Sep 29, 2005

Science Fiction & Fictional Science: Perfect Together!

Are we enlightened yet?
Wishful thinking makes many people feel good, but when it is applied to serious decision-making then it's a source of trouble if not idiotic behavior. Granted, many among us can't handle the truth, or, they simply don't have the guts to divest themselves from a position that they've maintained throughout their lives. Unless you speak for the devil, you most likely won't have much incentive for repentance. Or, do you? Not, if you don't care about the truth. Although some things are up to interpretation many are not; they're part of reality. You know, like gravity. At least in this case, reality has a way of smacking you hard, thus easily proving the point to those who believe they can fly. But in other instances things aren't so clear--especially when some effort, like thinking, is required!

There is an important trial [read the daily updates here] going on in Dover, Pennsylvania, where the local school board decided to introduce Intelligent Design into the classrooms. This decision is being challenged by parents, teachers, and many others who don't want the imposition of a religious doctrine on the school curricula; a very particular doctrine to be precise. I feel left out since my preferred bias--that the universe created the gods and not the other way around--would not be taught as an ..alternative theory to ID which is proposed as an alternative to the scientific theory of evolution! [are you still with me? good!] I'm sure others feel left out too. But, science is something very specific. Same goes for the term "scientific theory"--a set of beliefs based on acquired knowledge, application of reason, verifiable facts, open to review & revision, etc. You get my drift. Divine revelation is taken on faith, cannot be put to the test, nor can it be held to the same standards like those of science. [For more background and views regarding evolution and ID, click here.] Any assertion is not a theory, not in the scientific term!

Obviously those Bible-thumbers of the American Taliban, and the ultra-conservative Republicans, and all intolerant people want to make the rest of us think and behave as they do. Once I thought that if they believed that they were so correct, that God had revealed the only & absolute truth to the select few, and that he had chosen his favorite people, then why should these people go to such extremes as to try conversion even by force? It didn't make any sense to me until I paid closer attention to the statements made by those extremists (a.k.a.Jerry Falwell, Pat Robertson, et al). God, in their view, does not discriminate when it punishes! He releases his wrath en-mass, not bothering to pick & choose. So, if a godless & hedonistic New York City supports immoral behavior, then collectively it bears the brunt of God's wrath! No matter if you're a pious person , go to church every day, know your Bible upside down, and do whatever is required by your faith, when God punishes the bad people, you are punished too! It's like being caught in "friendly fire!" In other words, there is a perverse belief in collective and indiscriminate punishment. Wow!

The truly amazing thing to me is not that people believe in crazy stuff, but that in the 21st century America there are so many of our fellow citizens who still have no clue about science and the physical world they live in. Worse, not only they don't live in an enlightenment age but they don't want to allow the rest of us (and our children) to have an age of enlightenment! These are the same people who elect morons to high office. Public policy, which affect us all, is a reflection of the quality of the electorate and its representatives. Complaining about the prevailing politics & the shoddy politicians is one thing, but disavowing any responsibility on the other hand is akin to childish behavior. I understand that this view of mine may offend many, but probably they are the same individuals who can't handle the truth. I believe in maximum rights and freedoms as a necessity to leading a fulfilling life, but clearly personal responsibility is an integral part. Education, I find, is extremely helpful too in making informed and engaged citizens.

Just to give you a current example that sums up the points I'm trying to make in this essay. This week, the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, led by anti-environment champion James Inhofe (R-OK), will hold a hearing to "discuss the role of science in environmental policy making." You'd think that scientists would be invited to offer their opinions, but you'd be wrong. The committee chairman (not the only one) is not interested in the facts, in science, or even in protecting the environment .[Newspeak applied here, like in the "Clean Air Act", "No Child Left Behind", etc. Whereas the used terms mean the complete opposite] Senator Inhofe invited Michael Crichton (fiction writer of Jurassic Park) to testify! Why? Because Crichton's latest book, State of Fear, is more preferable to actual science! Wishful thinking, belief in the unreal & the superstitious, leading an unexamined life, picking ideology over the facts, are a valuable currency in Washington DC today, and, sadly, among many Americans.

Michael Drake--the fictional character in State of Fear-- has his science wrong, but, heck, if Mr. Crichton makes him a scientist with a certain agenda liked by the Republicans, why not bring this expertise onto the table to help create environmental policy for America? Why not indeed?

For a critical evaluation of the distorted science in State of Fear, read this review.

