Sunday, April 24, 2005

We the peons - making sense of it all

Sometimes while reading the newspaper, the mind boggles in puzzlement, wondering why everything seems to be spinning out of control, why our economy is in such a terrible state when it was just fine ten years ago, why every little thing we’ve counted upon for decades seems to be getting ripped away, why even our best laid plans for financial security have gone so badly awry, why so many people are suffering job and income loss, why we seem to be going backward economically at such a fast clip that we’re all terrified of what tomorrow holds.

But, it’s really all very simple. Nearly every action taken by the Bush Administration since Bush’s first installation is premised upon a single philosophical principle, very clearly elucidated by Grover Norquist:

“I don’t want to abolish government, I simply want to reduce it to the size where I can drag it into the bathroom and drown it in the bathtub.”

This is the overarching philosophy that drives the right-wing agenda: get rid of government, except what government can be twisted to enforce the extreme right’s narrow-minded version of morality.

The key to understanding all of the economic actions of the Bush regime is to follow the money. Their goal is to enrich the favored few at the top in any way possible, AND to participate in such profligacy that any and all programs that ensure the security of the rest of us must be destroyed, even those programs that we have paid into for decades, ourselves!

The Republicans and especially their extremists always charge that the “liberals” are trying to start a class war, while in fact, the Republicans have for years been in the trenches and in the bombers fighting a class war that is without precedent. Impoverishment, of both individuals and of this very country is not a collateral effect of their policies, but is the intent of their policies. It is the only way that they can succeed in the complete dismantlement of everything this country has long stood for -

“[to] establish justice, insure domestic tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general welfare...”

What kind of “domestic tranquility” can there be if people cannot afford to buy food and shelter? What does “promote the general welfare” mean if it doesn’t apply to the prevention of death and disability and suffering from disease? What is “just” about stealing the economic survival from people who have paid for decades into a system that, once they want to collect, tells them “tough luck” - so what if you’ve paid for the retirements of others; we can’t afford to keep our promises to you for your retirement (and no, you can’t have a refund)?

How can Bush justify the destruction of Social Security, the impoverishment of millions of Americans, the continued denial of healthcare to the vulnerable, the war of attrition against America’s road and rail infrastructure, and on and on, while with the other hand, trillions of dollars are tossed to those few who are lucky enough to be born to great wealth? Well, not only does Bush intend to destroy the lives of we-the-peons, but he also wants us to hate everything that “government” stands for - he especially wants us to hate loyal government employees (“do-nothing bureaucrats”) and any agency that aims to improve our lives, whether through cleaner air, cleaner food, public education, or any of scores of other obvious benefits, as intruders into our personal freedom and autonomy.

Bush does seem well on his way to succeeding. Perhaps never before in the history of this country was there a more enterprisingly destructive regime than what we are now living through. America will be a very different place when Bush finally leaves office than when he arrived, with most of the change entirely due to his own actions, and it is difficult to see how much worse he could have made things. We do still have a couple of years to go, though, so that possibility does loom prominently, like a monster storm cloud on the horizon. God help us all.

Sunday, April 17, 2005

Stepford citizens ‘R’ us

Someone I know just received orders calling him to active duty in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom. But “Iraq? Haven’t we moved on?” seems to be the American consensus. For all the attention it’s been given lately, it seems so...oh...last year. We’re all too busy with Pope matters, and Congressional tantrums, and the feeding tube police, and trying to earn a living in our outsourced economy, to keep counting the bodies - could I have a double latte, please? 600 civilians in Faluja in April? Oh, but in Rwanda and Sudan.....

Learned helplessness. Learned hopelessness. Learned despair. Forgotten rage. Forgotten humanity. Forgotten honor.

It is as if the populace is drugged, as if we’ve all been lobotomized, as if we’ve lost our moral bearings: look at the before and after photos of Baghdad. Read the accounts of people there. Imagine your own life tossed akimbo in such a manner, with no more water coming out of the faucet, no more faucet, no more home, just rubble everywhere you look, and bombs going off at random. Look and see what WE have done to their country. Saddam didn’t do it; WE did it. All because of one little man’s vendetta and us giving him the power to carry it out.

Yes Saddam was a bad man, a despot, a murderer of his own people. But he was contained, and it was the task of his people to remove his regime, not for us to dictate. Under the thinnest of ruses - pretend WMDs, fictional ties to WTC - we removed him from power at great cost to us and even greater cost to Iraqis, and as the ruses fade, we’re told Iraq is better off without him. I suggest you ask any Iraqi: “are you better off now than you were in 2002?” and listen to the answer. Not that we can put any of it back together again, but could we at least lose the hubris? Could we at least take responsibility for our actions?

