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Monday, July 29th, 2002

I'm very glad to see that all nine miners who were trapped have been rescued. But I am even more disgusted with the politicking of Governor Schweiker.

From CNN:

FLOCK: Governor, you look tremendously well. You got a shave. You're looking wonderful. ... Did you actually get some sleep?

SCHWEIKER: I just said to the troopers on the way up here I think I fell asleep.

Editors Note: He was perpetually appeared dressed and groomed for television coverage.

FLOCK: How are you feeling about what you accomplished out here?

SCHWEIKER: Oh, I feel it's going to take a little bit, but the thrill of our success and bringing up those nine guys far outweighs the shortcomings that relate to physical energy of myself.

Editors Note: All of that talking to the press really tuckered the poor fella out!

Governor Mark Schweiker - the man behind the curtain

"I'm very happy to report that about 10:16, we did break through. We broke through at 239.6 (feet underground), and it certainly is an encouraging development, and the operation now is ongoing."

-- Pennsylvania Gov. Mark Schweiker

Thanks to Governor Schweiker for all of his medical expertise... er... engineering... I mean back breaking labor... Ummmm... For handling all of those pesky press conferences!

Meanwhile, in Mark Schweiker's head, "Mmmm! Look at ALL of those microphones! Ah! National press coverage! This sure beats thinking about the disintegrating state infrastructures."

When Governor Schweiker isn't taking the credit, god is being given the credit. For my part, I saw no indications of divine intervention. I give the credit to the intelligence, ingenuity and hard working efforts of the engineers, miners, doctors and other humans. These corporal beings are the ones who made the calculations, moved the machines, endured in spite of the set backs and it is they who parted the earth.

god sign

Unfortunately if it was a god working some miracle to save these nine miners he/she was apparently distracted from these sad events (below). Or perhaps these people weren't prayed for enough? Maybe it was the devil's work?

Fire engine crash kills 3 California firefighters

HAPPY CAMP, California (CNN) -- A fire engine battling a blaze in northern California's Klamath National Forest rolled off a winding road and plunged 800 feet into a ravine Sunday, killing three firefighters and injuring two others, officials said.

Tears flow at Ukraine crash site

LVIV, Ukraine -- Hundreds of Ukrainians have made a tearful visit to the airfield where 83 people were killed in the world's worst air show crash.

Not to mention silly incidentals like the 24,000 people who die every day due to preventable starvation.

We just need to get Governor Schweiker on these jobs and I'm sure everything will be cleared up.

Meanwhile in Israel, other indisputable signs of the paranormal are being displayed. The TMers below, claim that this hopping about is actually flying.

Transcendental 'flying'

"Israeli experts in Transcendental Meditation and Yogic Flying demonstrate their technique in Tel Aviv. The experts claim that Israel needs a permanent group of 500 people to meditate in order to neutralize the acute ethnic and religious tensions that fuel violence in the region."
(Time Magazine - Tuesday July 23, 2002)

Sign me up! We need more of this kind of thinking to solve our problems. See how open minded I am? <SPLORP!> - opps- Can someone please pick up my brain for me? It fell on the floor.

Friday, July 26th, 2002

Nine miners were trapped on July 24th in Pennsylvania's Quecreek mine when they accidentally broke through to the old, abandoned water filled Saxman mine. Rescue operations have been underway since in the hope that the miners can be saved before succumbing to drowning or hypothermia.

By all accounts every efforts are being made by their fellow miners who have been working non stop day and night.

So I find myself perturbed when I see that Pennsylvania Governor Mark Schweiker has nothing better to do than to stand around and give press conferences.
All of his statements are laced with phrases such as, 'We've been setting up drilling platforms.' and 'We have hooked up more pumps to drain the water.'
Oh have WE?
When Governor Mark Schweiker (clad in a clean business casual shirt) isn't taking credit for the work of others he is parroting mining facts that he obviously just learned.

Governor Mark Schweiker - step away from the microphone. Go back to your office and do the job that you were hired to do. Let the experts and the mining company handle the press conference. You're attempt to lay claim to the hard working and valiant efforts of others is embarrassing and shameful you blood sucking ghoul.

Note Governor Mark Schweiker (above, in blue shirt, standing on right). I'm sure glad he's there sucking up the spot light instead of doing something silly like keeping Pennsylvania from sinking further down the hole.

Tuesday, July 23rd, 2002

With all of the media reporting the war on terrorism I was curious if the US was technically at war and if so how it could be justified under such broad definitions.

