Thursday, May 30, 2013

Government Security Is a Joke

The whole alphabet soup of federal security agencies have become silly.

Take the TSA. Their pat down procedure is specifically designed to punish anyone who ops out of the X-ray scanner. It is invasive, abusive, and done in public for the amusement of others. Women are frequently chosen for the "enhanced" examination based not upon the possibility they are carrying a bomb and entirely upon how sexy they are. And they are completely useless, violate the Constitution, and amount to a sex crime. Horror stories abound.

Other airport security is even worse. The US Customs, for example, employs people who are not aware that Puerto Rico is part of the United States. They will search private planes with a casual disinterest because they have to log a certain number of searches but desperately not wanting to find anything because of all the paperwork that would follow.

Border crossing is equally bizarre. The San Ysidro (San Diego) border crossing often requires two and three hour waits what with the need to show passports and answer questions designed to identify smugglers, questions like "where were you born?" People who cross the border frequently, like smugglers, can purchase a SENTRI pass. For $122.25 they can skip the long waits with access to a special Fast Pass lane, avoid those annoying questions, and zip through the border with a flick of a fancy RFID card.

The government has spent billions building a Great Wall of China-like security fence along the border with Mexico. Before it was half finished drug cartels were digging tunnels under that wall using slave labor. In the past five years over 70 tunnels have been discovered. Very many more go undiscovered and continue operating. The fence has successfully prevented wildlife from crossing the border but humans remain undeterred.

Monday, May 27, 2013

Cynical Much? Memorial Day Edition

The only reason we have a Memorial Day is because of our habit of sending young men off to die in some unreasonable facsimile of Hell.
Although, we never stop to remember the millions of innocents who died as collateral damage.

Friday, May 24, 2013

Civilization Older Than We Think

There is a massive man-made structure at the bottom of the Sea of Galilee. The speculation is it was build on land that was later submerged which would suggest that the date of the structure could be as old as the last glaciation - about 10,000 years ago.

In southeast Turkey there is a obviously man-made structure that required the labor of highly skilled stone carvers that has been dated to 12,000 years ago.
Gobekli, Turkey
The Great Sphinx in Egypt shows weathering patterns that date carving of the monolith at between 10,000 and 12,000 years ago.

Dwark, India has the remains of a city now underwater that was submerged by the rising sea 3,500 years ago and may have been build over 12,000 years ago. 

Gold mines and adjacent communities in South Africa have been discovered that have been dated to 200,000 years ago which would make them almost as old as the species Homo Sapiens.

All these dates predate what was supposed to be the beginning of human civilization. According to traditional scholars mankind at the beginning of the Holocene Era were just beginning to gather into settlements. Farming and simple structures were just starting. The most advanced people were beginning to make tools out of metal (bronze) and not just stone. Still, the communities were thought to be just a gathering of nomads and the kind of organization necessary for massive building projects were thought impossible.

And at the time that gold was being mined 150 miles east of Johannesburg mankind was supposed to be hunter-gatherers less interested in digging for useless rocks than they were in downloading songs on iTunes.

Of course, these discoveries have encouraged speculation about aliens or Atlanteans. But it does suggest that human civilization is much older than we have supposed and that there is a whole chapter of human history left undiscovered.

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

God and the Oklahoma Tornado

Let's see if I get this whole God thing correctly.
  • God sent a god-awful tornado on an Oklahoma town.
  • God aimed it at an elementary school filled with children, killing nine kids.
  • God performed ungodly destruction on a path 17 miles long and a mile wide.
If another soul from the Middle East had caused this kind of devastation we would have called him a terrorist and sent him off to Gitmo. So, according to the experts, those folks who claim to love God, why did he do this?

Pat Robertson blames the victims, saying that if they had prayed harder God would have "stilled the storm." Westboro Baptist Church leader Fred Phelps says God was attacking NBA player Kevin Durant for supporting a gay basketball player. He missed.

Lots of pastors cop out and fall back on the old "God works in mysterious ways" bullshit. Others blame all natural disasters on Eve and Original Sin. Still others say that tornadoes are God's way of proving to us whose really in charge; exactly like stomping on ant nests and watching them scurry for their pathetic little lives proves to ants that man is superior. Some suggest God is powerless against Nature and the best He can do is help pick up the pieces, kind of a lame version of FEMA.

Survivors say that God answered their prayers and saved them. Except many of those who died also prayed just as hard. And then God goes and save an atheist who didn't pray or anything.

On a related note, the Moore, OK city website says the reason they don't bother with storm shelters in the town's schools is that there is only a 1 to 2 percent chance of a tornado on any spring day. Given that spring is 90 days long that translates to every freaking year! There have been 22 tornadoes to hit Moore in the last 123 years with four in just the last three years.

