Saturday, April 4, 2009
Here's the latest. The city of Toledo is in free-fall, skidding to the depths of economic abyss. Jobs, industry, businesses are vanishing at a record rate. So are tax revenues, of course. Streets filled with ever-deepening potholes, sewers caving in, flooded basements, snow plowing and leaf collection nearly halted, people fleeing the city like rats on a ship. Millions of dollars shortfall in the budget, police and fire layoffs impending, a City Council that cannot speak to the mayor, red ink as far as one can see. Today it was revealed that there is no money this year for residential street repaving.
Yet, the hapless mayor has entered this city in a contest for outstanding city in the America! Yes, you read that correctly. Mayor Carleton S. Finkbeiner is going to Tampa, Florida with a contingent of city 'leaders' to proclaim Toledo Ohio as one of the finest All American Cities.
A competition for the All-America City Award. Yes, I know, but he doesn't.
I plagerized this phrase from the Atheist Camel blog; hope you don't mind, Hump. Christian communities throughout the world are in a heightened state of anticipation this week and next as they prepare to celebrate the Easter mystery.
In Greek mythology, Demeter and Persephone convey the idea of a goddess returning seasonally from the 'nether regions' to the light of the day. This occurs, of course, with the vernal equinox, March 21, when nature is in 'resurrection' after the winter.
Spring, the season of rejuvenation, rejoicing and renewal and a 'basketful' of new promises and gifts. Nature, at last, discards its weary, gray cover to don a 'brand new outfit.' The shining sun warms the land and our hearts and minds after that dreadful death of winter. The brook comes alive once again and babbles playfully while the flowers press out of their wintry graves. Mother Nature,at last, smiles once again after 'testing' whether her creation was able to endure her annual near-death punishment.
Is Mother Nature bipolar? A sadist? An unfit mother? Why, do you suppose, she abuses her 'children' so? For me, this past winter was especially grim. Perhaps I'm getting too old to endure this annual 'joke' or rather punishment from Mother Nature. Haven't I been tested enough over the past 6 decades? Have I yet more punishment to endure for the indiscretions of my youth? Will I be tormented for endless winters yet to unfold until I, too, am frozen still beneath the cold earth for eternity?
Charles Blow, columnist for the NYT penned an OpEd yesterday curiously titled, Pitchforks and Pistols. His opening paragraph:
Lately I’ve been consuming as much conservative media as possible (interspersed with shots of Pepto-Bismol) to get a better sense of the mind and mood of the right. My read: They’re apocalyptic. They feel isolated, angry, betrayed and besieged. And some of their “leaders” seem to be trying to mold them into militias.
Further into the article, Blow quotes Chuck Norris- yes THAT Chuck Norris:
“How much more will Americans take? When will enough be enough? And, when that time comes, will our leaders finally listen or will history need to record a second American Revolution?”
Many of my posts here on this blog over the past 8 years contained nearly the same thought. The Patriot Act, torture, Guantanamo, the preemptive War on Iraq, Abu Ghraib, warrantless wiretapping, spying on peace groups caused me to wonder where the democracy of our Founding Fathers had gone. I, too, called for a second American Revolution.
I wonder what stoked Norris's fire? After all, Bush, Cheney, Gonzales and Rumsfeld are all gone.
Blow reminds us that 'strong language can poison weak minds, as it did in the case of Timothy McVeigh. (We sometimes forget that not all dangerous men are trained by Al Qaeda.)'
Blow states this ominous fact in his conclusion: According to the F.B.I., there have been 1.2 million more requests for background checks of potential gun buyers from November to February than there were in the same four months last year.
Pitchforks and Pistols, he titled his piece. I think I got it just now. The recent rash of madmen gunning down a dozen or more fellow citizens does raise an eyebrow or two- on those who have been paying attention.
Friday, April 3, 2009
Well, well, the Christian Taliban has failed once again to inflict their homophobic religious beliefs on the citizens of yet another state.
Speaking of the Muslim Taliban, did you read that Afghanistan now has a law permitting a man to rape his wife? Good old Bush-pal, Hamid Karazi, pushed the legislation into law. Recall that Karazi was the shining example of the Bush Doctrine- 'bring'n freedom and democracy to the world.
American Christian Taliban or Afghanistan Muslim Taliban. Quelle différence ?
