July 27, 2005

Politics: Born By Choice

Someone elses choice, that is.

You may have heard about some pharmacists refusing to fill out birth control perscriptions. If you haven't, take a look. The reason given is that pills or other hormonal methods of birth control can induce an abortion (the egg is fertilized, but not able to implant itself onto the walls of the womb), and those refusing pharmacists are against any chance of that happening.

Problems with this?

1) The pharmacist does not know the madical history of the patient, who had the pill prescribed by their doctor;
2) It is the most reliable method of birth control available;
3) They are sometimes the only pharmacist available in an HMO, or in a rural community.

Welcome to (once again) religious morality being forced on those who don't agree with it.

"On July 25, a U.S. House of Representatives committee held a hearing on whether pharmacies should be allowed to refuse to fill women’s prescriptions. Anti-choice Rep. Steve King (R-IA) told a witness, who had been denied birth control and emergency contraception by her pharmacist, that she had no “right” to her prescriptions - she only believed she did. Anti-choice Rep. Marilyn Musgrave (R-CO) told a witness whose prescription had also been rejected by a hostile pharmacist, that her “minor inconvenience” – that is, risking an unintended pregnancy – was nothing compared to the “conscience” of a pharmacist."

Didn't these folks learn anything about the unpopularity of forcing themselves into the private lives of citizens? The Schiavo case should have been enough, but apparently not... Then again, I also thought the Republicans were always claiming to be the group most interested in smaller governments and less involvement. Huh.


posted by Thursday at 9:29 pm 4 comments

July 26, 2005

Science: Pride

Pride is an odd, often conflicted state of mind. When you hear or read the word, there can be good connotations (honour, integrity, valour) or bad ones (xenophobia, egoism) depending on whatever your experiences might be.

I've long held the view that those taking pride in their ancestry are taking credit for others' labour; but what about something like sports teams? I've done nothing at all to actually help (or hinder for that matter) the Vancouver Canucks, but I'm still a fan of theirs, and I still get irritated at both New York teams for beating them in Stanley Cup finals. And come the Olympics, I cheered for Daniel Igali and wept for Perditia Felicien. What the hell did I ever do to earn that reflected honour?

It could be said that my nation has a society that can produce such champions, and as a member of that society I can claim some small part of glory when they reach the podium. Fair enough: that's also one reason to fell pride in the work of our peacekeepers, for instance, despite my not having handled a gun since I was twelve or so.

There is a running joke about Newfoundland. It doesn't matter what TV stations "From Away" actually say about them, the reaction is always the same: "Ho, Jeeze! Lookit tha'! Theys mentioned us on d' box, dere!" There was a slight sense of unease if they were being talked about too much, but now and then was a bit of a thrill. Much like Canada being mentioned by any of the American networks.

So it was with somewhat mixed emotions that I noticed the new Miss Universe was Canadian. It was a surprise, and not unpleasant one; but the announcement of anyone as Miss Universe would have come as a surprise to me given the attention I afford it. Then I found out that one entrant into the Miss World Canada competition was from my former home of Salt Spring Island, with its population of 10,000. She came in second. It's a slightly embarassed pride when someone from a tiny place gets a bit of a spotlight, even if it's mostly for walking and smiling at the same time. This quickly turned to a full-fledged embarassment when I saw her plans for the immediate future:

A bit of "psychic surgery" from the so-called John of God.

This man is a fraud, one of the biggest in the world. The majority of his "miracles" fall under the "faith healer" category, and the rest fit nicely into prestidigitation (slight of hand). People come to him for all the same reasons they come to a revival tent - for a miracle. It doesn't help that he's in one of the poorer regions of Brazil, which is not exactly a wealthy nation itself. If you're familliar with the saying "hunger makes the best sauce", then you know what I mean when I say "desperation makes the best believers". Nearly all the people who come to him have little choice: there's no medicare in Brazil, and no money for an actual doctor, so they choose to believe. They have no other choice; it's believe and think you'll be cured, or do nothing and die. And many want desperately to believe: when magician James Randi performed the psychic surgery trick on the Tonight Show, explaining that this was how the Fillipino "surgeons" suckered their audience, the LA NBC affiliate alone got 100 phone calls. Every one of them asked how to get in touch with the Fillipino surgeons.

Much is made of his taking no money for his "treatments". There's a reason for this: by one estimate, some 15 million people have come to him in the past 38 years. If even one percent show any form of improvement, real or imagined, that's 150,000 "successes" that believers can point to, ignoring the 99% failure rate.

Overly cynical? Perhaps, though I prefer to be considered a skeptic.

But bear in mind most of his patients are told that they have to wait "forty days" before they see any healing effect; in some cases, they are told up to two years must pass before they notice any improvement. Still others are given the hackneyed excuse of the patient having "the wrong attitude", not keeping the faith, or simply showing up too late. If you are travelling to Brazil expressly to see this man, you probably weren't counting on staying so long, were you? Out of sight, out of mind... And if you are a poor farmer (or a poor ANYONE, for that matter) you certainly can't afford to hang around for a month to see if the Miracle Man actually cured you.

