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Friday, March 31, 2006

In memory of a former friend...

I recently learned that someone I knew from high school died not too long ago. We used to be friends, hung out in some of the same circles, and he was one hell of a guy. He had wisdom I was too scarred to understand at the time, but years later, I understand what he meant. In those years, he went to school, got a wife and kids, and was generally successful. I, on the other hand, became a bit of a recluse and worked. I never allowed myself a chance to see the man he became, but by all accounts, he was still one hell of a guy, a great dad, and a good husband, and I would've been proud to know who he became, and it is with great shame that I admit that I didn't at least try to stay in touch. He died far too young, and had too much promise left unfulfilled. In his memory, I am posting a poem by John Donne.

"Death Be Not Proud" by John Donne

"Death be not proud, though some have called thee
Mighty and dreadfull, for, thou art not soe,
For, those, whom thou think'st, thou dost overthrow,
Die not, poore death, nor yet canst thou kill mee;
From rest and sleepe, which but thy pictures bee,
Much pleasure, then from thee, much more must flow,
And soonest our best men with thee doe goe,
Rest of their bones, and soules deliverie.
Thou'art slave to Fate, chance, kings, and desperate men,
And dost with poyson, warre, and sicknesse dwell,
And poppie,' or charmes can make us sleepe as well,
And better then they stroake; why swell'st thou then?
One short sleepe past, wee wake eternally,
And death shall be no more, Death thou shalt die."

My deepest condolences are with his family and friends.

Sunday, March 26, 2006

Roy Moore, Charlie Sheen, sit the FUCK down and shut the FUCK up.

I honestly don't know which one of these genetic mistakes is dumber: Roy Moore or Charlie Sheen. Charlie Sheen made a strong case for the crown with his recent announcement that he has his own 9/11 conspiracy theory. And just when people were starting to forget that he was a stupid motherfucker with a once-promising but now slowly dying career... Oh well, he made his choices, though with Martin Sheen as a father, that explains a small part of his idiocy, and I'm sure the booze and drugs didn't help.

Before I verbally rip Mr. Moore a new asshole, let's dissect Sheen's... "theory" seems such a grotesque misuse of that word for this extreme level of idiocy and implies thought, which Charlie Sheen has not actually proven capable of. If I'm understanding him correctly, he believes that hundreds of thousands of eyewitnesses and billions of viewers all around the world were somehow conned by some Hollywood special-effects into thinking that what was really a number of controlled demolitions was really some fucking huge airplanes with a shitload of jet fuel that slammed into the main towers of the World Trade Centers, the Pentagon, and the Pennsylvania countryside. Yeah, I don't buy what Mr. Sheen is trying to sell either. First, Osama bin Laden tried to take out the WTC back in the early 1990s but only managed to take out some parking spaces and a very small number of victims. Second, this was a fanatically-determined enemy who had spent a large sum of money to execute their mission. Third, that many eyewitnesses on the ground are very nearly impossible to fool. Fourth, the WTC was one of the most financially-important complexes in one of the most financially-important cities in the world, and there's no way any person in power, Republican or Democrat, would want to see that much of their investments take the kind of hit that their demolition caused, a fact which would've been obvious to any halfway decent planner and which, in fact, was obvious to the masterminds of this attack. Fifth (and I think I need one after this), why would Republicans, of all people, want to harm the ability of the Department of Defense to function to that degree? Sixth, how exactly could the Pentagon have stopped a 747 that was aiming for them with the stuff they had available at the time? Years ago, I read in Executive Orders by Tom Clancy an analogy that applies in this case, and it was something along the order of trying to stop an out-of-control 18-wheeler by shooting out a tire. I have little doubt that their defensive capabilities and tactical awareness have dramatically improved in this area in the almost 5 years since then, but then wasn't now. And finally, what the fuck was Charlie Sheen smoking, snorting, drinking, and/or shooting up when he came up with this belief?

Aaaaah, I feel better, further reinforcing my belief that blogging is, in many cases, just a form of cheap psychotherapy with an audience. Now on with the show. Roy Moore enters the fray with yet another example of his mind-blowing idiocy. This time, he questions the timing of the announcement that some cows tested positive for Mad Cow disease. Apparently, he thinks, and I use the term extremely loosely, that it's all part of a conspiracy to drive small farmers out of business. I believe I speak for everyone else when I say What. The. Fuck!!! Yes, he's absolutely right, because a bunch of people whose job it is to keep the American food supply safe have nothing better to do than to fake a few test results to hurt the little guy. Nevermind that this would mainly be for cattle and other livestock that are frequently sold from one owner to the next. Nevermind that all it would take is some servers and some decent IT professionals to create and maintain this database that would be created for the purpose of finding the ancestors and herds of origin of infected cattle, thereby possibly pinpointing other infected animals. As far as preventative measures, this would be a hell of a lot cheaper than mandatory testing of every head of cattle, and would be more practical. Furthermore, this is consistent with his ultraconservative Biblical-literalist "end times" pseudo-Christianity. Was his thought process "labelling beasts, sounds a lot like mark of the beast, sounds like a sign of the End Times and the Rapture, but I need to market it as something else, so why not market it as caring for a group of people I don't give a shit about, such as everybody, but how to narrow it down? Oh, farmers!"

