Never pass up a chance to sit down or relieve yourself. -old Apache saying

Saturday, February 28, 2015

Dan Rather

After getting unceremoniously booted from CBS after 44 years for telling an inconvenient truth about George W. Bush's time in the Alabama National Guard, Dan Rather went on to join AXS-TV for several "Dan Rather Reports" programs.  Many of these were quite excellent. You can still view some of them online here

It appears that Dan is no longer doing the "Reports" for AXS.  This year, he has a series called, "The Big Interview," where he interviews only celebrities.

I noticed on the cable guide that a recent episode featured Carlos Santana for the 60-minute interview. Carlos is one of my all-time faves.  Carlos didn't disappoint; he was spacey as usual, and it was a very entertaining interview.

Catch it if you can in reruns, if you have the AXS channel on your cable or satellite.  There is a list of the interviews here.

I see that they will not allow a free viewing of The Big Interview on their website, but you can purchase each program for a whopping $2.  A new angle.

The interview reminded me that Carlos is currently under contract with the Las Vegas House of Blues for a series of performances.  He's currently on hiatus there but will return for another 8 shows in May.  We are seriously considering going.

AND, I understand that Robert Redford is going to play Dan Rather in the upcoming movie, "Truth," that will examine the "scandal" that "ruined" Dan Rather's career at CBS. Dan Rather is a national treasure.

Thursday, February 26, 2015

Barbara Boxer

Ever notice how Congresspeople don't often lay it all out and let 'em have it, until they have already announced that they are leaving office?  Too bad no one seems to have the guts to speak the truth while they are still active in their jobs.  WTF is wrong with this country?

Here's Barbara Boxer, retiring Democratic Senator from California, telling off the GOP about this Department of Homeland Security potential shutdown. Although, I can pretty much guarantee you that hardly any Republicans will even hear what Boxer had to say.  At the very end, you can hear Barbara question whether there is a quorum, which means there may be one or two Senators in the chamber.  

Our politics is broken alright, and the GOP and the Tea Party want to smash it further. 

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

torturing citizens

This. Is. Not. Good.  Not only has the US been torturing its enemies, we've been torturing our own citizens! Especially if you are a brown or black citizen, and anywhere close to Chicago. (And where else??)

Here we have yet another example of police overstepping their authority.  Looking back, this country has had quite the troubled past with its police forces.  Yeah, yeah, yeah, this story does not indict ALL police; it indicts a whole SYSTEM!  
We could sure use some BOLD politicians and civil servants these days.  

The disappeared: Chicago police detain Americans at abuse-laden 'black site'

The Guardian
The Chicago police department operates an off-the-books interrogation compound, rendering Americans unable to be found by family or attorneys while locked inside what lawyers say is the domestic equivalent of a CIA black site.
The facility, a nondescript warehouse on Chicago’s west side known as Homan Square, has long been the scene of secretive work by special police units. Interviews with local attorneys and one protester who spent the better part of a day shackled in Homan Square describe operations that deny access to basic constitutional rights.
Alleged police practices at Homan Square, according to those familiar with the facility who spoke out to the Guardian after its investigation into Chicago police abuse, include:
  1. Keeping arrestees out of official booking databases.
  2. Beating by police, resulting in head wounds.
  3. Shackling for prolonged periods.
  4. Denying attorneys access to the “secure” facility.
  5. Holding people without legal counsel for between 12 and 24 hours, including people as young as 15.
At least one man was found unresponsive in a Homan Square “interview room” and later pronounced dead.
Brian Jacob Church, a protester known as one of the “Nato Three”, was held and questioned at Homan Square in 2012 following a police raid. Officers restrained Church for the better part of a day, denying him access to an attorney, before sending him to a nearby police station to be booked and charged.
“Homan Square is definitely an unusual place,” Church told the Guardian on Friday. “It brings to mind the interrogation facilities they use in the Middle East. The CIA calls them black sites. It’s a domestic black site. When you go in, no one knows what’s happened to you.”
The secretive warehouse is the latest example of Chicago police practices that echo the much-criticized detention abuses of the US war on terrorism. While those abuses impacted people overseas, Homan Square – said to house military-style vehicles, interrogation cells and even a cage – trains its focus on Americans, most often poor, black and brown.
Unlike a precinct, no one taken to Homan Square is said to be booked. Witnesses, suspects or other Chicagoans who end up inside do not appear to have a public, searchable record entered into a database indicating where they are, as happens when someone is booked at a precinct. Lawyers and relatives insist there is no way of finding their whereabouts. Those lawyers who have attempted to gain access to Homan Square are most often turned away, even as their clients remain in custody inside.
“It’s sort of an open secret among attorneys that regularly make police station visits, this place – if you can’t find a client in the system, odds are they’re there,” said Chicago lawyer Julia Bartmes.
Chicago civil-rights attorney Flint Taylor said Homan Square represented a routinization of a notorious practice in local police work that violates the fifth and sixth amendments of the constitution.
“This Homan Square revelation seems to me to be an institutionalization of the practice that dates back more than 40 years,” Taylor said, “of violating a suspect or witness’ rights to a lawyer and not to be physically or otherwise coerced into giving a statement.”
Much remains hidden about Homan Square...(continued)
Read the rest of this disturbing article here.

