Sharpening our wits on the grindstone of Life: March 2005 .comment-link {margin-left:.6em;}

Sharpening our wits on the grindstone of Life

Thursday, March 31, 2005

Happy April Fool's Day!

my kind of holiday!

Eat the Rich

We’re the richest country in the world, yet we can’t afford to adequately fund basic services in our own country, such as police, firefighting, border patrol, education, and care of our sick, poor and elderly. The only ones in our society that enjoy adequate security, safety, higher learning and health care are those who can pay for it. We’ve evolved from survival of the fittest into survival of the richest.

It’s time to stop subsidizing these rich people. They already have more money than they could possibly spend, yet we continue to give them tax breaks, economic incentives and special privileges, simply because they are rich.

Trickle-down economics doesn’t work. If you give more money to rich people, sure, they invest it in the economy. They buy more stuff. But that doesn’t raise the standard of living for the average citizen as much as it benefits the rich. It’s absurd to think that by giving them a dollar, the nickel you get in return is worth the investment.

I for one am tired of being trickled on.

The reason we continue to subsidize them is because they put so much money into the political economy. They buy favor with politicians, plain and simple. And no other investment portfolio has near the return on investment as that of contributing to political campaigns. There’s a reason they call it "pork barrel politics". The politicians become pigs at the trough, while we end up wearing barrels.

Having to feed, clothe and house our families, we can’t afford to buy off our politicians, and so we have no say in what our lawmakers do. The only time we have any input on how our government is run is at election time. And even then, we’re so wrapped up in our own lives, we don’t have the time to research all of the issues, or learn about all of the candidates. We make our decisions based on sound bites and political attack ads.

So we strive to improve our lot in life. The middle class is motivated by the carrot of becoming upper middle class. Yet that motivation more often lands them in debt by trying to keep up with the Jones’.

The poor are motivated by getting out of poverty. Yet opportunities for that are few. More often, winning the lottery is their dream of a new life. And we all know the odds of that. Slim to virtually none.

Or they turn to crime. On my way into Walmart today, I heard a snippet of a conversation between a teenage couple. He was dressed hip-hop, complete with headphones and oversized sports jersey. She, call-center chic:

She: you seen li' bit?
He: he locked up.
She: for what?
He: stole a car.

That brief, casual exchange is a sad commentary on what our society has become. One can only imagine the same conversation taking place at youth night at the country club...

She: have you seen Chad?
He: he's doing community service, speaking to underpriveleged youth.
She: how ghastly! Whatever for?
He: investor fraud.

As long as we spend our efforts trying to outdo our neighbors or hit the jackpot, legal or otherwise, the rich will continue to get richer, and bureaucrats will continue to stay fat and happy. They like the status quo, and don’t pay much attention to us little people unless we piss them off somehow, like leaving the egg yolks in their omelets, or using starch on their Armani.

Now, I'm not going all socialist on you or anything, but unless we level the playing field and make it easier for the average Joe to succeed, things will pretty much stay the way they are.

Insanity is defined as doing the same thing, yet expecting different results.

It's time to do things differently.

Wednesday, March 30, 2005

Mercury Rising

A parody by Wyld Card, sung to the tune of "Mercury Blues"

I got the money, tell you what I’ll do
Gonna buy a mercury credit or two
Cause my factory spits out mercury
Ooze it on down the road, up and down the road
I’m gonna buy off my mercury
And ooze it on down the road

I got some credits, bought ‘em from a friend
When he gets caught I’ll sell them back again
Because we’re crazy ‘bout the mercury
Ooze it on down the road, up and down the road
We’re gonna buy off our mercury
And ooze it on down the road

Hey now, mama, you don’t look so hot
You lost some brain cells and your nerves are shot
You want to blame me but you know you can’t
It’s your own damn fault for living near my plant
Cause I’m crazy ‘bout the mercury,
Ooze it on down this road, up and down this road
I’m gonna buy off my mecury
And ooze it on down this road

Amid rising concern about mercury, EPA sets new rules

Two weeks ago, the EPA issued regulations that would allow power plants to buy and sell mercury pollution credits.

Mercury is a highly toxic substance that can poison wildlife and cause brain and nervous system damage in children and fetuses. Mercury is the only metal that is a liquid at room temperature, and therefore evaporates easily to spread through the atmosphere. But unlike other airborne pollutants which spread out, mercury tends to concentrate into "hot spots", and contaminates fish, birds, and other wildlife.

According to the Natural Resources Defense Council, a research and advocacy group, mercury pollution in the US has contaminated 12 million acres of lakes, estuaries, and wetlands (30 percent of the total), and 473,000 miles of streams, rivers, and coasts.

Forty states have issued fish advisories in recent years, and 14 states - mostly in the Northeast and Midwest - have statewide advisories for some or all sport fish from rivers or lakes. Americans get most of their exposure to mercury from eating tuna fish.

The Government Accountability Office recently took the EPA to task for underplaying the danger. Meanwhile, the EPA's inspector general says agency scientists have been pressured to align themselves with the industry approach in addressing mercury.

So once again we find the current administration’s environmental philosophy in action - let the marketplace determine how we protect our environment and citizens. The polluters can buy mercury credits from cleaner plants, and don’t have to stop emitting mercury into the environment.

This may improve the overall average emission numbers, but it doesn’t reduce those 12 million acres of contaminated water or 473,000 miles of coast, streams and rivers. And it doesn’t help the people who are currently at risk of brain and nerve damage.

Environmentalists say that allowing individual power plants to acquire pollution credits would have the effect of creating "hot spots" and exposing local residents to unsafe levels of mercury.

"The cap-and-trade approach sounds great unless you are one of those people who live near a power plant that chooses to spend money on paper credits instead of making real mercury reductions," says Sierra Club executive director Carl Pope. "We know that for every six women of childbearing age in the US, one of them has mercury levels in her blood high enough to put her baby at risk."

So far, nine states have filed suit against the EPA in order to overturn the regulations. If you live anywhere near the spots on the map below, you should hope they succeed.

Monday, March 28, 2005

the Party of "Yeah!"

I've never considered myself a Democrat. I've never even been a big fan of the two party system. I've always felt that Democratic politicians are subject to the same kind of temptations that Republican politicians face as they attempt to shape the country into what they see as their ideal. Big Money is always there to push their own agenda, which seldom benefits anyone but themselves.

The alternative is to be Independent, but their candidates either don't have the following to gain a majority, or are so whacked and charismatic as to gain a following among the disenfrachised, which could lead our country into anarchy.

So, more and more, I find myself siding with Democrats on the major issues. I consider myself a progressive thinker, which puts me firmly to the left of political center. That's why the latest GOP spin campaign disturbs me.

This campaign refers to the Democratic Party as "the Party of 'No'". If by the Democratic Party they mean me and others that think like me, this couldn't be further from the truth. For example:

  • I am not against the seperation of Church and State, as guaranteed by the first ammendment.
  • I am not against gay marriage. I don't plan on engaging in one, but I'm not homophobic, so it doesn't bother me if someone else does.
  • I am not against the sanctity of marriage. If Michael Shiavo chooses to respect his wife's wishes to not sustain her life by artificial means, it is his right to do so without government interference.
  • I am not against a woman's right to choose the fate of her own body and health.
  • I am not against developing alternative energy sources to alleviate our dependence on foreign oil in order to maintain our level of energy consumption.
I could go on, but you get the idea. There are many things to which I'm not opposed. But I am opposed to forcing people to accept a Social Security alternative that would hurt them in the long run, to starting wars that we can't win in order to secure cheap oil, and to desecrating one of our last remaining wildernesses in order to satisfy our gargantuan energy demands.

If anything, I'm the Party of "Yeah!" I look forward to advances in science that bring the reality of a self sufficient America closer to fruition, and an America that respect the rights of all of its citizens.

I consider that progressive. The GOP calls it "liberal".
But is that such a bad term? Liberal used to mean "generous".
Now it's used as a derogatory epithet.
Has our country fallen so far that it considers compassion a detriment to our nation?
I sincerely hope not.

Fair to partly cloudy

It’s a beautiful day in Paradise today. The sun is shining, temperature in the low 70s, nary a cloud in the sky. And Tom Delay is refusing interviews. That always makes my day, because if he’s not talking, it means he’s on the defensive.

What he’s not talking about today is the report that his own father was in a position similar to Terri Shiavo’s – in a coma with no hope of recovery and no living will - and he quietly went along with his family’s decision not to keep him alive by artificial means. No rhetoric or righteous indignation. Why? One could only surmise that he didn’t want to subject his own family to the circus that’s surrounding the Shiavo family. How’s that for family values?

Things are not so sunny in other parts of the world. In Florida, for example, where this sad episode would be taking place in private if not for grandstanding by both bodies of Congress and our so-called Commander-in-Chief.

