Saturday, December 08, 2007

The Pecking Order Has Changed


It appears that avian flu has begun its migration to mammals:
The father of a Chinese man who died of bird flu has also been infected with the virus, raising fear of human-to-human transmission.

The World Health Organization said it could not rule out the possibility that the H5N1 virus had spread from the son to the father.

For the most part, humans have caught the virus from sick birds.

Scientists fear if the virus gains the ability to pass easily between humans, tens of millions of people could die.

A statement on the Chinese ministry's website said a 52-year-old man in eastern Jiangsu province identified only by his surname, Lu, has been confirmed with the virus, just days after his 24-year-old son succumbed to it on 2 December.
Members of the same family have died before, but it's been difficult to tell whether it was human-to-human contagion or contact with affected birds, since the family members have all had interactions with their bird stock.

In this case, however, there is no clear non-human link to the virus, ratcheting up the probability of mammalian adaption by the virus. If so, we're talking about the possibility of an outbreak at least as severe as the Hong Kong Flu of 1968, and perhaps as virulent as the Spanish Flu of 1918.

In both cases, it took from seven to ten years between the first recognized avian outbreak until the virus became activated in mammals. In the case of the Hong Kong flu, it skipped the intermediate mammalian outbreak to attack humans directly, so we might not get a warning when the avian flu epidemizes.

Ironically, the Hong Kong flu hit American shores from returning troops ending their tours of duty in Viet Nam, and here we are, debating ending yet another war in Asia and bringing troops home. Osama might be rubbing his hands in glee.

The death rates for the Hong Kong flu were low. Of 50 million reported cases in the US, for example, 33 thousand people died. The death rates for the Spanish flu were tragically high: 50-100 million estimated dead, with about twice that number reporting the disease (or symptoms just like it...hospital records are incomplete).

Right now, the avian flu mortality rate is skewing towards the high end of this scale. For example, in China, 26 cases have been reported, with 17 fatalities. A total of 200 people worldwide have died of the avian flu.

And then there's Ebola...

Friday, December 07, 2007

Friday Music Blogging

Do I really need to introduce this song?

I still cannot believe he's gone. Imagine the world with him still alive and making music and more important, making statements

Freedom Equals Religion????


Mitt Romney, December 6, 2007 - "Freedom requires religion just as religion requires freedom. Freedom opens the windows of the soul so that man can discover his most profound beliefs and commune with God. Freedom and religion endure together, or perish alone."

Errrrrrrrrrrrrr, not so much.

Apparently, Mitt hadn't farmed out a study of history to his staff to discuss in committee and prepare an executive summary of religion throughout history.

Indeed, a cursory glance at history shows that religion thrives where freedom is denied. This is part of the reason that Marx called religion the opiate of the people.

Even today, no one would deny that Islam is a religion, and that fundamental Islamists are against freedom. Yet, there's religion, being used to both terrorize nations, as well as pacify them.

I'm fairly sure that's not what Romney meant, yet his words echo hollow in the corridor of current events.

Too, Christianity has its fair share of tyrannical popes and autocratic kings, both of whom used the cudgel of the Bible to keep their people in line, while cynically holding out the carrot of "life everlasting."

And if religion requires freedom, Mr. Romney, just why was a part of America formed by the Puritans? They were escaping...ready?...religious dogma in England!

Your own religion is rife with examples of organized religion shunning your ancestors. Look at how the Mormons were driven from New York State into Ohio into godforsaken Utah, where in the middle of one of the most desolate places on the planet, Joseph Smith decided he'd found paradise.

It was paradise, sir, merely because no one was around to harass and oppress your forebears and their...I'll be kind...quirky thoughts on God and who precisely was He? I mean, come on...the Angel Moroni? There's a clue there, sir, if you take off the "i"...

Freedom is not religion, and religion is not freedom, and neither requires the other to exist. Even the ancient Greeks, the first truly democratic society on the planet, used religion not for freedom but to keep the citizenry (and more, the slaves) in line.

Freedom and religion, in fact, might be viewed as antithetical, antagonistic, even, and there's the rub and the idiocy of your comments yesterday. Rather than reassure the nation that you are, indeed, a mainstream conservative from a mainstream religion (and not a cult of blind fools), all you have succeeded in doing is handing the primary season to Mike Huckabee or Rudy Giuliani, by exposing a troubling neglect and ignorance of your own background, nevermind world events.

In short, Mr. Romney, you've gone from competent CEO to out-of-touch chairman of the bored.

And we on the left thank you.

