Saturday, December 16, 2006

Advertising Overload

A longtime advocate of freedom of speech and freedom of the press, I have, of late, begun to question the rationale supporting my position on these issues. One need only open e-mail or switch on a TV set to learn the reasons why.

Let’s face it! Spammers are a major pain in the ass, with their semi-literate subject lines, bogus return addresses and worthless messages that no one reads taking up mailbox space and wasting precious time. I have no idea what they might be trying to sell; I delete all of them, without exception, without opening.

And what about TV commercials? Most of them are so mind-numbingly stupid, loud and obnoxious that they make you wonder if anyone actually pays attention to them. Worse, they make you wonder if the people who thought them up have any brains.

Still, it can’t be denied that a few TV commercials have actual entertainment value.

Take this one, for example, from a few years back, which was a cartoon featuring an opossum hanging by its tail from a tree limb above a country road. The viewers (and, presumably, the ‘possum) see a bright, glowing yellow disk rising above the horizon. The ‘possum visualizes one thing, but in fact it’s something completely different. In the next scene, we see a truck motoring off into the distance, while the ’possum, still attached to the limb by its tail, makes a few orbits of said limb and gradually swings to a stop. Big surprise, eh, Mr. ‘Possum? (Anyone who’s familiar with the aerodynamic devices mounted atop the cabs of many trucks that ply our nation’s highways can appreciate the inherent humor of this particular TV commercial.)

Then, there’s this one, introduced more recently, in which a guy walking downhill trips, falls, and begins to roll, collecting garbage cans, pedestrians, a food cart and vendor, cars and an assortment of other odds and ends into a conglomeration that builds mass like a rolling snowball in its inexorable rush to the bottom of the hill. It’s the absurdity of the situation that makes this commercial so funny.

Or this one, which features a couple of talking crows that trick a human into walking into a closed patio door. As the crows yuck it up, one says to the other, “C’mon, let’s do it again!”

Although the humorous aspects of these few commercials are memorable, the products they advertise are not. I can’t begin to tell you which products the first two examples advertise; I’m totally clueless. The last example might have been an ad for Windex. Or, maybe, for that other brand of window cleaner. What’s it called?

The point I’m trying to make is that, as a society, we’re so inundated with commercial ads that some of us, and perhaps many of us, simply tune them out. Advertising, at once pervasive and persistent, is such a commonplace part of our existence that we've become immune to it.

Even though I deplore the thought of freedom-of-speech prohibitions for individuals and the various forms of media, I’d welcome it for corporate advertisers. After all, corporations aren’t people. And damn those Supreme Court Justices who, so many years ago, made it possible for corporations to behave as though they were.

Saturday, December 02, 2006

Pink Floyd's "Pulse"

Last night’s OPB presentation of Pink Floyd’s 1994 Pulse concert (the group’s last full concert) provided welcome relief from typical Friday evening TV fare. It was the second Pink Floyd concert I’ve seen on OPB this year.

It’s hard to pigeonhole Pink Floyd’s music because there’s nothing else quite like it. It seems to embrace several musical disciplines; a melding of a little bit of jazz, a little bit of rock, a little bit of contemporary, and a little bit of easy listening. It’s all of those things and a whole lot more. Maybe avant-garde rock describes it best.

For sure, the music is innovative, distinctive and original, with David Gilmour’s sometimes-weak vocals being the only downside (and a small one, at that), which is more than offset by talented musicians who finesse their various instruments to generate a purity of musical sound unrivaled in the industry. It’s highly unlikely that any other group could be mistaken for Pink Floyd.

Unlike the pyrotechnic displays that accompanied some of the earlier concerts, the high-tech light show that accompanied the Pulse concert complimented the performance rather than distracted from it.

In a testament to the timeless quality of Pink Floyd’s music, the roughly 40-year old psychedelic rock band played some of their earlier songs—among them Money and Dark Side of the Moon—that were popular in the early ‘70’s to an audience of the ‘90’s. That the same music played so well to an audience that’s crossed the threshold of a new millennium is further proof of Pink Floyd’s ability to leave its imprint on every generation it touches.

Wednesday, November 22, 2006

Screw 'em!

Early last week, a young entrepreneur paid 20 people $200 each to wait in line until Friday, when the Sony PlayStation 3 went on sale, so that each of them could make a purchase on his behalf. His goal was to acquire as many PlayStations as possible so that he could resell them, at a profit, on e-Bay. It was his way of getting around the store’s one unit-per-person policy.

On Saturday, the high-tech toys were reported to be selling on e-Bay for as much as $3500. That’s one hell of a markup from the $600 retail price.

Now, some would argue that the entrepreneur’s game plan was just smart business, but I beg to differ; it’s not nearly as much smart business as it is bad ethics. By hoarding 20 machines for himself, he prevented 20 people with more legitimate reasons for owning a machine from buying one. He caused 20 others, who can accurately be described as having an abundance of money and a shortage of patience and good sense, to pay prices far in excess of retail value.

If ticket scalping is illegal, why isn’t profiteering on merchandise illegal, too? The differences between the two are indistinguishable. But, hey! I guess the entrepreneur in question was merely adhering to one of capitalism’s inviolate rules: Buy low, and sell high—no matter whom you screw!

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

Introducing a New Dynamic

Ayn Rand was wrong. Sure, her argument for objectivism, delivered so eloquently in 50-some consecutive pages of uninterrupted dialog by her character, John Galt, in Atlas Shrugged, has won the hearts and minds of countless young laissez-faire capitalists since the novel was published in 1957. That’s beside the point.

The truth is that when one examines, closely, both sides of that lopsided coin, a different truth emerges. While bright ideas are desirable things, imagination alone doesn’t manipulate matter and shape it into that which the mind conceives. Muscle plays an essential role in the process of transforming ideas into material reality, but all too often it’s given short shrift, its value downplayed by the “men of the mind” whose goal is to create and retain for themselves as much wealth as possible. Thinkers grow rich, and workers become their willing – or not so willing – slaves.

No man is an island, and no head acts independently of its body. A head without a body lacks the ability to take action; a body without a head lacks purpose and direction. Only when the two work together in perfect harmony do meaningful things get done.

And so it is with management and labor. Labor without management is inefficient and ineffective; management without labor has no hope of accomplishment. It takes the two of them, working together in perfect harmony, to achieve the desired results.

In 2005, the average pay for Fortune 500 companies’ CEOs was 431 times higher than the average pay for those companies’ employees. In 1982 the pay differential was 47 to 1.

Does anyone else see a problem with this dynamic? Maybe it’s time to introduce a measure of equity into the workplace so workers are more fairly compensated for their contributions to the economy.

What if workers were able to buy an ownership interest in the companies and corporations they work for? If investors can buy in with money, why can’t workers buy in with their labor? This would go a long way toward shrinking the disparity between rich and poor by creating a more level economic playing field. An ownership stake in the companies they work for would give workers incentive to increase productivity by rewarding their efforts to do so.

Restructuring corporate ownership to include the working class would help achieve economic parity by redistributing wealth downward. It would obviate the need for labor unions, increase productivity, minimize sick time, reduce employee absenteeism and turnover, trim healthcare costs across the board, and replace Social Security as a source of retirement income.

Other benefits to society would accrue, as well. Lower unemployment rates, lower crime rates, fewer homeless people, fewer people on welfare, and increased tax revenues are just some of the possibilities.

With inexorable population growth and rapid technological evolution comes the need to revamp all social institutions, not the least of which is the economy. Our failure to entertain—and, perhaps, act upon—progressive and even radical ideas now only ensures that we’ll be buried under the rubble of our inertia later.

Friday, November 10, 2006

Local Effects of Global Climate Change

No sooner had Oregon Governor Ted Kulongoski been reelected than the local television media was jumping all over him for daring to speak the truth about Oregon’s climate often being in direct conflict with the over-privileged elite’s favorite delusions.

Kulongoski’s comments implied, not too subtly, that people who build expensive houses in areas that are prone to erosion or flooding or other whims of nature have way too much money and not nearly enough brains. What Kulongoski hinted at is that building in a watershed or perching a vacation home on the edge of a cliff, facing the ocean, isn’t a smart thing to do.

It’s no secret that nature behaves in unpredictable ways. Storms happen, and when they do wind blows and rain falls, unleashing upon the unsuspecting and the unprepared all sorts of discomforts and uncertainties. Rivers rise and overflow their banks; ground saturates and turns to mud and the forces of wind and water cause trees to topple; storm surge erodes beaches and undermines the cliffs that abut them. Nature’s forces are relentless and unforgiving, and no one should be surprised by them or made indignant because of them.

Certain privileges carry certain risks. The price of a spectacular view of the Pacific is that the fabulous McMansion one enjoys it from is at risk of perishing in the next storm. The price of an intimate view of the Sandy River, or any river, is that the viewpoint is at risk of washing away in the next flood. The price of living near a volcano is the risk that, someday, you’ll be blown away by a pyroclastic floe or swept away by a lahar.