Oh but no, what could I possibly be thinking? Truth is no longer an American value. Our leaders don’t care to provide it, and we don’t care to pursue it. Livin’ in a dream world, we are, but dreams like these are what nightmares are made of.

I wish you well on your journey to Iraq, Eric B., and I wish all of us would wake up to the dishonor being brought upon all of us by those we’ve selected to represent us. And I wish I knew an antidote to profound despair.

Saturday, April 16, 2005

Nazi “doctors” redux: implements of torture of our very own

Pulsed energy projectile weapons: “The US military is funding development of a weapon that delivers a bout of excruciating pain from up to 2 kilometres away. [Contracts between the Office of Naval Research and two public universities in Florida aim to determine] ‘optimal pulse parameters to evoke peak nociceptor activation’ - in other words, cause the maximum pain possible.” (1) Pain is not the only effect though. These weapons also produce “a dramatic flash, nearly deafening sound, and substantial kinetic impact...lesions, temporary paralysis, choking, fibrillation and disorientation...and someone hit in the eye could be blinded [and the] shock wave would be like having a grenade go off in your eye socket.” (2)

Microwave weapons: “...Active Denial System basically a dish that fires a beam of 95 GHz microwaves at a crowd, heating people’s skin...” (2)

Wireless electric stun weapons: “Weapons that can incapacitate crowds of people by sweeping a lightning-like beam of electricity across them are being readied for sale to military and police forces in the US and Europe... the $9000 Close Quarters Shock Rifle [...] projects an ionised gas, or plasma, towards the target, producing a conducting channel. It will also interfere with electronic ignition systems and stop vehicles. ‘We will be able to fire a stream of electricity like water out of a hose at one or many targets in a single sweep,’ claims [Xtreme Alternative Defense Systems (XADS)] president Peter Bitar... [It] has a range of only 3 metres, but an operator can debilitate multiple targets by sweeping it across them... XADS is also planning a more advanced weapon which it hopes will have a range of 100 metres or more. Instead of firing ionised gas, it will probably use a powerful laser to ionise the air itself.” (3)

In the news about a decade ago was a report of extended torture of several US DEA agents by drug traffickers in Mexico. With evident, and justified, horror, the news writer noted that a medical doctor had been involved, to ensure that the pain inflicted was as severe as possible, and also to prevent the victims from lapsing into unconsciousness. As I recall, he utilized research that had been done on endorphins and pain, in order to prevent any endogenous pain relief from interfering with the torturers’ intent, repeatedly injecting drugs to rouse their victims whenever they lost consciousness. Some stories are permanently seared into one’s daily awareness, as this story has been for me. Perhaps it is because I have experienced (naturally-caused) pain severe enough to cause unconsciousness, allowing me to know something about unendurable pain, that has allowed my horror at this story to be undimmed to this day, but I think it should be horrifying to any decent person.

Perhaps it was the mention of the participation in this pain-maximizing research by Brian Cooper, an expert in dental pain at University of Florida (1) that first triggered my revulsion. Or, perhaps it was a dystopic vision of a peaceful anti-war demonstration being punished with one of these new pain weapons (from a mile away!), or, maybe it just plain infuriates me that scientists who participate in such a thing are still able to sleep at night.

Sure, anyone who wants to torture people will find a way. But to torture at a distance, non-selectively, invisibly, leaving no evidence? Is this how we want to spend our hard-earned money? Is this what we want our grad students and scientists and public universities to endeavor to create? Do we even trust our leaders to limit their use of these torture devices to just the bad guys? Could anyone still be that naïve? Is the infliction of maximal pain on anyone something any of us wants to be done in our name? Researchers also need to think long and hard about the end uses of their work, because much as they might wish otherwise, scientific research just isn’t as objective or value-free as they might wish. The argument that “if I don’t do it, someone else will” is pitifully weak, both ethically and morally.

Will someone please awaken me from this nightmare?

(1) “Maximum pain is aim of new US weapon,” by David Hambling. NewScientist, March 5, 2005.

(2) “Star wars hits the streets,” by David Hambling. NewScientist, October 12, 2002.

(3) “Stun weapons to target crowds,” by David Hambling. NewScientist, June 19, 2004.

Tuesday, April 12, 2005

“My mother, my pimp”

[No, not MY mother...]

Although I have long been doing my best to completely avoid any news of Michael Jackson, somehow it seeps in anyway... If you believe the news reports, he’s been getting away with a whole lot of ick for a really long time, and if the jury decides that what we’re hearing on the news reports is true, he will have to pay in some way. No surprise there.

But what I find astounding are the reports of mothers who’ve pimped their own young kids to Jackson, for trips and jewelry and other expensive trifles, and then sued him in order to collect even more money, but no one in the law enforcement community ever said, hey, wait a minute, the mother said she knew this was going on, and she allowed it to continue, and accepted payment for same, so let’s arrest her for pandering, or accessory to child sexual abuse, or SOMETHING???