Consider: the vast majority of patients have no mailing addresses, no phones, and are rarely asked for names. Even of those patients that can be tracked down (performing surgeries in homes, for instance), those upon whom the miracles failed will tell questioners that John of God didn't fail, their faith did. Perhaps after forty days without improvement, then sixty, they began to doubt just a bit, ruining all of the Miracle Mans work...

As an example of a "success" that appeared on television, here's a rather surprised skeptic being dragged into a studio on a couple hours notice and having x-rays "proving" a cancer cure thrust at him on camera. Not only was the claim not backed up, the x-rays weren't even of the same parts of the body. But she (and the producers) believed, and the skeptic wasn't qualified to read x-rays, so hesitated on offering a criticism of it.

(Speaking of pride, quick aside: some years ago, an old neighbour and friend, Aaron Minvielle, presented to me a thesis paper he had written called "Fixing Einstein's Universe". He was an x-ray technician at the time, and is a rather intimidating intellect, and in this 80 pages was not only an explanation of what gravity is, but also mentioned was the flat statement that there was simply no way for a black hole to be a supposed "wormhole", or Einstein-Rosen bridge. It was the first time I had seen a solid arguement against it - and he was proven right in 2004. End of aside.)

Now to the carny tricks.

The two most commonly used by the good doctor are plunging a pair of forceps into the clients nose and scraping at the eyeballs. He claims a couple dozen different cures can be affected by these two procedures. Oh, and (as noted in this article) there seems to be "simultaneous invisible operations" when he performs this tricks in front of a crowd.

How many people winced when I mentioned what the tricks were? Now imagine being there and watching them. Combine that with the witnessing of a "holy event", and you've got your "simultaneous invisible operations" happening all over the room.

As for the forceps up the nose, is anyone here familliar with the Jim Rose Circus Side Show? Among other things, he's a blockhead, like this guy. Any other questions about things in your nose? Didn't think so...

The eyeball scraping is only slightly more difficult: just make sure you avoid the cornea, and you can put damn near anything against your eyeball. Ask anyone who puts in contact lenses.

So, what's the big deal? Why am I so annoyed that a beauty pageant contestant, of all things, wants to believe in this stuff?

Two reasons:

1) Pride for my old home. I know it's a losing, or perhaps lost, battle, but Salt Spring Island already has quite the reputation for cranks: Miss Walls beat cancer herself, with quite modern technology, and so should know better than to contribute to this unfortunate reputation; and

2) I recently received an invitation to a dear friends "Lifeday" party. What's that? It's in honour of her starting chemotherapy sessions to beat her cancer. With science, not faith. Or more specifically, not with faith alone, which is what Miss Walls wants to promote.

The more people who believe in the fake, in the supernatural, in the miracle men, the fewer will want to believe in reality, in science, in medicine. This leaves more who are vulnerable to charlatans and frauds, be they outright criminal or merely deluded.

And maybe it's pride in humanity, pride in the distance we've covered, pride in the breadth and depth of our accumulated knowledge that goads me into railing against ignorance, lost cause or not. Have we climbed so far only to let go the rungs because falling is easier?

Pride tells me to climb.


posted by Thursday at 7:45 pm 0 comments

July 18, 2005

Sex: Protesting Too Much?

So, you know how some Movie-of-the-Week or other would have this excessively agressive bigot who hated everything, but only because he was trying to hide the fact that he was gay?

"Boys cannot audition for soprano or alto roles in that state's All-State Choir. Girls cannot audition for tenor or bass. No matter where their talents lie."


Any guess which state that would be? Here's a hint: they tend to brag about their longhorns and everything being bigger there.

Labels: ,

posted by Thursday at 6:31 pm 4 comments

July 16, 2005

Other: Who Needs Reality Television...

When you have reality?

Remember Mark Fuhrman? Of OJ Simpson trial fame? Yeah, him.

He's an author.


posted by Thursday at 10:37 am 0 comments

July 15, 2005

Other: Service ... FROM HELL!!!

Maybe that was a little much. Three exclamation points? Really, now.


I've been inspired by Edward T Bear over at Blank Out Times to relate a story of inept/stupid/malicious service provided by a store that is supposed to do otherwise. I'd like to see others relate their own, too: a bit of a breather from political stuffs, eh?

Mine happened when I was doing the serving.

The store I worked in didn't last long, and it wasn't really a surprise: I worked there for six months or so, and mine was the only paycheque that never bounced. Within a year of it opening, no store on the island would let them keep a tab. They ended up buying all of their supplies from Costco and loading it into their truck to resell in their store.

It was one of the type you used to only find in low-population areas: a gas station with toiletries and instant soup and a little take-out deli. A customer came in and ordered a cup of tea to go. No problem, says I, and drop a tea bag into a medium sized cup of hot water.

"Could I get that in a large cup, please?" she asks. No problem, says I, and put the bag into a large cup, adding a few more ounces of hot water. I charge her $1.20 for the tea, when the owner of the store decided to correct me.

"One-fifty for a large," says he.

"What?" I blurt, ever quick on my feet. He picks up the medium cup and shows it to me.

"One-twenty," he says, moving on to a large cup (not the customers, fortunately): "One-fifty." He finishes the set by awkwardly adding a small cup to the two in his hands: "One dollar." He's actually glaring at me, as if I personally cursed him to the hell of explaining the cost of hot water to the unenlightened.

