Byrd's Brain

Saturday, May 31
If I had a world of my own, everything would be nonsense. Nothing would be what it is because everything would be what it isn't. And contrary-wise; what it is it wouldn't be, and what it wouldn't be, it would. You see?

Alice in Wonderland
by Lewis Carroll

Friday, May 30
what a joker
Not surprisingly, an Arab-American woman, contesting a parking ticket, fainted in court when the judge (yuk yuk) asked her if she was a terrorist.
'You have money to support the terrorists, but you don't want to pay the ticket.'

critical thinking
A good education includes learning the ability to think critically and learning to exercise that ability. This means that students should be able to analyze a hypothesis, weigh the pros and cons and make up their own minds as to the veracity or the wisdom of the hypothesis. I mention this because I have been shocked about how many people who saw the first "Matrix" movie have told me that they didn't really catch any of the philosophical thoughts (that were jampacked into the movie) until someone else mentioned them. In other words, these people didn't think anything about the coincidences of the white rabbit and the choice of one of two pills, the questions as to what truly is reality, what it means to be living a dream, what it means to be in the moment and slow down time, the duality of existence etc. These people just watched the entertaining action part of the movie and missed most of the narrative.

These people are intelligent. How could they have missed something that seemed so obvious to me? Anecdotally, upon further discussion with some of them I learned that they didn't know much about Buddhist or Christian philosophies, that they had never had any sort of philosophy class. In fact, a couple didn't even know the story of Alice in Wonderland. Thus the "white rabbit" allegory meant nothing to them and the philosophy discussed in the "Matrix" didn't ring any bells or awaken any memories. They had no experience with which to critically analyze what they heard and they had no experience with evaluating these new concepts, so they just accepted them as part of the story that served to move the action along.

Again, these people are intelligent. But I have to wonder what kind of education they got. They went to college. Is the pressure for grades and test scores so strong that no one has time to pause and reflect? Has TV and computers made people passive and accepting? Have people become sponges that soak up whatever is presented without considering whether it would be good or bad to absorb? Has education become a system of constant rote memorization? I don't know the answers. I don't have children in school, so I have no first hand knowledge of the educational system. However, I fear for a society that has poorly educated its children. I fear for a society that has not fully equipped, has not fully prepared its young citizens for life. These are our future leaders. What kind of society can they be expected to lead? On a personal level, I am anxious about the education that my children will receive.

I bring this up because of an article that I read this morning in the San Francisco Chronicle. The premise of the article is that the "Matrix" is the "Star Wars" for this generation of young people. The concepts of "duality" and "reality" will affect this generation just as "the force" and Yoda telling Luke to "be the force", affected an earlier generation. That is a good thing in my mind. The questions raised by the "Matrix" films are worth pondering.

What got my goat was this quote in the article:
a 20-year-old San Francisco City College student, thought the original "Matrix" was just another special effects movie -- but he became a devotee after the movie's more cerebral themes were explained last year by one of his professors. SFChron

Thursday, May 29
no worries
Mark Fiore assures us that the newly titled, Terrorism Information Awareness System, is "cuddly".

family values, my ass
I learned from Josh Marshall at Talking Points Memo that House Republicans intentionally denied the extra child credit to most families with incomes from $10,500 to $26,625. That means that families of 11.9 million children - or one of every six children under 17 - have been denied this additional benefit. Obviously, Republican family values don't include the poorest among us. How do these people sleep at night? I fear that they sleep well.

Wednesday, May 28
the study says so, so it must be true
My sperm must be good and my wife does have a wonderful voice.

AI: The Globe is Less Safe
Amnesty International's 2003 Report is out. The U.S. figures prominently in the report. The U.S. has made the world a less secure place. The report is here. An excerpt from the message of Amnesty International Secretary General Irene Kahn follows:
Our fears were once again confirmed over the past year as the drive for security gained greater momentum around the world. A combination of forces sought to roll back the human rights gains of the past five decades in the name of security and "counter-terrorism". But the restrictions on liberty have not necessarily led to increased dividends on safety. Greater emphasis on security, far from making the world a safer place, has made it more dangerous by curtailing human rights and undermining the rule of international law; by shielding governments from scrutiny; by deepening divisions among people of different faiths and origins; and by diverting attention from festering conflicts and other sources of insecurity.

The establishment of the International Criminal Court, the coming into force of the agreement aimed at ending the use of child soldiers and the adoption of the protocol to allow international inspection of places of detention were important gains for human rights in the past year. On the other hand, the blatant disregard and virtual contempt which many governments displayed for international human rights and humanitarian obligations were a major setback.

At a time of heightened insecurity, governments chose to ignore and undermine the collective system of security which international law represents. Draconian measures – by democratic as well as autocratic governments – to intrude and intercept, to arrest and detain suspects without trial and to deport people with no regard to their fate, weakened human rights protection of individuals as well as respect for the standards of international law. The USA continued to detain prisoners from the war in Afghanistan in defiance of international humanitarian law, turned a blind eye to reports of torture or ill-treatment of suspects by its officials and allies, and sought to undermine the International Criminal Court through bilateral agreements. In the process, it undermined its own moral authority to speak out against human rights violations in other parts of the world.

