Thursday, January 28, 2010

Another pretty speech, now how about some action ?

I don't have a lot to say about the State of the Union address the President gave last night. Other than the announcement of the spending freeze, there weren't really any surprises (and the only surprising thing about the freeze was that he decided to go ahead with it, there had already been reports he was going to announce one). Just more of the same old, same old. This was both good and bad. The good part of it was that he still seems committed to some very noble goals. The bad is that he still refuses to see that no matter what he does or says, every time he reaches his hand across the aisle, the other side is going to slap it away. The Republicans aren't interested in bipartisanship. They've made it clear since the day Obama was elected that they planned to oppose him at every turn, no matter what. Last night, the President made note of the fact that the Democrats hold one of the biggest majorities they've had in a long time. It would be nice if he started ACTING like he was aware of this fact. He needs to start pushing things through. He needs to pass what he can with the Democractic votes he has. If some of the Republicans want to join the Democrats on some of these things, great ! If not, then screw them !

Oh, and one other thing. The President talked about working with Congress and the Joint Chiefs on repealing the Don't Ask, Don't Tell policy on gays in the military and allowing them to serve openly. This is something he promised to do during his campaign. And he has been getting a lot of flak from the LGBT community about the fact that he hasn't done so yet. So he threw them that bone last night, basically saying "I want to do this. Hopefully, Congress and the Joint Chiefs will be willing to help me with it." Here's the thing. He doesn't need to work with anyone on this. When Truman desegregated the Armed Forces, he did it by Executive Order. Obama could do the same. With one stroke of the pen, he could end discrimination in the military and allow men and women who want to serve their country to do so without having to hide who they are. So why not just do that ? Good question. When it comes to equal rights, he talks a good game, but doesn't seem willing to put his money where his mouth is.

Obama said in an interview recently that he would rather be a really good one-term President than a mediocre two-term President. If he doesn't start governing as if his party holds the White House and majorities in both houses of Congress (which they do), if he doesn't actually start fulfilling some of the promises he made to those on the left who were instrumental in getting him elected (things like closing Guantanamo and repealing DADT), then he will be a one-term President, but he won't have been a really good one.

Monday, January 25, 2010

One nation under Corporations....

Last week, the Supreme Court overturned decades of limitations and a previous ruling handed down 20 years ago on the ability of corporations to donate to political campaigns. The Court basically decided that the First Amendment rights of the corporations were being restricted unfairly. Not surprisingly, of the 5 judges who ruled in favor, 3 of them were on the bench deciding Bush v Gore and all voted in favor of Bush then.

As soon as this happened, people on the right did what they always do when years of precedent are struck down, they started railing against "activist" judges. HA HA ! I'm kidding, of course. Judges are only accused of being "activist" and "ignoring the Constitution" when their rulings benefit the poor or those who are being discriminated against. In a case like this, where the people who benefit are the rich and powerful or the corporations which the Right are all buddy-buddy with, then it's ok. In fact, quite a few people on the right were quick to praise this decision.

Corporations already have more influence than they should on elections. They are not people, therefore to consider them as having the same 1st Amendment rights as people is ridiculous, especially when you consider that this ruling doesn't make any distinction between U.S. owned corporations and foreign owned corporations, which means that a foreign owned corporation operating in this country would be considered to have the same free speech rights as a U.S. citizen and would be given free reign to influence an American election.

This is unacceptable. Luckily, the President and the Congress are already working on ways to put limits back on corporations in ways that don't conflict with this ruling (and therefore, hopefully, can't be struck down by the Court). I would strongly suggest that you write to your Representative in Congress and the Senators from your state and let them know how outraged you are at this ruling and your desire for something to be done about it.

You can do something else as well. You can go to this website: You can sign a petition there asking for a Constitutional Amendment that would overturn this Supreme Court decision. Although this would be a much slower process than getting new laws through Congress and might be derailed by corporations making sure that officials in State houses and U.S. Senators are elected who will stop the ratification, perhaps just having enough signatures will get the attention of those in Washington who might be hesitant to join in a bipartisan effort to do something about this horrible ruling and let them know that it's what the people want.