Thursday, December 06, 2007

Bush League Policies


When history looks at the Bush administration from the perspective of the American people, it's overwhelming conclusion will be "who did the policy really benefit, since it clearly didn't benefit the citizenry?"

Too, with today's announcement of "mortgage relief for homeowners," we should anticipate history. An historian's job is not easy, and bloggers should assist him (or her) in any way possible:
The plan hammered out by the U.S. Treasury Department in talks with mortgage industry leaders would bring relief to many of the 2 million homeowners who took out adjustable rate loans with low teaser rates due to move sharply higher in the next year or so.

Officials fear 500,000 Americans are at risk of losing their homes.

The initiative is designed to temporarily hold rates steady for subprime borrowers who could not afford to stay in their homes otherwise. A senior White House official said Bush would discuss the agreement at 1:40 p.m. (1840 GMT) on Thursday.

"No one wins when a house is foreclosed on -- the homeowner loses; the lenders lose; communities and neighborhoods lose; investors lose; and the economy suffers," the official said.
Ah, let's take a closer look at that, particularly in light of Hillary Clinton's analysis yesterday:
Clinton said mortgage lenders and brokers who lowered underwriting standards were also deserving of blame for the housing market mess, as were regulators who failed to provide adequate oversight.

She pinned some of the responsibility on ratings agencies for giving high marks to securities later deemed to be much riskier, and on speculators who bought multiple properties in the hope of profiting from a strong housing market.
She also pointed out that a mortgage was no longer a mortgage, but an "asset" underpinning a securities (a derivative), which could be bought and sold like a commodity.

This action spreads the risk of the loss (see the article I originally quoted) amongst the business community, in particular, away from the banks who lent the money in the first place!

So the lender doesn't lose, meaning there's got to be a better reason why banks and mortgage makers would agree to a rate freeze.

The White House is touting that the agreement will help over a million homeowners who face enormous rate increases in the next twelve months (roughly two million), and many of the 500,000 homeowners already in default on their mortgages:
The official said the plan could help more than a million qualified homeowners with subprime loans avoid foreclosure over the next couple of years. However, private-sector analysts said the numbers would likely be much lower.

"In theory, the plan could help as many as 750,000 subprime homeowners," said Mark Zandi, chief economist for Moody's Economy.com. "In practice, my sense is that it will probably help at best about 250,000 homeowners."
And so how does this plan work?
Under the plan laid out by the investor group, homeowners who have shown they are a reasonable credit risk, but who could not afford their homes with higher rates, would qualify for "fast-track" loan modification and the five-year interest rate freeze.

Borrowers who can afford their current loan terms would get help refinancing, but those who cannot and were poor credit risks would probably still lose their homes.
Ahhhhhhhhhhhhh, there's the "benefit" to banks! The bill does nothing to wipe out the really bad lending decisions that were made by the banks, meaning they can write them off, taking a one-time hit to earnings, once the freeze is in place. This frees up future earnings (and by extension, their stock prices) and bolsters their balance sheets long-term by wiping out the calculations needed to determine the bad debt expenses associated with the truly exploitative loans.

In effect, what this reform is saying is, if you could have afforded your mortgage five years ago under these new terms, then you can keep your house. If not, tough luck, sucker! We take your house AND all the equity you've built up in it, and will sell it off to make our mortgage back.

Yea. Bush "reform"...

By the way, lest you think this is a "red state" phenomenon....well...

YOU'RE RIGHT!

(h/t Instaputz for image)

A Couple Of Observations

On turning fifty, I noticed a few things:

1) AARP doesn't kid around. My membership card was waiting in the mailbox when I returned!

2) On that note....

I QUALIFY FOR AARP?????????????? AUUUUUUUUUGHHHHHHHHH!!!!!!!!!!!!!



3) I don't think I will ever fly anything less than First Class again. Given what a stingy bastard I am, that means I won't be taking anymore vacations. Ever! *grins*

4) The weather was kind of dodgy, and I didn't get to do any diving (sure, it cleared up the frikkin' day I was leaving!), but I got away and relaxed and cleared my head a little.

5) I'm fifteen years away from "retirement", which in Bush's America means I'm fifteen years away from starting my second career as a server at Mickie D's.

6) I'm half a century old. There are trees older than I am, but not that many.

7) While there are few nicer things than to land at your home airport, there are few worse things than waiting for your luggage at the "new" Delta terminal, where the baggage claim is the next building over.

8) Oh...for you plane enthusiasts out there, the Boeing 777 is fantastic!

Wednesday, December 05, 2007

Gone Fishin!