"But it's water," I said, being simply too thick to understand the finer points of marketing. The customer decided to pay the extra thirty cents, though lord knows why. When she left, the owner held up each of the cups for me again, flexing them between his fingers as if the though that he could potentially crush paper cups with one hand would intimidate me into listening that much harder.

"One-fifty. One-twenty. One dollar," he said. Then he left.

It actually was a little intimidating: that this bonehead actually owned a store scared me, but not as much as the thought that he was my boss. I quit soon after, pretending to wish I could stay, and they pretended to be sorry to see me go. Terribly romantic, that.


posted by Thursday at 5:49 pm 0 comments

Politics: He's a Rover

Some amusing sound bites coming from the more brain-damaged on the political right of late involving Karl Roves possible involvement in treason, and some more accurate responses:

1) Rove never revealed Valarie Plames name to the press.

A) He didn't - but he did reveal her identity as "Wilsons wife." This was after the op-ed piece by Joseph Wilson was printed, as dated by the email reporter Matt Cooper sent.

2) Rove was just talking - he didn't mean to expose a CIA operative! He was just trying to clarify a lie published by Wilson.

A) Right. I'll go through this slowly: she was an active CIA agent in Niger; Wilson went to Niger for the CIA to follow up on the "Yellowcake" report that Bush talked about in his 2003 State of the Union address; he found nothing, and published that; in response, Rove told Cooper that Wilsons wife had "authorized" the trip, and should thus be suspect. How could wilsons wife "authorize" a trip someone is taking on behalf of the CIA if she wasn't a member of that agency?

3) Well, who says she was covert?

A) The CIA. They're the ones who brought this to the attention of the Justice Department. Here's a little piece about what it means to have a black passport - or not have one.

4) Okay, so maybe he identified her as an agent, but that's not a crime.

A) United States Code, Title 50 Section 421: yep, it's a crime.

5) Not the Intelligence Identities Protection Act!

A) The Espionage Act will do nicely, here.

This was a pure revenge operation. More importantly (for the United States, anyways) is precedent: if politicians are allowed to reveal agency identities, then that agency is no longer seperate from government, is it?

And you don't even want to know about the Office of Special Plans...

***Update July 16th: Billmons take on the "spontaneous" massive water loss around the case.


posted by Thursday at 12:15 pm 0 comments

Politics: They Support the Troops! Really!

The war in Iraq isn't about money; it's about power.

Fortunately for those who are contesting for that power, there is a constant list of people who want money, so their manipulation comes very easily. In wartime, power can be bought with military contracts, and the promise of more: whatever government is in power at the time controls those contracts, which are much easier to grant than peace time ones. During peacetime, there is more likely to be investigations into the spending of government money, with some so-called "whistleblower" protection laws to encourage the detection of fraud.

And what ever you do, DON'T mention the Truman Committee.

But now, this doesn't apply to companies who are paid by "provisional governments". Any guess what Iraq was under for 13 months, spending billions of dollars? Bearing in mind that the oil flow was the first (and ONLY) thing protected when the invasion of Iraq occured, and that the oil production has been unmetered since, how much money do you think has gone to the Iraqi people? At a (very) conservative estimate, the oil production would be $50 million a day, or about $1.5 billion per month. It's been two years since the infamous "mission accomplished" aircraft carrier was kept circling at sea until president Bush could land on it. That's at least $35 billion dollars, and about half that amount has been spent on reconstruction projects, but a whole lot ($25 billion) has been spent by the U.S. in contracts to suppliers for its military, which hasn't come from Iraq oil, but rather from an increased deficit.

But no one seems to mind that too much. Wonder why not?

What would you do with a company about whom the person responsible for signing the army contracts (senior procurement executive Bunnatine Greenhouse) says:

"I can unequivocally state that the abuse related to contracts awarded to KBR (Kellogg Brown and Root) represents the most blatant and improper contract abuse I have witnessed during the course of my professional career."

KBR is a subsidiary of (surprise) Halliburton, for those who haven't heard.

Here's a little list of some incidents so far:

Billing the army for 20,000 meals a day, while serving 10,000;
Serving food that was sometimes one year past date;
Serving leftovers to foreign workers;
Over $1 billion in overcharges and questionable charges;
"Losing" housing for 6,600 soldiers;
Charging over $2.50 per gallon for fuel to local, when the next company to do so charged $0.18;
Sending any "whistleblowers" to high-risk regions like, say, Fallujah.

This same company drew up the plans for the reconstruction of Iraq, deciding what would be considered "reasonable expenses", then was handed the contract without any competing bids.

In the case of the U.S. government, what you do with this company is increase your business with them by $1 billion dollars.

For those yahoos that are somehow still opposed to the war, don't worry: these people know exactly what they're doing.

**Update, July 18 - One supoena later, the Pentagon finally releases some of the contracts given to KBR.


posted by Thursday at 10:45 am 0 comments

July 12, 2005

Bookmarks: Reference Section

Actual journalists are hard to find nowadays.
Here's two:
Greg Palast
Robert Parry

Robert Parry is one of the reporters who brought the Iran-Contra affair to light, as well as reports on Reverend Sun Myung Moon, both the 2000 and 2004 elections, Agusto Pinochet and more.