By the way, I know the next Presidential election is 3 years away and Obama has plenty of time to start doing the stuff that those on the Left who helped him get into office expected him to do. However, I also know there are many people like myself who are already very disappointed in him, some of whom may already be thinking of voting against him in the next Presidential election. For those people, I say, look at this ruling. The next President will probably be appointing at least one new Supreme Court justice, maybe more. If a Republican gets elected in 2012, I can guarantee you will end up with more judges who will hand down rulings like this, something to think about....

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

What Brown won't do for you

For the first time since 1972, the state of Massachusetts has elected a Republican Senator. Why did this happen ?

Some say it's because people are upset that the administration and Congress are moving too fast on health care reform (well, really the Democrats, the Republicans have made it clear from day one that they didn't intend to go along with health care reform, no matter how many concessions were made to them in the bill). This is something that Presidents have been trying to do off and on since Truman was in office. The only people who think we're rushing are the Republicans who have always tried to block any real health care reform. They did it with the introduction of Medicare, they're doing it now.

A lot of people are saying it's because they are dissatisfied with the performance of Obama and the Democratic majority Congress in general. What amazes me about this are the people in this category who are mad because they don't think Obama has made enough of an effort (or, with some issues, any effort) to advance the progressive agenda he campaigned on. I can't argue with this. I'm disappointed in him too, but how in the hell is electing someone who you know is totally against that agenda, someone who has implied that Obama was born out of wedlock (the latest twist in the "birther" conspiracy), supposed to help things ? How stupid are these people ?

Of course, now that the Democrats no longer have a filibuster-proof majority, the argument has been made that the health care bill is dead. Unfortunately, I don't think it would have mattered even if Coakley had won. The fact of the matter is that this bill has been dying a slow death anyway. Oh, I think something will pass. And, yes, having the insurance companies not being able to deny someone coverage because of a pre-existing condition and not being allowed to set limits on how much they'll pay out in a year or a lifetime are great reforms, but the bill would also require everyone to buy insurance or pay a fine. So, the insurance companies get a whole bunch of new customers and since there will be no government option, the insurance companies will be free to jack up their rates, knowing that people won't have any choice about buying their product.

So, in the end, Brown's election won't make that much of a difference. Still, I'm really disappointed in the voters in Massachusetts. Giving the seat once held by the "Liberal Lion" to Brown is something you should all be ashamed of.

Monday, January 18, 2010

Science on TV

Today, I want to talk about the Discovery Channel and the History Channel. Today, the Discovery Channel is running an all day MythBusters marathon. This show is great. It shows that , believe it or not, science can be interesting. Yes, they have a tendency to try to put an explosion into every episode for no good reason other than to have one, but they do try to conduct experiments correctly, taking variables into account, trying to collect as many data points as possible, etc. I love the fact that the Discovery Channel decided to give this show a shot and has stuck with it for this long and I give them props for doing so.

Unfortunately, as much as I like the Discovery Channel for airing this show and the History Channel for Modern Marvels and The Universe, I am also greatly disappointed with these two channels for some of the crap they air. Ghost Lab (on Discovery) and MonsterQuest, MysteryQuest, Nostradamus Effect, and UFO Hunters (on History)

It's really sad that a channel about science and one about history would air such nonsense. How can a channel that airs MythBusters also air a show where people wave flashlights around a dark room, saying "Did you see that ?" over and over ? Even though there's never been any real evidence presented for ghosts, aliens from another planet or dimension or creatures like the Loch Ness Monster or the Yeti, I can understand how people are fascinated by them. I really wish that these two channels would cater to that interest by taking the same scientific approach to them that MythBusters takes. Yes, this would result in these things being debunked on a regular basis, but I contend that this could be done in an interesting, entertaining way and except for the most hardcore believers who won't be convinced they're wrong no matter what, people will tune in on a regular basis. People WILL watch educational TV if it's presented the right way. I really hope that someone can someday convince these two channels to go in this direction. I look forward to someday being able to watch MythBusters or The Universe without having the knowledge being imparted onto me interrupted by a promo for a bunch of unscientific claptrap. Fingers crossed !

