Archive for the ‘world events’ Category

The importance of paying attention.

May 18, 2011

The words “sex scandals” and “politics” are so closely linked to each other that they sometimes seem to be almost unavoidably so. But two recent high-profile instances make you wonder why anyone is amazed why that they happened, or should that be why they were allowed to happen at all?

The first case to hit the headlines was that of IMF head Dominique Strauss-Kahn. He is accused of sexually assaulting a maid in the New York hotel suite he occupied. Dominique Strauss-Kahn, or DSK as he is often referred to, is no stranger to accusations that of sexual assault. A reporter for a French publication had stated that she had been assaulted by DSK. The incident occurred when she went to what she thought was to be an interview for a story. After the attack, the reporter refused to file formal charges against Dominique Strauss-Kahn, who is well connected politically. Since he was arrested in this country, other women have begun to come forward to relate similar tales of their treatment at the hands of DSK.

The second case involves now-retired governor of California Arnold Schwarzenegger. In this case, there is no doubt what Schwarzenegger did, because he has admitted to fathering a child on a former housekeeper. It isn’t as though Schwarzenegger had never been accused of going beyond what might be thought of as the normal boundaries of how he interacted with women either. During his years as a Hollywood ‘star’, several of his female costars had spoken out about Schwarzenegger’s behavior towards them and the unwanted sexual advances they had received.

These men share few political similarities, Schwarzenegger being until now a darling of the Republican Party, and Strauss-Kahn being affiliated with the Socialist wing of French politics. What they do share, though, are characteristics that they demonstrated many times, characteristics that were more often than not ignored by those around them. Both men were willing to use positions of power to allow them to take advantage of women who they had power over. Both men had been accused of abusing their positions to take sexual advantage of women. Most importantly, both men were allowed to get away with their bad acts without facing any sanctions.

Not every accusation of sexual misconduct is true. But having said that, when a person in power faces accusations that they are using their power to take advantage of others, those accusations should be, must be, investigated fully and openly. Schwarzenegger, at least, seems to have taken care of the child that resulted from his infidelity. Whether the past accusations of possible misdeeds will now be re-investigated more thoroughly remains to be seen. In the case of Dominique Strauss-Kahn, a woman has had her life damaged, possibly destroyed, because no one would listen, or was willing to act, to stop a man who seems to have been slowly but surely spiraling out of control.

This IS unacceptable.

The police, the media, even ordinary people, MUST take seriously the need to keep this sort of thing from happening, and the only way to do that is to make sure when an accusation is made, it’s taken seriously. The innocent will be cleared if the accusation is false, and if it is not, someone will be stopped before they can do something to ruin another person’s life. No other course will work, no other way of dealing with this sort of situation will succeed.

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The IRA’s shame.

May 17, 2011

Being part Irish, I try to keep up on what’s going on in Ireland. Right now, Queen Elizabeth of England is on a state visit to Ireland. She’s laid a wreath at the monument to the Irish who died fighting against English rule and planted a tree in a garden in Dublin dedicated to peace in that island nation. From early reports, it seems that more than a few Irish are quite happy to have her visit. That is not, however, a universal sentiment.

In the run-up to her visit, several IED’s were found scatted around Ireland, all of them linked to a group trying to ‘bring back the armed struggle for freedom’. Many of the members of this group are former IRA members who are dissatisfied with the current peace process. As to why they’re dissatisfied, I do not claim to know, but I would be willing to hazard a few guesses.

When English rule or ‘the North’ was at it’s worst, the IRA were heroes to most Nationalist for their actions against a government that was aimed very much at keeping them ‘in their places’. They were seen as ‘striking a blow’ for all the people who could do little to nothing to change things on the ground. Later, as the IRA began to move more towards bombings and other acts of more indiscriminate terror, those same people began to have doubts. Since the Good Friday Accord came into being, many people, on all sides of the Northern Ireland political scene, have begun to see that the time for violence has passed, that it’s time to find a way forward together. The main terror groups, both the groups sharing the IRA’s views and those who had fought against them, turned in and/or destroyed their arms and began to try to move back into society. By all accounts, while it hasn’t been an easy transition, it has been happening. The local government has come to reflect the make up of the community it represents, and the various parties have managed to work together to keep it that way.

