Thursday, December 30, 2010

Is Nothing Sacred? (Muslim Edition)

From Rising Hegemon.
The Kaaba is that tiny black flyspeck on the left.
Forgive me if I stop being interested when Muslims claim someone is disrespecting their faith. No one can be more disrespectful than the Saudi monarchs who have build the above monstrosity to dwarf and overshadow the Kaaba, the most sacred site in Islam.

They erected a shopping mall, hotel, and clock tower into the biggest fucking phallus in history. And they have placed it obscenely next to the sacred Mosque of Mecca.

I can't imagine any other religion doing something like this to their holiest site. A Starbucks at the Wailing Wall? A soccer stadium overlooking St. Peter's Basilica? A water slide park next to the temple complex at Varanasi?

I know what the Saudi princes were thinking - tourist cash from all those pilgrims (Think of the "I went to Mecca and all I got was this lousy t-shirt" sales.). Of course, they have made every image of Mecca from here forward into a bawdy joke.
Makes Allah look small, eh?
But, it's their religion, just don't expect any sympathy when people laugh.

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

If They Didn't Exist We'd Have to Invent Them

And they don't exist so we have. The United States government is heavily invested in creating the enemies it needs to fight.
I could go on but you get the point. It is the United States government that is keeping terrorism alive by its active participation in plotting and funding terror activities so they can heroically stop the plots. And, if the intended victims are brown skinned (Mumbai) then we let them go ahead because the Tree of Liberty must occasionally be watered with the blood of innocents.

And if we can throw in a little recreational war with Iran, well that would be fun too.

Monday, December 27, 2010

Football Weather

The Way It Was
In times past the NFL has played games in...
But, that was then and this is the new, 21st century NFL. Earlier this season a game was delayed for almost an hour because it was raining. Yesterday, a game was postponed for two days because it was snowing.

The modern definition of "football weather" is - sunny, not to warm but not too cold (i.e. daisy picking weather). Hell, a quarter of NFL teams play football indoors because of their abject fear of nature. Even those teams with outdoor fields have heating systems underneath the grass lest the players get cold tootsies.
The Way It Is Today

And, don't get me started on PGA golfers who have to stop playing if it's windy and get to pick up, clean, and carefully place their balls on top of the grass if the ground is a little moist.

    Thursday, December 23, 2010

    Half Dome

    Yosemite this morning. Winter wonderland. (Click the photo to get a better view.)

    Wednesday, December 22, 2010

    A Flood of Waters Upon the Earth

    God - I'm gonna make it rain for a thousand days and drown 'em right out.
    Noah - Right! Listen to this, you'll save water. Let it rain for 40 days and 40 nights and wait for the sewers back up.
    God - Right!
    Bill Cosby, Noah skit
    The Great Six Day Storm, California Edition (thus far)
    • 15 inches of snow at Mammoth Mountain
    • Over six inches of rain in Los Angeles
    • Nearly nine inches of rain in Sacramento
    Still to come is the center of the low pressure cell now located off  the Southern California coast. It is bringing with it thunderstorms capable of dropping over an inch of rain an hour.
     Yosemite from Sentinel Dome. Somewhere in the center of the picture, obscured by the falling snow, is Half Dome.

    Tuesday, December 21, 2010

    Credit Where Due

    Okay, maybe the President did have a plan that was so profoundly sly that I just couldn't see it.

    He got DADT, is getting START, seems to be getting movement on stalled judges, got the tax bill he wanted (even though I didn't), and has generally broken Republican obstructionism. By any measure this has been a successful lame duck session for him and all he had to give up was that insane tax cut for the extremely wealthy and gut future funding for Social Security.

    Monday, December 20, 2010

    The Donner Party

    Donner Lake, at dinner time.
    Since it is snowing in the Sierra Nevada Mountains, hard, now is a good time to discuss the famous Donner Party.

    In 1846, a half-dozen families numbering 32 people in all set off from Springfield, IL to seek their fortune in California. They were guided by a book written by some idiot named Hastings. That book recommended an "easy" route that neglected to mention crossing the Great Salt Lake Desert.
    If this is the easy way, let's go the hard way.
    By the time they had left Fort Bridger in Wyoming the party had more than doubled in size (Apparently, Hastings had written a best seller) and now numbered 87 men, women, and children.

    The lack of food and water, dying oxen, and a couple disease deaths had made the travelers a tad edgy. The first murder occurred at Iron Point, half way between Elko and Pyramid Lake...
    aka, the middle of nowhere
    when James Reed objected to a teamster whipping an ox by stabbing the teamster in the gut. Reed was exiled by the party but would return later in  the story.