Friday, January 15, 2010

A Real Celebrity Roast

Today, I want to comment on two individuals who are extremely poor excuses for human beings.

First, Pat Robertson. His response to the earthquake in Haiti was to blame it on a pact with the devil that the Haitian people supposedly made when they freed themselves from French rule. He actually used the words "true story" in regards to this pact. Of course, this is nothing new for Robertson. After both 9/11 and Hurricane Katrina, he blamed it on the so-called sins of this country. You know, like being a feminist or a homosexual, really awful things that, of course would bring down the wrath of God, right ? This is what Robertson does, he blames the victims. Why ? It's simple. Robertson tells people he needs their money to help spread the word of God and stop people from sinning. What better way to get people to donate than to claim that every major tragedy is due to so many people sinning ? This man claims to worship a loving God, yet tells people that this loving God is willing to kill thousands of innocent men, women, and children to punish the sins of others. Of course, I'm sure there are plenty of other Christians who feel this way, but most of them aren't on TV exploiting tragedies to fill their coffers.

Then there's Rush Limbaugh. First, he criticized the President for responding to the Haitian earthquake within 24 hours as opposed to the 3 days it took before he responded to the underpants bomber. Never mind that one of the political right's heroes, Dubya, took longer to respond to the shoe bomber then Obama did to respond to the underpants bomber. And, more importantly, Obama making a remark about some incompetent wannabe terrorist wasn't something that needed to be done right away. However, there is a short window in which to have a realistic expectation of finding survivors under collapsed buildings and in any natural disaster, the faster you respond, the more lives you will save. Maybe Limbaugh wasn't clear on this after Dubya's response to Katrina.

That was bad enough, but it's par for the course for Limbaugh and his determination to bash Obama just for the sake of bashing him. What was really bad, however, was what happened yesterday. A caller to Limbaugh's show asked about the donation page on the White House's web site and Limbaugh actually suggested that the money might not go to Haiti. I can only assume that he was implying that it was going to be pocketed by Obama instead. More stupidity from Limbaugh, not really surprising. He could have redeemed himself a little bit though by suggesting a different website people could go to and donate. There are right wing sites out there that have risen above the petty partisanship at all costs which Limbaugh engages in that have links to the Red Cross and other places you can donate. He could have pointed the caller to one of them without ruining his right wing "cred", but instead of mentioning one of those sites, he said the following : "Besides, we've already donated to Haiti. It's called the U.S. income tax." So Limbaugh's response to all the death and suffering in Haiti where bodies are piling up to the point where they are being bulldozed off the street is Screw 'em !

I hate to wish for the eternal suffering of people twice in one week (See my previous post "The New McCarthyism"), but I really, really hope that Robertson and Limbaugh spend eternity roasting on spits in Hell.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

The New McCarthyism

Just read the article at the above link. Not sure which ticks me off more, the fact that Jenny McCarthy is still putting this nonsense out there or that any news organization would actually listen to what she has to say.

For those of you who don't know, Jenny McCarthy is one of the leaders of the anti-vaccination movement. These people believe that vaccines cause autism. It doesn't matter that every study (except for one done by a researcher who was trying to push his own vaccines and was later shown to have falsified data) has shown that there's no connection between vaccines and autism. It doesn't matter that Thimerosal, a preservative that used to be in vaccines, which the anti-vaccination crowd claimed to be the culprit was removed and not only did rates of autism not go down, they went up ! The facts are of no concern to them. They'd rather listen to a woman who has no medical or scientific training, a "D list" actress most famous for posing naked, a woman who calls herself an "indigo mom" and says her son is a "crystal child."

