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Tuesday, June 29, 2004
 
“Une Victoire Propre Au Qu├ębec”

“Everybody else, run like Hell!”


The Liberals are down, but not completely out, in Canada.


As expected, they lost their status as majority party in
parliament. Unfortunately for their chief rivals the Conservatives
(and fortunately for Canada), the Liberal Party still managed to win
the most seats
in the new parliament:


Voters stripped the long-dominant
Liberal Party of its outright control of Parliament, but left it
enough seats to take charge of Canada's first minority government in
25 years.


It's unfamiliar terrain,”
said Prime Minister Paul Martin, relieved at avoiding even heavier
losses in Monday's election at the hands of Quebec separatists and a
newly unified Conservative Party.


The Conservatives were coming on strong there for a while — until a
few of their more, shall we say, Republican-esque
members began spouting
off
on south-of-the-border style social twaddle like gay
marriage
and abortion.


Hey, man. Don't you see the big, red maple leaf flapping over your
head? Save that crap for the other
side of the forty-ninth
, you hoser!


Down 30 seats in this election, the Liberals managed to hang on to
135 out of the 308 seats available. Toss in the 19 seats won by their
closest allies, the New Democratic Party, and that gives them a total
of 154 seats, for a collective parliamentary majority of ... exactly
50%.


Oooh! Sooo
close
.


Hmmm ... I see that somebody
out there
managed to win himself a seat without having an
affiliation with any party.


Could it be? Is it possible?...


Bzzzzt. Sorry, but thanks for playing. Turns out he's a
refugee
from the Conservative Party
, a westerner, and a
“law & order” type
, to boot. In short, not the
kind of guy I can see settling in comfortably with the Lib/New Dem
side of the aisle.


So I guess it's time for the Liberals to swallow
hard
and dial up that booty call to the Bloc
Québécois
... and you know how
much fun
that's gonna be for all involved.


 
Shanghai Surprise

Well, this is it. The absolute bottom of the barrel.


The Pentagon has decided the time has come to begin dipping into
the briniest bottom of its reservist pool — the Individual
Ready Reserve
.


Once you've tapped
your way
through these guys, there's nothing left to do but
either reduce your obligations, or send out the press gangs:


The U.S. Army is planning an
involuntary mobilization of thousands of reserve troops to maintain
adequate force levels in Iraq and Afghanistan, defense officials said
on Monday.


The move — involving the
seldom-tapped Individual Ready Reserve — represents the latest
evidence of the strain being placed on the U.S. military,
particularly the Army, by operations in those two countries.


Roughly 5,600 soldiers from the
ready reserve will be notified of possible deployment this year,
including some soldiers who will be notified within a month, said an
Army official speaking on condition of anonymity.


This isn't much of a surprise. There were news
reports
out last May that the Pentagon was having “difficulty”
locating about a fifth of its IRR personnel, and was making plans to
use
the IRS as a locater service
for them. At the time, all but the
most credulous observers assumed this meant they
were gearing up
to shanghai 'em.


If I'm reading the article right, the Pentagon will start
notifying its victims around August, which I assume means that
they'll be ready for muster sometime in the fall.


It's gratifying to see that all the variables are still folding in
nicely with my Theory
of the Impending
Collapse
of Everything,
set to occur shortly after the November elections.


 
In Baghdad, No One Can Hear You Scream

“Here's the keys to the country, fellas. Good luck running
things, and if you ever ... oh, never mind. Just get
me the Hell outta here
:”


Iraq's interim government, led by a
prime minister who had been a CIA-supported opponent of Hussein,
faces the challenge of running a country wracked by a violent
insurgency, hobbled by economic stagnation and riven by religious and
ethnic disputes. Although feared insurgent attacks did not occur
after the handover was announced, there was little celebration by
ordinary Iraqis, who remain deeply skeptical about the continuing
U.S. role in their nation and the ability of the new government to
address their problems.


Although Bremer's document stated
that the interim government “will assume the complete
sovereignty on behalf of the Iraqi people,” it will still lack
many of hallmarks of other sovereign nations. More than 130,000 U.S.
troops will remain, with wide latitude to mount combat operations and
detain Iraqis. A temporary constitution will restrict the interim
government's power largely to the areas of basic civil administration
and preparations for national elections scheduled for January. The
country's oil revenue will be subject to international oversight.
American personnel will continue to work out of Hussein's Republican
Palace. And the government itself is supposed to be in power for only
seven months, until national elections are held.


Meanwhile, back in reality, whoever we say is running the country
doesn't make one damn bit of difference to those people keen on
running
us out of it
:


A roadside bomb rocked a military
convoy in southeast Baghdad on Tuesday, killing three U.S. Marines
and wounding two others in the first fatal attack on American forces
since they transferred political authority to an interim Iraqi
government.


...


Early Tuesday, gunmen attacked a
police station in Mahmudiyah, 20 miles south of Baghdad, killing one
officer and one civilian, said policeman Satar Ghareri. Some
eyewitnesses said the gunmen recited Koranic verses before peppering
the police station with bullets and rocket-propelled grenade-fire.


Also Tuesday, a roadside bomb
exploded as a senior Kurdish police official was heading to work,
killing one of his guards and wounding him, police said.


See how smooth that transition went? You hardly noticed it, didn't
you?


It's almost as if it never even happened at all.


 
Gloating Time

Now that Fahrenheit 9/11 is certifiably earning its
dump-truck loads of money for all those who stood behind it, those of
us who believed
in the movie
from the start can officially begin mocking Disney
for its fiscally
foolish
decision to have nothing
whatsoever
to do with the film.


And so shall it be ... let
the mocking begin
!


Walt Disney announced that it was
cutting back on blockbuster movies yesterday after a series of costly
flops including The Alamo and Around The World In 80 Days.


The article follows with a litany of horrifically overpriced,
artistically dubious, and fiscally unrewarding films that have
vomited forth from the philistinic maw of the Mouse Factory in recent
years. In addition to the two mentioned above, the list includes such
floparoo extraordinaires as Pearl Harbor and Hidalgo.


I'm proud to say that it never occurred to me even once to waste
my money on any one of these stinkers. Although in all honesty, I
never liked Disney movies ... even as a kid, I recognized them as the
treacly barf-fests that they were.


Out of the recent flock, the most pungent of the stinkbombs looks
to be the freshest one: Around
The World In 80 Days
.
I mean, even the commercials for
it were atrocious; how much worse could the movie be?


Well, it features a new song by the “Who
Let The Dogs Out
Baha Men, for one. And a cameo
featuring Arnold “Der Gröpenführer”
Schwarzenegger. That's pretty danged bad. Satanically
bad, in fact. Kangaroo
Jack
bad, even.


Bad enough, even, that the BBC article points to it as
being the straw that finally broke the rodent's back:


The picture that has finally
convinced executives to trim spending is Disney's revival of Around
The World in 80 Days
, which, with David Niven as Phileas Fogg,
the Victorian adventurer, won a best film Oscar in 1956.


The Disney version, with Steve
Coogan, was panned by critics who recalled that the original had
cameos by Noel Coward and John Gielgud while the new film had Arnold
Schwarzenegger as a lecherous sultan.
The New York Post
said it ought to be re-titled Around the World in 80 Yawns.


With a production budget of £61.1
million and marketing costs of £16.6 million, the picture has
taken just £7.2 million in a week in America.


I clicked around, and found out that Schwarzenegger's “lecherous
sultan” character is a Turkish
prince
by the name of Hapi, meaning that he's playing a
cartoonishly
dressed
, amoral,
fiendishly
horny
... Muslim.


Great. The movie's lame and offensive. I can't wait to see
how the crowds in Baghdad and Istanbul react to it.