Action that makes people feel insecure cannot make states or societies secure. Because of the real or alleged actions of a few individuals, entire communities – identified by race, religion or national origin – are being viewed with suspicion. The result is growing unease and uncertainty among large sections of the population. Racial profiling and detention of immigrants in the USA, and labelling of refugees and asylum-seekers as "terrorists" in Europe have compounded the stigmatization. In a climate of increasing xenophobia and racism, asylum-seekers are being sent back to face imprisonment, torture or death and violent attacks on members of minority communities are on the increase. Whipping up public fears in the interests of short-term political or electoral gains is a dangerous business.

nasty little civil liberties
What is wrong if a few "torturous methods" are used by the police in order to get you to talk? Apparently nothing. So says the esteemed U.S. Supreme Court. Hell why bother with Miranda warnings anyway. Welcome to the police state: U.S. circa 2003.

Here is the slip opinion. The case is Chavez v. Martinez.

the blog rounds
The Road to Surfdom discusses the bizarre U.S. "user pays" approach to its coalition forces in the Invasion of Iraq.

Blah3 shows us that the parallels between the U.S. invasion of Iraq and the British invasion in 1917 are truly eerie.

Kos shows us what good friends BushCo keeps. One BushCo coalition partner boils its dissidents.

Talk Left tells us that Ashcroft intends to seek the death penalty in a federal case in Wisconsin, despite the fact that Wisconsin banned the death penalty 150 years ago!

For the latest on the investigation into the use of Homeland Security to track the AWOL Texas democrats check out Talking Points Memo and Nathan Newman.

Tuesday, May 27
This is war people.
The editorials that I have quoted from below have angered me.

We can't afford to take this anymore. Too much is at stake to be complacent. Wake up America. The next presidential election is one of the most important elections in this nation's history, if not the most important. The election will determine whether BushCo can continue destroying this nation or whether there is a chance to stop the madness and try to reverse the damage that has been done.

We are dealing with conservative zealots who will push their beliefs on the rest of us at any cost. BushCo has hijacked the nation.

Good government be damned
If you know you are right, and you must get your policies implemented, but the rules are blocking you, then change the rules. Tradition, stability and good government don't matter. Once again the ends justify the means. Adam Cohen (NYTimes, password/id: "rbyrd", valid 7 days), in today's NY Times, lays out the frightening ways in which the Zealots are attempting and have succeeded in changing the rules of government, the rules of procedure in order to push through their ideology. The editorial is quoted in its entirety...:
For Partisan Gain, Republicans Decide Rules Were Meant to Be Broken

There was a lot not to like about the new Congressional district lines Republicans tried to push through in Texas this month, the ones that made Democratic legislators flee to Oklahoma to prevent a vote. Democratic Austin was sliced into four parts and parceled out to nearby Republican districts. A community on the Mexican border and one 300 miles away were painstakingly joined together and declared to be a single Congressional district. But the real problem was that Republicans were redrawing lines that had just been adopted in 2001, defying the rule that redistricting occurs only once a decade, after the census.

The Texas power grab is part of a trend. Republicans, who now control all three branches of the federal government, are not just pushing through their political agenda. They are increasingly ignoring the rules of government to do it. While the Texas redistricting effort failed, Republicans succeeded in enacting an equally partisan redistricting plan in Colorado. And Republicans in the Senate — notably those involved in the highly charged issue of judicial confirmations — have been just as quick to throw out the rulebook.

These partisan attacks on the rules of government may be more harmful, and more destabilizing, than bad policies, like the $320 billion tax cut. Modern states, the German sociologist Max Weber wrote, derive their legitimacy from "rational authority," a system in which rules apply in equal and predictable ways, and even those who lead are reined in by limits on their power. When the rules of government are stripped away, people can begin to regard their government as illegitimate.

The Texas redistricting effort was part of a national Republican effort to shore up the party's 229-to-205 House majority going into the 2004 elections. The House majority leader, Tom DeLay, who traveled to Austin to supervise the effort personally, was blunt about his motives: "I'm the majority leader, and I want more seats." Texas Republicans seized control of the Legislature last year, and they thought they could add five or more Republican Congressional seats. When the Democrats took off for Oklahoma, the Department of Homeland Security helped hunt down a plane filled with escaping legislators. Sixteen members of Congress from Texas wrote to Attorney General John Ashcroft asking him whether there had been "attempts to divert federal law enforcement resources for private political gain."

In Colorado, Republicans succeeded this month in redrawing the state's Congressional lines, which had been duly redrawn after the 2000 census. Republican state legislators, under the guidance of the presidential adviser Karl Rove, added thousands of Republicans to a district that Bob Beauprez, a Republican, won last year by just 121 votes, and excluded the Democrat who nearly beat him from the district. Democrats have gone to court, charging that Republicans violated Colorado's Open Meetings Law and legislative rules when they sneaked the plan through.

In the judicial battles in the Senate, Republican leaders, frustrated that Democrats have rejected a handful of Bush nominees, have declared war on longstanding Senate rules. Orrin Hatch, chairman of the Judiciary Committee, has dispensed with procedures that allow senators to exercise their constitutional "advice and consent" function, in one case holding a single hearing for three controversial nominees, and he has stifled legitimate inquiry. When Senator Charles Schumer tried to ask one nominee about his legal beliefs, Senator Hatch snapped that he was asking "stupid questions."