And also in Rome. For the first time in sixteen years, Pope John Paul II was not able to preside over the Easter Celebration at the Vatican. Sure, he made an appearance and attempted to croak out a message. But, with all due respect, I think it’s probably time to pass on the baton. There are undoubtedly back room maneuverings going on to determine his successor, because the Vatican is as much a political Coliseum as our own capital.

And in Iraq, government bodyguards fired on protesters yesterday, killing one and wounding three. About 100 men who guard Iraq's nuclear power plants and other Science Ministry sites were protesting pay cuts and rationing of ammunition when gunmen opened fire on them from the ministry building.

Iraq's interior minister warned citizens Monday not to hold protests, saying the gatherings were an invitation for a large-scale terrorist attack. His comments came a day after government bodyguards opened fire on a group of employees demanding higher wages, killing one person.

Interim Interior Minister Falah al-Naqib, likely to be out of job once the new government takes over, said the protest was among "attempts to destabilize the situation" in Iraq. He accused the protesters of trying to enter the office of Science and Technology Minister Rashad Mandan Omar and said the bodyguards where just doing their job by protecting the official.

Haithem Jassim, one of three people injured in the melee, said the demonstrators were unarmed.

There’s your validation, Mr. President. They’re looking more and more like us every day. When you can take an unpleasant situation in which someone in the government screwed up, and then blame it on the victims, you have a true democracy.

Sunday, March 27, 2005

Hope you have
a Happy Easter!
I know I will!

Friday, March 25, 2005

Texas crude and rude

There's a lot of hubbub in the blogs lately about manners and courtesy. Living in Houston, I see a lot of courtesy - holding doors, saying thank you, etc. Chivalry is a way of life here, and even the roughest of rogues will usually be courteous if you’re courteous to him.

The place I see room for improvement is on the roads. Once they gird themselves in their airbag-protected SUVs or pickups, even the meekest of soccer moms become road warriors when they're in a hurry.

Swerving in front of someone and then turning, waiting until the last possible moment to merge, and pulling out from a side road directly in front of a rapidly approaching vehicle should all be considered anti-social behavior.

I’m a firm believer that people’s license plates should contain their cell phone number.

Or, as Gallagher suggested, we should all be armed with dart guns loaded with sticky-darts. When you see a driver demonstrating vehicular rudeness, shoot his vehicle with a dart. Then when you see a vehicle full of sticky-darts, you know to avoid that driver. And it’s cheaper and less controversial than the Safe Clear plan.

On another rudeness front, MeMo has sparked a discussion on insincere manners, or disguised rudeness, if you prefer. She linked to one such purveyor of disguised rudeness, who was courteous in his invitation, but slammed her ruthlessly on his blog. Most of his complaints were groundless, but he apparently had an axe to grind.

If she had ignored him, he probably would have remained in obscurity. But by linking to him, he saw more comments on his blog within a few days than he probably has since he started blogging. That’s right, I’m jealous, but won’t stoop to trashing people just to get readers. I’d rather continue with what I think is a good message and a few intelligent readers, than have a huge following of unthinking lemmings and meaningless tripe for content.

But I digress. The MeMo issue was whether she’s relevant or not. She portrays herself as a “cultural blog”. That in itself should tell you she’s not posting on world-shaking issues. Culture isn’t just opera, symphony and “the theeyutah”. Pop culture is included, which is the niche she fills. In the pre-blog world, Dennis Miller made a career out of commenting on pop culture, before 9/11 drove him around the bend and into the arms of the right wing propaganda machine.

And there are other cultural blogs out there, even in the media, such as Slate’s Surfergirl.

Another question raised was why the Houston Chronicle would choose a cultural blog as their maiden foray into blogdom. Again groundless, considering there’s Dwight Silverman's TechBlog and Richard Justice's sports blog in the Chronicle as well.

I guess I should get out more often. As I mentioned in my last post, I don’t get much of a chance to just surf for surfing’s sake. But when I do, what I see surprises me, because I tend to forget how petty some people can be. And how uninformed the petty ones usually are. There’s a correlation there, and people like MeMo, who have a large readership and relative editorial freedom, are the bridge between information and ignorance, whether it’s about politics or pizza crust, gun control or goldfish. So write on, MeMo! But be sure to play nice with the other kids.

Have gun, will travel

It’s been a while since I’ve been able to surf the ‘net other than to check in at my usual haunts. Finally got to do just that recently, and am disturbed at the naiveté of the average Republican citizen. I’m not talking about the wingnuts – I’m aware of their sociopathic nature. I’m referring to the average schmuck that voted for Bush for his moral values. It seems he’s still swallowing blindly what’s fed to him without asking what’s in it.

I followed some threads on the Minuteman Project. You know, where thousands of volunteers are supposed to gather in Arizona from all over the the country to guard the border from illegal aliens? It seems the average Joe believes these guys are going to be walking around with note pads, taking names and calling the border patrol. Sounds harmless enough, kind of like hall monitors in grade school.

But the hall monitors I remember were weasely power hungry wannabes, who reveled in the power they held over their peers, whom they could punish at their whim with a quick scratch of their Number 2 pencil. Mix this personality with that of the school bully, throw in some anger and bigotry, and you have an idea of the kind of people that will be patrolling the badlands of Arizona (cue the Good, Bad and Ugly theme music).

If this month-long project ends with no violence, and results in more official border patrol personnel, then more power to them. But based on the past history of the participants and the region, violent confrontation is likely. As noted in my post on February 27th, some of these “patriots” see the borderlands as a legitimate migrant hunting ground.

In 2000 Miguel Angel Palafox, a 20-year-old migrant, was shot in the neck by two horsemen dressed in black who attacked him near the border town of Sasabe, about 50 miles east of Cochise County. Palafox crawled back to Mexico with a T-shirt wrapped around his wound and lived to tell the tale, though the riders remain unknown.

Last October, in the small town of Red Rock, between Tucson and Phoenix, two undocumented immigrants were found shot to death by a roadside. Manuel Ortega, a spokesman for the Mexican Consulate in Tucson, says the two victims were part of a group of 12 migrants resting around a pond south of the town. While most of the group slumbered, one of the migrants told the consulate staff, two masked men dressed in camouflage and armed with machine guns appeared from the woods, firing upon the group and killing the two before the others scattered.

But surely the Minuteman project wouldn’t allow this type of person to be part of their peaceful protest, would they? Take a look at their leadership. One of the organizers was suspected of beating a migrant in 2003, but never charged. He regularly hosts camping parties on his ranch with the goal of chasing off illegal immigrants who cross his land.

His co-conspirator is a paranoid refugee from California, who issued a “call to arms” in his Tombstone newspaper. I posted a profile of him on March 4th. Scary guy. He runs a militia designed to repel illegals, and requires them to be armed. Fortunately his ranks are few, as most of the people who volunteer can’t pass the background check required before they can be registered to carry a weapon. In 2003 he issued a “message to the world”, warning:

“Do not attempt to cross the border illegally; you will be considered an enemy of the state; if aggressors attempt to forcefully enter our country they will be repelled with force if necessary!"

If anything good could be said about this project, it’s that attention is finally being shown to the sad state of the security of our borders. Late last year Congress authorized adding 2000 agents per year for the next five years, nearly doubling the Border Patrol’s ranks, although Bush’s new budget only allows for 210 new agents this year.

That’s another silver lining to this issue. It’s got a lot of Republicans pissed at dubya. But again, they’re swallowing the party line without thinking. They think he’s against it because of the Hispanic vote, or because he’s afraid of Vincente Fox. He doesn’t need the Hispanic vote, or any votes for that matter. He’s a lame duck. He opposing the Minuteman Project and cutting spending for border security simply to repay special interests that helped get him into (and back into) office. Nothing more, nothing less.

So since the Minuteman Project is going forward, all we can do is hope that there’s a minimum of bloodshed. And if you’re traveling through Arizona in April, stay north of I-10. Especially if you fit the Hispanic or Middle Eastern profile. And if you live in Arizona, regardless of ethic appearance, keep you head down. You never know when a stray bullet may come your way.

Other fish to fry

Less than a year ago, most Americans had never heard of Tom DeLay. Although he’s one of the most powerful men in Washington, he’s stayed below the radar and kept most of his heavy-handed activities under the table, and usually below the belt. But since his success at stacking the deck for Republicans in the Texas Legislature, those he’s trampled have brought him and his activities into the spotlight, resulting in official reprimands from the House Ethics Committee and a constant barrage from the media. He calls it “partisan attacks”, but I call it “sweeeeet!”

He recently enjoyed a brief respite from criticism while he helped engineer the Schiavo feeding tube legislation debacle, and will likely milk that for all the political points he can from the religious right, but at least the majority of Americans now know him and his modus operandi.

I’ve been lambasting him since I started blogging a few months ago, so it’s gratifying to see him swinging in the wind. Although he’s far from finished in politics, the usually outspoken “Hammer” is now avoiding the press (with the exception of the Schiavo thing) and his legislative lapdogs are worried and distancing themselves from him whenever possible.