Sunday, June 27, 2004
 
In Pennsylvania Dutch

Ron Gunzberger's political
weblog
has a very detailed and occasionally funny collection of
posts on last March's “Rising of the Moon” extravaganza. One of the best parts
is this account of the highly maneuverable response from the Office of Representative Curt Weldon (R-Pa), when confronted with reports
that he attended the event
:


When first contacted by
investigative reporter
John
Gorenfeld
, Weldon's press secretary stated: “I'm
telling you, he didn't go.
” When Gorenfeld sent her some
links showing Weldon was listed as a primary sponsor of the event,
she stated that Weldon “planned to attend this awards show,
but couldn't make it due to his schedule.
” When Gorenfeld
next produced a photo of Weldon standing with a group of Moon
associates at the event, she said that Weldon's participation was
apparently “limited to his attendance.” Soon
after, Gorenfeld found a photo of Weldon actually giving the
welcoming “congratulatory remarks” from the stage —
as a photo was displayed of himself giving a pin to Libyan dictator
Moammar Khadafy. Gorenfeld, who has extensively covered Moon's
involvement in US politics, said that pin presented last year by
Weldon to Khadafy was apparently one of Moon's peace pins. Okay, back
to Weldon's staff for version #4 of Weldon's explanation. Weldon's
chief of staff told Christian Challenge that Weldon “was at
the banquet for '5 or 10 minutes' to speak about his recent trip to
Libya; Weldon neither saw Moon at the event, nor witnessed the
coronation, nor heard his Messianic speech ... [and] 'in no way does
Congressman Weldon share that belief.
'” That he did not
know of Moon's involvement strains credibility (see
yesterday's
story
) as he and Davis also co-hosted Moon's Capitol Hill
event in 2003 and they praised him by name in the Congressional
Record. Weldon later added — not that he has any remaining
credibility on this issue — that he did not give Khadafy a
Moonie peace pin but, rather, pinned a US flag to the anti-American
dictator's lapel.


Wow. Four different lies, all about the same thing. The saddest
part of it all is that probably isn't even near a record-breaking
effort for the folks down at Foggy Bottom.


In
another post
, Gunzberger contacted Weldon's Democratic
challenger
with the information he had gleaned, only to be
treated to a surprising lack of interest. Among other things, he (the
challenger) didn't feel comfortable alleging that the Unification
Church was a cult
... because as a Catholic, he knew there
were people
wandering around out there who still consider his his
religion
a “cult,” too.


Oh, come on — giving the
Moonies
a break because you're afraid of what Jack
Chick
-type yahoos might think of you? Dude, they're already not
gonna vote for you ... because you're Catholic.


Going back to Weldon, his office's “5 or 10 minutes”
dodge is the same one used by Dayton; I suspect Dayton was there
longer (there is a
picture of him at the event
on Gunzberger's website), but since
Coleman was in attendance too, I still think their “honoring a
constituent” alibi holds water.


Both may be 100% guilty of relying on drooling, lobotomized chimps
for background vetting, true; but of cuddling up with the Moonies? I
still need more evidence.


By the way Norm, Gunzberger has a Moon quote that I think is worth
you checking out:


ABOUT JEWS: In a 2003 speech
in Virginia, Moon blamed the Jews for the Holocaust and
demanded that they accept him as their messianic leader. “Who
are the Jewish members here? Raise your hands! [Then, in response to
the raised hands] Jewish people, you have to repent. Jesus was the
King of Israel. Through the principle of indemnity Hitler killed 6
million Jews.
That is why. God could not prevent Satan from doing
that because Israel killed the True Parents. Even now, you have to
determine that you will repent and follow and become one with
Christianity through Rev. Moon,
” said Moon. (Source: Moon's
own
Unification.net
site)


Even without the quote, Moon's views
on Judaism
are quite well known, and have been for a very long
time. If I were one of the Chosen
People
, I wouldn't even think of allowing myself to be put
in a position of having to breathe the same air as that purtied up
jackass.


Come to think of it, I wouldn't anyway.


Saturday, June 26, 2004
 
The Secret(ive) Garden

The Grand Old Party is just full of ideas when it comes to
innovative methods for pissing off New Yorkers – remember the
aborted
hotel ship plan
?


Well, with the better-off among New Yorkers planning on skipping
town for the occasion, that leaves only the poor and overworked among
the population of Gotham to show off that legendary New York charm.
With ideas like this percolating at the GOP, those housebound
Gothamites should be fully primed for the show, come
August
:


Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg and the
police commissioner, Raymond W. Kelly, outlined for the first time a
security plan that will essentially close the area around Madison
Square Garden to the public.


It calls for channeling commuters
coming out of Pennsylvania Station to a pedestrian corridor down 32nd
Street, and setting up a barricaded lane in front of the convention
site on Seventh Avenue.


Indeed the entire Garden will
essentially be boxed in with concrete barriers.
Vehicles that are
permitted in front of the Garden will have to pass through a metal
barrier, drive up onto a platform equipped with video cameras that
will inspect the undercarriage, and then drive through a second metal
gate.


...


In Manhattan, large parts of
Midtown will be closed to traffic.
Police officials plan to shut
off 13 blocks of Seventh Avenue, spanning the garment district to
Times Square, and 11 blocks of Eighth Avenue south of 34th Street
during the one morning and four evenings that the convention is in
session. The Metropolitan Transportation Authority will reroute buses
on both avenues.


People who work within the sealed
area will be given credentials to get to their workplaces, the police
said. Those who do not have such credentials, but need to get
inside, will be asked to show identification and then will be
escorted to their destination.


Oh, great. Asking New Yorkers to “prove” who they are.
That'll go just swimmingly. Stuff like that always draws the warm
fuzzies out of a Gothamite.


The article points out that Boston will be just as inconvenienced
by the Democrats as the Republicans are doing to New York, if
not more
. The difference, of course, is that Bostonians, like the
inhabitants of every major city in America, generally like
Democrats.


Sure they'll whine; but then, they're Bostonians.


The only thing New Yorkers as a rule like about
the people coming to their town
this summer is their money. Give
'em that, hit the road, and don't look back when you go, and maybe
the Republicans will remember their big sleepover in Manhattan as an
uneventful one.


 
Ohhh, Man ... It's, Like, The Sixties All Over Again, Man

Holy freakin' cow! I knew that government spending was up under
this administration, but I didn't realize that it was beginning to
approach Great
Society
levels.


By now everybody knows about Grover
Norquists Evil Plan
to lure the federal government into a bathtub
and strangle it to death while nobody else is looking; could all this
extra spending be part of it all?


I mean, the faster we spend the money, the sooner it's all gone,
right? Very
sneaky, fellas
:



Since 2001, even with record low
inflation, U.S. federal spending has increased by a massive 28.8%
(19.7% in real dollars)—with non-defense discretionary
growth of 35.7% (25.3% in real dollars)—the highest rate of
federal government growth since the presidencies of Richard Nixon and
Lyndon Johnson.
This increase has resulted in the largest budget
deficits in U.S. history, over $520 billion in fiscal year 2004
alone. Furthermore, the projected spending for 2005 is a conservative
estimate, since it doesn’t include at least $50 billion for the
ongoing cost of the Iraq occupation.


I was around during the Johnson and
Nixon Administrations, but I wasn't terribly aware of my surroundings
at the time. I wish I could say that Bush is at the least making me
feel nostalgic with this drunken sailor imitation of his, but I
really can't say. I was more Captain
Kangaroo
than General
Westmoreland
at the time.