What is it about older nations like France or Germany? They seem to 'get it' way before we do. Neither nation, for example, joined George Bush's dog and pony show, the Coalition of the Willing. Even today, neither nation is willing to send more troops to Afghanistan. Sarkozy, just today, told Obama directly at a news conference: no more troops to Afghanistan. No doubt Angela Merkel will say it later today.
The wisdom of the ages.
Why is it that here, in the home of the free and the land of the brave, we are often unwise? Even after 230 years, we seem to be novices at the 'how to run a country' concept. We give permission to presidents to send our troops anywhere they please, often after misleading the citizens into believing that the cause is 'just.' We nod like bobbleheads, only to learn months or years later that we were bamboozled, lied-to.
The health care issue raises its head cautiously once again. I wonder what Secretary of State Hillary Clinton was thinking as she heard Obama, in embarrassment, tell the Europeans that we lack a national health care system? They must surely think that we Americans are a bunch of frontiersmen, still trying to create a nation of our own.
Shortly after the Great Depression, my grandfather wrote a letter to his relatives back in Germany. He was dumbfounded in that January letter in 1931. He wrote:
It concerns is the condition in which America, which ended up the richest country of the world, the country of cable transmitter, of the millionaire, the country of unlimited possibilities, the country of inexhaustible sources of help and raw material, with its highly developed railway system, its all-outstanding industry and machines, its abundance at meat and grain of its decided industries and industrious population contains 5 million unemployed person since November 1929, to which in the finance battle yet a further million have joined since February 1930.
He goes on:
Middle and small business close by the thousands with bankruptcy. In the business parts of the city each 7 of 8 shops stand empty for one year. Therefore managers and department chiefs, lawyers, accountants, bookkeepers, salesclerks, agents, office assistants of all degrees have increasingly traveled in the army of the unemployed persons of the factories and industries. Many stand around lasting for days before the working door for emergency constructions,which the towns are obliged to introduce; the unemployed person gets one or 2 days of working wage to a week.
He gets to the point of my posting today when he writes,
We do not have like other civilized countries such things as like old-age pension, state sick person's relief funds, or unemployment compensation. We do not even have statistic offices for the unemployed person as all such legislation has prevented it by the big capitalists. Not even national support for soup kitchens, so extremely necessarily in each city, winter and summer for two years and so insufficient against hunger death for women and children. We would have houses enough against housing shortage. The building swindle however has our children, which smears next generation the purchase of the houses with monthly pension with highest price and heights wages, now as the prices pleases, but the taxes on it are and become ever higher and exorbitant.
Yes, grandfather, you had it correct, sad to say, and surely you now know, sitting in your golden room above, that little has changed since you wrote that letter, just before you died.
When will America ever learn?
"Too much spending!" "Not enough tax cuts for corporate America!" ""Tax cuts for the rich missing!"
Lock-step, ditto-head, gang mentality. Not one Republican had the courage to vote 'yes.' Not one.
Oh, you say, why should they? Just look at that blooooooated budget- $3.6 trillion! That's 'T' trillion. "We're spending so much that it compromises our grandchildren's future!" they say.
"T" trillion, you say? As in the 2009 Bush Budget of $3.1 trillion? The 'budget' without the Iraq and Afghanistan War 'supplementals' that were added on later, out of sight? Oh, THAT budget.
But this is different altogether, isn't it? After all, it's a budget from a DEMOCRAT in the White House. Yes, very different.
Nada single Republican.
Remember those dopy right-wing Republicans who forced the House Cafeteria to re-label French Fries as Freedom Fries? Ah, those were the days my friend, we thought they'd never end! Are those dopes still House members or did their constituents toss those ignorant asses out on their ear?
Enemies all around us! Can't trust anyone these days. Be careful, orange alert! Donald Rumsfeld speaking Rumsfeldian. Dick Cheney in an undisclosed bunker. George Bush strutting across the deck of a warship.
Horrible memories, frightening images. A nation drifting on a rudderless ship with a do-it-alone mentality.
Today President Obama stood on the same stage with French President Sarkozy. Can you imagine that? I was stunned at the scene; it took my breath away. It was hard to get my mind around the reality that in 8 short years, France has emerged from its dark-age status and I can order French fries at McDonald's without wearing my sunglasses.
Time flies by.