The following article speaks to many of the questions I'd been asking and I thought it was worth reproducing here:

FAQ: Is the United States really "at war"?

Jessica Wong, CBC News Online
September 2001

The United States hasn't formally declared war since World War II. And though declaring war on terrorism may sound as vague as declaring a war on drugs, legally, it can be done.

Were the attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon in effect a declaration of war?

Declarations of war are a custom, and not always adhered to. What happened was this: Because war is ugly and violent and chaotic, the international community, over time, developed a set of wartime customs and conventions. This began with ancient civilizations, and has evolved now to the point where there are laws dictating how the wounded must be protected, how to handle prisoners of war, and what weapons are not to be used. And of course, how to declare war.

However, some feel that, in the last 50 years, wars and other conflicts have gotten more lawless.

And today, it seems as though “declaring war” is an out-of-date formality. In a May 1999 press briefing regarding NATO’s role in Kosovo, David Scheffer, Ambassador at Large of the U.S. State Department for War Crimes Issues said: “There is no need at all for a declaration of war for the laws of war to apply. The Geneva Conventions don’t require it nor does customary international law, so that is simply not a necessary trigger for these laws to apply.”

So yes, the attacks could be seen as in effect, a declaration of war.

So is the United States now at war?

Yes. The President declared the U.S. to be at war, and that is legal.

Here's how it works.

According to Article 1, Section 8 of the U.S. Constitution, only Congress has the power to declare war. However, Article 2, Section 2 names the president as "Commander-in-Chief of the Army and Navy." As such, presidents have often bypassed Congress to go to war (whether "declared" or not). President Harry Truman was the first to do that, to go to war in Korea. And ever since, presidents have rarely asked permission.

In 1973, the U.S. Congress tried to reassert itself by passing the War Powers Resolution. (This after Presidents Lyndon Johnson and Richard Nixon ignored Congress while perpetuating the war in Vietnam.) Also known as the War Powers Act, the law states that, without a declaration of war, the president must inform Congress within 48 hours of beginning hostilities. Again, presidents have generally ignored this law.

In regards to international law, since the Senate has ratified the Charter of the United Nations, the president of the United States is also bound by the terms of this international charter. However, since many in the international community view the attacks on the WTC and the Pentagon as war crimes, the U.S. may retaliate according to Article 51 of the charter: “nothing … shall impair the inherent right of individual or collective self defence if an armed attack occurs against a Member of the United Nations.”

So yes, if Bush says they're at war, they're at war.

How can the United States be at war if it doesn't know who its enemy is?
And what if the perpetrator is in fact a terrorist group, not a nation?

As strange as it may seem, the United States actually has a precedent for declaring war against groups –even vague, nebulous groups- rather than nations.

Here's the precedent: Two centuries ago, piracy was a constant threat to American ships and harbours. So much so that the Constitution laid out parameters for their punishment.

In 1801, under this article, the American Congress authorized President Thomas Jefferson to send the U.S. Navy to fight the Barbary pirates along the coastline of northern Africa. These pirates weren't a nation, didn’t have a capital, national anthem, or embassy - but this made no difference.

What actions can U.S. President Bush take against terrorist groups?

Since the U.S. Senate has ratified the U.N. Charter, President Bush has to follow international law. So, technically, he cannot retaliate independently.

However, it's generally accepted that, in these situations, nations have the right to respond in self-defence or “anticipatory self-defence” (although what can be classified as self-defence is not always clear).

So, rather than go to war, heads of state are encouraged to assemble an international coalition and use diplomatic efforts. If force is deemed necessary, the President should seek the authorization of the U.N. Security Council.

That said, history shows many instances where U.S. presidents have ignored international law and acted on their own. This happened most recently in 1998, when President Bill Clinton attacked one of Osama bin Laden’s camps in Afghanistan, following the bombings of two U.S. embassies.

In spite of the conclusions of the article I still believe that the U.S. is being far to uncritical in its examination of policies and laws that have been created or are being inacted in the name of 'defense'.

The example of the Barbary pirates are still far more specific than the general notion of 'terrorisim'.

So we must ask ourselves, what is a good definition of terrorisim?

Here is an interesting definition that I've encountered to date, from author Michael Elliota (of Time magazine):

Experts generally define terrorism as the indiscriminate use of violence against civilians by actors who aren't part of a nation's formal machinery of state.

