #34DD - with big boobs.
  • Rule #35 - If there is not porn of it, porn will be made of it.
  • Rule #41 - Any witty retort will only occur to you 10 minutes after you could have used it.
  • Rule #42 - All persons more than a mile high must leave the court. (Alice in Wonderland)
  • Rule #90 - Everything is better with zombies.
  • Rule #99 - If at first you don't succeed, kill the guy who did.
  • Rule #100 - There are already too many rules.

Friday, June 25, 2010

Adventures in Skin

I guess it should be reassuring that there are so many names for the really annoying rash I have.
  • Contact Dermatitis (that spot on my ankle where a mean plant scratched me) - Contact is the act of touching, from the Latin contactus. Dermatitis is Greek - derma- means hide or skin, -itis means disease.
  • Atopic Dermatitis (the rest of my legs, my arms) - Atopic is a Greekish word coined in 1923 by an American professor that means in an unusual place.
  • Eczema - Mostly same thing as dermatitis. Also Greek, meaning "out of a boil."
  • Hives - The common English word of unknown origin.
  • Urticaria - from the Latin word for burn, is scientistspeak for hives. (Yes, I know there is a technical difference between uricaria and dermatitis, but an itch is still an itch.)
It really is all just the body's immune system panicking. A generally innocuous substance touches the skin, the body senses this and reacts as if a deadly poison has been introduced. Histamine floods the area and any other place else the body feels is endangered. Tissue swells to block entry points for the completely harmless invader.

Oh, and we itch. God, do we itch. Nobody knows why. The scratch reflex probably is left over from billions of years ago when our rodent ancestors were trying to kill body lice. Scratching initially releases some feel good chemicals, the body's way of saying thank you. Then comes the why-the-hell-did-you-do-that rebound to punish us for scratching.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Whiny Assed Titty Soldier

General Stanley McChrystal is doing everything he can to get fired. The Rolling Stone profile shows he is, at best, the leader of a command staff of egocentric prima donnas. At worse, he is an insubordinate incompetent who blames everyone else in the world for his personal failures.

McChrystal didn't have a stellar reputation before being elevated to commander of Afghanistan forces by Obama. He was a known torturer and a known liar who fabricated the Pat Tillman story. His Afghan strategy has been the failure most predicted.

The President cannot allow McChrystal to remain at his post, to do so would be an incredible statement of weakness by Obama. Obama needs to demand McChrystal resign immediately.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Noblesse Oblige

The attitude of the Plutocracy was displayed by two "slips of the tongue" recently.
But it was not the kind of speech you would make if you were speaking to the unwashed back home, so to speak. This was primarily to say ‘Hey’ to the people in her party and introduce herself. ~ Sen. Johnny Isakson (R., Ga.)
Nevada Senate candidate Sharron Angle impressed her potential colleagues by telling Republicans senators different things then she would say to the voters back home. She convinced Isakson at least that she was one of their special elite. There is no mistaking what Isakson means with the word "unwashed." It has meant members of an ignorant, underprivileged rabble since the 1830's.
I hear comments sometimes that large oil companies are greedy companies or don't care, but that is not the case with BP. We care about the small people. ~ BP Chairman Carl-Henric Svanberg
Svanberg says he spoke clumsily. He probably meant to say "little people." Unless you are talking about hobbits either phrase has the same meaning. Those people who are smaller in status and of less importance. It was a commonly used phrase when nobility wanted to speak kindly of peasants and separate them from "great people" like themselves.