Why would people listen to this woman instead of doctors and scientists ? There's a number of reasons :

1) The media

Their part in this is two-fold. First, of course, is the fact that they follow the mantra "There's two sides to every story." Well, no, there isn't. Sometimes people are just plain wrong. If someone wanted to present a theory that the Statue of Liberty was given to us by giant green aliens and is a depiction of their queen, should this person get "equal time" ? Sometimes one person has their facts right and the other person doesn't, it's just that simple. Second, they constantly run stories about how "scientists say" eating a certain food will give you cancer and then two months later run a story that "scientists now say" eating that food may prevent cancer. What happens is that they hear about a story published in a journal that shows a possible causal link between the food and cancer , but instead of pointing out that this is just one study and that it's not something on which all scientists necessarily agree, they just tell you that "scientists say" and leave it at that.

2) Science education in this country

It sucks. That's really all there is to it. There is almost no effort to teach people how science works or what the Scientific Method is. If you were to throw out the term "double-blind randomized trial" in a conservation, most people would probably just give you a blank stare.

3) Anti-science mentality

This is the "scientists don't know everything" school of thought. It's true. Scientists don't know everything and they will tell you so themselves, but just because scientists don't know everything doesn't mean they don't know ANYTHING. But people make that leap all the time (partly thanks to the media and what passes for science education in this country). Somehow, all these people who have spent their lives studying Biology, Chemistry, Anatomy, Physiology, etc., suddenly know less then one woman claiming to know better then all of them because she has a child with autism.

Here's the thing, though. Some of these researchers have kids with autism too, so her child having autism doesn't make her any more of an expert then them. And there's a reason for research, a reason we don't just listen to someone who THINKS they know something. If you were about to have open heart surgery, would you want a trained surgeon with years of experience doing it or someone who has no training, but has seen every episode of "ER" ? Would you stick your hand into a rattlesnake den because someone had told you they do it all the time and they've never been bitten ? There's a reason certain people are called experts. There's a reason why you should give more weight to what's being said by someone with specialized knowledge and training versus someone who doesn't.

Finally, there has been no connection shown between vaccines and autism, but it HAS been shown that children who don't get vaccinated can get sick and that it can be fatal. Measles, diptheria, and whooping cough are among the potentially fatal diseases that are easily preventable with vaccines. Thanks to people like Jenny McCarthy urging people not to vaccinate their kids, these diseases are making a comeback in certain areas where large numbers of people have followed her advice. The blood of every child that dies because of the nonsense she's spreading is on her hands and , if there's a hell, I hope she burns in it.

For those who are interested, I've included three links below.

This one is a site that keeps track of all the preventable illnesses and deaths that have occurred since Jenny McCarthy started her anti-vaccination campaign.

This one is a magazine article that does a really good job of explaining the so-called "controversy".

Finally, this last one is what the American Academy of Pediatrics has to say about it.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

"Sorry I got caught" Syndrome

Before I get to the main topic of this post, I just want to give a shout out to Fox News for once again proving that, despite their feigned offense at the suggestion, they are nothing but a mouthpiece for the right. They hired a new political commentator. Seeing as how they call themselves "Fair and Balanced", they probably hired a Liberal to provide some balance to all of the Conservative commentators they have now, right ? Wrong ! They hired Sarah "I couldn't come up with the name of one magazine or newspaper I've ever read until months after I was asked the question" Palin. Of course, I'm sure that she was hired because she is a well-read (HA!), well-informed individual, supremely qualified to comment on the issues of the day on national TV, and not just because she's a GILF who leans so far to the right she makes Newt Gingrich look liberal. Seriously, I could have made the whole post about this , but both Palin and Fox News constantly provide fodder for commentary, so I'm sure I'll have a chance to get back to them.