And Charles Pierce had a few choice words to say about this story:

Interesting that it was a political protester who wound up there, isn't it?

This, of course, continues to be a rough century for the Chicago P.D. It began with the revelations regarding Jon Burge, a rogue cop who routinely tortured suspects for 20 years on the city's South and West Sides. Then, more recently, it was revealed that another alleged CPD torturer named Richard Zuley had taken his act from Chicago's North Side to the prison at Guantanamo Bay. And now this. I'm no expert, but I think it might behoove some ambitious assistant US Attorney in Cook County to get Mayor Rahm Emanuel under oath and find out what he knows about how Chicago became East Germany. (To be fair, the state's attorney for Cook County is on to the Zuley case, at least.) But this is what can happen if you normalize torture in the public mind the way that the Avignon Presidency and its acolytes did and then, when a new administration comes in, it declines to prosecute the people involved and, indeed, it fights to keep secret what was done in the name of the American people. Authoritarians wear all kinds of uniforms, and they can convince themselves that almost everyone is a threat of some kind or another. This is now a country that tortures, and torture does not stop at the water's edge. It is a decision that was made for us, but it is a decision that nobody, not even the president the country elected twice, has chosen fully to reverse. This is a country that tortures. And we live with it.

Pierce's original

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

solar breakthroughs

Sometimes I wish I was born 40 years later so I could witness some of the amazing breakthroughs that science is going to bring us. At least we as a human race have finally broken the chokehold that religion had on science and progress.  I hope it's not too late.

Researchers created solar powered leaves on 3D printed tree trunks, making a mini electric forest. 
Image: VTT

8 crazy new solar research breakthroughs

We've said it before, and we'll say it again. 2015 is going to be a huge year for the solar industry. A photovoltaic system is installed every four minutes in the US. There are now 142,000 jobs in the solar industry alone. Some experts are even saying that rooftop solar will reach grid parity in all 50 states by 2016.
The research behind solar energy is booming, too. Scientists are discovering new ways to decrease costs and increase efficiency of solar panels and coming up with creative, impressive ways to generate power. Here are eight examples.

1. Bionic leaf

Scientists at Harvard recently created a bionic leaf, which uses a catalyst to make sunlight split water into hydrogen and oxygen, then a bacteria engineered to convert carbon dioxide and hydrogen into a liquid fuel called isopropanol. They're almost at a 1% efficiency rate of turning the sunlight into the fuel -- in other words, they've found a way to recreate the efficiency of photosynthesis.

2. 3D printed solar powered trees

Researchers at the VTT Technical Research Centre of Finland created a solar powered electric forest with 3D printed trees. That's quite a bit of buzzworthy tech in one project. The trunk of the trees are made from 3D printed wood biomaterials, and the leaves are the solar "panels." They are much less efficient than traditional PV panels, but the research they're doing for solar cells is promising as well.

3. Perovskites

Perovskites are materials with a specific crystalline structure. Stanford University researchers found that using lead, ammonia, and iodine, they could make a lot of it for cheap. Perovskites are more efficient than silicon in some ways, so the idea is using them to supplement rather than replace silicon may be a way to increase the efficiency of solar cells. At Stanford, a silicon solar cell with an efficiency of 11.4% increased to 17% with perovskite.

