Friday, October 29, 2010

Bomb Story Reeks

My first reaction when I heard of this, dear readers, was "bullshit".

The experts on the scene told us clearly that there are no explosives, and then the White House issues a full terror alert, and suddenly claims there are explosives after all. And all this three days before an election in which the President's party is expected to lose heavily. Oh yes, and the supposed bombs were targeted at two synagogues, we are told. How convenient for an administration that is having trouble holding onto the loyalty of the traditionally-Democratic Jewish vote.

As a wise man once said, "In politics, there are no coincidences".

This sounds too much like a desperate President calling a phony alert to try to look "Presidential". Perhaps it's me who is actually full of it; time will tell.

But for the moment, I call bullshit.

Latest story at Al Jazeera English here.

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Science Fiction Is Dying

I stumbled across this unusually good article at Open Salon. I say unusually good because Open Salon consists in large part of writing on intensely personal issues, issues about which my interest could be measured in micro-giveashits.

I'd suggest you go read the article linked above, then come back and continue here.

I still remember Star Trek well. I was in 1st grade, and the word "trek", meaning a long journey, was not in our vocabulary, so we called it "Star Track", but every episode was the main topic of conversation at first recess the next school day. But that was the 60's, and it was a different world. We lived far slower-paced lives, and the population of San Diego County was 1/10 of what it is today.

Sic Transit Gloria Fuckin' Mundi :)

Part of the problem is that Science Fiction, as a genre, is far better suited to the written word than the video medium. And Americans simply do not read nearly as much as they used to. In a very real sense, Science Fiction is dying. This is in large part because the publishing industry has become so dominated by huge corporations, like everything else in the modern world. And huge corporations are both highly averse to bold risks, and very poor at doing anything original. Yet both boldness and originality are precisely what would be required to save Science Fiction as we know it. What will undoubtedly survive, will be puerile crap like "LOST", which is little more than reality TV with a thin veneer of artificial science fiction flavoring.

The Science Fiction Channel was probably never a viable commercial idea, but they did some excellent work in their younger years. Their production of Children of Dune was truly magnificent, for such a low-budget film. And it was a delight to my Inner Horndog, with more devastatingly-attractive actresses per square meter than any other film I've ever seen in my life. Awoooooooooooooooo! (down, boy, down!).

But when they changed the name to the unbearably cutesy "Sy-Fy", I knew the idea was in serious trouble. Ah well, as I said, it was probably never a commercially viable idea in the first place.

Television is a lost cause anyhow.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Toxic Aftermath Of Dispersants Used by BP

A new report by Al Jazeera English documents the ugly toxic aftermath of banned chemical dispersants used by BP in the Gulf Oil Spill.

BP admits to using 1.9 million gallons of the chemicals known as poly-aromatic hydrocarbons. According to data provided by chemist Bob Naman of the Analytical Chemical Testing Lab, in Mobile Alabama, these compounds are making people dangerously ill. Symptoms include nausea, diarrhea, bloody urine, and lung disease.

Our government, my friends, allowed BP to use huge quantities of these carcinogenic, mutagenic, teratogenic chemicals in the so called cleanup process, in spite of clear warnings from Alaskan scientists and fishermen about the toxic after-effects of such chemicals when they were used in the Exxon Valdez disaster. Make no mistake, the sole purpose of these chemicals is to cover-up the magnitude of the disaster. They do nothing to make the situation any better, they simply hide the oil long enough for the oil company to declare the "clean up" completed, thus limiting their expenses.

Why did the Obama administration permit this, in the face of clear scientific evidence that it was going to make the ecological disaster far worse in the long run? Why? Because, like everyone in DC, they are totally divorced from reality, and insulated from consequences. The Obama administration was thinking only about "spin".

Now Americans are sick and dying. Now there is a huge dead zone in the Gulf, which was already teetering on the brink of ecological disaster. But the spin has been managed, Robert Gibbs and the other talking heads have glibly declared "problem solved", and the corporate-owned mainstream media have moved along to another news topic.