This is what passes for noblesse oblige among modern plutocrats. We shall be kind to them even though they are dirty, common laborers as beneath us as insects.
At home in either the BP board room or the
Republican cloak room.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Simple Rules of Citizenship

  • Governments Lie. They lie about big stuff, they lie about little stuff. Conservatives and liberals lie alike. You will seldom go wrong by assuming everything every government says is a lie.
  • Politicians Lie. Politicians lie more frequently and more deeply than they breath. They lie about what they believe, they lie about what they will do in office, they lie about who they are. Only a fool believes anything a politician says.
  • Sometimes Truth Happens. Sometimes when a politician lies about a government lie or a government official lies about a politician's lie he accidentally tells the truth. This is a rare event and not something anyone should count on.
  • Money Rules. You can be a scientific genius or a political economist of rare renown, any rich idiot who can't even spell his own name gets a special ear in the halls of government while you are ignored. Words like democracy or socialism are just government lies. All government in the world today are Plutocracies.
  • Industry is conducted upon the supposition that human life is cheap. When compared to the profits to be made. Be it Iraq or Nigeria (oil) or Afghanistan (precious minerals) or Mexico (drugs) the human lives taken are not even measured against the money gained. A tractor lost is carefully marked on the balance sheet; thousands of human lives lost never appear. Even now, in the Gulf of Mexico, the talk is of oil lost and possible dividends missed. The dead are forgotten and the headlines read Can BP Survive?

Sunday, June 13, 2010

Suffer the Little Children

But Jesus said, Suffer little children, and forbid them not, to come unto me: for of such is the kingdom of heaven. ~ Matthew 19:14
Of course, in Arizona they have a different meaning. When they think suffer the little children they mean exile them from the land of their birth. Arizona will forbid them to come, or even be, in the state. They intend to strip the citizenship of children born in Arizona of Mexican parents. It is difficult to understand the level of racism that fuels such hatred of children. But it exists and it is a major force in the Republican Party.
Scary, Aren't they?

Saturday, June 12, 2010

Seeing Through BP's Muck

A few facts are visible through the oily mess of BP's Gulf well blowout.
  • The estimates of how much oil has been pumped into the Gulf of Mexico started with BP saying less than 1,000 barrels a day was flowing. But that was when they were able to keep outside experts far away. By late April the government lowballed the number at 5,000 barrels, a number the government clung to for weeks. By May independent experts had raised the estimates to over 20,000 barrels a day. Using computers to calculate the visible flow from the pipe a more reasonable number exceeds 50,000 barrels a day, 2 to 3 million gallons a day.
  • At a conservative 100 million barrels, to date, and Clean Water Act fines of $1,100 per barrel, BP faces civil penalties of $110 billion. BP's net worth, their Enterprise Value, is $132 billion. (What's funny here is that reporters, lacking access to calculators, have been under reporting the potential fines.) Okay, I screwed up the math. The actual numbers, to date, is about 3 million barrels leaving a base fine of $3.3 billion. BP can pay that out of petty cash. Gallons, barrels, who can keep it all straight?
  • BP claims they are collecting 15,000 barrels of oil through their cap. Since snipping the pipe increased the oil flow by 20% (about 10,000 barrels a day) they are doing a little better than breaking even.
  • Talk about raising BP's liability cap is blue smoke, a meaningless political show. Any effort by Congress will be overturned by the Supreme Court (ex post facto law).
Prediction: When all is said and done, the government will conspire with BP to lower the "official" estimate of the oil spilled to about one-tenth of the actual amount. BP will pay a fine that equals a couple of quarters of dividends. The liability cap of $75 million will remain in place, most of that going to the families of the men killed in the initial explosion and fire. BP will survive this oil spill far better than the fishermen and tourist industries of the Gulf. Adm. Thad Allen will retire from the Coast Guard to an executive suite in the oil industry (not with BP).

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Quarter of a Billion Dollars

Between primary and general elections, Meg Whitman will probably spend that much of her own money to be elected governor of California. The question is why?
  • Does she have way more money than common sense?
  • Does she have to spend like a drunken CEO to prove she is financially prudent?
  • Does she figure to make more in corrupt practices then she is spending?
  • Is owning California is just bling for a rich CEO?
  • Is she is fully and irreversibly insane?
Whatever, that she has that much money to waste is proof that taxes on the rich are way too low.