4. Thin film solar

New research from Cornell, published in Nature in January, showed that scientists are reporting better solar cells by changing the chemistry of the materials. Thin film solar, which is a photovoltaic material onto a substrate like silicon. The ones made by these researchers at Cornell are organic-inorganic metal halide perovskites, which the team has been studying for a while. The new solar cells use a liquid source and a simple coating, which can make it appealing for more commercial uses.

5. Carbon-based solar cells

Another cheap alternative to silicon that has emerged is printed carbon-based, or organic, solar cells. The efficiency is still relatively low compared to other materials, and the research surrounding it peaked about a decade ago. But, as perovskites gain popularity in reducing the cost and increasing efficiency of cells, carbon-based options are looking like contenders, too.

6. Colored solar panels


New colored solar panels.
 Image: University of Oxford
Scientists have found a way to make solar panels a little more aesthetically pleasing. They layered silicon dioxide, often used to make glass optical fibers, and titanium dioxide, used to absorb UV rays, to make a photonic crystal structure that can absorb sunlight. Colors appear when light is reflected and absorbed, and the colors change depending on the thickness of the materials.
The problem is, these panels are much less efficient than black solar panels, only reaching up to 9%. The blue, for instance, is only about 6%. The hope is that as the technology advances, the efficiency will increase -- but for now, it's a way to possibly mainstream the idea of solar even more.

7. Polymer solar cells

Polymer solar cells, called P1D2, may increase solar cell efficiency. The research comes from the University of Chicago's chemistry department, the Institute for Molecular Engineering, and Argonne National Laboratory. The polymer breaks down easier and allows more electrons to travel faster. The researchers said in a test, it increased solar cell efficiency by 15%.

8. Solar concentration technology

Concentrating photovoltaic (CPV) systems are giant and have to be angled very accurately to get the right amount of sun during the day. They work great, but they're not ideal for roofs. Now, a team of researchers is working on using that high-efficiency technology for rooftop PV systems by building them with miniaturized, gallium arsenide photovoltaic cells and 3D printed plastic lens arrays. The systems weigh less, cost less, and are much smaller than CPV systems, though, and can be optimized for rooftops.

And, it appears that the solar industry is now employing more people than the coal industry. Go here.

Monday, February 23, 2015

safer than booze

One of the pushes in the legalization of weed crowd has been to make laws concerning weed similar to those of alcohol.  I had always thought that weed wasn't nearly as bad as booze, and a recent study is backing me up. Getting our legislators to agree on this, and not just think that the study was conducted by a bunch of potheads, could be tricky.

Meanwhile, congratulations ALASKA!!!  The 3rd state to allow recreational weed!!  

Come on, Texas, you neanderthals!  We still can't even get medicinal weed!

Marijuana may be even safer than previously thought, researchers say

New study: We should stop fighting marijuana legalization and focus on alcohol and tobacco instead

Compared with other recreational drugs — including alcohol — marijuana may be even safer than previously thought. And researchers may be systematically underestimating risks associated with alcohol use.

Those are the top-line findings of recent research published in the journal Scientific Reports, a subsidiary of Nature. Researchers sought to quantify the risk of death associated with the use of a variety of commonly used substances. They found that at the level of individual use, alcohol was the deadliest substance, followed by heroin and cocaine.

And all the way at the bottom of the list? Weed — roughly 114 times less deadly than booze, according to the authors, who ran calculations that compared lethal doses of a given substance with the amount that a typical person uses. 

