Friday, December 26, 2008


Hope you all had a nice holiday. We spent it with my folks up near Kingman (yes, that Kingman ... the Kingman of Timothy McVeigh, Michael Fortier and other nascent nihilists). The weather was cold and rainy (with even some snow on the surrounding hills) but the house and company were warm. The food was great, though I ate, and continue to eat, too much of it.

Alex and the grandparents loved all their gifts, as did we. Between the wife and I, we attempted a more sustainable gift-giving balance for the gifts to each other. All of our gifts were 2nd-hand or fair-trade. I got her quite a few books that she had wanted from the Goodwill and a soap dish from world of good. I hit the jackpot with the books that she got me from the Goodwill:

Book of Lost Tales Part I by J.R.R. Tolkien

Life of Pi by Yann Martel

The Lazarus Effect by Frank Herbert and Bill Ransom. Herbert, along with Larry Niven, are my two favorite sci-fi authors. Herbert, the author of the Dune novels, has had many other great novels and the world of Destination: Void are no exception. Lazarus is one of the 4 books set in that universe. I read all of these books as a teen but am trying to replace them all in hardback and re-read.

The King of Torts by John Grisham - I'm not really a fan of most popular novelists, but Grisham is an exception. They're always good page turners and Grisham usually has a liberal message in there somewhere.

Fair Game: My Life as a Spy, My Betrayal by the White House by Valerie Plame Wilson

Animal Farm by George Orwell - Classic novel that translates Stalinist Russia into farm creatures. Though I've read 1984, I've never read this and this is a nice hardbound edition.

William Shakespeare: The Complete Works - A very nice hardbound edition.

Two great books by our recently departed humorist, George Carlin:

Braindroppings - Carlin's first book and contains several of his most famous stand-up bits.

When Will Jesus Bring the Pork Chops? - First of all, you know my wife (a Christian) must love me if she buys me this book. This book, and Carlin in general, skewers popular religion, albeit in a hilarious manner. Second of all, Wal-Mart refused to carry this book. There is no bigger enticement for me to get something than for it to be banned by Wal-Mart. This was Carlin's last book before he died.

Lastly, my son picked me up a book, The World of Chess by Anthony Saidy and Normal Lessing. I love chess and have probably 80 books about chess. This is a nice coffee table book with a history of the game and game annotations from the masters. Skimming through it, I was delighted to find a reference to The Turk, a chess automaton from the 18th century that was proven to be a hoax. It's got an interesting history and played famous people such as Bonaparte and Benjamin Franklin. It was mostly destroyed in a fire in 1854. What makes it even more interesting is that I've actually met the guy, John Gaughan, that currently owns and built the modern incarnation of the Turk (which I've seen). It even has the chess set from the original Turk. I wrote about our visit to his fantastic workshop a few months ago.

Friday, December 19, 2008

The Lorax

If you are looking for a good gift idea for a kid, think about the Lorax by Dr. Seuss. It talked about the environment, in a language that kids could understand, before it was cool and has had a resurgence in popularity:

Published in 1971, at a time when Earth Day and the ecology movement were gaining counterculture traction, "The Lorax" addressed then-unconventional issues such as deforestation, pollution and greed. It was "An Inconvenient Truth" for children ...

Plus, it's a book that's been in print for awhile and you should be able to pick it up used.

Just a few lines from the book:

Way back in the days when the grass was still green
and the pond was still wet
and the clouds were still clean ...

business is business
And business must grow
regardless of crummies in tummies, you know.

I meant no harm.
I most truly did not.
But I had to grow bigger. So bigger I got.

I biggered my factory. I biggered my roads.
I biggered my wagons.
I biggered the loads of the Theends I shipped out ...

You're in charge of the last of the Truffula Seeds.
And Truffula Trees are what everyone needs.
Plant a new Truffula. Treat it with care.
Give it clean water. And feed it fresh air.
Grow a forest. Protect it from axes that hack.
Then the Lorax and all of his friends may come back."

All of the text of the book can be found here.

Monday, December 15, 2008

Christmas with no presents?

Christmas with No Presents? by Colin Beavan

If Christmas is about presents, then in 2007, my little family and I had no Christmas. I mean, we had the caroling and the uncle playing the piano and the cousins running around with my three-year-old, Isabella, and the grandfather coaxing her to sit on his lap and the good food.

We had, in other words, an amazingly good time.

What we didn't have, though, was the average American's $800 hole in our bank accounts, gouged out by Christmas-present spending. Nor did we have the credit card debt still unpaid by June. Nor the forcing of smiles for gifts we didn't really want. Nor the buying of extra luggage to bring home those unwanted gifts. Nor the stressful rush of last-minute crowds at the mall.

Without presents, you see, we didn't have the sensation that I, at least, normally associated with Christmas-the stress. And without stress or presents, it's not Christmas, right? But of course it was. It was the best of Christmas, the part that, research shows, makes people happiest. It was all the upside without the downside ...

... as Christmas 2007 approached, the more pressing question for us was, did the season's huge consumption of resources add to the Christmas experience or detract from it? Since one-sixth of all American retail sales (and as a consequence, a hefty proportion of our national planetary resource use) occurs during the holiday season, it's a question worth asking.

Despite the fact that people spend relatively large portions of their income on gifts, as well as time shopping for and wrapping them, such behavior apparently contributes little to holiday joy.

I've already told you enough to let you guess how my little family's experience played out, but you may be surprised to learn that our findings are backed up by bona fide psychological research: Even though oodles of presents at Christmas is the dominant American paradigm, it turns out that people who spend less and have less spent on them at Christmas actually enjoy the season more.

This, anyway, is the conclusion of a paper published in the Journal of Happiness Studies by researchers Tim Kasser of Knox College and Kennon M. Sheldon of the University of Missouri-Columbia. After studying the Christmas experiences of 117 individuals, they found that people who emphasized time spent with families and meaningful religious or spiritual activities had merrier Christmases.

"Despite the fact that people spend relatively large portions of their income on gifts, as well as time shopping for and wrapping them," the researchers said, "such behavior apparently contributes little to holiday joy." In fact, subjects who gave or received presents that represented a substantial percentage of their income, Kasser and Sheldon found, actually experienced less Christmas joy.

Of course, this makes perfect sense. We all know in our hearts that treasuring meaningful experiences and spending time in valued relationships-at Christmas or any other part of the year-make us happier than getting more stuff.

But try telling that to the grandparents at Christmas time!

Try living out these lofty principles when the rest of your family and friends are swapping presents at the same rate as ever. You may find "bah humbugs" shouted in your direction more than once. That's problematic, particularly if you're hoping to inspire more sustainable lifestyle choices in other people. Nobody will be convinced by dogmatism or Grinch-like behavior.

The trick to a happy, sustainable, non-consumptive Christmas was not, we discovered, to ignore the expectations of the people we celebrated with. We didn't want our loved ones to feel bad. Those who expected presents should get them, we decided. Gifts, after all, are associated with the exchange of love.

For us, the answer was to buy presents that did not require the exploitation of large amounts of planetary resources. My mother was very happy with the two massages she got. My father and his wife enjoyed the gift certificate to the fine dining, local-food restaurant in their neighborhood. Friends appreciated the theater tickets we bought them. And unlike those unwanted trinkets one sometimes buys for the "person who has everything," our sustainable gifts, we felt, actually improved the recipients' lives.

Still, my wife, Michelle, worried very much that it would be hard for Isabella if all the cousins had presents to open, but she didn't. Try saying, "The research says you'll be happier with less," to a three-year-old. So Isabella's Aunt Maureen contributed toys that her children had outgrown, and we wrapped them for Isabella.