Spending-wise, it seems a reasonable
hypothesis that second-term presidencies are bigger budget-busters
than the first ones. Just imagine what this guy could do if we
re-elect him ... free
pork for everyone
! Woo!


Of course, best to bug outta the
country by 2010 though. It's always a wise idea to be in the bathroom
when the check is presented.


 
More On Moore

A reader writes to Roger Ebert, challenging the notion that
Michael Moore's works should be considered documentaries.
Documentaries are supposed to present the facts, period.


Right?


Absolutely not, and Ebert sets him straight on that. The “best”
documentaries “have
an opinion and argue for it:


That is all perfectly clear, and
yet in the days before the film opens June 25, there'll be bountiful
reports by commentators who are shocked!
shocked!
that Moore's film is partisan. “He doesn't
tell both sides,” we'll hear, especially on Fox News, which is
so famous for telling both sides.


The wise French director Godard
once said, “The way to criticize a film is to make another
film.” That there is not a pro-Bush documentary available right
now I am powerless to explain.
Surely, however, the Republican
National Convention will open with such a documentary, which will
position Bush comfortably between Ronald Reagan and God. The
Democratic convention will have a wondrous film about John Kerry.
Anyone who thinks one of these documentaries is “presenting
facts objectively without editorializing” should look at the
other one.


Well, I've heard of some loser
up around these parts
whose gotten a surprisingly large amount of
national
mileage
out of the fact that he's supposedly putting together a
film called Michael
Moore Hates America
. Since it's his first-time film, in an
age when first-time filmmakers thunder in great herds across the
prairie like the storied buffalo of old, its frankly amazing that
he's gotten as much attention as he has.


But, hey! The Freepers like
it already
, sight unseen! Gosh, there must be something in the
film that ... oh, Hell and donkey biscuits. Why even try to be
sarcastic; Freepers think watching
Ann Coulter
nursing a hangover on FOX is high art.


As for a pro-Bush film being available right now, Ebert is
forgetting about
that most excellent 9/11 docudrama (“FIVE
STARS!!!
” — National Review) that
came out last year. I've never seen it, but I hear it's quite
the hoot
. I predict cult
classic status
for it in years to come, right up there with the
Dino de Laurentis version of Flash
Gordon
, Glen
or Glenda
, and KISS
Meets the Phantom of the Park
.


Oh sure, it's a docudrama, rather than a documentary. But
that would require actually collecting the facts and keeping them
straight, and you
know how
the Bush
people are
at that
sort of thing
.


Friday, June 25, 2004
 
Moonglow

I do like to keep tabs on the Reverend
Moon
, and so I did take note back in March when John
Gorenfeld
let us in on the big, stupid Coronation event that the
Moonies staged in the Senate's Dirksen building.


There's a lot of stuff that I want to throw into my weblog (the
machinations
of the Moonies
are definitely
among them
), but don't have time to, simply because the demands of writing just one of these posts can take up so much of my
night. Alas, the “Annointing of the False Christ” sat
waiting for action on my browser for too long, and became stale long
before I could get around to adding my two cents on the topic.


As an aside: Referring to the Reverend Moon as a false
Christ
isn't overly hyperbolic, nor religiously narrowminded.
It's really very simple — if you
say you are the Christ
, and you
demonstrably are not
, then you
are a false Christ
. If Moon's the Second Coming, then I'm a
tutu-wearing hippopotamus.


As another aside: I'm sick of missing out on this stuff, so in
addition to my usual lengthy (ahem ... insightful) posts, I'm
going to try to start throwing in posts that are just links to news
stories, uncommented except for perhaps a line or two of introduction
followed by the lede.


Y'know, more of the usual stuff you find on a newsie blog. It's
all about content, people!


Returning to the story at hand: So the Washington Post
story broke, and suddenly all the Big Media People are jawboning over
it. I was going to just kick back and enjoy the show, until I noticed
that one of my Senators somehow got sucked
into the rigamarole
:


Among the more than 300 people who
attended all or part of the March ceremony was Sen. Mark Dayton
(D
[FL]-Minn.), who
now says he simply was honoring a constituent receiving a peace award
and did not know Moon would be there. “We fell victim to it; we
were duped,” Dayton spokeswoman Chris Lisi said yesterday.


Other lawmakers who attended or
were listed as hosts felt the same, she said. “Everyone I
talked to was furious,” she said. With Minnesotans demanding to
know whether Dayton is a follower of Moon, Lisi said, the senator
persuaded the St. Paul Pioneer Press to write an article
allowing him to reply.


Dayton, you doofus! I know there's not a chance in Hell of you
being one of them ... but really now, letting yourself get punk'd by
the Moonies?


And to top it all off, when The Hill reported
on the incident
, they couldn't even get your party affiliation
right! What are you, the official Senate nerd?


I'll bet that Norm Coleman
kid is behind all this. He's always snuffling around making trouble
for you, that one.


Oh,
wait
... Oh,
Jeez
...


The gathering was politically
ecumenical. In addition to Davis, Republican Sen. Norm Coleman of
Minnesota was there
, as were conservative firebrands like Reps.
Roscoe G. Bartlett (R-Md.) and Curt Weldon (R-Pa.).


Both Dayton and Coleman quickly explained that they'd been there
to honor Rev.
Rosilyn M. Carroll
, an educator who was being given some award by
the “foundation” the Moonies were backing for the
occasion. Dayton's aide also offered, for no apparent reason, that he
is a Presbyterian.


As for Norm, he just hasn't got the time to be a Moonie; all his
politico-religious effort these days is spent crisscrossing
the country
in his new capacity as the official “Pro-Bush
Jew Who Is Not A Neocon
.”


One of the supposed mysteries of the event is who authorized it.
Since it was in a Senate building, it had to be a Senator who signed
off on it. Dayton has explicitly declared that he was not the one to
do it; I doubt Coleman was, either.


The newspapers can be coy about it, but I really don't think it's
that much of a puzzle. According to the article in The Hill,
Senator Lindsey Graham of South
Carolina
is listed prominently on the invitation, as part of the
“Host Committee.” He's the only Senator listed as such.


I think that speaks for itself.


 
”Back, And To The Left ... Back, And To The Left ... Back, And To The Left ...”

Roger Ebert, the Death Star of film critics, just fired off his
review of Fahrenheit 9/11. It's the most detailed one I've
seen yet.


Of more interest to me, however, is ... does Ebert follow the
lead? Does he identify that part of the film, as so many of
his siblings have done?


Does he ever! It takes him only the second paragraph to get into
the Goat Sequence; and his take on it is, to say the least, the
most intriguing one yet
:


Although Moore's narration ranges
from outrage to sarcasm, the most devastating passage in the film
speaks for itself. That's when Bush, who was reading My Pet Goat
to a classroom of Florida children, is notified of the second attack
on the World Trade Center, and yet lingers with the kids for
almost seven minutes before finally leaving the room.
His
inexplicable paralysis wasn't underlined in news reports at the time,
and only Moore thought to contact the teacher in that schoolroom —
who, as it turned out, had made her own video of the visit. The
expression on Bush's face as he sits there is odd indeed.


“Odd?” Dammit, Roger, what the heck is that supposed
to mean?


Bush's expression is well-nigh impossible to read from any of the
online reproductions of the video I've seen. He has been described
as having been rendered momentarily “somber
by Card's revelation in media reports of the time; but I've learned to regard
anything said by the Media Matrix about this man as being very tightly spun.


Ebert's description of the sequence also leads me to wonder if perhaps it's not taken from the web version we've all seen, but rather this teacher's
private footage. The web version was not shot as a personal video,
but rather as promotional
material
for the elementary school. Could Moore have gotten his
hands on a twenty-first century version of the Zapruder
film
?




