Forgotten

31 05 2010

It is the last day of spring here in the US, which means parties, barbecues, a day off from work, visits from friends and family, and lots of “sales events” bedecked with red, white, and blue trim. This is all well and good, but take a moment amid your merrymaking and remember those who can’t be present for the parties. Those same people whose sacrifices made it possible for you to have the freedom to enjoy those parties and sales.

Make sure you spend at least a moment to honor the fallen to whom you owe so much. Lift a glass to the memory of those who fought and died so you could enjoy those barbecues, and remember that some of those who died for your freedom spoke a different language or wore a different uniform.

Remember the thousands of French soldiers and sailors who gave their all so the US could win its freedom from Great Britain. Remember the hundreds of thousands of Filipinos who died fighting the Japanese tooth and nail with no support. Remember the Russian peasants who died in their millions to bleed the Nazis white. Remember the Marines at Guadalcanal and the soldiers at Wake and the thousands of Australians who drove Imperial Japan out of the mountains of New Guinea at the point of a bayonet. Remember the Arabs who fought the Turks armed with little more than steel and courage in the deserts during World War One. Remember the British airmen who kept the Hun at bay so the United Kingdom could survive to grind the Nazis into the deserts of North Africa. Remember the Gurkhas who stormed the heights at Casino, and the Anzacs who died at Gallipoli. Remember the Canadians who stormed ashore at Normandy and suffered 50% casualties in the first wave. Remember the sailors aboard Bonhomme Richard who fought Serapis until the decks ran red with blood. Remember the thousands of Chinese who fought hopeless battles against Japan to buy us time to strangle Japan at sea. Remember the hundreds of Australian coast watchers who died so the Allied navies could know exactly where the Japanese were running their ships. Remember the British  sailors onboard HMS Hood.

All of those men and women, most of whom were not even Americans, died so that you can enjoy a beer and a barbecue in peace today. The very least you can do is remember them.

Current status: Somber

Current music: 1901 by Phoenix

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Random Bits

23 05 2010

Yet another extended failure to post. As is my custom in such instances,  I will now post a few odds and ends in lieu of making a more coherent narrative on a single topic. Lack of coherence, thy name is Archvillain.

THAILAND

This story has never received a lot of attention here in the US- or the western world in general, for that matter. There are several explanations for this, from media incompetence to thinly-veiled public disinterest in the affairs of “brown people”. I happened to run across a blog by someone actually on the ground in Thailand, who does a very good job of analyzing and explaining the “troubles” over there. Please read this blog.

I’m conflicted. The current government is technically illegitimate, because it came into being in the aftermath of a military coup. On the other hand, the current government is far less corrupt than any previous Thai government, and was democratically elected. The US has dealt with similar governments in other countries, some of which were much worse, in the past. Since it isn’t my country, I’m going to leave it to the Thais to work out. The fact the people like S.P. Somtow are involved gives me hope that things will turn out better than they are.

THE WAR ON DOGS

Apparently, the police in this country can’t spell. They’re supposed to be fighting the “war on drugs”, but they seem to have morphed that into the “war on dogs”. Here are a few links to show you what I’m on about.

Note that these are all fairly recent acts. Couple these events with the tendency of police to completely screw up the relatively simple matter of getting the right address when serving warrants, and every dog owner in the country should be getting on the phone to his local, state, and federal legislators to stop the carnage. Too many innocent people, nonviolent offenders, and even cops are getting killed as a result of this idiotic “war on drugs”- to say nothing of the wanton butchery of family pets. Politicians are fond of claiming that you have nothing to fear if you’ve done nothing wrong. This turns out to be a heaping pile of bullshit, like most political claims.

Just ask yourself how you would feel if the police raided your home by mistake and shot your dogs to death.

CHAIN LETTERS

Back in the days before email (yes. I AM that old. Get off my lawn!), people used to get letters in the mail claiming a wide variety of really unlikely things and urging the recipient to pass the letter on. This practice was swiftly and easily adapted to email, and now these bits of nonsense are roaming around the web, infesting in-boxes with their drivel (and occasionally with malware). The only reason this continues is because people are invariably stupid enough to believe the lies and distortions of truth without checking into the matter.

Case in point: I received one of these nonsensical emails from a friend of mine. Never mind what it was about, I could tell right away it had the disagreeable odor of bullshit about it. So I spent a grand total of five minutes doing a little online research. The only sources for the “information” in the email were all deeply whackjob “newspapers”- the same ones which claim that aliens from outer space are impregnating our women, for one ludicrous example. Next, I did a little Google searching for the facts underlying the story. I found lots of information from a variety of sources- both in and outside the US- which directly contradicted the fearmongering in the email. I forwarded this research to my friend, with a gentle reminder to do some fact-checking before becoming outraged.