When present-opening time came, Isabella didn't care whether the present she was opening was for her or not. She didn't even want the presents. She just wanted to open them. She didn't want something to have later. She wanted to participate now. And when her Uncle Joe started playing the piano and singing, she got bored with the present opening anyway and went to sit with him on the piano bench.

Much to our surprise, she didn't even want to take her cousins' old toys home when the Christmas vacation was over. She'd already had her presents. What was important to her was what turned out to be important to us: the singing, the charades, the laughter, the time spent with family, and of course, the celebration.

We're nowhere near where the people in this article are, in terms of controlling consumption, but this year, more than any other, we've really tried to think a lot about what we're doing with our Christmas spending.

We've certainly gotten presents for Alex but most are educational or don't cost much. He's a good kid that doesn't really long for all the gadgets you see on TV. He'd rather read a book. Between the wife and I, we've settled on some items from the local thrift store, and maybe one other item in the $50 range.

Michelle organized an adopt-a-family for Christmas through her church with items donated by her co-workers. They did this in lieu of a Christmas party. And the workers enjoyed it more.

Every year, I remember the dinners out with friends and family or the parties we attended. But I don't have the slightest clue where a particular gift may have came from. The gifts I do remember are generally books because the giver usually gives it some thought ahead of time.

I liked this sentence from the above article, "The trick to a happy, sustainable, non-consumptive Christmas was not, we discovered, to ignore the expectations of the people we celebrated with." Nobody likes insufferable do-gooders who are constantly judging you or making you feel guilty. You can change your own habits and lead by example instead of preaching. After all, we're as hypocritical as the next person. I'm consistently impressed by the things that others are doing. For example, we have friends who have had used book exchange birthday parties where every kid gets something instead of a normal birthday party where only one kid gets something (bring a book ... take a book). Pretty smart. We might have to try it on Alex's next birthday.

Anyway, don't be a humbug, but also don't blow hundreds of dollars on each other just because you think it's what you are supposed to do. People will forget what gift you got them but they will remember having fun with you or the thought that you put into something.

Just this last weekend we went to the Green Holiday Arts Festival. We bought several handmade reusable cloth Christmas gift bags that are pretty nice.

Have fun. Make something. Buy local and green as much as you can. Go out to dinner with friends. If God is your thing, celebrate that. If Christmas is just a good excuse for spending more time with friends and family, celebrate that. If anybody tries to tell you the real "reason for the season", politely ignore them. The "reason" is whatever you think it is. Just don't assume that it is the same reason for everyone else. And there is no "war on Christmas". There should be a war on stupidity, but that's a subject for another day.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Political Song of the Day

Pandora's great. I have a Peter Gabriel channel in it and was listening tonight and that channel played this song. I had Momentary Lapse of Reason by Pink Floyd when it first came out and played the crap out of it. While sympathizing with Floyd snobs who disregard post-Roger Waters releases, I don't fully agree with them. I've always been a huge David Gilmour fan ... he's one of my favorite guitarists. And this album is a great showcase of his talent. Song highlights including Learning to Fly and this one, On the Turning Away, an indictment of Reagan-era materialism and self-importance. I think it's still relevant today.

On the Turning Away by Pink Floyd

On the turning away
From the pale and downtrodden
And the words they say
Which we won't understand
Don't accept that what's happening
Is just a case of others suffering
Or you'll find that you're joining in
The turning away

It's a sin that somehow
Light is changing to shadow
And casting its shroud
Over all we have known
Unaware how the ranks have grown
Driven on by a heart of stone
We could find that were all alone
In the dream of the proud

On the wings of the night
As the daytime is stirring
Where the speechless unite
In a silent accord
Using words you will find are strange
And mesmerized as they light the flame
Feel the new wind of change
On the wings of the night

No more turning away
From the weak and the weary
No more turning away
From the coldness inside
Just a world that we all must share
Its not enough just to stand and stare
Is it only a dream that there'll be
No more turning away?

Tuesday, December 09, 2008

Life is tragic ...

Bored and looking a for blog post topic, I came upon this site that randomly spews out famous philospher and writer quotes. The result - the following quote:

"Life is tragic simply because the earth turns and the sun inexorably rises and sets, and one day, for each of us, the sun will go down for the last, last time. Perhaps the whole root of our trouble, the human trouble, is that we will sacrifice all the beauty of our lives, will imprison ourselves in totems, taboos, crosses, blood sacrifices, steeples, mosques, races, armies, flags, nations, in order to deny the fact of death, which is the only fact we have." -- James Baldwin

I don't know James Baldwin well, but it seems like a pretty good quote. He seems to be saying that we all waste a lot of time with things that don't ultimately add to the enjoyment of our lives. Those things being religion, racism, war, nationalism, materialism, etc. We're born and we die ... those are the absolutes. The other things are just filler. We'd be better served by trying to enjoy that time we do have.

Having lived as a black and a homosexual in at time where either one of those things would have left one ostracized, Baldwin certainly could speak from experience on how society dwells on things that are not really important.

The fight to pass Prop 8 in California and 102 in Arizona by the Mormon church seems to hit upon two of the time wasters - "steeples" and "taboos". Are those people who have given to their time and money to take something away from someone else really going to have better lives? Or will they be there in their final days, lamenting the "fact of death"?

Monday, December 08, 2008

Book Reviews

All Tomorrow's Parties by William Gibson

I just finished reading All Tomorrow's Parties by William Gibson.

Ostensibly the culmination of the "Bridge" trilogy (the 2nd of which I'd already read, Idoru, but I've not yet read Virtual Light. They are not so much sequels as successive novels chronologically set in the same environment and sharing many of the same characters.

Like most Gibson works, you're exposed to a world that seems to be in the near future and has a lot of elements of our current world. He's so meticulous in the details and almost poetic in his writing style. It always takes me a few chapters in a Gibson book to get in the rhythm of it. But once I do, it's hard for me to put them down.

All Tomorrow's Parties explores the technologies that are just in the process of emerging and have not yet formed the world that is familiar in novels like Neuromancer. It's not necessarily the same future as that of Neuromancer but seems to indicate a move in that direction. The book also delves a lot into the nature of data patterns, a subject that occurs in a lot of his books, most notably Pattern Recognition.

One of the things I like about Gibson is the Blade Runner dirtiness to it. Even though his stories are about computers and virtual worlds, there is a real world earthiness to them. And a lot of punk and underworld references.

There are other "cyberpunk" novelists, but Gibson is by far the best and generally considered the original. About the only other author of this genre that I really read is Neal Stephenson. I've heard good things about Bruce Sterling (who has collaborated with Gibson) but have not had the chance to read him yet, though I do have a few of his books.


Watchmen by Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons

I've come really late into the graphic novel genre. I was by no means a comic book kid growing up. I was a sci-fi kid and just didn't get the attraction of comic books. Naturally assuming their subject matter to be that of Saturday morning cartoons, I dismissed them out of hand. Kinda figured that only goobers who didn't like reading words bothered with 'em. Considering how much of a social outcast I was, I probably shouldn't have been casting aspersions.

With Watchmen being made into a movie and with the film success of renderings of graphic novels such as 300, V for Vendetta (also by Moore), Sin City, etc., I figured it was time. And from all that I had read, Watchmen was the perfect place to start.

The Watchmen refer to a group of superheroes in an alternate America. Where it diverges from a lot of superhero stories is in the development of the characters. These are deeply flawed people who don't always have the noblest of intentions or methods. In the same manner that Unforgiven deconstructs the Western, Watchmen is very much a revisionist comic.

It has a very unique narrative style that intersperses the main story with fictional supporting documents. Almost like a case file or dossier.