And therein lies the rub.

When “The Troubles” were on, the people who were fighting were heroes, but now, no one cares. They’re having to accommodate The Others, the people they once fought against. Worst of all, the world they knew is changing. The comfortable old hates are no longer accepted. The “us versus them” split that once defined their world is disappearing. In other words, they’re in danger of becoming footnotes in history.

So, they lash out and try to bring the world they once knew back. No ‘peace’ with “The Enemy”. No fading away into obscurity. No more being ignored.

People like this are the worst cowards. That’s because what they fear is the future, a future that they don’t understand and will do everything they can to stop from happening. The saddest thing of it all is, the harder they struggle, the more violent they become, the more they’re likely to end up being despised by the very people who’s adoration they hope to regain. It’s what happens to people who try to ignore the future, they just become sad relics of a past no one want to remember.

something to share

February 25, 2011

The reason we do things like this is to share some of the things we find that we also enjoy. I found this today and thought I would share it with anyone who reads this:

http://www.welovedonegal.com/dunkineely-trad-music-festival.html

America, tolerance, and our future.

August 16, 2010

I like to think that, given the years I’ve lived and the times I’ve lived through, that I’m not easily shocked. Well, I hereby stand corrected. You see, I’ve been watching the furor over the proposal to build a mosque in downtown New York City, and I honestly can’t think that any reasonable person would not be shocked by the way the entire sad event has played out.

Here are the facts: a group proposes to tear down an old textile warehouse and replace it with a mosque and community center. That it would face some resistance is almost to be expected, given the level of opposition that has been present in America to the Muslim faith since 9/11. That the location is within a few hundred feet of where the World Trade Center once stood, however, seems to have crystallized and focused all the resentment, the anger, and yes, the hate for Islam and the Muslim faith into this one site.

Now for the fallacies: there are people who claim this complex will be built on the “sacred” site of Ground Zero. That it is an “insult” to those who died in the fire and collapse of those twin towers after the aircraft crashed into them. That it represents a “victory” for the “enemies” of America.

These statements are all lies, no way around it.

That many people died on 9/11 is not a thing I dispute, nor that the place they died should be held in high regard. But the complex will not be on the site of the World Trade Center, but around a corner, not even in sight of the entrance to the structure itself. More troubling to me, though, is the fact that such a claim ignores the fact that among the people who died as a result of those airliners slamming into the World Trade Center were Muslims working IN those same buildings. Were they not victims too? Do they not deserve to be remembered? Would not the “insult” be to use the fact that those who killed them held a twisted version of their religion?

Perhaps the most insidious charge is the final one, that building a place where Muslims would be free to worship and to communicate with others is somehow a victory for the people who organized those terrible attacks. Perhaps the thing extremists like those who carried out the 9/11 attacks fear most about America is our freedom. In their world, everyone would follow one religion, there would be no questioning it, and the punishment for any transgression would be swift and terrible. America scares the hell out of that sort of person. Here, not only do people not have to follow a single religion, if they want to, they don’t have to follow ANY religion! How can they go around, telling folks how important it is to follow “the one true religion”, if in the richest, most powerful and most successful nation in the world, people can tell any religion to go to Hell? And, more to the point, nobody can say “Boo!” to them if they do. We, in our ideals, show the world the fallacy of the idea of “religious purity”. What the folks who are running around, foaming at the mouth and howling at the Moon over this “terrible idea” don’t seem to realize is that they are THE perfect recruiting tool for extremists! When we, as a nation, decide to trample on the freedoms of one group for the excesses of a few, we betray all the things we like to say we stand for. Someone once said that democracies never fall to outside forces, but those from within, I think they had people like the folks protesting this complex in mind. If we let them take fear and anger and shape it into a weapon to be used against people who want nothing but the same freedom we say we cherish, then we deserve to fail.