As consumers of information, it is our responsibility to do our own fact-checking. Find out the sources of the information and do a little digging of your own. You’ll be a lot better informed, and will also develop skills which are universally useful.

TAKES-ASS

Whoo boy. I lived in Texas for several years. Despite the greyhound-size  mosquitoes, the debilitating heat and humidity, and the presence of herds of obstreperous christian zealots, I rather liked the place.

As I’ve previously discussed, Texas is one of the country’s largest purchasers of school textbooks (only California is larger). This gives Texas an inordinate amount of influence over what textbook publishers put into their products. That influence is even greater this year, because California’s budget apocalypse prevents that state from buying textbooks for several years. This means that whatever standards Texas sets for textbook purchases are likely to be adopted by publishers- who are understandably unwilling to print a different textbook for every state.

Enter the Texas Board of Education, a nominally independent group who determines the educational standards for all textbooks purchased in Texas. Since few people pay much attention to the actions of this group, the Governor and his religious cronies have managed to pack the Board with christian supremacists. Here is the result.

Ignoring the recommendations of experts, professional educators from far and wide, and any trace of objectivity, the religious fuckwits on the Board have decided to re-write history on their own terms. Gone is any notion that the Founders were adamantly opposed to mixing religion and politics. Thomas Jefferson is all but redacted. The existence of slavery in this country is being de-emphasized. Worst of all, gone is the fact that a majority of the Texas patriots who fought Mexico for Texan independence were Mexicans themselves.

Thankfully, the people of Texas (who aren’t all religious zealots with axes to grind) have become so alarmed at the rabid fanaticism of the current Board that many of them have been invited to go away and not return. Unfortunately, the damage will have been done by the time the new Board is seated.

Here’s an idea for the publishers: Make standards textbook templates and post them online. States can purchase these boilerplate textbooks as needed, with whatever local modifications they choose. Publishers will no longer have to juggle the competing standards of various special-interest groups, and states won’t be subject to the religious hypocrisy of a small group of fanatics. Everyone wins.

Except the students in Texas, of course. They’ll find out the hard way that their public education diplomas are literally worth less than the paper they’re printed on.

Current status: Vexed

Current music: Come Dancing by the Kinks





I Hate This So Much!

5 05 2010

Didn’t we used to have a Fourth Amendment in this country? Watch this and weep.

A SWAT unit in Missouri executed a warrant on a known drug offender. During the course of the raid, at least one officer decided that the family Corgis were dire threats. In the video, you can hear the dogs bark a bit when the cops burst in, followed by shots. You hear the wounded dogs whimpering, followed by more shots to finish them off. Let us not forget that these actions took place right in front of the seven-year-old child living in the house.

This is the vicious breed of dog those brave policemen were protecting the public from. After the raid, the cops triumphantly produced a small baggie containing marijuana … a misdemeanor quantity of marijuana. They also claimed that the parents were guilty of child endangerment, because the parents were responsible for the brutal police raid which netted enough pot to make maybe three blunts. Maybe I’m reading this wrong, but staging a paramilitary raid on someone’s home in search of a few grams of pot probably wasn’t the idea of the target of the raid, nor was the execution of the family pets. By the way, when did the Police declare war on dogs?

This is the end result of the War on Drugs: police units armed and equipped like the military conducting raids on occupied homes (usually in the wee hours of the morning) with extreme prejudice. Hundreds of these paramilitary operations happen every year, and they’ve been leaving a trail of innocent bodies behind them for decades. Worst of all, they’ve been conducting these home invasions/executions in our name.

I don’t smoke grass, and honestly don’t care whether or not someone out there might be smoking pot, so long as they don’t endanger others by doing so. Most of the time, the only danger from marijuana use is the very real possibility that your home will be specially chosen by the police for a paramilitary raid. When the actions taken to “protect the public” from drugs are actually far more dangerous to the public than any drug ever discovered, I’d say that we’ve gone far afield from whatever tenuous “public good” justification may have ever existed for the “war on drugs”.

We, the People, need to put an end to this stupid, wasteful, and wholly ineffective “war on drugs”. Because of the “war on drugs”, the police have been gaining more and more authority over the citizens they supposedly serve, and our rights guaranteed in the US Constitution have been getting steadily eroded. How many more innocent people will die during botched raids? How many more police officers will be killed by citizens reacting to what they think is a home invasion by criminals (the same criminals who have taken to wearing police logos and shouting “police” during their criminal activities)? How would you like to watch your family pets get slaughtered by trigger-happy cops under the “he’s headin’ right for us!” justification? How many more body bags will get filled before we, the People, put an end to this monstrously stupid policy?

Why do we, the People, put up with this bullshit?