Within that field, it's possible to identify two subcategories. "Political" terrorists have an identifiable goal, which may be precisely that of mainstream politicians. "Millenarian" terrorists are different. They have no political agenda and owe their allegiance not to any institutions or geographical expressions on earth but to a higher authority in heaven.

The classic examples of the first are the armed wings of national liberation movements, like the Irish Republican Army, Israel's Stern Gang and Umkhonto We Sizwe, the military arm of the African National Congress. It is quite possible to support the aims of such groups while deploring their means.

The classic example of the second category, of course, is Osama bin Laden's al-Qaeda, for in conventional terms bin Laden has no political agenda, unless your definition of the conventional extends to the establishment of a global Islamic caliphate.

In an authoritative new study of al-Qaeda, Rohan Gunaratna of the Centre for the Study of Terrorism and Political Violence at the University of St. Andrew's in Scotland makes the point nicely: bin Laden, he says, "never interpreted Islam to assist a given political goal. Islam is his political goal."

This definition would also seem to indicate that unavoidable or accidental damage against civilians by non state groups may not classify as terrorism. Targeting of, or failure of concern for civilians would seem to qualify as a major component of terrorism.

The above definition also seems to imply that terrorism does not include (avoidable) violence against civilians by states. One may imagine that states have their own special category that is probably summed up by the term 'war crimes'. - Although I wonder what the importance of the distinction really is.

I understand that the attacks on September 11th, 2001 are not abstract concepts, they were/are crimes against humanity and must be stopped, by force if necessary.
And yet the U.S. and its allies need to examine their own policies and actions before the rest of the world can take us too seriously.
The U.S. must not trample the rights of people in the excuse of defending them. If we are really at war with terrorism then we must 'fight' it even when it is our own nation that is responsible.
If we don't, I believe that we will become what we claim to be fighting. (If we haven't already.)

Airstrike kills Hamas military leader, 14 others

GAZA CITY (CNN) -- Israeli forces Tuesday launched an F-16 airstrike in the heart of Gaza City, killing a top Hamas military commander and at least 14 other people. Several of the dead were children.

The Bush administration has budgeted more than $7.7 billion for various types of foreign military assistance in fiscal 2003.

US accused of aiding oppressive militaries

Nineteen recipients of such assistance including Pakistan have been cited by the Bush administration as “friends and allies in the fight against terrorism.” Yet the security forces in 14 of those nations were also cited by the State Department’s 2002 “Human Rights Report” for abuses that include extrajudicial killings, torture, and arbitrary arrests and detentions.

In fact, 51 of the 180 countries receiving military aid have been described by the State Department as having “poor” human rights records.

Kuwait University separates the sexes

KUWAIT (AP) -- In the 1970s, women at Kuwait University wore miniskirts, mixed easily with the male students, and joined them for picnics in the desert.

No longer. These days, on the six campuses of Kuwait's only university, hundreds of young women are covered in black head-to-toe cloaks. Even those who wear Western dress tend to avoid speaking to men unless necessary.

Beyond all of the semantics of war and terrorism all nations, and all people must awaken to the idea that we are one people and that ultimately war on another is war upon ourselves. If we don't, we will surely kill ourselves.

Monday, July 22nd, 2002

I use to take martial arts in my youth and then again I took some classes last year for a brief window.

Martial arts are fun and may even be practically useful in rare conditions were one is in an actual self defense situation. For me, the benefit was more in the 'art' than the 'martial' since I don't live in feudal Japan. But the form as with any art, is usually all the justification that anyone should need.

But I was often disturbed by an underlying current of mysticism that is adhered to by many martial artists practitioners. It can be fun to imagine that one can focus undetectable energies through the power of will to topple one's enemies untouched; but not only is this delusion potentially dangerous it is here-to-for unfounded and baseless.

My hat is off to the studied athlete who has undertaken the discipline to study and gain mastery in this art form. But I hold the mystic who claims without verifiable evidence that they have supernatural abilities with great skepticism. I think that these fakirs do the athlete a great discredit and illustrate a probable insecurity with their own abilities.

Read about a similar debate on the James Randi Education Foundation's Web site for July 19th, 2002.

It is morally as bad not to care whether a thing is true or not, so long as it makes you feel good, as it is not to care how you got your money as long as you have got it.
- Edmund Way Teale, "Circle of the Seasons", 1950

Friday, July 19th, 2002

During Pittsburgh's Fort Pitt Bridge construction project, off duty police have been hired to run the street lights within the city. These off duty police are paid from Penndot's budget which is in turn paid by the taxpayers.