Thanks, Mr President. Truly, this is "change we can believe in". You lying bastard.

Original article in AJE here.

Monday, October 25, 2010

Is It Over Before It's Over?

I was considerably disturbed by this story.

It would appear that Obama is conceding ground to the Conservatives before the election has even taken place. It would appear that the GOP is making demands before the election has even taken place. Is it over before it's over?

Is this simply one more case of a President with no balls, and Republicans with no brains, or is there something deeper going on here?

Even without venturing onto the dangerous ground of conspiracy theories, I think I can confidently say that all of us have ample justification for a healthy ration of skepticism regarding the whole election process, especially after the events of 2000. "Hanging chad", my hairy ass.

But there is something very odd about Obama. Birth Certificate issues aside, the man has increasingly seemed to be a wolf in sheep's clothing. Or perhaps it would be more accurate to say, a Conservative in Progressive's clothing. One who definitely pulled the wool over our eyes.

Did we get totally conned? Was he nothing more than a cat's paw for the Reactionaries, from the very start, a la Manchurian Candidate?

These are strange days indeed, my friends, strange and scary days indeed.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Israeli Rabbi says, "Non-Jews exist only to serve Jews"

As staggeringly difficult as it is to believe that any human being would, in these early years of the 21st Century, say such an incredibly bigoted thing, this story is true.

Rabbi Ovadia Yosef, the spiritual leader of the Shas party, said in his Saturday sermon that, "Goyim [non-Jews] were born only to serve us. Without that, they have no place in the world, only to serve the People of Israel."

And this man is not simply some random rabbi on the street. Ovadia Yosef is the spiritual leader of Israel's Shas party, which is one of Benyamin Netanyahu's partners in the current Israeli coalition government.

Rabbi Yosef went on, "Why are gentiles needed? They will work, they will plow, they will reap. We will sit like an effendi and eat."

(Effendi is a title of respect in many countries of the Middle East, though the word itself is originally from Turkish)

As if that wasn't insult enough for one day, Rabbi Yosef also added, "With gentiles, it will be like any person - they need to die, but [God] will give them longevity. Why? Imagine that one’s donkey would die, they’d lose their money. This is his servant... That’s why he gets a long life, to work well for this Jew."

Donkey, eh?

And this, my friends, from a man whose party is prominent in the government of Israel. The Israel to which we send $6 Billion in aid every year above the table, and reportedly another $6 Billion in covert aid. Do you think perhaps we could find a better use for that money?

The time has come for the USA to take a long, hard look at its relationship with Israel. The time has come to declare AIPAC and it's mouthpiece at WINEP to be the foreign lobbying organizations that they truly are, as was done with AIPAC's predecessor.

The time has come for America to wake up, and stop letting its foreign policy be dictated by a tiny fraction of the population whose wealth and political power are all out of proportion to their numbers.

George Washington, in his retirement speech, had this to say -

Against the insidious wiles of foreign influence, I conjure you to believe me, fellow-citizens, the jealousy of a free people ought to be constantly awake; since history and experience prove that foreign influence is one of the most baneful foes of republican Government. But that jealousy, to be useful, must be impartial; else it becomes the instrument of the very influence to be avoided, instead of a defense against it.

As usual, old George knew what he was talking about.

Original story at Haaretz here

Monday, October 18, 2010

French Workers Up In Arms

I have always liked the French.

Our nation would never have been born without their assistance, and while we have not always seen eye-to-eye, current events in France fill my heart with admiration. The massive strikes and protests, the extent to which French workers have effectively shut down the petroleum industry in their country, the sheer fury and energy with which French workers have refused to accept their government's plans to make the working people pay for the sins of the rich, I love to see all this happening.

Oh, how I wish my own countrymen could display even half so much ferocity of spirit in defiance of government! And yet, for some reason, we passively accept even the worst abuses, even when inflicted upon us by the administration of a President who has broken every promise he ever made.