Thursday, April 2, 2009
"On a positive note, we are talking about a brain region that is not irrevocably altered. It gives us hope that, with novel therapies, we will eventually be able to help people with autism," says theory co-author Mark F. Mehler, M.D., chairman of neurology and director of the Institute for Brain Disorders and Neural Regeneration at Einstein.
"If the locus coeruleus is impaired in autism, it is probably because tens or hundreds, maybe even thousands, of genes are dysregulated in subtle and complex ways," says Dr. Mehler. "The only way you can reverse this process is with epigenetic therapies, which, we are beginning to learn, have the ability to coordinate very large integrated gene networks."
Round II of the unveiling of the GOP Budget was held, appropriately yesterday, April Fools Day. You may recall the out-take rehearsal last week when man-tanned John Boehner pretended to unveil the GOP Budget. That was good for a laugh.
Yesterday the all-white GOP House members stood on the steps of the U.S. Capital in a group photo- sort of share the blame for the last 8 years- while their 'leaders' ballyhooed this [actual] budget. Man-tanned is seen just behind Senate minority leader Mitch McConnell - escapee from Madame Toussaint's Wax Museum.
Last week there was a dust up over the term, Mother Nature. A righteous christian woman wanted us to recall that it was God's world, not a mother's. Anyway, mother nature seems to be reclaiming the swamplands in and around the city of Toledo. Angry citizens met last evening to complain to the government officials of increasing flooding of property, streets, and basements in the past few years.
It doesn't take a genius to understand the problem. First, the land around the city used to be under Lake Erie, just 11,000 years ago. The city sits on a lake bed with impervious subsoil holding the surface water on, well, the surface. The only reason the area is habitable is thanks to those hard working Irish and German immigrants who dug the ditches throughout northwest Ohio which allowed the surface water to drain back into the lake.
Native Americans avoided the area altogether, choosing to walk the beach ridges through the area, but not settling on the area. The Great Black Swamp- the bane of the pioneers- sits just south of the city. Tales of the miasmic fog, malarial mosquitoes, and knee-deep standing water kept this area of Ohio uninhabited long after other areas were settled. And just to the west is the Oak Openings, an area of sand swells and bogs- equally delicately balanced and rather unfit for habitation.
The second reason that citizens here are seeing higher water tables is that the sewers here are about 100 years old by now. They were mostly made of bricks which are caving in throughout the entire area. It's that hidden time bomb beneath the streets. The cost of replacing the sewer system is astronomical and is therefore conveniently ignored.
Mother nature knew best as she scattered interesting and unique plants throughout the Oak Openings areas as well as the edges of the Black Swamp. Each spring as one drives through the 'farm' fields here, the standing water in the fields ought to remind us that this land is a unique and rare natural habitat that ought to be left to the whims of Mother Nature.
Wednesday, April 1, 2009
Tuesday, March 31, 2009
The Texas Board of Education gave grudging support last week to teaching the mainstream theory of evolution without the most troubling encumbrances sought by religious and social conservatives. But the margins on crucial amendments were disturbingly close, typically a single vote on a 15-member board, and compromise language left ample room for the struggle to continue.
This was not a straightforward battle over whether to include creationism or its close cousin, intelligent design, in the science curriculum. That battle has been lost by Darwin’s opponents in the courts, the schools and most political arenas.
Rather, this was a struggle to insert into the state science standards various phrases and code words that may seem innocuous or meaningless at first glance but could open the door to doubts about evolution. In the most ballyhooed vote, those like us who support the teaching of sound science can claim a narrow victory.
[end of editorial]
In Texas, as red as blood, and way stuck-in-the-past, it must be tough to teach science there when, depending on how the wind blows, one might be forced to deny Darwin and embrace the mysterious, and all-powerful intelligent creator. Fundamentalists have quite the stranglehold on the state. George Bush, you know. I'll bet the 'science' wing of his Presidential Library contains bibles.
Back to the 16%. A recent survey revealed that, when asked about the teachers' personal beliefs, about the same number, 16% of the total, said they believed human beings had been created by God within the last 10,000 years. I bet I know one high school in northern Kentucky with a 90% or higher figure. Surely, those red states, you know, the ones who voted McCain by wide margins, must have scored significantly higher 'creationism' numbers in the survey because surely the northeastern states skewed the numbers way lower.
Forever red, dumbed-down, and at ease with a gun in one hand, the Bible in the other.