At best these police are paid to wave the traffic through in conjunction with the normal cycle of the lights. Although it isn't harmful it isn't very helpful either and certainly not worth the extra money that tax payers are forking over for the service.

At worse, many of the police officers tap into the control boxes for the stop lights and manipulate the lights from a corner box as they see fit. This approach results in long traffic jams and pedestrians who are left waiting on the corners so long that they grow impatient and run across in front of the traffic.

None of the police actually get into the intersection and direct the traffic in the old, but affective manner of waving one direction through and then the next, etc.

I don't know if this policy is a case of graft or just stupidity. Perhaps both.

Thursday, July 18th, 2002

From Reuters:

Killer, Rapist to Be Thrown Off Cliff in Sack
July 18, 2002 10:41 AM ET

TEHRAN (Reuters) - "An Iranian man, convicted for raping and killing his 16-year-old nephew, will be executed by being thrown off a cliff in a sack, a newspaper reported on Thursday.

If the unnamed man survives the fall down a rocky precipice, he will be hanged, legal experts said. He has 20 days to appeal the court sentence.

The killer was arrested last year in the northwestern city of Mashhad after "seducing" and killing his nephew, who worked as an assistant at the man's carpenter's workshop, the Norouz daily newspaper said.

Under Iran's Islamic law, applied since the 1979 revolution, pederasty, homosexuality and adultery are among a long list of crimes punishable by death."

Being stuffed and thrown over a cliff in a sack? Hanging? - Barbaric.
As we all know, civilized countries only gas, poison and electrocute.

Wednesday, July 17th, 2002

Yesterday I wrote in reference to PBS' NOVA were scientist built Egyptian monuments using the technologies of that era. Last night I happened to watch another excellent NOVA episode called 'Medieval Siege' were researches built Medieval trebuchets.

Trebuchet's are fancy catapults that lob rocks weighing hundreds of pounds, hundreds of yards. The NOVA teams built their trebuchets using the same tools and technologies that the medieval armies had at their disposal.

The show is a great lesson not only in science but in history. Learn more at these PBS/Nova Web pages.

Test some of the science yourself with the Destroy the Castle Shockwave game.
(Shockwave is a free browser plug-in that you can download from the site.)

Tuesday, July 16th, 2002

Erich von Däniken manufactured pseudo-history and pseudo-science in such books as Chariots of the Gods, Arrival of the Gods : Revealing the Alien Landing Sites at Nazca, and Unsolved Mysteries of the Past. In spite of the wealth of scientifically gathered data to the contrary Erich von Däniken concludes that ancient cultures were introduced by astronauts from other worlds.

Erich von Däniken argues that ancient cultures were not capable of creating art and structures like those of the Nazca Peru desert line drawings or the pyramids of Egypt.

What is particularly hair raising about Erich von Däniken's writings (and mystic Edgar Cayce before him) is the subtext of racism. Erich von Däniken doesn't question wonders of the ancient world attributed to 'white' civilizations such as Stone Henge.

Instead Erich von Däniken ignores proofs that these wonders are still being made by contemporary 'primitives' such as those giant blocks moved to create tomb stones in Papu New Guinea using ropes, wood and human labor alone.

He claims that the pyramids couldn't be reproduced today with similar technology in spite of the fact that giant Egyptian styled obelisks and the stones like those on Easter Island have in fact been moved and manipulated by researchers using technology and culturally appropriate tools. (You can see it for yourself in the Nova documentary "Secrets of Lost Empires".)

For a person to be credulous enough to believe Erich von Däniken accounts one must have a strong ethnocentric view of the world and a near complete lack of knowledge of physics and the ancient world.

Here is a painfully brief list of some achievements of dark skinned people of Africa that didn't require the guidance of whites or aliens.

  • C.A. 4500 Ancient Egyptians begin using burial texts to accompany their dead, first known written documents. Ancient Egyptians, who called their land Kemet (Land of the Blacks) and Ta-Meri (Beloved Land), were primarily agriculturists who, with the practice of irrigation and animal husbandry, transformed the Nile Valley into a vibrant food-producing economy by 5000 B.C.

  • Kush, the Egyptian name for ancient Nubia, was the site of a highly advanced, ancient black African civilization that rivaled ancient Egypt in wealth, power and cultural development. Here dwelt powerful and wealthy black kings who controlled the trade routes connecting central Africa with ancient Egypt. They built magnificent temples at Jebel Barkal and Meroë, filling them with statuary, cultic implements and religious papyri, which became the inspirational force for their culture for centuries to come.

