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Monday, September 30th, 2002

I watched a bootleg of the latest Lord of the Rings, Two Towers trailer today. The official version is out to the general public tomorrow.

It reminded me that about two months ago I watched my Ralph Bakshi's animated Lord of the Rings DVD. Since I've grown to really enjoy Peter Jackson's the Fellowship of the Rings I thought that I'd find Mr. Bakshi's version even more flawed than before. So I was surprised to discover that as incredibly bad as it is any many ways, that there is still something very enjoyable about watching it. I figured out why: Tolkien's words.

As visually stunning, well acted and well directed as Peter Jackson's Fellowship of the ring is, and as enticing as the Two Towers appears, there is a real lack of Tolkien's own dialog preserved in the final movie. I don't think that there is a single Tolkien quote in the new Two Towers trailer. But as cartoonish as Mr. Bakshi's version is (literally), it is much truer to the words of Tolkien: many, many quotes are verbatim. Tolkien wrote brilliant, rich and grand dialog and Mr. Bakshi's movie benefits from its use, while Mr. Jackson's suffers from in its absence.

Thursday, September 26th, 2002

Thanks to Mr. Vargo for the lead on this article and excerpt.

"Why We Didn't Remove Saddam"
by George Bush [Sr.] and Brent Scowcroft, Time (2 March 1998).

"While we hoped that popular revolt or coup would topple Saddam, neither the U.S. nor the countries of the region wished to see the breakup of the Iraqi state. We were concerned about the long-term balance of power at the head of the Gulf. Trying to eliminate Saddam, extending the ground war into an occupation of Iraq, would have violated our guideline about not changing objectives in midstream, engaging in "mission creep," and would have incurred incalculable human and political costs. Apprehending him was probably impossible. We had been unable to find Noriega in Panama, which we
knew intimately. We would have been forced to occupy Baghdad and, in effect, rule Iraq. The coalition would instantly have collapsed, the Arabs deserting it in anger and other allies pulling out as well. Under those circumstances, furthermore, we had been self-consciously trying to set a pattern for handling aggression in the post-cold war world. Going in and occupying Iraq, thus unilaterally exceeding the U.N.'s mandate, would have destroyed the precedent of international response to aggression we hoped to establish. Had we gone the invasion route, the U.S. could conceivably still be an occupying power in a bitterly hostile land. It would have been a dramatically different--and perhaps barren--outcome."

Wednesday, September 25th, 2002

In President's Speeches, Iraq Dominates, Economy Fades

By Dana Milbank
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, September 25, 2002;

"As he seeks to boost Republican candidates in the midterm elections, President Bush is increasing his emphasis on terrorism and national security, shedding his previous determination to demonstrate his concern about the flagging economy.

Four times in the past two days, Bush has suggested that Democrats do not care about national security, saying on Monday that the Democratic-controlled Senate is "not interested in the security of the American people." His remarks, intensifying a theme he introduced last month, were quickly seconded and disseminated by House Majority Whip Tom DeLay (R-Tex.)."

George Bush doesn't seem to think that the opposition should voice their concerns, - concerns incidentally, that virtually the entire world (with the exception of Britain) are worried about.

Bush wants to make the American policy on defense one of aggression.

There should be little doubt that Iraqi President Saddam Hussein is a ruthless dictator who murders his own people. Saddam Hussein has shown that he will attack his neighbors and violate international law. But alas, so do many despots around the world. So we must ask, why the government has so little time for these other countries and their 'evil doers'. Why does the average American seldom hears about these countries from the (corporate controlled) mass media?

One difference may be that Iraq is on the verge of being dangerous on a global level. But the events of September 11th should go far to illustrate that even a small group of men can wreck terrible consequences with a tiny amount of money and cunning.

So I can't help but suspect that the chief difference between these terrorists and Saddam Hussein is that they don't sit on top of some of the richest deposits of oil in the world. There is money in Iraq and the rest of the world knows it.