While I don’t wish adversity or misfortune on anyone, I deeply resent all the whining and bitching and complaining when disaster strikes those whom invite it. As they lament their bad luck and curse Mother Nature’s cruel acts against them, they should take a hard look into the mirror and stare deeply into the eyes of the idiot that put them in harm’s way.

Friday, November 03, 2006

Kerry Speaks to New Reality

Okay, so I was too optimistic in my resolve not to post here for an entire month, but I just can’t help myself. How was I supposed to know that John Kerry would open his mouth? Anyway, so many right-wingnuts complained about what Kerry said about the troops rather than what Duhbya did to them, I felt compelled to weigh in on the subject.

My take on the matter is that when Kerry suggested that students who didn’t fare well in school were likely to end up in Iraq, he was exactly right. For decades, young men (and, more recently, young women) have joined the military upon graduating from, or dropping out of, high school. They cite critical on-the-job training, a GED certificate or other educational benefits, a steady paycheck with healthcare benefits, or a long-term career at the end of which awaits a relatively secure retirement package as reasons. These are not bad things, and they in no way imply that people who embark on such courses of action are stupid. For decades, the military has been a viable career alternative. Until lately, that is.

Not everyone does well in school. Not everyone wants to be a doctor or lawyer. Not everyone is interested in science, chemistry or computer technology. Not everyone wants to go into business. Some people just want to put in their eight hours, then kick back with a beer in one hand and the TV remote in the other. Not necessarily stupid, mind you, just not overly ambitious.

Unfortunately, today’s economy is increasingly hostile toward lower and middle class workers. When blue-collar jobs disappear, white-collar jobs soon follow. Today, thousands of students are encouraged to pursue a college education to learn the skills they’ll need to land a job that won’t exist. The reality is that when they graduate many of them will be competing for low-wage jobs for which they’re over-qualified. While an unskilled person can start at the bottom and work her way up, an overqualified person can’t even get his foot in the door.

An unintended consequence of large numbers of students pursuing higher education is that they drive up the cost of education for everyone. Another unintended consequence is that many college graduates begin their careers deeply in debt.

The emerging economy, thanks to globalization and so-called fair trade agreements, is putting the squeeze on young people, some of whom find a stint in the military their only option. Today, when young people join the military, they’re virtually guaranteed a tour of duty in Iraq. If they survive, they’re virtually assured a return engagement. They (and you) can thank George Bush for that.

Did Kerry dishonor or disparage the troops when he made his comments? No! He spoke to America’s new reality.

Did Duhbya endanger the troops when he sent them, under false pretenses, into harm’s way in Iraq? Yes! If you really want to vent your anger, then venting it at Bush would be appropriate.

Kerry may have said it badly, but he said what needed to be said. Right-wingnuts still don’t get it. They probably never will.

Tuesday, October 24, 2006

Ramping Up for NaNoWriMo

With midnight, November 1st, fast approaching, I’m scrambling to get caught up on a myriad of unfinished projects in anticipation of NaNoWriMo’s starting gun. Yes, dear reader, for the third consecutive year I’m going to attempt the implausible, improbable, impossible task of writing a 50,000-word novel in 30 days.

As I prepare to embark on this momentous undertaking, it’s necessary for me to shuffle my priorities around until everything but the act of writing is relegated to a back burner. No more AlterNet, no more MadeBig Vibes, no more business projects, no more blogging. No, none of these things for an entire month. It’s going to be like a month-long vacation, only without the vacation.

When I return in December, there’ll be lots to catch up on – the Iraq occupation, the November mid-term elections, global warming, inept politicians, illegal immigrants, government duplicity, the bursting housing bubble, the war on (some) drugs, the energy crisis, rising gasoline prices. There’s never a shortage of things to write about, only a shortage of time in which to write about them.

Thursday, September 21, 2006

Dying for No Good Reason

In the early hours of last Saturday morning, a distraught mother dialed 9-1-1 seeking help to control her 18-year old son, who was drunk, disorderly and threatening to harm himself. Two Washington County deputies and a Tigard city cop were dispatched to the scene of the disturbance. Minutes later, Lukus Glenn died in a hail of bullets.

This sad affair calls to mind another incident, not so long ago, in which another young man died needlessly in a withering fusillade of police gunfire. Fouad Kaady, naked and in shock from serious injuries and burns suffered in a car accident, was gunned down by Gresham police when he became combative and failed to respond to police commands. He possessed no weapons of any kind.

Police justify the use of deadly force whenever they fear that out-of-control persons pose a threat to themselves, to the police, or to others. Officers are trained to respond to a particular level of force with the next highest level of force. I guess—if one subscribes to this line of reasoning—that it’s okay for police to respond to someone who’s intent on fisticuffs with a knife in the belly, or to repel a rock thrower with an RPG. Certainly, someone wielding a hand grenade should be countered with a hydrogen bomb.

But, c’mon! How much of threat can a naked, unarmed crazy guy be? Or a drunken crazy kid armed with a three-inch bong knife? Or, for that matter, a drunken weirdo pissing in the street?

Police spokespersons claimed that the officers involved in these incidents acted according to the book. At the risk of sounding like a Monday morning quarterback, maybe it’s time to review police training procedures, tactical weapons, and threat assessment/threat response protocols.

We know that Tasers are, too often, ineffective against people who are pumped on adrenaline or high on meth. We know that beanbag rounds are, too often, ineffective for the same reasons. News media accounts provide ample evidence of this. Is there anything of less than lethal force that can subdue someone who seems possessed of superhuman strength? Do police have tactical means available to them that will allow them to gain control of an out-of-control miscreant without risking serious injury or death to themselves or the miscreant?

In fact, at least two means do exist. Both are primitive, both are effective, and each is relatively inexpensive. Neither is likely to cause fatal injuries. I’m referring, of course, to nets, long used by game hunters who want to capture their prey alive, and to pugil sticks, long used by the Marine Corps as training devices in bayonet training, where the use of real bayonets might prove lethal to fellow marines. Any cop who, after a couple of weeks of training, can’t disarm and/or take down a knife-wielding suspect with a pugil stick doesn’t deserve to wear a badge.

Unfortunately, police continue to overlook or ignore the potential of these great, non-lethal countermeasures. Until cops are willing to explore safer alternatives to guns, senseless deaths will continue.

Sunday, September 17, 2006

Making Right a Few Wrongs

There’s an old saying that goes, “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it!” What this means is don’t start tinkering with something that works ‘cause you’re liable to mess it up. Politicians should have heeded this advice but, failing to see the inherent wisdom in it, of course they didn’t. As a consequence, things keep getting worse.

Government becomes more dysfunctional, authority figures less trustworthy, social institutions less reliable and more inept. Weeda sheeple seem to be in mortal danger of losing the social safeguards we all depend on. Someone—or something—has usurped control of the political system and ordinary citizens find the ability to control certain aspects of their lives greatly diminished.

Suppose you had the power to fix everything that ails society today. Where would you start? How would you order your priorities? What changes would you make, and how would you execute those changes?

These are the things I would do if, by some twist of fate or quirk of happenstance, someone appointed me dictator of the month:

1. Election reforms; give Diebold the boot, return to paper ballots.
2. Legislative reforms; allow no riders and only one issue per bill, no more piggybacking unpopular bills on top of “must pass” legislation.
3. Tax reforms; adopt progressive taxation that puts the burden of taxes on those with the most ability to pay.
4. Corporate reforms; redefine corporations, rewrite corporate charters, limit corporate ability to influence legislation.
5. Strengthen environmental protections.
6. Expedite renewable fuels research and development.
7. Fund national healthcare.
8. End the drug war.
9. Address education and school reforms.
10. Create high-speed rail system as part of nationwide public transportation program.

That’s the first ten. On the second day, I would . . .. Yeah! Right!

Monday, September 11, 2006

9/11 Revisited

Today marks the fifth anniversary of the destruction of the World Trade Center’s twin towers, in New York City, each of which collapsed into its own footprint after being struck by a hijacked airliner. Five years has not been long enough to erase the memory of that fateful day, to ease the pain felt by those who lost friends or loved ones to the carnage, or to quell the sense of outrage that grew in the aftermath of terrorism.

Still, after five years, many questions remain unanswered. A high percentage of citizens believe the government engaged in some kind of cover-up. The official 9/11 Commission Report contained inaccuracies and “facts” not in evidence. Indeed, the government’s explanations of the 9/11 catastrophe fail, on many points, to pass the straight-face test.

One of the talking heads on NBC News, last night, claimed that the interiors of the fallen buildings were subjected to temperatures equal to those at Earth’s core—physical and thermodynamic impossibilities unless thermite or other high-intensity explosives were used to cut through structural members and facilitate their collapse.

To suggest that kerosene, burning at temperatures not exceeding 800 degrees centigrade, could heat structural steel (which melts at approximately twice that temperature) to the point of failure, in 62 minutes and 102 minutes respectively, is the height of ignorance and stupidity—unless you have something to hide. Those buildings didn’t fall without a lot of inside help.