No, today, we'll be talking about sports. Specifically, we'll be talking about our tendency to forgive (and, even worse, forget) anything our star athletes do, no matter what it is. If, by some chance, you haven't heard by now, I have big news for you : Mark McGwire admits he used steroids ! I'm sorry, I probably should have given you some warning. I know this news is almost as shocking as the news about Sarah Palin. Of course, even now, he isn't being completely honest. He claims that he took them for "health reasons". I can believe that, if by that he was referring to the healthy amount of money he got from playing baseball and any endorsement deals he got. He also claimed that he was coming clean now because of his hiring as the Cardinals hitting coach, but that happened in October, so why would he wait until now ? I think it's more likely that he's admitting it now because last week the Baseball Hall of Fame voted in their newest members and, once again, McGwire didn't come anywhere close to getting the necessary votes. I think he's hoping that if he admits what he did (even if it's not a complete admission) and apologizes that he'll get voted in.

He has good reason to think so. Athletes constantly commit crimes or do immoral things and get forgiven. Some get caught right away, put out an "apology" written by their agent and from that point on, when asked about it, say "I know I did something wrong, I apologized, now I just want to move on." and they're allowed to do so ! How many times have you been watching a sporting event and heard the announcer make a remark about a certain athlete's "recent troubles", never specifying what those "troubles" are, (e.g. getting caught with drugs or smacking his girlfriend around) and making this remark in a way that seems to suggest that these "troubles" HAPPENED to this athlete instead of the athlete being the cause of their own troubles. Sometimes, athletes don't get caught right away. They deny what they did over and over again until someone comes up with incontrovertible evidence or circumstances are such that admitting what they did has become a better option then continuing to lie (e.g. when they want to get into their particular sport's Hall of Fame).

Look at Pete Rose. Not only did he gamble on baseball, but he gambled on his own team. For this, as the rules state he should have been, he was banned from baseball. For years, he denied any wrongdoing, constantly badmouthing Bart Giamatti, Fay Vincent, basically anyone involved with his being banned and anyone who dared suggest he might be engaging in less then total honesty about the matter. Then it started to sink in that nobody was buying it, so he admitted to betting on baseball, but not his own team. Which didn't do the trick, so it finally got through his thick skull that he'd have to be totally honest, so he admitted to betting on his own team. And despite what he had done, despite all the lying and all the trashing of those who said that he was lying, there are actually people out there who think that now that he's admitted what he did, he should be re-instated.

Look at Ray Lewis. Whether or not you believe he actually participated in the fight that led to the death of two men, the fact is he DID know about it and DID try to avoid helping police bring the killers to justice. And yet, Ravens fans still cheer for him and wear his jersey and sports announcers and pundits still sing his praises. I wonder if they would be doing that if it was one of their family members that had been killed that night ?

And , finally, look at Michael Vick. This one really hits close to home for me. I was an Eagles fan for almost 30 years until they signed Vick. Of course, after 30 years of being a fan, it was hard to stop being one, but any lingering doubts I had about my decision were erased when his teammates unanimously voted for him for the Ed Block Courage Award, an award usually given to a player who overcomes an injury or an off-field problem not of their own making. What was the reasoning there ? He tortured and killed dogs , served less then two years in jail, then went back to a job that provides fame and fortune, how courageous ! Of course, as usual, with this "forgive and forget" mentality that athletes get the benefit of, you hear people say "He did his time, he's apologized, everybody deserves a second chance." For those people, let me remind you of what he did. He trained dogs to fight each other, to basically chew each other to pieces. Dogs that didn't pass their "test" fights or started to have a decline in their "performance" were killed. Specifically they were shot, drowned, electrocuted, hanged, even held by their hind legs and slammed against the ground or a wall. This sick, sadistic behavior is what he engaged in, what you're willing to forgive him for. Apparently, you don't think that the kind of animal cruelty that when seen in children is an indicator that you may have a potential serial killer on your hands is any reason to stop this man from making millions of dollars and providing an example to kids that no matter what they do, they can get away with it and even thrive afterwards if they just say they're sorry.