The Senate majority leader, Bill Frist, has declared that filibusters, which allow senators to block action with just 41 votes, should not be used to reject judicial nominations, despite a history of using them to do just that. Abe Fortas was prevented from becoming chief justice in 1968 by a Republican-backed filibuster. While Senator Frist pushes "filibuster reform," Senate Republicans are also talking about a "nuclear option," in which Vice President Dick Cheney would preside over the Senate and hand down a ruling that Rule 22, which permits filibusters, does not apply to judicial nominations.

The Republicans' attack on the rules come at a time when they could easily afford to take a higher road. They have, by virtue of their control of the White House and Congress, extraordinary power to enact laws and shape the national agenda. And this administration is already getting far more of its judges confirmed, and more quickly, than the Clinton administration did.

Weber, in writing about rules, was concerned about what factors kept governments in power. That is not a concern in the United States — there is no uprising in the offing. But when Americans see their government flouting the rules, as they did during Watergate, they respond with cynicism.

In these hard times — with threats from abroad and a sour economy at home — our leaders should be bringing the nation together not by demonizing foreign countries, but by instilling greater faith in our own. They should be showing greater reverence for the rules of government, and looking for other ways — like tougher campaign finance laws — to assure Americans that their government operates evenhandedly.

How likely is that? The word in Texas is that Republicans may try their redistricting plan again. Senate Democrats are bracing for Senator Frist's "filibuster reform," or the "nuclear option."

And Mr. DeLay recently revealed how he felt about rules of general applicability. When he tried smoking a cigar in a restaurant on federal property, the manager told him it violated federal law. His response, according to The Washington Post, was, "I am the federal government."

Fiscal crisis is good
How do you cut spending on social program that you don't like without raising any opposition to your cuts? First, don't mention the social programs. Second, Cut taxes with a reckless abandon so that a fiscal crisis is inevitable. Third, cut those social programs because you need to in order to stem the resulting budget hemorrhaging. It sounds crazy, but if you are a zealot you don't really care how you get there just as long as you get there.

This scenario is posited by Paul Krugman in today's NY Times.
he lunatics are now in charge of the asylum." So wrote the normally staid Financial Times, traditionally the voice of solid British business opinion, when surveying last week's tax bill. Indeed, the legislation is doubly absurd: the gimmicks used to make an $800-billion-plus tax cut carry an official price tag of only $320 billion are a joke, yet the cost without the gimmicks is so large that the nation can't possibly afford it while keeping its other promises.

But then maybe that's the point. The Financial Times suggests that "more extreme Republicans" actually want a fiscal train wreck: "Proposing to slash federal spending, particularly on social programs, is a tricky electoral proposition, but a fiscal crisis offers the tantalizing prospect of forcing such cuts through the back door."

...Although you wouldn't know it from the rhetoric, federal taxes are already historically low as a share of G.D.P. Once the new round of cuts takes effect, federal taxes will be lower than their average during the Eisenhower administration. How, then, can the government pay for Medicare and Medicaid — which didn't exist in the 1950's — and Social Security, which will become far more expensive as the population ages? (Defense spending has fallen compared with the economy, but not that much, and it's on the rise again.)

The answer is that it can't. The government can borrow to make up the difference as long as investors remain in denial, unable to believe that the world's only superpower is turning into a banana republic. But at some point bond markets will balk — they won't lend money to a government, even that of the United States, if that government's debt is growing faster than its revenues and there is no plausible story about how the budget will eventually come under control.

At that point, either taxes will go up again, or programs that have become fundamental to the American way of life will be gutted. We can be sure that the right will do whatever it takes to preserve the Bush tax cuts — right now the administration is even skimping on homeland security to save a few dollars here and there. But balancing the books without tax increases will require deep cuts where the money is: that is, in Medicaid, Medicare and Social Security.

The pain of these benefit cuts will fall on the middle class and the poor, while the tax cuts overwhelmingly favor the rich.

...The Financial Times suggests this is deliberate (and I agree): "For them," it says of those extreme Republicans, "undermining the multilateral international order is not enough; long-held views on income distribution also require radical revision."

NYTimes (password/id: "rbyrd", valid for 7 days)

Makes sense. Just ask any terrorist. For a zealot, the ends justify the means.

Friday, May 23
$330 billion!
The Senate approved the $330 billion tax cut on a 51- 50 vote. VP Cheney had to come out of hiding to vote for this tax cut. The U.S. can't adequately educate all of its children, but we can give tax breaks to the wealthiest among us. I guess that they can use the money to send their children to private school.
Analysts at the Center Budget and Policy Priorities said that if extended through the coming decade, the legislation would cost $810 billion.
That's almost a trillion dollars folks. That money would have gone a long way toward boosting education and providing health care to the 50 million Americans currently uninsured. But then those are my priorities. They clearly aren't BushCo's.

No, BushCo's world is more of a dog eat dog, king of the hill, I've got mine and you can't have it, type of place.

These photographs from Iraq by "embedded" photographer Mike Macor provide a portrait of the invasion of Iraq.

Thursday, May 22
Shallow Husband
Her husband didn't find her attractive when she was pregnant and she is concerned that he might leave her if she "let's her looks go", so she bought insurance for her face in case she loses her attractiveness. How sad.

It's the economy stupid
BushCo's approval rating, in latest polls, has dropped to pre-Iraq invasion levels.

Inner Peace and Acceptance
Did you meditate today? Tests reveal that Buddhists are happier and calmer than most people.

Iraqi Civilian Death Toll Climbing
Researchers conducting surveys in Iraq are beginning to believe that between 5000 and 10,000 Iraqi civilians were killed during the invasion of Iraq.