Wednesday, June 09, 2010

Pissing On Your Friends

An unnamed "senior White House source" (probably Rahm Emanuel) ragged on labor for spending money to unseat anti-labor Democrat Blanche Lincoln. He was probably just making kissy-faced towards Lincoln who hasn't supported the President's policies. The thing is Emanuel could have done his kissing up without a mean-spirited snark towards labor. In politics you don't piss on your friends when they fall unless you want them to turn their backs when you need their help. In other words, it's fucking stupid.

Monday, June 07, 2010

Lesser Gods, Greater Gods

Booman Tribune notes that the First Missionary Baptist Church in Bay St. Louis is praying to God to dissipate the Gulf oil slick. It is pathetic, really, for the God of Abraham and the father of Joshua is helpless against the far greater gods of the 21st century. Among these great gods of our age, BP isn't even the most powerful.
The Golden Calf of Wall Street worshiped.

They are known as Mammon. But that is a collective term, like Olympians and Valhallans. Individually they are legion. There are Gods of War (Bechtel, Raytheon, Boeing) who have grown fat feeding on the casualties of conflict. There are Gods of the Earth (Exxon-Mobil, BP, Chevron) who ravenously eat the very earth created by that ancient God.
The great cathedral called the Kennecott Copper Mine in Utah charges worshipers $5 a car to attend. While it is not yet quite as deep (4,000 feet) as the Grand Canyon (6,000 feet), it has only been feeding its god for a century while Yahweh has been carving the Grand Canyon for eons.

Perhaps the greatest of these gods are the Gods of Lucre (BofA, CitiGroup, Goldman Sachs). They feed on the very flesh of their worshipers. People slave away at work only to see their efforts disappear though taxes, fees, mortgages, and debt. However these Market Gods lean, the people always seem to lose.
You load sixteen tons, and what do you get?
Another day older and deeper in debt.
St. Peter, don't you call me, 'cause I can't go.
I owe my soul to the company store. ~ Tennessee Ernie Ford
The high priests of these many gods run governments (Dick Cheney, Tim Geithner). No politician dare stand against these gods. But what of the God of Abraham, Yahwah?

Yahwah can make the River Nile run red with blood. BP can fill the Gulf of Mexico with tar. Yahwah destroyed Sodom. One Trident missile (made by Lockheed) can destroy cities 100 times larger than the village of Sodom. There is no miracle Yahwah can do that these modern gods can't, and don't, top. The First Missionary Baptist Church is praying to the wrong God.

Sunday, June 06, 2010

Remembering Really Old Battles
That Don't Matter Anymore

On this day...

Battle at Novara
In 1513 during the War of the Holy League Swiss mercenaries defeated a French army under Louis de la Trémoille when his Swiss mercenaries refused to fight the other Swiss mercenaries. The victory restored the 20 year old Maximilian Sforza as Duke of Milan where he served as a puppet to the Swiss mercenaries he had hired. Two years later the French returned, defeated the Duke's Swiss mercs, and threw poor Max in a dungeon for the rest of his life (15 more years). Note, while it was fought in their country, the Italians pretty much tried to stay out of the fighting.

Battle at Monte Carlo
The English and Portuguese defeated the Spanish in southern France during the Anglo-Dutch War. These guys really needed a Michelin Guide. The battle was so important neither the British, Spanish, Portuguese, or Dutch seem to remember it.

Battle of Stoney Creek
In 1813, the United States had invaded Canada (because we couldn't reach England). The battle was lost because the Americans had released a captured Canadian prisoner (Guantanamo hadn't been invented yet) and gave him the top secret password so he could walk through the picket lines to go home. The Americans made him promise to keep the secret. He didn't. The British used the password to breach American defenses and win the day.

Battle of Port Royal, South Carolina (1862)
Not to be confused with the 1779 Battle of Port Royal, or the 1861 Battle of Port Royal, or the January 1862 Battle of Port Royal, or the 1863 Battle of Port Royal. The Civil War was not kind to Port Royal.