Obviously, what McGwire did doesn't rise (or I guess I should really say, sink) to the level of what Vick did, but it's the mentality that allows people like him to be forgiven for what they've done because of the talents they have that leads to athletes being forgiven for worse things. Some people DON'T deserve a second chance and saying "I'm sorry" doesn't always make things right.

Monday, January 11, 2010

And so it begins....

So, like so many other people, I've decided to start a blog. I do this mainly because I find myself more and more wanting to share my two cents with the world and a few lines in a FaceBook status update isn't enough. I'm hoping that at a least a few people will find what I have to say interesting enough to read, although I harbor no illusions about that.

In terms of what I'll be writing about here, it will basically be anything that I think is important enough or interesting enough to post. As anyone who has read my status updates on FaceBook knows, there will definitely be postings that have to do with politics. There will most likely also be some concerning religion. Of course, there will be plenty of other subjects too (at least, that's the plan), but because those two subjects WILL be part of what I post, I feel the need to say the following and why I will put a recommendation in the "About me" section telling people they should read this post before reading any others.

When it comes to politics, you could call me either a progressive or a liberal (which is not a dirty word, no matter how much those on the right try to make it so). I'm not a "bleeding heart". There are definitely people more liberal then me, but I do tend to lean to the left. That being said, I have no problem with hearing the opinions of those on the right and having intelligent discussions about topics. The key word here is "intelligent". If your comment on my post consists of you screaming about how Obama wasn't born in this country or if you want to parrot the lies on the right about how he doesn't ever use the word "terror" or "terrorists", something which anyone with an internet connection can disprove by going online and finding videos of his speeches(and, really, why would it matter even if he didn't ? Do you think the terrorists are going to hear it and say, "Uh oh, he's onto us, we better cool it !" ? Seriously, people !), in other words, if you're part of the lunatic fringe or you want to spew out a bunch of easily disprovable lies, then don't waste your time trying to post a comment, because it won't see the light of day. If, however, you want to have a reasonable discussion, I welcome your input.

As for religion, I'm an Agnostic. I think knowing all that we know about the way the world works that it seems highly unlikely that there is any Supreme Being watching over us and based on what we know about the human body, and more specifically the brain, having a soul seems highly unlikely as well. But, God isn't really a falsifiable concept and frankly, I don't like the idea of death being oblivion, so I try to keep an open mind. I don't have any problem with people who are religious. My wife, who means everything to me, is religious. My in-laws, who I love dearly, are as well. Where there will be a problem in terms of your comment being allowed on the blog is if you try to tell me that my opinion on something is wrong because the Bible (or the religious text of your choice) says so. First of all, this argument carries no weight with me and second of all, you're probably wrong about what it actually says anyway. Many self-professed Christians have never actually read the Bible. (For example, this past Christmas, I read and heard a number of people talking about "the reason for the season". There are two accounts of the birth of Jesus in the Bible, in Matthew and Luke. Neither one gives a date or even a time of year. The reason Christmas is celebrated on December 25th is because early Christians wanted to oppose the winter-solstice celebrations that people celebrated during those days. THAT'S the reason for the season). And if you're one of these people who believes that if you don't accept Christ as your personal savior then you're going to go to hell, who claims that their God is a loving God, and yet will say that this same God is willing to condemn billions of people to Hell, no matter what kind of life they lived or who they are in their heart of hearts, just because they don't believe in the divinity of Christ, if you're one of those people, not only do I suggest that you not waste your time posting a comment, I further suggest that you take a piece of one of the stained glass windows at your church and shove it where the sun doesn't shine.

If you've read all this and are so totally offended that you never want to read another post of mine, sorry that you feel that way (well, not totally). If not, great ! I want to update every day, but life may get in the way and, realistically, updating my blog has to be low on my list of priorities, but I am going to try. To be honest, how much I worry about updating it will depend on how many people there are who are looking for updates. If nobody is reading this, there isn't much reason for me to stress about updates. Hopefully, though, I will have reason to stress because at least a few people will read it , and if not enjoy it, at least get something out of it, even if the something they're getting is their dander up.