Wednesday, May 21
We cower in the shadows while false statements proliferate, accepting soft answers and shaky explanations because to demand the truth is hard, or unpopular, or may be politically costly."

Sen. Robert Byrd

I've written about TIAP/S before ( here, here, here, here. And most recently here when:
Curbs on the TIAP were adopted by unanimous consent as part of amendments to a spending bill. The amendment was sponsored by Senator Ron Wyden of Oregon (D) along with Diane Feinstein of California. Before this bill goes to the White House it will likely go to a House/Senate Conference Committee, so the language could still change. At this time, the bill calls for a halt to research and development of the TIAP within 60 days unless the Defense Department submits a detailed report on the TIAP, including its impact on civil liberties.
The report came out yesterday. First off, they've changed the name. It isn't the Total Information Awareness Project anymore. It is now the Terrorism Information Awareness Project. Do you feel better now? This name change makes all the difference, right? But wait, the project is still going to mine data from private and public databases. They are still going to track your travel and spending habits. They are still going to search all of this data to identify "possible" terrorists. But the report uses fancy sounding and non-threatening consultant speak phrasing to describe the process. So we need not have worried about this project I guess. For instance, TIAP is just "Secure Collaborative Problem Solving" or how about, "Structured Discovery with Sources and Methods Security" and "Link and Group Understanding" or "Decision Making with Corporate Memory" and my favorite, "Context Aware Visualization".

These may all sound innocuous, but TIAP is still tracking of everyone. The report raises a few issues as to its veracity and the new powers to mingle intelligence activities with criminal investigations.
In one of the more striking examples of their new powers, Justice Department officials said they were now reviewing some 4,500 intelligence files in terrorist cases to determine whether criminal charges should be brought. Such a mingling of intelligence and criminal investigations was largely banned under internal Justice Department procedures that were in place before the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.

A 60-page report to members of Congress was intended to answer concerns from lawmakers who say the department has kept them in the dark about its counterterrorism operations and has not done enough to safeguard civil liberties in its pursuit of terrorists.

The report provided dozens of pieces of previously undisclosed data on a variety of activities including the use of hundreds of secret search warrants and the fact that some 50 people had been detained without charges as material witnesses.

The department portrayed its use of its new powers as judicious and restrained, but officials are still refusing to divulge certain data publicly because they said it would compromise classified areas. Civil liberties advocates said the vagueness in these areas buttressed their concerns about how the department's powers were being used.

The numbers the department provided on several of the most hotly debated issues appeared relatively low. For instance, the department said agents from "fewer than 10" F.B.I. field offices had visited mosques as part of their investigations, a new power granted to agents last year by Attorney General John Ashcroft.

And agents have contacted about 50 libraries nationwide in the course of terrorism investigations, often at the invitation of librarians who saw something suspicious, said Viet Dinh, an assistant attorney general who briefed members of the House Judiciary Committee on the findings at a hearing today.

Librarians, concerned about the government's ability to pry into the public's reading habits, have said they believe libraries have been contacted much more frequently. NY TImes (Password/id: rbyrd, archive available 7 days)
Nothing has changed, except now with the report the TIAP might keep its funding. It is all smoke and mirrors.

You can read the full report here.

Monday, May 19
Go Arcata!
Arcata is a little town in Northern California, about 300 miles north of San Francisco. The 16,000 people of Arcata have a gutsy city council. That city council voted to criminalize enforcement of the Patriot Act. A new city ordinance imposes a fine of $57 on any city department head who voluntarily complies with investigations or arrests under the Patriot Act. Go here for the whole story. While the ordinance is primarily symbolic, since it is pre-empted by federal law, it sends a refreshing message. Some people aren't going to sit back and relax while our constitutional rights are whittled away.

the madness continues
Chief Justice Clarence Thomas! Absurd, right? Not so absurd. According to Newsday Chief Justice William Rehnquist and Justice Sandra Day O'Connor are intending to resign within a month. These are not big surprises, especially with regards to Rehnquist. He let it be known during the presidential campaign that he wanted Bush to be elected so that Bush could appoint his successor. Rehnquist got Bush the job. Now he can resign. The big surprise, no the scary surprise, is that BushCo is considering naming Thomas to be Cheif Justice. Apparently the other choice, Scalia is too old for the job. O'Connor, while no liberal, has been a swing vote, a moderating voice on the court. If her replacement is conservative, which is very very likely, the court will tip further to the right. Roe v Wade may even be threatened.
While the speculation in Washington is that Justice Antonin Scalia would be elevated to chief justice, objections are being raised within the administration because of his age. Though Scalia is a very youthful 67, some feel a younger person should become chief justice to ensure long-term impact.

For some of the highly ideological conservatives who have, at least until now, held sway over President George W. Bush's court nominations, that person would be Justice Clarence Thomas, 54, who if anything has positioned himself to the right of Scalia. They say that despite his controversial background, the White House has not yet dismissed the idea.


No matter what the lineup, Democrats and Republicans in Washington take it for granted that given the opportunity, Bush will nominate the first Hispanic to the Supreme Court, appealing to what former acting Solicitor General Walter Dellinger called "the greatest up-for-grab group in American politics."

The leading candidate is White House counsel Alberto Gonzales, a 47-year-old longtime associate of the president from Texas who would probably garner support from otherwise liberal Hispanic groups.