I hope we don’t. I hope we see through the fear-mongers, the hate spewers, the folks who need an enemy, a group to look down on, to make them feel superior. I guess I hope we will see that every group in this nation deserves the same respect we all take for granted. I also hope the scared folks who are listening to these headline-grabbing, self-serving demagogues see where they’re being led and turn away from those dark ideals these people preach. We are a great nation, but the more of us who don’t see that, the weaker we become. Here’s to a strong, freedom-loving America, long may it endure.

Further adventures in Brain Cramp City (Arizona speaks, yet again [unfortunately])!

June 16, 2010

If you’re a reader of this blog, you know that right now, I don’t exactly hold the legislature of the state of Arizona in high esteem. Given that they have toyed with the idea of passing a “birthers bill” aimed at requiring President Obama to produce his birth certificate, and the plain insanity of their passage of the now-infamous law giving police the power to stop anyone they have “reasonable cause” to “suspect” of being an illegal alien, it is hard not to hold them in at least contempt, if not outright scorn. Now, as if all this were not enough, there is talk of them taking their crusade to “protect” American citizens and citizenship to a new level by refusing to acknowledge the citizenship of people born in the United States who don’t have at least one parent that is an American citizen.

That this runs counter to the US Constitution, specifically the 14th Amendment which grants citizenship to anyone born in the United States, does not seem to bother the determined fools in Arizona. No, they say, this piece of the Constitution was put in place only to allow black, freed at the end of the Civil War, to be granted citizenship. In their eyes, the intent of the original amendment has been “stretched” too far in subsequent years, and it is time for someone to Set Things Right.

That Arizona’s legislature has an odd definition of how the US Constitution should be interpreted is not news. That nearly every scholar of constitutional law feels the law allowing the police to stop anyone and demand proof of citizenship violates several provisions of the foundation of this nation doesn’t seem to bother them at all. So if they can ignore one part of the United States Constitution, why not another one?

Hell, while they’re at it, I think there are a few other things they should take care of:

Abolish freedom of the press. After all, it’s just those pesky commies in the press who’ve been questioning their right to do what they want, isn’t it? So why not shut’em up once and for all?

Abolish the right to assemble. Think of it, not only could they shut down those darned commies in the media, they could also keep all their supporters from marching through their streets and raising a ruckus, so why not?

Abolish the right to seek redress through the courts. Hell, if it isn’t the damn commies in the press who are ruining things, then isn’t it those “activist” judges who can’t leave well enough alone? Get rid of them and save everyone a ton of trouble!

Abolish the right to vote. After all, they know everyone loves them and their stand, so why confuse matters with all this campaigning and having to answer silly questions about “rights”….like Americans have any anyways?

Ah, yes, Arizona, land of the (un)free and home of the terminally brain dead. God spare the rest of this nation their disease.

“Help, me, help me……DON’T!!!”

June 15, 2010

As the oil spill in the Gulf has unfolded, one of the things that has become abundantly is that what happened on the destroyed exploration platform was almost inevitable. Though they should have been more vigilant, more ‘ahead of the curve’, everyone who was concerned with the safety of such operations was in fact living in denial. As wells were drilled in deeper and deeper waters, plans for how to deal with just this sort of problem became more and more out of date. Things like the much-discussed blow-out preventer, how different possible failure modes might be dealt with, almost at every turn, planning seems to have been based just as much on wishful thinking as it was on hard data.

Given that, you would think that the logical first step to try to make sure nothing like this ever happens again would be to stop any new drilling. You’d also think that, with every single official along the Gulf Coast screaming for the federal government to “Do Something”, that this would be something they’d swing in behind.

WRONG!

With oil coating nearly everything that touches the Gulf, even with the very real possibility that any one of the oil rigs now drilling off their shore could fail with just as horribly, these same officials are now screaming about the possible loss of jobs this might represent.

It is almost understandable, but the emphasis in that statement should be on the word almost. Would things be better for the shrimpers, fishermen and all the other people who depend on a Gulf of Mexico be better off if another oil well fails? Would their economies benefit from an ecological disaster that was far larger than the current one? That lasted not for the multiple-months currently projected for the BP spill, but for year? Doesn’t it make sense to try to figure out just how bad things might be now, and do what it takes to fix them, instead of just cross our collective fingers and hope for the best? Yes, it’s going to have a cost to it, and yes it’s going to be painful. That can’t be denied, but neither can it be denied that the alternatives are potentially as bad, if not worse.