Why the hell not???

It apparently was not just one mother, either, who gave in to Jackson’s “tearful” pleadings that her young son be allowed to sleep with him.

For years now, we’ve been hearing details of such abominable “parenting” trickling out of Jackson’s whacked-out version of an “amusement” palace, and every single report has me scratching my head and wondering: what kind of a moron parent allows ANY grown-up such access to their pre-teen child? Now that I understand that the parents were PAID for the favors of their child, it all makes perfect, if sickening, sense.

I say let the Jackson trial play out, but then go after these idiot “mothers” - there is a very long statute of limitations on parental sexual abuse of a child, and if this doesn’t qualify, I don’t know what would. At the very least, these child-sellers should feel the utmost scorn and contempt of the community, not be treated as celebrity victims.

Gad, but the whole thing gets more nauseating with each passing moment. Journalists and District Attorneys need to wake up and comprehend what these so-called “mothers” have done, which if called by its rightful name includes the phrase “sexual slavery.” If we view the child sexual abuse done by priests as abhorrent, how many orders of magnitude worse is it to have your own mother be complicit, and in it for the money?

Saturday, April 09, 2005

Ex-exterminator takes on pointy-headed judiciary

Tom DeLay said this week that Congress needs “to reassert [its] constitutional authority over the courts” and that “the judiciary branch of our government has overstepped its authority on countless occasions, overturning and in some cases just ignoring the legitimate will of the people.” (1)

Those of the radical right have now taken on the Constitution and the founding principle of the separation of powers - the only kind of judiciary they want is one that is submissive to the will of the Congress, at least until Congress changes hands when of course these same people will scream for judicial independence.

We keep hearing about so-called activist judges who are out of control, because the complainers don’t like their rulings. But does anyone ever actually read the rulings, or the laws upon which they’re based?

All we get are the sound bites - that the judges refused to return Terri’s feeding tube or whatever. But judges are required to base their rulings upon legal codes and years of case law, and in every case, judicial reviews showed that they did exactly that.

So what is really going on here? I think it is deeper than these folks simply disagreeing with the rulings; I think they dispute the need for detailed rulings at all. I think they believe that judges should just say yea or nay, based upon the way the winds of public opinion are blowing, and that if the majority wants something, that’s what the judges should rule (see DeLay’s comment about “legitimate rule of the people,” above). Unless of course, it’s something like the Schiavo feeding tube which the majority of the public supported removing. Then the judges must kowtow to the will of the (so-called) right-to-lifers, because Tom says so.

As are so many things these days, the present attacks upon judges - and I’m talking about verbal attacks such as DeLay’s - are emblematic of a larger societal trend that has been sweeping through for some years now, and that is a disgust with intellectual enterprise. The work of a judge is the epitome of an intellectual enterprise, steeped as it is in book-learning and weighing of pros and cons, and based upon history and philosophy and ethics and lots of - - - words - - - carefully crafted into paragraphs and pages of cogent and complex thought, an art form accorded ever-lessening value by those possessing wee attention spans.

Ours is a culture whose motto might as well be “cut to the chase” for all the focus given to intellectual endeavors, which are instead seen as highly suspect. Using more than two short sentences to describe anything is damned as overly verbose, while judicial opinions can run a hundred pages or more - and in such high-falutin’ language too!

Make no mistake: the war on judges is only the latest stage in the trend of anti-intellectualism that continues to build in this country. At all levels of our educational system, administrative pressures fostering “social promotion” and “student retention” have become far stronger and vastly more fashionable among education administrators than can be resisted by the professorial countervailing forces of “maintaining high standards.” Meanwhile, Band-Aids like Bush’s “No Child Left Behind” initiative only make matters worse, by eliminating what was left of the encouragement to think independently and critically and instead spending all classroom energy toward “teaching to the test.”

It is not an accident that our students have fallen so far behind in the world. All the intellectual vigor has been bled out of our schools, and teaching has too often become a job of last resort by those whose lack of intellectual rigor leaves them incapable of greater things. [Yes, there still are gifted, even genius teachers toiling in the educational fields, but they have a difficult time making up for the deficiencies of all the others.] Meanwhile, every cultural influence heaps ridicule on those who would like to use their minds for anything other than the accumulation of material wealth.

Judges and their intellectual endeavors are only the latest, and not the last, of the intellectuals to be scorned.

(1) “DeLay Says Federal Judiciary Has ‘Run Amok,’ Adding Congress Is Partly to Blame”, by Carl Hulse and David D. Kirkpatrick, New York Times, April 8, 2005.