Marijuana is also the only drug studied that posed a low mortality risk to its users.
These findings reinforce drug-safety rankings developed 10 years ago under a slightly different methodology. So in that respect, the study is more of a reaffirmation of previous findings than anything else. But given the current national and international debates over the legal status of marijuana and the risks associated with its use, the study arrives at a good time.
It's important to note here that "safer than alcohol" doesn't mean "safe, full stop." Indeed, one of the more troubling lines of thought I see in some quarters of the marijuana legalization movement is that because marijuana is "natural," or because it can be used as (non-FDA approved) "medicine," it is therefore "safe."
But of course, rattlesnake venom is natural, too, and nobody would call that safe. And prescription painkillers are medicinal and responsible for tens of thousands of deaths each year.
There are any number of risks associated with marijuana use. Most of these risks involve mental health issues, and most increase the earlier you start using and the more frequently you use.
That said, there are risks associated with literally anything you put in your body. Eat too much sugar and you're on the fast track to rotting teeth and diabetes. Take in too much salt and you're looking at increased odds of a stroke. Psychoactive substances, such as marijuana and alcohol, aren't at all unique for having risks associated with them.
What is unique is how these substances are treated under the law, and particularly the way in which alcohol and nicotine essentially get a free pass under the Controlled Substances Act, the cornerstone of the nation's drug policy. This study's authors note that legislative classifications of psychoactive drugs often "lack a scientific basis," and their findings are confirmation of this fact.
Given the relative risks associated with marijuana and alcohol, the authors recommend "risk management prioritization towards alcohol and tobacco rather than illicit drugs." And they say that when it comes to marijuana, the low amounts of risk associated with the drug "suggest a strict legal regulatory approach rather than the current prohibition approach."
In other words, individuals and organizations up in arms over marijuana legalization could have a greater effect on the health and well-being of this country by shifting their attention to alcohol and cigarettes. It takes extraordinary chutzpah to rail against the dangers of marijuana use by day and then go home to unwind with a glass of far more lethal stuff in the evening.

Sunday, February 22, 2015

must. offend. religion.

I certainly do agree with the general summation of this writing: we must antagonize religion MORE, not less. For far too long we have bowed down to the nonsense, and that only emboldens the zealots and loony believers.

We must offend religion more: Islam, Christianity and our tolerance for ancient myths, harmful ideas

Our enduring deference to religion, despite its toxicity and phony explanations for the cosmos, lets it survive 

“Yes, it is freedom of speech, but,” said Inna Shevchenko, the 24-year-old leader of the topless, fiercely atheist activist group Femen in France.  On Feb. 14 she was addressing the conference on art, blasphemy and freedom of expression held at the Krudttønden, a café and cultural center in Copenhagen.  She continued.  “Why do we still say ‘but’ when we…”
A sustained barrage of automatic gunfire interrupted her.  She, the Swedish cartoonist with her onstage, Lars Vilks (famous for his 2007 drawings of the Prophet Muhammad that sparked deadly riots in the Islamic world), and much of the audience hurled themselves to the floor before escaping through the building’s rear exit.  The hooded terrorist assailant, a 22-year-old Danish citizen of Arab descent, ended up killing a Danish filmmaker, Finn Noergaard, and wounding five others.  Police later felled the assassin after he had opened fire on a synagogue, murdering one.
The attacker’s primary target was probably Vilks, but he would have rejoiced at the chance to get Shevchenko, too.  After all, Femen has pronounced religion – in particular, Islam — a bane on women’s rights and has carried out a number of widely publicized, bare-breasted protests against it, burning the Salafist flag in front of the Great Mosque in Paris and chanting, “Fuck Your Morals!” and “Women’s Spring is Coming!” to a furious crowd outside Tunisia’s Ministry of Justice, disrupting a Catholic march against same-sex marriage (also in Paris) and disturbing the pope’s weekly address at the Vatican, and ambushing the Russian Orthodox patriarch as he stepped out of his plane in Kiev, greeting the potentate with cries (in Russian) of “Out, out, Devil!”  (By no means is this list complete.)  Shevchenko herself was forced into exile in 2012 after chainsawing, in support of Pussy Riot activists imprisoned in Russia, a giant wooden cross on Kiev’s central Independence Square.
The morning after the Copenhagen assault I spoke with Shevchenko by Skype.  Still in the Danish capital, she had spent much of the night at the police station, and had slept poorly after returning to her hotel.  Yet she was calm and lucid, determined to continue with Femen’s fight against religion.  This fight had turned extremely personal for her even before Copenhagen: She lost 12 friends in the Charlie Hebdo massacre last month in Paris, where she lives as a political refugee.  (Femen had figured prominently on the satirical magazine’s pages and had even guest-edited an issue.)  Had the Krudttønden organizers held the conference in the café’s front room (with its large windows), and not in the walled-off rear auditorium, she told me, she might not be alive today.
“What were you going to say just before the shooting began?”
“I was going to say that we can’t begin self-censoring, or we end up with just the illusion of free speech.  If we have free speech only up to where we might hurt someone’s feelings, then it isn’t free.  ‘You have freedom of speech, just don’t offend,’ people tell me.  Those who say this are only trying to shut down our freedoms.  If we cede to this, we play their game.  Now that offends me.”
In the month between the Charlie Hebdo massacre and the attack in Copenhagen, I both read and heard a number of arguments that in essence blame the artists for their own deaths.  Most, in fact, start with “I believe in freedom of speech, but  . . .”
Here is a brief summary of what follows the telltale cop-out but:
“It makes no sense to offend people needlessly.  Muslims find depiction of the Prophet Muhammad offensive.  Best just to avoid publishing such cartoons.”
“Europeans have to realize they have large Muslim communities in their midst.  Europeans need to adapt to them, for the sake of social harmony.  Best just to avoid publishing such cartoons.”
“Westerners are increasingly secular and have forgotten how important religion is in much of the world.  In particular, religion is an extremely sensitive subject for the Muslim immigrant community in Europe.  Best not to publish such cartoons.”
“Did you actually see those cartoons?  They really were offensive.  It would have been better not to publish them.”
Let’s dispense straightaway with the juvenile argument of “offense” (to religious sentiment) as grounds for declining to publish or say anything.  No Western constitution or legal code guarantees citizens the right to go about life free from offense.  Laws provide for freedom of expression (with some restrictions, especially regarding state security, hate crime and incitement to violence), but they cannot forbid potentially offensive expression without destroying the very right they are meant to protect.  (French law forbids denying the Holocaust, which does create contradictions and harm free speech, but that is another matter.)

