Saturday, April 29, 2006

Once a soldier, always a soldier?

It looks like the retired generals’ outspoken criticism, of President Bush and Secretary of Defense Rumsfeld and the bungled mess we call the war in Iraq, has touched a nerve, leading Rumsfeld to haul out the big guns…

According to Jeff Huber at Pen and Sword, as of April 18, 2006 (emphasis added):
“[The] life of every American citizen who retired honorably from the United States military is under the direct control of one Donald H. Rumsfeld

“[If] the Department of Defense finds retirees it wants to shut up, all it has to do is call them back to active duty [because once] retirees are back on active duty, they come under the Uniform Code of Military Justice and their constitutional rights—including the right to freedom of speech—are essentially stripped from them…

“[And, if] retirees resist a call back to active duty, they'll be in violation of federal law and subject to criminal prosecution either under the UCMJ or civilian law. This would likely lead to, at the very least, loss of all retirement pay and benefits.”

This is simply breathtaking. Does this mean that once a recruit signs up once, they’ll be subject to such orders forever? Is this made clear to new recruits? Is this the sort of “repayment” that we as a country choose to use as a “reward” to those who’ve risked their lives to protect our nation? Of what use is freedom of speech if it can be yanked so easily, and can speech be free if there is such a threat hanging endlessly over a person’s head?

My head is still spinning over the ramifications of this order. What next?

Thursday, April 27, 2006

A colleague’s lunch

(scanned image of container, not the product)

The other day my idle curiosity drove me to read the ingredients on the packaging for a “Lean Cuisine” entrée that found its way into my work area.

Mostly, I just wanted to see how near the top of the list I would find high-fructose corn syrup, which has wormed its way into nearly every processed food available, including, amazingly enough, even Noah’s bagels, which ought to bar them from calling them bagels, but on to the topic at hand...

I was encouraged to see that “cooked chicken breast meat” was the second ingredient, but then I was stunned to discover that what first looked like a single ingredient was actually a concoction of no fewer than 11 other ingredients (and 14 additional sub-ingredients).

And, in a Zen koan-like manner, the first ingredient of chicken breast meat is … chicken breast meat, which presumably contains more … chicken breast meat ad infinitum (or, nauseum) …

Leaving aside the other product components, the package of Stouffer’s Lean Cuisine “grilled chicken with teriyaki glaze” lists the ingredients of the “cooked chicken breast meat” itself as:
• chicken breast meat
• water
• modified food starch
• soy protein isolate
• high-fructose corn syrup
• canola oil
• chicken flavor [yeast extract, salt, soy sauce (soybeans, wheat, salt), sugar, maltodextrin, dried chicken flavor, sesame oil, dried chicken broth, thiamine hydrochloride, lactic acid, citric acid, chicken fat]
• sodium phosphates
• maltodextrin
• spice
• caramel color

How is it possible that the phrase “chicken breast meat” can mean both chicken breast meat and NOT chicken breast meat? How can readers make sense of it when there are two completely different uses of the phrase, right next to each other? Has “chicken breast meat” been made an adjective when I wasn’t paying attention? This is insulting to both chickens and those who eat them, and is a misuse of the language as well.

Sunday, April 23, 2006


Representative Karen A. Yarbrough (D, 7th District, Illinois General Assembly) has filed Illinois HJR0125 calling for the impeachment of Bush to begin.

This is based upon Jefferson Manual Section LIII, 2469 (pdf): “In the House there are various methods of setting an impeachment in motion: ... by charges transmitted from the legislature of a State...”

OK, now what about the other states? Why not a landslide of similar action in ALL the legislatures? Now that the method has beeen demonstrated, there is no excuse for sitting on their hands.

Saturday, April 22, 2006

Doomsday Clock needs resetting…

It’s time to move those hands forward because the world is now a much more dangerous place than it was in early 2002. Is someone asleep at the switch?

Or, maybe the Board of Directors at the Bulletin of Atomic Scientists simply can’t fathom the possibility of something so ludicrous as a pre-emptive nuclear strike being launched by Americans. Yes, the unthinkable has become thinkable, in some circles at least, with U.S. planning scenarios including B61-11 bunker-buster tactical nuclear bombs.

John W. Dean, writes in “If Past Is Prologue, George Bush Is Becoming An Increasingly Dangerous President” that a probable upcoming “October Surprise” is likely to involve Iran:

“If anyone doubts that Bush, Cheney, Rove and their confidants are planning an ‘October Surprise’ to prevent the Republicans from losing control of Congress, then he or she has not been observing this presidency very closely. [...]

“How risky will it be? Bush is a whatever-it-takes risk-taker, the consequences be damned.

“One possibility is that Dick Cheney will resign as Vice President for “health reasons,” and become a senior counselor to the president. [...]

“But more likely, Bush may mount a unilateral attack on Iran’s nuclear facilities - hoping to rev up his popularity. [...]

“If there is no ‘October Surprise,’ I would be shocked. And if it is not a high-risk undertaking, it would be a first. Without such a gambit, and the public always falls for them, Bush is going to lose control of Congress. [...]