Once, long ago, a President by the name of Jimmy Carter offered the opinion that America was suffering from a "lingering malaise" of the spirit. This was in the aftermath of the Vietnam war, and I have to wonder if the long years of the war in Afghanistan has not had the same effect upon our hearts. Keep in mind, that the overt involvement of the USA in Vietnam only lasted six years, from 1966 to 1972. The War in Afghanistan is in its eleventh year, almost twice as long, with no end in sight.

And yet, where are the demonstrations against the war? There are none to be seen. Partly this may be the effect of our smaller commitment, (remember, we had over a half-million troops on the ground in Vietnam at the height of the Vietnam war), and far lower casualty totals. But I have to wonder if a big part of the difference is not in our hearts.

We have become a weary and cynical people in many ways. We have become demoralized to a frightening extent. And I have no idea what is to be done about it.

Story at Al Jazeera English here
Video at UK Telegraph here

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Enough To Make You Cry

Republicans are vile and loathsome creatures, even evaluated by the relatively loose and sloppy standards that are all one can reasonably apply to any politician. And yet, even among this morally bankrupt cabal of evil corruption, there are certain individuals whose egregiously insidious behaviour sets them above the common ruck of bribe-taking, boy-buggering minions-of-Satan (i.e. Republicans).

Newt Gengrich was one such individual. Dick Cheney has certainly raised the bar for loathsome behavior. And completing this trifecta of perdition is...none other than Karl Rove.

Which is why this article was enough to make me cry. Apparently, Karl Rove's Republican fund-raising group received an extra $13.3 million dollars in a result of criticism by Barak Obama.

Nietsche was right; there is no God.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Oh, That Pesky Nobel Prize!

As most of you will have noticed by now, the Chinese power establishment is furiously angry over the award of the Nobel Peace Prize to Chinese dissident Liu Xiao Bo.

Alice Poon, a respected author and commentator in Hong Kong, has posted in her blog a translation of a letter from a Hong Kong professor to his mainland students. "Mainland", in this context, refers to mainland China, which is very different from Hong Kong in some very important ways. The HK Chinese, after 100 years of British rule, are left with some very stubborn western-style ideas about things like democracy and freedom of expression, ideas which the Chinese Communist Party does not view with any significant degree of favor.

Alice Poon's blog entry is here. This is a rare inside look at what is still, for the most part, a closed society.

And I think, dear friends, that I am simply going to let you read it for yourselves, without any further commentary from your favorite gwai loh.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Obama Sides With Bankers - Will Not Ban Foreclosures

In another display of just what a shameless corporate lackey he truly is, President Obama has refused to institute a temporary moratorium on foreclosures.

After one million foreclosures last year, the USA is currently on track for 1.2 million foreclosures in 2010. Recently, it came to light that tens of thousands of these foreclosures are not legitimate. Even some banks have instituted a voluntary and temporary moratorium on their own foreclosures.

But our beloved President, the man who promised us "Change You Can Believe In", has refused to do anything about a temporary moratorium while the confusion over legitimacy is investigated.

Senate Banking Committee chairman Christopher Dodd said last week, "American families should not have to worry about losing their homes to sloppy bureaucratic mismanagement or fraud". This seems like a reasonable statement. But Obama remains unconvinced, offering instead a weak and whining excuse that "there are a number of unintended consequences".

Think about this, my friends. Our President has decided that it is better to have American families fraudulently evicted from their homes, than to have investors temporarily unable to recoup their investment.

Excuse me, but, the last time I checked, the concept of "investment" carried with it the idea of risk. You risk your capital in hopes of earning a profit. The greater the risk, the greater the expected return, if the investment goes well. A mortgage is not like that.

I am hard pressed to say which is more appalling in this action, (or rather refusal to act), by the administration. On the one hand we have the utter craven cowardice of the President's decision. And on the other hand we have the shamelessly brazen pandering to bankers and other corporate interests.