There are a lot of political and sociological elements in the story and like V for Vendetta, you can certainly find elements common with our current world, even though this story is over 20 years old.

Comic book readers certainly don't have to be told about Watchmen. I'm sure they've all read it. But if you are new to the graphic novel and comic book area, take a look at this one. You won't be disappointed.

Friday, December 05, 2008

Walking in your footsteps ...

"In every walk with nature one receives far more than he seeks." -- John Muir, naturalist and found of Sierra Club

I don't really want or need anything for Christmas (maybe some books) but I think the holiday season will be my justification for finally getting a new pair of shoes. I've been shopping around for about a year for a decent pair of shoes that are sustainable in one fashion or another. We were just at Van's tonight to get Alex a new pair of shoes and I saw these bamboo soled shoes that I liked:

"hemp-infused gum rubber outsoles and natural cotton jute foxing ... water-based glues sans inks"

Simple Shoes have a few pairs I like, most notably these:

"organic cotton canvas uppers ... lined in certified organic cotton ... outsole used to be a car tire ... 100% post consumer paper pulp foot forms"

I hadn't heard a lot about EcoSumo products, but these seemed nice:

So far, these three are the leaders in the clubhouse. Hopefully Santa will be kind to me this year.

Understandably, a lot of people can't afford shoes like these but it looks like some of the discount retailers are soon going to be offering affordable sustainable alternatives -- Payless to offer sustainable line.

"Fifty million years ago
You walked upon the planet so,
Lord of all that you could see
Just a little bit like me

Walking in your footsteps

Hey mr. dinosaur
You really couldn't ask for more
You were gods favourite creature
But you didn't have a future ...

Hey mighty brontosaurus
Dont you have a lesson for us
You thought your rule would always last
There were no lessons in your past ...

Walking in your footsteps....

They say the meek shall inherit the earth..."

Walking in Your Footsteps -- The Police

Friday, November 28, 2008


My father broached the subject slyly enough, saying "Did the elections come out the way you would like?" I said yes, figuring I had to be honest. He replied that he was scared of what the next 4 years would have been like if McCain had been elected with the prospect of extending what the last 8 had been like. I made a comment on how scary Palin was and he agreed with me. To my shock, and without him actually saying it, I came to the realization that my folks had voted for Obama. Hallelujah!

Then we went on to discuss something else not related to politics. Those couple of sentences were probably the longest political discussion that we ever had. My parents just did not talk politics when I was growing up. It wasn't that they didn't care. They always voted. But when you are struggling to make ends meet, the nuances of foreign policy or trickle-down economics just don't matter that much.

I know you shouldn't make assumptions about people. But with your folks, you figure you have 'em pegged well enough to at least predict who they would vote for.

I'm pretty sure that my parents voted for Reagan once, but I'm not positive. My father is a veteran of the Air Force and the Vietnam War. He's been active in the VFW. His social circle has always been farmers and mechanics, not professors and artists. My parents always have liked to live out in the country with a minimum of interaction by the government. If not Republican, they at least leaned libertarian, though I know for a fact that they would have no idea what that term means.

But my parents also taught us to respect people regardless of their race or their economic station in life. It would irritate some of my parents' friends because they would rub elbows with the people on the "wrong side of the tracks" just as easily as they would the mayor. Those people on the other side of the tracks had more in common with us and I'm sure my folks preferred their company. They rightly saw that we had more in common with the poor black or Hispanic person than we did with the rich white guy at the top of the hill.

The modern Republican party has successfully fooled a large portion of poor whites that they have more in common with oil barons and trust-fund babies than with the hard-working people working next door that might just happen to be a different color. Thankfully, and maybe I should have know this all along, my parents saw through this and made the right choice. Maybe the apple didn't fall as far from the tree as I had thought.

"It is time for parents to teach young people early on that in diversity there is beauty and there is strength." -- Maya Angelou

Coffee With Sarge

Well, I did it again. I was on the radio Sunday. This time I was an actual guest for a whole hour and talked quite a bit. My friend Sarge has a Sunday show, called Coffee With Sarge, in conjunction with The Jeff Farias Show. Read a bit more about Sarge and my previous appearance here.

Jeff Farias is very prominent in the volatile and interesting Phoenix progressive talk radio scene, having previously been with Nova M (flagship of Randi Rhodes and Mike Malloy), Air America, and KPHX 1480. Daily Kos has, a decent play-by-play of that volatility here.

Sarge asked me about my opinions on the effects of the Internet on progressive politics. We ran a live chat during the show and also took calls from people asking general computer questions of me. He said it was the most active his show had been. Here's a link to the Podcast:

Coffee with Sarge

I had fun and wouldn't be surprised if I got the chance to be on again sometime.

Friday, November 21, 2008

The Contender

Like often happens, what I'm reading or watching seems to have a topical link to current events (intentionally or otherwise). Last night, I watched the very good political thriller, The Contender, on Cox's OnDemand. It's from a few years ago (2000) but hits upon a lot of the stuff going on now with the vetting of candidates for the various cabinet positions in Barack Obama's administration. Joan Allen plays an appointee for VP in an administration where the Vice President has died. She must survive the vetting process and the political jockeying by the congressional committee in charge of approving the nomination.

It's a got a great cast which includes Allen, Jeff Bridges as the President, Sam Elliot, Christian Slater, William Peterson and my favorite actor, Gary Oldman as the committee chairman. It's written and directed by the very talented film-critic-turned-director Rod Lurie.

The Contender hits on a lot of the touchpoints of the last year's election cycle including the roles of gender, religion, and the media in the political process.

One of my favorite moments in the movie is a speech by Allen's character at the end of the hearing before the committee. It's one of those Mr. Smith Goes to Washington type speeches that, unfortunately, don't happen in real life, though you wish they did. Those raw bits of honesty without a filter that no modern politician would dream of. Here it is:

Uh, remarkably enough, it seems that I have some explaining to do.

So... let me be absolutely clear.

I stand for a woman's right to choose.

I stand for the elimination of the death penalty.

I stand for a strong and growing armed forces...

because we must stomp out genocide on this planet...

and I believe that that is a cause worth dying for.

I stand for seeing every gun taken out of every home. Period.

I stand for making the selling of cigarettes to our youth a federal offense.

I stand for term limits and campaign reform.

And, Mr. Chairman, I stand for the separation of church and state...

and the reason that I stand for that is the same reason that I believe our forefathers did.

It is not there to protect religion from the grasp of government...

but to protect our government from the grasp of religious fanaticism.

I may be an atheist...

but that does not mean I do not go to church: I do go to church.

The church I go to is the one that emancipated the slaves...

that gave women the right to vote.

It gave us every freedom that we hold dear.

My church is this very chapel of democracy that we sit in together...

and I do not need God to tell me what are my moral absolutes.

I need my heart, my brain and this church.

Amen. I'd be more inclined to vote for a person, even if I didn't agree with everything they said, if they had the guts to at least be honest.

The rest of the script can be found here.

"There's no trust, no faith, no honesty in men; all perjured, all forsworn, all naught, all dissemblers." -- William Shakespeare

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Obama's Use of Complete Sentences Stirs Controversy

From comedian and writer, Andy Borowitz:

Obama's Use of Complete Sentences Stirs Controversy

In the first two weeks since the election, President-elect Barack Obama has broken with a tradition established over the past eight years through his controversial use of complete sentences, political observers say.

Millions of Americans who watched Mr. Obama's appearance on CBS's 60 Minutes on Sunday witnessed the president-elect's unorthodox verbal tick, which had Mr. Obama employing grammatically correct sentences virtually every time he opened his mouth.