Greg Palast is an American who works for Englands "Guardian" newspaper, because the award-winning stories he reports on (Enron in California, World Bank in Argentina, the Bushes and BinLadens, and far more) don't make the airwaves in the Unites States, and only very rarely in Canada.

There's not a lot of these guys left, so when you find them, they're worth mentioning.


posted by Thursday at 8:28 pm 2 comments

Sex: So Here's a Question...

...What would you do for your partner? Sexually speaking, that is: no suicide - death pacts allowed.

I was pondering this after wrapping my Significant Other in cling wrap the other night. Doing this simply would not have occured to me on my own. I knew the practice existed, sure, but it didn't interest me enough to try it for myself; then she mentioned it, so I brought a box of Resinite home from work and made myself a "fuck sausage" of her. One ice cube and a couple of other items later, I cut her free (an interesting event in itself) and evaluated. Lots of fun, but then sex with her always is. It was a pleasant change, but I doubt it will become part of our regular diet.

That's the point though, isn't it?

When you know a large variety of things to do, the only thing you can become bored with is each other (in which case you've got a problem to solve RIGHT NOW). The primary drive to have sex is for the closeness I feel for my wife, and the pleasure I get from causing her to scrunch her eyes closed and make funny noises. The physical sensation is always nice too, of course; but that's more a teenagers reason for sex than an adults. So I got to thinking about what I've asked other partners of mine to to for me, and what I've had asked of me, and what I've done (or haven't) and why.

Oh, and those folks for whom the thought of gay sex is "icky", there is nothing repeat nothing that gay people can do to each other that straight folks can't. For instance, I've had a woman ask to use a strap-on on me. At the time, I refused because I had no interest in the physical sensation, and that was my main objective of getting laid. But if it were my wife asking me, and explaining that it was the one thing that turned her on beyond any other sexual act, I would try it. If it made her feel that good, why not? The difference, as you could guess, is what level of commitment I have with the other person. It was way easier to accept doing cunnilingus as a "favour", because that's one of a few of my favorite things anyways.

Bragging point - I got one young woman to quit smoking because it made her taste worse. I'm having that put on my tombstone.

The point being that it's not really a test of a relationship in that case. I've ended up not staying with one woman because she wasn't as sexually adventurous as I was. Maybe later she would have become more so, but at the time? Nope. So I left.

That sounds bad, doesn't it? But that's what I wanted. I can't really say I've regretted any past decisions, given how much I'm enjoying life now, but there is the occasional "what if" that I play with regarding past relationships. How much of a difference did sex play then as compared to now? Would I have been a happily corrupting influence, a sexual Walter Mitty, or an employer of prostitutes?

As with everything else, I suppose - how far you're willing to go depends on where you are.
posted by Thursday at 5:22 pm 0 comments

July 11, 2005

Poli-Sci: Why Go With What Works?

Katherine Harris, famous for handing Floridas votes to George W.Bush way back when, apparently put just as much thought into trying to cure the states' citrus crops of canker: sprinkle them with water which has "improved fractal design" and "infinite levels of order".

You know, a bunch of celebrities did good stuff when they performed in Live 8; but man do they piss it away when they support this kind of boneheaded stuff.


posted by Thursday at 8:58 pm 0 comments

Science: Narcoleptic Poker Player Epidemic!

Poker has gotten big.

Really big.

As in, the World Series of Poker had 5,619 entrants this year, up from 2,576 in 2004 and just 839 in 2003. At $10,000 each, that's a chunk of change. There were so many entries, that Harrahs had to stagger the start, with some players starting Friday, some Saturday. There's now a tournament circuit to get into the Tournament of Champions. There was more than $45 million in prize money in 2004, and there's more up for grabs this year.


Well, if you figure Steven Johnson is right, then poker is exactly the style of multi-tasking game that should be increasing in popularity. It fits with the increased complexities that our minds have been encountering since we've bothered questioning such things. Poker just happens to be something that caught the public eye at a time when we wanted it. Oh, and having a 27-year old 2003 champion who never played a live tournament before helped by giving the illusion that anyone caould win millions of dollars playing a game. The illusion is wrong, of course: while the best players are most likely to win, in a field of 5,000 only some of the dead money has to to get lucky at the wrong time before they're out.

As a comparison, compare the odds of making it to the NHL, with say 1,000 players or so playing at least one game there in any given season. Canada is the big supplier of players, of course, but scouting has been multi-national for a generation now, so many players are coming from the US, Sweden, Russia, the Czech Republic, Slovakia, Finland, and even countries like Switzerland and Germany. A player has to play all their lives at a lever good enough to qualify for the next level of competition, each lever smaller and tougher to get into than the last; they have to avoid serious injury; they have to be noticed by a scout and drafted; they have to be able to stop whatever else they have going on in their lives for this shot at being able to play hockey at its highest level. And they have to afford to play in the first place: rare enough if hockey isn't the first sport considered in their household. Given populations and relative popularity of hockey in those countries, and the turnover rate of NHL players, call it 200,000-to-1.

So what can you do to reduce the odds? Well, the number of junior teams who have a personal trainer has skyrocketed; diets have changed dramatically; and I'd be amazed if more than 20 players in the NHL smoked. Then, of course, there's drugs. A number of players use antihistamines, or steroids, or amphetamines to get themselves a bit more of an edge for the games. Steroids can backfire, as players cannot use too much bulk: they will be slower, and more prone to penalty trouble (note: just an opinion, but Todd Bertuzzi became a better player after he shed 30 pounds).