There are other inconsistencies, paradoxes, enigmas and conundrums associated with the government’s official version of the events occurring on 9/11/01. Among the questions raised by various conspiracy theories are:

Why was the Air Force, despite being equipped with billions of dollars worth of high-tech weaponry and state-of-the-art detection systems, unable to mount an effective response to the hijacking and unauthorized deployment of four commercial civilian aircraft?

What caused Building 7 of the World Trade Center complex to collapse?

Why, in photos of the various impact sites, is there no visible aircraft debris?

How was the pilot of one of the airliners that struck the Trade Center able to override automatic controls that prevent the aircraft from exceeding pre-established safe g-force levels when the aircraft is banking into a turn?

How did debris from Flight 93 end up eight miles away, on the other side of a hill?

Why were some of Osama bin Laden’s relatives flown to safety, outside the country, immediately after the attacks?

Why did President Bush lose focus on his avowed mission of capturing or killing Osama bin Laden to concentrate his attention on waging war in Iraq?

How were so many people on Flight 93 able to communicate by cell phone? (It’s my understanding that, because of the speed at which commercial airliners travel, it’s difficult for a cell phone to establish a connection through a microwave tower before it’s out of range and has to re-establish the connection through a different tower.)

How is it possible that at least 11 of the named hijackers were still living two years after 9/11?

These are only a few of the questions that come to mind; there are many others, but I’ve given you enough to think about, for now. To find out what really triggered the events of 9/11, you must first find satisfactory answers to these questions.

The mainstream media belittles people who speak of conspiracies and conspiracy theories. However, there can be no doubt that there was indeed a conspiracy behind the 9/11 tragedy.

With that thought in mind, we might ask ourselves one final question: Whose conspiracy was it?

Friday, September 08, 2006

Liars Can't Be Trusted

Do you trust President Bush? I don’t!

How can you trust a guy whose every important political decision has been based on a lie? There were no weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, Saddam Hussein had no ties to the terrorism of 9/11, the U.S. did engage in the torture of prisoners, in extraordinary rendition, in warrantless spying on U.S. citizens. Bush has said he’s either done or not done a lot of things, but the facts prove otherwise.

How can you trust someone who gutted the Constitution, tried to gut Social Security, and made a bigger mess of public education and public healthcare than they were already in? How can you trust a man who’s willing to sacrifice the global environment all of us depend on for the sake of his oil-plundering buddies?

When queried about his veracity, his expression is that of an idiot deer caught in the headlights, or maybe Alfred E. Neuman on crystal meth, but without the guileless charm. I don’t know, maybe it’s his arrogance, his apparent ignorance, and that ever-present smirk that turns me so against him.

It’s no surprise that Bush’s approval rating has slipped to around 33 or 34 percent. What’s surprising is that there are still that many people who think he’s doing a good job. How can he be doing a good job when he’s involved Americans in an illegal, misbegotten war and spent the country to the brink of bankruptcy?

Who are the Bush supporters? No doubt their numbers are made up of the people who profit handsomely from his policy decisions—special-interest groups, corporate leaders and investors, politicos and political party members who gain political traction from decisions that favor their causes.

Religious fundamentalists, gleefully awaiting Armageddon because they loathe the world they helped create, “true patriots” who never met a crooked politician they didn’t like, and the upper strata of the middle class—too busy fighting the forces that are dragging them down to gain a clear understanding that it’s the Bush Cabal behind the forces that are dragging them down—make up the remainder of Bush loyalists.

But who, in a sound state of mind, would support an incompetent twit, a chronic liar, a leader that lacks direction, a decider that makes bad decisions? Other than diminish our nation’s reputation in the eyes of the world, undermine Constitutional protections, and put the country into hock up to its ears, his only successes have been to make rich people richer, poor people poorer, and the fearful more fearful. It’s not a track record anyone should be proud of.

Bush is such a habitual liar that he reminds me of The Boy Who Cried Wolf. He’s told so many lies, so often, that he no longer has any credibility. It’s probably best if we just ignore the fear-mongering rhetoric that would keep us living in fear, and learn to make peace with the wolf.

Thursday, September 07, 2006

At Risk of Dying

The premature death of Steve Irwin, Australia’s famed “Crocodile Hunter,” got me to thinking about death and dying—and, more specifically, about one’s chances of dying while engaged in one’s favorite activities.

People who swim with sharks have a much higher risk of being bitten by a shark (not applicable to lawyers, who enjoy professional courtesy) than do people who stay at home and watch Steve Irwin, swimming with stingrays, on the telly.

It’s a given that we’re all going to die, some sooner, some later, but there’s no question that, eventually, death takes us all. The only questions are how? When? And how much is it gonna hurt?

I heard, recently, that the odds of being struck by lightning are 800,000-to-1. Sounds like a pretty low risk, doesn’t it? Please, be smart enough to know that those odds include the risk to all people. Golfers who stand in the middle of a golf course during a thunderstorm are at substantially higher risk. Mountain climbers who stand on top of a mountain while a thunderstorm passes overhead are at even higher risk of being struck by lightning. Proximity to the danger zone has a lot to do with the odds.

Frequency seems to be a determining factor when assessing risk. How often you engage in risky behavior has a profound effect on your chances of being seriously injured or killed. People who rack up frequent flyer miles are probably more likely to die in an airplane crash than a person who takes a single airplane trip and lives to tell about it.

Vintage fighter jet pilot Robert Guilford had thousands of hours flying without crashing and burning, until he did. Jean-Claude Killy skied on countless mountain slopes without being caught in an avalanche, until he was. Dale Earnhart raced thousands of laps in stock cars without hitting a wall and dying, until he did. (It’s fair to say that because Earnhart did all of his racing in stock cars, his chances of dying in a Formula One race were non-existent.)

The odds of dying in a building collapse are greater if you’re above the floors of a skyscraper impacted by a Jumbo Jet than you are if you’re below the impact area. And if you’re in the impact area . . .? Well, you qualify for a starring role in the next Final Destination movie.

But what are your chances of dying in a building collapse if you’re sitting at a table in the front window of your local Mickey D’s scarfing down a Big Mac? Almost nil! You’d be at greater risk of dying from cardiovascular disease, or being gunned down by a sniper shooting from across the street. If it’s any consolation, it would be almost impossible for a sniper to hit you if you were in a collapsing skyscraper.

Speaking of those Final Destination movies, when I saw the first one it got me to thinking about my own life, about how many times I’ve averted disaster or escaped serious injury or death and not given it a second thought. I suspect the same can be said for your life, too.

And while we’re on the subject of death, have you ever seen the Sci-fi channel series Dead Like Me? It’s gotta be the funniest show on television. First time I saw it, I damned near died laughing. Still, I haven’t missed an episode since.

Yeah, yeah! It’s risky behavior, I know, but I just can’t seem to help myself. It seems reasonable that if I’m gonna die anyway, I might as well go out laughing.

Monday, August 21, 2006

Lost and Found

So far, none of my posts for the month of August have shown up on my blog. Not sure what's going on, here, but I'm determined to get to the bottom of it.

There! That's better! Although I'm not sure what caused the problem (guess it could have been memory cache overload), I've obviously figured out how to solve it.


Friday, August 11, 2006

Tenderloin Steak Masquerades as Spam

A couple of weeks ago, an unsolicited e-mail landed in one of my most obscure “in” boxes. Had it not borne a site relevant subject line, I would have deleted it immediately, just as I did with the spam that accompanied it. There was something about this one, though, that wouldn’t let me blow it off so easily. I dared to open it.

A woman by the name of Yolanda Carden introduced herself as a publicist for FSB Associates, a New Jersey firm that specializes in promoting books, for authors and publishers, on the Web. She asked me if I’d be interested in reading a book she was promoting and writing a review of it to post on my Web site. After reading a brief description of Anonymous Lawyer (which Yolanda provided in her initial e-mail) and visiting the author’s blog at, I agreed.

Within two days of my acceptance of Yolanda’s offer, the USPS delivered a brand new copy of Anonymous Lawyer to my door. So far, so good! Not long after, I was fully immersed in the book and anticipating the writing of a favorable review.

Well, I finished reading the book and writing the review (which you can read online), and I gotta tell you that Anonymous Lawyer is the funniest book I’ve read this year, and maybe the funniest book I’ve read in the last couple of years.

That’s not to say that Isle of Dogs, by Patricia Cornwell, Skinny Dip, by Carl Hiaasen, The Road to Ruin, by Donald E. Westlake, Tricky Business, by Dave Barry, The Light-years Beneath My Feet, by Alan Dean Foster, and Tanner’s Tiger, by Lawrence Block aren’t funny stories. They were, and are, among the funniest, but don’t construe that to mean that their authors are the only writers capable of writing with tongue planted firmly in cheek.