“Sheep go to Heaven, goats go to Hell” ... eh, Mr. President?


Well, OK, maybe not as dramatic as that. I mean, no matter how
much better the angle of sight is, it's still basically seven minutes
of Dubya sitting on his ass while the world goes all to Hell in a
handbasket around him.


But the most aggravating thing about the web video is that Bush is
essentially a blob in the shadows throughout most of it, and
completely unreadable, even for something as basic as body language.


I've always assumed that even a less-compressed version of that
video would be unsatisfactory in this regard. If Moore fixes that for
me — if he gives me one nice, clear shot of the look on Bush's
face as Andy Card is retreating out of view — I'll consider it
more than enough to cover the price of admission.


Thursday, June 24, 2004
 
Stupid Money Tricks

The Minneapolis StarTribune smells something
rotten going on
in the District of Columbia:


If a college education hasn't
already turned this year's grads into cynics, Congress is considering
a proposal that should do the trick: Just as student loan interest
rates hit an all-time low, key lawmakers want to deny new graduates
the opportunity to lock in today's low rates through loan
consolidation.


Instead, leading Republicans and a
few Democrats on the House Committee on Education and the Workforce
propose that federally guaranteed student loans be consolidated
only on a variable-rate basis.


With interest rates expected to
begin climbing back into their historic range soon, variable-rate
consolidation most likely would mean higher cost for students —
by an estimated average of $5,500 per college grad over a 15-year
loan repayment term, according to the Public Interest Research Group.
It would also mean savings for the federal government, of an
estimated $21 billion over seven years — which is why President
Bush first proposed the idea two years ago.


So on one hand we have Alan
Greenspan
and his
minions in the Banking Establishment
, whispering in our
collective ears about how much money Homeowning America could have
saved over the last decade if they'd have taken out their mortgages
on
a variable-rate system
... and say, here's
an idea
: wouldn't it be neat-o
to switch to one now?


And on the other we have the
US Congress
, concerned that allowing America's college kids to
lock in on today's lowlowlow
interest rates is just too
costly for the government to bear
, and scheming up how they can
squeeze an extra five grand out of each of them by forcing a
variable-rate system down their throats, whether the kids want it or
not.


Man, they must think we're rock stupid out here. Dumb as a bucket
of field mice. Three gloves shy of an outfield.


I mean, I've heard of schemes that getcha coming and going ... but
couldn't they at least have put some thought into keeping the two
angles out of each other's sight?


 
Plutonium — The Pause That Refreshes

In response to some very pointed questions from She
Who Will Not Be Named
, I have managed to dig up more info on
the aftermath of the Palomares, Spain “dirty bomb”
incident of 1966. As I initially said, the village seems to be
prospering, all things considered.


“All things considered” referring then (and now) to a
recognition of the fact that the poor bastards had several kilos
worth of plutonium scattered
over their heads
:


Almost 40 years have passed since
the U.S. Air Force accidentally dropped four hydrogen bombs on Spain.
But the fallout continues with a newly published scientific study
that traced the spread of radiation from the accident site –
and continuing rumors about a mysterious fifth bomb that supposedly
is still leaking on the Mediterranean Sea floor.


Ironically, while the scientists
who conducted the study discount the fifth-bomb theory, their
findings have fueled the rumors. They reported that the
Mediterranean, indeed, has been contaminated – but only from
radioactive material that washed into the sea from the bombs that hit
land. They also said current levels of radioactivity pose no threat
to people.


...


The research team found that the
highest radiation levels in the plankton were well below the human
danger level set by the World Health Organization.
It also
learned that the plutonium apparently does not accumulate to higher
levels in the fish that eat plankton – a matter of particular
concern to the Spanish, who eat a lot of fish.


In other words: Considering the fact that the region had been
bombarded with one of the most carcinogenic substances known to man,
it is a remarkably habitable environment.


None of this is meant to imply that radiation is harmless, and
that we should all just kick back, toss off a couple of beers, and
hoot along with the fireworks when that “radiological
dispersal device
” goes off near FleetCenter
this summer.


It's just that such a bomb's most important effect will certainly
be psychological, rather than physiological. We'll scoop out the
rubble and rebuild us a slicker, grander FleetCenter long before we
get over the political
trauma
of it.


Going back to the article, it also touches on another “dirty
bomb” incident of the Cold War era, one which occurred a few
years later at a US military installation in Thule, Greenland:


... In another of more than 30
known “Broken Arrow” incidents between 1950 and 1980, a
nuclear-armed B-52 crashed near the Thule Air Base in Greenland in
1968. Crews recovered four nuclear bombs.


...


The Air Force study reached similar
conclusions
[i.e. that
radiation exposure was relatively minimal]
for 700
personnel involved in cleaning up the Broken Arrow incident in
Greenland, which happened when a B-52 caught fire and the crew was
forced to bail out. Conventional explosives in the hydrogen bombs
detonated in that incident as well, spreading plutonium and other
radioactive material over the ice and snow.


This time it wasn't just two, but all
four
detonators that went off. Depending on who you prefer to
believe (the US government or Greenpeace), either 3.4 kilos of
plutonium was released that day or 25 kilos.


Also, and despite the Air Force's protestations to the contrary,
the hundreds of
workers
(much of it unwilling prison labor) that were shipped in
to clean up the site do sound like a pretty ill bunch of people
today.


I knew about the Greenland incident at the time I wrote the
original
Palomares post
, but didn't include it for brevity's sake (yes, I
do pare these things down!), and also because it happened in a
region largely
devoid
of civilian inhabitants (about 850
people
scattered over a several
thousand square kilometer
area), so it's not really
comparable to an attack on any developed area, let alone a
major city.


Actually, the scarier part about the Thule Incident is the fact
that the pilotless B-52 apparently careened right
into the base's Bomb Alert Cable
, cutting it off from the outside
world and sending a false signal back to the brass at Strategic
Air Command
that one of their most sensitive sites had been hit
with a full-on nuke.


In case you're not freaked out enough by that, there are plenty of
other excellent
sites out there
documenting the known nuclear incidents that have
occurred since we entered this wonderrific Era of the Atom. I
emphasize: these are only the known ones; there are certainly
more that we don't have any inkling of.


Still, what I've learned form them is spooky enough for me. Who
knew that the nuclear
power plant
just upstream from my house had once dumped
50,000 gallons of radioactive waste
into the Mississippi River?
Or that the creaky,
cobbled-together
mini-nuke
plant
at the quaint river town where I spent so many
Thanksgivings and Christmases with my grandparents had to be
decommissioned
permanently
after it's primary circuit leaked “high
levels of radioactivity
” all over the townsfolk?


And then there's the
continuing saga
of Rocky
Flats
– hoo doggies, don't even think about going
near that place
without making sure that your lead
underwear
is as firmly
hiked up as you can get 'em
.


Wednesday, June 23, 2004
 
The Logo Of The Apocalypse

Here's a nice quickie, straight from the “What the Hell were
they thinking?!” department.


Even by the amazingly obtuse standards of boardroom America,
Sherwin-Williams
current logo really takes the cake.


Here's a thought experiment: you're the owner of a paint company.
You manufacture a toxic — but useful — chemically-based
product. What kind of corporate logo are you going to devise in order
to grab the collective imaginations of the masses?


Well, one thing's for damned sure ... whatever you'd come up with,
it wouldn't look anything like this piece of cockeyed insanity:



We are the Sherwin-Williams Company ... and we will DESTROY you!”


Do people actually hire graphic arts agencies to come up with crap
like this? Or is it just some liquored-up psychic tag-teaming
Salvador Dali
and Hieronymus
Bosch
with a Ouija board?