But Mr. Obama's decision to use complete sentences in his public pronouncements carries with it certain risks, since after the last eight years many Americans may find his odd speaking style jarring.

According to presidential historian Davis Logsdon of the University of Minnesota, some Americans might find it "alienating" to have a president who speaks English as if it were his first language.

"Every time Obama opens his mouth, his subjects and verbs are in agreement," says Mr. Logsdon. "If he keeps it up, he is running the risk of sounding like an elitist."

The historian said that if Mr. Obama insists on using complete sentences in his speeches, the public may find itself saying, "Okay, subject, predicate, subject predicate -- we get it, stop showing off."

The president-elect's stubborn insistence on using complete sentences has already attracted a rebuke from one of his harshest critics, Gov. Sarah Palin of Alaska.

"Talking with complete sentences there and also too talking in a way that ordinary Americans like Joe the Plumber and Tito the Builder can't really do there, I think needing to do that isn't tapping into what Americans are needing also," she said.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Bringing out the best in people ... or not

If you want to get a taste of the people that were voting for McCain:

Obama supporters won't get communion, priest says
Nov. 13, 2008 Associated Press

A South Carolina Roman Catholic priest has told his parishioners that they should refrain from receiving Holy Communion if they voted for Barack Obama because the Democratic president-elect supports abortion, and supporting him "constitutes material cooperation with intrinsic evil."

The Rev. Jay Scott Newman said in a letter distributed Sunday to parishioners at St. Mary's Catholic Church in Greenville that they are putting their souls at risk if they take Holy Communion before doing penance for their vote ...

Church sign: Obama election 'is sin against the Lord'

CNN's Rick Sanchez reported on a church marquee that reads "America we have a Muslim president. This is a sin against the Lord." Mark Holick is pastor of The Spirit One Christian Center in Wichita, Kansas where the sign is being displayed.

Holick told KSNW, "The main point of the marquee is to cause the Christians to understand he is not a Christian, Again, they will call me and they will tell me that he's not a Muslim because he is a Christian. That's not the point. The point is he's not a Christian."

No ... the point is -- you are a moron. These two supposed Christian leaders are sinners against rational thought and common sense. If this is what Christians are, I'm sure Obama wouldn't want to be considered among them.

Gun sales soar; fear of limits is blamed -- Buyers worry Obama will seek stricter rules
by Sean Holstege - Nov. 18 The Arizona Republic

The National Rifle Association labels President-elect Barack Obama a radical, a tag that gun-control advocates call a smear.

But Valley gun owners aren't waiting until January to find out who's right or how Obama will honor his campaign pledge of "common sense" gun control.

Gun-store owners in the Phoenix area say they saw sharp increases in gun and ammunition sales just before and after the presidential election.

The FBI reported that, during election week, instant background checks in the U.S., an indicator of firearms sales, shot up 49 percent over the same week in 2007. This was during the most severe economic crunch in decades ...

"It started the Friday before the election," said Jeff Serdy, who owns AJI Sporting Goods in Apache Junction. "Then, the day after the election, it was more than Y2K and more than September 11, 2001."

These people are almost too stupid for words. The NRA and gun sellers, to their credit, realize how stupid their supporters are. It fits right in with Naomi Klein's Shock Doctrine -- fear driving commerce. About the only gun law changes under the last Democrat were an assault weapons ban and a waiting period to buy guns ... two things that a normal gun owner should not have a problem with. But the way people on the Right are spinning Obama's election, you would think Lenin himself had just got elected.

got a gun, fact i got two
that's ok man, cuz i love god
glorified version of a pellet gun
feels so manly, when armed ...
don't think, dumb is strength ...

Glorified G by Pearl Jam

Saturday, November 15, 2008

Obama Attack

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Google Trends

I heard of a cool Google tool on NPR today, called Google Trends. Here's its description from Wikipedia:

Google Trends is a tool from Google Labs that shows the most popularly searched terms from the beginning of 2004 to now.

... Google Trends charts how often a particular search term is entered relative the total search volume across various regions of the world...

Google Trends also allows the user to compare the volume of searches between two or more terms. An additional feature of Google Trends is in its ability to show news related to the search term overlaid on the chart showing how new events affect search popularity.

Interestingly, there are some search keywords that are quite seasonal, like summer camps, which strongly coincides with the end of the United States school year ...

... some search keywords that come up around a certain date each year. For example, searches for the Internal Revenue Service peak on April 15, the deadline for filing taxes in the United States ...

"Twilight zone" peaks every 6 months, corresponding with the 4th of July and New Year's marathons of the show played on the Sci-Fi Channel.

It's all terribly fascinating because you can really get a feel for how certain people and events affect other events. Or how certain items are bigger concerns in certain parts of the country. For example, more people search on the Internet using the terms "foreclosure" and "bankruptcy" in Phoenix than in any other major city ... which makes sense because the housing crisis has hit here especially hard.

Or obvious stuff like the fact that search trends for the term "toys" mirrors trends for "Christmas" or that searches for "gas prices" generally happen at the same time as "hybrid". Or funny stuff like the fact that searches for "George Bush" and "stupid" seem to correspond pretty well, as do "Republican" and "scandal" .

The topic of the NPR news story was a specific application of Google Trends called Google Flu Trends. It's in the news for it's ability to predict flu outbreaks significantly quicker and more accurately than the CDC.

From the NY Times article on the same subject:

... There is a new common symptom of the flu, in addition to the usual aches, coughs, fevers and sore throats. Turns out a lot of ailing Americans enter phrases like “flu symptoms” into Google and other search engines before they call their doctors.

That simple act, multiplied across millions of keyboards in homes around the country, has given rise to a new early warning system for fast-spreading flu outbreaks, called Google Flu Trends.

Tests of the new Web tool from, the company’s philanthropic unit, suggest that it may be able to detect regional outbreaks of the flu a week to 10 days before they are reported by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

In early February, for example, the C.D.C. reported that the flu cases had recently spiked in the mid-Atlantic states. But Google says its search data show a spike in queries about flu symptoms two weeks before that report was released. Its new service at analyzes those searches as they come in, creating graphs and maps of the country that, ideally, will show where the flu is spreading.

The C.D.C. reports are slower because they rely on data collected and compiled from thousands of health care providers, labs and other sources. Some public health experts say the Google data could help accelerate the response of doctors, hospitals and public health officials to a nasty flu season, reducing the spread of the disease and, potentially, saving lives.

... Researchers have long said that the material published on the Web amounts to a form of “collective intelligence” that can be used to spot trends and make predictions.

But the data collected by search engines is particularly powerful, because the keywords and phrases that people type into them represent their most immediate intentions. People may search for “Kauai hotel” when they are planning a vacation and for “foreclosure” when they have trouble with their mortgage. Those queries express the world’s collective desires and needs, its wants and likes.

...Google Flu Trends avoids privacy pitfalls by relying only on aggregated data that cannot be traced to individual searchers. To develop the service, Google’s engineers devised a basket of keywords and phrases related to the flu, including thermometer, flu symptoms, muscle aches, chest congestion and many others.

Google then dug into its database, extracted five years of data on those queries and mapped it onto the C.D.C.’s reports of influenzalike illness. Google found a strong correlation between its data and the reports from the agency, which advised it on the development of the new service ...

As with all technology, there are both useful and scary aspects. Obviously, many people would have concerns with privacy. Data used in an aggregate sense, and anonymously would not seem to violate that. And Google has been pretty good about privacy issues so far. But there is definitely the opportunity there for data to be used improperly. So, it's important to be vigilant. We don't want to be hermits and live off the grid. That's not the answer. But we also don't want everyone in the world to know every time we pick our nose. There's got to be a safe and practical balance.