Battle of Belleau Wood
It was the first US Marines fighting of World War I. The Marines consider it a heroic battle. Most historians consider it a horrible fuck up where the Americans ignored all of the lessons the British and French had learned during five years of ugly trench warfare and marched a brigade of Marines across an open field towards German machine guns. The German's biggest problem was overheating the machine guns during the slaughter.

British, Canadian, and American forces land on the beaches of Normandy.

Saturday, June 05, 2010

Silent Spring

I am listening this beautiful spring morning to the lovely song of a mockingbird.
That got me thinking about the people living in Louisiana bayous and how quiet this spring will be as the deadly coating of oil chokes their marshes.

That got me thinking about all the people from Saskatoon to Baton Rouge (and at the other end from Caracas to Buenos Aires) whose springs are brightened by the millions of birds that travel the Mississippi Flyway and how that will end as migratory birds are trapped in the brown ooze that is BP's profit.

Spring has become an incredibly depressing time of year.

Friday, June 04, 2010

Arizona Is the New Mississippi

Just in case you are tempted to believe the official propaganda out of the Grand Canyon State that it is not the new moral headquarters of the Knights of the Ku Klux Klan, read this from Wonkette.

It seems an elementary school in Prescott, AZ is painting a public mural in that city's downtown. The mural depicts the school's students who happen to be a mix of races and nationalities. Motorists in that fine Arizona city have taken to shouting racial slurs at the people (including children) working on the mural because of the brown and black faces depicted. To solve the problem the school has decided to whitewash the mural - not the entire mural, just the faces. The order has gone out that all of the faces on the mural are to be displayed as Caucasian.

Cracker's Home
For those who believe that the racist cracker stereotype has gone the way of Bull Connor may I introduce you to South Carolina State. Sen. Jake Knotts (R). Knotts has called fellow Republican Nikki Haley a "fucking raghead" because she was born in the Sikh faith. (Knotts claims he was just funnin'.) Knotts even looks the stereotype, he could play Boss Hogg in a remake of the Dukes of Hazzard. I'm guessing some of them good ole boys in South Carolina are steamed that Arizona is stealing their racist heritage.

Thursday, June 03, 2010

Corporate Death Penalty

I could continue to the end of time detailing rogue corporations.
To name a few more. There are a plethora of corporations that can rightly be called psychopathic. They profit from behavior that go so far beyond callous as to become bloodthirsty. They kill and maim, destroy lives, livelihoods, and entire cultures with as little concern as they would have using a stapler. Sure, they may pay the occasional fine (normal business expense) but they never let a little thing like human life disrupt business.
The corporate road to success.

In the United States they claim all the constitutional rights granted to "persons" while at the same time are granted immunity from laws governing individuals. Corporations like BP kill people, a crime that if committed by your or I would be punished with several decades in prison, and all they face are small (in relationship to their balance sheets) fines.
We are far more likely to be killed in the course of our work, or as a hapless customer of a commercial venture, than at the hands of criminals in society at large. ~ wsws.org
What is needed is a corporate death penalty. If a corporation commits heinous crimes against humanity or nature (manslaughter, destroying indigenous cultures) that company should be put to death. It assets (anywhere in the world) should be seized. The assets of the CEO, COO, and board of directors should be seized as well. The stock, worthless. The bonds, worthless. The company ought to be disappeared. Put to death. The execution ought to be swift but thorough. It is a power than will only need to be used once to scare the rest of the corporate world straight.

It will never happen. With the current US Supreme Court it is more likely BP would win a lawsuit against Louisiana fishermen for walking on BP oil then the fishermen would prevail for the destruction of their livelihoods. We have already seen the sick spectacle of the Coast Guard working as BP's public relations flack and its private police force.