Sep 24, 2005

Like Autumn Like Fall

In need of some fresh, crisp air.
Hurricane Rita wasn't as destructive as Katrina. The response of the local and federal agencies was much better this time around, but I'm still apprehensive about the efficiency and proficiency of this pompous Homeland Security Department. They are good at talking big, playing with the color-coded alerts, attacking our freedoms, and reporting to a commander in chief who doesn't want to hear stuff he doesn't like. Our government always created lots of pork and hired incompetent people to mess things up, but for some positions relevant experience and skills are imperative because incompetence results in great harm. Wouldn't you say that FEMA should operate under this competence standard? Of course! Yet, the top ten FEMA's appointed officers had no disaster experience; none whatsoever! Four years after 9-11, Bush said there is a lot he has to learn on how to respond to disasters. I shudder to think what would happen in case of a sudden terrorist attack on US soil affecting thousands of Americans, and with widespread panic.

But, life should be enjoyed to the fullest, and not be experienced in fear. Our precious liberties are a necessity in the pursuit of happiness & individual development; they are not a luxury that can be given up. Government should be of the people, by the people, and for the people. This is worth remembering. But, those who complain about the bad deeds of our government cannot do so without assuming some personal responsibility. This responsibility, as I see it, includes being informed, interested & engaged in the affairs of our nation. Our government should reflect us. If it doesn't then it means that we either have an authoritarian government or the majority of the people are easily fooled by any charlatan who comes along, waves the flag, appeals to the emotions, and uses smoke and mirrors. At the very least, the people should become better b.s. detectors, and take more care in voting for their elected representatives. The higher the office, the more careful the effort of the decision should be. We're not ordering cheeseburgers at the drive-by window here.

Summer is over, have you noticed? Happy autumn everybody. I could say happy Fall, but I prefer using the former word, while keeping the latter one for its other meaning, that of falling, like Bush's precipitous fall in the American palate. There is a buyer's remorse in the country, but it came rather late, 10 months too late to be precise. There is a partial corrective recourse next year when the House and one third of the US Senate are up for re-election. Let's see if the voters will redeem themselves by kicking out those who blindly support a corrupt and incompetent regime, and those who do not act in the best interest of America.

The calamity brought on by the hurricanes ought to jumpstart a debate about the role of the government. The conservatives, the neo-cons, the far-right Republicans, the theologs, and all the other powerlogs have shown us how they want to use the government. The lunatic fringe is not marginal anymore; it's part of Bush's support base. All these groups have demonstrated that they are incapable of using the government to promote the public good. They're using it to allocate additional wealth and benefits to the "haves" and the "havemores". Can you point out a few good things this administration has done beneficial to the "average" American, or, to most Americans? Can you honestly say that our country is going in the right direction? It's going to the right, but not taking strong steps into the future. This government, since 2001 when it took office, has made more Americans fall into poverty, more and more every year! Economic growth means nothing to most people if it's not widely shared. The Republican mantra of a limited government means nothing as government has grown by leaps and bounds under G.W. Bush to the detriment of the vast majority of Americans. It has squandered trillions of surpluses left by president Clinton, and has amassed trillions of debt that burdens all Americans.

I like the autumn season. I sense some refreshing, crisp air of change. Maybe the Fall will last a bit longer, well into the next year.

Sep 10, 2005

The appalling Lack of Sense & Sensibilities of BushCo.

Say what you will about Bill Clinton--all his personal failings, this and that --but, as a president, he was very competent. I have to tell you, I was never a big fan of big Bubba. His politics and ideological views often were miles apart from my preferences. He was not an easy going, friendly person, and he was often rude to his subordinates. His ego (like most people who become presidents) was huge, and his arrogance was excessive at times. Yet, the question is not about a person's shortcomings, but what he does with the tremendous power a president wields. We have to look at the big picture here. For me, the rule of thumb is how public policy is affected to make a positive difference in the lives of the citizens. This is what really matters.

It was regrettable that Bill Clinton cheated on his wife, but that's a problem (or, an arrangement) between him and his wife. I'm willing to bet that most great men that changed history were not very faithful to their spouses; some of these men didn't have any true friends. But, we are not looking for leaders to be our friends--they can never be. At any rate, a transgression is measured by its effect. A lie, for example, isn't an absolute value in "sin." Lying about a tryst is one thing, lying about the reasons to commit the nation to a very costly and indefinite war is another.