"The personal life of every individual is based on secrecy, and perhaps it is partly for that reason that civilized man is so nervously anxious that personal privacy should be respected" -- Anton Chekhov quotes (Russian playwright and master of the modern short story, 1860-1904)

Friday, November 07, 2008

Political Song of the Day - Bob Dylan

The Times They Are A-Changin' by Bob Dylan

Come gather 'round people
Wherever you roam
And admit that the waters
Around you have grown
And accept it that soon
You'll be drenched to the bone.
If your time to you
Is worth savin'
Then you better start swimmin'
Or you'll sink like a stone
For the times they are a-changin'.

Come writers and critics
Who prophesize with your pen
And keep your eyes wide
The chance won't come again
And don't speak too soon
For the wheel's still in spin
And there's no tellin' who
That it's namin'.
For the loser now
Will be later to win
For the times they are a-changin'.

Come senators, congressmen
Please heed the call
Don't stand in the doorway
Don't block up the hall
For he that gets hurt
Will be he who has stalled
There's a battle outside
And it is ragin'.
It'll soon shake your windows
And rattle your walls
For the times they are a-changin'.

Come mothers and fathers
Throughout the land
And don't criticize
What you can't understand
Your sons and your daughters
Are beyond your command
Your old road is
Rapidly agin'.
Please get out of the new one
If you can't lend your hand
For the times they are a-changin'.

The line it is drawn
The curse it is cast
The slow one now
Will later be fast
As the present now
Will later be past
The order is
Rapidly fadin'.
And the first one now
Will later be last
For the times they are a-changin'.

Wednesday, November 05, 2008

The Day After

'Day After' observations:

  • I had the best night of sleep I've had in many years. Say, about 8 years. I'm not ashamed that there is a little spring in my step today. I deserve this after the depressed hangovers of the last two presidential elections.

  • My good friend JT, a self-admitted South Park Republican (libertarian), was texting me all night, positively giddy with the outcome and with Obama. He found the disparity in where the candidates chose to speak interesting. McCain spoke at the Arizona Biltmore Resort and Spa where the cheap rate is $399/night. As JT said, "lol ... you had to appreciate the panning of the McCain crowd. Old, white and wealthy beyond my imagination! Barack celebrating at a huge public park ...". Speaking of Grant Park, please keep checking out Sarchasm, my friend Laura's blog, as she was there last night!! She'll definitely have a great take on the festivities.

  • I have to be honest and say that I found McCain's concession speech very gracious. He showed a glimpse into why, in the past, he has had broad-based support and the ability to reach accross the aisle. Why he abandoned these things in the heat of a race, I don't know, but he did himself a disservice. Being a bit of a lame duck, hopefully he will not pander to those influences that he truly doesn't need any more.

  • I'm optimistic today because of the overwhelmingly positive presidential and congressional returns, but WTF is the problem with the people in several states (AZ, California, Florida) with the passing of the gay marriage bans? I swear, if I come upon someone I know for a fact that voted for these things, I'm going to punch them in the neck. OK, I'm kidding. I'm pretty much a pacifist. But, still, what the hell?

  • A name that's being floated around for a cabinet post, specifically Attorney General or head of Homeland Security, is Arizona Governor Janet Napolitano. She'd be a great choice, Obama would be lucky to have her and it'd be a great move for her. But it would suck for us Arizonans. AZ Secretary of State (and Republican) Jan Brewer would take over. With Republicans already controlling the state house and senate, that would pretty much leave Dems out in the cold on local issues. Thankfully, our national delegation of congressman now has more Dems than Republicans for the first time in 40 years.

  • Obviously, there is something wrong with Alaskans if they elected Sarah Palin, but how dense can you be if you just re-elected recently indicted, old crusty Ted Stevens to another term? Clueless. In the past few weeks, McCain and Palin called for him to step down. With Palin still being governor, guess who will be able to influence who would fill that seat if Stevens steps down or is kicked out? Yep, Palin. And rumors have been that she would even try to get in an election to fill that seat. Running some backwards state thousands of miles from us is one thing. Having her in Washington influencing legislation is a whole different thing.

Monday, November 03, 2008

Vote the Bible?

I was driving around the west valley today and saw a sign that proclaimed, "Vote the Bible". Not surprisingly, it was next to a sign that encouraged one to vote "Yes on 102", with 102 being Arizona's "one man, one woman marriage" ballot proposition.

I know what the author of the sign meant by Vote the Bible. They believe that the bible sanctions their bigotry (anti-gay laws), our country's imperialism (military), and allows the government to invade our privacy (right to choose).

Now, I obviously don't take my moral cues from the bible, but if I did, would I get the same ones? These people seem to care less about the teaching of Jesus and more about using the bible to justify their prejudice. Christians have been overwhelmingly aligned with modern conservatism. One of the heroes of modern conservatism is Ayn Rand, an utterly godless woman, against equality, who preached the value of selfishness. What does that say?

From the bible:

... gospel of Luke chapter 6, verse 30; Jesus tells us "Give to everyone who asks of you. And from him who takes away your goods do not ask for them back." Jesus tells us in Luke 6:33 "But if you do good to those who do good to you, what credit is that? For even the sinners do the same." In Matthew 5:42 Jesus tells us to "Give to him who asks of you, and from him who wants to borrow from you do not turn away." A certain rich man approached Jesus and asked him what he must do to obtain eternal life? The savior answered first that he must keep the commandments. The rich man replied that he had kept them all from his youth. (Luke 18:18-21) However, the wealthy man was not ready for what Jesus told him next. "You still lack one thing. Sell all that you have and distribute it to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven, and come, follow me." (Luke 18:22)

Sounds like if people truly took the bible literally, they'd be socialists.

Even the supposed condemnation of homosexuality in the bible is called into question - "... the same holiness code in Leviticus that prohibits men from lying with each other “as with a woman” also forbids the shaving of beards and the sowing of two kinds of seeds in the same field."

Sounds like a bunch of hypocrisy. People see what they want to see in the bible. Vote for who you want to vote for, but don't tell me it's because the bible told you to. If you hate gays and don't want to share, at least have the balls to be honest about it.

This great clip from The West Wing says it all:

Thursday, October 30, 2008

Doubt is not necessarily a bad thing

"Doubt is the beginning not the end of wisdom" -- proverb

I just read one of the best essays on faith and atheism that I've read in awhile from a writer at The Times of South Africa:

... as an atheist, faith is one of the big issues I have with religion. Faith is not simply a religious concept - it is a concept of knowing, of being absolutely sure of your ideas, your leaders, your concept of right and wrong, to the point where any evidence to the contrary just annoys you, it doesn’t have the power to convince you.

This concept has caused immeasurable harm to the world - it is what made Stalin so sure that his five-year plans weren’t starving Russia, it is what made Hitler think that the Jews were the root of all the world’s problems ...

The criminals who rape, murder and pillage our country do not do so out of a lack of faith, out of a sense of doubt in the rightness of their actions, they do it rationalising that their victims deserve it. These criminals think that they are still good people.

It is as William Butler Yeats said in his oft-quoted poem: “The best lack all conviction, while the worst are full of passionate intensity.”

This is not because the best are weak. This is because in terms of the people you want to know, the people who don’t go around flying planes into buildings, it isn’t faith that fuels their good, it is doubt. Doubt that they are right, doubt that they are always good, doubt that makes them stop and consider things from another point of view.

The dubious, the doubtful, the people who do not know what they know but, rather, think there is a good likelihood for something, these are the people who take us forward.

Atheism is not about what we know, it is what we don’t know. It is “I don’t believe in God” rather than “I believe there is no God”. Though there are atheists who subscribe to the latter, the former is all it takes to qualify as atheism. It is a philosophical concept, not even a fully formed idea, based on doubt, and in terms of crime, atheists are a disproportionately small portion of America’s prison system.