It is at least the third time this month that French workers threatened with cutbacks have blockaded managers in their offices to demand negotiations. Executives were released unharmed in both previous situations.
WASHINGTON DC. The U.S. Government continues to give billions of dollars to idiotic companies and their bungling bosses....
Great comparison, eh? Why the hell can't we be more like the French? How about kidnapping the 'dirty dozen' who Mike Taibbi fingers in his latest piece in RollingStone?
ALAN GREENSPAN, SANDY WEILL, PHIL GRAMM*, JOE CASSANO, ROBERT RUBIN, JIMMY CAYNE, CHRISTOPHER COX, ANGELO MOZILO, JOHN THAIN, HENRY PAULSON, DICK FULD, KEN LEWIS.
*my personal hanging favorite
A new ABC/Washington Post poll finds the public agreeing with the Obama administration that it has inherited the problems it has to deal with. Only 26% of Americans think the Obama administration deserves blame for the current economic problems, compared to 80% who blame banks and businesses, 70% who blame the Bush administration, and 72% who blame consumers. President Obama's approval rating remains high at 66%, with 60% approval on the economy specifically.
On April 11, demonstrations all across America will be held to call attention to the banking fiasco which has caused so much damage to the American citizens. The three-word phrase, NATIONALIZE, REORGANIZE and DECENTRALIZE sums up the aims of the sponsoring organization, A New Way Forward.
Here is their mantra:
Tell Obama and Congress: "If it's too big to fail, it's too big to exist. Dismantle the power of the financial elite and make policies that keep a new crop from springing up. We want our economy and politics restored for the public." Do something: sign onto the demand and we'll bring this message to Congress on April 11. If there's a rally near you, we'll tell you.
Citizens of Northern Ohio have two options: Detroit or Columbus.
Tens of thousands of people have signed a petition to dis-invite President Obama from speaking at Notre Dame's May 17 commencement. Four years ago, warmonger-in-chief George Bush spoke at the same event. After the speech, he was warmly applauded. Apparently, torture, preemptive war, the death penalty and lying to the citizens is held in high regard at the university.
The dust up over Obama's pending speech centers, naturally, around stem cells and the Constitutional guarantee of a woman's right to choose. And, lest we forget, gay marriage. Sounds familiar, almost as if one were at Huntington College, that bastion of Fundamentalism, a few miles south.
One has to wonder if Notre Dame is gradually moving so far right, so linked to the Papal See, that it no longer offers its students a well-rounded, broad look at the ideas and events of a multi-cultural, pluralistic society. Perhaps those signing this petition want the golden dome to become a seminary and a bastion of Medieval Studies, rather than an institution which prepares its students to be able to think and act responsibly in this diverse and complex world.
It was ironic that one of the harshest critics of the impending Obama visit was Ralph McInerny, a professor of medieval studies and philosophy, who said, 'by inviting Obama, Notre Dame is thumbing its nose at the Catholic church and "forfeited its right to call itself a Catholic university."' Apparently Dr. McInerny has spent way-too much time pouring over those ancient manuscripts and far-too little time walking the streets.
Once again the hot topics of abortion, gay marriage and stem cells trump the vast agenda of the church's social justice mission. As always, many Catholics are bamboozled by the right-wing into paying close attention to these evangelical red herrings rather than to those people whom Mother Theresa called, the poorest of the poor. Jesus's people.
Monday, March 30, 2009
Individuals with autism spectrum disorders (ASD) tend to stare at people's mouths rather than their eyes. Now, an NIH-funded study in 2-year-olds with the social deficit disorder suggests why they might find mouths so attractive: lip-sync—the exact match of lip motion and speech sound. Such audiovisual synchrony preoccupied toddlers who have autism, while their unaffected peers focused on socially meaningful movements of the human body, such as gestures and facial expressions.
A eureka moment in the research came when researchers followed up on a clue from children's responses to audiovisual synchrony embedded in a nursery rhyme cartoon.
While it was known that people with autism do not spontaneously orient to social signals, it was unclear what early-emerging mechanism may contribute to that. Nor was it clear exactly what they were attending to instead. To find out, Klin, Jones and colleagues tracked the eye movements of two-year-olds with and without the disorder while they looked at cartoon animations on split-screen displays.