So the point is, which person would you choose to lead our country? I know this is hypothetical right now and doesn't change the fact that America will suffer a total of eight years of a Bushco presidency, but it should put things into perspective. When the citizens make a choice they must thing long and hard and take the time to investigate the facts. Those facts were available to everyone before the last election. Yet, too many people believed in things that weren't true, like whether there was a link between AlQueda and Saddam, or the "evidence" on WMD. The incompetence of the Bush White House in matters of national security was revealed by the Commission to investigate 911, to name one source whose report came out well before last November.

Bill Clinton did many good things for ordinary Americans--those who needed the government to step in and be a force for good change. More people climbed out of poverty, especially children. The national treasury went from a huge deficit to a huge surplus (to be reversed by the current president). Bill Clinton's priorities made more sense. At least he was more concerned about the "underprivileged" Americans, and didn't chuckle like Mrs. Barbara Bush when seeing those underprivileged people sleeping in the Astrodome, implied that these conditions must have been familiar to those poor people! Or, that Tom Delay (House Majority leader, R-TX) saying, "Now, tell me the truth, boys, is this kind of fun?" Why, surely this ..expedition was like going ..camping!

In 1992, hurricane Andrew devastated Florida. Pappa Bush was on vacation too and in similar fashion was very slow to react. I'll close this post with a poignant comment made by former president Clinton, as I think it summarizes very well the point I'm trying to make here.

"... I went to Florida a few days after President Bush did to observe the damage from Hurricane Andrew. I had dealt with a lot of natural disasters as governor, including floods, droughts, and tornadoes, but I had never seen anything like this. I was surprised to hear complaints from both local officials and residents about how the Federal Emergency Management Agency was handling the aftermath of the hurricane. Traditionally, the job of FEMA director was given to a political supporter of the President who wanted some plum position but who had no experience with emergencies. I made a mental note to avoid that mistake if I won.

Voters don't chose a President based on how he'll handle disasters, but if they're faced with one themselves, it quickly becomes the most important issue in their lives."

Bill Clinton, My Life (p. 428)

Another One Caught Fishing!

If anyone had any doubt that this administration has gone fishing a long time ago, read the statement by the Vice President of the United States when asked by a US News reporter why he came back to work on ..Thursday, 4 days after Katrina began its destructive path:

"I came back four days early."

Photo Caption: Dick Cheney near his new multimillion dollar home named "Undisclosed Location"

Sep 5, 2005

Competence Is Scarce, Once Again, In the Bush Administration

Some People Never Learn. How about the rest of us?
It's been more than a week since Katrina started its destructive path in the Gulf Coast. Its effects will be felt for years to come. We've had several days to assess the damage and the response of our government. The American people, like after September 11, 2001, have leapt into action with generous donations of all kinds to the victims of Katrina. But, those hard-hit people in Louisiana, Mississippi, and Alabama were also victims of their government's incompetence, which may result in more deaths than any terrorist attack on US soil. If there were anyone who doubted that this government is incompetent [and the Iraq debacle hadn't convinced them already], then this is proof beyond any reasonable doubt.

By now we know a great deal about the events. Katrina was a hurricane 5 (very deadly & destructive), days before in hit the Gulf Coast states. The evacuation of New Orleans was given on Sunday, but the buses stopped running on Saturday. No National Guard troops mobilized, no provisions to evacuate the poor souls who couldn't leave the city, and no plans to deal with the impending disaster. While Katrina was destroying structures and lives, Bush was still on vacation; he found the time to strum the guitar with music stars, attend Senator McCain's birthday party, and didn't get back to DC until two days after Katrina was done. Meanwhile, Condie was shoe shopping in Manhattan, and Dick was hidden as usual. The Bush White House was paralyzed by debates on who should be in charge! Ah, how about FEMA (Federal Emergency Management Agency) and its no-emergency-experience appointed director? Well, he didn't learn about the levee break until two days later. Surely, the Homeland Security was more informed you may say. Wrong! Chertoff, its director, learned about the levee break 36 hours later too. Funny, the rest of us were better informed just be watching our television sets and listening to the radio!

What a lack of sense and sensibility by those in our government. I couldn't help but use some expletives against those officials who got in front of the tv, interview after interview, to congratulate each other on their response to this tragedy! [ including Senator Mary Landrieu, D-LA]

In the first 48 critical hours, I saw only Coast Guard helicopters evacuating people from their rooftops. No National Guard present. No coordinated rescue efforts by the federal government, which must step in to help Americans during a catastrophe. We witnessed the worst abandonment of so many Americans by their government in such dire circumstances. We saw images of a Third World underdeveloped country being played in our backyard. We witnessed a country where its class & race situation revealed something ugly about America. Indifference can indeed be a weapon of mass destruction!