So what the hell do the last two paragraphs have to do with poker? Just this: even the best players in the world lose sometimes, and some of those times it will be to players worse than themselves. They play against each other at this tournament, too, whereas some of the lesser players might avoid them completely until later rounds: tournaments are short-time risks, and short-time risks favour luck. So call a tourney with 5,000 people (about half of which are dead money) 50-to-1 against for any of the great players there, and far worse for the others.

No gambler in their right mind would take those odds. So some of them cheat.

Oh, not how you might think: far too many cameras around for that. Besides, the house uses their own dealer. So what to do? Well, science to the rescue!

Poker is a game of odds, it's true; but it's also a game of psychology and strategy. First you learn how to play your hand, then how to play your opponents, then your stack (of chips). "Tells" are a big part of the game: seeing what the other players do when they've got a weak hand, or when they are top dog after the flop is how you take their money. But as you're reading opponents, they're doing the same to you: how can you prevent giving away what your own hand is? One answer making the rounds is Botox. No, I'm not kidding. You can't give away your hand with facial twitches if your face can't twitch, right? (Thank you, Paul Ekman.)

There's also been efforts with short-term psychoactive drugs like amphetemines, but these tournies are week long, 14-hour-a-day affairs: you'll burn out before day one is finished. Drugs have always been high-risk (at best) since mental acuity is only part of the equation, with endurance and patience being the others.


Welcome to the world of modafinil.

There's a few different brand names for this drug, which had been originally used to combat the effects of narcolepsy. Yep: it keeps you awake. But it improves so much more, like: alertness, mood, impulse control, and memory. A lot of players are knocked out of tournaments because they lack the patience to play, or get tired, or frustrated, or confuse one players habits with anothers.

See anything in that list modafinil wouldn't help? And whatever the side efects, for a piece of $53,000,000 wouldn't you?


posted by Thursday at 3:33 pm 0 comments

July 08, 2005

Politics: Timing


Why would these massive bombings occur after Blair has said he's going to pull troops out of Iraq, and shift focus back to Afghanistan?


*Just as a side note: my wifes father lived through the blitz, and her cousin used to call in IRA bomb scares when she didn't want to go to school that day. Anyone who thinks bombs will scare the British has a poor, poor grasp of history.*


posted by Thursday at 1:19 am 0 comments

July 07, 2005

Politics: Oh.. Good, Then.

(A late night coming home, and I've just heard about the London bombings. Sorry if this one's is a little disjointed.)

Hello to Fox News' Brian Kilmeade:

"...I think this works to our advantage..."

Nothing like a few more people dying to perk up your cause, eh? Oh, wait: are we talking about Al-Qaeda, or the supposed "War on Terror"?

One last time for the kids who haven't been paying attention, okay? "Terrorism" is a concept, not a country or a group or anything else concrete. There are acts of terror, certainly; likewise there are terrorists. But what counts as "terror", and why does anyone think that an actual, physical war can defeat it? It cannot be contained in concrete form, which is all that an army can fight.

The only way - the ONLY way - that an idea can be contested is with other ideas: do you understand? This is why replacing the rule of law with the rule of force is a losing proposition. Dictatorships and empires have a habit of being overthrown: the most stable nations are those of ideas first, armies second. For better or for worse. The only real down side to democracy, for instance, is it takes work to maintain. The down side to, say, theocracy, would be everything else. So if you want to convince a people who have been living under a totalitarian dictatorship for their entire lives to change their government, do you:

A) invade their homeland with your army, disrupting their lives, destroying their infrastructure and giving their current leader cause to become a martyr; or
B) convince the people who live there that the ability to choose their own leader can be a hell of a lot more fun?

Or let me put it another way: which seems to have worked? The Soviet Union had to change governments because it was going bankrupt trying to produce in a system that is simply not designed for it. Why would it want to do that? Because the people in the Soviet Union could see outside its own borders, and wanted more than what the current style of government could proovide. Look at the Soviet Union twenty years ago, and say to yourselves this: welcome to Iran. Reagan (and to a lesser degree US Presidents since 1945) fucked the dog when he massively supported "strongman" regimes around the world throughout his presidency, and problems with them have been cropping up ever since. China, on the other hand, is experiencing a slow evolution brought about by information and ideas - and don't think the Chinese governments best efforts are going to stop it: it's being co-opted by being offered a piece of the pie.

Think very hard about the saying: the pen is mightier than the sword. A war of philosophies is slower, harder, and sometimes bloodier than a physical invasion. It means hard decisions, and knowing how and when NOT to act.

The current war in the middle east isn't about terrorism, or even about oil - that's merely profit and bribes for some of the individuals involved. The real kick the Vulcans are on is power, and they are playing a bad game of it, trying a short cut, trying to force a "final victory" without realizing that you cannot play at toy soldiers when your battlefield is metaphorical.