But Gonzales, who served as Texas secretary of state under Bush and was appointed by him to the state's Supreme Court, is opposed by some who fear he will not be conservative enough, especially on abortion and civil rights. Newsday

The fact that Clarence Thomas is on the Supreme Court is a irksome. Having him as Chief Justice would be a disgrace. Unfortunately, I have little faith in the Democrats mounting a stiff enough opposition to slow down the nominations.

Sunday, May 18
Let's recap. BushCo has made the world a more dangerous place for everyone. BushCo has presided over an economy that is in the tank. BushCo is pushing for tax cuts that will hurt the economy even more. BushCo has weakened clean air and water standards. BushCo has supported increased strip mining and logging in national forests. BushCo has pushed to open ANWR to oil drilling. BushCo has curtailed constitutional rights with its implementation of the Patriot Act and its planned Total Information Awareness Project. BushCo is adamantly opposed to a woman's right to choose, but conversely it supports the death penalty. BushCo is packing the courts with zealous like-minded jurists. BushCo is supposedly fighting a war on terror, but has failed to provide funds for local governments. Thus "first responders" are under trained and too few in numbers.

Despite all of this, a majority of Americans support BushCo. Despite all of this the Democrats, with some exceptions, seem unable to mount a viable offense. Despite all of this it doesn't seem unlikely that BushCo will get re-elected (actually elected for the first time). This is madness. Did I take a pill somewhere along the way and fall down a rabbit hole?
Alice: But I don't want to go among mad people.
Cheshire Cat: Oh you can't help that, most everyone is mad here. (He laughs and then sighs) As you may have noticed, I'm not all there myself...

Alice in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll

is it safe yet?
So Bush said Al Qaida was on the run and he denounced statements, from the French in particular, that invading Iraq would serve to motivate terrorists. He couldn't have been more wrong about anything. BushCo has made the world less safe. BushCo was and is a threat to world peace. How much more of this idiocy do we have to take? How much more can we take? Terrorism against civilian targets is on the rise.
onathan Stevenson, author of the International Institute for Strategic Studies' (IISS) annual strategic survey published last week, described the Riyadh bombings as the first indication that the regime change in Iraq - in the short term - is going to cause a terrorist backlash and be an inspiration for terrorists. Although the audacity and sheer power of the American-led invasion could have a "suppressive effect" on terrorists, it was equally likely that the conflict had increased al-Qaida's recruiting power, he said.

A fresh warning by Germany's BND, the equivalent of Britain's MI5, emphasised the point. According to German newspaper reports over the weekend, the agency says the al-Qaida network's support and potential for recruitment remains intact in Saudi Arabia, Yemen, the United Arab Emirates and Kuwait.

The network's morale had been boosted by the suicide bombings in Riyadh and by America's decision to withdraw most US troops from Saudi Arabia and send home non-essential embassy staff and dependants.

The theory of intensifying al-Qaida activity is also reinforced by senior American counterterrorism officials who were reported this weekend as saying that leaders of the terror group had reorganised bases of operations in at least a half-dozen locations, including Kenya, Sudan, Pakistan and Chechnya. The Guardian

Saturday, May 17
The Matrix
The movie was cool, but I knew that I shouldn't expect too much. I had hoped for more. I liked the "Matrix" and have it on DVD. I saw "Matrix Reloaded" yesterday. The filmmakers wallets were reloaded, but the film, like most sequels, was a disappointment. There was too much of the slow motion swirling nobody dies bullet time Matrix style of fighting and not enough story. It was two hours revolving around the oft repeated themes of "what is choice" and "what is free will". We certainly got the point the second time either theme was discussed. More repetition wasn't necessary. Also, the effects in the original "Matrix" were cool, but they were only a part of the storyline. This time around, the action was much of the story. Too, the actors were emotionless for the most part. Many seemed to be copying Keanu Reeves' "Matrix cool" / "buddha nature" attitude. Keanu can't act, so being quiet and stone-faced works for Keanu. When someone can act you expect more. The actor who played the "Key Master" is one of the few who imbued his character with personality.

That said, I still like these movies and I might see this movie again. At the beginning of the first movie Keanu Reeves' character Neo is told to "Wake Up." That to me, is the point of these movies. They remind us that too many of us succumb to the illusory world that is presented to us. Too many of us accept what we are told at face value. Too many of us fail to question what we read, what we are told. How else do you explain the overwhelming support for the war on Iraq -- even if no weapons of mass destruction are found?! It is freightening. It is maddening. The majority of Americans apparently are sleep walking through their lives. They are content to live in the illusory world with which they have been presented. Thus they are ensnared in the Matrix. Consequently, they accept the pablum that is fed to them by BushCo and the media.

The Matrix movies are fun and they are reminders to me to keep questioning, no matter how frustrating getting an answer might be or how unlike my personal vision the world becomes. Yes, I will get the "Matrix Reloaded" DVD one day and I will see the third installment when it is released in November. I Iike the buddhist/christian storyline. I'm hooked. I'll help keep the filmmakers' wallets loaded.

(This is a revision of a blog that I wrote yesterday. On reflection I liked the "Matrix Reloaded" more than I let on in yesterday's post.)

Friday, May 16
is it safe yet?
I thought that the invasion of Iraq was intended to make the world safer and I thought that Al Qaeda operations were disrupted...
Alerts against possible terror attacks have been issued around the world, with warnings relating to a number of countries in Asia, Africa and the Gulf.