Jeremy Blachman, author of Anonymous Lawyer, is the new kid on the block, both capable and worthy of inclusion in this elite company of best-selling authors with a flair for humor.

The great thing about humor is that it can take many forms, and be expressed in many ways. In the end it’s all about the laughter. It’s the only thing that counts.

Thursday, August 10, 2006

China Poised to Become the World's Next Great Superpower

Are we on the brink of World War III? Judging by recent and current events in the Middle East, it seems safe to answer that question with an unqualified “yes.” What we’re seeing now is the spark that leads to ignition—and a raging inferno.

U.S. troops occupy Afghanistan. More U.S. troops conduct a failing ground war in Iraq. And, in Lebanon, U.S. ally Israel continues its outrageous slaughter of the innocents—and its wanton destruction of Lebanon’s infrastructure—as it wages war against a largely civilian population in an attempt to root out Hezbollah.

On another Israeli border, the Palestinians, as always, are restless. The stability of the entire region is threatened. How long before Syria is drawn into the picture? How long before the U.S. or Israel looses a preemptive strike against Iran? How long before the Saudis, the Egyptians and the Turks are sucked into the conflict?

As tensions rise and hostilities spread across the region, it won’t be long before Russia and all of Europe is fully engaged in the madness. Add to this mess North Korean ambition and you have an RSVP invitation to the biggest weenie roast in history.

Can any single nation hope to survive a global conflict and emerge from it a winner? Clearly the U.S. cannot, short of unleashing a firestorm of nuclear weapons early on. An all out nuclear war, however, would likely render the planet uninhabitable for most of the higher life forms, including humans. No winners here.

Early and protracted engagement in a global conflict will consume resources and erode capacities and capabilities of nations so engaged. One by one, the European Union, Russia and the U.S. will fall, leaving their allies vulnerable to takeover by invading forces.

China, inscrutable as always, is poised to be the big winner of WWIII, providing she can postpone her involvement until most other nations have been depleted and defeated, and the end of hostilities draws near. Through careful planning and timing, China can conserve its resources and vast reserves of manpower, using them efficiently to conduct strategic mop-up operations and police actions in far-flung countries where populations, resources and infrastructure are so diminished that citizens and governments lack the will or the means to resist.

Sun Tzu (a name used collectively by several Chinese writers) wrote The Art of War, which contains the guiding principles of successful combat, between about 450 B.C. and 220 B.C. Many of the principles contained therein are as valid today as they were more than two millennia ago.

Providing that China’s political and military leaders adhere to and apply Sun Tzu’s principles of war, there’s no reason not to think that that nation of a billion people has the capability of becoming the world’s next great superpower.

Sunday, July 30, 2006

The War Against (Some) Drugs

If you think the U.S. has any intention of winning the War on (some) Drugs, think again. Oh, and while we’re at it, let’s not call it a war on drugs, let’s call it a war against the middle class.

To understand the rationale for the drug war, you must first understand that the drug war is not about illegal drugs, per se, but about the money that can be made from combating illegal drugs. There’s a big difference. The government doesn’t give a rat’s ass about your health or your life. All it cares about is your money. Get over it, and move on.

Money! It’s always about money. Following the money trail will always lead you to the real motives behind any enterprise. Begin with the fact of illicit drugs. How does legal status affect the price of drugs? Who profits? Who loses?

The profit taking begins almost as soon as a law proscribing something—anything—that is desired by the public goes into effect. Popular demand for illegal goods creates a black market, which entrepreneurs who are less concerned with the law than they are with huge profit potential are only too glad to fill. Were it not for the law, suppliers of illicit drugs couldn’t make enough money for the activity to be worth their time and effort. A black market always drives up the price of whatever is being sold on the black market.

Let’s follow the money trail blazed by marijuana prohibition to get an unobstructed look at how prohibition creates a high-revving high-torque economic engine that, once it’s set into motion, evolves into a freewheeling juggernaut few people want to see stopped.

The money trail begins with legislators and other politicians who get political mileage out of writing or supporting anti-drug laws. By exploiting the public’s ignorance and appealing to raw emotions through the dissemination of disinformation, politicians gain popular support for anti-drug laws and the punitive measures to be used against violators. A lucrative market instantly springs into existence.

A network of growers, suppliers and dealers arises to feed the market, taking advantage of the artificial price supports created by the law. Huge profit potential makes the consequences of breaking the law an acceptable risk. It’s all part of doing business.

Soon, an anti-marijuana propaganda machine cranks up, disseminating lies that arouse public fear, hatred and resentment, with the idea of justifying the government’s expenditures of the taxpayers’ money in the cause of fighting marijuana. Ad space in magazines, newspapers and on television consume lots of anti-drug propaganda dollars.

Other anti-drug vultures that have found a way to cash in on marijuana prohibition are the drug testers (programs, clinics, equipment manufacturers, chemists), drug educators (D.A.R.E., etc.), and drug rehabilitation programs.

Moving on down the money trail, we come to law enforcement, which has its collective hand out for funds (provided by taxpayers) to apprehend marijuana users and traffickers. Drug enforcement units need airplanes and FLIR systems, canine units and SWAT teams, assault rifles and bulletproof vests, an assortment of other equipment, and extra personnel in order to catch the dreaded marijuana traffickers. If marijuana were legal, most of these expenses could be eliminated.

The next money-grubbing mitts belong to various members of the criminal justice system, beginning with lawyers. (When aren’t lawyers involved when there’s a large amount of money at stake?) And of course, judges, court officials and other functionaries of the justice system are money sponges waiting for their turn to soak up a share of the taxpayer-funded marijuana prevention bonanza.

Of course, punitive measures require prisons, the construction of which provides a source of income to construction companies and all their suppliers. Prisons need wardens and prison guards, too, and all kinds of supplies to keep the prisoners clothed and fed. With the annual cost of housing a single prisoner running between $19,000 and $31,000 (depending on location), it’s no surprise that the current U.S. prison population approaches 2.5 million prisoners. No wonder prisons are one of the fastest growing segments of the economy.

Incarceration demands parole boards and parole officers, counselors, psychologists and psychiatrists, and medical personnel. Even when imprisoned marijuana offenders are released from prison, marijuana prohibition is the gift that keeps on giving.

No one is naive enough to believe, given the high rates of recidivism, that incarceration was meant to rehabilitate convicted drug offenders. Serious study of cause and effect shows that a high percentage of non-violent first-time marijuana offenders who land in prison quickly learn the ways of the hardened criminal. Upon release they re-offend, often graduating to more serious crimes.

In their zeal to fight a problem of their own making, members of the legal/judicial system sacrifice their integrity and credibility by riding roughshod over civil rights and liberties guaranteed under the Constitution. One of the most egregious abuses of power involves forfeiture laws, where law enforcement seizes property (both real and personal) of suspected drug dealers—no conviction needed, no due process required.

Wednesday, July 26, 2006

A Nation in Distress

Does flying the U.S. flag upside down constitute flag desecration? If it does, I fail to see how. Displaying the flag inverted has long been an acceptable and legitimate means of saying, “Help! Help! We’re in some really deep shit, here.” In other words, an upside down flag is recognized as a distress signal, much like SOS or Mayday. That’s a far cry from desecration.

Still, there are “patriots” who insist the only correct way to display the U.S. flag is right side up. On a bumper sticker. On an SUV. It never occurs to them that the country might actually be in trouble, and that they’re part of the problem.

There’s a certain segment of the population that overlooks the really important issues, focusing its attention, instead, on relatively trivial things – non-issues, as it were – while the country, and the rest of the world, goes to hell in a handbasket.

For some, it’s a matter of protecting the American way of life. They haven’t a clue that the American Dream has become a global nightmare. For others, a right to life is all that matters and they remain oblivious to the threat of unintended consequences. They naively subscribe to the false premise that the planet can support an unlimited number of people.

Self-professed Christians take it upon themselves to ensure that someone else’s baby gets born, regardless of whether that baby is the product of rape or incest, or a threat to the mother’s health. You’d think they, having assumed the responsibility to advocate for the unborn, would then step forward to care for a child after its birth. But, nooooo! Once a child is born, it ceases to be their problem.

The logic of blocking on-demand access to safe abortions while simultaneously blocking sex education and access to a full range of birth control products escapes me. Consigning pregnant underage school girls to unwilling motherhood by limiting their options (and, perhaps, condemning some of them to seek out back-alley abortions) makes no more sense to me than does allowing a licensed pharmacist to keep his license after refusing to fill a lawful prescription. That’s the moral equivalent of retaining a firefighter who refuses to fight an arson-caused fire because he’s morally opposed to arson.

How ignorant is it to deny gay people the same rights and protections, under the law, as those afforded to—and enjoyed by—heterosexuals? Denying gay couples the right to marry, the benefit of civil unions or the power to adopt prevents them from providing loving care and a nurturing environment to children who will instead grow up in abusive relationships or as wards of the state.

