Dec 24, 2006

Have a Great Holiday Season. Enjoy Life, a Moment at a Time.

Without further ado, these are some pictures I took over the years in and around New York.

PS. I could have spent more time writing, and tweaking stuff here on Blogger (to post more pictures in a better layout) but between the liberal libations available this season and the nice weather, it didn't happen! [Did you know this page looks different in IE and Firefox?!! I use both] I'll be posting sporadically until year!

PS2:You could click on the image for a better picture! I'm outahere...

Dec 23, 2006

Conservative Talking Heads Offer Dung to American Consumers

Warning: Ingesting Without Chewing Leads to Atrophy of the Brain and Loss of Clear Vision

Are we having a good national dialogue in this country? Well, depends where you go and what you read/watch/listen, but there are too many people out there who make tons of money by spewing venom and provoking the worst emotional responses. Obviously, there is an audience, of the lowest common denominator, because an extremist is marginalized if his message doesn't find willing ears and narrow minds.

There are idiots on all sides, in every political & social segment, but why is it that the worst, most hateful rhetoric comes from the Conservatives and the theocons? Why isn't there a ..liberal equivalent of the likes of Rush Limbaugh, Hannity, O'Reilly, Culter, Savage, Beck, Robertson, Falwell, Boortz, etc, ? Because, the liberals & progressives tend to be a lot better B.S. detectors! We are critical thinkers for the most part. Those persons who claim to be part of the "righteous ones," who think they've have "high morals" are indeed the ones who are the most hateful mongers that walk in the gutter. It wouldn't be all the worrisome if they were promptly ignored, but they do matter because they have millions of Americans who agree with them.

Media Matters put together some highlights (rather, lowlights) of the ..dung served to millions of Americans in 2006 by those media barons, who, ironically, also decry America's the lack of .."moral fitness." So, do you want to know who'd sodomize their mothers, push Jewish children into the oven? Who's more gay, Clinton or Gore? Why to exterminate all barbarians? What animation movie has a homosexual subtext? Who looks like Tina Turner peeing on an electric fence? No, I'm not making this up, these are comments on shows with millions of viewers/listeners. [click on the link to find out] By the way, all this nonsense about the "War on Christmas" was the creation of that hypocrite [pictured] to generate ratings and distract attention from that sexual harassment case...

A democracy usually falters & falls from within. Likewise, the worst enemy is ourselves; we've often inflicted more damage on our country than our enemies on us. The dumbing down of our society, that simplistic ignorance and primitive emotional responses, Big Brother policies, the encouragement of cynicism about our public life, all are obstacles to a better life, a safer country, a forward-looking nation, and a enhanced culture of life!

Happy Holidays (Festivus?) to all.

"Reality has a well-known liberal bias." Stephen Colbert

Dec 21, 2006

New Jersey Takes a Progressive Step in Legalizing Same-sex Unions

Marriage Meant Different Things in the Good Ol' Days--when Women were Considered Chattel

As expected, Gov. Corzine signed a law legalizing civil unions. New Jersey now joins Connecticut and Vermont as states that provide equal treatment for all of their citizens under the law. This is a great step forward, even though it shies away from calling a civil union by its true name, marriage! Of course, language is important, so I hope that the commission--which will be formed to study the effects & application of the new law--will find that the the words marriage, spouse, parents, should be extended to same-sex couples as well, and that the NJ Legislature will follow suit.

Several years ago when this issue first surfaced, I was of the opinion that winning the actual rights of marriage should be the primary aim; the language would follow as a de facto once full, equal rights were won. This is a socially conservative country, more so than other advanced countries. Even very Catholic Spain, for example, has recognized same-sex marriage. But, in the US, there's a totally different story. This is a very emotional issue for many Americans, so no argument solely based on reason can win the day. Yet, if certain language were to be put on hold until specific legal rights were to be won, I'd say this would be the way to go. Language would be easier to adjust once there would be a legal basis for it. I understand that the wrong language may create confusion and a re-creation of the "seperate but equal" status, but I believe it's easier to push for the same legal rights first without being distracted or delayed because of language. I don't see it as an "either-or" issue, I'm just thinking how to best achieve the same goal of total equality. Obtaining equal rights is essential and the strong foundation on which to built a greater understanding and acceptance by the community at large.

During a course I taught last semester, some of
my students conducted interviews--primarily in Westchester, NY--about this issue, and a pattern emerged: the word marriage triggered emotional responses in rejecting it as an option for homosexual couples, while the civil unions term was more acceptable. "My marriage will be worthless if gays are allowed to marry," was a response shared by many older interviewees. This emotional response is not ..rational. Others' actions shouldn't invalidate what you do, but that's beside the point. Popular support is important in moving the country forward. Although most Americans oppose giving the full benefits of marriage to same-sex couples, the good news is that those under 30 are overwhelmingly in favor! Westchester County, for those of you not familiar with it, is a northern suburb of New York City, very affluent and treads Republican, but most conservatives in the Northeast would be considered very moderate (and unacceptable) in the very conservative states where Republicans rule today.