    Two days later, Lewis Keseberg fired one of his teamsters. Everyone else refused to help the man and the entire party left him behind to die by the side of the trail (murder #2). Later, two men (Joseph Reinhardt and Augustus Spitzer) robbed and killed a third.

    While crossing the Sierra Nevada the Donner family had to stop to repair a broken wagon wheel. The rest of the party pressed on. By early November, the rest of the party, numbering 59, were snowed in at Donner Lake. The 22 members with the Donner family were snowbound six miles away.
    Donner Pass
    The snow was 30 feet deep. Cabins were built for warmth but there was no game for hunting. On November 29, the last of the oxen was butchered for food. After that they began eating twigs and bark. On December 15, Balis Williams was the first to starve to death. The first to be eaten was Patrick Dolan on Christmas Day.

    Fifteen people decided to leave the encampment and try to reach Sutter's Fort, 100 miles away. A month later, seven people staggered into the fort. The eight who died had been eaten by the survivors. At least two were murdered for food.

    With news that people were trapped in the mountains, rescue parties were formed. One of the leaders was James Reed, the man exiled in the desert had reached Sutter's Fort about the time the Donner Party had gotten snowed in.

    Georgia Ann Donner
    Back at the main camp the others had also begun to resort to cannibalism. Mothers feed their dead husbands to their children. Fathers ate daughters. It wasn't until April that the last of the Donner Party was rescued.

    In the end, 36 of the 80 people trapped died. Women did quite well, only eight died while 24 survived. There has been recent attempts to rewrite history and claim that no cannibalism took place. But this is a story where contemporary accounts including diaries written by party members should carry more weight than what bone diggers failed to find.

    Sources: Donner Party list of members
    Survivors and casualties of the Donner Party
    1847 newspaper account
    The story of Lewis Keseberg
    Legends of America
    The Donner Expedition (pub. 1911, Project Gutenberg)
    Daniel Rosen's website on the Donner Party

    Sunday, December 19, 2010

    Origins of Christmas

    Christmas is the most pagan of so-called Christian holy days.

    Dec. 25 Origin
    Nowhere in the Bible is December 25 even hinted at, or any other day for that matter. Some people point out that "shepherds abiding in the fields" would have been a stupid thing to do in the dead of winter.

    That date, however, is within the Roman Saturnalia holiday. This Winter Solstice carnival was wildly popular (emphasis on wild) in ancient Rome, lots of feasting, flirting, and drinking alcohol (your average Christmas party). As the new religion took root in the Roman Empire it made sense to merge the birthday of their God with the birthday of a new year. Early American Puritans were so disgusted by the pagan origins that they banned celebrating Christmas.

    Gift Giving
    Christians point to the Three Magi. Fair enough. But next to the boozing, gift giving was a major part of the Saturnalia celebrations.

    Christmas Trees
    This tradition comes from Germany but this is another case of Christianity absorbing a much older pagan tradition. It was a common practice during the winter, especially in pre-Christian Northern Europe, to bring evergreen boughs into homes to provide some signs of life in that dead time.

    Germans mercenaries brought the Christmas tree to America during the Revolutionary War. The Christmas tree arrived in England in the 19th century, brought in by their Germanic queen, Victoria.

    Santa Claus
    Father Christmas, Kris Kringle, Saint Nick, in Dutch Sinterklaas.

    Saint Nikolas was a Greek monk of the Fourth century and is the patron saint of both Greece and Russia. One of his famous acts was uncovering a butcher who was killing children, curing them in a barrel, and selling the meat as pork (think Sweeney Todd). His gift giving occasion was once throwing coin purses through a window so a hungry man wouldn't have to pimp out his daughters.

    Odin, the Traveler
    The magical old elf with a long white beard living in the icy north, traveling the world in a single night, with reindeer is mostly an image of the Norse God Odin. In fact, when we venerate Santa Claus we are really worshiping the god of the Vikings.

    The Santa Claus we picture was created by American illustrator Thomas Nast in the 19th century.

    Friday, December 17, 2010

    The Beltway Is Different From the Rest of Us

    And the rest of the US. This (and the other map Digby has) is very telling.
    click to view
    There is a reason why the Great Recession, Mini-Depression, whatever you want to call it, gets little notice and even less concern in Washington. It never touched them.

    The professional political class lives in a different world than the rest of us and they really can't understand what all the fuss is about among the rabble. The world they live in is rich and prosperous.

    Where they live a six figure income is barely above the poverty line. Where they live the malls are always busy, the little tots are all well fed, and health care is as available and affordable as ice cream. The pain in the rest of the country is quite literally beyond their ability to believe.