Keeping Terry Schiavo on life support was more important to some people than getting George Duhbya Bush out of the White House. Overturning medical marijuana laws and blocking medical marijuana legislation were more important to some people than affordable healthcare for all.

To some people, teaching faith is more important than teaching science or other subjects that lead to social and cultural progress. Meanwhile, education—real education—is in a sorry state of affairs that grows worse by the day.

Unfortunately, the religious right, fearful of changes to the status quo, won’t be satisfied by anything less than universal acceptance of its extremely narrow perceptions of reality. They’re shooting themselves and their countrymen in the foot to facilitate a giant step backward into the long-abandoned darkness of a bygone era.

Hey, people! There’s no energy crisis. There’s no healthcare crisis, no global warming, no pollution, no crumbling infrastructure, no unemployment, no war in Iraq, and food insecurity isn’t worth worrying about. Our civil rights and liberties aren’t being threatened, and the sanctity and security of our elections and voting processes are intact. These things, all of them, are delusions, mere figments of your defective imagination.

Does it make sense to export freedom and democracy to other parts of the world if we can’t keep any at home? Respect for the flag? How about showing a little respect for the Constitution and a lot of respect for the Bill of Rights? That accomplished, everything else will fall into place.

The patriotic thing – or, at least, the responsible thing – would be for everyone to fly the flag upside down. That would be a show of solidarity for the idea that this Bushit nonsense has got to stop.

Monday, July 24, 2006

Frat Boy Spreads Redneck Diplomacy

Redneck diplomacy seems to be the Bushwhacker’s forte, if not his stock in trade. At the recent G-8 Summit conference in St. Petersburg, Russia, Duhbya revealed a public persona more in line with drunken frat boy antics than with diplomatic professionalism. His bad manners and social ineptitude are disgraceful to the nation he represents, proof positive that he shouldn’t be allowed out in public sans straight jacket, a suitable amount of duct tape covering his roll hole, and an able handler jerking a very short leash.

“Yo, Blair!” Hey, the cameras were rolling, and Bush has never been one to miss a photo op. What’s really pathetic is that he feels the need to show off every chance he gets. Even more pathetic is that he assumes that frat boy identity whenever he can, which seems to be just about all the time. Of course, British Prime Minister Tony Blair’s perfect response would have been, “Yo, Yo-yo,” but he passed up the opportunity. No, I don’t think Blair is as slow-witted as Bush is. I think he just values his dignity more.

Bush then began a conversation with Blair, demonstrating an acquired ability to talk with his mouth full. At one point, within range of an open mike, he uttered a word that sounded suspiciously like “shit,” although it could have been “Shiite.” It’s hard to tell what one is saying when one is trying to talk around and through a mouthful of partially chewed shit. Someone said that Bush was eating a roll, but you know those neo cons – always trying to make things sound better than they are.

These were carefully calculated moves designed to impress on the world’s most powerful leaders that Americans are, at heart, boorish, uncouth, uncultured heathens. If Bush impressed the Europeans as much as he impressed me, he was a total success.

Later, he drew attention to his vast knowledge of geography by proclaiming both Russia and China to be big countries. Still, it’s doubtful that he could find either one of them on a World Atlas unless they were clearly labeled in 24-point type.

After all this, Bush had only to give his encore performance. And a striking performance it was. After carefully maneuvering into position behind German Chancellor Angela Merkel, he struck with the speed of a cobra, hands going to her neck and shoulders. No, he wasn’t trying to strangle her, only give her a neck and shoulder massage. Stupid frat boy stunt = sexual harassment. Jeeze, if she would have done that to him, Bush’s protection detail would have gunned her down.

How does one go from Animal House to the White House? It’s easy when you have daddy’s money at your disposal and the support of powerful friends. And a high percentage of ill-informed voters. And Diebold voting machines. When you put them all together, they become an unbeatable combination.

Now, here’s another question. How does one get from the White House to the big house? Don’t stress on it. Sooner or later, I think the Bushwhacker is going to show us.

Tuesday, July 18, 2006

New Discovery Advances Particle Theory

Leading physicists, today, observed two new sub-atomic particles for the first time, thereby bringing scientists one step (or is it two steps?) closer to developing a unified theory of everything. The discovery sheds new light on the subjects of dark matter and dark energy, and raises the probability that intelligent life will one day be found somewhere in the known universe.

Dr. Algernon Sensen Brenner, acting as spokesperson for the privately-funded research group Challengers of Consensus Reality, suggested that identification of the elementary particles, dubbed morons and intellectons, could revolutionize mankind’s understanding of particle theory and quantum mechanics.

Researchers speculated that morons might actually be the dark matter and dark energy—both of which exist in theory—long sought after by physicists, but this couldn't be immediately confirmed. They agreed that more research is needed.

Dr. Brenner affirmed that the CCR group’s discovery of morons and intellectons followed closely on the heels of its discovery, a week ago, of a larger particle, called a percepton. “Perceptons occur spontaneously,“ he said, “whenever an intellecton collides with a cluster of morons. These collisions occur less frequently than one would expect, even though morons are prevalent throughout the multiverse.”

In explaining the phenomenon, Dr. Brenner stated that negatively charged morons group together in clusters, and that they outnumber positively charged intellectons ten-to-one. They make elusive targets for intellectons because they travel faster than light speed, despite being incredibly dense. “The only way a collision between an intellecton and a cluster of morons can occur,” Dr. Brenner said, “is if they meet head-on.”

To put the speed of morons in perspective, imagine a race from the sun to Earth. If the race were to begin right now, morons crossed the finish line six minutes ago, tachyons arrived four minute later, and light will arrive in eight minutes.

No wonder intellectons have such a tough time connecting.

Monday, July 10, 2006

Investment Insanity

Today’s money market speculators make the moneychangers of old look like righteous citizens. The same can be said for other speculators, as well, including energy traders and those who dabble in real estate, stock markets, commodities, and precious metals. Speculation, a primary driver of inflation, guarantees that everyone ends up paying more for everything.

When markets shift from favoring buyers (low demand = low prices) to favoring sellers (high demand = high prices), speculators smell opportunity. Their rush to cash in introduces a false dynamic into the marketplace, distorting something’s value out of all proportion to what it’s actually worth.

Throughout the 1970’s, Nelson Bunker Hunt and his brother bought up vast quantities of silver, eventually cornering the silver market. Their actions drove silver prices from less than $5 an ounce to over $54 an ounce before the market collapsed in March of 1980, sending prices plummeting into the $10 range. The Hunts lost money (proving that even the greediest speculators sometimes fail), as did many other speculators, but there were some winners, too.

The lessons to be learned, here, are that speculating is risky business, and that for every winner there must be one or more losers. Winning is a relative term having approximately the same relationship to losing as hot has to cold.

The problem with speculating is that it creates nothing, adds nothing to the economy. It doesn’t create wealth, it only manipulates wealth by taking money out of one pocket and putting it into another. It’s a game rich people play in order to take money away from people who merely aspire to be rich.

The Savings & Loan scandal of the ‘80’s, the Enron energy scandal of the ‘90’s, and the dotcom bust on the Millennium threshold all came about because people played fast and loose with their ethics. But then, greed always trumps good sense, doesn’t it?

Now, there’s another market crisis looming on the horizon. For twenty years real estate values have responded to market forces in the same way that gasoline responds to an open flame. Eventually, though, there’ll be a market correction, and the real estate inferno will burn itself out.

I think that day is closer at hand than anyone wants to admit.

Wednesday, July 05, 2006

Things that go "BOOM"!

The Fourth of July celebration is a great American tradition in which patriotic Americans blow their fingers off, set fire to their neighbors’ houses, drink themselves stupid (or stupider), and terrorize their pets. This year’s July Fourth celebration was exceptional, setting several fireworks display milestones.

NASA, a first-time participant, won first place in two categories with a rocket dubbed Discovery, which easily captured blue ribbons for Biggest Rocket and Most Spectacular Rocket Launch.

North Korea, also a first-time participant, took first place in the category Most Impressive Explosion with its Taepodong-2 missile, and won honorable mention for most entries in the Short Range and Medium Range contests, but the smaller rockets otherwise generally failed to impress because so many of them fizzled.

Once again, Fort Vancouver won top honors for Largest Fireworks Display West of the Mississippi, and Sellwood was runner-up in a new category appropriately dubbed Neighborhood that Sounds Most Like a War Zone.

As usual, it was the organized fireworks displays that attracted the largest nighttime crowds. The ultra-short range, sub-miniature multiple-warhead rockets equipped with symmetrical air burst technology were crowd pleasers, never failing to elicit the properly respectful “oohs” and “ahhhs” from reverential attendees – especially during times of rapid deployment.

Unfortunately, the Fourth of July celebration, as we know it, may be about to undergo a radical transformation. Thanks to ineptitude and malfeasance in high places, Americans might soon be forced to abandon their holiday tribute to independence and freedom and, instead, spend their time fighting to defend these things they once took for granted.