  • Mapungubwe is a 1,000-year-old city located at the basin of the Limpopo River in South Africa. It reached its height during the 11th century and was the first in a number of trading states developed by the Bantu people who built their wealth through cattle herding.

    Perched on a plateau 985 feet long and 164 feet high, Mapungubwe is surrounded by sandstone cliffs and can be reached only by rope. The people who lived there transported to the top 2,000 tons of soil for farming. They created intricate gold artifacts and pottery and traded goods as far away as India and China.

Learn more: Who Built the Pyramids?, Chariots of Lies, Erich von Daniken's "Chariots of the Gods?": Science or Charlatanism? , Jr. Skeptic Pyramid Power and Ancient Astronauts.

“Give me a place to stand and a lever long enough and I will move the world”
-Archimedes, 220 BC

Monday, July 15th, 2002

The following is an excellent article I wish I'd written. I include it here in its entirety because I don't want it vanishing due to 'link rot', but all credit goes to 'Bill Vann'.

US "Pledge" ruling exposes political scoundrels
By Bill Vann
28 June 2002

The ruling by a three-judge federal appeals court panel in San Francisco that compelling the recitation of the Pledge of Allegiance to “one nation under God” in public schools is unconstitutional has afforded yet another opportunity for America’s politicians to make fools of themselves.

The decision did no more than reaffirm the essential right to freedom from government “establishment of religion” and the principle of separation of church and state enshrined in the First Amendment of the US Constitution.

The statement that the United States is a nation ‘under God’ is an endorsement of religion,” the court’s majority wrote. It added that the pledge “sends a message to unbelievers ‘that they are outsiders, not full members of the political community, and an accompanying message to adherents that they are insiders, favored members of the political community.’”

As written, the court said, the pledge is no less a violation of the constitutional protection against establishment of religion than if it described the US as “a nation ‘under Jesus,’ a nation ‘under Vishnu,’ a nation ‘under Zeus,’ or a nation ‘under no god.’” The First Amendment, it continued, “prohibits the government’s endorsement or advancement not only of one religion at the expense of other religions, but also of religion at the expense of atheism.”

From both a legal and a democratic standpoint, all of this is unassailable. Yet the ruling has ignited a nationwide furor, with congressmen and television “personalities” tripping over each other to be the loudest in braying out their protest against the court’s action.

Meanwhile, fascistic thugs, taking their cue from these political “leaders,” have made death threats against both the California man who brought the lawsuit against the pledge and his daughter, a child in the second grade.

The Senate organized a hasty 99-to-0 vote denouncing the court’s reaffirmation of one of the most fundamental democratic rights upon which the country was founded. Over 100 Congressmen poured out onto the Capitol steps to recite the pledge and sing “God Bless America.”

The frenzied reaction was bipartisan. President Bush called the ruling “ridiculous.” Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle, a Democrat, said it was “just nuts.” House Democratic Leader Richard Gephardt of Missouri railed against any attempt to change “the time-tested, venerable pledge that is such a central part of our country’s life and our nation’s heritage.”

These scoundrels know little and care less about the “nation’s heritage.” The House of Representatives began its “tradition” of saying the pledge each morning only in 1988, as the result of a dirty tricks campaign by the Republican Party and George Bush Sr. against Democratic presidential candidate Michael Dukakis. The Massachusetts governor had vetoed a law requiring the Pledge of Allegiance in all public schools, correctly calling it a violation of the First Amendment. The Republicans sought on that basis to brand him as “un-American.” For its part, the Senate began the practice only two years ago.

The origins of the 31-word oath lie in the relatively recent history of America, a history that does not bear much probing as far as the pledge’s modern-day defenders are concerned.

Its author was Francis Bellamy, a Baptist minister who was pressured into giving up his Boston pulpit because of the church’s opposition to his Christian-socialist sermons. He was a first cousin of Edward Bellamy, author of the well-known socialist-utopian novel, “Looking Backward.”

He wrote the pledge in 1892 for the magazine The Youth’s Companion. It included no reference to God, which would only be tacked on 62 years later.

He chose the words, he later wrote, with his mind on “salient points of our national history, from the Declaration of Independence onwards; with the makings of the Constitution ... with the meaning of the Civil War; with the aspiration of the people...”

In short, the democratic ideals of the American Revolution, the Civil War and the abolition of slavery animated the original pledge. Bellamy acknowledged, however, that he had wanted to include the words “liberty, justice and equality for all,” but left out equality because he knew that it would be opposed by fellow members of the National Education Association, who stood against equal rights for blacks and women.