    What is striking to me is how much worse off the Deep South and Midwest are than my little corner of California. Compared to what they are experiencing I am living in a slice of heaven.

    Insurance Scam

    But not Katy Perry
    I would so have fallen for this. A bone marrow registry in New England hired a brace of sexy, blue-haired models to troll malls and seduce young men to into giving a DNA swab. Each horny donor's insurance company was then charged $4,300 for the procedure.

    It's a brilliant scam. Although, for four grand you'd think the guys would get more than a Q-tip in the cheek.

    This scam really opens up a whole new avenue for procuring body part donations. What red-blooded American male wouldn't give up a kidney for a night with Angelina Jolie?
    A lung gets Natalie Portman

    Thursday, December 16, 2010

    Short Takes

    Dysfunctional Senate
    The United States Senate has become the arch-typical dysfunctional family. There is abuse (holding the unemployed hostage), destructive addiction (to insane tax policies), chronic lying (need examples?), and even the weak-willed enabler (Harry Reid).

    Original Construction
    Freedom of the Press did not just apply to mainstream loyalist newspapers but to anyone who wanted to print a seditious pamphlet (Thomas Paine). The internet is just another form of printing press. Freedom of Speech today doesn't just apply to the paid pundits on radio and TV but anybody who wants to stand on a street corner. The First Amendment totally applies to Assange.

    A Spy is a Spy and He Ain't
    On a scale of one to ten where Sidney Reilly is ten, the Rosenbergs are five, and Anna Chapman is a one, Assange doesn't register. We are not talking about nuclear secrets or troop movements. We are not even talking about the Pentagon Papers. The State Department cables were just catty gossip and not even very revealing gossip. It is hardly a threat to national security to show that ambassadors are just like teenage girls at a slumber party. If embarrassing the government is a crime than half the US Senate should be in prison.

    Tuesday, December 14, 2010

    Judicial Corruption

    So, a Republican judge has ruled Health Care Reform unconstitutional. Of course, the judge in the case also owns a lobbying firm employed to overturn Health Care Reform. The judge's ruling was simply good business.

    Pay-to-Play is how the American judicial system works nowadays. From the open hand policy of Antonin Scalia, to the million dollar buys of West Virginia judges, to lowly justices of the peace it seems all judges have their fingers in the pot.

    Impartially interpreting the law without fear of favor? Come on, how naive can you get. Being a judge nowadays can be a gold mine.

    They don't even work hard at being corrupt. Their lazy-assed rulings don't even pass the sniff test. They don't care as long as they get paid.

    Monday, December 13, 2010

    Maybe Da Vinci Wasn't As Talented As We Thought

    Art historians are all agog about the discovery of enigmatic numbers hidden in the eyes of the Mona Lisa.  They think they might have found some secret code. Or,
    perhaps Leonardo was just a paint-by-numbers guy.

    Sunday, December 12, 2010

    Obama and the End of Social Security

    I'm wondering if the Obama-Republican tax plan is the first tolling of the death knell of Social Security.

    The plan cuts the payroll tax, temporarily, by one-third. All well and good except Republicans have been very clear they intend make the one year "tax holiday" permanent.

    Currently, payments into the Social Security Trust Fund are split, half from the employee and half from the employer. This breaks that balance and it won't take long before the Republicans in Congress to start complaining that imbalance is unfair to small businesses (like Exxon-Mobil). The next step will be to cut the employer tax as well.

    So, we have now cut Social Security income by one-third and there are four options.
    1. Do nothing and the Trust Fund will be exhausted in eight to ten years. 
    2. Replace the lost funds from general revenue, which makes it a zero-sum game where other taxes are raised so the Social Security tax can be cut (And does anyone believe Republicans will sit still for that?)
    3. Borrow money to fill the gap. Except we are trying to cut the deficit, not balloon it so, really, we are back to #2 above.
    4. Cut Social Security payments by one-third. Actually that would be more like 40% when all shortfalls are considered.
    The Obama Compromise is worse than the Bush Privatization Plan. The Bush plan boiled down to a government sponsored  401(k). The Obama Compromise simply slowly starves Social Security.

    They say that only an anti-Communist like Richard Nixon could have opened the door to Red China. Perhaps, only a Democrat could accomplish that long sought Republican goal of ending the Social Security program.

    Saturday, December 11, 2010

    Monuments to the Rich

    Bernie Goldberg wants to build, at taxpayers expense I'm sure, a monument in Washington DC to The Rich.