On the other hand, the logo isn't entirely without appropriate
uses. Fiddle with the initials on the can a little, and you'd get a
pretty appropriate logo for the Halliburton
Company
, for instance.


Or, change the color of the ... uhhh ... “paint” from
Apocalypse Red to Sweet Crude Black, and you'd get a fair
approximation of the Bush
family crest
.


Same thing either way.


 
The Seven Minute Gap

I've been reading the reviews of. Michael
Moore's newest film
. And if you don't know which one I mean, then
I suggest you crawl back under that comfy rock of yours and continue
your fine, uneventful summer.


I find it interesting that nearly all of the reviewers — and
their all generally positive reviews, by the way — regard the
same point in the film as being both its highlight and its most
disturbing revelation.


Here's what I'm talking about, courtesy of Kenneth
Turan's review
in the LA Times:


Perhaps the most disturbing of all
is footage showing the president on the morning of Sept. 11,
continuing with a photo op involving a Florida elementary school
class reading “My Pet Goat” for nearly seven minutes

after having been told that a second plane had hit the World Trade
Center.


And another view, from Claudia
Puig' review
at USA Today:


Few will forget the devastating
footage of Bush's bewildered, dumbstruck reaction on the morning of
Sept. 11, 2001, when he learns of the attack on the World Trade
Center. Instead of conferring with advisers, he sits quietly in a
Florida classroom for an interminable seven minutes
and then
reads My Pet Goat to the children.


And yet another
take
, courtesy of the New York Daily News:


Moore obtained the full reel of
President Bush sitting for nearly seven long minutes in that Florida
schoolroom chair after learning that a second plane had hit the World
Trade Center. While everyone else in the world was rushing to a TV
set or collapsing in grief, Bush continued to read “My Pet
Goat.”


And finally, from James Verniere at the Boston Globe,
admission that he understands exactly
what I'm talking about
:


The scene every viewer will be
talking about
is astonishing footage shot on 9/11 inside a
Florida elementary school where Bush sits reading “My Pet
Goat” with the children for nearly 7 minutes
after an aide
has informed him of the second plane striking the World Trade Center.
The look of anguished uncertainty on the president's face cannot
inspire confidence.


In fact, in all the actual reviews of the movie I've read so far
(as opposed to all the hydrophobically
foamy
articles out there that merely discuss the film, sight
unseen), I've been able to find exactly one that doesn't
mention Dubya's 9/11 goat-book gambit. That's John
Anderson's review
over at New York Newsday.


Reading Anderson's review, however, I get the impression that he's
trying very hard not to like the film in the first place. He
always seems to be cocked on the edge of unleashing some dead-on
expose of gross distortions of the truth by Moore, only to gently
lower the hammer and meekly allow that ... well, yeah — the
rumpled old lefty was right after all.


That said, I don't really know Anderson's political leanings, so
it's a tad unfair to imply he's some kind of reactionary. There are
plenty of lefties (and centrists) who just plain don't like Moore's
nuke-'em-from-orbit,
Katie-bar-the-door style; perhaps Anderson's merely one of them.


None of that changes the fact that the deeply weird seven-minute
sequence in question is very real. You don't even need to schlep on
over to Moore's film in order to see it — the sequence has been
available at the good ol' Memory
Hole
for years.


You can view it in QuickTime format — or download it for
yourself if you like — right
here
. I also recommend scrolling down the page a ways, and taking
in the Memory Hole's scathingly precise written indictment of
Bush's activities on that day.


A slightly higher resolution (and more edited) version of the clip
can be viewed at
this site
, too.


Suffice to say that if the situation really was as dire and
unpredictable as we've been lead to believe, then the Secret Service
should have whisked the President off right away, regardless of how
it would have looked in front of the children. It's their job,
dammit!


After all, that's what Vice
President Cheney claims happened to him
on that day. But then,
there's no footage out there that can contradict him on that, is
there?


In fact, before the raw footage was discovered and made available,
it was pretty much a part of the official 9/11 narrative that an
appropriately hurried (yet heroically
dignified
) exit was exactly what Bush did on that day. Here's the
contemporary
ABCNews.com account
of how he found out it was an attack,
and how he reacted:


[Andrew Card] said, “A second
plane hit the second tower. America is under attack.”


The president's eyes got
wide … and the face told it all,”
[Anne] Compton
[of ABC News] said, noting that “something
terribly grave. … Something beyond imagining” happened
around 9:07 a.m. ET, according to her notes.


I think there was a moment
of shock, and he did stare off maybe for just a second,” Card
said.


The president waited for a moment
for the students to finish, then said, “Thank you all so very
much for showing me your reading skills,” and headed for the
empty classroom next door.


He took “a moment?”


Heck, I'm one of the slowest pokes there is when it comes to
hauling my ass from one place to the other, but even I can't stretch
“a moment” out to seven freakin' minutes.


I don't care how possible it is to parse that “students to
finish” part in the article to allow for Dubya's Big Brave
Loiter, it's clear that ABC News didn't mean for us to take it
that way. They meant the guy got himself outta Dodge. Period.


... although in the fully appropriate and expeditious manner
befitting a Wartime President, of course.


Tuesday, June 22, 2004
 
On Order: One Acme “Li'l Dictator”™ Civil Liberties Deactivator Kit

Call me cynical, but my first thought when I read this story was:
“Oh, so that's
how it's gonna be pulled off
a
'dirty bomb' at the Democratic National Convention
:”


Terrorists are “all but
certain” to set off a radiological weapon in the United States
,
because it will take authorities too many years to track and secure
the radioactive materials of such “dirty bombs,” a team
of nuclear researchers has concluded.


...


The team also examined the
potential for terrorists to steal or build a nuclear weapon but
found that less likely than the construction of a radiological
dispersal device, or dirty bomb.


Unlike warheads designed to kill
and destroy through a huge nuclear blast, these radiation weapons —
which thus far no one has employed — would rely on conventional
explosives to blow radioactive material far and wide. A successful
bomb could make a section of a city uninhabitable for years.


Now hold on there, breathless media. Things probably won't be as
bad as all that. A “dirty bomb” is certainly nothing to
look forward to, but it's hardly the unprecedented disaster you guys
are making it out to be.


And, in fact, you're completely wrong about at least one thing; at
least one nation has “employed” a “radiological
dispersal device,” as you so quaintly put it.


Namely, it was us ... and no, I don't mean Hiroshima or Nagasaki.
Doesn't anybody remember the dramatic events that transpired on the
morning of January 17, 1966?


Here, let
me give you a hint
:


PALOMARES, Spain (AP): In a sunny
corner of the world where nothing much ever happened, Martin Moreno
climbed atop a leaking American hydrogen bomb and smiled as he tried
to pry loose a souvenir.


Oblivious to the danger, the
fruit wholesaler poked a screwdriver in a crack in the weapon as it
released plutonium, working unsuccessfully to secure his prize.

“I've never regretted that, nor have I been afraid,”
Moreno, an engaging, healthy-looking man of 68, said in recounting
that winter morning in 1966.


What the ... how in the world did a Spanish peasant manage
to get his hands on a 1.5 megaton nuclear weapon?


Well, it went something
like this
:


On the morning of Jan. 17, 1966, a
routine refueling operation turned disastrous. It is believed the
B-52 flew too fast as it approached the tanker from below. The planes
collided, killing seven of 11 crew members and raining 100 tons (90
metric tons) of flaming wreckage over a 15-square mile (38
square-kilometer) area.


And down came the four H-bombs
aboard the B-52.


While one bomb splashed into the
sea, the other three hit the ground. None exploded — layers of
safeguards made that virtually impossible — but 7 pounds (3
kilos) of plutonium 239 were released when two bomb detonators did go
off
...