For the sake of fairness, I should admit that I support Governor Riley's bid for reelection, but that's only because he's shown that he knows what the fuck he's doing. He turned over a decade of deficits into a massive surplus by increasing the efficiency of the state government and bringing industry to Alabama, and now he's talking about raising the standard income tax deduction to something that's actually above the poverty line, instead of being somewhere around $5,000 for a single person as it is now. Since it makes sense, naturally, this is something Roy Moore opposes, hence my dictum that if Roy Moore has a position on something, the opposite is usually the right thing to do. I also like Lucy Baxley, the frontrunner in the fundraising for the Democratic Party nomination for governor, and would have no problem voting for her should Governor Riley lose in the Republican primary. Roy Moore has cost the state of Alabama too much money already, and would likely only do far worse should he become governor.

Dishonorable mention goes to Isaac Hayes, but that's another topic for another time.

Sunday, March 19, 2006

Finally, proof that Bush isn't a complete and utter fuckup

Instead, he's only mostly a fuckup who best serves the country when he leaves most of the actual thinking to people who are competent to handle their respective fields. Nevertheless, he does occasionally get something right. Even random chance would necessitate such occurrences. So, I submit for your approval one such instance, an instance where he actually shows thought about what's good for the environment and the nation. A Yahoo group whose digests I read, the California Cars Initiative, brought this to my attention. For those of you unfamiliar with them, they're an advocacy group for plug-in hybrid electric vehicles (PHEV's), a concept that is far more fuel-efficient than even current mass-production hybrids. As a side-note, even transcribed, the President sounds like a moron. Still, I remain very unconvinced that his opponents in 2000 and 2004 would have been any better, and suspect they would've been even worse. Anyway, here's the link and the relevant section of his speech:

"I know it shocks some of you to hear a Texan say that we're addicted to oil -- (laughter) -- and we are. And that's a problem. In order to make sure this nation remains competitive, in order to make sure we're the leader of the world, I look forward to working with the members of the United States Congress here to pass the Advanced Energy Initiative.

"Last year, thanks to the leadership of the Speaker, I was able to sign a comprehensive energy bill. There is more work to be done. We're going to harness technology to make sure the automobiles you drive consume less oil. We believe in plug-in hybrid batteries. It's the wave of the future. We believe in the use of ethanol. I love the fact that when our farmers are growing crops it makes us less dependent on oil from the Middle East. (Applause.)

"Ours is a party that knows you got to challenge the status quo when it comes to energy. In order to make sure this country is less dependent on fossil fuels, we must promote safe and sound nuclear power. We must promote solar energy and clean coal technology and wind energy. Ours is the party that can see into the future. We don't fear it, we welcome it, because we intend to continue to lead. (Applause.)"

For those of you unfamiliar with the Advanced Energy Initiative, it was outlined in the State of the Union address, and again, is a surprisingly intelligent idea from a man who is decidedly... not. Some of you of a more blue-state persuasion may be surprised by what you read.

Wednesday, March 08, 2006

Electoral reform

This post begins with a shout out to Sheryl. The reason for that will become obvious, or at least slightly less obscure, as this post continues. Part of this inspiration was a comment Snave made on my blog earlier in the comments section a post or two ago. The rest of the inspiration was from my recent realization that both of the major parties have held major influence for more than half of the lifetime of the United States of America, although both have mutated far from their original form, with only vestiges of their original shape remaining.

As someone of an independent and/or third-party bent, I have long since been concerned with the two-party system and am aware of its many and obvious failings. Ultimately, it becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy: People vote for members of parties they don't like because the people they really like are from too small a party to be viable. This is especially true of elections of statewide or national offices, where third party candidates have about as much chance of winning as I have of hitting the Powerball, and frankly, I don't feel like driving to a state that has it. This problem, this dominance of two parties at the expense of all others, is a question that deeply concerned the people of New Zealand for years, culminating in the 1996 referendum,, that replaced their First Past the Post (FPP) system of electing members to their Parliament with a Mixed Member Proportional system (MMP, alternately known as the Additional Member System), where roughly half of their parliament is elected by the former FPP method (still used in parts of the United Kingdom and many current and former possessions thereof, including the United States), and the other half is selected from party lists in proportion to the percentage of votes each party received in the election. I'm not sure that I would like to see that large a proportion of Congress elected from national party lists as opposed to the current system, but I would like to see at least some of the seats in Congress elected in that manner with an increase in the number of members of each body, if for no other reason than to remind the rest of Congress that they are there to serve the nation, not just their patch of it.