Our government failed us miserably. Of course we have a right to be angry and demand punishment of those responsible--though, some punishing we have to do ourselves via the ballot box next year and beyond. It is utterly unacceptable that incompetence may have cost more lives than the terrorists managed to kill in their World Trade attacks. Where is the so-called "culture of life"? Isn't our elected government responsible of safeguarding us? But, politics, again, is the determinant factor. Elections have consequences and people have to learn this. Voting for someone is not only a right but a responsibility too. The higher the office the more careful the voter must be. We can't vote for a president of these United States like we order a cheeseburger, or, for the person whose company we'd prefer over a couple pints of beer. There are important decisions to be made, decisions that affect us all!

Those who say a natural disaster shouldn't be used for a political gains, I say, why not? Some serious change should occur. We're talking about grave responsibilities here, not cheap shots. If the Republicans, the neo-cons, or whatever the hell those people are, argue for a limited and powerless government, and are the ones who gutted FEMA (and semi-privatized it), by slashing its budget and appointing a person with a ..fundraising experience, then why not? Why, if the same people take much of the National Guard equipment and manpower to Iraq, is it not appropriate to point the finger at those Grover Norquists who want the government "so small that it can be drowned in a bathtub"? How money is spent is dictated by the ideology, alliances, obligations of those in charge. If the people don't keep a short leash and a keen eye on their representatives, bad things happen. The role of the government is not a casual topic of discussion. Government is us, and it should act for the maximum benefit of the maximum number of people--at the very least!
Bush's decisions and priorities played a role in this disaster.

It's politics alright. It's a matter of priorities, and national emergencies have a way of revealing the priorities on the agenda of those in charge. Do you know what the Congressional Republicans discussed in a memo a couple days ago? To repeal the estate tax--or, in other words, how to preserve Paris Hilton's huge inheritance! Yeah! And, just as an icing on the cake, the new bankruptcy law is due to take effect, making harder for the average person to get a fresh start. The amendment to have some discretion in filling for bankruptcy because of loss due to a natural disaster was voted down (when this abomination of a law passed earlier this year and signed by Bush) along party lines!

This flyover presidency has been a disaster all along, especially after the ill-thought, planned & executed Iraq venture. But, even in the absence of such a wasteful and injurious effort overseas, those people in charge had already shown that they were incompetent. They had paid no attention to the warning of the previous administration and their own people about Al Queda. Those minions who've exhibited loyalty to Caesar above everything else were rewarded with medals and promotions, and fat corporate contracts. The philosophy and politics of the conservatives are bankrupting the country while putting our lives at a greater risk. OK, I'll admit, not all of us, because some of us have more means and may have no need for public services or federal assistance. Well, even this isn't totally true: those with the most want more, and want the government to give them more tax cuts, and give more rights to a corporation than an individual. You see, the looting had begun long before the breakdown of order in New Orleans!

A final thought, and a challenge to the ditto heads: How would this government protect us in case of a major terrorist attack, when it showed such an incompetence in the face of a natural threat known to us with a precise time & place several days in advance?

ADDENDUM: Since I posted this, I've been watching Bush officials saying absurdities, and the mainstream news media don't know (or bother to learn and challenge the inaccurancies) their stuff and keep repeating the lies of the Bush White House and their ditto heads. I've heard that the reason the federal government didn't intervene in time was because the local/state authorities hadn't asked.....
The facts are these: Louisiana Governor Blanco declared a state of emergency on Friday 26 (three days before Katrina touched LA) and sent a letter to president Bush to federalize the troops. Bush responded the next day saying he had done so. Case closed. FEMA is supposed to plan ahead, be on alert, and act immediately after a disaster--a disaster in the making for several days. Brown, its director, has no such planning experience. He was fired from his last job (as the head of some Arabian horses association), he grossly padded his resume, and his appointment showed the value Bush placed on FEMA. As a matter of fact, FEMA used to be one of the best-run & effective agencies (as shown after the San Francisco earthquake and other natural disasters), but its budget was slashed by the Republicans and incompetent people replaced professionals with experience within the agency. The neo-cons have been pushing for privitization of FEMA and other federal agencies. They hate government when it provides public services but they love it to give huge benefits and protect fat corporations. Halliburton [the same company that's mismanaged US property in Iraq while overcharging the American taxpayers] is being hired for cleanup operation in the Gulf Coast states.