The warnings reflect concern that Osama Bin Laden's al-Qaeda network is planning more attacks on Western targets, following the triple suicide bombing in the Saudi capital Riyadh. BBC

Saddam SARS
How will the boy feel when he grows up? A couple named their baby boy Saddam SARS.

Thursday, May 15
Iris Scans
It is a brave new world. Iris scanning technology is being used at Amsterdam's Schiphol Airport to speed the pre-boarding security process for those frequent fliers who choose to pay for an iris scan and a background check. This is nice for the frequent fliers, but it creates a caste system among fliers -- those who can speed through security and those who must wait in line. Also the technology can be tricked so this process may create unexpected security hazards. Iris scans are also being used by the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees. The UNHCR is taking iris scans to process Afghan refugees returning from Pakistan. The scan are intended to prevent people from going through the registration process multiple times in order to pick up extra aid parcels. (full story available for 7 days here.)
For novelists, eyes can be a source of romanticism. To designers of biometric systems, however, the iris is the source of a more controllable kind of complexity. "Every iris contains a great amount of information and a lot of randomness so that they provide a unique template," said James L. Cambier, Iridian's vice president for research.

Color, the one property of irises that has historically been used as a form of ID, is of no interest to iris-recognition systems. Instead they focus on the meshlike pattern of muscles within the iris that cause the pupil to expand or contract.

To make those patterns more distinct and avoid problems with reflected light, the iris-scan camera usually illuminates the eye with near-infrared light. The software then isolates the iris from the scan and divides it into 2,048 segments for analysis.

That process does not follow traditional fingerprint analysis, which, put simply, looks for unusual patterns and then maps their locations. Instead, the scanning software uses the information it gets from the iris to create a series of numbers. It then compares the numbers generated by the scan with a user's master number, which can either be carried on a card (the system used in Amsterdam) or stored in a database.

As the use of iris-scan technology widens, the case for the uniqueness of individual irises is being bolstered by ever more data. For a recent paper, Dr. Daugman reviewed 9.1 million scans from trials in four countries and concluded that even just using 70 percent of numbers generated by scans could provide "extraordinarily compelling evidence of identity."

That does not mean, however, that some systems cannot be tricked. As part of an effort last year to test biometric systems, journalists from C't, a German computer industry trade magazine, made a print of an iris. When they poked a hole in the paper eye and then held it in front of a real eye, they found that a Panasonic Authenticam - a relatively inexpensive system intended as security for personal computers - accepted the image.
Can you picture the day when we all have had iris scans and the images are stored in a database that is cross referenced with everything that they know about us at the Total Information Awareness Project and scanners are used for security at entrances to buildings, at airports, at train stations and ports? Someone will know when and where you have been. That someone, John Poindexter perhaps, will be able to map out your day. Do you feel safer? If privacy is really anonymity, then there will be no privacy.

Total Lunar Eclipse
This should be cool. Take a break from the internet. There will be a total lunar eclipse tonight from 8:14 pm to 10:30 pm pacific standard time.
The colors of a moon in total eclipse -- sometimes a deep blood-red -- are caused by Earth's atmosphere, which filters out the sun's blue light while it bends red and yellow rays onto the moon's face.

Dust and ash cluttering Earth's upper atmosphere from recent volcanic eruptions or forest fires also can change the moon's colors, but because no major volcanoes have erupted recently and the atmosphere is relatively clear, Naeye is betting the color will vary from orange to bright red.

Wednesday, May 14
abuse of power
A component of the Homeland Security Department was used to track the plane of one of the AWOL Texas Democrats. Apparently Democrats are no different from terrorists, if you are a Republican.

sure I am jealous
But what does it say about a society that can't feed, educate or provide health care for all of its people when an actor in a sitcom makes $1.8 million per episode. The world is topsy turvy. I have never seen "Everybody Loves Raymond", but everybody must love him with pay like this. Ray Romano had been making a paltry $800,000 per episode before the raise. I promise, give me the $800,000 salary and I won't come back for more.

Tuesday, May 13
Media Consolidation
Paul Krugman's latest op-ed is on the FCC rules that I mentioned yesterday and the dangers of media consolidation.
Leave aside the rights and wrongs of the war itself, and consider the paradox. The BBC is owned by the British government, and one might have expected it to support that government's policies. In fact, however, it tried hard — too hard, its critics say — to stay impartial. America's TV networks are privately owned, yet they behaved like state-run media.

What explains this paradox? It may have something to do with the China syndrome. No, not the one involving nuclear reactors — the one exhibited by Rupert Murdoch's News Corporation when dealing with the government of the People's Republic.

In the United States, Mr. Murdoch's media empire — which includes Fox News and The New York Post — is known for its flag-waving patriotism. But all that patriotism didn't stop him from, as a Fortune article put it, "pandering to China's repressive regime to get his programming into that vast market." The pandering included dropping the BBC's World Service — which reports news China's government doesn't want disseminated — from his satellite programming, and having his publishing company cancel the publication of a book critical of the Chinese regime.

Can something like that happen in this country? Of course it can. Through its policy decisions — especially, though not only, decisions involving media regulation — the U.S. government can reward media companies that please it, punish those that don't. This gives private networks an incentive to curry favor with those in power. Yet because the networks aren't government-owned, they aren't subject to the kind of scrutiny faced by the BBC, which must take care not to seem like a tool of the ruling party. So we shouldn't be surprised if America's "independent" television is far more deferential to those in power than the state-run systems in Britain or — for another example — Israel.