While we can’t let up on DeLay and let him fade back into powerful obscurity, there are other fish to fry. One such could be John Duncan, Jr, R-Tennessee. Not being in his district, or even his state, I’d never heard of him. But he made some news recently when he compared opponents of drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge to Nazis.

“It is amazing how they have distorted this issue, almost worse than Nazi propaganda.”

He’s been given a 100% approval rating by the National Right to Life Committee, and was awarded and “A” by the National Rifle Association.

On the other end of the spectrum, he’s been rated “0” by the Human Rights Campaign and the National Organization for Women.

Now he’s been chosen to host Tartan Week, a Scottish initiative to promote Scotland internationally.

The MSP for Hamilton South had expected to use Tartan Week, the worldwide celebration of Scottish history and culture, as a way of promoting the nation as a thriving place in which to live and work. He had also intended to use his visit to the States to strengthen the links with the millions of Americans who claim to have Scots ancestry.

But the Executive’s itinerary of meetings and events is set to be overshadowed by the inclusion within the schedule of one of Washington’s most right-wing politicians.

Duncan, who co-sponsored a Tartan Day resolution in the House of Representatives, is a social conservative and a favourite among Christian and gun groups.

Needless to say, Scottish liberals are up in arms. They’re trying to repair the images of Scotland and Tartan Week, which have been tarnished by association with right wing groups.

News of Duncan’s conservative politics is the latest blow for an event that has a knack of attracting incendiary right-wing Republicans.

Tartan Week was first tarnished in the late 1990s when it became associated with Trent Lott, the Mississippi senator who once described homosexuality as an addiction that could be cured. He later resigned as majority leader after praising segregationist Strom Thurmond.

The yearly celebration has also been undermined in the past by southern groups using the event as a way of linking their Scottish ancestry with ideas of white supremacy.

So while Tom DeLay stews in his own juices, I’ll be researching John Duncan. Who knows, maybe he’s really a good guy getting a bad rap. But if he’s the darling of the religious right and the gun crowd, I kinda doubt it.

Tuesday, March 22, 2005

You'll put your eye out!

Our thoughts and prayers go out to the devastated families and friends of those killed and injured by the deranged teenager at Red Lake High School in Minnesota. Although not beyond belief, it’s disturbing that someone’s self-esteem can get so low that he feels that the only solution is to end the lives of those who hurt him.

All I can say is, it’s a good thing he didn’t have access to fireworks. He coulda put someone’s eye out.

That’s what’s on the mind of several Texas lawmakers this week, as they try to push legislation that would regulate, and possibly ban, fireworks in unincorporated areas of Harris County.

It’s ironic that the same people who vehemently oppose gun control are attempting to protect us from the dangers of sparklers and firecrackers. Never mind that a lot more people are harmed by firearms than fireworks. And aren’t these the people who say they want less government intrusion in our lives?

Republicans have been trying to pass legislation to control our use (or, if they get their way, non-use) of fireworks for more than a decade, but have been prevented from doing so by a single Democrat. A really, really big Democrat, apparently.

But not to worry. This really, really big Democrat, state Sen. Frank Madla, chairman of the Intergovernmental Relations Committee, says he will not stand in their way this time. Supposedly, he’s been opposing the legislation because his district includes some large fireworks distributors. His stance has softened because one of his most significant supporters, who opposed fireworks regulation, has died. But not in a fireworks related accident.

The poster boy for this campaign is a Dad whose fireworks put his daughter’s eye out last year. So because this doofus and his friends are incapable of handling them safely, he’s joined the fight to make it against the law for the rest of us to buy or use fireworks in the county.

The Fourth of July is coming up. If these Big Government, borrow-and-spend wingnuts succeed in taking away this freedom, I guess I’ll have to go out and buy a gun and shoot it up into the sky. Yeah, that’ll be so much safer.

Sunday, March 20, 2005

The real world is still out there

The real world is still building and decaying, growing and dying outside of my personal bubble that bounces like a pinball between work, home, friends and the city.

The earth revolves a little slower out in the real world. The real world waves at you as you walk by. The real world keeps busy by mowing its yard, chasing its kids, and generally bouncing around in its own personal bubble.

Unfortunately, the real world's personal bubble doesn't bounce very far from home, and only contains a few score other people, so it has to get its information from mass media.

The real world doesn't see the devastation caused by short sighted politicians and greedy corporations in their quest for power and money until its personal bubble is affected. And because the world revolves slower in the real world, by then it's too late to stop it.

The real world elected our current administration based on what it perceived was moral values. Mass media told the real world that moral values were God and Country, period. God's wrath on the wicked, and devotion to Country, right or wrong, no questions asked. Nothing about feeding the hungry, healing the sick, housing the homeless, protecting the weak.

Now the real world is getting hungry, sick, poor and weak.

Soon, all it'll have left is God and Country. And as it becomes totally dependent on Country for its basic existence, and the Great American Dream becomes extinct, it will only have God.

Then it will truly be like the real world of the Old Testament.

Following in the footsteps of history

After the devastating loss at the Alamo on March 6, 1836, The Texas Army and settlers began what came to be known as "the runaway scrape". The settlers made a mad dash for the United States to the east, while the army retreated slowly, attempting to gain volunteers, supplies and training along the way.

The army arrived at the banks of the Brazos River just north of San Felipe de Austin on March 28, 1836. Sam Houston, newly appointed commander, decided that rather than cross the river and possibly lead the Mexican Army toward retreating civilians, he'd bring his army north along the west side of the river and attempt to draw the Mexican army with him. He posted garrisons at river crossings, and took the bulk of his army north.

It is this path that your intrepid wanderer chose as my annual trek on the Sam Houston Trail. Actually, true to my nature, I did it backwards. I started about eleven miles north and hiked roughly southward to San Felipe.

The path was a mixture of dirt, gravel and asphalt roads. Along the way I passed farms, mobile homes and a variety of domiciles, from tackboard to brick, siding to stone. Many were habitated, some were abandoned.

I passed another dilapidated church, this one built over a century ago. The good news is, a new one was being built next to it. The bad news - only one guy was building it. Speaking to him, I got the impression that the congregation was fired up about the project, but apparently had other things to do that day. A sad commentary on the state of American perseverance.

I also passed the ACME Brick factory in the middle of a long desolate stretch of dirt road. The stacks of bricks conveniently displayed out front didn't fool me. You and I both know this has to be the secret manufacturing plant that produces rockets, catapults and other dastardly paraphernalia that allows Wile E. Coyote to execute his nefarious plans.

I crossed over a bridge above a waterway that was littered with debris. I've heard of a river bed before, but a river sofa? And this sofa was half buried in silt, so it had obviously been there awhile, accompanied by tires, car parts and old appliances. I guess heavy trash pickup was one of the first public services this area lost in order to pay for our war on terror.

I stayed overnight with "Stone Cold" Steve Austin. Stephen F. Austin State Park, that is. The weather was actually perfect for outdoor sleeping, in the 50s, but I'm told that after I left the next day they had a front move in with golf ball-sized hail, and I guess that qualifies as "cold stone".

The park is a popular camping spot, so it was full. After an eleven mile hike, I turned in pretty early, while the other campers did not. I fell asleep while a festival erupted around me in a cacaphony containing every imaginable audible frequency range.

I awoke in the morning to a similar cacaphony, this time of an avarian nature. The songs of the birds were similar to those of the mammals the night before, yet much more orchestrated. Many conclusions can be drawn from this, but the one that chiefly comes to mind is that in nature, different species can co-exist and still thrive. Competition is there, but seldom leads to extinction. When humans are involved? Not so much.

So there you have it. I made it home, and in time for the Foxworthy roast on Comedy Central. No worse for wear and tear, and perhaps a little wiser. Nothing left to do but put an ending to this adventure and this story, although nothing immediately comes to mind.

Wait, an inspiration! How about this?

Git 'er done!

Friday, March 18, 2005

Another week in the trenches...

If you’re reading this, then you survived St. Patrick’s Day. Everyone in my circle made it through alive, although a few of them probably wish they hadn’t.

Now that things have settled back into some semblance of normalcy, it’s again time for me to embark on a well deserved sabbatical.

This time I’m retracing the steps of Sam Houston on his way to his historic battle with Santa Ana.

Scoff if you will, but it’s therapeutic for me to hike through modern rural Texas (no, that’s not an oxymoron. They have the “internets” now, you know). It helps restore my perspective.

In my past tracings on the Sam Houston trail, I’ve imbedded in my psyche many images that I occasionally conjure up when an understanding of these modern times eludes me.

A church that was built by its congregation decades - if not a century - ago, decaying idly in a weed infested field.

An old man sitting on his porch plaintively strumming blues on a guitar.

An old one-room school house, abandoned and vandalized, on the edge of a soon-to-be ghost town.

The original seat of the first Texas government, nestled in an open field in the shade of the interstate. And there’s not even a gift shop. Or corrupt politicians.

So while I’m off rejuvenating, it’s up to y’all to keep on fixing the world. However, I will leave you with a few thoughts before I go. Feel free to discuss them amongst yourselves.