In our modern world corporations are not "under God," they are God. Goldman Sachs can bankrupt entire countries. Shell Oil can destroy entire civilizations. British Petroleum can lay waste vast stretches of ocean. Union Carbide can kill multitudes silently in the night. All with impunity. What is more godlike?

Wednesday, June 02, 2010

Corporate Criminals - Royal Dutch Shell

It does seem there are a lot of oil companies that are corporate criminals. In large part this is due to the very nature of mineral extraction. It is not a long walk from rape of the earth to rape of humanity.

The Crimes of Shell
Genocide, Murder
There is a shitload of oil in the Niger River delta. Unfortunately for the Ogoni people of Nigeria, they live in that delta and Shell wants that oil. Oil spills have polluted the once agriculturally rich land. Oil and gas fires make the air unbreathable. But if that was all, Shell would be level with British Petroleum.

Shell built a private army to wage war on the Ogoni people (Evidence). When Ken Saro-Wiwa became too outspoken and too famous worldwide, he and eight other Ogoni activists were lynched by the Nigerian government to the profit of Shell. It is impossible to understate what Shell has done in the Niger delta. The word genocide still understates. Of course, if you read Shell's website and it is all about greedy Ogoni wanting money.

In 2009 Royal Dutch Shell was ranked by Forbes as the biggest company in the world. They have annual revenue over $450 billion. That exceeds the GDP of Norway. Shell has the financial power to buy countries like Nigeria from the petty cash drawer. They can also buy good publicity. Fortune magazine unbelievably ranks Shell as the sixth most "Accountable" corporation.

Here is a list of Shell's social accountability:
To companies like Shell, BP, and Union Carbide people's lives are merely an annoying nuisance.

Tuesday, June 01, 2010

Corporate Criminals - British Petroleum

British Petroleum has had a rough month so I will do this post without any with very few references to the Deepwater Horizon oil mess.

The Crimes of BP
In 2005, a refinery in Texas City operated by British Petroleum was racked by fire and explosions. Sound familiar? Fifteen workers died (only eleven died in the Gulf of Mexico disaster), another 170 were wounded. The only reason the Texas City refinery didn't sink like Deepwater Horizon is that it was on dry land.
§ 19.04. MANSLAUGHTER. (a) A person commits an offense if he recklessly causes the death of an individual.
(b) An offense under this section is a felony of the second
degree. ~ Texas Penal Code
BP paid $20 million in fines for over 300 safety violations that led to the explosion and fire. They are paying out $50 million in criminal penalties. They have also been billed $1.6 billion is settlement payments to victims families (source). Last year BP made over $265 billion in revenue. All these fines and payments amount to less than three days revenue for the company.

Under Texas law fifteen counts of manslaughter ought to be punished by a minimum 30 years in prison. The trick to corporate crime is diffused responsibility. No one person is, specifically, to blame so no one gets punished. Sure, there are fines to be paid but when you are as large a company as British Petroleum any fine is still a pittance and likely smaller than routine bookkeeping errors.

PS: Manslaughter has also been mentioned by Firedoglake with the Gulf disaster.


A short interlude in my rundown of corporate criminals.

Always #3
Did you ever notice that when an al Qaeda leader is killed it is almost always the #3 guy. Being #3 in al Qaeda is like wearing the red shirt on Star Trek. Either that or after the top two guys everyone else is tied at #3.

Israel Hoisted by Its Own Petard
Israel wants to keep Gaza quiescent by starving them for basic items. Hence the blockade. It is a cruel strategy causing great suffering. Hence the blockade runners. Israel's blockade strategy, boarding boats with military bluster, was begging for a confrontation where Israel could teach the blockade runners a lesson. Israel got its confrontation and the only lesson was why you don't use military force to stop civilian vessels. Only Israel thinks the lesson was they were not brutal enough.

The irony is that Israel was born, in part, from the publicity of another blockade running ship called the Exodus that was brutally stopped. Here is the story of the Exodus ship of 1947.