[for a look/listen to this experiment, click on the link and scroll down to teh video]
Eye-tracking data shows where toddlers in each of three groups were looking during the Pat-a-Cake animation. It plays upright and forward on the left side of screens, upside down and in reverse on the right side. Red cross indicates where the child was looking. Toddler with autism is focused on audiovisual synchrony of hands clapping, while typically developing and developmentally delayed toddlers focus on face.
The researchers borrowed a technique from the video game industry, called motion capture. They then reduced the movements to only points of light at each joint in the body, like animated constellations. These cartoons played normally - upright and forward - on one half of the screen, but upside-down and in reverse on the other half. The inverted presentation engages different brain circuits and is known to disrupt perception of biological motion in young children. The normal soundtrack of the actor's voice, recorded when the animations were made, accompanied the presentations.
Flatulence from cows contributes a significant amount of greenhouse gases [28 percent of all methane emissions] into the atmosphere, but scientists have discovered that fish oil can reduce cow farts. Fish oil could cut down on the boom-booms, a new study suggests.
Specifically, including 2 percent fish oil in the diet of cattle reduces flatulence, apparently due to the omega 3 fatty acids in the oil. The study was a small one, however. The technique cut methane output of three cows by 21 percent, said Lorraine Lillis of the University College Dublin.
I wonder, though, will milk products have a hint of fishiness because of this ingestion by the bovines? A ghastly thought, for sure.
2009 Art Theme: "Evolution"
Our mission is to produce the annual event known as "Burning Man" and to guide, nurture and protect the more permanent community created by its culture. Our intention is to generate society that connects each individual to his or her creative powers, to participation in community, to the larger realm of civic life, and to the even greater world of nature that exists beyond society. We believe that the experience of Burning Man can produce positive spiritual change in the world. To this end, it is equally important that we communicate with one another, with the citizens of Black Rock City and with the community of Burning Man wherever it may arise. Burning Man is radically inclusive, and its meaning is potentially accessible to anyone. The touchstone of value in our culture will always be immediacy: experience before theory, moral relationships before politics, survival before services, roles before jobs, embodied ritual before symbolism, work before vested interest, participant support before sponsorship. Finally, in order to accomplish these ends, Burning Man must endure as a self-supporting enterprise that is capable of sustaining the lives of those who dedicate themselves to its work. From this devotion spring those duties that we owe to one another. We will always burn the Man.
We will always burn the Man. Yes we will.
Sunday, March 29, 2009
My wife seeks out the quaint and interesting as she paws through the NetFlix contents. Yesterday the postman delivered, Constantine's Sword, a film and book by journalist and former priest, James Carroll. The documentary follows the long shadow cast by the cross, the symbol seized by Roman Emperor Constantine in his military conquest for the Empire.
Carroll's voice, as narrator the film, is flatly inquisitive in tone, which I found mesmerizing and enchanting. He left the priest hood in the early 1970's frustrated by the church's response [or lack thereof] to the Vietnam War. Not only that war, but the author details the insidious close link between the church and many wars throughout history, none the least of which were the Crusades.
The close relationship between the Nazis and Pope Pius XII was exposed as was the ugly persecution of the Jews of Rome in the 1500's by Pope Paul IV. Paul IV was head of the Italian Inquisition before he was raised to the papacy.
Carroll painfully moves through his documentary to examine just how and when Christ's message of peace became perverted into an instrument of war and persecution of those not of the faith. He especially explores why and how the Jews became the scapegoat for the Roman crucifixion of Jesus. On April 9, Good Friday, Catholics throughout the world will, once again, as from the time of Constantine, blame the Jews as they read the politicized words of the Gospel.
Here in America, Carroll's outrage at the church-war coalition, is met as he explores the infiltration of evangelical Christianity into the US Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs, Colo., where officers have pressured cadets to convert and marginalized those who resisted. The best irony of it all occurs when the holier-than-thou Ted Haggart is interviewed about his role in this military-religious co-op. As we watch him now, knowing of his homosexual encounters, his righteousness drips with hypocrisy.
The cross and shadow it casts in the opening scene of the film is revealed at the end of the film. It was erected at, of all places, Auschwitz, the Nazi concentration camp and burial site of thousands of Jews. He stands under it and asks of a German Jew who stands with him, "Why is this cross here among the graves of the Jews?" The answer is astounding and perhaps best characterizes the conundrum that Carroll is attempting to unravel.