This is also reflected in crime stats on an international basis - highly atheist countries like Japan and the Scandinavian ones have crime under control. This is not atheism in and of itself, this is the virtue of doubt.

And it isn’t just in morality that doubt is good, that not taking things on faith is good.

We have seen over the past year the effect faith has had on business, with the faith-filled idea that the US’s housing market would always grow, that house prices were never coming down and that those sub-prime loans were structured to never fail. They failed.

The Titanic was a ship that the designers thought would never sink, and thus they didn’t have enough lifeboats or a plan to save the lower decks if it actually did begin to sink. It sank.

George W Bush had absolute faith that he was right, the US had faith that if they re-elected him to “stay the course” things would improve. He is probably going to go down as one of the worst presidents in the US’s history, if not the worst ...

... Faith is not a virtue to teach your children. The virtue is in faith’s opposite. It is in doubt we find caution, in doubt we find tolerance, in doubt that we find humility, in doubt we find ourselves and the best of our humanity.

In his poem, Yeats seems to have thought that in the best lacking all conviction there was a flaw, when it is the strength of lacking conviction that makes the best. It is the weakness of passionate intensity, of knowing beyond all evidence’s power to prove otherwise, that makes the worst.

"Doubt is uncomfortable, certainty is ridiculous." -- Voltaire

"Dubito ergo cogito; cogito ergo sum.
(I doubt, therefore I think; I think therefore I am)" -- Rene Descartes

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Stranger in a Strange Land

I had a feeling tonight that I rarely experience. I was among people of a like mind and it gave me pause. Living in Arizona, among gun-toting, praise-the-lord, get-off-my-land types, I'd grown accustomed to feeling vaguely out of place. Like I couldn't really ever comfortably speak my mind.

I went to a Sierra Club Energy Committee meeting downtown tonight. It's part of my attempt at getting a little more involved in the things I believe in. After speaking with one of the main people of the state branch of the Sierra Club at the recent Green Summit, I volunteered for whatever they could use me for. She sent me invites to several of the committee meetings, this being the first one.

It was a fairly long meeting, about 2 and half hours, and discussed Cool Cities outreach (I'm going to get involved with encouraging Glendale to get on board) and a new solar thermal plant planned near Gila Bend. Though politics weren't really discussed directly, I couldn't help the feeling that everyone in the room would vote almost exactly like me. It was a feeling that I had recently when I saw Religulous, though admittedly not for the exact same reason. But you get the idea ... I was among friends, even though I may not know these people. Every day at work, at my son's school, in my neighborhood, even among family, I may "know" the people better, but they are mostly strangers in the ways that matter to me. I'm not saying I want to be surrounded by sycophants. I just don't want to be surrounded by zealots and the uninformed.

"Nothing is so awesomely unfamiliar as the familiar that discloses itself at the end of a journey" -- Cynthia Ozick

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Vote Early, Vote Often

Today, I voted early for the first time. It was quick ... it was painless. There are about 10 early voting places in the Valley, including one near our library, which is where I voted. There were about a half dozen people there voting at the same time and after talking to the poll workers there, they apparently have a pretty steady flow and will all month. Laura at Sarchasm voted early too and shares some of her experiences here. For my AZ blog friends, here's a list of the locations: Early Voting Locations

I highly recommend for anyone that can, vote early. If you don't know who you are voting for by now, then you don't belong in a voting booth, you belong in a straitjacket. Hell, even a Goldwater and a Buckley have figured it out already and it ain't who you think:

Being Barry Goldwater's granddaughter and living in Arizona, one would assume that I would be voting for our state's senator, John McCain. I am still struck by certain 'dyed in the wool' Republicans who are on the fence this election, as it seems like a no-brainer to me.

Myself, along with my siblings and a few cousins, will not be supporting the Republican presidential candidates this year. We believe strongly in what our grandfather stood for: honesty, integrity, and personal freedom, free from political maneuvering and fear tactics... Our generation of Goldwaters expects government to provide for constitutional protections. We reject the constant intrusion into our personal lives, along with other crucial policy issues of the McCain/Palin ticket.

My grandfather (Paka) would never suggest denying a woman's right to choose. My grandmother co-founded Planned Parenthood in Arizona in the 1930's, a cause my grandfather supported. I'm not sure about how he would feel about marriage rights based on same-sex orientation. I think he would feel that love and respect for ones privacy is what matters most and not the intolerance and poor judgment displayed by McCain over the years. Paka respected our civil liberties and passed on the message that that we should conduct our lives standing up for the basic freedoms we hold so dear.

For a while, there were several candidates who aligned themselves with the Goldwater version of Conservative thought. My grandfather had undying respect for the U.S. Constitution, and an understanding of its true meanings.

... the Republican brand has been tarnished in a shameless effort to gain votes and appeal to the lowest emotion, fear. Nothing about McCain, except for maybe a uniform, compares to the same ideology of what Goldwater stood for as a politician. The McCain/Palin plan is to appear diverse and inclusive, using women and minorities to push an agenda that makes us all financially vulnerable, fearful, and less safe.

When you see the candidate's in political ads, you can't help but be reminded of the 1964 presidential campaign of Johnson/Goldwater, the 'origin of spin', that twists the truth and obscures what really matters. Nothing about the Republican ticket offers the hope America needs to regain it's standing in the world, that's why we're going to support Barack Obama. I think that Obama has shown his ability and integrity.

After the last eight years, there's a lot of clean up do. Roll up your sleeves, Senators Obama and Biden, and we Goldwaters will roll ours up with you.

The National Review accepted the resignation of columnist Christopher Buckley last week, shortly after the humorist and editor -- son of the conservative biweekly's late founder, William F. Buckley Jr. -- endorsed Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama, Mr. Buckley said Tuesday...

"I think they wanted to put as much daylight between Christopher Buckley and themselves as they could," Mr. Buckley said Tuesday, after publishing news of his resignation on The Daily Beast. "It's an odd situation, when the founder's son has suddenly become the turd in the punch bowl."

Mr. Buckley says his father, who endorsed a few Democrats in his time -- including Connecticut Sen. Joe Lieberman when he ran against Republican incumbent Lowell Weicker in 1988 -- was "quite tolerant of the surprising point of view" and never wanted his magazine's writers to be in intellectual lockstep.

"We seem to be living in a time of arteriosclerotic orthodoxy," Mr. Buckley said. "A lot of the fun has gone out of it. I mean, gee whiz."

Saturday, October 18, 2008

Magic Man, Griffith Observatory

Thanks to Michelle's show biz uncle, whom we were staying with in LA, we got to meet John Gaughan for a private tour this morning at his workshop. Who is John Gaughan ... you may ask? Well, he's one of the most sought out manufacturers of illusions for world famous magicians, including David Blaine, Criss Angel, David Copperfield, Doug Henning and has worked with other performers such as the Doors and Alice Cooper in the past.

We drove up to a nondescript warehouse in LA, near Griffith Park, and were welcomed at the front door by Gaughan himself. He introduced us to his two birds (the ones mentioned in the Wikipedia article), one of which is 85 years old. John is very affable and very willing to answer any questions we had. He showed us a collector's room that he has that some of the most valuable and rare magician memorabilia in the world, including pieces once owned by Houdini, Harry Kellar and others, original posters from magicians dating back to the early 1800's, and full-size automatons that have been displayed in museums around the world. I'm afraid to even speculate the value of the items in that room. They are one of a kind pieces. We're talking in the millions of dollars.