A recent report by Stephen Labaton of The Times contained a nice illustration of the U.S. government's ability to reward media companies that do what it wants. The issue was a proposal by Michael Powell, chairman of the Federal Communications Commission, to relax regulations on media ownership. The proposal, formally presented yesterday, may be summarized as a plan to let the bigger fish eat more of the smaller fish. Big media companies will be allowed to have a larger share of the national market and own more TV stations in any given local market, and many restrictions on "cross-ownership" — owning radio stations, TV stations and newspapers in the same local market — will be lifted.

The plan's defects aside — it will further reduce the diversity of news available to most people — what struck me was the horse-trading involved. One media group wrote to Mr. Powell, dropping its opposition to part of his plan "in return for favorable commission action" on another matter. That was indiscreet, but you'd have to be very naïve not to imagine that there are a lot of implicit quid pro quos out there.

And the implicit trading surely extends to news content. Imagine a TV news executive considering whether to run a major story that might damage the Bush administration — say, a follow-up on Senator Bob Graham's charge that a Congressional report on Sept. 11 has been kept classified because it would raise embarrassing questions about the administration's performance. Surely it would occur to that executive that the administration could punish any network running that story.

Meanwhile, both the formal rules and the codes of ethics that formerly prevented blatant partisanship are gone or ignored. Neil Cavuto of Fox News is an anchor, not a commentator. Yet after Baghdad's fall he told "those who opposed the liberation of Iraq" — a large minority — that "you were sickening then; you are sickening now." Fair and balanced.

eco friendly urinals
PHOENIX (AP) - Dry urinals are being installed at Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport to help the environment.

Airport officials are hoping the new urinals will prevent thousands of gallons of water from being wasted. They also hope to save money.

Two public urinals in high-traffic Terminal 2 and one urinal in an employee building will be replaced with the new urinals.

Unlike conventional toilets, the waterless system doesn't require flushing. Instead, urine passes through a floating cartridge filled with an oil-like substance that absorbs the fluid, fights bacteria and soaks odor. Traditional urinals use one gallon per flush.

Three of the urinals will be installed this summer.

Monday, May 12
Media Consolidation
Michael Powell's plan to allow further media concentration and consolidation is still afoot. The FCC will decide the issue on June 2. (I've written about this previously here.) The FCC traditionally has limited the number of newspapers, radio stations and television outlets that a company can own in any given metropolitan area. These rules have been relaxed over the past 5 years. Now Chairman Powell wants to eliminate these restrictions. In fact, the FCC will likely toss aside rules that 1) limit how many television stations a company can own nationwide; 2) that bar companies from owning a major television station and newspaper in the same town; and 3) that limit the number of radio and television stations that companies can own in one market. Shallow and onesided media coverage, such as that of the invasion of Iraq, will worsen further without diverse media interests. We need less consolidation, not more. is spearheading opposition to the FCC's anticipated action. Go here and voice your concern.

So where are all of those Weapons of Mass Destruction that we were warned about? Where are those weapons that were pointed at the U.S. and Europe? Well, to quote one Defense Intelligence Agency official, "We came to bear country and we came loaded for bear and we found that the bear was not here...." (full story here. Maybe there weren't mass quantities of WMDs. Maybe the U.S. didn't have to invade Iraq so quickly after all. Maybe the UN timetable was sufficient.

Blair gives okay for religious employers to fire gay workers
I've said before that I respected Tony Blair, well I think that I have to adjust my opinion of him. Is he a zealot like BushCo?
Tony Blair was accused of caving in to evangelical Christians last night after it emerged that new government legislation will allow faith schools, churches, hospices and other religious employers to sack lesbian and gay staff.

Equal rights campaigners were furious when they discovered that regulations intended to combat discrimin- ation in the workplace contain wide-ranging exemptions for any employer "with an ethos based on religion or belief".

The Lesbian and Gay Christian Movement said that the move would institutionalise homophobia in a way that "makes Section 28 look like a tea party". Others claimed that the exemptions exposed the "dangerous" influence church groups have over the Prime Minister. the independent

Thursday, May 8
The AntiChrist
This is an interesting read. The article relies on undisclosed sources in the Vatican, but if they can be believed then the Pope fears that Bush may be the anti-Christ!
Bush's self-proclaimed adherence to Christianity (during one of the presidential debates he said Jesus Christ was his favorite "philosopher") and his constant reference to a new international structure bypassing the United Nations system and long-standing international treaties are worrying the top leadership of the Roman Catholic Church. Well-informed sources close to the Vatican report that Pope John Paul II is growing increasingly concerned about Bush's ultimate intentions. The Pope has had experience with Bush's death fetish. Bush ignored the Pope's plea to spare the life of Karla Faye Tucker. To show that he was similarly ignorant of the world's mainstream religions, Bush also rejected an appeal to spare Tucker from the World Council of Churches - an organization that represents over 350 of the world's Protestant and Orthodox Churches. It did not matter that Bush's own Methodist Church and his parents' Episcopal Church are members of the World Council.