The real reason is the Republican that run Oklahoma would rather see kids die violent deaths than raise taxes to save their lives.

Monday, May 20, 2013

Do-Nothing Congress

We've been through this before the last time there was a Democrat in the White House. Republicans are not so much shutting down government as trying to convert House of Representatives into a three-ring circus of meaningless hearings over pseudo scandals.

The Senate is hobbled by Republican insistence on filibustering every attempt by senators to accomplish anything. I anticipate a Rand Paul led speech-fest blocking a resolution supporting National Ice Cream Day (July 21).

No budgets. No judges confirmed. No nothing. Not quite anarchy perhaps we can call this new form of government Somnambulacy - sleepwalking government.

Thursday, May 16, 2013


Scandals, they're everywhere.
They're in the air and who put them there?
You, you and you, you nasty men ...
~ Song lyrics, Nasty Man
Reporters love scandals because they sell soap. Politicians love scandals because they attract reporters like flies to dung. Citizens love scandals because they make day-to-day politics marginally entertaining. Since U. S. Grant was president, at least, second terms have been the realm of scandals.

I'm not really impressed with the 2013 iteration of second term scandals.

Benghazi is simply a phony revenge scandal where the losing political party is trying to undo the results of the last election. The only way to make a scandal is to assume as a starting premise that President Obama is perfectly prescient. It's equal is the proposed scandal that President Roosevelt allowed the attack on Pearl Harbor.

The IRS and the Ohio Tea Party may have been an overreach by local agents. As a leader of a local Sierra Club chapter decades ago I know from experience that the lines between "education" and political advocacy have been blurred to joke status. Non-profits engage in technically illegal political activity all the time. The Catholic Church, NRA, ACLU, it happens across the political spectrum. When you have an organization declare itself to be a new political party then claiming to be doing non-partisan education it should set off red flags in a reasonable IRS office.

The AP scandal was made to interest the press. Spying on the Media! Outrageous! I'm not going to defend the spying although I should be happy about it. The federal government has been spying on American citizens since before I was born. Never has it been as comprehensive and intrusive as it is today. What's new here and why should the media be immune? I would be happy if this scandal would lead to a media led outrage against the government's domestic spying. Unfortunately, that won't happen. The media will negotiate a limited exemption for themselves while leaving the rest of us Americans subject to invasive snooping.

All in all, these scandals are pathetic and not worthy of the term Yellow Journalism.

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Biggest Chokes in History

The Boston-Toronto Stanley Cup game was a horrible thing to watch if you are a Maple Leaf fan. It got me thinking what were the biggest chokes (comebacks) in history.

Last night's game will go down in history as number one. Prior to this the biggest choke was Edmonton against the Los Angeles Kings in 1982. Edmonton was loaded with young superstars, seven future hall of famers, including the great Wayne Gretzky. They had take their division easily with twice as many wins as the Kings. In Game 3, the Oilers took a five goal lead into the third period only to lose the game in overtime. Still, it was only Game 3 and the Oilers still had a chance to take the series. They failed.

In 1993, the Houston Oilers (is this nickname cursed?) played the Buffalo Bills. After intercepting a pass early in the third quarter Houston had an insurmountable 35-3 lead. Buffalo had done nothing all game and looked worst doing it. Then Buffalo's backup quarterback, Frank Reich woke up. In just seven minutes they had cut the lead to just four points. He threw four consecutive touchdown passes in the second half to take the lead. Houston managed to tie with a field goal with 12 seconds left in regulation but lost in overtime.

In 1999 the British Open was played at Carnoustie, probably the toughest course on the Open rotation. Frenchman Jean Van de Velde had a more than comfortable three stroke lead going to the tee on the final hole. His lead was so safe they had already engraved Van de Velde's name on the victory cup. Nobody realized that the golf god will not allow a Frenchman to win the British Open. Jean's tee shot ended up deep in the heather. His second shot ricocheted off the grandstands into even deeper rough. He duffed his third shot into the water in front of the green. A drop, a bunker, and a putt later and Jean had a triple bogey. That meant a tie and playoff which, of course, he lost.

On August 12, 1951, the Brooklyn Dodgers had a 13 game lead over the New York Giants. That day the Giants began a 16 game winning streak that highlighted a 39-8 end of season run. The Dodgers were a pedestrian 27-24 during the same period. Not bad but only good enough to tie the Giants for the pennant. The teams split the first two games of the playoff. The Dodgers were leading the third game 4-1 going into the bottom of the ninth inning. Although he was exhausted, starting pitcher and ace Don Newcombe went out to the mound for the final inning. Newcombe gave up two singles and a double while recording only one out. He was finally replaced by Ralph Branca with the tying run on second and one out. His second pitch in the game, an inside fastball, was pulled by batter Bobby Thompson into the seats for a three-run homer. The famous "Shot heard 'round the world."