Of course, by now everyone knows about the Major League Baseball players testifying before the congressional committee about steroids. What I don’t get is, why was Mark McGuire so emotional. I mean, he didn’t take the 5th, but he gave about as much information as if he did. So why was he so close to tears?

Pope John Paul II is likening his suffering to that of Jesus. And I thought he was just really, really old. Sure he’s got bad knees and a hip, and okay, Parkinson’s disease. But I don’t recall any spears in his side, or lashings, or crowns of thorns. He also calls himself a “patient among patients”. Yeah, right. All patients get their own hospital wing, with personal round the clock staff, and their own PopeBulance. Puh-lease!

Texas House Bill 3 343 allows the internet sale of lottery tickets by the Texas Lottery Commission through debit cards and other electronic means. This bill will go hand in hand with the new bankruptcy laws being pushed through in Washington, by allowing gambling addicts further ways of increasing their debt so the banks can collect more of their money when they go belly up.

Speaking of “bankruptcy reform”, isn’t forgiveness of debts in the Bible? Funny how the same hypocrites who constantly spew about abortion and gay marriage are the same ones who’ve conveniently set aside their moral standards to push this legislation through. It couldn’t have anything to do with the $7.3 million in political contributions from the banking industry over the past two years, could it?

While we’re on hypocrisy and political payoff, how about the proposed Texas House budget, which includes a new sales tax on bottled water, but none on beer, wine and liquor? The Texas Liquor industry donated $726,000 to Texas politicians in 2004. The bottled water industry? None.

Then there’s the lady who chained her scooter up outside the vehicle registration office while she went inside for plates, and the army blew it up because they thought it might be a bomb. Well, it didn’t have a license plate, did it? My advice to her? Don’t buy a lottery ticket this week.

Or the Treasury auditors who posed as IT techs and got IRS employees to hand over usernames and passwords that gain access to taxpayer data. I thought it was dangerous to use my personal and financial information on the internet. Now it seems I gotta keep it away from the government in order to prevent identity theft.

I could go on, but I gotta go put new gels in my boots. Have a great weekend, y’all, and we’ll do this again next week.

Thursday, March 17, 2005

From the folks at!

Wednesday, March 16, 2005

It's a beautiful day...

Smith may face conflict in future DeLay investigation
DeLay's political fund linked to Texas group

Looking at the weather channel this morning, it seemed like it was going to be a dreary day. Rain, and temperatures in the 50s. Sure, that may seem like an improvement in most parts of the country, but here in paradise, it's dreary.

But, lo and behold, it's turned out to be a beautiful day after all. Not because of the weather, it's still cold and rainy, but because of developements in the political climate.

Tom DeLay, a bane to most of us of a progressive bent, who "never backs down from a fight" is strangely silent. It seems that the civil lawsuit, i.e. "partisan attack" brought forth by the "whining losers" in his power grab for the Texas Legislature, is bringing things to light that may lead to more than just admonishments from the House Ethics Committee.

A House ethics committee member helped raise money for a Texas political committee associated with Majority Leader Tom DeLay, presenting a possible conflict if the congressional panel investigates DeLay's role in a fund-raising controversy.

Rep. Lamar Smith, R-Texas, was listed as a special guest and speaker in 2002 for Texans for a Republican Majority. While investigating DeLay's conduct last year, the House committee deferred - but did not dismiss - a complaint that DeLay, R-Texas, used the same political committee to solicit corporate contributions in violation of state law.

"Your support today will go directly to help Republican candidates in Texas successfully run and win their campaigns," according to one invitation from the political committee for a Sept. 23, 2002, breakfast reception with Smith and Rep. Henry Bonilla, R-Texas. Suggested donations ranged from $25 to $10,000.

As you know (if you're one of the elite few who've been reading this blog ot others like it), Smith was appointed to the ethics committee after others who let their morals get in the way of the Party Line were dismissed. Now it seems that the strategy has backfired, and may raise ethics questions of its own if (or when) ethics charges are filed against DeLay.

Documents in court are exposing numerous instances where the lines blur between ARMPAC, which is allowed to give money to candidates, and TRMPAC, which is not.

Tsk, tsk. And it was all hidden so well, and would never have been noticed if this "vindictive" suit hadn't been filed.

Smith's role in the fund raising is the latest controversy involving the ethics committee and DeLay. The Republican-controlled House this year changed the rules for ethics probes, contending greater fairness was needed toward members under investigation.

Democrats are trying to overturn those changes, arguing they were designed to block any new investigations of DeLay by requiring at least one Republican vote to proceed.

In an ethics committee that has five members from each party, Democrats have caused a 5-5 partisan split over adopting the new rules, preventing the committee from conducting any business.

The committee admonished DeLay last year for appearing to link legislation to political donations, for offering to support the House candidacy of a lawmaker's son in return for a vote, and for asking federal aviation officials to help track down Texas Democratic lawmakers who fled their capital during a redistricting dispute.

Meanwhile, a further indication of DeLay's downward spiral is that Dubya feels the need to defend him during a press conference while also defending his policies in Iraq and his Social Security destruction plan.

"I have confidence in Tom DeLay's leadership and I have confidence in Tom DeLay," the president said at a White House news conference. "And we've worked closely with Tom DeLay and the leaders in the House to get a lot done during the last four years, and I'm looking forward to working with him to get a lot done in the next four years."

So far, the things they've gotten done include driving the economy into the ground, eliminating the freedoms of the average American, and isolated us from the rest of the world. What's left to do? With DeLay backed into a corner, and Bush trying to cement his legacy as a war president, that's a scary question to answer.

But I don't want to think about that just now. Now's the time to savor the sweet smell of success. Tomorrow we'll tackle the next battle. Tonight it's a glass of wine, some good company, and the knowledge that our country isn't completely screwed yet.

And that's more than I can say for how it looked last week...

...Unless you happen to be Arctic wildlife

Senate votes to open Alaska wildlife refuge to oil drilling

It looks like we may finally lose America’s last untouched wilderness to greed… uh, I mean “national security”. That’s the argument used by proponents of oil and gas drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR), which was approved by the Senate today as a part of their proposal for next year’s budget. By including the provision in the budget, well drilling in the refuge will be immune from a filibuster by opponents.

It takes a 60% favorable vote to break a filibuster. Today’s vote passed 51 – 49, with Democrats and moderate Republicans voting against it. Bush will no doubt consider this a “will of the people” mandate.

Bush has called tapping the reserve's oil a critical part of the nation's energy security and a way to reduce America's reliance on imported oil, which account for more than half of the 20 million barrels of crude use daily.

It's "a way to get some additional reserves here at home on the books," Bush said Wednesday.

Not so fast, George. It may go “on the books” if you use Enron accounting methods, but in the real world, it won’t alleviate rising oil prices or tight supplies, even though those issued undoubtedly affected how legislators voted. Even according to drilling proponents, we won’t see the oil from this region for at least another decade.

Don’t worry, though, damage to the ecosystem can begin right away. Although drilling proponents argue that “only” 2000 acres will be devastated, that doesn’t include the infrastructure necessary to support drilling operations, such as pipelines, runways, roads, and all of the aircraft and trucks that will use the infrastructure.

ANWR Section 1002 - reserved for oil and gas exploration. Posted by Hello

ANWR, which was deemed protected land in 1960, is currently about the size of South Carolina. In 1980, when oil supplies were also a hot button like today, lawmakers sliced out 1.5 million acres for future oil and gas exploration if it was approved by Congress. The oil industry has been drooling over this region for decades, but it wasn’t until our “new and improved” government came into power that the stage is set for such large scale ecological rape (for moral reasons, obviously).

Of course, this still has to get by the House, which doesn’t have this provision in their budget bill. So it ain’t etched in stone yet, but given the climate and the rhetoric involved, we can probably kiss a good portion of our wilderness goodbye.

Tuesday, March 15, 2005

it's Hammer Time

DeLay Troubles Cause Concern
DeLay faces noisy, partisan debate on ethics
Documents Suggest Bigger DeLay Role in Donations
DeLay Says He Was Aware of Fund-Raising Methods
As DeLay's Woes Mount, So Does Money

Things are heating up for our buddy from Sugar Land, Tom DeLay.

"If death comes from a thousand cuts, Tom DeLay is into a couple hundred, and it's getting up there," said a Republican political consultant close to key lawmakers. "The situation is negatively fluid right now for the guy. You start hitting arteries, it only takes a couple." The consultant, who at times has been a DeLay ally, spoke on the condition of anonymity, saying he could not be candid otherwise.

It appears he's getting into hotter water every day, as he continues to claim he's doing nothing wrong, yet is acting only in our own best interest as he bulls his way through the system, making life easier for special interests in his quest for a better America.

House Majority Leader Tom DeLay traveled to Britain with his wife, several aides and lobbyists on a $70,000 junket mostly paid for with money from an Indian tribe and a gambling services company, The Washington Post reported Saturday.
Not long after the outing, Rep. DeLay, the second most powerful Republican in the House of Representatives, played a key role in killing gaming-related legislation opposed by the company and tribe.