To the folks on the Gulf Coast who are yelling their heads off, demanding help with every other breath, a hint:

If you ask for help, don’t complain when you get it! Got it?

Mind you, the folks from the other end of the political spectrum are not exactly brimming with good ideas either. I had the pleasure, despite a day long off-and-on rain, of attending Chicago’s literary celebration, the Printer’s Row Lit Fest. If you are from anywhere around the Chicago area, and love books, this is one of those events you should keep track of and attend. One of the exhibitors was a group called “Revolution Press”. From everything I read and could deduce, they operate as something like the official press arm of the Communist Party. Along with their booth, where they sell various books they publish, they also engage attendees in an effort to drum up support for various causes. This year was no different, and their cause belli on this occasion was the above mentioned Gulf oil spill. In their case, they were appealing to people to either attend a meeting on the spill they are planning for a short time in the future, or to contribute money to help support said meeting. They had a nicely done poster at their booth, which I read out of my usual curiosity, but before I had time to finish the entire poster, one of their people came over to ask me to join their effort. What resulted was a multi-minute debate over their gathering. I had read enough to give me the gist of what the meeting would basically be: people setting around talking about how this was wrong and that Something Should Be Done. When I asked the individual who approached me this point, I was told that this was needed to ‘draw attention to the matter’, as though nightly images of the ongoing devastation were not enough to do this already. I was also told how BP had known that there was a problem with the now-infamous blow-out preventer and could have fixed it for a fairly small sum (again, far from breaking news). My counter-argument boiled down to one point: what happened can’t be undone, and that setting around discussing and rehashing the point would accomplish nothing. Au contrare!, I was informed, this would be a forum where people and scientists could get together and figure out what to do next. The old cockle about ‘America put a man on the Moon’ was even brought forward to justify further discussions. In the end, my counterpart couldn’t see that, in all likelihood, the scientists and experts would come to the conclusion that the only way to fix the problem is to plug the leak, and that until that’s done, all talk is vain. I would have been more than willing to give a few dollars if, instead of wanting to talk about the problem, they’d been recruiting people to don haz-mat suits and help clean beaches. That bit of practicality seemed to be as far beyond them as the sense of stopping drilling until we know we can contain another failure-induced leak is to the conservatives along the Gulf Coast.

So, you may ask, what is the moral of this particular story? The central core, I think, is that wisdom never comes from the fringes of politics, only useless rhetoric and empty gestures. That if you want to fix a problem, you first have to be willing to do something more than complain about it. That making a sacrifice, be it a painful one or a personal one, is sometimes needed to make that solution possible. That, maybe, if the fringes could channel some of their energy into concrete action, into actually doing something to help fix the problem, or at least clear up the aftermath, that the world would be a lot better place.

Why is it I doubt any of them will read this, or if they do, that they’ll actually listen?

Thought on Israel’s seaborne raid.

June 3, 2010

I don’t know about you, but the more I read, hear and see about Israel’s raid on a group of ships in international waters off its coast, the less I understand.

It wasn’t as though they didn’t know these ships were coming, the entire voyage was widely publicized to draw attention to both the mission and the reason it was being staged: a near-strangle-hold blockade of the Gaza territory by Israel. Nor can they claim that the cargo was anything that could be even vaguely termed “war material”, as the material being carried was also advertised to the media in general. Even with all of this, it was like the Israeli authorities couldn’t figure out some way to let the delivery go ahead, or that they were unwilling to do so.

So, in the end, what resulted was something of a disaster. Commandos storm the passenger ships from helicopters. The passengers, in turn, do what a lot of people have said sailors should do when confronted by a hostile force: they fought back, using whatever came to hand. Even the worst estimates from Israeli sources give the crew an “arsenal” of baseball bats, a few metal pipes, some slingshots and a few improvised flash grenades. Stack that up against pictures from Israeli sources showing their troops carrying automatic rifles and dressed in body armor and you have to ask how things came to the end they did. Can a statement be termed realistic when it claims that trained commandos were “overwhelmed” by the passengers and crew wielding improved weapons? That, as heavily armed as they were, they felt themselves in such danger that they had no recourse but to open fire with live ammunition? And underlying all of this is the most fundamental question: Why was this even necessary?