Story at BBC News here

Saturday, October 9, 2010

The Divisive Nature of Election Season Discourse

It is an unfortunate truth of the season that Progressives are not of one mind at the moment.

The root of the problem lies with the party loyalists. They strive desperately to justify the actions of the Democrats. They quickly breeze past all the broken promises by Obama. They trumpet the empty accomplishment of the so-called "Health-Care Reform" and "Financial Reform" bills as though they actually reformed something. They refuse to even respond to comments and questions about the uglier issues like death squads, the Patriot Act, Guantonomo, signing statements, and the death of Habeas Corpus.

They say things like "Well, it took Bush 8 years to break things, you don't think the Democrats can fix everything in 2 years, do you?". Of course, this ignores that the Democrats haven't fixed anything in 2 years, or even made more than a half-hard pretense of trying. Mostly because they were too damn busy selling us out to the corporations and pandering to the rich.

And when all else fails, the Party Loyalists trot out that tired old false sympathy ploy. "Possum, I'm not any happier with the Democrats than you are, but golly jeepers, we can't let those nasty old Republicans get back in office!!!!!!111111oneoneone"

I know the Republicans. I was once a Republican myself, back in the dawn of time, though all gods great and small bear witness, I am not proud of the fact.

Though voting for the lesser of two evils is often necessary, I loathe being forced into that position, as my mother loathed it when I was a small boy. This is not a new situation for American voters.

The truth of the matter is, dear friends, that the two-party system is broken, hopelessly and completely broken. And yet the shambling zombie corpse of the system staggers on, driven by precisely the sort of thinking that these Democratic Party Loyalists so blindly adhere to. They are obsessed with the idea that there only two choices.

It's called boolean logic, (though there are other meanings to that phrase). The concept is that there are only two states possible; on or off, zero or one, yes or no, true or false, Democrat or Republican.

"Third party?!?", they shriek in tones of horror, as though you'd just confessed to an unhealthy carnal passion for sheep, "but that's just throwing your vote away!"

And this is if they're being generous. More often you get the line that "a vote for a third-party candidate is a vote for the Republicans!", an accusation almost as insulting as it is unjustified.

Perhaps worst of all is the religious zealotry with which these party loyalists attack any Progressive who dares to question the logic of the party line. Logic be damned! Facts be damned! Qualms of conscience and moral considerations be damned! Heil Demokraten! Barak Obama ist Der Sieg! Those who doubt are heretics and must be punished! You're either with us, or you're against us!

Frankly, at least in style, these Democratic Party Loyalists start sounding very much like Republicans.

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

China, Japan, and Precedent

For the first time since last month's fishing boat incident in the Japanese Senkaku islands, the Prime Ministers of China and Japan have held a face-to-face meeting. Apparently there was agreement of restoring relations, but little else.

Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao was quoted in Chinese state media as stressing that the islands, which the Chinese call Diaoyu, "have been Chinese since ancient times", a claim which neatly ignores reality for the past 100+ years.

Japan's Naoto Kan commented that "It is important to mutually respect shared rules of the international community, including those of transactions of raw materials and trade in order to deepen the mutually interdependent relations between Asia and Europe and to achieve mutual growth. It is imperative for related countries and regions to take responsible actions to strengthen trust and to establish a foundation for peace and stability."

While I could always be mistaken, I think that's a very polite Japanese way of saying, "Fuck you, and the horse you rode in on."

China's aggressive belligerence in the Senkaku Islands of the East China Sea is part of the same strategy demonstrated in the Spratly and Paracel Islands of the South China Sea. Chinese claims in both areas rest entirely upon largely-imaginary "have been Chinese since ancient times" arguments. Chinese claims in both areas are really about extensive gas and oil deposits on the nearby sea floor, not a few marginally-habitable islands. Fishing rights are a consideration, but a secondary one.

Now, on to the business of precedent. In law, international law or any other kind, precedent is worshiped like a tiny god.