But how misunderstood can you get? Here's conservative hero Tom DeLay, trying to help our Native Americans get their due. What gives?

Two months after the trip, the Post reported, DeLay voted against a bill that could have hurt the [Choctaw] tribes' gambling interests. Six months after the trip, the report said, he made a floor speech in which he called one of the tribe's leaders a "champion of peace and prosperity."

DeLay has said he opposes expansion of legal gambling.

The bill he killed was called the Internet Gambling Prohibition Act, which would have made it illegal to place bets over the internet. That doesn't sound like he's opposed to the expansion of gambling to me. And wasn't the Choctaw tribe just given a $3 million dollar grant for school construction? I would think that if they could afford to send "the Hammer" and his entourage on a junket (i.e. paid vacation), they could afford to put money into their own schools.

I know, I'm a heartless liberal, wanting to deprive these poor downtrodden people of their right to the political process. After all, everyone else gets to bribe their lawmakers, why shouldn't they?

But is DeLay really in danger of being prosecuted for his obvious "you scratch my back, I'll scratch yours" back room political tactics? Not likely. He was admonished three times last year by the Congressional Ethics Committee for apparently trading legislation for personal favors, which led to the replacement of two Republicans on the Ethics Committee for others who were more loyal to The Cause, and a change in the rules that made it more difficult to investigate ethics complaints.

The rule changes require at least one member of each party to support an investigation before it is begun. Under the old rules, if the chairman and top Democrat did not agree on what to do with a complaint within 45 days after it was determined to be valid, an investigative subcommittee was automatically created. Now, a complaint is automatically dismissed if the committee does not act within 45 days.

So basically, if the leading Democrat and leading Republican on the committee can't agree that the complaint is valid within 45 days, it gets dismissed. This would have resulted in DeLay's complaints never coming to light had the rules been in effect at the time.

But we can count on our non-partisan elected officials to look beyond this loophole, despite the fact they might be investigating a celebrated fundraiser like Tommy Boy, right?

A legal defense fund established by Tom DeLay, the House majority leader, has dramatically expanded its fund-raising effort in recent months, taking in more than $250,000 since the indictment last fall of two his closest political operatives in Texas, according to Mr. DeLay's latest financial disclosure statements.

The list of recent donors includes dozens of Mr. DeLay's House Republican colleagues, including two lawmakers who were placed on the House ethics committee this year, and several of the nation's largest corporations and their executives.

House Republican donors, Lamar Smith of Texas, who has given $10,000 to Mr. DeLay, and Tom Cole of Oklahoma, who gave $5,000, were placed on the House ethics committee this year, a move that drew criticism from House Democrats given the possibility that it might investigate the majority leader.

Well, maybe not. But at least he won't have a huge war chest, like he did for his illegal PAC that helped gain a Republican majority in the House.

Among the corporate donors to the defense fund is Bacardi U.S.A., the Florida-based rum maker, which has also been indicted in the Texas investigation, and Reliant Energy, another major contributor to a Texas political action committee formed by Mr. DeLay that is the focus of the criminal inquiry. Groups seeking an overhaul of Congressional ethics rules have long complained that companies might seek the favor of powerful lawmakers by contributing to their legal defense funds.

Okay, with all this backing, surely he must be one of the good guys. I mean, how can forty million American dollars be wrong? Surely they wouln't do this unless he represented something good for our country?

The intersection of DeLay's political dealings and pending legislation was raised by the ethics committee last year, when it issued three admonishments against the House leader.

The committee noted an appearance of impropriety was created by an exclusive DeLay fund-raiser in 2002 for energy executives, including Reliant Energy of Houston, just before he served on a panel dealing with major energy legislation. The relationship with Reliant also has been raised in the pending civil lawsuit in Texas.

So they paid big money to play golf with him, and he steered legislation their way. What's the harm? It's not like he used the money to buy new cars or houses, 'cause he already has plenty of those. He used the money to kick all of the bleeding-heart liberals out of the Texas Legislature so they can pass important laws to keep gays from taking over the country. Surely that's worth breaking a few laws.

And all it takes is a well-funded Political Action Committee...

Discussing the committee's origins, Mr. DeLay said, "Yes, it was my idea, or it was our idea - those of us that wanted to enhance the Republicans who served in the House of Representatives in the Texas Legislature."

Two of Mr. DeLay's political operatives based in Washington were indicted last September in the Texas investigation, charged with taking part in what prosecutors have described as a plot to funnel corporate donations from the committee to Republican candidates, in violation of state election laws. Texas law bars companies from making donations to state candidates.

But wait! After the investigation started, the story changed:

In a videotaped deposition played at a civil trial in Texas last week, the committee's former executive director testified that Mr. DeLay did not come up with the idea of creating the committee and suggested that the House majority leader had little to do with day-to-day operations. The former executive director, John Colyandro, is among those indicted in Texas.

What's this? Surely as an upstanding House member, Tom DeLay will set the record straight...

Mr. DeLay said Wednesday that he had only an "advisory capacity" at the committee. He said he was aware of what he described as a careful effort to separate corporate donations, which under Texas law can be used only for administrative costs, from individual donations, which can go to candidates.

Apparently, hubris made DeLay claim credit for the PAC, when in reality he had little to do with it. It's a common mistake in American politics. I mean, it's not like he claimed to invent the "internets".

Documents subpoenaed from an indicted fund-raiser for Tom DeLay, the House majority leader, suggest that Mr. DeLay was more actively involved than previously known in gathering corporate donations for a political committee that is the focus of a grand-jury investigation in Texas, his home state.

The documents, which were entered into evidence last week in a related civil trial in Austin, the state capital, suggest that Mr. DeLay personally forwarded at least one large corporate check to the committee, Texans for a Republican Majority, and that he was in direct contact with lobbyists for some of the nation's largest companies on the committee's behalf.

In an August 2002 document subpoenaed from the files of the indicted fund-raiser, Warren M. RoBold, Mr. RoBold asked for a list of 10 major donors to the committee, saying that "I would then decide from response who Tom DeLay" and others should call to help the committee in seeking a "large contribution."

I'm confused here. He didn't have much to do with the PAC that made illegal transactions, but he helped collect the money for those transactions. Just how involved was he in this PAC?

An e-mail exchange from the computer files of a member of the committee's advisory board notes that a "finance committee" conference call in October 2002 was postponed at Mr. DeLay's request "because of action on Iraq."

Other documents show how often Mr. DeLay's name was cited by the committee's fund-raisers when they were seeking donations. An e-mail message sent by Mr. Colyandro on Sept. 20, 2002, asked that a telephone call be made to a prominent Texas lawyer for his help at a fund-raising event the following week. "He needs a push," Mr. Colyandro wrote. "Please tell him how important he is and how important this is to T. D."

Okay, so he wanted to be involved in financial decisions, and helped apply a little pressure to reluctant contributors. Does that mean he actively participated in the daily operation of the PAC?

Another document is a printout of a July 2002 e-mail message to Mr. RoBold from a political ally of Mr. Delay, requesting a list of corporate lobbyists who would attend a fund-raising event for the committee, adding that "DeLay will want to see a list of attendees" and that the list should be available "on the ground in Austin for T.D. upon his arrival."

Uh, okay. He actively participated. But, in denial of the evidence, not according to RoBold's lawyer.

A lawyer for Mr. RoBold, Rusty Hardin of Houston, said that the documents offered no evidence to suggest any wrongdoing by Mr. RoBold or Mr. DeLay, and that Mr. RoBold continued to believe that Mr. DeLay had only a limited advisory role on Texans for a Republican Majority.

"Warren was just having no contact with DeLay about this," Mr. Hardin said in an interview. "DeLay wasn't directing him."

The released documents show that DeLay was, or at least was inferred to be, involved in all but the legal activities of the PACs operation. Naturally, this delighted his opposition.

Cris Feldman, a lawyer for the Democratic candidates, said he believed that the newly revealed documents from Mr. RoBold were eye-opening.

"We always knew Tom DeLay was involved," Mr. Feldman said, "but we never realized the extent to which he was involved in fund-raising directly with corporations."

One of the most intriguing documents, he said, was a printout of a September 2002 e-mail exchange between Mr. RoBold and Drew Maloney, a Washington lobbyist who is Mr. DeLay's former legislative director and administrative assistant in the House.
Mr. Maloney, who has lobbied on behalf of Reliant Energy, the Houston-based energy company that was a major contributor to Texans for a Republican Majority, offered Mr. RoBold a list of possible corporate donors to the Texas committee, adding: "I finally have the two checks from Reliant. Will deliver to T.D. next week."

Ooh, that's gotta hurt. Maloney, who's probably not going to be invited on many of DeLay's future junkets, delivers the smoking gun. But in his defense...