Like it or not, we are engaged in a struggle for the soul of our Enlightenment civilization.  Shevchenko said as much.
“First it was a war of ideas,” she told me.  “Now it’s an actual war, with people losing their lives for these ideas.  There is no longer such a thing as a ‘safe Europe.’”
To continue accepting quisling pseudo-justifications for — or sophistic, à la Reza Aslan, misdiagnoses of — the role of Islam in motivating terrorism throughout the world presages one thing: We will lose.
Shevchenko went on to tell me of the security precautions she would now have to take in what she understatedly called her “new conditions for activism.”  I fear for her: Her face is one of the most recognizable in France, both on account of her Femen protests, and because in 2013 an artist chose her as the inspiration for the face of Marianne (the legendary topless heroine of the French Revolution) that graces France’s postage stamps.  She has always received death threats, but now, she said, they are growing in number, mostly Islam-related, and delivered with credible calm.
“At any movement someone could hit me with a hail of bullets,” she told me.  But she was not cowed.  “We cannot allow fear to govern our ideas or take over our feelings.  I worry people will stop attending things like this blasphemy conference, saying ‘I’d like to go but I’m afraid to.’  That will makes those who go targets because they are so few.  In fact, Femen, Charlie Hebdo and Lars are targets because we’re so few.”  She proposed the only surefire solution: that “everyone publish [the controversial cartoons].”  The plethora of targets would stymie the terrorists, and, by showing resolve, prove the futility of attacks.
“Now,” she added, “it’s us or them.  I want us to win.”
So do I.  And if you’re honest with yourself, so do you.
In this war, the best weapon, by far, is the truth.  Now more than ever, telling the truth counts.  So please, do it.
Jeffrey Tayler is a contributing editor at The Atlantic. His seventh book, "Topless Jihadis -- Inside Femen, the World's Most Provocative Activist Group," is out now as an Atlantic ebook. Follow @JeffreyTayler1 on Twitter.
Original.  (It's as good as the snipped parts)

Saturday, February 21, 2015

CRaTER Radio +

A NASA project, known as CRaTER Live Radio, (Cosmic Ray Telescope for the Effects of Radiation) converts real-time data from a cosmic-ray detector aboard the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter into music. The music is generated automatically, with changes in pitch, tempo, volume, and instrumentation reflecting changes in the number and intensity of cosmic rays, which come from the Sun and powerful events outside the solar system. The music plays 24 hours a day, with brief repeats when the spacecraft is behind the Moon.