    Monument to the Obscene Rich, Idea #1
    Bernie wants to build it out of granite and bronze, which is exactly the wrong material to honor the sacrifices of people who use gold toilets.

    Of course, the wealthy have been building monuments to themselves for quite some time. So, perhaps we can just move one to DC.
    Socialist California doesn't deserve the Hearst Castle.
    When Tyco's CEO held a multi-million dollar birthday bash for his wife (at company expense because rich people never pay for shit themselves) it included an ice sculpture with vodka flowing from the sculpture's penis. So, perhaps, something to illustrate their inflated egos.
    Amsterdam's penis fountain would fit perfectly in DC.
    Perhaps something classical would be more fitting. And we could save money by using an existing pool.
    It could replace the Lincoln Memorial.
    The important thing to remember is that the rich built this nation on the sweat of, well regular people did all the actual sweating. And the common folk did the dying too, in the fields and the coal mines and the factories.
    And the oil rigs.
    But the unsung rich people with their polo ponies and country clubs have been too long victimized in our culture. It's time we Americans give the rich with their mortgage fraud and credit default swaps what they so richly deserve. 
    An island home.

    Friday, December 10, 2010

    Thoughts Upon Grooming a Neglected Patch of Garden

    Did you ever think that digging up bermuda grass by hand is a lot like pulling up an irrigation system, by hand? Except if you leave behind a stray patch of pipe it won't grow back into a new irrigation system over the summer.

    Thursday, December 09, 2010

    Obama and the Bully Pulpit

    The truth is I could probably defend the Obama tax cut compromise. I think it gives up too much for too little, but I could make a case for it if I wanted to. The question here is, why can't President Obama?

    When President Obama was sworn in it was generally accepted that he was a master orator, on par with FDR, JFK, and Reagan. While there have been a few signs of that skill he has basically been a failure at one of the most important jobs a President has, selling his agenda.

    Tax plan, to Democrats.
    Take that tax cut compromise. It was dropped, plop, like a dead fish, at the feet of Democrats with no preparation, no pre-release salesmanship. When it was met with disgust, Obama held a quick presser. While he made a good case in the press conference he undermined it by getting snippy and defensive. He came off like a salesman insulting customers who question the price of his widgets.

    Obama made a similar mistake with health care reform. He was oddly quiet while Republicans defined the conditions of the debate (Death Panels). In July, the climate change bill was dying due to inattention when he vowed to fight for it. He never mentioned the subject again.

    President Obama has never used the bully pulpit of the presidency to set and sell his agenda. Some say its because Obama is afraid to fight. Others say he has lost the convictions that caused him to run for office. Or, perhaps, he is so determined to be liked by those who hate him he is ignoring the people who love him.

    Whatever the reason, his empty pulpit has hurt Obama, Democrats, and the nation in uncountable ways.
    Art source.

    Wednesday, December 08, 2010

    Obama Almost Lying About Tax Cuts for the Rich

    Saying one thing to our face and quite another behind our backs.
    Because the fact of the matter is, the American people already agree with me. There are polls showing right now that the American people for the most part think it's a bad idea to provide tax cuts to the wealthy. ~ Pres. Obama during his press conference 12/7/2010
    This Bloomberg poll is the kind thing Obama was refering to, where 60% of Americans polled oppose granting tax cuts to the rich.

    To Congressional Democrats Pres. Obama is saying something complete different. To them he is using another (Gallup) poll that doesn't use the word "wealthy" to push the argument that the public supports tax cuts for the rich.

    The President isn't quite lying. But he is speaking with a forked tongue.

    Sunday, December 05, 2010

    Five Things to Be Thankful For

    This holiday season.
    1. Barack Obama is President. Not that I think he has been much of a much in the job but the alternative was John McCain and Sarah Palin. The world would have been much worse off with that Mad Hatter and March Hare in the White House.
    2. Wikileaks. Not because any of their leaks have been very newsy but because they have tweaked the noses of the Powers That Be. Tweaked them so hard TPTB are throwing a two year-old's tantrum.
    3. That I own a Nook instead of a Kindle. It makes it easier to boycott Amazon's entry into the censorship business. Besides, I couldn't trust Amazon wouldn't edit their ebooks of political content they object to.
    4. Nancy Pelosi and Alan Grayson. Because they are Democrats who are not afraid to be Democrats.
    5. That I don't have San Diego Padres season tickets. Now that they on another one of their "let's build the cheapest, worst team in major league history" kicks.

    Saturday, December 04, 2010

    Big Brother is Threatening You

    If the Bush/Cheney Administration was issuing these kind of threats to innocent American citizens (here and here) we would be outraged at the attack against basic American freedoms.