And now more than ever, it is about politics. As CNN reported, 'White House Chief of Staff Andrew Card who has been quoted as saying "from a marketing point of view" it made sense to raise the issue of Iraq after Labor Day when lawmakers would be back from their August break.' Since the president and his cabinet can't do anything about issues such as the ailing economy it seems he is willing to attack another country to distract us during the voting season.

I want to hear explicitly what Bush intends to do after disposing of Saddam Hussein. Is he willing to station large numbers of troops there for many years? Will he disarm the country? Will he approve money to build schools, hospitals and infrastructure? Or will he abandon the country or arm and train the locals so that they will become the next dictators for the next generation to fight - ala, the Taliban, Osama Bin Laden and Saddam Hussein himself?

We need to consider the opinions of our allies and international law. Americans needs to wake up to the realities that the rest of the world face every day and to the consequences of our own actions.
Above all, Americans need to hear the opposing view to make rational choices.

Monday, September 23rd, 2002

Today is the first day of fall. It's cool and sunny but the leaves are still green. I can see the recreational boaters out my office window as they squeeze the last fun out of the summer.

I'm not at all looking forward to winter. Correction, I'm dreading winter.

Friday, September 20th, 2002

Ross Park Dodge car dealership and garage on McKnight Road (Pittsburgh) sucks.

I dropped my car off there last to be inspected because it is convenient to my apartment.

They charged me about $15 for the Allegheny emissions, $15 for the inspection and $15 to change a brake light.

I told them that I'd come down and change the brake light but they told me that I wasn't allowed to do it on their property. They then went on to tell me that once I drove the car off the lot (to change the bulb), that according to PA law they would have to charge me for another inspection.

What a crock.

You may want to celebrate on September 22nd because it is Bilbo and Frodo's birthdays. (And no, I don't have this committed to memory, I was just reminded of it because I read it on a Web site.)

Thursday, September 19th, 2002

I heard on the local morning news the other day that this summer we had about twenty four days when the temperature reached ninety degrees.

The average is seven, ninety degree days for Pittsburgh.

I just thought you ought to know what a toasty summer we've had. I'm not at all ready for fall and thinking about winter makes me shiver.

On another note, here is a little joke from my friend Mr. Loding:

A UN Survey

A recent worldwide survey was conducted by the UN. The only question asked was:

"Would you please give your honest opinion about solutions to the food shortage in the rest of the world ?"

The survey was a huge failure....

1. In Africa they did not know what "food" meant.

2. In Eastern Europe they did not know what "honest" meant.

3. In Western Europe they did not know what "shortage" meant.

4. In China they did not know what "opinion" meant.

5. In Middle East they did not know what "solution" meant.

6. In South America they did not know what "please" meant.

7. And, in U.S.A. they did not know what "the rest of the world" meant.

Tuesday, September 17th, 2002

Sarcastic meters on please.

Here is another argument in favor of religion in state. Why can't we be more like Nigeria?

From the L.A. Times Monday September 16th, 2002. (Thanks to Teddy Carroll for the lead.)

Nigerian mother to be stoned to death

A Nigerian woman who had a baby out of wedlock has been sentenced to death by a religious court. She'll be buried up to her chest and and smashed with rocks. She lives in a village "governed by Sharia, a radical interpretation of Islamic law." Nigerian President Olusegun Obasanjo has the authority to commute the sentence, but the only thing he's said about the case so far is "Nigeria will weep," if the woman is executed.

Thursday, September 12th, 2002

From Reuters:
September 12, 2002 Posted: 5:45 AM EDT (0945 GMT)

Apollo astronaut says he hit man in self defense

Buzz Aldrin on the moon
Buzz Aldrin conducting an experiment on the moon in 1969

BEVERLY HILLS, California (Reuters) -- Apollo 11 astronaut Edwin "Buzz" Aldrin offered a spirited defense Wednesday as to why he decked a pushy filmmaker who wanted him to swear on a Bible that he really did go to the moon -- self defense.

"The man had him up against a wall and was not letting him pass. All Buzz was doing was trying to get away from him. On the videotape of the incident, you can hear Buzz asking for police to be called," his lawyer, Robert O'Brien, told Reuters in an interview.