Bush's blood lust, his repeated commitment to Christian beliefs, and his constant references to "evil doers," in the eyes of many devout Catholic leaders, bear all the hallmarks of the one warned about in the Book of Revelations - the anti-Christ. People close to the Pope claim that amid these concerns, the Pontiff wishes he was younger and in better health to confront the possibility that Bush may represent the person prophesized in Revelations. John Paul II has always believed the world was on the precipice of the final confrontation between Good and Evil as foretold in the New Testament. Before he became Pope, Karol Cardinal Wojtyla said, "We are now standing in the face of the greatest historical confrontation humanity has gone through. I do not think that wide circles of the American society or wide circles of the Christian community realize this fully. We are now facing the final confrontation between the Church and the anti-Church, of the Gospel versus the anti-Gospel." The Pope, who grew up facing the evils of Hitler and Stalin, knows evil when he sees it. Although we can all endlessly argue over the Pope's effectiveness in curtailing abuses within his Church, his accomplishments external to Catholicism are impressive.

According to journalists close to the Vatican, the Pope and his closest advisers are also concerned that the ultimate acts of evil - the September 11 terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center and Pentagon - were known in advance by senior Bush administration officials. By permitting the attacks to take their course, there is a perception within the Roman Catholic Church hierarchy that a coup d'etat was implemented, one that gave Bush and his leadership near-dictatorial powers to carry out their agenda.

The full article by Wayne Madsen of Counterspin is here.

Thanks to Seeing The Forest for the link.

If the Pope is scared by BushCo then I think that we all should be too.

Taliban Making a Comeback
So, we attacked Iraq in order to squash a terrorist breeding ground. Now we should all feel safer, right? Well apparently the U.S. hasn't been doing such a top notch job in Afghanistan. The Taliban have regrouped, appear to be well funded and are planing attacks against U.S. forces. The U.S. should have finished rebuilding Afghanistan before making any other enemies. The U.S. has an unfortunate pattern of promising much aid and support and then reneging. We can't afford to not have a secure and established government in Afghanistan and a regrouped Taliban shows that U.S. reconstruction efforts are failing. These efforts must be redoubled and efforts in rebuilding Iraq must not be half-assed too. The whole story is here.

I'm back. I had a great time visiting relatives, but I really missed my wife and children. I'll have more to say about my travels, my family and BushCo et al later. Right now I have to deal with a huge backlog at work and a crisis that has sprung up. Taking care of everything that was on hold while you were away is definitely the downside of vacations.

Friday, May 2
St. Louis

I will be visiting relatives in St. Louis for the next 5 days. Therefore, blogging will be nonexistent or light depending on whether I can get some time on my sister's computer.

See you again on the 7th!

In a past life I started to write a book on "rituals". However, the book didn't get much further than the introduction and the first chapter. The premise of the book was that rituals are important because they connect us to ourselves, they ground us to the natural world around us, they teach us to slow down and they mark significant life events. If we are grounded in the natural world then we aren't trapped in the corporate culture that promotes fear and consumption. If we are connected to the world and the people around us, then we don't fear the world as much as they want us to.

Quite simply, if we aren't isolated in our homes we fear less. We know our community and we know that it isn't always the one that we see on television. Communtiy provides comfort. Finally, if we have community and realize our interconnectedness than we can't be herded like sheep to support one senseless policy (such as invading Iraq)) after another. Even more freightening to corporate America is the fact that when you have a strong community you actually consume less. When you are connected to the Joneses, you feel less compelled to keep up with the Joneses. That all may sound a little too touchy feely, but we have blogs and blogging communities. Through these blogs we know that we are not alone in our ideas.

The book didn't get written, but as I leave on vacation to celebrate my Godson's Confirmation the ideas behind the book still ring true. Get away from your computers this weekend. Spend time with the family. Go hiking.
Here is the basic formula: The more They get you to ignore and detach from and hurl sticks of dismissive ignorance at that divine interconnectedness, the more you feed the common tyranny of fear, the collective cultural moan, and the easier it is for corporations and the government and the masters of televised dread to convince you to buy into, say, a noxious war. Or toxic fast food. Or ultraviolent entertainment. Or Celine Dion.

Conversely, the more you work to feel nature, imbibe it, soak up that juicy interconnectedness like wine into a mattress, suck up that vibrational hum and awe and kiss, the more you realize the value of protecting and preserving and treading lightly, actually taking the time to taste your food, integrate with those objects, feel that breath of your lover. Simple, really.

And, hence, the less you require of the material world. This is what scares them the most. This is why They don't want you to notice, to feel, to remember, or to question their motives.

Because the less you believe that everything around you is just a tedious lifeless resource to be consumed and shrugged off, the less you feel the need to share in the massive force-fed belief that we are here to devour as much as possible, as quickly as possible, and blow the living crap out of everything that gets in our way.

And then you take the idea one step further. You realize that by soaking up that interconnected juice and raising that vibrational consciousness just that little bit, on a day-to-day basis, you are directly and immediately affecting everything around you, inspiring it, them, us to do exactly the same.

The final kicker: It's all accessible right now. All you gotta do is ask. Invite it in. Literally. Just ask.
I didn't write this last bit. Mark Morford did. You can read the rest of his column here.

Thursday, May 1
Humor, in a gallows sort of way...
National Labor Day
Labor day is a national holiday in many countries. Tax policies and BushCo policies in general favor -- celebrate? -- the wealthy. In the U.S. we need to do more to celebrate the rank and file. Labor is more respected in other nations, although corporate greed has increasingly taken its toll. I used to live in Vienna Austria. I remember May 1st as one big party. The whole city seemingly came out to celebrate. There was music, speeches and beer. Plenty of beer.