Monday, July 03, 2006

Technology Pros and Cons

Does technology solve problems, or does it create them? The truth, I suspect, lies somewhere in the middle, though probably a smidgen closer to the creative end of whatever equation one uses to determine the problem solution/problem creation ratio of applied technology.

No one can argue that technology doesn’t solve problems. We see the positive aspects of technology all around us, working hard to extend life, to increase productivity, to improve on old technology, to create new products and new technologies, and to simplify our existence by bringing a myriad of labor saving devices to consumer markets.

What few people seem to see—or even think about—is the dark side of technology, the side with unintended consequences that diminish positive gains. An old maxim states that everything has a price, and it applies as much to technology as to anything else.

Medical technology cures diseases and saves lives. It also causes drug resistant strains of bacteria and virus mutations, abets global overpopulation, and contributes to rising healthcare costs.

Better living through chemistry adds to air and water pollution and helps generate waste material for landfills.

The internal combustion engine made possible relatively cheap, convenient personal transportation systems. It also gave us environmental pollution, global climate change, strip malls, suburban sprawl and a dependency most people find hard to break.

Production technology, with its emphasis on mechanization and automation, speeds production processes, but at the same time displaces human workers who then suffer the effects of unemployment, poverty, homelessness and increasing crime.

Despite its potential to produce time-and-labor saving benefits to ease mankind’s burden, technology has, in many ways, delivered the opposite. Many people working in our high-tech society find themselves working harder than ever, with less available leisure time.

Technology—and the science behind it—still offers the best hope for human advancement, providing humans are willing to abandon the arrogant mindset of “we do it because we can” and adopt a wiser, more responsible mindset that says, “We do it because we must.”

Thursday, June 22, 2006

Congressional Pay Raises Trump Stagnant Minimum Wage

In each of the following years, Congressmen gave themselves a pay raise:

1998 – $3100

2000 – $4600

2001 – $3800

2002 – $4900

2003 – $4700

2004 – $3400

2005 – $3100

2006 – $3300

The same Congressmen who have had no problem taking an automatic pay increase every year for seven consecutive years have also had no problem in blocking an increase in the minimum wage – for nine years running. Shameless hypocrites!

Purchasing power of the federal minimum wage, currently $5.15 an hour, is the lowest it’s been in more than half a century. Shameful, that people who work for a living in the world’s richest country can’t make a living.

Critics of a higher minimum wage, mostly well-heeled Republicans and near-sighted Libertarians, argue that if someone isn’t satisfied with a low-paying job, they need only go get a better one. Unfortunately, it’s not always quite that simple. Hidden factors come into play.

These same critics also argue that raising the minimum wage would result in the loss of many minimum-wage jobs. It’s a specious argument. If people lost their jobs solely on the basis of pay increases, wouldn’t there be an increasing number of unemployed Congressmen? Of corporate CEOs? Of people at all levels of corporate and government hierarchy?

People of privilege—and here I’m talking about people who had the good fortune to have loving, nurturing, educated parents, good role models, unfettered access to education, an unlimited number of opportunities, and more than a few lucky breaks—have no true understanding of what it means to be marginalized.

They don’t understand (or, if they do, they don’t acknowledge) how difficult it can be for someone who was born into a cycle of poverty to escape that poverty. Those who lack job skills and financial resources, and have no way of acquiring either, tend to remain mired in poverty. For them, poverty is a prison without exits. All too often, poverty is an inherited condition that passes from one generation to the next.

Often, minimum wage jobs come without healthcare benefits, meaning that Public Health and Human Services agencies often subsidize healthcare for minimum-wage earners, which is tantamount to taxpayers subsidizing the minimum-wage-paying employer’s bottom line. The same can be said for food and housing programs, too.

Lacking discretionary income, wage slaves at the low end of the economic ladder find that ordinary life events have disastrous consequences. A car breakdown, work missed because of illness or injury, or any number of other unplanned expenses or work interruptions can have catastrophic repercussions, further disenfranchising the already disenfranchised.

Taking time off work to look for a better-paying job is rarely an option. When income is already stretched to the limits and ends still don’t meet, every missed work hour is missed income, the effects of which usually take weeks – if not months – to overcome. You can’t possibly get ahead if you can’t get caught up.

Below-poverty wages invite increased crime and violence, compound problems associated with illicit drugs, contribute to slumification and neighborhood blight, add to the ranks of the homeless, and drive up costs of healthcare and other social services.

Full-time workers and part-time workers who would otherwise be available for full-time work deserve better than starvation wages. They deserve the dignity of a living wage.

The U.S., once a bastion of democratic principles, economic opportunities, social progress and capitalist ideals, has systematically stacked the deck in favor of the wealthy, the politically powerful. In its quest for global dominance, America has ceded the moral high ground, surrendered its ethics, forfeited its integrity and sacrificed the respect of its allies – all in service to its new highest ideal, greed.

America can – and must – do better in the way it treats the least of its citizens. It starts with a minimum wage sufficiently high enough to lift minimum-wage employees out of poverty. In a land of plenty there is enough to go around.

When the tides of fortune come rushing in, they should lift all the boats in the harbor, not just the yachts.

Tuesday, June 20, 2006

Capitalism vs. Communism

Comparing democracy to communism is a lot like comparing apples to rutabagas. Democracy is a form of government and communism is an economic system. One does not equate to the other. A true democracy could, in fact, govern over a communist economy if that’s what a majority of the citizens wanted.

Capitalism and communism are comparable in that each is an economic system that provides a means for the production, distribution and exchange of goods and services. The only significant differences involve ownership, management ability and effectiveness. The goals—if not always the results—of each are much the same.

Under capitalism, the means of production, distribution and exchange are privately owned for the sake of private profits. Individuals (sole proprietors), partnerships, joint ventures, investor-owned corporations and employee-owned companies are just a few of the entities that qualify as privately owned businesses.

In the capitalist business model, government regulates and taxes businesses until such time that the largest, wealthiest, most powerful corporations seize control of the government. Then, everything the government does is for the betterment of the corporations, at the expense of ordinary citizens. Sort of like – no, exactly like – what’s going on in the U.S., today.

Capitalist business managers are very good at managing businesses, but as government leaders, they really suck.

The communist business model differs in that government owns – on behalf of the people (yeah, right!) – all of the businesses. This arrangement, of course, reveals communism’s greatest weakness. Politicians can barely run a government; as business managers, they really suck.

A deeper analysis of the two systems turns up more similarities than dissimilarities. Each system extracts, imports or co-opts natural resources, converts those resources into consumable goods or services, and provides a means to market those goods and services to consumers.

In the final analysis, the only real difference is one of ownership. Or, is it just one of semantics?

Business owns the government! Government owns the business! What the hell’s the difference? The results are always the same. In the end, scum always forms at the top. And that really sucks.

Friday, June 16, 2006

Space Travel

In order to travel into outer space one must have a worthy vehicle suited to the purpose. Whether you call it a space ship, a rocket ship, a star ship, a flying saucer or a Borg hypercube, it must sustain a habitable environment and have a means of propulsion.

And so it is when venturing into inner space, except that the requisite vehicle is entirely different. Inner space travel requires mind-altering substances, typically derived from psychotropic plants and fungi, such as psilocybin, amanita muscaria, datura, salvia divinorum, mescaline, peyote, marijuana, harmaline, MDMA, DMT, LSD, and ayahuasca, among others. Sensory deprivation also accomplishes similar results.

Other worlds and other dimensions exist outside the range of our normal perceptions. Telescopes and microscopes reveal this to be true by bringing those distant worlds into focus. Now, science is on the threshold of making it possible for us to visit those worlds. And in the meantime, the shamans of our world journey inward in search of knowledge and wisdom, just as they have done for thousands of years.

Explorations into inner space may, in fact, lead one closer to the core of Universal Mind, perhaps to the very centers of Multiversal Intelligence and Cosmic Consciousness. Think of these things collectively as the CIA (Cosmic Intelligence Access), whose primary function (unlike its Earth-bound namesake) is not to gather intelligence but to disseminate it.

For sure, if venturing into outer space were as affordable and as accessible to the masses as are hallucinogenic drugs and the ventures into inner space they make possible, you can bet that space travel—outer space travel—would be illegal, too.

The powers that be are always threatened by changes in the status quo.

Monday, June 12, 2006

Turning Back the Clock

Self-righteous Christian bigots would usurp the protections afforded all U.S. citizens under the U.S. Constitution to further their own agenda. What is their agenda? Nothing less than to turn the clock of social and scientific progress back 400 years. Nothing less than a return to coat hanger abortions and the burning of witches.

The ├╝ber religious scapegoat God to justify heinous acts directed against people who don’t believe as they believe. To these moral hypocrites it’s perfectly acceptable to coerce, intimidate, incinerate or exterminate anyone or anything that doesn’t conform to their delusional interpretation of reality.

One religious Taliban is as bad as another. We’ve all seen how intolerant religious fanaticism, mingled with American intervention, has brought death and destruction to many in Iraq. Would we now wish the same destruction upon our own country, our own people?