O'Brien added that the 72-year-old Aldrin "was forced to protect himself" from independent Nashville filmmaker Bart Sibrel, a much younger and bigger man, who was stopping the astronaut and his daughter from leaving.

Sibrel, 37, has admitted to ambushing Aldrin at the hotel and shoving a Bible at him so that he could swear he really made the second walk on the moon on July 20, 1969.

The filmmaker has made television documentaries and films debunking the Apollo 11 voyage, saying it never left earth -- a conspiracy theory that some critics maintain gives conspiracy theory a bad name.

Sibrel said Aldrin punched him in the jaw and he wants the Beverly Hills police to charge astronaut with assault.

A police spokesman said police were investigating but had not yet spoken to Aldrin and "got his side."

Once the investigation is completed, its findings will be forwarded to the district attorney to see what, if any, action will be taken, the spokesman said.

The police spokesman added that witnesses have come forward stating that they saw Sibrel aggressively poke Aldrin with a Bible and that Sibrel had lured Aldrin to the hotel under false pretenses so that he could interview him.

Sibrel told Reuters, "I approached him and asked him again to swear on a Bible that he went to the moon, and told him he was a thief for taking money to give an interview for something he didn't do."

The incident was videotaped for a new Sibrel film, which claims to prove that the Apollo 11 astronauts faked footage of their 1969 voyage to the Moon to fool the Soviet Union into thinking the United States had won the space race.

Aldrin was the second man to take a walk on the Moon, a feat recorded on grainy black-and-white film footage and transmitted around the world.

"The claim that the moon landing is a hoax is completely crackpot. It's just crazy. The scientific evidence is overwhelming," a spokesman for The Skeptical Inquirer Magazine told the Los Angeles Times.

This theory that the moon landings were actually faked has made a recent come back thanks to the fine "journalism" of Fox TV's February 15th, 2001 "documentary" 'Conspiracy Theory: Did We Land on the Moon?', hosted by X-Files actor Mitch Pileggi.

Learn more about the recent resurgence of the faked Moon landing conspirators and those who challenge their theories at Bad Astronomy.

Tuesday, September 10th, 2002

I'll probably be traveling for business tomorrow and won't have the means to post here on September 11th. And yet the importance of that now infamous of dates warrants comment. So here are some of my thoughts a day early.

As I'd feared one year ago, the consequence and wounds of the events of September 11th have been far more insidious than 'just' the mass murder of nearly 3,000 people. Beyond the horrendous injury of these murders the U.S. has suffered from a slightly less obvious afflictions: fear and its associate, irrationality.

And to pacify our fears and in the name of safety and security we have abandoned much of our fundamental freedoms and basic ideology with little public debate or consideration.

Overview of Changes to Legal Rights

By The Associated Press
September 5, 2002, 11:44 AM EDT

Some of the fundamental changes to Americans' legal rights by the Bush administration and the USA Patriot Act following the terror attacks:

* FREEDOM OF ASSOCIATION: Government may monitor religious and political institutions without suspecting criminal activity to assist terror investigation.

* FREEDOM OF INFORMATION: Government has closed once-public immigration hearings, has secretly detained hundreds of people without charges, and has encouraged bureaucrats to resist public records requests.

* FREEDOM OF SPEECH: Government may prosecute librarians or keepers of any other records if they tell anyone that the government subpoenaed information related to a terror investigation.

* RIGHT TO LEGAL REPRESENTATION: Government may monitor federal prison jailhouse conversations between attorneys and clients, and deny lawyers to Americans accused of crimes.

* FREEDOM FROM UNREASONABLE SEARCHES: Government may search and seize Americans' papers and effects without probable cause to assist terror investigation.

* RIGHT TO A SPEEDY AND PUBLIC TRIAL: Government may jail Americans indefinitely without a trial.

* RIGHT TO LIBERTY: Americans may be jailed without being charged or being able to confront witnesses against them.