    That it is Obama/Biden makes it no less outrageous.
    • What is the point of all of this? To destroy a man who seeks the truth or to destroy the truth so no man can seek it? Either way, you lose. ~ X-Files
    Other appropriate quotes.
    • There is not a truth existing which I fear... or would wish unknown to the whole world.  ~ Thomas Jefferson
    • The greatest enemy to fear is truth. ~ Steve Maraboli
    • Do not fear truth, only fear those who keep the truth from you. ~ Malcolm Burns 

    The Real Wikileaks Crime Was Threatening BofA

    Has anyone noticed that it wasn't until Wikileaks threatened to expose Bank of America that the world governments united in full search and destroy mode for Julian Assange?
    But, Sure, there was a lame CIA smear that will never stand up in court. But, it was only after Assange announced that his next big data dump was going to reveal Bank of America's inner workings that the manhunt began.

    The search for Osama Bin Laden never reached the global efforts to capture Assange. The worldwide effort to silence Wikileaks exceeds everything ever done to shutdown al Qaeda's extensive cyberspace presence.

    The World War against Julian Assange is frightening but it only happened after Bank of America was threatened. What we can assume is that BofA has more dangerous secrets to hide than the US government.

    Friday, December 03, 2010

    Depression Then and Now

    Homeless Americans
    Hoovervilles. (Seattle ca. 1930)
    Tent Cities in America (Sacramento, 2009). The difference between then and now is that today police forcibly disperse such gatherings of the homeless. They give a bad civic image.
    Then - "I see one-third of a nation ill-housed, ill-clad, ill-nourished.... The test of our progress is not whether we add more to the abundance of those who have much; it is whether we provide enough for those who have too little." ~ Franklin Roosevelt, 1937
    Nipomo, California 1936. One of a famous series of photos by Dorothea Lange.
    Now - One in seven Americans lived in poverty last year. Ten poverty statistics not to ignore. Children in a Fort Worth homeless shelter, 2009.
    The American Legion Employment Bureau, Los Angeles ca. 1930.
    Indiana hires armed security guards for 36 unemployment offices around the state. Grand Rapids, Michigan unemployment office, 2009.
    Racism in America
    Leland, Mississippi, 1937
    Anti-mosque protest, New York City 2010
    The current economic depression began in the year 2000 when the dotcom bubble burst. Each subsequent event - 9/11, the housing bubble of 2006, the financial crisis of 2007, the 2008 stock market panic, the employment crash, the ongoing banking crisis - have been a series of dominoes falling. Historians will look back at this as a single event encompassing multiple decades.

    A photo essay on the Great Depression
    The Great Depression, Causes and Cures
    What a Modern Depression Looks Like

    Wednesday, December 01, 2010

    Lesson from the Obama Administration

    I may be missing it. Perhaps the President has a strategy that is so profoundly sly that I just can't see it. At least I'm not alone.

    The lesson: While the meek may well inherit the Earth, before they do they will be kicked around like a redheaded stepchild by congressional Republicans.

    DADT, Combat Soldiers, and Sexual Sadism

    Talk about moving goalposts. First we were told that society is not ready for gays serving opening in the military. Except society at large doesn't care. Then, we were told that it is the opinion of the rank and file military itself that matters. Except the military doesn't care either.

    Now, we are told that the only opinion that matters is what combat soldiers think. Not all soldiers, because all soldiers don't have a problem with gays. No, only that small, special caste of combat soldiers. Yet that special caste is probably that last people we should ask about issues of morality.

    Combat Soldiers Are Responsible for Most US War Zone Atrocities
    Fallujah. Haditha. The gang rape of a 14 year-old girl in Mahmudiyah. Army Sgt. Calvin Gibbs who recorded his civilian kills on his flesh with tattoos. Take a look at this list of Iraq War atrocities. In Afghanistan we have combat Marines shooting civilians in Shinwar. The list is nearly endless.

    Rape in (and out of) Combat
    Here are some graphic photos of American combat soldiers raping Iraqi women. The habit of combat Marines stationed in Okinawa have of raping local school girls is well documented. Combat soldiers even rape other soldiers, a third of a women soldiers are raped by their own colleagues. Sometimes they rape and kill women soldiers.

    That flat out sexual sadism endemic within the combat arm of the American military makes them unqualified to pass moral judgment on anybody else.

    I don't mean to suggest that all combat soldiers are sadistic rapists, nor are all sadistic rapists combat soldiers. But it is true that if you want to find a profession rapists are common and sadism is tolerated if not encourage you need only seek the combat arms of the United States military. Hoorah.