Here's a great article on John from the New York Times:

Magicians Ask: What’s Up His Sleeve?

He created the trick wheelchair used by Gary Sinise in Forrest Gump, that helped to hide his legs.

Michelle's uncle, Marty Price, knows John because the show he works on, Numb3rs, is having an upcoming episode dealing with a magician and they filmed at John's workshop. I believe the episode airs November 14th. Check it out and you'll see where we were. Fascinating stuff.

Being close to Griffith Park, we spent the rest of the day at the Griffith Observatory. This is the one in many movie shots, most famously, Rebel Without a Cause, but also Terminator and Transformers:

I'd always wanted to go there but didn't take the time until today. The view is great up there, with clear views of the Hollywood sign:

... downtown:

... and the observatory itself:

There were a lot of cool space exhibits inside. The admission was free because it's a city park. Free educational and cultural exhibits -- a concept that seems to be understood in Europe, but is lost on the morons over here that would privatize everything. Learning cannot only be the domain of those who can afford it.

Overall, an outstanding day. Tomorrow, it's time for the trip back home to AZ.

Friday, October 17, 2008

The Strand

Perhaps biting off a bit more than we could chew, we started off early this morning intent on biking all the way from the house in Manhattan Beach to the Santa Monica Pier ... a distance of about 13 miles one way. I had hauled Alex's and my bikes out with us in the trunk and Michelle borrowed her aunt's new beach bike.

The bike path along the ocean is called The Strand and extends 22 miles total from north of Santa Monica south to Torrance. It's very scenic, going right along the beach, and passes through Manhattan Beach, Venice Beach and Santa Monica. The weather was great, with a lot of eye candy, and freaks galore.

On the way up, just the other side of Venice, we stopped for a bite to eat:

... continued on up to the pier in Santa Monica:

... walked the boardwalk in Venice (ground zero for freaky people):

... and checked out a few organic clothing shops that I had researched ahead of time, Natural High Lifestyle in Santa Monica, which was so-so (a little foofy and expensive), and Arbor in Venice, which was a lot better and where I picked up a t-shirt.

All-in-all, it was a worthy way of spending a Friday. Nobody got too tired and we all got over 25 miles of riding in. Pretty impressive for the little one especially.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Manhattan Beach

We're leaving Wednesday afternoon for a long weekend in Manhattan Beach. Might try to hit Griffith Park. Or maybe go to Cardiff by the Sea and see Michelle's cousin.

I researched organic clothing retailers in LA and located several in Santa Monica and Venice. I'm hoping to pick up some shoes and shirts.

Will probably post something on the blog each day.

Sunday, October 12, 2008


I'm reading Art in our Times, by Peter Selz, right now. I'm pretty much an art moron, but I try. I own quite a few art books and every once in awhile will bury myself in one and try to learn a little bit. I've read quite a few on more historical art and architecture but hadn't really concentrated on one that focuses on the 20th century like this one does.

A couple of the entries amused me either because of their topical relevance or because the art presented there seemed to speak to me. The first of these was a passage talking about the architecture of the Pentagon:

"During the early 1940's, the world's largest office building, the Pentagon, was erected across the Potomac River from Washington, D.C., in an area commonly known as "Hell's Bottom." According to esoteric lore, when a pentagon or pentagram is drawn on the ground with its chief point toward the south, it can be used for black magic and destructive purposes, and, indeed, the War Department's structure faces south."

Ahh ... it all makes sense now. I guess that Dick Cheney was probably too young to have had any part in that?

The other entries I like for a couple of reasons -- they're dark and skewer the Church a bit. They're paintings by Francis Bacon (the British painter) based on Velázquez's Portrait of Pope Innocent X (1650). That's Velazquez's original on the left below:

Velazquez, considering the time in which he lived, and that the Pope viewed his portrait favorably, was not trying to cast a negative light upon the Church at all.

With Bacon, it's more ambiguous. His alteration to the original seems to express agony and pain. It's as though the Pope is screaming. Bacon didn't say that he had any problem with the Church or the Popes, but he did over 40 variations of the Pope and definitely seemed to have some kind of feeling. And it wasn't pleasant.

One of the other variants shows the Pope between sides of beef. I couldn't even begin to guess what that means, but I like the fact that Bacon doesn't consider the subject matter to be above parody or criticism -- a sacred "cow", as it were.

Bacon reminds me of another 20th Century artist I like, Marshall Arisman, and even of David Fincher, the director of Se7en, in his choice of colors and subject matter.

Tuesday, October 07, 2008

Vote Yes for Bigotry on Prop 102

Arizona has got to be one of the stupidest states when it comes to our yearly avalanche of pointless ballot propositions (some states call them referendums). I'm sure the original intentions of propositions were noble, but it has turned into an outlet for any wingnut with too much time on their hands and too much money to hijack our state laws.

Every year we have to wade through about 20 of these things. Most people don't research what they are very much before voting and so assume that things like the Payday Loans Reform Act are actually something good. Payday loans are ridiculously priced and able to get around normal interest rate limits. Places that give these loans prey on those of us least able to pay. So, when you see something that says that it is going to reform how payday loan places operate and limit the amount they can charge, you assume that is a good thing. But, then you see who is funding the promotion of the act -- the payday loan places themselves. Fishy. It turns out they are just trying to get their version of a bill out there because an existing law that gave payday loan places a pass on having to observe the states 36% usury rate limit is set to expire soon. The effective rate of interest on payday loans approaches 400%.

You'll have to forgive me, but letting these places write their own law would be like ... well, it would be like letting energy companies write our energy policy. Wait ... I guess that's actually what happened. Bad example. But you get the point.

The real point of my post is Proposition 102 - "Only a union of one man and one woman shall be valid or recognized as a marriage in this state." They can dress it up any way they want, but it's straight-up hate mongering. I'm sick of people who hide behind their bibles and use it to ease their conscience of bigotry, racism and war-loving.

I just love the happy, peppy graphics and the family-oriented video. If Hitler would have had this ad agency, people might not have thought he was such a bad dude. The flyer I got in the mail today is more of the same. I'm fighting the urge to do some creative editing to it and send it back to them.

Again, like in the case of payday loan proposition, it's important to see who wants it to pass. In the immortal words of Deep Throat, "Follow the money."

The biggest contributors are :

The Crisis Pregnancy Center - whose answer to teen pregnancy is:

Unlike so-called "comprehensive" sex education, we desire to communicate a clear message: one solution and one approach that never changes and is always 100 percent effective. That solution and approach to teen sexuality is abstinence-until-marriage (ATM)

They are actively against abortion, contraception ... anything other than abstinence.

Focus on the Family Action - Do I really even need to say anything about this? I give you two words -- James Dobson. 'Nuff said.

And finally, a huge number of Mormon Church members:

... of the 190 contributions of $10,000 or higher, 70 came from Mesa Arizona — home to Arizona’s oldest LDS Temple and a very significant Mormon population. Mesa contributors include three of the four $100,000 contributors. In fact, the temple is located on a street named for the family of one of those $100,000 contributors — David and Nancy LeSueur.

Mesa is basically Salt Lake City South. I love the irony of a bunch of Mormons pushing a law that defines marriage as being between "one man and ONE woman". It's apparently intentional so that they can convince people that their polygamist days are behind them. Whatever. They may convince people that they are not polygamists, but they can't convince me that they are not bigots.

Here's a full list of the contributors: Notifications of Contributions to Ballot Measure Committees

Monday, October 06, 2008


Religulous is most effective when it's funny. This isn't a movie trying to beat you over the head with in-depth philosophical discussions. It's not a serious documentary. It's meant to be entertaining, but also to poke fun at many of the ridiculous assumptions of organized religion. No one is spared: Mormonism, Catholicism, Judaism, Islam, Scientology, you name it.