(Editor's note: Thanks to Corey Davis for the lead on the above story. Please be sure to visit his site: flawdlogic)

I think that it is a sad testament that these lost liberties actually move us closer in association with the perpetrators of the terrorist acts. History has many illustrations of the consequences when countries abandon their freedoms to their government in exchange for 'security'.

Similarly it is an ironic twist that we continue the willful erosion of the wall between church and state. The Taliban would be proud.

"Usually, terrible things that are done with the excuse that progress requires them are not really progress at all, but just terrible things."

- Russell Baker

Fear is not an all together a bad thing, it can keep us from doing foolish things in the face of real danger. But terror is the irrational reaction to danger, real or imagined. The terror that the criminals want us to feel has been all too effective.

I suggest that on this anniversary we take stock of our fear and proportion it to reality. I suggest that we measure the real danger of additional acts of terrorism against the other woes that our country (and the world) face. I suggest that we measure the short term benefits from the (illusion) of some would-be 'security' against the long term benefits of freedom.

I hope that our country chooses to lead with the banner of freedom, bravery and honor and does not give way to the lesser calls of oppression, cowardice and hypocrisy.

My thoughts and hopes go out to the family of those injured and murdered a year ago. I hope that they can find some peace of mind and heart.

"Good and kind people outnumber all others by thousands to one. The tragedy of human history lies in the enormous potential for destruction in rare acts of evil, not in the high frequency of evil people. Complex systems can only be built step by step, whereas destruction requires but an instant. Thus, in what I like to call the Great Asymmetry, every spectacular incident of evil will be balanced by 10,000 acts of kindness, too often unnoted and invisible as the "ordinary" efforts of a vast majority."

-Stephen Jay Gould

Tuesday, September 3rd, 2002

(Turn your sarcastic detection meters on.)

Science and and specifically, space exploration suffered a tremendous set back today.

From CNN:

'N Sync's Lance Bass = Neil Armstrong?

MOSCOW (CNN) -- Russian officials Tuesday said 'N Sync singer Lance Bass will not be taking off for a trip next month to the orbiting international space station as Bass representatives say they are still trying to salvage the deal.

Bass had hoped to fly to the space station aboard a Russian Soyuz rocket on October 28. But the singer stopped cosmonaut training at Russia's Star City and the Russians are saying he won't be back.

Russian space officials said a Russian and a Belgian will be making the flight. In Bass' place on the trip will be a cargo container, they said.

The Russians said Bass could not come up with the money for the trip.

The pop star has been granted numerous deadline extensions after failing to come up with the $20 million needed to secure his seat. The deal has almost fallen apart numerous times.

But Cindy Owens, Bass' agent, told CNN that negotiations between Russia and Bass representatives are continuing. She believes Bass will be back in Star City by the end of the week.

Jeff Manber, president of Mircorp, working on behalf of Bass, said Bass "trained on Monday, was off training Tuesday, but his stuff is done still there," in Star City.

Celebrity Missions, the group putting together the funding for the mission, "is fully prepared to go forward," Manber said.

Space officials said a Russian and a Belgian will be making the flight. In Bass' place on the trip will be a cargo container, they said.

The 150-kilogram (330-pound) container will be packed with personal belongings for the current international space station crew -- Russian cosmonauts Verley Korzun and Sergei Zalyotin and U.S. astronaut Peggy Whitson -- and hardware for the Russian-built components of the station, the Russian news agency Interfax reported Tuesday.

I'm torn on several fronts about space tourism.

On one hand, I have to admit that if I had $20 million in spare change sitting around (and had taken care of friends, family and charity) that I'd be sorely tempted to try it myself.
I also see potential value that the money must bring to the ailing space programs.

And yet the notion that the rich can hijack our countries (or even Russia's) science programs for their own entertainment is disappointing. In this age of limited access, the decision of whether one should go to space should be based on merit and not riches.

Not to mention that boy band 'N Sync's singer and would be astronaut, Lance Bass, looks like he could use a good slap more than a ride to the international space station. But there does seem to be some justice in that he is going to be replaced by a container.

(Thanks to Mr. Edwards for the story lead.)

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