Even so, the pledge as written rankled the reactionaries of that period, and it was not long before they set about changing it. What had begun as an idealistic tribute to the universal democratic principles of the country’s founding, was soon transformed into a vow of obedience to a rising imperialist power that was to exert its military might around the globe.

The drive to make recitation of the pledge compulsory began only in the early 1920s, amid the wave of reaction that followed the Russian Revolution and gave rise to the anticommunist Palmer Raids and a nationwide anti-immigrant witch-hunt. Spearheading the campaign for the pledge were the American Legion and the Ku Klux Klan, both notorious for their role in the wave of lynchings that swept the country during the same period.

This campaign also involved a critical change to the text drafted by Bellamy, substituting for the original, “my flag,” the words, “the flag of the United States of America.” Bellamy protested this nationalistic revision, aimed against foreigners and “reds.” He had intended the oath not as one of American jingoism, he said, but an international pledge of peace, adaptable to all nations. His opinion, however, was drowned out by the patriotic ranting of the American Legion and the KKK.

After the US entry into World War II, the manner in which the pledge was delivered underwent an alteration as well. Until then, students were instructed to recite it with their right arms rigidly extended, shoulder high. The resemblance to Nazi youth swearing fealty to Hitler was too close for comfort. Americans were instructed to place their hands over their hearts instead.

The second major change in the text, introducing the words now defended so vociferously by both major parties, was carried out in another period of deep reaction, at the height of the McCarthyite witch-hunt of the 1950s. Congress, responding to a campaign by the Knights of Columbus, the Catholic men’s organization, added “under God.” The clear aim was to mobilize religion in the campaign against “godless communism” abroad, and to further the persecution of socialists, communists and atheists at home.

Bellamy had died decades earlier, but his granddaughter said that he would have opposed the introduction of religion. In the end, the mutilation of his original text recalls nothing so much as Orwell’s “Animal Farm,” in which the principle that “all animals are created equal,” was twisted into “some animals are more equal than others.”

It is hardly an accident that a challenge to the introduction of “God” into the pledge evokes such a visceral reaction from ruling circles today. The “heritage” of McCarthyism, police-state repression and anti-immigrant crackdowns is being revived with a vengeance, and with the backing of both political parties.

In the wake of September 11, there has been a concerted campaign to promote cheap patriotism and inject ever-larger doses of religion into national life as a means of diverting the American people from any critical examination of the roots of the present crisis.

Doubtless the correct decision of the Ninth Circuit will be overturned by the black-robed reactionaries on the US Supreme Court, if it is not struck down first by the full appeals court. Nonetheless, the event has had the singular value of providing a self-exposure of a Congress, presidency and media that are permeated with stupidity and cowardice and united in virulent opposition to the most elementary democratic principles.

Friday, July 12th, 2002

I watched The Score DVD last night (starring Robert De Niro, Marlon Brando and Ed Norton and directed by Frank Oz.)

I like heist films and this was an entertaining one but today I'm writing about the post movie DVD experience.

The Score

DVDs are great because of their clarity of image and sound, their formatting (usually wide screen) and because of the bonus material that most of them offer. That being said, I've found that most of these DVDs will invariably have a disappointing 'making of' special feature.

These 'making of' shorts are essentially long commercials that usually alternate between shots of the movie that you've just seen and actors/producers/directors kissing each other's asses. Typically there are very few insights into the actual making of the film.

The voice commentary is often the better choice except that requires another two hours two re-watch the movie. Given the time, even these can be disappointing when the actors/producers/directors who provide commentary are unprepared or are simply goofballs who provide no more perspective than thirteen year old kids talking in front of you at the movie theater.

It is my hope that the Hollywood machine will wake up and take true advantage of the technology for the benefit of its consumers.

Thursday, July 11th, 2002

I've gotten out climbing several times this year which is a good thing since I need the exercise.

Nothing clears my head like getting out into nature, even frustrating moments are better.

I've been rappelling and rock climbing for about fifteen or sixteen years now. I don't get out nearly as often as I did six years ago and my skills have atrophied but it is still great fun. I love the clink of carabineers against the rocks.

Myself and several friends went climbing at a local state park last night. As we were rigging our ropes an odd looking helicopter dropped nearly overhead, about fifteen feet from the tree tops but about a hundred feet downhill from the climbing rocks and started spraying something.