“There is, however, the possibility of another terrorist attack, and if one occurred, Americans would again rally around the president - wrongly so, since this is a presidency that lives on fear-mongering about terror, but does little to truly address it. The possibility that we might both suffer an attack, and see a boost to Bush come from it, is truly a terrifying thought.”

The Administration has already made it clear that they view nuclear bunker-busting bombs as the most feasible way to attack Iran's underground nuclear facilities.

Pre-emptive use of made-in-USA nuclear weapons—the mind boggles.

Sweet dreams...

Friday, April 21, 2006

A week for images

This week has been rather overwhelming in terms of all things news-like, but I have found various images that seem to concisely sum things up for me. So rather than rattle on at length about all that I find absurd, or horrifying, illogical, immoral, or confusing, I decided to simply share a series of images that seem relevant at the moment...

This image provides the clearest illustration I’ve seen of how Bush’s tax cuts work:

Life in Baghdad this month:

Although most of us are ready for a change:

Meanwhile, we all hold our breath as sabers rattle:

When all we need is a bit of perspective:

But, there is one thing that would help:

Gas is expensive. So?

Tune to any news program today and within five minutes there will be a report on “skyrocketing” gasoline prices, with dark hints of nefarious plots and other malfeasances contrived by oil execs and refiners.

Coincidentally, New York Times just published a most interesting graphic:

This led me to search out some additional stats on gasoline consumption....

“The state [of California] has seen $3 gas twice before: in September [2005], when prices peaked at $3.06, and in 1981, when they touched $3.08, when adjusted for inflation.” (emphasis added)

How did we respond 25 years ago, when gasoline’s cost (in today’s dollars) rose to what it is today? It appears that this triggered some intensified efforts to improve fuel economy:

The bigger question is: why did we stop working to improve mpg? In the intervening 25 years, there have always been high-mpg vehicles available: my 8-year-old Honda gets nearly 40 mpg (almost twice the prevailing average), as just one example.

It seems obvious that once gasoline prices dropped, consumers were more interested in increasing the size and horsepower of their vehicles than in reducing their consumption of a polluting and finite resource.

In some states more than others, apparently. Perhaps these price pressures will have the silver lining of changing people’s irresponsible profligacy....

Sunday, April 09, 2006

“Guest workers” or internal outsourcing?

The Bush proposal of creating a “guest worker” category to supplant the “illegal” status of undocumented workers may seem to some to be a reasonable solution to the problem of illegal immigration. But as with so many things, one needs to look beyond the obvious, and ask “and then what?”

The current situation has arisen for one reason and one reason only: our government is unwilling to enforce already-existing laws targeted toward employers. It is already illegal to hire undocumented workers, and if they were not being hired, they would not have risked their lives to come here by the millions. Why aren’t these laws being enforced?

Whenever laws are on the books but enforcement is lax, the potential for selective enforcement exists, always a hazard in a free society. If we choose not to enforce these laws, they should be repealed.

The greater question is: why are these laws not being enforced, and the answer to that is obvious. There is great profit to be made in persisting with illegal hiring practices. The undocumented workers are cheaper, and far more malleable. They don’t complain about unsafe working conditions, or sub-legal wages, and they don’t demand overtime, or assert their rights, because if they do, they know they can be reported to the authorities.

Apologists for these law-breaking employers claim that they have no choice, that there are no Americans “willing” to do the jobs filled by the undocumented, but this is only half-true, and by being half-true it’s actually a lie. Americans are “willing” to do the jobs, but not at the wages and working conditions being offered to the undocumented workers, a huge distinction.

Yes, it’s true: American workers demand to be paid a fair wage, and are far more likely to assert their legal rights, to overtime pay, safe working conditions, and to collective bargaining. American workers have other marketplace choices available, and won’t choose to do backbreaking labor at substandard wages, but it does not follow that the only alternative is to bring in illegal workers. The employer still has the option of paying market wages, sufficient to attract American workers to the job.

A large segment of the illegal employment market is in construction, where the employer has the choice of hiring union workers, or much cheaper undocumented workers. The fact that an employer prefers not to pay union wages does not excuse their illegal hiring practices.

If Bush’s “guest worker” program is implemented, things will only get worse. This would allow active importation of cheap labor from all over the world, in complete disregard for living standards of American workers. It would also create a class similar to indentured servitude, because these “guest workers” would be beholden to their employers for their guest worker status, and could be shipped home at will by the employer.

If one only examines the Bush policies, it’s hard to draw any other conclusion but that the intent is to destroy any semblance of a middle class in this country. A guest worker program would greatly hasten that destruction, and there seems to be no other explanation for even contemplating such a program. At some point, the question needs to be asked: what is the purpose of our laws and our system of government, if not to allow most of the people in this country to live decently? What is the purpose of our economy if not to serve the people?

When outsourcing of jobs began, under the ruse of “free trade,” its critics labeled it a “race to the bottom,” and it appears that the race has arrived stateside. The livelihoods of all who work for a living in this country are at risk, because worldwide, there are billions who are eagerly waiting to take your jobs, at a tiny fraction of your cost. Do not delude yourself that you won’t be touched by this trend, because there is not a single job in this country that cannot be done just as well by an underpaid “guest worker.”

Saturday, April 01, 2006

This latest representation of the origin of the universe . . . .

reminds me of nothing so much as a high-speed photo of . . . .