For now, the government of Israel is sticking to it’s story, that they were attempting to stop a shipment of “dangerous” material into Gaza. The problem is, the more they reveal of the raid, its aftermath, and the cargo they actually seized, the weaker that story becomes. As if to undermine their own version of what happened and how much of a threat the convoy was, all of the people the Israeli military took into custody from those ships have been released. Does anyone believe that Israel would actually release someone who was engaged in an act that threatened them, that could be even vaguely termed “terrorism”?

What have they accomplished, anyway? Turkey one of the few Arabic nations that had a close relation with Israel was the place the convoy left from. Worse, most of those killed were Turkish citizens. The result has been that the government of Turkey has little choice but to break relations with Israel. Worse, even in countries sympathetic to Israel, public opinion is already beginning to take a negative turn towards that embattled state. How this turns out anything but badly for Israel is a mystery to this writer. If it led to certain high-ranking officers and/or ‘security’ types being removed from their positions might be one step. A lifting, or at least a major relaxing, of the blockade on Gaza would also be a good step. Together, they might take some of the mud off of Israel’s face.

And America? A clear and sound condemnation, one that made it clear that this nation stands for the rights of vessels engaged in non-military activities to navigate freely in international water, should be our first and most public step. Beyond that, a closer examination of how we interact with Israel might not be out of line, especially our support for some of the more “cowboy” actions that Israel has undertaken in the past…..and floated that it is contemplating for the future. To do otherwise would be the same as endorsing this sort of action, and that is not an option given our own nation’s dependence on international shipping.

Something amazing

May 28, 2010

With the seemingly never-ending oil leak in the Gulf reminding us how fragile and even useless our technology can be, a bit of amazement came our way today courtesy of the US Air Force. After some years of development, a team funded by the Air Force has flown a vehicle that makes every other flying machine look like it’s standing still. With over three minutes of powered flight at over Mach 6, the X-51A has become the fastest thing flying without the aid of a rocket. While the technology it represents has many applications (some of which are far from noble, such as super-fast bombers), the chance that something arising from the X51A could spell a new route into space is something to give techies at least a little bit of hope.
Full story at:

http://news.yahoo.com/s/ap/20100527/ap_on_sc/us_hypersonic_flight

Watching the Follies.

May 16, 2010

The explosion of an oil platform in the Gulf of Mexico has brought forth an odd mixture of feelings and responses. On the one hand, there is the tragedy of an ecological system already under stress facing a huge assault brought on by human stupidity and greed. Coupled to that is the plight of the people who live off of the wealth of that ecological system, people who now facing the real prospect of ruin. These bring out, as Lincoln said, our better angels, leading us to hope that the spill will be contained soon and that the environment will eventually be healed.
The other hand, though, holds a far less glowing prospect. Corporate ‘leaders’ who make it their first, last and only duty to find someone else to take the blame for what has happened. Stories of an industry and its regulators who seem to have grown so close as to be indistinguishable from one another. Finally, looming behind it all, the hypocrites in politics who one day chant slogans like “Drill, baby, drill!” while complaining about the ‘evils’ of government ‘over-regulation’; then the next day decrying the damage all of those policies can bring about.
What happened in the Gulf was not some freak accident, it was the result of government oversight and regulation of the oil industry having been treated for far too long as an afterthought. It came about because, with nearly no money to do their own research, government regulators drew more and more on the “expertise” of industry researchers and “safety experts”. That, in turn, lead the regulators to the point where they were being essentially directed by those whom they were supposed to be overseeing and regulating. The history of this nation is littered with examples of how terribly that can go wrong, but it seems as though we have to keep repeating the same mistakes.
Why?
That is the simplest question of all those raised by this accident to answer. The fundamental problem is that, given the chance, all industry will maximize its profits first, and worry about things like safety and the environment, at best, somewhere ‘down the line’. It is a thing so proven by countless examples that only an idiot would believe otherwise…..which I guess is why conservatives and their Republican allies seem to be the ones most likely to ignore it. In their eyes, Capitalism (which they no doubt refer to with that implied capitalization, much as one implies that God is always spelled with a capital G) is a force of Absolute Good. Capitalism Can Do No Wrong, and to suggest otherwise (especially by pointing out all those pesky instances when it hasn’t been true), is to make the person saying such things and Anti-Capitalist, and as such, an Anti-American (though how the hell that fucking conclusion has come to be believed I have never fathomed).
The problem is,

    it just ain’t fucking true!