That would address part of the problem, but not another core issue: In those constituencies currently served by the FPP system and in local and statewide elections, what method is used to determine the winner in single-winner elections? The FPP system, also known as Plurality voting, is something with which we in America are all too familiar, even if most of us have no clue what it's called. This system allows for the “spoiler effect” seen in the 1992 and 2000 United States presidential elections and encourages people to vote for those they don't necessarily like in hopes that someone they like less won't be elected. As New Zealand discovered (and later resolved), this leads to voter dissatisfaction and a reduction in the participation rates of the general public in political discourse. An interesting article on Wikipedia discusses various voting systems. The question then becomes which of the various criteria are most important in selecting a voting system. After doing some research on the various voting systems outlined in that article, I found that, of those listed, Approval voting, the Schulze method, and the Ranked Pairs method would be the best alternatives to the current First Past the Post system. The latter are newer variants of the Condorcet method, which, like the better-known Instant Runoff Voting, uses the ranking of candidates. However, unlike IRV, the various Condorcet methods guarantee that, if a candidate defeats all other candidates in a pairwise comparison, that candidate is guaranteed to win. While I prefer the Schulze and Ranked Pairs method over the Approval Voting method, I realize that technical issues may make the latter more attractive and easier to use in large-scale elections. This site has more information and offers the means for members to post their own test poll topics using various voting methods.

This is a topic that deserves far more attention than it has gotten thusfar in the United States, and it is my sincerest hope that this changes in the near future.

Monday, March 06, 2006

Line-Item Veto

I know that, on the surface, this seems to be a very attractive concept, especially to those of a more conservative persuasion. Republican or Democrat, the sheer amount of pork in each federal budget in my lifetime and longer has been riddled with these little bits of poor uses of taxpayer money. I believe that's a very serious issue and one that must be addressed, not only for ourselves, but for the generations to come. However, the Founders of our great nation enumerated the powers and responsibilities of each of the branches of our government, and more importantly, codified a clear system for each of the three branches of government to act as a check on the powers of each other. The line-item veto would be a clear violation of the Founders' intent and the Constitution of the United States of America, as it would hand some powers belonging to the Legislative branch to the Executive. In addition, as a purely practical matter, this only seems like a good idea when "your guy" is in power, whomever he, or eventually she, is or which party, if any, he or she belongs. What happens when "your guy" is out of office, and someone from the opposition party is in the White House? Also, who exactly do you think would be on the receiving end most often of the President's line-item veto power, should this become a part of our nation's laws? That, perhaps more than anything else, should give pause to Congressional proponents of this idea.

As a side-note, if a line-item veto were to exist, Senator Kerry's proposal would be nothing more than a placebo and would further weaken the separation of powers between the executive and legislative branches. I think I liked him better when he was lazy.

Finally, FINALLY, proof that my home state of Alabama doesn't completely suck...

This is an article I heard about from the northern part of my lovely, yet chronically fucked-up state. For the record, I love Alabama, and it is for that reason that the myriad problems, acts of stupidity, and demagogues drive me to distraction. Anyway, this story is on the website of the Decatur Times Daily, Alabama ranks 4th in public funding of contraceptives. That's very good news, though as stated in the article, the news could be better. I personally favor an emphasis on education, and I think abstinence should be a part of that education. After all, unless you're a Christian Biblical literalist, you are aware that abstinence is the only 100% foolproof way for preventing unwanted pregnancies and the spread of STD's. However, as unfortunate as it is, the simple, ugly fact of the matter is that at least some teenagers are going to fuck, and Alabama's numbers reflect that with the 15th-highest teen pregnancy rate in the nation. With that in mind and with a deep concern with the possibility for the spread of sexually-transmitted disease, I think it would be a fiscally-responsible use of resources to spend some money on education and expanding the accessibility of contraceptives. Furthermore, I believe that some form of emergency post-coital contraceptive should be available OTC as opposed to being strictly a prescription-only product.

While I echo (and I shudder at this) former President Clinton's expressed belief that abortion should be safe, legal, and rare, I also believe that reducing the number of unwanted pregnancies is good fiscal policy. By allowing for a greater number of options in terminating and preventing unwanted pregnancies, a real and measurable improvement in the lives of the women in question can be found. Also, not to put too fine a point on it, the rate of growth of the ranks of those in need of public assistance is reduced, thereby reducing the strain on an already overstressed system. I don't know if this is the conservative thing to do, or the liberal, or the libertarian thing to believe, but frankly, I don't care. Furthermore, I would love to see the same occur in the several states, but I believe the best way for that to be decided is at the state or local level, not the national level.

Aaaah, there's the libertarian (or am I a neolibertarian?) y'all have grown to know and love, or at least be driven to distraction by... I look forward to seeing what you guys and ladies have to think.