It is worth noting that the Chinese claims of "Chinese since ancient times" which are heard in the China Sea disputes, are very similar to the "God gave it to us 3000 years ago" claims which are Israel's only real claim to Occupied Palestine. If one of those claims is agreed to by the international community, this will greatly strengthen the other claim, because it will establish precedent.

Monday, October 4, 2010

Israeli Settlers Burn Another Mosque

For the fourth time this year, Israeli settlers have vandalized and burned a mosque in the Occupied West Bank.

The mosque, in the Palestinian town of Beit Fajjar, was apparently vandalized and set ablaze around 0300 Monday morning. This small Palestinian town, near Bethlehem, is adjacent to a huge illegal Israeli settlement. Graffitti in Hebrew was sprayed upon the walls of the mosque, several copies of the Koran were singled out to be burned or partially burned, and photographs show large smoking pits in the floor, obviously from the use of incendiaries.

The Israeli Army has promised to investigate, saying ""We see this incident in a very severe manner. We will do the utmost to find these lawbreakers and bring them to court".

While this sounds impressive, the other three mosque burnings this year have followed a similar pattern, and produced similar statements from Army and Police. But not one suspect has ever been arrested.

A report by Amnesty International says that "impunity remains the norm" for settlers accused of attacks on Palestinians.

Saturday, October 2, 2010

The Siege of Jerusalem

Today, October 2nd, marks the anniversary of the end of the siege of Jerusalem in 1187 AD.

On this day, Balian of Ibelin handed over the keys of the Tower of David to a Kurdish general named Salah ad-din Yusuf ibn Ayyub, (but known to most of us as Saladin). This marked the formal surrender of the city, which the Crusaders had themselves taken by siege 80 years before, a siege that ended in bloody sack and pillage.

In that year of 1187, Jerusalem had been doomed since July, when the Crusaders suffered catastrophic defeat at the Horns of Hattin, mostly through grossly inept leadership. Over the next sixty days, Saladin snapped up a handful of smaller cities in the region, including Acre, Beirut, Jaffa, and Sidon. Only Tyre seemed securely in the hands of the Christians.

Balian of Ibelin, the last Christian noble of any reputation left alive and free, asked Saladin for free passage from Tyre to Jerusalem and back, in order to retrieve his wife. Saladin agreed, on condition that Balian not make war against him, and that he remain in Jerusalem only for one day. Balian agreed to these terms, and then when he arrived in Jerusalem broke his word and took charge of the defense of the city.

In two weeks of siege, Saladin breached the walls of the city, somewhere near the Mount of Olives, and placed his flag upon the walls of the city. Not wishing to visit further destruction upon the city, Saladin then opened negotiations with the Crusaders for terms of surrender. After some negotiation, during which Saladin reportedly lowered his demands three times, an agreement was struck and the keys of the Tower of David were handed over, on this day, October 2nd.

This, in turn, would lead to the preaching of the Third Crusade, in an attempt to recover Jerusalem for the Christians, but that is another story for another day. This is, after all, the 21st century and not the 12th.

So, what is the point, other than confirming that Possum is a history geek?

Jerusalem is a very, very old city. The site has been inhabited at least since 4000 BC. In 1800 BC, the Canaanites built the first wall, and called the city Jebus. It was not until around 1000 BC, three millennia after people started living there, that the Hebrews under their King David conquered the city and renamed it Jerusalem. And that was three millennia ago.

Jerusalem has been besieged and fought over again and again. Jerusalem has been sacked again and again. Jerusalem has seen riots and slaughters and bloodshed unimaginable in the modern context.

Viewed against the backdrop of that history, today's struggle between Israelis and Palestinians seems almost inevitable. The idea of "peace negotiations" seems almost laughably ridiculous. The idea of a "One State Solution" seems like a ludicrously naive pipe dream.

Make no mistake, dear reader, my sympathy for the cause of Palestinian statehood remains firm. But my hopes of realistically seeing a peaceful solution to the situation are in pieces on the ground. If anything, the prospects for war in the Middle East seem greater now than they have been at any time in the last 35 years.