The current American administration has forced all democracies into this short cut, goaded viciously by a weaker opponent. We have better weapons in the philosophical war, but that's no longer where the fight is taking place. Originally, the presidential rhetoric was correct: we do want democracy to thrive, in the middle east and everywhere else. Such a change has happened with military intervention, on very rare occasions, and only if one condition is met: the empires have to leave the territories first.


posted by Thursday at 10:50 pm 0 comments

July 06, 2005

Other: Capitalist Stooge at Work!

Apparently, I'm being bought and sold on the open (if fictional) market.

I feel so used.


posted by Thursday at 9:05 pm 0 comments

A Reasonable Proposal

In response to an editorial in one of my local papers:

Re: Marcia Stobbart or Same-Sex Marriage, July 6

Finally! Someone with the courage to say that love and marriage have nothing to do with each other! (“But what’s love got to do with it?”)

Since our society was based on marriage for the purpose of procreation (not stealing land from others, as some elements would have you believe), isn’t it time for some real laws enforcing that?

Here’s what I propose:

1) Maximum age by which time marriage becomes mandatory;
2) Minimum number of years after marriage to conceive children;
3) Make divorce illegal;
4) These laws to be retroactive.

Now if someone has never been married, and they are past the set age (say, 25 years), they must take steps to remedy this within six (6) months or a marriage will be arranged for them but the appropriate ministry. Likewise, if a child has not been conceived within one (1) year, they shall be given a child by the appropriate ministry. All citizens who have been married and divorced MUST return to their original partners, excepting death of said partner. Children by another, later marriage shall be divided between the newly separated couple by an arbitrator.

Following these simple rules marriage, and thence society, are saved for future generations of our kind.

posted by Thursday at 8:46 pm 0 comments

July 05, 2005

Religion: Cruise (Un)Coltrolled

Enough with the politics. Let's talk about something important.

Like what the hell is Tom Cruise talking about?

Okay, for all the rich, popular celebrities out there who are reading this (and you know who you are, Gazetteer) a piece of advice: DON'T HIRE YOUR SISTER AS YOUR PUBLICIST. Cruise fired his long-time publicist Pat Kingsley and hired one of his sisters instead.

It doesn't seem to have worked out too well just yet. For instance, Ms. Kingsley probably would have mentioned not arm wrestling Oprah.

But besides that, Cruise has been openly talking about Scientology. He's done that before, certainly, but Ms. Kingsley kept a very solid lid on anyone printing anything too critical of Cruise and his beliefs, being the CEO of agenct PMK/HBH. If media folks ever wanted to interview Conan O'Brien, or Ron Howard, or Woody Allen or anyone else that worked with her agency, they'd have to soft pedal her entire stable.

That protection's gone now.

So again: what the hell is he talking about?

He's talking about Scientology, a church started up by an indifferent science fiction writer who was well known to have said "If you want to make a fortune, start a religion".

Must be a coincidence.

One thing Scientology is is very, very expensive. And wants to replace psychiatry, what with psychiatrists being sexual deviants, mass murderers, and war mongers. But you knew that, right? Well, at least they're not blaming the Jews; unless the Jew is a psychiatrist, I suppose. The reason is that they use some basic psychiatric techniques and call them part of their own discovery ("Dianetics"), and it also provides them with a "them" to set themselves against, which all cults need when they're starting out. It's usually the government, or the gnomes of Zurich, or (sigh) the Jews. So at least they're original.

In any case, they are trying to get governments, specifically those that exempt official religions from paying taxes, to consider them a religion. One difficulty they have is their insistence on keeping their beliefs private, as holy documents. This is much like the Catholic Church hunting down folks who tried to translate the bible into anything readable by the masses way back when.

Well, gosh: I think the Christians were wrong to supperss knowledge back then, and I thing the Scientologists are wrong now. So, without further ado, here's what approximately $300,000 US will buy you:

There once was a mighty ruler named Xenu. Xenu was one of the leaders of the Galactic Marcab Confederation of 76 planets, founded ninety-five million years ago. He performed a tremendously evil act, trying to cure the overpopulation of the Confederation Worlds by bringing everyone in for a tax audit, freezing them with an injection of alcohol-glycol solution in their lungs and shipping them in giant DC8s to the planet Teegeeack.

The DC8s had rockets instead of engines, ‘natch.

Then, terribly, he dropped them into volcanoes in Hawii and the Canary Islands and blew them up with hydrogen bombs, all 13.5 trillion of them – don’t ask me how they fit. Xenus evil was discovered and he was overthrown by the loyal Marcab Confederation members, who have him imprisioned with force fields inside a mountain on (presumably) one of their 76 planets. Teegeeack was so devastated by this destruction, that it became known throughout the galaxy as “The Evil Place”.

It's now known as ... (dramatic pause) ... Earth!

As the Thetans ascended to the heavens, they were captured by force fields and electronically packaged into clusters, millions of beings smooshed together, and shown 3-D movies which made them believe in the reality all around us even now. Why the Wachowski Brothers ("The Matrix") haven’t been sued yet, I don’t know.

Anyhow, 75 million years later, when the planet had recovered enough to show signs of life, these Thetans were wandering around in clumps of a thousand or so, and they inhabited one of the local types of fauna of the planet, sparking their evolution into a dominant species.

That’s us.

So the objective of Scientology is to get us “clear” of “Body Thetans”, of which we are dragging around 2,200 and they are what make our lives miserable.