Go here to hear and read about some cosmusic.

In another project, known as Nightlight, photographers recorded the natural sounds of the night while shooting the Moon, Milky Way, and other astronomical views. Those recordings have been posted with the astrophotos to create a more immersive night-sky experience.

Tune in the night here.

Thursday, February 19, 2015

military spending

You have probably heard, as I have, several times, that the United States spends more on our military than the next 10 countries combined.  If you really think about it, it's pretty fucking insane, and it seems like we can't seem to EVER reduce the military budget. Do we really HAVE to do this?  Calling General Eisenhower!

Take a look at this chart and think about it.

Then read this column by Mark Morford.

The mind-boggling grotesquery of the U.S. military

by Mark Morford

This is the chart.

This is the chart that blows away all other charts, that makes babies melt and flowers scream, that equally intoxicates and befuddles all viewpoints along the political spectrum; it’s the meta-, mega-, uber-chart that you rarely hear anyone in the corridors of power fight much about, not in the normal sense anyway, largely due to its stupendous insanity, imposing wastefulness, open-palmed insult to all you ever cared about.

Really, how can you not be sort of amazed, in a gross-all-over kind of way, when you see how the US military budget is so vast, so grotesquely outsized that, at upwards of $600 billion, it not only dwarfs all other expenditures in our economy, it’s actually larger than the military budgets of the next 10 major world powers on the planet, combined?

Whenever I hear that factoid, I just can’t make it scale. It just sits there, like a lump, a massive tumor on the face of the nation that no one dares mention, even though it’s the size of Mars. Even today, after many post-Cold War budget cutbacks, we still spend 10 times more than Russia, five times more than China, and so on. No one else even comes close. Is this not viciously surreal? Insane?
It’s not exactly something to be proud of.

And we can now add to the list of Obama depressants the fact that the president just proposed a massive increase to the US military budget, far larger than Congress allows (and they allow a lot), most of it earmarked for ongoing wind-down in Afghanistan, attacking the extremist freak-show that is ISIL, and to “modernize” the creaky US military so as to better keep up with technological advances in China and elsewhere, so we’re better able to combat – well, who knows what. Chinese robots? Magic drones? Awful comedies about North Korea? Impossible to know.

Also impossible to know: Why we can’t simply redirect billions away from failed, bloated military programs we don’t actually need, of which there are dozens, to the ones the Pentagon is arguing we really, really do.

Maybe you’re brave enough to offer forth a very reasonable, albeit largely unanswerable question: Why is our military budget so massive? How did this happen? Do we really need that much firepower? Does anyone? Even the most hawkish among us might allow that there’s no need to have 11 nuclear-powered aircraft carriers – each costing upwards of $7 million to operate, per day – on active duty when China just recently launched its first carrier ever, and it’s kind of a joke.

Or maybe you’re one of those angry dad/Donald Rumsfeld types who likes to argue how great it is that, if we had to, we could fight a dozen wars simultaneously, across the planet, and handle the zombie apocalypse and the Second Coming, the terrorist jihad and the epic water wars, all at once.

Are you reassured? Don’t be. It’s a preposterous lie. Despite our size (or rather, because of it) we are far too fat, too expensive and too wasteful to nimbly handle multiple wars – as if that situation could ever exist. Hell, Bush’s Iraq disaster cost a trillion dollars, lasted eight years and nearly wiped us out, and we didn’t even have an enemy.

What the US does very well, however, is intervene. Our agenda has become to embroil ourselves in dozens of lesser, but no less vicious, battles, invasions, attacks, overthrows across the planet, in the name of democracy and American values. Our country is indeed at perpetual war with someone, somewhere – not in the name of protecting ourselves (we have no viable enemy in the larger sense), but in the name of spreading our agenda. Libya? Panama? Bosnia? ISIL? Lebanon? Gulf War? You name it, we’ve been there – and maybe still are.

Does this help explain the $600 billion? Sort of. But not exactly.

What explains it most of all, I think, is high fructose corn syrup.