Let's repeat that last part for the folks in the back row: two of
the bomb detonators went off, resulting in the release of seven
pounds
of plutonium 239 into the general area. In other words, we
didn't just drop a dirty bomb on Spain, we dropped two of
them. Big ones.


Then, compounding the problem, the US military disposed of
affected crops in the area by burning them — thus
insuring the widest plutonium dispersal pattern possible. All in all,
a 15-square-mile area — and a large population of people —
were affected.


When it comes to mass irradiation, nobody can lick the enthusiasm
and thoroughness of the USAF
:


Partial chemical burning of the
fissile material from the two bombs that had been blown apart by
their high explosive charges resulted in a cloud formation which was
dispersed by a 35-mph wind. Approximately 2.25 km2 of farmland was
contaminated with plutonium at levels of 50—500 ug/m2 (3-32
uCi/m2), and low levels of plutonium were detectable for a distance
of 2 miles. Initially, 630 acres of land were reported to be
contaminated; however, an additional 20 acres were subsequently
classified as contaminated due to resuspension by the wind.


Ouch.


I don't mind telling you folks ... if a radiological event of that
magnitude were to go off in the United States, I'd be more concerned
about Osama's ability to muster up such an enormous amount of nuclear
material, rather than the deleterious effects of the bomb itself.


Anybody who
could get their hands
on seven pounds of fissile material, and
... well, I can imagine far
more likely things
they would do with it in order to justify
such an impressive level of effort.


Still, if the Palomares Incident is any example of what to expect from a
radiological attack, things would be bad, but hardly the apocalyptic
event everyone seems convinced it would be. As the article implies,
Señor Moreno (the plutonium-breathing bomb-jacker in the
original article) is alive and well to this day.


In fact, the entire village seems to have suffered few ill effects
from their plutonium bath, all things considered. For example,
overall cancer rates for Palomares are no higher than those of the
rest of the country.


The point is not that nukes are benign, nor that the potential of a
“dirty bomb” attack shouldn't be taken seriously.


It is a bomb, after all. It will make many people die, in
incalculably horrific and heartrending ways.


Rather, the point is that such an event would clearly be of a much
more powerful
psychological magnitude
than of a physical one. And I have no
doubt that there are people out there who have in place complete
contingency plans
for the full
exploitation
of that psychological effect.


I fear more for the effects
this weapon will have
on my
country
, than I do on its effects on the long-term habitability of the city
it goes off in.


 
Rocket-Scooters Ho!

Impatient futurists take note: the coming era of flying
cars
, wise-cracking
robots
, sleazy orbital
space motels
, and colonies on the Moon took one solid step forward yesterday, when
test-pilot Michael W. Melvill successfully rocketed a vehicle called
SpaceShipOne into the edge of outer space. It was the first
non-governmental vehicle to carry a human into orbit, giving Melville
the distinction of being the first private-enterprise astronaut in
human history.


Human space exploration, after a long
and rather frustrating dormant phase
, seems to be on the verge of
some sort of critical mass of new development. While NASA may be
stuck in a funding-starved
rut, the advances of the Chinese
and Indian
space programs, coupled with this new development in commercial
spaceflight, indicate to me that this is so.


Despite the apparent success of the SpaceShipOne crew,
however, the likelihood of them achieving the coveted X-Prize
remains hazy. It seems that there were some
serious complications during the flight
:


Mr. Melvill earned those wings with
some tense moments. During the rocket-fired ascent, he and Mr.
[Burt]
Rutan
[President of Scaled
Composites, the builder of the craft]
recounted in a news
conference, SpaceShipOne suddenly rolled 90 degrees to the
left.


Mr. Melvill quickly corrected,
rolling the plane 90 degrees to the right, but then found that his
trim controls, which are supposed to help control lift and drag, had
a malfunctioning motor. He switched quickly to backup controls,
stabilized the errant trim system and left it alone until he reached
the ground again.


I was afraid to touch it,”
Mr. Melvill said.


...


Mr. Melvill also said that during
ascent he had heard a loud bang, which was apparently caused by a
cover over the tail nozzle that buckled during the flight.


I was pretty scared,”
he said.


Yeah, Mike. A loud banging noise accompanied by crazy gyrations at
liftoff is not standard behavior in yer average SpaceShipOne
model low-orbit rocket scooter. You might wanna have that looked at.
Maybe take it back to the dealer and see if she's still under
warranty.


Then again, it might just be a software problem. Maybe you should
have thought twice before accepting
all that funding
from a retired
Microsoft executive
.


Better getcher ducks back in a row pretty quick, though. The
X-Prize is only awarded to the first private organization that can
send a human into space twice, within a two-week period.


The clock is ticking; and other
groups
are vying for the
prize
too.


Monday, June 21, 2004
 
Pratfall Economics

Wow. Just ... wow. I hope you're not drinking anything while
you're reading this, because what I'm about to tell you is pure
spit-take material.


A couple of months ago, in the face of a nascent mortgage
refinancing bust, Federal Reserve Chairman Alan Greenspan suggested
that it might be a good idea for American homeowners to switch their
mortgages from fixed-rate to adjustable rate mortgages (ARM's).
Amazingly, he
maintained a straight face
throughout his entire presentation.


Anyone with an elementary school education should be able to
understand why Greenspan's suggestion was a desperate
act of economic snake-oil salesmanship
. All it takes to see the
underlying
foolishness
of it is an understanding of basic math and the
ability to read the calendar.


Interest rates were near historic lows at the time. They
still are. Why would anyone choose an adjustable rate
when mortgage rates have nowhere to go but up?


Well, y'know, as a nation, math's
never really been our strong suit
...


In recent months, there
has been an ominous surge in demand for adjustable rate mortgages,”

says Morgan Stanley economist Stephen Roach. “This rush to ARMs
leaves overly indebted consumers increasingly exposed to the upside
of the interest rate cycle.”


Adjustable rate mortgages start
homeowners off with interest rates that are lower than other
mortgages. So people may be able to afford a house that would be
outside their reach with a traditional 30-year, fixed-rate mortgage.
But as interest rates rise, lenders periodically raise the ARM rate.


...


Interest rates are climbing and
economists are predicting the trend to continue for some time. Yet,
people increasingly are taking on the uncertainty of ARMs.


In dollar terms, ARMs amounted
to 50 percent of new mortgages that were originated in May, notes
Roach. That's up sharply from the 20 percent average from 2001 to
2003.


Or for the love of ... that's it. I'm gonna go wrap pretty bow
ties on dog turds I find down at the park and sell 'em on eBay,
because clearly you people are ready to throw your money at anything.


Adjustable Rate Mortgages? It's bad enough that you've pushed the
housing market up into insanely unsustainable levels within the past
few years — now you're going to compound the problem by letting
the banks decide how big your mortgage payment is going to be
from month to month?


What, you weren't satisfied with just Ragnarok ... you just had to
have Armageddon too?


Don't just listen to me; here's a professional financial writer to
explain exactly how witless
you're being
:


Anyone who takes out an ARM
essentially assumes interest-rate risk.
If interest rates rise
over time, your mortgage payments rise, too. In Greenspan's ARM-ed
world, homeowners would have to watch interest rates every day, make
judgments as to whether they think rates are going to rise or fall,
and hedge accordingly. How much is it worth not to have to sift
through Greenspan's opaque congressional testimony and monitor
speeches by obscure Federal Reserve governors to divine the future
path of interest rates?


For anyone who has a fixed-rate mortgage, the opposite is true;
it's the lending institution that assumes the interest rate
risk. This is especially so in the current
environment
, where anyone with half a brain is operating under
the assumption that interest
rates are going to go up
.