In a telephone interview on Tuesday, Mr. Maloney said he could not recall many of the details of the Reliant donations or whether checks from Reliant were ever transferred to the Texas committee through Mr. DeLay's office in Washington.
"I don't think it was necessarily meant that he'd get them himself," he said. "I don't know how that all flowed."

So there you have it. Maybe he did, and maybe he didn't.

Asked if he had been contacted by prosecutors in Austin or by the grand jury, Mr. Maloney would not comment, saying instead: "I'm not going to get into these witch-hunt allegations. I think there's been enough written on all this stuff."

Au contraire, mon ami. I think there's plenty more to be "written on all this stuff". Hopefully, it will be written with us, the taxpayers, in mind. And not just the PAC contributors.

Monday, March 14, 2005

Talk Hard!

Seem to have a window on the server...

Not sure if this is getting through, but keep up the fight, brothers!

Can't hold on much longer...

Don't stop fighting the powers that be, ...

Our future relies on you, the bloggers...

If this gets through, ...

tell them I didn't go down easy...

Saturday, March 12, 2005

Friday, March 11, 2005

I blog, therefore I am.

But man cannot live by blog alone,
which is why there are websites.

Hear ye, hear ye!

Announcing the launch of the
official Wyld Card website!

Dat da da DA!

Just in time for St. Patrick's Day, I've put all of my eggs in one basket (oh, wait, that's Easter).

Just in time for St. Patrick's Day, I've put all my beer in one cooler, for all to enjoy!

"Damn", you say. "Two months as a blogger and now he's got delusions of grandeur". Well, why not? After all, that's what the "internets" are for. Distribution of information. And what better information to distribute than things that make me happy, and may make you happy as well. I mean, who doesn't like humor, partying and barbecue?

So, to kick it off, the St. Pat's Day party is underway. There are classic and modern toasts - traditional, humorous and both. There are jokes and limericks, and links to others that share my enthusiasm for all things Irish.

So check out It's still in its infant stage, but you'll get a kick out of it, and want to refer to it whenever an opportunity to celebrate comes along. Save it in Favorites under holidays, celebration, party supplies, whatever.

Today St. Patrick's Day, tomorrow the world! Well, maybe not the world, but I'll tackle my favorite holidays, including Halloween, Christmas, April Fools Day, possibly even Mardis Gras and Secretary's Day.

There will also be humorous and philosophical tidbits, barbecuing tips, and anything else I can think of to make the site better.

I'll most likely migrate my blog over eventually, after I figure out how. I'm coding the site manually using HTML code (pardon my geekspeak), so there won't be any streaming video or blistering guitar soundtrack, at least not yet.

In the meantime, check it out at

Spring is in the air

Well, it's officially springtime in Houston. No, it's not the trees budding or birds chirping, that's been happening for weeks now here in paradise. It's the release of the "dancing old guy" onto the airwaves.

Posted by Hello

It's hard to avoid him unless you turn off your TV (hey, what a concept). Into your humdrum dreary lives he arrives on a bus, promising thrills, chills and good times galore. Although he appears to be ancient, he launches into a dance that can only be described as frantic.

I don't know about you, but this guy creeps me out. Like a pied piper, he leads our youth off to Neverland with promises of endless fun and excitement. Kinda Jackoistic if you ask me. I don't think I'd want my kid to get on his bus.

Wait a minute! What's this tingly feeling? I'm getting happy feet! Gotta dance!

Ah, the power of advertising. It can make you buy something you don't want at a price you can't afford. Something to think about. But not right now, I have to go buy my kids tickets to Astroworld...

Thursday, March 10, 2005

More fun down on the border

Yee haw! Things are heating up down south, although there's no fire yet. Apparently a county supervisor, Paul Newman (no, not that Paul Newman), had the audacity to ask the vigilante group planning to patrol the border next month to apply for a permit for what they call a "peaceful demonstration".

A Cochise County supervisor is calling for enforcement of zoning codes that could affect a planned gathering of volunteers to patrol the U.S.-Mexican border, saying local government needs to "minimize the potential for violence and property damage."

Supervisor Paul Newman wants the county to regulate the monthlong series of protests and patrols by a group of volunteers from across the country who say they plan to assist the U.S. Border Patrol.

Newman called for the enforcement of zoning codes, which require organizers of large gatherings lasting more than a week to get land-use permits. Organizers of shorter events are required to obtain temporary permits. "By not enforcing our zoning regulations, we are not only putting our citizens at risk, but we are also sending the message that we are intimidated by the threat of the invasion of our county by gun-toting vigilantes," he wrote. "I believe we need to make it clear that that is not the case."

Apparently, this is too much for Dissin' Chris (whose bio I outlined in a post on March 4th), who doesn't want anyone to know who the "gun-toting vigilantes" are, in fear of reprisal. He let loose with both barrels in his newspaper last week, calling Newman basically everything he's been called himself.

"You know I can’t remember a time when I felt more that an elected official should be removed from office. If the tables were turned, comments like Mr. Newman’s would have the A.C.L.U. filing a lawsuit and the Southern Poverty Law Center would have Mr. Newman added to their list of hate mongers. It is clear that Mr. Newman harbors deeply rooted hate for law abiding citizens who have a different opinion about a serious issue that affects the value of every American’s citizenship and civil liberties,"

I hope Mr. Newman is tarred and feathered by the county attorney and I’ll certainly back any recall that constituents might want to initiate in an effort to get this lunatic, fascist out of office. I mean, what is he afraid of - citizens stopping the flow of illegal drugs making it harder for Americans to acquire cheat marijuana along with their cheap labor.

Mr. Newman’s statements represent a most vile and despicable defamation of character of American citizens. Mr. Newman’s comments are a blatant example of the travesty of hate speech meant to create fear and panic in the community, even though he states that is not his intent.

Mr. Newmans’ hateful hyperbole and slanderous prejudicial comments that create bias in the public opinion are egregiouly irresponsible for a public official. Mr. Newman should be ashamed of his comments that are based in fear bred from ignorance.

Mr. Newman’s ignorance and hate speech will now create even more panic in the general population. Mr. Newman is obviously ignorant of the fact that a majority of participants in the project are retired law enforcement officers and military veterans who have no intention of enforcing any laws or taking the law into their own hands.

The participants will engage in nothing more than sitting in lawn chairs with binoculars to spot suspicious illegal activity and report to the proper authorities and to provide lifesaving aid to individuals in need of assistance.

Well, that might be close to the truth. Substitute rifle scopes for binoculars and it sounds more realistic. At least for the "retired law enforcement officers and military veterans" that I know.

Newman responded in a Letter to the Editor in Chris's newspaper, and believe it or not it was printed. Here are some excerpts from his response:

Imagine my surprise when I read... that I had made a "vicious, discriminatory attack on citizen’s participation in a peaceful assembly…" Nothing could be farther from my intention. This just goes to show you that ugliness, like beauty, is in the eyes of the beholder. Please let me try to make my position clear for all who have an open mind to consider, not construe.

I have asked for permitting only to ensure that the County is apprised of the... project activities so that we can take prudent steps to prepare for a group of 1,000 visitors, its impact on County services, and its potential to affect the health and safety of us all. Getting a permit does not in any way silence the group. All the county government seeks to understand is the who, what, when, where, and how of this month-long special event.

In response, [he] accuses me of harboring a "deep-rooted hate" of people who have an opinion different than mine. He calls me a "hate monger" and a "lunatic fascist," he wishes I would be "tarred and feathered," and calls for my recall. Sometimes, leadership involves stepping courageously into controversy. The only thing that I seek in this matter is to insure that the... project follows the law during their stay in Cochise County.

I personally disagree with the underlying philosophy of the... project and I do not approve of the tactics the group is using to further their vision for America. However, I defend their right to express their opinions and to assemble. You may disagree with my attempt to provide some sort of oversight of that assembly in order to ensure public safety, but I trust that reasonable citizens will take [his] comments attacking me with a grain of salt. In a democracy there is always room for open discussion and dissent. That is what democracy is all about. That is what [he] is supposedly defending. Oh, the irony of it all.

Wednesday, March 09, 2005

Rack School II - spanking the monkey

School orders mom to spank son--or else

Once again I find myself beset on all sides by knee-jerk reactions. Maybe it's me. Maybe I'm supposed to slam the other guy every chance I get, regardless of rational thought or common sense.

It's all because of the mom who wouldn't spank her 6-year-old at the request of the administrators at his private school, resulting in his suspension.

From the right, it's "spare the rod, spoil the child" and "panty-waist liberals are ruining society by coddling the criminal element".

From the left, it's "what's with fundamentalists and spanking?" and "projecting repression onto your kids".

But I see a deeper issue here. What I see is a mother who professes to believe in raising her child in the way she sees fit, yet she enrolls him in a private school and signs a legally binding document saying that she will conform to their way of controlling the child.

This is the result of society's paradigm that in order for your child to succeed in life, you have to get them into the best Kindergarten so that they can get into Harvard or Yale. After all, an ivy league grad, regardless of his intellegence or academic proficiency, will get far in life. Case in point: our current President.