Senomyx: taking “artificial flavor” to a whole new level of fake

There is no denying that we enjoy the taste of food. We are biologically programmed to seek out food that is flavorful and fresh-tasting, and yes, sweet or salty or richly calorie-dense. Indeed, this is probably the main source of our modern collective battle with obesity, because only in modern history have most people (in this country at least) had the luxury of eating pretty much to their heart’s, or more accurately tongue’s, content.

From the Business Section of the New York Times (1) comes a report that the biotechnology company Senomyx has reverse-engineered the tongue’s flavor receptors so that “food” manufacturers can now use minute amounts of synthesized compounds to fool a tongue into thinking that what it is eating is saltier, sweeter, more “savory” or even, less bitter. This comes on the heels of the explosive introduction of Splenda, the organochlorine reduced-calorie sweetener compound deceptively marketed as sugar-like.*

Isn’t it time that we stop and think about what flavor is supposed to represent in the food that we eat? Biologically, flavor exists for the sole purpose of encouraging us to seek out and consume those things most useful to our continued existence as live organisms, and to avoid other things that threaten our lives and health. Bitterness, while not exclusive to harmful materials, is typical of toxic substances such as alkaloids that are best avoided.

It is clearly the “food” industry’s intention to sell products that cost as little as possible to make, and it is far cheaper to over-salt and over-sweeten processed “food” products than to make them flavorful with actual food ingredients. Campbell Soup Company sees Senomyx as a way to make their soups “healthier” by reducing the sodium content (which is currently through the roof), but a better option would be to make soups that taste good without the addition of all that salt (or fat, or sugar). It is possible, but requires costly food as the starting ingredient, apparently not a strategy of any interest to them, nor to the other partners in the Senomyx enterprise, Coca-Cola, Kraft Foods, and Nestlé.

Most interesting, and a clear indication of their pride in product, is the fact that “food” manufacturers do not even intend to include the addition of Senomyx flavor-drugs in their lists of ingredients:

“Instead, they will be lumped into a broad category - ‘artificial flavors’ - already found on most packaged food labels. ‘We’re helping companies clean up their labels,’ said Senomyx's chief executive, Kent Snyder.” (1)

Yes, I suppose that’s what’s most important to the consumers of such products: that their labels be “clean.” Bon appétit!

* If Splenda is to be considered sugar-like, then my Sudafed tablets must also be methamphetamine-like, because their reasoning is that Splenda is “made from sugar so it tastes like sugar,” implying a basic similarity. Proponents of Splenda also liken the addition of covalently-bonded chlorine atoms to the starting sugar molecule as being similar to the ionically-bonded chloride ions of table salt. This is a bald-faced lie, and any chemist or biologist making such a statement ought to find a new line of work, because they know it’s a lie, or they are professionally incompetent.

(1) “Food Companies Test Flavorings That Can Mimic Sugar, Salt or MSG,” by Melanie Warner, New York Times, April 6, 2005”

The real deal: the grandest theft ever perpetrated

Let me get this straight: President Bush says the IOU’s that continue to be paid for with my Social Security payroll withholding funds are entirely worthless, just a pile of paper. And yet, the payroll withholding continues along as if nothing has changed. In a civilized society, this would be called by its real names: intentional fraud and outright theft.

He cannot have it both ways. If the “assets” that are being purchased by currently-collected Social Security (that’s in excess of current payments to beneficiaries) are indeed as worthless as our President claims, then he is participating in a theft of the public payroll that is unprecedented in its size. If the withholding is not being used for its intended purpose, that is out-and-out fraud, and the perpetrators should be brought up on charges.

Adding insult to injury, it is clear that the extra funds generated by Social Security withholding, a regressive tax that places a hugely unequal burden on those earning less than $90,000, have been used to fund Bush’s tax cuts that are vastly skewed to favor the already-wealthy, in spite of the documented explosion in income inequality in this country. A reasonable person can only conclude that the intent is to return to the age of the oligarchy, when servants were cheap.

It is one thing to renege on promises made in the past; it is quite another to deliberately steal hard-earned money from millions of people, and if there is never any intent to repay what one borrows, it ceases to be borrowing and is instead just massive and unjustifiable larceny. We are witnessing, as victims, the greatest con game that has ever been run, and the lies just keep on coming. And they are demonstrable lies, since clearly, continuing to take the money for a stated purpose, when that purpose has been disavowed, cannot possibly be truthful, as the stated purpose and the stated intent are in direct opposition. Surely this qualifies as at least a “misdemeanor,” as in “high crimes and misdemeanors”!

“Shameless Photo-Op,” New York Times Editorial, April 7, 2005.

Friday, April 08, 2005

Another “grand plan” tossed into the dumper

Still no response from the Governor to my letter, but for the moment at least, promises made have not been abandoned:

“Governor gives up on overhaul of public pensions,” San Francisco Chronicle, April 8, 2005.