There is one other thing that history proves: capitalism it at it’s absolute best when it keeps an eye on the bottom line….while knowing someone, preferably someone with the teeth to make it hurt, is watching it to make sure it doesn’t stray too far off the Straight And Narrow. Maybe, just maybe, if the conservatives can drag their heads out of their collective asses for a second or three, they might notice that fact. If they did, they might not have to stand in front of the TV camera sounding as sincere as Claude Rains in “Casablanca” as they complain about how “shocked, truly shocked” they are that industry has found some new way to screw things up because nobody was regulating them.

Who speaks ill.

April 19, 2010

What is it that makes us who we are? Is it the things we would like to forget, or the things we will always be proud of? Is it our memories of things past, or is it our hopes for the future? What is it that makes us, each individual, who and what we are?

Part of me wants to know because tomorrow, April 19, marks a dark anniversary, the bombing of the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City. By any accounting, there really isn’t anything in Tim McVeigh’s past that would make you say “This person will be one of the biggest mass murders America will ever produce.”. Yet that is precisely what he became, a monster who willingly blew 168 innocent individuals to pieces. Some say he feared, even hated the federal government, and that he drew much of his “inspiration” from various right-wing writings and speakers. In the end, after listening to these people and seeing what he saw as the “wrongs” of federal law enforcement at places like the Branch Davidian compound, he decided that the time had come for him to “take action”. The action he decided to take was to commit mass murder on a scale unknown until that point in this nation.

One thing that stood out in the aftermath of that horrible day was the way that, nearly to a person, the people who had written or spoke out in ways that had helped McVeigh decide what he would do denied any responsibility for the act. They were, in their words, simply “exercising their free-speech rights”. One thing that every one of them failed to see, though, is that rights are coupled with responsibilities. You’re free to say anything you want, but at the same time, you are not free to use that right to defame a persons good name through liable. Nor are you free, as the classic example goes, to suddenly stand up in a crowded theater and scream “Fire!”. In both instances you are likely to find yourself in court facing anything from a civil suit to charges of causing the deaths of people because of the panic your words caused.

This come to another point. Today the folks in the Tea Party are using their “free speech” rights to the limit. The problem is, are they paying attention to what those words might be doing to those listening to them? They’ve most recently been busy trying to define themselves, not as a mob, but as a reasoning and sensible group angry with certain government policies. The problem is, that’s not how they come off, and it’s not hard to understand why. They demonize those who do not agree with them, often using rhetoric that goes well beyond incendiary, then deny they have any tie to people who shout insults at black legislators that would not have been out of place coming from the mouth of a Klan member in Selma in the 1960’s. The talk of the need to have a “new revolution” and then try to distance themselves from people who make threats of violence against people who they have accused of being the ones responsible for what they see as the “wrongs” done in Congress.

As they stand in front of their small crowds, railing against all that they do not like about the government, it might be a good idea if the Tea Party people keep April 19 in mind. How can they know who is listening as they denounce any and everyone who does not agree with them Or, for that matter, what is in their minds? As they call for “revolution”, do they know that nobody in their audience will take that as a literal call. Is there another McVeigh in that crowd, someone who is willing to “take the next step” and kill because of what they hear? Rights carry responsibilities, and maybe rather than trying to distance themselves from those who act out based on their words (or, worse yet, try to blame those acts on “outside agitators”), they should accept those responsibilities. When you preach hate, when you speak in anger, you pass that to those who hear you. Either accept that, or find a way to speak civilly. Or, for that matter,  just don’t speak at all if you can’t do so without spreading violence with your words.