Moreover, banks are far better equipped to handle this risk than
you are. They have numerous tools at their disposal (jacking
up credit card rates
, shaking
down third-world countries
, government
bailouts
, etc.) that easily make such a bitter pill sweet enough
to swallow. Don't cry for them; they'll be laughing all the way to
... well, to your house.


Even this ARM craze can't keep the housing
bubble
going on much longer. It's at least good until the
November
elections
, however, and that's all the Powers that Be in
Washington really care about at the moment.


You know, like those mysteriously
declining
gasoline
prices
...


Friday, June 18, 2004
 
The Third Man

I don't know if I'd forgotten that there was a third “enemy
combatant” that had been picked up on US soil, or if I'd never
known about it in the first place.


But it turns out that there is a third one. The Washington Post
casually reminded us of this when they let it slip during an article
about the toils
and triumphs
of the FBI's PENTTBOM team:


The PENTTBOM team also played a
leading role in the 20-month investigation of Bradley University
graduate Ali Saleh
Kahlah Marri
, who was put in a military brig in June 2003 after
President Bush accused him of being an al Qaeda sleeper agent.
PENTTBOM and Illinois FBI agents surveilled Marri in the months after
the terrorist attacks after discovering that he had called a United
Arab Emirates phone number associated with Hawsawi.


Marri was arrested as a material
witness in late 2001. Khalid Sheik Mohammed, the mastermind of the
attacks who was apprehended in Pakistan in March 2003, has told U.S.
authorities that Marri was an al Qaeda agent, said sources familiar
with the interrogations, leading to Marri's designation as an enemy
combatant.


He's actually accused of being a “sleeper agent” for
the organization. Marri may indeed be an evildoer of the highest
order, but I confess that I no longer trust the administration's
pronouncements on these things at all — particularly where it
comes to matters of such constitutional import as habeas corpus.



Number one with a mullet.
The grainy face of an enemy combatant.


Back when he was shuffled
off to Charleston
by the authorities (I'm honestly not sure if
“arrested” is the appropriate term here), Newsweek
magazine had taken note of the constitutional
shenanigans surrounding the Marri case
:


Administration officials insist it
was new information showing that the Bradley University student, Ali
Saleh Kahlah Al Marri, was an Al Qaeda “sleeper agent”
who had been dispatched to the United States at the behest of Khalid
Sheikh Mohammed, the alleged mastermind of the September 11 attacks
who was captured in Pakistan last March.


But administration officials
took the step only after Marri began mounting an aggressive legal
defense to criminal charges filed by the Justice Department
—a
legal defense effort that was engineered by a high powered New Jersey
law firm that was being paid, NEWSWEEK has learned, by the
Government of Qatar.


...


Marri’s indictment appears to
have been at least one factor in the administration’s
extraordinary decision to yank the Qatari citizen out of the
criminal-justice system and dispatch him to a military brig in
Charleston, S.C., where he will be held indefinitely—with no
access to his lawyers or any opportunity to contest the government’s
charges against him in a trial.


Newsweek goes on to point out that Al Marri's redesignation
as an “enemy combatant” is suspiciously coincidental with
his lawyers' attempts to have the charges against him dropped on
Miranda
issues
and search-warrant
irregularities
. It certainly does seem to be likely; after all,
the Bush Administration played
their hat trick
on Al Marri mere days after his attorneys made
their case.


Like I said, this Ali Saleh Kahlah Al Marri cat may be the baddest
of bad eggs, and thoroughly deserving of everything the American
justice system can throw at him. But it's American justice
that must deal with him, not this weird,
hackneyed despotism
parading around in an ill-fitting
stars-and-stripes toga and calling itself justice.


 
Spiritual Warfare

    Not all the American bishops are with me.”


  • President
    George W. Bush
    , to Vatican Officials — 6/9/2004


    I had no idea what this meant. I went home and asked
    Rosa, 'Rosa what in the world is a secular humanist?'”


  • Former
    President Jimmy Carter
    , after being informed he was no longer a
    Christian by the newly-elected leader of the Southern Baptist
    Convention — 1979



In all of the recent observations of the ecclesiastical
infighting going on in the Catholic Church, not enough attention has
been paid to one of the primary reasons all of this is going on right
now — namely, that the Catholics are essentially the last,
great unconquered
territory
for the Religious Right.


However dominant the Republican Party might seem at the moment,
it's inarguable that the nation's demographic trends are inevitably
turning against the White Protestant vote that is the base of their
support. They're gonna need a new source of recruits pretty soon, and Catholics —
and that sweet, sweet Hispanic vote that comes with them — are
just dangling out there right in front of them like so much fat,
delicious, low-lying fruit.


In fact, screw the rest of you Papists
... if the Republicans can just get their hands on that juicy
Hispanic vote, they don't really give a rat's ass what happens to the
rest of you. For all they care, y'all can just stew away in
pointy-hat purgatory where you belong, next door to the secular
humanists and all the other anti-Christians that plague our Republic.


And if it takes an all-out
theological Panzer-drive
deep into Catholic territory to win this
battle, then so be it.


Yes, the war metaphors are appropriate, for what we're witnessing
here in the steps and pews of America's Cathedrals are the opening
maneuvers of nothing less than Fundo America's version of Operation
Barbarossa
: the forced annexation of the Catholic voter. A
right-wing conversion campaign, if you will.


We can hope (and I honestly believe) that this ham-handed effort
will prove to be about as successful in securing the Catholic vote as
the original
Operation Barbarossa was
in getting Germans their coveted
Lebensraum. In the meantime, it might be instructive for those
of you on the front lines to see what life is like in the religious
territory already under fundamentalist control.


If the Catholic Church in America is comparable to Soviet Russia
in World War II, then it would be safe to say that the Southern
Baptists are the theocratical equivalent of Austria after the
Anschluss. In other words, if Catholicism is the current front
line in this war, then Southern Baptism lies deep, deep in the heart
of the Fundo Empire.


Their convention is going on this week; here's what happened on
the very
first day
:


The Southern Baptist Convention
severed a 99-year-old relationship Tuesday with the Baptist World
Alliance because of what one conservative leader called a
“continual leftward drift” of the international
association.


Not good. Sounds like they've jumped the tracks from
fundamentalism and fallen directly into the collective bosoms of the
Flat Earthers.


I mean: “Leftward drift?” Listen up, Gomers —
just because you can watch the sun set doesn't mean it's the
thing that's moving. Get my drift?


No, of
course you don't
:


We can no longer afford in
this particular day when the press for gay marriage is on . . . to be
in alliance with those organizations that support in any form or
fashion gay marriage,” said Patterson, who is now president of
Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary. “(The convention)
can't be in affiliation with some of the denominations in the Baptist
World Alliance who do not believe in the inerrancy of scripture and
regularly call it into question.”


The convention, whose 16.3 million
followers make it the country's largest Protestant denomination, is
marking the 25th anniversary of conservatives regaining leadership
.
Cutting support for the Baptist World Alliance puts more distance
between the conservative convention and moderate Baptist churches and
organizations.



"Resolved: We are holier than thou."


Guys, you can froth all you want that it was “them
sodomites” that drove you out of the Baptist
World Alliance
, but that ain't how the BWA sees it. According to
them, you're all stroked
up the wrong way
because the BWA voted to let these
guys
into your club.


There's also some weirdness about you guys accusing the BWA of
being a bunch of anticapitalist
America-haters
; but mostly it's the Cooperative Baptist
Fellowship (CBF) issue that's got you all torqued. They split
off
from you Southern Baptists in 1991, when y'all became a bit
too Taliban
for their tastes.