Monday, May 13, 2013

Worse Than Benghazi

If you listen to Sean Hannity the attack on the US compound in Benghazi is the worst thing ever. History has a lot worse than the four deaths in Libya.

April 18, 1983
Location: Beirut, Lebanon
Deaths: 17 Americans, 63 total
Perpetrators: Hezbollah (under the name Islamic Jihad) to protest US support of Israel.
President: Ronald Reagan
A suicide bomber drove a delivery truck with one ton of explosives into the parking garage underneath the US embassy. On Sept 20, 1984 another car bomb exploded at the new Beirut embassy killing 20 Lebanese and 2 Americans.
Cause: Insufficient protection of an embassy in a country then in civil war.
Response Taken: None.

October 23, 1983
Location: Beirut, Lebanon
Deaths: 241 Americans
Perpetrators: Hezbollah to oppose US involvement in the Lebanese Civil War.
President: Ronald Reagan
A water truck loaded with six tons of TNT crashed though a gate and drove up to the Marine Corps headquarters barracks.
Cause: Two Marine guards, the only men guarding the compound, were under orders to remain unarmed and so were powerless to stop the truck.
Response Taken: None. Reagan ordered the Marines to retreat soon after.

June 25, 1995
Location: Oklahoma City
Deaths: 168
Perpetrators: Right-wing anarchists to protest US government raids on other anarchists (Ruby Ridge and Waco).
President: Bill Clinton
A Ryder rental truck loaded with a fertilizer bomb was parked in front of the Murrah Federal Building and exploded.
Cause: Right-wing anarchists had targeted the Murrah building in the past so it was a known target.
Response Taken: None.

June 25, 1996
Location: Khobar, Saudi Arabia
Deaths: 19
Perpetrators: al-Qaeda or Hezbollah, depending on who you listen to.
President: Bill Clinton
A truck loaded with 5,000 pounds of explosives was denied entrance to the building so drove to an adjacent street and parked.
Cause: Khobar Towers was a residential building housing US Air Force personnel. While security of the building was sufficient the bomb was large enough it did not need to be within the security perimeter.
Response Taken: None.

There have also been terrorist attacks on US embassy buildings is Kenya, Tanzania, Pakistan, India, Syria, Turkey, Yemen, and Jeddah, Saudi Arabia that equal or exceed the death toll in Benghazi. Some have been bombs, others gunmen. Most have come from al-Qaeda. It is the nature of the modern world.

Friday, May 10, 2013

This Day In History

Nothing eventful is happening this year.
  • Republicans in Congress are attacking the Administration for not being perfect, are planning to devastate the economy because it reelected a Democrat, and are attacking poor people.
  • There is a civil war somewhere in the Middle East.
  • Workers are dying because of their exploitative employers.
In other words, same old shit.

Bad Politics and Bad Economics
1774 - Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette were crowned absolute monarchs of France. They would both be beheaded by revolutionaries 19 years later.
1837 - New York City banks failed causing a major economic recession.
1849 - A dispute between two actors, one American and one British, led to the Astor Place Riot. Government officials, supporting the noble British actor, called out the police and militia to suppress immigrant supporters of the American actor. Thirty people were killed.
1893 - the US Supreme Court sided with the tomato lobby and against common sense and ruled that the tomato was a vegetable and not a fruit.
1924 - J. Edgar Hoover became head of the FBI beginning a reign of terror that lasted until his death 48 years later.
1933 - German students burned 25,000 "un-German" books.
"Yes to decency and morality in family and state!" ~ Joseph Goebbels

Stupid Wars
70 - Roman troops begin the Siege of Jerusalem.
1801 - Barbary pirates in current Libya declare war on the United States.
1857 - The Sepoy Rebellion begins in India. Nearly 10 million people died during the war which resulted in the British government taking control of India.
1940 - Germany invades the Low Countries and begins bombing England.
2012 - Car bombs, part of the Syrian Civil War, in Damascus kill 55 and wound 400.

Bad Business
1908 - The first Mother's Day is celebrated and quickly taken over by corporate interests. It is the second largest gift giving and third largest card giving date on the calendar.
1962 - Marvel Comics published the first Incredible Hulk issue.
1975 - Sony introduces the Betamax.
1993 - A fire at the Kadar Toy Factory (Thailand) kills 188 and wounds 500 others. Toys for Disney and Mattel were made there.