Current status: Disgusted

Current music: In the Doghouse by Slade





A Plethora of Pinheads

4 05 2010

Let us examine the Great American Pinhead (craniorectal-inversionus northamericanus). This odious creature has the outward appearance of a stable, adult homo sapiens of either gender, and is found in dense herds wandering the countryside and (especially) on internet forums.

Case in point: A laughably poor attempt to firebomb Times Square in New York City fails due to industrial-strength ineptitude and a lack of understanding of basic chemistry. The would-be bomber is obviously a pinhead in his own right, but the weapons-grade pinheads emerged on internet forums and chat rooms over the next couple of days. Those on the Left were practically wetting themselves in public, crowing that the failed bomber had to be a teabagger. All manner of spurious justifications for this theory were advanced, but- in reality- the leftish pinheads were desperately praying that someone associated with the tea party movements was responsible. They were more interested in fixing blame on their political rivals than in discovering the truth. When that truth finally emerged, the leftish pinheads pouted and sulked and said, in so many words, how much they really wanted it to be a teabagger.

Those on the right weathered the storm of criticisms from their political rivals until the police caught the Failbomber- who turned out to be a Pakistani-born muslim who was a naturalized US citizen. The rightish pinheads immediately began their usual frothing at the mouth about Islam supposedly being the root of all evils (isn’t money supposed to be the root of all evil?), and getting further incensed at the fact that the arrested Failbomber was given the benefit of the rights and privileges afforded all Americans, including- gasp!– being read his rights. Republican politicians began shrieking about stripping the Failbomber of his citizenship (and by extension, his rights to due process), completely forgetting not only what little sense they had ever possessed, but also their tiny store of knowledge about Constitutional law. Allow me to remind you, dear reader, that most politicians are lawyers. One would think that a lawyer would have at least a tentative grasp of the fundamentals of US law.

Speaking of lawyers (those paragons of morality and good sense), remember that Pennsylvania school district that issued to laptops to all their students and then remotely activated the built-in webcams to spy on those students at home? Police investigators discovered somewhere on the close order of sixty thousand webcam photos on the school’s servers. Still desperately clinging to the ludicrous belief that they had done nothing wrong, the district hired a pack of lawyers to conduct an “independent investigation”. Oddly enough, this independent investigation was conducted by the legal defense team and firm hired by the school district. Those worthies even released a report whose title announced how independent it was. To everyone’s surprise, the school district’s lawyers discovered that the school district hadn’t done anything wrong. Everyone immediately heaved a great sigh of relief and went back to more important matters laughed themselves sick and continued with the local, state, and federal criminal investigations- not to mention the various lawsuits.

Speaking of things which will not end well, Arizona is only now starting to discover the price of their recent decision to demand proof of legal residence of anyone at any time (You vill show me der papers!). The legislature and the governor were greatly taken aback by the storm of protests from just about everywhere. The White House condemned them, and (predictably) so did the the government of Mexico. What really started getting the attention of the tax-fattened hyenas inhabiting the Arizona legislature were the economic effects as governments and businesses from inside the US announced boycotts against Arizona. Oopsie! Didn’t think your cunning plan all the way through, did you? These minor (but potentially significant) economic hazards are likely to be dwarfed by the legal effects once this travesty of justice goes into effect in July. There are swarms of attorneys feverishly drafting lawsuits and amicus briefs in anticipation of the judicial bloodbath that will surely ensue as soon as the first US citizen gets arrested under this law.

While I’m on the subject of unintended consequences, the Master Pinheads in the Logic-Free Zone grew mightily wroth after the passage of the recent health-care reform legislation when several major companies announced that they would be taking significant hits to their next quarter’s earnings. The companies made these announcements in compliance with a Federal law requiring them to do so. What got the congressional pinheads so worked up was the reason for the charges against earnings: to pay for the increased costs of operating under the health-care reform legislation. Congressional hearings were swiftly convened for the purpose of smacking the collective peepees of those evil corporations. How dare they demonstrate that the Law of Unintended Consequences always makes it through Congress?

A weird thing happened before those hearings were held. Somebody whose brain cells weren’t dying of loneliness managed to convey to our legislative pinheads some actual facts. Little tidbits like the Federal requirement to announce charges against earnings and (more likely) the notion that those corporations had all contributed heavily to the election campaigns of most of the congressional idiots. That last particular bit of belated knowledge un-dudgeoned the congresscritters with the quickness, and those hearings somehow fell off the radar. Odd, that.

Thus concludes our latest ventures among the various examples of the Great American Pinhead. I have no doubt there will be further episodes, because the species is widely distributed and is immune to normal human reactions like shame.

Current status: nauseated

Current music: All I Want by Toad the Wet Sprocket