Oh, here's an image of what the Earth looked like 75 million years ago. Amazing how they found Hawii and the Canary Islands way back when.

So, all told, does Scientology qualify as a religion? Personally, until they come up with a creation myth as to how the universe appeared, I don't think they qualify. Other than that, they demand total loyalty to their beliefs; attacking their enemies; regular cash payments; and they teach that all other gods and religions are "false memories". So why not?


posted by Thursday at 9:56 pm 0 comments

July 03, 2005

Politics: Is 8 Enough?

Well, the Live 8 concerts have been up and done now. I didn't watch much of it myself, as house and yard work beckoned. Some liked the show; some didn't; others were openly critical of (and even hostile to) either the event or the people taking part.

This strikes me as odd. So I think I'll talk about the various forms of criticism that I've seen.

One criticism, and I think the most valid, is that giving money to "Africa" is hardly a precise objective. If you were a banker, would you grant a loan to someone whose plans are "To... I dunno. Do stuff."? Probably not. Plus, much of the problem in the most troubled regions isn't so much resources as it is the poeple controling them: fantastically corrupt Presidents, rebellious warlords and mercenary groups are rife. Just handing over money doesn't means it's going to be used as it's intended, is it?

Certainly not. So money isn't going to be "just handed over", much like the money from Live Aid wasn't: it has been used to fund projects in Burkina Faso, Chad, Ethiopia, Mali, Niger, and the Sudan. After twenty years, the projects are still impoving the lives of those who live in pretty abysmal conditions. The point of this concert series, which the organiser and performers repeated again and again, was that they didn't want money. Odd to hear, I know, but there you have it.

What they want is this: pressure. They are specifically targeting the G8 summit meeting in Scotland a few days from now. What with all those leaders being from democracies (well, in Putins case that may be a bit theoretical), the populations in those countries can put pressure on the leaders to actually help those regions in Africa that are in need. Specifically: they want cancelled debts, an increase in aid, and fair trade with wealthier nations.

But doesn't "increasing aid" mean exactly that: more money?

Yep. But more to the point, they want the aid to be in investment in some regions, technology in others, and for cryin' out loud could we stop sending out-of-date perscriptions and breast implants? Thanks. They want trade to actually be fair, instead of (for instance) the insane policies of the World Bank, which has been crippling poorer economies since the eighties.

Well, one of the stupider complaints goes, Live Aid didn't stop poverty, so this obviously can't either!

Not only did Live Aid (and subsequent musical benefits) get hundreds of thousands of people food and medicine, but it focused attention on poverty around the world. The works that are still being funded by the old Live Aid concerts are helping people, most importantly with clean drinking water. Live Aid was meant as a "quick fix", a response to an emergency: when someone is haemorrhaging, first you stop the bleeding. Perhaps you can tell K'naan, one of the performers in Barrie, that it's not worth the time:

Following his performance K'naan reflected on what it was like to be part of the event, aimed at raising awareness of poverty in developing countries such as his homeland.

"It's monumental, because you know we're a community that needs some changes," he said backstage, "so I'm really glad to be here."

Then there is the standard whine whenever artists do, well, anything other than look pretty: "They're just doing it for themselves!"


Okay, I'm going to say this once, nice and slow: charities happen all the fucking time. There are constant fundraisers going on, in whatever community you live in, for all sorts of causes. Burn units for local hospitals; the downtown food bank; a library; a high school gym. Whatever. What's relevant here is:

Who cares?

What page of the newspaper did it make it to? If any of them are even mentioned? And do you bother to read about it if you're not directly involved? If your community is big enough to have a daily paper, think some Girl Guide bake sale is going to be front news? Maybe if they set themselves on fire...

Now, what do you think would happen if Madonna happened to be in town, and was seen selling cookies? Or Brad Pitt? Or Brett Farve? Think that maybe, just maybe that would be a story?

THAT is what celebrities can bring, and they also put up with the pathetic mewling of cynics who hope that greed is the biggest motivator in peoples lives. Bono has probably the most critics, and that's part and parcel with his ability to draw crowds: he's been working to alleviate third-world debt for years now, and he knows more about it than 99.5% of the population; but he's a singer, so he must be stupid, right? And he's popular, too, so he's only worthy of derision.

If you were asked to help out some cause you believed in, just by doing whatever it is you do anyways, wouldn't you? Of course, an appeal to the ego never hurts:

"While poverty exists, there is no true freedom.

"History and the generations to come will judge our leaders by the decisions they make in the coming weeks. I say to all those leaders, do not look the other way. Do not hesitate. It is easy to make promises but never go to action. We ask those leaders to demonstrate their commitment and not engage with hollow promises. We want action.

"Sometimes it falls upon a generation to be great. You can be that generation. Let your greatness blossom."

Nelson Mandela


posted by Thursday at 11:42 pm 0 comments

July 02, 2005

Religion: Fine By Me

I'm an athiest.

This means I'm opposed to theisms; religions. Other people want to worship, that's fine. Just don't expect me to join you, and don't even dream of trying to force me.

And I have no problem with the third line of this.


posted by Thursday at 9:52 pm 0 comments

Other: Great(est) Stuff!

Several countries have had a little popularity contest asking who people thought was the greatest representative of their nations. Now, I have two people I consider personal heroes in my life: Terry Fox and Tommy Douglas. So I can't say I am unbiased in my attitude towards who ended up on top of the listing in Canada.