Wednesday, May 08, 2013

Who Controls the Nukes

While reading about the 17 Air Force officers stripped of their ability to start World War III because of "rot" within the ranks I can't help thinking that somewhere in Minot, ND there is an officer obsessed with the pollution of his precious bodily fluids.

Kind of makes you feel safe knowing the quality of people controlling actual weapons of mass destruction.

Tuesday, May 07, 2013

Rating Your Prison Experience

Yelp reviews prisons just like they were any other bed and breakfast resort.

San Quentin - 2 1/2 stars
"Million dollar view...ten cent room. "
Located on San Francisco Bay in upscale Marin County, San Quentin is the oldest prison in California. If there wasn't already a prison here, Donald Trump would have built a hotel on the site.

Sing Sing - 5 stars
"One of the best prisons I've ever been sent to."
Celebrates it's 190th birthday next year.  Sing Sing sits on the banks of the Hudson River and is what they were referring to when people talked about being "sent up the river." Most famous inmate: Lucky Luciano.

Rikers Island - 3 1/2 stars
"Free proctology and/or gynocological examines nightly."
Located in the East River between Queens and the Bronx, this is New York City's main jail. There are ten jails on the island holding 12,000 prisoners either awaiting trial or for petty crimes. Almost every notorious criminal tried in New York City has spent some nights on Rikers.

Tent City Jail - 4 stars
"I already have a concentration camp, it's called Tent City." ~ Sheriff Joe Arpaio
That quote is not from Yelp but from the proprietor of the facility, Phoenix sheriff Arpaio. His jail features pink underwear, brutal temperatures, and chain gangs. The sheriff brags that he spends only forty cents a day to feed his prisoners. Most evil occupant: Sheriff Joe himself.

"Wolves howling on the moor was a nice touch."
Probably the most brutal county jail in the country if not the world. Several prisoners roam the facility freely with drugs and guns (photo above). If Tent City is a glimpse of hell, Orleans Parish Prison is its deepest pit.

Monday, May 06, 2013

This Arrest Brought to You By Pizza Hut

The British have come up with an idea that will certainly migrate to the United States in no time. Corporate sponsorship of police departments.
Austerity riddled communities in England and Wales are desperate to fund local services. The solution? Corporate sponsorship of their police. Initially this will involve pasting advertising decals on police cars, making them look more like NASCAR than law enforcement. But good old Yankee ingenuity can certainly improve on this.
  • Pizza Hut Police - Using police cars to deliver pizza will both speed up delivery times, they can use their sirens to insure the pizza arrives hot, but tips mean police salaries can be cut.
  • Geico Prison - Corporate sponsors can pay for the naming rights of jails just like they do with sports stadia. Crooked CEOs can buy their own private luxury boxes. This will be big money.
  • Arrest Sponsorship - When police are ready to arrest a suspect they can sell exclusive advertising rights to the arrest. High profile arrests will bring a higher price than routine pot busts meaning police will start focusing on the bigger crooks. When the Goldman Sachs CEO is arrested you can expect a bidding war between JPMorgan Chase and Citi Bank for the rights to the arrest.
  • Don't Forget Judges - Of course, police uniforms can have several advertising patches. If millionaire golfers do it, why can't police? But those black robes are a waste of valuable ad space. Bail bondsmen will pay a pretty penny to have arrangement judges wearing hats advertising their services.
  • Spokespersons - Spokespersons shouldn't just stick to the facts when the department can be compensated when police pitch products during press conferences.
  • Change Miranda - "You have the right to remain silent. You have the right to hire a competent attorney at reasonable rates like Richard Pryde, Attorney-at-law. Half-price if he doesn't get you off." Police can hand out brochures, too.
  • Interrogation Sales - Police interrogations are a perfect place for high pressure salesmanship. Police may not get a confession but they still can sell the suspect a new car or refrigerator. Remember, lots of criminals are flush with cash from their recent crimes.
The marketing options of the modern police force are an untapped opportunity.

Sunday, May 05, 2013

PCL Padres Hall of Famers

Before the San Diego Padres were a pathetic major league franchise they spent 32 years as a plucky little Pacific Coast League minor league team. During those years they produced three players who ended up in the Hall of Fame.

Bobby Doerr
In 1936, the Hollywood Stars baseball club left Tinseltown when the rent on their ball field doubled and they were able to convince gullible politicians down south to build them a new facility and name it after the club's owner, Bill Lane. Along with the team came an 18 year-old second baseman. The kid had no power but he could hit singles, he clubbed 187 singles in 1936.