Other than strange blue and green poke-dots on my skin there seems to be hardly any side affects.

Climb on!

Wednesday, July 10th, 2002

Given the recent essays I've written and the many communications I've had with people regarding separation of church and state (and by extension freedom of religion), I thought it worthwhile to provide this link that outlines some of the ideas behind a handful of the more commonly known religions. Hopefully it will serve as a reminder that there is great diversity in people's faiths and that we shouldn't assume religious commonality where it may not exist. (e.g. Everyone believe in one god.)

Also worth investigating is Adherents.com. Adherents.com is a site that lists statistics for over 4,200 religions, churches, denominations, religious bodies, faith groups, etc.

Both of these sites should serve as a reminder that there are thousands of faiths, and even more denominations than are commonly implied when all of the U.S. faiths are neatly wrapped up with the phrase Judeo/Christian.

Tuesday, July 9th, 2002

God Bless America Bumper Sticker

What does that mean to people?

Is it a command? 'God bless America!'

In theory, people aren't very bossy with their gods so I doubt people mean it as a command.

Is it a request?

If it is a request, then do people think that their god didn't think of it before it was requested?
Or do people think that if enough people request it that a god would consider it? i.e. Is it a petition?

Is it just some prayer that is nether a command nor a request but more like a wish or hope?

Then one wonders why people don't pray that their god bless everyone. - After all, shouldn't we want god to bless or bestow grace on everyone? I'd think that we'd want our enemies to have god's blessing and grace as well, maybe if they did, then they wouldn't be our enemies.

And do gods really pay attention to bumper stickers?

Friday, July 5th, 2002

I love fireworks.

... I thrill to the hiss of a rocket as it blasts from some a melting Pepsi bottle launch pad.
I revel in the nervous thrill of an explosion that is so large that you're afraid the cops will come.
I even enjoy the smell of the gun powder and smoke because it brings back all of those sweet, hot summer, childhood days when we'd be lighting our cache of rockets, firecrackers, and fountains. Back then we'd each have our brown paper bag of illegal fireworks that we'd have gotten from some trip south. Thirty dollars of fireworks was a fortune in those days so we'd always carefully select our fireworks to literally get the best bang for the buck.

Times have changed, I can now spend more money than I should but I still get the same thrill with the added bonus of nostalgia. I think of my childhood friends and the plastic army men we use to try and blow up. (They were practically impossible to blow up, but they did start to melt after a while... The army men that is, not my childhood friends.)

Fireworks make me a kid again. - Not to mention I just love blowing stuff up.

Thursday, July 4th, 2002

Today is the two hundred and twenty sixth birthday of the United States of America.
It is a time to consider the words in our birth certificate, the Declaration of Independence.

"-We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness."

-Thomas Jefferson
Declaration of Independence July 4th, 1776

Every fourth of July I celebrate these words and ideas. But this year I feel my thoughts bend to an even greater document, the U.S. Constitution.

Because as important as our Declaration of Independence is, it is akin to a press release to the Constitution.

Because it is with the fundamental principals of the Constitution that our leaders voluntarily gave up Kingships for Presidencies, it is with this document that they chose a future for the people, by the people and of the people. (My apologies to Abraham Lincoln.)

The Constitution is the bedrock of this country. This foundation is based on challenges and exchange of a multiplicity of ideas. These exchanges and challenges provide the checks and balances that can steer a bright future for our country and if we are true to them, a brighter future for the world.

Or as Thomas Jefferson more elegantly stated in his First Inaugural Address (March 4, 1801):

"Equal and exact justice to all men, of whatever state or persuasion, religious or political; peace, commerce, and honest friendship with all nations,—entangling alliances with none; the support of the State governments in all their rights, as the most competent administrations for our domestic concerns, and the surest bulwarks against anti-republican tendencies; the preservation of the general government in its whole constitutional vigour, as the sheet anchor of our peace at home and safety abroad; freedom of religion; freedom of the press; freedom of person under the protection of the habeas corpus; and trial by juries impartially selected, these principles form the bright constellation which has gone before us, and guided our steps through an age of revolution and reformation."

We are not a perfect people or a perfect nation (very far from it) but if we hold to our ideals we can become better people and a better nation.

"We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution of the United States of America."

Today I am happy that there are those with opposing voices from mine and I am grateful to this country's founders that we have the freedom to hear each other's voices.

Happy 4th of July everyone.

Tuesday, July 2nd, 2002

By June 28th my happy mood regarding the federal court ruling upholding of the Constitution's separation of church and state had been pretty well crushed.