A couple of millennia ago, non-Christians nailed a hippie dude named Jesus to a cross. Ever since then Christians have been trying to nail a cross to everyone else. Does the insanity never stop?

Friday, June 09, 2006

Non-pharma Pharmacists

Just when you think that things can’t possibly get any screwier than they already are, they do.

I’m referring, of course, to pharmacists who are now refusing to fill emergency contraceptive prescriptions on moral, religious or philosophical grounds. Maybe they just want to force more women into having abortions so they can oppose that, too.

Does anyone besides me see where this is headed?

If pharmacists can selectively refuse to perform duties (filling legal prescriptions) that are a normal part of their profession, how long will it be before other professionals begin doing the same thing? Once a trend like this gets started, it becomes ever more insidious.

The next thing you know Christian doctors who are morally or philosophically opposed to atheists won’t write prescriptions for them. Environmentalist doctors can justify withholding treatment to automobile accident victims because they find driving a car to be morally reprehensible. Right-handed dentists might refuse to fill the teeth of left-handed patients because they find left-handedness objectionable. Christian Scientist EMTs will draw a paycheck just for showing up for work, but they’ll never have to do anything.

And don’t expect this idiocy to be contained within the medical professions. Once the idea catches on, it will spread like wildfire. Soon, vegetarian meat cutters won’t slice bacon for their omnivorous brethren, cops who are morally opposed to crime will stop arresting criminals, and baseball players won’t play for fans that are opposed to steroid use. Such lunacy invites disaster upon the entire economy.

It’s a can of worms best left unopened. The best way to leave this can of worms unopened is to grant pharmacist licenses only to those people who are capable of fulfilling all aspects of the job.

For pharmacies that already employ pharmacists who profess an inability to carry out the obligations of their profession due to conscientious objections, there's a way to make it easy for your ethically challenged employees to find a more suitable line of work.

Fire them!

Thursday, June 01, 2006

An Age-old Question

One of the most pressing questions facing scientists, today, is this: What came first, the chicken or the egg? It’s long been a question in dire need of an answer, as the fate of mankind hangs in the balance.

Earlier this week a geneticist, a philosopher and a chicken farmer, having reached a consensus, announced that the centuries-old riddle has at last been solved. Their unanimous opinion is that the egg came first.

They’re wrong, of course, but who am I to argue? They have scientific, philosophical and chicken farming credentials, whereas I have none. All I have is logic.

Before I can accept their hypothesis, I’ll need satisfactory answers to the following questions:

Where did the egg come from? Who (or what) laid it?

Who (or what) sat on the damned thing until it hatched?

Who (or what) nurtured the hatchling until it was sufficiently able to fend for itself?

Who (or what) did the first grown chicken mate with to perpetuate the species?

If “the egg came first” is true for chickens, then it must also be true for other birds, including eagles and penguins. But then the theory becomes even more problematic, posing some new questions:

Who (or what) put the egg in the eagle’s aerie?

Who (or what) sat on the damned thing until it hatched?

Who (or what) nurtured the hatchling until it was sufficiently able to fend for itself?

Who (or what) did the first grown eagle mate with to perpetuate the species?

I could ask the same questions in regards to the penguin, but that goes far beyond mere repetition and strays dangerously close to downright redundancy. Therefore, I’ll ask a different question. Do polar bears lay penguin eggs (never mind that their habitats are polar opposites)?

To ask, “what came first, the chicken or the egg” is a lot like asking, “what came first, the fetus or the womb.” It’s obvious to me that before there can be offspring there must first be parents.

But subscribing to the theory that the chicken came before the egg leaves a whole new set of questions begging for answers. Where did the chicken come from? How could one chicken procreate? Is it possible there were more than one chicken? Aha! Now I sense we’re getting somewhat closer to the truth.

Understanding Hanson’s Theory of the Origin of Species as a Consequence of Evolving Environments Resulting from Simultaneous Fluxes of Universal Mind and Cosmic Consciousness requires three things, none of which include adherence to a prescribed set of religious doctrines, empty hours spent memorizing vacuous religious dogma, or the tedium of mumbled prayers to invisible entities. One needs only an open mind, an active imagination, and a willingness to suspend traditional beliefs – in other words, an ability to think outside the box.

At the core of the theory is the concept of Universal Mind, one-half of a Duality, which is the source of all knowledge. The other half of the Duality, Cosmic Consciousness, provides the means by which intelligent life forms gain access to knowledge.

All of the knowledge that will ever exist already exists, in Universal Mind, either as raw potential or fully actualized substantive form (perceived reality). Critical knowledge is accessible at critical times by human minds that are best equipped to process it. This explains discoveries made by Gutenberg, Galileo, da Vinci, Newton, Einstein, Tesla, et al. Human minds connect to Universal Mind via Cosmic Consciousness.

So, what has all this got to do with chickens and/or eggs? Maybe nothing! Maybe everything! It just seems so logical – so right – that if there is a supreme intelligence responsible for creating all life, then the most intelligent way of creating that life is a system in which environments evolve and life forms emerge spontaneously, in sufficient numbers to ensure survival of the species, whenever all of the conditions necessary to support that life are in place.

After that, species either evolve, to adapt to changing conditions, or they perish.

Darwin called it evolution. The Religious Right (which is often wrong) calls it intelligent design. Hanson’s Theory says they’re not mutually exclusive.

Evolution is intelligent design. Get over it!

Tuesday, May 30, 2006

A value without value is something else!


“The best way to pay respect is to value why a sacrifice was made.” That’s quoting George Duhbya Bush’s quote from a letter written by Lt. Mark Dooley to his parents before his tragic death in Ramadi last year. More about this in a minute.

In his Memorial Day speech at Arlington National Cemetery on Monday, the Bushwhacker played fast and loose with the rhetoric as he downplayed his own complicity and guilt in starting and perpetuating the Middle East debacle dubbed “Operation Iraqi Freedom.” What a load of propaganda that’s turned out to be. (Hint: “Propaganda” and “bullshit” are synonymous.)

It should be obvious to anyone who’s been paying attention that the only thing Bush wants more than to duck accountability for his part in the Iraq fiasco is unfettered access to the billions of barrels of crude that lie beneath Iraq.

Now that I’ve vented about Bush’s motives and hypocrisy, let’s revisit that quote I mentioned at the beginning of this rant.

“The best way to pay respect is to value why a sacrifice was made.”

What does this mean, exactly? Because I haven’t seen Lt. Dooley’s letter, I can’t comment on the meaning he intended to convey. Perhaps he referred to a soldier mowed down in a fusillade of enemy fire as he attempted to rescue a wounded buddy (a sacrifice worthy of value and respect). Perhaps Lt. Dooley referred to something else. Context is everything, but for now it remains unknown.

Bush’s use of the phrase is less ambiguous. Clearly, he meant to bolster support for the war in Iraq. What comes through, however, is a meaning he almost certainly didn’t intend. “ . . . to value why a sacrifice was made” is key to a deeper meaning.

Okay, so let’s examine why so many lives have been sacrificed in Iraq before assigning any value to the reasons. Why were lives sacrificed? They were sacrificed because of avarice and arrogance and stupidity, but most of all they were sacrificed because of a lie—the lie that there were weapons of mass destruction in Iraq—that Bush told to justify a large military presence in the Middle East.

Do I pay respect to the lives that were lost or shattered in Iraq by valuing the reasons why they were lost or shattered? Hell, no! I’ve never valued greed or incompetence or lies. Do I show respect for lost or shattered lives by sending others to die or suffer the wounds of war? Hell, no!

What I do is support bringing the troops home, now. That’s the most respect I can give them, and the best support they can get.

2469 U.S. troops killed, 17,869 wounded since March 20, 2003. Also, numerous coalition troops and countless thousands of Iraqis. Waaaaay too much carnage for a species that calls itself civilized.

Saturday, May 27, 2006

Elusive Present Caught Between Past and Future

Have you ever tried to pin down the present?

Can’t do it, can you? Neither can I, but it’s not for lack of trying.

Stuff that’s about to happen comes at us from the future. Stuff that’s already happened recedes into the past. But, what about the present? You know . . . the stuff that’s happening right now? Uhhh . . . now! I mean . . . now! Okay . . . now! Oh, all right . . . now! Dammit . . . now!

Elusive little bugger, the present.

You still don’t get it, do you? The present doesn’t exist, except in the abstract. There’s only stuff that’s about to happen, and stuff that’s already happened.

Let’s look at this another way. Think of the present as being a moveable interface separating the past from the future. It travels at the speed of time along a timeline that extends from the beginning of time to the end of time. No matter how small you make the time interval that separates the past from the future, no matter how narrow you make the window that defines the boundaries of that illusive and elusive thing you call the present, you can never achieve the present.

Think of the present as being to time as a point is to space. It’s a reference point, a marker that has no bulk, no mass, no weight, and no dimensions.