That was Bobby Doerr's last minor league season. In 1937 he was on the Boston Red Sox backing up journeyman infielder Eric McNair. The next year, at the age of 20, he took the starting job and held it for the next 14 years, missing one year due to war. Doerr developed some power as he matured, averaging 16 homers a season. Doerr was elected to the Hall of Fame by the Veteran's Committee in 1986, 35 years after he retired.

Ted Williams
That same year, 1936, a 17 year-old local high school kid tried out for the new baseball team. It was summer, school was out, and the kid knew he was a pretty good hitter. The Padres signed him up, it made good press to have a local boy on the team. The boy was okay, he had 107 at bats, hit .271, and had zero home runs.

The next year Teddy stayed with the Padres all season and hit 23 homers as the youngest player in the league. In 1938, Teddy was moved to the American Association where he dominated. Boston could wait no longer. At the age of 20, Ted Williams was elevated to the major leagues where he was one of the best hitters in the history of the game from the first day he stepped into Fenway Park. Ted Williams was a first ballot Hall of Famer.

Tony Perez
The young Cuban had been working his way up the Cincinnati Reds organization since starting with the Classs D Geneva Redlegs in 1960 where he had been teammates with another young star named Pete Rose. Four years later, the now 20 year-old was the starting first baseman with the Padres. That season, Tony had 34 home runs and 107 RBIs making him the second best player in the league (the best player was Costen Shockley whose major league career lasted two years where he hit .197).

Tony had a 23 year career, mostly with the Reds. He was never the best player in the league nor even the best player on his team, that would have been Pete Rose and Johnny Bench. But Tony was good enough for long enough to get elected to the Hall of Fame on his ninth try.

Saturday, May 04, 2013

California Fires - Revenge of Nusku

Massive wildfires are one of the things that makes Southern California such a wonderful place to live. Spring infernos are unusual, the fire gods like to romp in the early fall. May and June in SoCal are known for cool, foggy days, not Santa Ana winds creating natural blast furnaces.

Still, today we have a 20 square mile fire threatening the millionaire enclaves of Malibu, again. It happens every five years or so. By the way, Nusku was the Babylonian god of fire and he loves partying in Southern California.

Thursday, May 02, 2013

Killer Kids and the Gun Cult

I admit it's a culture I don't understand. There is a sub-culture in America, mostly concentrated in rural areas, that worships guns as a deity. It goes way beyond anything those of us who live in urban/suburban regions find rational. Yet it exists, it shapes national policies, and it kills children.

In that culture, a five year-old can own his own rifle and play with it without supervision and no one thinks that is insane. That five year-old can shoot his two year-old sister and, while people will be momentarily distressed, they will not for a moment question the notion of arming small children.

In that culture, a child is taught to kill even before he/she is taught to read. They are taught to suppress their natural revulsion at snuffing out the life of one of God's creatures and learn to revel in blood sports.

I could tolerate their abhorrent culture if they kept it to themselves. But, Gun Cult worshipers insist on imposing their strange ablutions, baptism by gunfire, on the whole of the country. Guns in homes, guns in public spaces, guns in schools. For a religion that worships guns no number of firearms will ever be to much.

Wednesday, May 01, 2013

May Day Meanings

May Day has three origins depending on the meaning.

Spring Celebration
May Day began thousands of years ago as a pagan celebration of Spring. May is midway between the spring equinox and the summer solstice but mostly that was an excuse for women to wear flowers and dance around gayly and men to flirt with the ladies. Christians, of course, tried to expropriate the celebration but with much less success than they had with Easter.

International Workers' Day
Since 1890, around the world, May 1st has been the day chosen to celebrate the rights of workers. The one exception is the nation in which the event being remembered occurred. That nation is the United States.

In May 1886 in Chicago workers were holding a general strike to demand eight-hour work days. A peaceful march was being held which Chicago police were trying to break up. A bomb was thrown at the police who then rioted and opened fire on the demonstrators. It became known as the Haymarket Riot. Four years later the Second Socialists International designated May 1st to commemorate the Haymarket event as a key moment in the fight for worker's rights.

In 1894, the United States deliberately picked another day for its official Labor Day. The September Labor Day commemorates the date that Federal troops crushed the Pullman workers strike, killing 30. It is a date much more in tune with the American attitude towards worker's rights.

Mayday - Help!
Traditionally the last words shouted into by a pilot before his plane performs a crash landing. Mayday is the internationally recognized vocal distress signal,  the verbal equivalent of Morse Code's S-O-S. It was created by a radio operator at a London airfield in 1923 and based on the French word m’aider, sort of meaning "come help."