The judge who made the ruling that held that 'under god' in the pledge of allegiance was unconstitutional, caved to political pressures and placed the ruling on 'on indefinite hold'; thus condemning the hopes of millions of agnostics, polytheists, atheists, and non-anthropomorphic monotheists who don't want their patriotism questioned because they don't agree with another's religion.

Following on that news the Supreme Court ruled in favor of school vouchers.

The pros of this ruling are that parents can choose were they want their children to go without the added expense of single handedly paying for private schools.

The con is that it breaks the implicit agreement between tax payers and schools. The concept being that society as a whole benefits from an educated population but in exchange for our money, the taxpayer has a say in how the money is spent by having a voice in the politics and curriculum of our schools as long as it was constitutional. This new ruling changes that agreement by taking our money and removing our rights to affect how that money is spent.

Therefore, logically, under this new ruling, those without children should be allowed to receive vouchers and spend the money (or save the money for future children) as they see fit.

-Not to mention that reducing the funding for public schools will further weaken them.

Private education is a luxury, not a right.

I'm disappointed about Worldcom, the latest white collar thievery that hardly garners any public outrage. This crime is on such a massive scale that it is hard to conceive of and yet the perpetrators will almost certainly get away with a slap on the wrist and millions safely tucked away in Swiss bank accounts.

Meanwhile at the annual G8 summit of the eight most powerful nations, our world leaders met in the remote mountains of Canada to avoid protestors. How is that for democracy?

Steal a little and they throw you in jail, steal a little and they make you king.
-Bob Dylan

As our country's birthday approaches, I don't feel much like celebrating.

I also feel that Teddy Carroll's June 27th, 2002 essay is so relevant to my own recent rants that I'm stealing it (Teddy would call it 'fair use') and placing it here so that it is associated with my own essays as they are archived. Still, be certain to check out the real thing: visit Teddy Carroll's Adventure in My Mind.

From Teddy Carroll's Adventure in My Mind, June 27th, 2002:

Our stalwarts in Congress take time out of their busy day to recite it on the steps of the capital. The Senate votes 99-0 in support of it. For several generations school kids have been forced to recite it every morning before class. And yesterday, the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals deemed it unconstitutional. Immediately the howling began.

Everyone from the man on the street to the Whitehouse criticized it in a perfect knee-jerk style that befits today's political and patriotic climate. Tom Daschle has already threatened to use the powers of Congress to overturn the ruling if the Supreme Court fails to do so. To show his complete ignorance of our constitutional government Daschle stated, "The Congress is going to intervene, the Congress is going to do all that it can to live up to the expectations of the American people." That can be translated as, "The Congress is going to interneve, the Congress is going to do all that it can to continue to indoctrinate the youth of America with false patriotism and blind belief in a single Christian god."

What all the flag waivers and bible thumpers are missing here is the real objection that the 9th Circuit Court has with the phrase "... under God": it was instituted by an act of Congress. Yes, in direct opposition to the 1st Amendment, the U.S. Congress added "... under God" to the pledge of allegiance, thereby making a law respecting an establisment of religion. This is simply not allowed by the Constitution. It really is that simple.

It is not an attack on patriotism. It is not an attack on religion (read Christianity). It is bigger than civics. It is bigger than the Christmas tree on the courthouse lawn. It is a textbook violation of a constitutional prohibition that is so explicit, so clear that only those blinded by dogma and agenda are unable to see.

They say that the majority believes in God and country. And that, of course is where all the whailing and gnashing of teeth is coming from. The majority feels that it has been slighted. "Whaddaya mean the Pledge is unconstitutional? What could be more patriotic than that?" Let's try the Constitution for one thing. There is no pledge, no oath, no proclamation, no testimonial as sacred or as American it is. You are not a patriot unless you believe in its word without doubt and without hesitation, particularly the Bill of Rights. It is these rights that the founders gave to the citizens of this country to protect them from the inevitable abuses of government. Without the blanket of freedom that the Bill of Rights provides, liberty is not possible. And prime among our guaranteed rights is the First Amendment. It states:

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.

— The First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution

We did not go to war to protect the pledge of allegiance or the American flag. They are mere symbols, fleeting and ephemeral. We went to war to protect the Constitution and its promise of "liberty and justice for all."

The 9th Circuit Court should be applauded for its brave stance against the majority mindset.

See past WorldView and Friends and Family News in the Archive
This page was last modified: 9/3/2002
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