But with the United States just finishing their own similar show, I thought I'd take a look at those nations who have elected a "top ten", and perhaps mention someone who may get consideration from the rest of the world:

Tommy Douglas, a politician who never became the national leader but is quite possibly responsible for improving the lives of more Canadians than any other person. Canada chose 3 Prime Ministers, 3 scientists, 1 celebrity, 2 activists and one athelete for their top ten.

Fredrick Banting would probably get the most attention internationally, though Lester Pearson is a strong arguement.

Great Britian:
Sir Winston Churchill, the WWII wartime Prime Minister. Great Britian had a lot of history to chose from, and ended up with an engineer, 2 scientists, 2 celebrities, 1 war hero, 3 national leaders and one writer.

Internationally? Oh good lord; who to choose? I'll go with Sir Issac Newton, but it's close.

United States:
Ronald Regan was chosen the first of several Presidents. The U.S. went with no fewer than 6 Presidents, as well as 2 celebrities, 1 scientist, and one philosopher/activist.

Bill Clinton would be most likely to draw votes from around the world.

Konrad Adenauer, who was West Germanys first Chancellor, won. Germany's another nation with a deep and well-documented past, so there was a lot of variety here: 3 Chancellors, 1 scientist, 1 writer, 1 composer, 2 philosophers, a brother and sister who publicly and peacefully resisted the Nazis, and an inventor made the list.

My vote (and those of every other geek) would go to Johannes Gutenberg.

India decided to keep Mahatma Ghandi out of the running, so Mother Teresa took the crown. Interestingly, two businessmen were in the Indian Top Ten, along with 3 Prime Ministers, 3 other politicians, one activist and one athelete.

Around the world, Ghandi would take this one. Well, unless the Catholics vote en masse.


C.G.E. Mannerheim, the post-WWII President was the top man. Three other Presidents were named, 2 authors, 1 composer, a doctor, a philosopher and a war hero. Like India and the United States, the current national leader made the list.

Composer Jean Sibelius could be their most recognizable figure.

Czech Republic:
The oldest number one, Emperor Charles IV founded the Czech state, and the Czechs like their political "firsts": the #2 guy, Tomas Garrigue Masaryk, was the first President of Czechoslovakia, while #3 was Vaclav Havel, their first non-Communist President. There were also two philosophers, a composer, two writers (including a grandaddy of S-F, Karel Capek), one celebrity and a war hero.

Any educated leader in the so-called Dark Ages has my respect; I agree with the Czechs.

Pim Fortuyn won in one of the more contreversial of these shows: he was a nationalist leader who had strong views against Muslim immigration, and was assassinated in 2002. There were two national leaders, 1 other politician, 1 war hero, 1 scientist, 1 philosopher, 1 athelete, 2 painters, and Anne Frank, who officially died a "stateless citizen".

Anne's tragic and all, but Rembrandt moves my soul.

No surprise here; Charles de Gaulle emerged the winner. *sigh* This, from a country that produced Decartes and Moliere and Sartre. What, too much of a good thing? Well, why not: the U.S. only have one lousy scientist in their top ten... Bitterness aside: there were 2 writers, 2 scientists, an explorer, 3 celebrities and one activist accompanying M. de Gaulle on the list.

Again, lots of choices here. I'm going to bet on literacy and say Victor Hugo.

Interesting to compare, don't you think? What was the tenor of the times when each vote was held, and what does that say about those countries?


posted by Thursday at 5:42 pm 0 comments

Other: Things I Did On Canada Day

1) Had a rye and ginger.
2) And beer.
3) Read a Fox news anchors critique of America-bashing that Canadians love as a third national sport. Watching him try to put together a cogent arguement was like watching a monkey try to golf: maybe funny at first, but after a while you just feel sorry for the poor creature.
4) Tried to figure out how the hell Ottawa beat Montreal.
5) And (most fun of all) compared the most recent activities of the Canadian and American governments:

North: Legalization of gay marriage.
South: An Anti-Flag Burning Amendment.


Now, both of these proposals have to go through each countrys respective senates, though the American proposal must be ratified by 38 of the 50 states in seven years (which is where the Equal Rights Amendment fell down), so they might not yet pass.

But they'll pass.

What's more interesting is what is said about the direction each country seems to be moving in. Gay marriage is seen by its supporters as an enshrinement of equal rights, and an increase of personal freedoms, while opponents hold that it means an acceptance of what is at worst a criminal act, and at best an unspeakable perversion. That dooms Canada (yes, they're serious). Banning flag burning (more specifically, "physical desecration of the flag") is seen by proponents as forbidding an injustice and an insult to their nation; detractors say it is an assault on free speech that limits individual freedoms.

And does this mean an end to red-white-and-blue thongs? Or is it not desecration if the models are really, really hot?

Odd little side note: I laughed at a shirt from T-Shirt Hell that reads: "I only support gay marriage if both chicks are hot". Then I found out that 26 countries have anti-homosexuality laws for men only. Dykes, apparently, are cool.

Looks like I'll be staying within sight of water if I ever go South again. Except for the quick hops to Vegas, of course.


posted by Thursday at 3:53 pm 1 comments