But what makes me think that this mom is so shallow as to subscribe to this dogma? Well, not to stereotype or anything, but she hyphenates her last name, and named her son Chandler. Any other questions?

And sure, the school's assistant administrator is small-minded, but you have that in public schools as well. I don't think anyone can say they've gone throught their entire academic career without crossing paths with many of these kind of people. Academia is not immune to idiots,and sometimes it seems like it attracts them.

As to Chandler's behavior - he's performing above his grade level (which typically results in boredom in class) and his Mom just went through a divorce. And his many transgressions can all be described as drawing attention to himself. Suprise, suprise!

So, yes, we can blame this one on overindulgence. But not on the kid. Overindulgence of the culture that produced these symptoms in the kid and the school. Until we change the culture, we'll continue to see this kind of injustice done to those who are supposed to be our future leaders. And we'll continue to see our future leaders reflect this injustice through self-overindulgence and injustice of their own. Case in point: our current President.

Tuesday, March 08, 2005

Your tax dollars at work!

Bush Sets Up Social Security 'War Room'

WASHINGTON - A new Social Security war room inside the Treasury Department is pumping out information to sell President Bush's plan, much like any political campaign might do. It's part of a coordinated effort by the Bush administration.

The internal, taxpayer-funded campaigning is backed up by television advertisements, grass-roots organizing and lobbying from business and other groups that support the Bush plan.

The president's opponents are organized too, though they do not enjoy the resources of the White House or Treasury to sell their message.

For the administration, the communications effort is being coordinated out of Treasury's public affairs office through the new Social Security Information Center. Three people have been hired, with two more hires possible soon. The first three employees are veterans of the Bush-Cheney campaign or the Republican National Committee.

"The uber purpose is to centralize and coordinate the administration's public affairs and communication activities," said chief Treasury spokesman Rob Nichols. "Standing up this office demonstrates how important fixing Social Security is."

Dude, your Reich is showing. Uber purpose? At least you could try to hide your Fatherland fantasies like the other dubya flunkies.

It is developing talking points to ensure that all officials are "singing off the same song sheet," Nichols said. And it will soon launch a Web site featuring the president's comments on the issue, copies of speeches and news stories and columns that are supportive of the Bush plan.

Additionally, it will deliver "rapid response" to media coverage it doesn't like. "If there is an editorial in a paper that does not reflect the view of the president, they will engage in the traditional rapid response effort to ensure an op-ed or letter to the editor that states our view," Nichols said.

Aren't you glad to see that your taxes are going to such a worthy cause - selling the public something they don't need, at a price they can't afford. It's the American way!

The center is sending e-mails highlighting positive press coverage and administration statements to thousands of people including reporters, congressional staffers and members of the public.

Oh great! More junk mail. I wonder if there's a special spam blocker for this. Wait! Maybe this is our chance to bust them - for email fraud?

"They have the right to say their piece and to respond, but to create a whole team of PR experts to try and influence the media, I think, is an excessive use of taxpayer money," said Joan Claybrook, president of Public Citizen, who opposes the Bush plan.

Well, they've tried every other method of influencing the media, including threats, extortion and cash payments. This is just the next item on the list in their playbook. Sure it's probably illegal, but that's never stopped them before.

What I don't get is why the public and the media doesn't see through this hype. I'm still seeing news reports that refer to personal accounts as supplements to Social Security benefits, and that this plan won't affect people over 55. And as few comments as I get on my posts, the ones I do get reflect these beliefs.

Not to mention that we've got to pay for this boondoggle, and for the fallout from Bush's plan. I feel sorry for our kids and grandkids. They're going to be paying for this fiasco for a long, long time.

Monday, March 07, 2005

It’s not pollution, it’s the smell of freedom

State agency says toxins in air pose no immediate health threat

A little over a month ago I expressed hope that attention was finally being paid to Houston's air quality. After a study in 2003 showed toxic levels of 1,3-butadiene, a byproduct from chemical manufacturing, and was later confirmed by another independent study, it seemed that something was going to be done. Actvists mobilized, joined by city, state, and county officials.

Town hall meetings were held, none of which were attended by Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ) officials. Now TCEQ is holding their own meetings in civic centers in the Ship Channel area, and they're telling a different story.

Michael Honeycutt, head of the TCEQ's toxicology division, said in an e-mail after the meeting that the cancer risks stated in the January report were "overpredictive." He said one could assume that concentrations of 1,3-butadiene were lower in the community because it was farther away from the industrial sources of the emissions than the pollution monitor.

These guys figure that the toxins will remain at at the testing site or dissipate into the wind. Be that as it may, the odors from these plants permeate the air for miles around. Accidental emissions occur regularly, along with the usual "acceptable" emission levels. So, is it safe to live and breathe in these neighborhoods?

Also, the risk estimates calculated didn't reflect that people spend only 10 percent of their time outdoors.

So, you only have to worry if you spend more than a tenth of your day outdoors. That makes me feel better. So the initial study was wrong?

After the report came out, a letter from then-Texas City Mayor Carlos Garza's office obtained by the Chronicle said the analysis "has the propensity to precipitate an unjustified overreaction" and that while the facts appeared accurate "the narrative has unnecessary and borderline inflammatory remarks."

Doug Hoover, Texas City's executive director of management services, who wrote the letter, said the TCEQ responded by holding a public meeting.

"They didn't say they did anything blatantly wrong," Hoover recalled. "But they suggested the results of the study could be worded differently."

Oh, I get it. The initial report contained accurate data, but it shouldn't have used the C-word, 'cause that got people worried that the toxic chemicals could be bad for you. In the spirit of newspeak, perhaps they should have considered using "personal cellular conditioning" or maybe even "freedom lung". Then us little people could go blissfully on with our daily lives. What's left of them anyway.

Saturday, March 05, 2005

There's Something About Merry

I got The Return of the King-Extended Edition for my birthday, and just finished watching it.

I'm curious, though. With all the stink about SpongeBob and Teletubbies, none of the wingnuts have latched onto the relationship between Merry and Pippin. After the battle for Minas Tirith, while Aragorn is sponge-bathing the luscious Miranda Otto (Eowyn) back to health, Pippin is frantically searching for Merry on the battlefield. It seems that a little more than cameraderie is happening there. Add that to the fact that Peter Jackson bears a striking resemblance to Michael Moore (have you ever seen them together?). If I were a right-wing pundit, I'd be all over that.

That said, kudos to John Rhys-Davies. His comic antics expanded the character of Gimli beyond what Tolkein put forth, and added levity to otherwise potentially tedious episodes. Whether it was Jackson's idea or Rhys-Davies' is immaterial - it works.

I do wish, however, that Jackson's epic had included the Hobbits' return to the war-torn Shire. To me, that was a powerful part of the story, and defined the Hobbits' characters more than his abbreviated ending allowed. That and Frodo's pain that eventually lead to his leaving the Shire for the West, and Sam becoming Mayor. That Jackson ended it so neatly leads me to believe he was leaving it open for a sequel (no, not a prequel, I know that's already in the works).

Overall, I think Peter Jackson did a fine job of interpreting J.R.R. Tolkein's classic, even though he took advantage of artistic license in several areas. Purists may not agree with me, but that's their right. As long as books are still legal, we don't have to rely on someone else to interpret literature for us.

Fix it, don't nix it

Dubya's on the warpath, pushing his Social Security overhaul agenda. Apparently he hasn't heard that it's already dead. Or maybe it's because he's already got prescreened audiences booked for his dog & pony show, and doesn't want to waste taxpayer's money by cancelling.

Outside Joyce Center at the University of Notre Dame, a hundred protesters greeted Bush's motorcade with signs such as "Social Security Another Big Fat Lie."

Maybe it's time to pack up the motorcade and head back to D.C. to think up another crusade...

dyin' of loneliness in a thimble

Well, ain't that just a good ol' down-home way of sayin' that Tom DeLay din't have nothin' to do with TRMPAC's adjustin' the balance o' power in the Texas Legislature.

'Course the librul judge has to do some delib'ratin' first.

Stay tuned...

Yeah, that's it. It was kind of a joke...

Rep. Sam Johnson, R-Texas, backpedalled today, saying he was joking with the President when he offered to nuke Syria.

"Syria is the problem. Syria is where those weapons of mass destruction are, in my view. You know, I can fly an F-15, put two nukes on 'em and I'll make one pass. We won't have to worry about Syria anymore."

Of course, we realize he was joking all along. 'Cause no one in their right mind would suggest going nukular on a country just because we suspect them. Then again, we also know that this administration contains no one in their right mind...

A person's humor tends to lean towards his beliefs. Whaddya want to bet Dubya laughed when Sam made his little joke?

Humble team captain Brittany Toran, center, leads her teammates in a cheer after defeating San Antonio Taft, 56-48, in the Class 5A semifinal today in Austin. The Wildcats, in their first state tournament, will play for the title Saturday.

Wildcats Rule!