Obama's budget. Some good things. Some awful things. Like $53 billion for more military operations.
Obama’s budget. Some good things. Some awful things. Like $53 billion for more military operations.

You remember the opening chapter of Omnivore’s Dilemma? Michael Pollan described how, thanks to awful farm bills, vicious tactics of the farm lobby and various flaccid USDA rules, many American farmers are currently paid to grow nothing but massive quantities of commodity (read: inedible) corn, vast mountains of it, far more than we could ever possibly need.

And there it sits. We have to do something with it, right? So to make room for more, we invent all sorts of unnatural uses for that barely usable corn. We force feed it to cows. We jam it into products. We invent all sorts of additives, gums, ethanols, preservatives. But mostly, we convert it into a disgusting, diabetes-igniting sugar additive, HFSC, and slap that junk into everything, from vitamins to bread, ketchup to corn chips, thousands of products and millions of pounds of sugary goop that has no business being there. Because all that corn sugar has to go somewhere. Might as well help make America sick and obese, right?

So it is with the US military. Endless paranoia, overspending, interventionism and military-industrial complex lobbying have led us to have so much excess military, we’re sort of compelled to put it to use, somehow.

So while our schools decay, our highways crumble and politicians whine about paying for the health care of the most needy among us, we spend hundreds of billions fighting multiple “wars” that aren’t really wars. We invade. We overthrow. We airstrike. We position a dozen nuclear aircraft carriers all over the ocean, the hulking bullies of our police-the-world agenda. And we ask for tens of billions more to maintain and “upgrade” the barely controlled chaos that is our military. Because what else are you gonna do, work toward peace?

Meanwhile, all the surplus, leftover equipment from wars past, all those millions of tons of tanks, machine guns, armored vehicles, grenade launchers and other hardcore gear get dumped into the clumsy, untrained hands of local police forces who almost can’t help but use it for its intended purpose: oppression, containment, violence, death.

Against who? Against the only enemy left: ourselves.

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

The Right to be Rude

From our good friends the Humanists.  Hey, Pope Frankie, heads up!

The Right to Be Rude 

Why All Religions and Secular Philosophies Must Tolerate Criticism


For a long time, I had just assumed that these free-speech ground rules were fairly obvious. I could understand why people living in nations where there is no tradition of (or legal protection for) free speech might not honor them. But in the wake of the horrific attack on Charlie Hebdo in Paris by Muslim extremists, I have been surprised at the number of people—even on our own shores—who seem to believe that sharp satire or mean-spirited speech is somehow not worth protecting.

“What about hate speech?” some people ask. Legally, prohibitions on even unpleasant speech simply can’t survive court scrutiny in the United States—nor should they. Certainly hate speech that is deemed to be inciting imminent, unlawful, dangerous action is illegal and not protected, but “hate speech” is a notoriously slippery concept. I have no doubt that some Christians consider billboards put up by the American Humanist Association and UnitedCor (not to mention the more aggressive ones posted by other nontheistic groups) to be forms of hate speech. The concept is simply too nebulous to be awarded broad legal status.


Pope Francis and Ahmet Davutoglu, the prime minister of Turkey, both said recently that people don’t have the right to insult religion. (In Davutoglu’s case, he was speaking specifically of Islam.) They are wrong, and their comments are an indication that some people in powerful places still just don’t get it.

Worse yet are people like William Donohue of the Catholic League for Religious and Civil Rights. Donohue’s response to the bloody assault on Charlie Hebdo was to assert that they pretty much had it coming because their criticism of Islam and the Catholic Church was over the top.

The right to criticize—and yes, mock—the beliefs of others is a fundamental human right. It may not be recognized by all nations, but that doesn’t make it any less important. After all, no one ever changes his or her mind about religion, politics, or any other deeply held belief unless a seed of doubt is first planted. That seed may take the form of a thoughtful critique—but it could just as easily be harsh criticism, parody or satire.

It isn’t always easy to defend all forms of free speech, especially when the speech is unpleasant or the approach isn’t one we favor. But it’s vital. Our challenge now is to reaffirm that principle to all Americans even as we work to bring an understanding of free speech and the right to question religious claims to nations still saddled with dangerous blasphemy laws.