Be Back Thursday O'Clock!

stickied


I leave you in the capable hands of katrina. Please let her know you appreciate her efforts.

Choosing a Presnit--Hard Werk

Here's a site I heard about last night. Probably more for people who don't pay too much attention to politics, but we all know those people, don't we?!
Anyhoo, you pick your issues, see actual statements by candidates, and then see which candidate is playing your tune.

Tuesday, December 04, 2007

....And The Monkeys Like You!

HAPPY BIRTHDAY, ACTOR 212!

Monday, December 03, 2007

Hey, So Catch Me Up...

I know John McCain received the endorsement of the Manchester Union & Guardian...and that Rudy is still sweating over the revelations regarding his rip-off of the New York City taxpayers..and that Hillary is still a "lesbian"...what stories do I need to know about for my return?

Granny D

From her work on public campaign financing of elections, to her book "Walking Across America in My Ninetieth Year", to her recent documentary that premiered
on HBO "Run Granny Run", Doris "Granny D" Haddock embodies precisely what
it means to be a patriot and a wise elder. Her life is well worth reading up on, and
her speeches are priceless. This is one that she recently gave at Wartburg College
in Iowa, and while not as humorous as others she's given, I hope you find it worthwhile. Hey, you're used to longwinded on this blog ANyhoosle, right?! (ed note: yea right, I'm not longwinded, I'm verbose...link to transcript here)
--------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
"Thank you.

It's wonderful to be here today at Wartburg, which I have long admired as one of
America's great liberal arts colleges.

I would like to underline that word "liberal" in the context of liberal arts.
It does not, of course, refer to big government, or to left-of-center politics.
No, as I'm sure you know, it refers to the art of thinking freely-training the
mind to think for itself, free of the lies and fantasies and prejudices that
wrap around us from an early age.

In this time, the very idea of human life on the planet is at stake. War and
violence have taken new and decidedly more dangerous turns.

So you are doing well to be freeing your minds right now. That is a difficult
task, as there are so many forces around you, telling you what and how to think,
and selling you incredible lies.

The War on Terrorism is a good example. It is a term used to keep you from
thinking freely and from actually solving the world's problems relating to
poverty and freedom. If you solved those problems you would severely damage the
profits of the elite.

The very idea that you can have war on terror is as silly as the idea that you
can have war on anger. War itself is insane anger.

As the world's resources become stressed by global warming and overpopulation,
do we really think we can kill all the angry people? Can we calm them down by
dropping bombs on their villages and spraying their families with machine gun
bullets? Isn't that rather like dropping gasoline and crumpled newspaper on
forest fires instead of water? Do you think anyone really thinks it will work?
They don't even want it to work. War is too profitable. It is profitable for
those who finance the careers of our politicians.

Islamo-fascism, as a label, is yet another fraud used to keep you from thinking
freely. Some people in the world are so desperate and angry that they will blow
themselves up just to hurt us, that is true. But it has to do with the
conditions of their lives, not with religion. Religion is always the excuse for
murder, but rarely the motive. If I tell you that God wants us all to clean up
the dining rooms tonight, to scrub every seat and scrape-off every blob of gum,
you will thank me for my opinion and you will back out of the room en masse.
If, however, I tell you that God wants us all to storm the administration
building tonight and change our grades to straight A's, then how many of you
will answer God's call? In war, religion is a cover and an organizing
convenience. That's all it has ever been, going back to the Crusades, which were
all about treasure and rape.

The "War on Terrorism" has very little to do with anyone's religious beliefs.
Terrorism, historically, is a term used to describe what governments do to rule
through fear-to overrule the rule of law. The term originated after the French
Revolution as a tool for suppressing dissent. If we are to truly prosecute a
War on Terrorism, it would inclue preventing governments from using fear to
shred the democratic rule of law.

If you want to stop insane anger in the world, you have to get at world poverty
and the injustices that people suffer as nations ruthlessly jockey for
resources.

"We don't negotiate with terrorists." Anytime you hear tough language like
that, you will do well to assume it means the opposite. If we actually don't
negotiate with terrorists, you would have heard the President make a speech
proclaiming that: "Nothing our enemies do will persuade us in the least to give
up on our principles. We will hold fast to our Bill of Rights and to the
cherished Geneva Convention. All suspects will be afforded a lawyer and a trial
and humane treatment, no matter what. We will not run like cowards away from the
Constitution and the human values that our people have fought and died to
protect and improve. We will not give any of that up to the terrorists in
exchange for some hope of extra safety. We will not negotiate."