Does time travel exist? Sure, it does. We’re all time travelers. But, so far, we’re only able to travel in one direction in time—into the future. Unfortunately, our limited time travel is further limited by the speed of time, itself.

We know that the speed of light is 186,282 miles per second, but how fast does time travel? The easy answer is one day, one hour, one minute, one second, one millisecond at a time. A more complicated answer is that it’s relative depending on your own speed in relation to the speed of light, and on your own position in the universe in relation to the clock.

But don’t take my word for it. I’m not Albert Einstein, or Stephen Hawking, or even Herbert George Wells. I’m just someone who’s messing with your mind.

The past! (We can visit it in our memories or in our history books.)

The future! (We can visit it in our imaginations or in our science fiction books.)

That’s all there is. There is no present.

Well, maybe, on your birthday . . .!

Thursday, May 25, 2006

FBI Running Amok

A failing government is a paranoid government, and when governments get paranoid, one of their primary objectives is to spy on everyone. Another primary objective is to put as many people as possible behind bars.

The FBI, complicit with other assorted agencies and associations, such as the CIA, NSA, ASPCA and NHRA, in failing to detect and prevent the terrorist attacks on 9/11/01, is still in panic mode, still bumbling along trying to regain some of its lost credibility.

A management shakeup didn’t help. Trying to implicate Brandon Mayfield, an innocent attorney, in the Madrid train bombings didn’t help. Failing to enlist Portland’s help in the FBI's Joint Terrorism Task Force didn’t help. Taking part in the government’s scheme to eavesdrop on millions of innocent Americans hasn’t helped, either. I hate to say it, but things actually worked better at the FBI when J. Edgar Hoover was running things.

So now the FBI is trying to plant a mole in Portland’s City Hall. Just goes to show you that there’s no end to “Big Brother’s” stupidity or misdirected sense of duty (when all else fails, dump on the little guy).

On May 11, Special Agent Jeffrey Pritchett approached a midlevel city government employee in a failed attempt to recruit her to snitch on her colleagues at City Hall. Fortunately, the as-yet-unidentified woman was having none of it, and she snitched to her boss, instead. Now, the FBI is once again trying to cover its ass.

Frankly, the whole thing smells like a serious case of revenge gone awry, with the FBI trying to exact a measure of payback against Portland Mayor Tom Potter for his refusal to permit Portland’s involvement in the JTTF.

It’s admirable that the FBI cites fighting public corruption and white-collar crime as major priorities of the Justice Department. But, c’mon, if the FBI really wants to clean up corruption in government, maybe it should start a little bit closer to home. You know, like in the White House.

Monday, May 22, 2006

Does the idiot cowboy have a hidden agenda?

Is President George Bush’s apparent ineptitude a true reflection of his abilities, or is it a carefully crafted smokescreen meant to conceal a hidden agenda? Because Duhbya is devious, duplicitous, disingenuous, and an accomplished liar, we might never know the truth.

If we take a close look at Bush’s accomplishments during the five-plus years he’s been in office, we find that nearly all of them fall on the negative side of the ledger.

While his misbegotten Iraq adventure succeeded in toppling Saddam Hussein’s regime, Bush has yet to reveal a viable plan for pulling our troops out of Iraq. In the meantime, he’s all but given up on the hunt for Osama bin Laden, and he’s threatening to launch an invasion of Iran using what amounts to the same pretexts as those used to justify the Iraq invasion. Evidently, one disaster wasn’t enough.

9/11 is Bush’s mantra, his scapegoat for every bad decision he’s made. “9/11” is to Bush as “Denny Crane” is to Denny Crane. Bush used 9/11 as an excuse to attack Afghanistan and Iraq. He’s used it as justification for awarding no-bid contracts, for conducting surveillance on American citizens, for weakening Constitutional protections.

As much as I wish it were not so, the more I study the evidence the more I believe that 9/11 was an inside job. There are just too many inconsistencies, too many coincidences and too many unlikely events happening within the context of 9/11 for it to be otherwise.

With the federal budget deficit and the national debt at unprecedented levels and spiraling out of control, with government, businesses and individual citizens living on credit, and with home prices skyrocketing and jobs fleeing overseas, the U.S. economy seems to be caught crosswise in the asshole of global trade.

That Bush has done nothing to help achieve energy independence, address numerous environmental problems, or deal successfully with myriad domestic social issues only increases their severity and raises the costs of dealing with them in the future.

Bush’s failed policies put future generations of Americans at risk. Not only will they be saddled with the obligation of repaying this enormous debt, but they’ll also be living in a less secure world while they do it.

If our President’s many screw-ups result from mere incompetence, then history will surely judge him as an oaf, a doofus, a fool, a bungling, bumbling idiot.

But, what if George Duhbya Bush’s real intentions are to bring down the US of A, because it’s one of the few remaining impediments to a New World Order? If that’s his real agenda, then history will judge him an astounding success. Our country teeters on the brink of disaster, and it won’t take much to topple it over the edge.

The Dixie Chick, Natalie Maines, got it right! She should take back her apology to President Bush. She doesn’t owe him one. It’s Duhbya who owes an apology to the rest of us.

Saturday, May 20, 2006

Failed Policy Builds Better Attitudes

As a subscriber to a number of online activist group newsletters, I often take advantage of opportunities to sign petitions or send e-mail to various political or corporate leaders on behalf of worthy causes. The Marijuana Policy Project, Drug Policy Alliance, NARAL Pro-choice, DefCon, and Biofuels4Oregon are just a few of the organizations with which I engage in political activism.

Normally, I’ll get behind any movement that favors protecting the environment or wildlife, preserving civil rights and liberties, or legalizing drugs. Generally, I oppose drilling for oil in the ANWR, lower taxes for the wealthy, and televised basketball games lasting longer than an hour.

When the DPA sent out their newsletter on May 18, soliciting my participation in helping to stop the ONDCP from spending taxpayers’ money on those disingenuous anti-marijuana ads one so frequently sees on television, I was eager to make it a done deal.

However, as I read DPA’s arguments for blocking the ads, I came to this paragraph (quoted in its entirety directly from the DPA newsletter), which caused me to rethink my position:

“As you may know, five government studies have found that the ads have not reduced marijuana use - and two of the studies found that the ads might make some teenagers more likely to start using marijuana. Now, a new study by two researchers at Texas State University-San Marcos finds that 18- to 19-year-old college students who view the TV ads develop more positive attitudes towards marijuana than those who do not.”

Pay particular attention to the second sentence in that paragraph. Excuse me? Isn’t that what we want? Wouldn’t more people developing more positive attitudes towards marijuana hasten its legalization?

Even though the ONDCP anti-marijuana ad campaign is backfiring big time, I can’t wrap my mind around the idea that it’s an enormous waste of taxpayers’ money. In fact, I think it’s a case of the taxpayers’ money being exceptionally well spent. With results like this, we can probably expect to see marijuana legalized within the next year or two.

So, with that in mind, rather than endorse the letter to block the ads, I’m going to send the ONDCP a large contribution to help them run more ads.

Heh! Heh! Just kidding!

Thursday, May 18, 2006

Loosen the corporate grip!

Ours is a government of the people, by the people, for the people? Yeah, right! Not since a bunch of corrupt Supreme Court Justices decided that corporations were entitled to the same rights that are guaranteed to individual citizen under the Constitution, anyway.

Now, what we have is a government of the people, by the corporations, for wealthy corporate investors. Yeah, it’s that bad, but what did you think would happen when corporations were given the power to take over the government? Did you really expect them to let a golden opportunity like that slip away?

Maybe it’s time for citizens to take back control of the government rather than allow corporations to maintain control. Commercial interests have a stranglehold on the national economy, on national politics, on the global environment. They’ve proven, on numerous occasions, that their only allegiance is to the corporate bottom line. They’ve proven, time and again, their willingness to sacrifice, on the twin altars of money and power, the essentials of well being for the illusion of well being.

How to wrest power away from entities that have controlled so much for so long remains the big question. Is it even doable? Maybe, but only if enough citizens take enough interest in the political processes that control every aspect of their lives and demand that enough politicians take enough appropriate actions to effect meaningful change.

Maybe the answer lies not in revoking corporate Constitutional rights but by achieving true parity between corporations and individuals by giving them all the rights and responsibilities of individuals, not just the ones that work to their advantage.

If corporations had to achieve 18 years of age, from the date of their inception, before they could enter into contracts or make major financial decisions, it would probably have a dampening effect on corporate activities. Corporations should also face mandatory retirement at age 65 and automatic death at age 75. It's ludicrous to give corporations the rights enjoyed by individual citizens and endow them with immortality, too.

Tax corporate stockholders at individual income tax rates. Hold them liable for any damage the corporation does on their behalf. Limit corporate CEO pay to no more than 20 times the amount paid to the lowest-paid corporate employee.

Finally, get rid of the lobbyists and take away corporate ability to fund political campaigns and influence government policy. Corporations are in business to make widgets, not run the damned government.