Friday, March 04, 2005

Sleep tight, America. We got yer back...

But who is he really? It's easy enough to find out. As a megalomaniac who craves attention, he loves to blow his own horn. Try Googling him. I did, and got 14,500 hits. Most of them fall into two categories - those that praise him, and those that portray him as a total whack job.

But sift through the debris, and a picture unfolds. Up until 1999, he appeared to be a mild-mannered Kindergarten teacher at a private school in Los Angeles. Then he became fixated on a Mexican conspiracy to take over L.A. (not uncommon at the time, due to the proximity of the border and economic conditions in California), and began exhibiting erratic behavior that caused his neighbors and co-workers to avoid him. His wife became concerned because he started taking their 13 year old son to the shooting range to prepare him for an "upcoming race war".

Unable to cope with politically correct Southern California, he packed up and moved to Arizona, where a man can wear a gun on his hip and say what he wants, no matter how inane.

While camping in Arizona, he encountered migrants and what he called "paramilitary groups of drug dealers" crossing into the country. After getting no satisfaction from reporting this to park rangers and the border patrol, and his terrorist-phobia due to 9/11 (is there a clinical term for this? If not, may I suggest "terrornoia"?), he formed his own militia to patrol the border between Arizona and Mexico.

In August 2002, he bought a weekly newspaper in Tombstone, Arizona, legendary site of the shootout at the O.K. Corral. In October of that year, his paper issued a "call to arms" to protect us from the alien invasion from the south. In December 2002, he issued a challenge: "I dare the President of the United States to arrest me". He also warned federal authorities "not to interfere".

Needless to say, he was arrested in January 2003. Although he claimed he was hiking at the time, he was detained for carrying a loaded weapon on national park land, and was accused of "hunting for Mexicans" inside the park. Among his posessions were walkie-talkies, a police scanner, a camera, and what appeared to be a toy plastic figure of Wyatt Earp on his horse.

He claims that he was targeted because of his political activism and that the arresting officer, who was Hispanic, said "we don't like your kind". Gee, imagine that. An Arizona backcountry law enforcement officer speaking her mind. Whodathunkit?

In 2003 he issued a "message to the world", warning: "Do not attempt to cross the border illegally; you will be considered an enemy of the state; if aggressors attempt to forcefully enter our country they will be repelled with force if necessary!"

Which brings us to our vacation tip of the day. If you were planning on visiting southern Arizona during April this year, you might want to choose another destination. There's a plan afoot to man the borders with volunteers to apprehend border crossers beginning April 1st and lasting throughout the month. Chances are there will be more media there than volunteers, and fewer still illegal immigrants. But if any incidents do occur, there'll be shooting aplenty, both with firearms and cameras.

To the Arizona tourism industry - I'm sorry. But when your industry and culture promotes violence, you gotta expect this. Sure, shootout re-enactments attract crowds. But if they also attract the kind of people who want to act out their fantasies in real live shootouts, is that really a good thing for your economy? Just a thought.

Memo to Bush: Just shut up already!

Syria is already making motions towards withdrawing from Lebanon. Both Syrian and Lebanese leaders are saying that a gradual withdrawal will be best for all concerned. So naturally Dubya jumps in and demands an immediate withdrawal.

It's great that this occupation is going to end and Lebanon will be able to govern itself, but George, don't screw things up by getting into a pissing contest just for sound bites. Yeah, yeah, we know you're the big bad dude already. Just shut up and let democracy take its course. If you act the big shot every time someone comes around to our way of government, eventually the other big bad dudes will push back and make it more difficult.

If you're so hell-bent on ending the occupation of a potential democracy, then work on getting us out of Iraq.

Syria is withdrawing because of what the Lebanese people did, not because you scare them. Get over yourself already.

Thursday, March 03, 2005

"To be, or not to be ?" ...Excellent Question!

The Ten Commandments monument, Austin, Texas

Ah, a conundrum. Do we take down the Ten Commandments monument on the Texas State Capital’s property because it has religious connotations, or do we leave it there because it has historical significance? To be honest with you, I can’t decide at this point. Perhaps by the time I get to the bottom of the page I’ll have convinced myself one way or the other.

First of all, does it have historical significance? Well, the Ten Commandments have been around a lot longer than Texas as we know it, so you can’t say that we had a hand in the forming of them (and that’s not the kind of thing us Texans like to admit). But did the Commandments help form Texas? In a way, yes. The core of America’s laws are basically the same as most of the commandments. Don’t kill. Don’t steal. Leave others’ mates alone. The only ones not mimicked are the ones dealing specifically with spiritual faith, and we purposely left those out with the very first amendment to our national Constitution.

Let’s consider that First Amendment. It states:

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.

Back when this was written, the term "freedom" wasn’t tossed around caually or used as rhetoric like it is now. Back then, they didn’t have these freedoms, which is why they told the British to take a hike (or sail). They wanted to make sure that if they were starting their own government, then they ought to do it right.

One of those freedoms was the freedom to worship as they chose. Remember that they fled an England with an official government religion, and non-participants didn’t have the same opportunities as those within The Church. Also at the time, the colonists were clustered mostly by culture. Different states were predominated by different sects – here a Presbyterian, there an Episcopalian, everywhere a Quaker, etc. There was very real concern that whoever was in power would push their values and prejudices on other states, and whoever held the dominant belief system would also be able to retain power in the new government.

It appears that that they made the religion portion of the amendment intentionally vague, as none of the initial versions contained the "respecting the establishment of religion" part. Madison proposed "nor shall any national religion be established". The House altered that to read "''Congress shall make no law establishing religion". The Senate adopted "''Congress shall make no law establishing articles of faith, or a mode of worship". The present language was written by a committee containing both bodies and chaired by Madison.

"Respecting the establishment of religion" can be interpreted in many ways. If the initial offerings from all parties involved are taken as the authors' intentions, it appears to mean "not establishing a national religion". But the wording of the final version can be construed to mean "not showing respect to one or more religious establishments", i.e. churches, faiths, etc.. Therein lies the controversy, which has sparked interesting debates and contradictory legislation.

Before we leave the subject of Constitutional Ammendments, allow me to climb upon my soapbox and mention that only once in our history has a Constitutional Ammendment been ratified that actually took away freedom (on moral grounds, of course), and that led to the prohibition era. Now there's another push for a freedom-reducing ammendment - this one intended to make non-traditional marriage illegal. Draw your own conclusions.

Now let's look at the circumstances surrounding the Ten Commandments monument in the Texas Capital. The monument was donated in 1961 by the Fraternal Order of Eagles and was accepted by the Texas State Legislature. It could be argued that by accepting the monument, the legislature was demonstrating the will of the people, although its debatable whether any legislature actually represents the will of the people.

Since 1951, FOE had been distributing written copies of the Commandments in hopes of combatting juvenile delinquency. In 1956, Cecille B. DeMille was promoting his new movie, The Ten Commandments, and convinced the group to donate carved stone tablets like the ones featured in his movie instead. The monuments began appearing in front of city halls, county courthouses, public parks and state capitals across America. Coincidentally, or not, The Ten Commandments was reissued to theatres in 1961, about the time the monument was erected halfway between the Texas State Capital and the Texas Supreme Court building. The movie has since gone on to become the 5th top grossing film of all time (when ticket sales are adjusted for inflation).

The monument shares space on the capital grounds with 16 other monuments, which pay tribute to - among others - WWI, Korean War and disabled veterans, Pearl Harbor, the Statue of Liberty, Confederate soldiers, Alamo heroes, pioneer women, children, cowboys, peace officers and volunteer firefighters.

Now that we have the background you can see why the Supreme Court is in a conundrum. Is the monument a religious symbol, and if so, does it violate the first ammendment? Or is it a cultural icon that has a place in Texas history?

I gotta say, I can't call how the SC is gonna fall on this one, but I say "Let it Be", even though my progressive brethren may crucify me.

Because this isn't about wingnuts or moonbats, Christians or Athiests.

This isn't like toppling statues of Saddam in Baghdad. If we knock this statue down, which one's next? The Confederate Soldiers, because they lost? Pioneer Women, because the stereotype embodies the barefoot, pregnant ideal that fundamentalists fantasize about, even though the truth is drastically different?

And beyond Texas? Do we tear down the Lincoln Memorial, because his Emancipation Proclamation only freed slaves below the Mason-Dixon line, and not above it? The Washington Monument, because he owned slaves and grew cannabis? The Clinton Presidential Library, to appease the anti-doublewide coalition? The Statue of Liberty, just because it was given to us by the French?

History is full of incongruities which helped us mature as a nation. Sure, if a symbol from our sordid past represents oppression, suppression, discrimination or any other "shun", let's erase it so we can move on. But a monument given in the spirit of social improvement should not be torn down unless it's a detriment to the promotion of a free society. And given the ambiguity built into the first amendment, this particular one doesn't appear to be breaking any laws.

Of course that's my opinion, and I could be wrong. Let me know, America. Call 1-800-LACTOSE. Operators are standing by.