Now, since you've had your say about them, I think it's only fair
that the CBF be allowed to vent
a little, too
:


Our only moral, theological
or political agenda is to be the presence of Christ to a hurting and
dying world. We fail to see how achieving this vision could be so
offensive to one who claims Christ as the guiding force in his life.
We believe it ultimately harms the body of Christ for one Baptist
body to continually attack another, particularly when both groups are
trying to share the gospel of Jesus Christ around the world.”


Well, venting in a “turn the other cheek” kinda way.
Anyway, they have a point. Everybody's a Christian here, right?


Now, about that whole immorality thing you Southern Baptists say
they've got going on. Here's an interesting
counterpoint
I found from a piece written by Daniel
Vestal
, the National Coordinator of the CBF:


The USA faces a crisis of sexual
immorality and promiscuity. We ought to be concerned about the
erosion of the family and the attacks on the sanctity of marriage as
well as the loss of respect for the unborn.
We ought also to be
concerned about the growing disparity between rich and poor and the
fact that 40 million Americans don’t have health insurance.
There is in this country an unprecedented abuse of the environment as
well as a pervasive indifference to violence and pornography.
Racism remains a cancer that eats at the very fabric of our society.
There are an array of global issues that Christians need to face;
proliferation of nuclear weapons, terrorism, nation building in the
developing world and the pandemic of HIV/AIDS. Quality education for
all Americans as well as affordable and quality health care for all
Americans are moral issues. I could go on and on.


Well, Jeez. It turns out he's no fan of gay marriage either. Or
abortion and pornography, to boot.


So what's your beef with them? Is it all that other stuff ... all
that lovey-dovey crap about the environment, nuclear weapons, AIDS,
and helping the poor that's got you SBC types all hot 'n bothered? Is
that stuff too anti-American — not capitalist enough —
for you?


Is that it? Because looking at the two of you from the outside,
I'd say those are the chief ideological differences I see. That, and
the fact that CBF churches explicitly keep their noses out of the
political leanings of their individual members.


Really, then, what it comes down to is that the CBF — and by
extension the rest of the Baptist World Alliance — are just not
Republican enough for you.


And that, Catholics, is what life is like behind the lines. If you like it that way, fine. If not, then good luck on the front.


Thursday, June 17, 2004
 
Cartoonish Supervillainy — Real-World Results

Every cheap, pulpy adventure epic has its moment of denoument —
the point near the end of the story where the arch-villain,
absolutely certain that he has Our Hero trapped in an impossible
situation, lets loose with a full explanation of his nefarious plan.


Think of James Bond (or Austin Powers, if you prefer) and all the
villains they've faced off against, and you get my meaning.
Considering that Bond/Powers always breaks free and cleans the Bad
Guys' clocks before they can put the capstone on their Incredibly
Brilliant Plan for World Domination and/or Destruction
, you'd think
at least one of them would learn to keep his cards close to his vest
for once. But I figure they can't help it; it must be some critical
flaw that shows up in the psychological makeup of standard-issue
supervillainy.


Oh, and speaking of which, it looks like yet another group of
supervillains are nearing the endgame phase of their Sinister Goal
... and what a goal it is: world destruction!


Ladies and gentlemen: here it is, and it's a biggie — the
Dark Barons of the Oil Industry have officially
issued their denoument
:


The head of one of the world's
biggest oil giants has said unless carbon dioxide emissions are dealt
with he sees “very little hope for the world”.


In a frank interview, Ron Oxburgh
told the Guardian newspaper that climate change makes him “very
worried for the planet
”.


Uh oh. It looks like Oxburgh forgot to make sure that he had
himself a hero tied up before he revealed his cabal's Evil Plan unto
the world.


Oh, well. Since we clearly can't get on with this foolishness
until someone steps up to the plate and assumes the role, I guess
I'll go ahead and do it. Tie me down, Oxburgh.


[ahem] “That's madness, Oilfinger! Sheer madness!
Even a twisted and warped genius such as yourself can
see that destroying the entire world
is a fool's game
! What could you possibly hope
to accomplish with that strategy?”


People are going to go on
allowing this atmospheric carbon dioxide to build up, with
consequences that we really can't predict, but are probably not
good.”


He said a technique called
carbon sequestration urgently needs to be developed
to capture
greenhouse gas emissions like carbon dioxide, so they can be stored
underground, rather than be allowed to enter the atmosphere.


Oh. Uh, gee Oilfinger ... that is pretty brilliant,
actually.


Pump the planet dry of petrochemicals, all the while selling us
the stuff at an obscene mark-up. Watch us pollute the world to the
point where it's either clean the poisons out or watch the entire
ecosystem collapse; and then turn yourself into a “carbon
sequestration
” cartel, all the while selling us the
technology at an obscene mark-up.


Brilliant.


Um, just one thing, though ... you do have this “carbon
sequestration
” technology of yours all stored away in a
hollowed-out volcano someplace, all ready to be fired up when we meet
your demands. Right?


Right?


 
Score Up Another One For The Spooky Science Brigade

Einstein didn't much like it — never could quite wrap his
mind around it. He called it “spooky
action at a distance
,” and tried
to ignore it
as best as he could.


It's the phenomenon known as “quantum
entanglement
” — the condition whereby two particles
can share the same properties with one another, regardless of the
distance between them. Never mind if they're across town or across
the universe, the particles remain connected to each other in some
eerie, mind-boggling way.


Naw, I
don't really understand it either
. But it's real ... and it's the
basis for some pretty Big
Science-style teleportation research
going on in the world today:




Uh, yeah ... sure, I get it. Er, uhhh ... Don't
you?”


What the teams at the University of
Innsbruck and the US National Institute of Standards and Technology
(Nist) did was teleport qubits from one atom to another with the help
of a third auxiliary atom.


It relies on a strange behaviour
that exists at the atomic scale known as “entanglement”,
whereby two particles can have related properties even when they are
far apart. Einstein called it a “spooky action”.


...


The teleportation took place in
milliseconds and at the push of a button, the first time such a
deterministic mechanism has been developed for the process.


Read the
full article
yourself if you want get the full mechanical
breakdown of how it is this was done. “Qubit,” by the
way, is short for “quantum
bit
,” the most basic unit of information in quantum
computing circles
. Sorta like the dowdy
old computer bit
, only infinitely
times more migraine-inducing
.


Until now, scientists had only mastered enough quantum mechanics
to blip a
photon or two around
in this way. As amazing a feat as that may
have been in egghead circles, it was never a useful enough party
trick
to win them any supermodel phone numbers at singles
parties.


An atom is a much more complicated object than a photon, however,
so this is an honest-to-God very significant development. I imagine
it won't be too long before these supergeeks are zapping whole
buckyball-loads of atomic qubits back and forth across the planet. If
that doesn't get 'em some heavy labcoat action, I don't know what
will ...


While this development could lead to the creation of an
instantaneous
matter-transportation system
at some point in the unknowable
future, the more immediate prospects for this technology lie in the
field of quantum communications and quantum computing.


Quantum
communication
has obvious uses as a long-distance communications
medium, assuming the labcoat
mafiosi
can figure out how
to do it reliably
. I might be getting this horrendously,
boneheadedly wrong, but I'm under the impression that once the link
has been established, communication
between the two particles is instantaneous
, no matter what the
distances involved.


Quantum
computing
, on the other hand, is a much more advanced discipline,
and a far
more likely prospect
for the very near future. The first
practical versions
of these insanely powerful devices
may be little more than a
decade or two away
, depending on how optimistic you feel like
being on any given day.


Any further experience gained in the manipulation of qubits has
got to be useful in this regard.



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