THAT would be refusing to negotiate with terrorists. But that is not what this
government has done. In terms of giving up on things of value, this government
has knelt down and emptied its pockets after the first punch. It was profitable
for some people for this to happen.

Not only has our so-called government given away our basic human rights-turned
them over to the terrorists in exchange for worthless hopes of safety-but they
have subjected you and me to endless little indignities unbecoming American
citizens.

Why do they harass you at the airports, refusing to let you stop your car for a
moment at the curb to pick-up your friends? Do they think that, by harassing
you in this way, that they are in any way preventing a truck from driving up and
exploding? They of course know better. It is not about that. it is about keeping
you fearful, and reminding us that We the People no longer have the power. Speak
up at the airport and you will be whisked away. What a wonderful place an
airport is to teach us all about the new country we are living in.

So you take off your shoes because one madman had an exploding shoe some years
ago. I'm not sure which is worse: one possible tragedy like that, or the smell
of a hundred million feet thereafter. The point of this airport ceremony is to
physically humiliate you into subservience to the new state. Get used to it,
because it is just getting started--if you will let it.

Any politician you hear talking seriously about the War on Terror or about
Islamo-Fascism is lying to you and trying to prevent you from thinking freely.
Call them on it. Tell them you think those terms are really just a lot of BS
meant to deflect attention from the real issues of world poverty, the
unsustainable exploitation of resources and other issues that we, in fact, could
address seriously with a fraction of what we spend on counterproductive
warfare-though we understand it is highly profitable for some.

If you are a psych major or have taken some psych courses, you understand that
we often transfer to others the things we fear most within ourselves. When some
leaders label others with words like terrorist, let them look first to what they
are themselves doing in the world. Are they upholding the human rights encoded
in the U.S. Constitution, and in the Geneva Convention, and in the Universal
Declaration of Human Rights? If they are not, then they have forfeited their
right to label other people in any disparaging way. Do they understand that 90%
of the people who die in war are civilians, and that any pre-emptive, meaning
non-provoked war, is by definition an act of terrorism?

In the term "Islamo-fascist, let's look a little closer. The term "fascist" was
popularized by Mussolini to describe how corporate interests could be combined
with an authoritarian government. If some American leader has assumed
dictatorial powers by claiming the ability to disregard laws, and if he has
given no-bid contracts with billions of dollars to friendly corporations that he
has an actual family interest in, then he may indeed want to transfer the word
Fascist as far away from himself as possible, but we see through this with our
free minds. The historical shoe fits.

The fact of our condition is that we have two governments. We have a faceless
government that has secret prisons, its own rules, a suspension of all our
rights, and its own armies and budgets. It laughs at us when we think we can
tell it what to do. It has been around for some time -certainly since the early
60s when we started losing the leaders who actually represented our values.

We do have another government. It is the one where we have debates, campaigns,
elections (more or less), and where the winners play at a Congress. This
government has fallen in power as the other has risen. I have lived long enough
to see the dimming of lights in the Capitol building. These people no longer
much represent you and me. The mainstream news keeps us from seeing the truth
of this. We are expected to be happy with our wonderful cars and your wonderful
music players and our fancy phones that can message back and forth. But we have
been left without anything of our own to say that is not a rewrite of a
commercial.

If you are not hearing the truth from the mainstream media, it is because there
is a game here, and one of the main rules of the game is that you have to
pretend we are still a government of, by and for its people. If you cannot live
in that fantasy, you will be ostracized as a nut case, a fanatic, a fringe
element. That is part of the control mechanism that you have to understand if
you would be free to think for yourself.

If, to create an absurd example, the family of George Bush were investors
together in oil partnerships with the Bin Laden family, or if George Bush Senior
were a part of a company like the Carlyle Group that has profited greatly from
the Iraq War, would those stories be all over CNN and in the front pages of
newspapers, or would those stories violate the fantasy and therefore be ignored?
Well, those stories happen to be true, so judge for yourself if we have a
problem with the news media.

How, indeed, do we bring order into the chaos of our lives once we reject the
lies around us? What is the thing that is not a lie? Where is a fixed star by
which we can navigate our lives through the ever-warming waters ahead?
Somewhere, perhaps less than a mile from here, there is someone who didn't come
to this lecture. This person took time out of his or her day to go tutor a kid
or help an older person-maybe to help someone learn a needed language. There is
the star. That person out there has more to tell you than I do, for Love is the
only truth that can save us from lies and from anger and sad living. The real
division of politics in the world is between truth and love on one hand, which
call for the happy development of every human's highest potential, and the
politics of fear and hate on the other hand, which are known by exploitation and
oppression.