Religulous is a road movie, of sorts, with Bill Maher traveling around the world talking to religious people of all types at churches, museums, the Vatican, etc. The biggest source of laughs is the earnestness of people's blind faith. They live by reason in every other aspect of their lives except in their religion. People are more than happy to use all the benefits of science (medicine, computers, transportation) but do not see the disconnect between a belief in science and a belief in God. They drive around in a car that runs on fossil fuels (they are called "fossil fuels" for a reason) but still cling to the belief that the world is 5,000 years old.

Even more ridiculous that those that ignore the disconnect between religion and science are those that try to reconcile the two. For example, the Creation Museum. Dinosaurs with saddles on them ... right.

Jewish Atheist made an interesting point in his review of the movie (Religulous: A Review) ... that it felt cool, and unusual, to be in a movie theater where you pretty much knew everybody else was an atheist, skeptic, agnostic. I don't get that feeling very much in real life. There were 10 other people in the small theater, and they were all laughing just as hard as I was.

One of the problems I do have with the movie is in how Maher misrepresents atheism. He perpetuates the common myth that atheism means certainty that there is no God. That's not what it means. It means a lack of belief in God. Though Maher's beliefs are really no different than mine, he gives the impression that they are by singling out atheists. And that does atheism a disservice.

The movie is directed by Larry Charles, who also directed Borat, and in many ways mirrors that movie in how it doesn't necessarily try to present some broad philosophical take or ideology, but rather just wants to use real people to get a laugh and to maybe make you think.

I like this movie quite a bit. I laughed throughout the movie and I believe that even some religious people would find it entertaining. If they don't, then that only proves Maher's point even more. I read another review that just about sums it up:
Steve Persall of the St. Petersburg Times ... commented: "If he offends your particular faith, Maher will soon have you laughing at someone else's, wondering how 'those people' could be so gullible."

I recommend this film. Grade: A

In only 5 minutes this morning, looking at news sites, I found two articles that go even further to show how stupid people of faith can be:

Jewish "Modesty Patrols"

JERUSALEM — In Israel's ultra-Orthodox Jewish community, where the rule of law sometimes takes a back seat to the rule of God, zealots are on a campaign to stamp out behavior they consider unchaste. They hurl stones at women for such "sins" as wearing a red blouse, and attack stores selling devices that can access the Internet.

In recent weeks, self-styled "modesty patrols" have been accused of breaking into the apartment of a Jerusalem woman and beating her for allegedly consorting with men. They have torched a store that sells MP4 players, fearing devout Jews would use them to download pornography.

"These breaches of purity and modesty endanger our community," said 38-year-old Elchanan Blau, defending the bearded, black-robed zealots. "If it takes fire to get them to stop, then so be it."

Female fan's kiss ends music concert in Kuwait

KUWAIT CITY - A Kuwaiti official says authorities abruptly ended a music concert by an Egyptian singer in this conservative Muslim country when a young female fan jumped on stage, hugged the male singer and gave him a kiss.

Qanas al-Adwani, who heads the government department that monitors public entertainment, says the girl's behavior at Friday's concert "defied the conservative traditions" of Kuwait.

Al-Adwani also said Sunday that the fan's behavior broke controls on public entertainment, which were imposed by influential Muslim fundamentalists after they failed in 1997 to ban concerts altogether. Concerts have to be licensed by the government, and monitors from the Information Ministry watch the crowd to make sure nobody stands up to dance.

Sunday, October 05, 2008

Freedom IS Free

One of my biggest pet peeves is those mini-propaganda films by the National Guard that you get when you are waiting for your movie to start at the theater. They get some pop act to make a "music video", but in reality, they are thinly veiled advertisements pimping patriotism and armed service. Last year, it was 3 Doors Down with "Citizen Soldier". This year it is Kid Rock with "Warrior" . Now, I don't have anything against Kid. I've even liked some of his songs. He seems to have a sense of humor. Or I had thought that in the past. I'm sitting there in the theater tonight, waiting to watch Religulous (I'll review tomorrow), and "Warrior" comes on:

... So don't tell me who's wrong and right
When liberty starts slipping away
And if you ain't gonna fight
Get out of the way

'Cause freedom ain't so free
When you breathe red, white and blue
I'm giving all of myself
How 'bout you?

Holding back the urge to vomit in my mouth, I reflected on how big a hypocrite Kid Rock is. I saw an interview with him recently:

"I truly believe that people like myself, who are in a position of entertainers in the limelight, should keep their mouth shut on politics.Because at the end of the day, I'm good at writing songs and singing. What I'm not educated in is the field of political science. And so for me to be sharing my views and influencing people of who I think they should be voting for ... I think would be very irresponsible on my part.I think celebrity endorsements hurt politicians. As soon as somebody comes out for a politician, especially in Hollywood, when they all go, 'I'm voting for this guy!' – I go, 'That's not who I'm voting for!' "

So ... you won't endorse a political candidate but you will co-opt a political slogan from one ("freedom isn't free") and, in your songs, will criticize people ("don't tell me who's wrong and right") who don't just blindly follow.

I don't mean to belittle the military. I understand the value of service to one's country. I have a father and brother who both served. But criticizing people who don't serve, questioning their patriotism, and serving up a slice of propaganda that the Third Reich would be proud of, is not the answer.

And don't get me started on the "freedom isn't free" thing. I read a great article this week on that overused, contradictory, and meaningless slogan:

It's one of those Orwellian phrases that re-emerged out of 9/11 mania: "Freedom is not free." ... freedom itself, far from being costly, was cheapened to a slogan in whose name sacrifice at home was for fools and war abroad freedom's calling card.

The dogmatic negative at the heart of "freedom isn't free" should have been a clue. The phrase has been attributed to Dean Rusk, secretary of state under John Kennedy and Lyndon Johnson, though The New York Times used it in a small headline in 1945 to describe an American cemetery in Normandy. Gen. Matthew Ridgway, Army Chief of Staff in 1953, used it to define freedom as the difference between those who "torture their captives" and "those to whom the individual and his individual rights are sacred."

But the phrase really took off as a national verbal tick after 2001. George and Laura Bush and Dick Cheney have used the phrase at least nine times since 2001. For understandable reasons, they never defined it the way Gen. Ridgway did. They never defined it at all.

Ridgway's nuances aside, the phrase is fortune-cookie bunk anyway. Of course, freedom is free, and self-evidently so. Unless Thomas Jefferson had it wrong in the Declaration of Independence, freedom is one of the "unalienable rights." It's not a privilege. You're born with it. If you're in an unfree country, as most people are, you're owed it.

If you're in a free country, by all means, count your blessings, but you're entitled to your freedom. You shouldn't have to justify it, qualify it, tailor it to someone else's idea of it (unless you live in a homeowners association) let alone buy it, as countless slaves in this country had to.

Unless you infringe on somebody else's freedom, it's not even conditional. Those who make conditions are the chain-wielders who dangle freedom by the reins of its antonyms. They're those to whom "freedom is not free," by which they mean to say -- you're not.

Unquestionably, the way the phrase may have been intended -- the way Martin Luther King Jr. supposedly said it when he was hauled off to jail in Birmingham, the way it's inscribed on the Korean War Veterans Memorial in Washington, D.C. -- is to point out that sometimes there's a price to pay to preserve what we cherish or to claim what we're owed.

Those soldiers in Normandy's sands died protecting civilization. King and countless civil rights activists died claiming the right they'd been denied for three centuries. A price was paid for freedom's sake, but never to diminish the value of freedom itself, let alone to use freedom to diminish that of others ...