You know which kind of politics is at the helm today. Maybe an election or two
can make some improvements. But, even so, we still have this little problem
with the other government, the one that thinks it is really in charge of our
lives and our world--the one the world knows very well. When the storm
destroyed New Orleans, the wealthy neighborhoods suddenly had armed Blackwater
guards at their gates. These machine-gun toting men were from other nations and
had no familiarity with our Bill of Rights. They would have followed any order.
In that storm, we saw the future, if we will allow it.

Race is more important in organizing political differences than economic class.
So now we see a rise in racial conflict in America, even in places where we
wouldn't have imagined it a few years ago. The uneasy peace between the races in
America made possible by the post World War II boom is now moving into difficult
times. It is aggravated by the immigration issue. Can you see these issues
freely? You read the newspapers and the internet news sites, and you watch the
Daily Show, so you know just about everything. Or do you? The U.S. Farm
program, voted for by our elected representatives, subsidizes the corn industry
so heavily that American corporations sell corn in Mexico for half of what
Mexico's family farmers can sell it for. So half the farms in Mexico have gone
out of business. Farm families have migrated to Mexico's big cities, where
there is so much poverty that all one can do is plan to sneak into America for
decent wages. They die on our desert borders. If it were easy to come and go,
how could we oppress them so easily? We have come to rely upon this oppression
for the smooth operation of our communities. But you will not hear about this
story on the TV news, will you? It is outside the accepted fantasy.

The lies that surround us drive emotions and they drive unkindness and cruelty,
which are the signposts of misinformation and misunderstanding. People who are
not free of mind are not kindly of mind. Kindness is freedom's truest
indicator. If you cannot stop to help someone who clearly needs your help, you
are not a free man or woman. Your chains may have the glamorous attachments of
Blackberries and credit cards, but you are not free if your time is not your own
to follow your heart.

If you are looking for a strategy to improve relations between the races,
between straight and gay people, between religions, you must understand that
such peace is most achievable when there is sufficient truth and prosperity to
go around, and when there is the kindness that is the product of those two.

To preserve prosperity in the world, agriculture and nature must be saved. The
coal plants must be shut down--all of them--within the next few years.
Gasoline-powered automobiles must be phased-out in the next ten years.
International trade must be largely curtailed in favor of local production.
These are the issues of a politics of love, and they cannot go forward without
some free thinking and some knocking-down of immense lies now in place.

Free thinking, prosperity and kindness, so intertwined, make cooperative living
easier to achieve, and push intolerance away. We have a lot of work to do, but,
can you see it? Do you have a glimpse of it?

Can you stand the idea of Google-ing a little more Noam Chomsky and a little
less USA Today? That would be a good beginning.

Churchill was correct when he said the empires of the future are the empires of
the mind. The big battle for the future is being fought right now in your mind.
Your freedoms are closing-in around you.

Our present circumstances seem to necessitate a new and democratic international
compact between those of you who are willing to do what is necessary to be free
people living sustainably, and to withdraw our support from systems outside the
compact. The compact can be first between individuals, and then communities. It
can later include regions and nations. How will this be brought forth? Will it
be enough? I don't know, but it's all we can do. Certainly the Internet, for
as long as we can keep it, can get us started. But don't rely on it entirely,
for it is no longer ours to trust.

You have the power to save your freedoms and your natural world. Truth and
Love, Courage and Energy, and a good organizing plan for cooperative action are
your great powers. Don't look for leaders to do it for you, unless you are
standing before a mirror.

I'm 97, soon 98, so saying "good luck" is about all I have left. I have filled
my life with adventures and good causes. They have not been enough for the
world, and they have not even been enough for me. But I shudder to think of how
bare my life would have been had I not answered the call to action that you must
now be feeling somewhere in your hearts, as you have it felt before.

Thank you all very much. And good luck."

Sunday, December 02, 2007

What Would Jesus Buy?

Producer Morgan Spurlock (Supersize Me) and director Ron Van Alkemade
have made a serious docu-comedy about the commercialization of Christmas.
The movie follows Reverend Billy and the Church of Stop Shopping Gospel Choir
as they go on a cross country mission to save Christmas from the Shopocalyse:
the end of mankind from consumerism, over-consumption, and the fires of eternal debt!
You can watch or listen to Reverend Billy and Morgan Spurlock with Amy Goodman (plus see an excerpt from the movie) here.
A chronicalling of Reverend Billy's arrest in Union Square in July for reciting the
First Amendment, plus a few of his other arrests earlier in the year, here.
Bless his heart. Love! Him!
Official site for the movie is www.wwjbmovie.com