In the US there are several states that have passed or are in the process of passing constitutional amendments explicitly prohibiting marriage, civil unions, and spousal benefits for same-sex couples. Unless the (conservative) Supreme Court finds otherwise (very doubtful), marriage will remain in the realm of the states. I hope that more states join Massachusetts, New Jersey, Connecticut, and Vermont in giving long-awaited and rightful legal recognition to all citizens. This will demonstrate that doing so is not a threat to society. As a matter of fact, marriage has fared better in Massachusetts where there are fewer out-of-wedlock births, lower teenage abortion rates, and the lowest divorce rate in the country!

Now that the veep's daughter, Mary Cheney, is pregnant, will the socially conservatives realize that love is a good thing? Gays and lesbians are capable of loving just like anybody else. Mary Cheney has been with her lesbian partner for 15 years--much longer than many heterosexual couples--and their child will benefit from a loving relationship between his/her parents! I can't think of a good reason why Mary's partner shouldn't be recognized as a parent, and a legal spouse with all the rights and benefits the rest of us enjoy.

Dec 13, 2006

Knowledge is Attainable. But, Willful Ignorance is Unbecoming of the Human Spirit. A Need-to-know Option?

Who's Excited About the Journey in the Pursuit of Knowledge?

I believe in education, that is, where there's a pursuit of knowledge through inquiry, critical thinking, and the scientific method. I really abhor the attempts of dumbing down, aplenty in our society. We're not producing enough critical thinkers, and people who, put it simply, can connect the dots! We're losing the distinction between an opinion and a fact. Yes, there are many theories our there, but a theory--in the scientific definition--is a collection of evidence that point to a specific conclusion. Some theories are indeed conjecture but if are based on informed opinion and are an extension of established facts then they can be very helpful in furthering our understanding. On the forefront of knowledge--when blazing new paths--mistakes are possible, but that's why a scientific theory is strong--because it allows the possibility of revision once better facts are presented. Weak theories are the ones that are "closed," not subject to proof or amendment. Theories based on feelings (especially of the supernatural kind) and unverifiable opinions are not very useful in the pursuit of knowledge. Those theories based on fiction (or, delusion) are for entertainment purposes only. I do like entertainment, fiction, and the other joys of life, but it would be intellectually dishonest to always identify the comforting with the real. I also understand that this view may be quite unpopular on occasion.

Yes, it is possible to know things about the natural/physical world. We know that the Earth revolves around the Sun and not the other way around. This is a fact, along with the facts of the theory of evolution, the laws of physics, etc. We know how to date stuff, we dig and unearth fossils and other archaeological treasures; we know the properties of light, we can measure the distances in the cosmos and the expanding universe, we've stared into the heavens and we understand that we're looking back into the past! We've examined the DNA and the human genome. We've documented historical events and can face up to reality of the human condition, from the most beautiful & creative side to the worst behavior of our species. But, the key has been: we want to know! And, not only the things that may be pleasing & comforting to us. We follow the evidence wherever it leads us. That's very exciting--at least to those who appreciate the discovery and the journey of getting there.

Sadly, many among us don't really care about finding new things and expanding knowledge. They may believe that they've captured the absolute truth and all there's to know! Of course, they are not interested in the truth that lies outside their own narrow horizon framed by feelings. Thinking is an active process and requires effort. Obviously not every idea or statement we utter is fully developed or sound, but we should recognize it as such. When people say "I think" they truly mean, "I feel" which usually is void of any rational process. Others are deliberately sinister in manipulating the ignorant and perpetuating dumbness for their own personal gain--just look into politics, religion, and almost every other human activity.

One of the unpleasant things we know is that millions of humans have been intentionally and systematically killed because of their color of their skin, religion, ethnicity, origin. The Holocaust did happen and we do have indisputable proof. We've seen the corpses, we've seen the torture, we've seen the horrors, and the survivors--most barely alive when rescued by the Allies. We have the testimony of fascists/nazis, and all the proclamations for a pure race and how the "sub-human" races must be exterminated! Yet, just the other day, "scholars, PhDs, historians, politicians and white supremacists" gathered in Tehran, Iran, to raise questions about and basically deny the Holocaust. It was there that the president of Iran, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, said "the Zionist regime will disappear soon... thus, humanity will achieve freedom."

Surely, this guy is an idiot, but he is a dangerous ignoramus for he's preaching hate and calls for extermination of people he doesn't like. Now, who's more likely to fall prey to this kind of rhetoric, the educated or the ignorant? Those who have a broader horizon or those with a microscopic point of view? In a previous post on this blog [link to the post here] I advocated for a world-wide effort to educate the children of the very poor. Education is the key to a better & safer life, and it will help reduce conflicts and future wars.

We should not neglect our own people here, because there's much ignorance and bigotry in our own country. Remember David Duke, the founder of the Louisiana Knights of the KKK? [He's also known as Dorothy Vanderbilt--his pen name under which he advised women on vaginal exercises, fellatio, analingus, and anal sex] He attended the Tehran conference too, how could he not to? I'm not going to discuss the absurdities he spreads, but I'm going to ask: how is this possible that this person can gather 44% of the vote in a state-wide race in these United States of America? This is not marginal, unless we accept that the lunatic fringe has become mainstream in some parts of our country!

As we enter the long race for the next presidential election in 2008, there are several names being mentioned, but I'd like to ask whether the country could possibly elect someone like Barak Obama or Hillary Clinton? I know that politics has to do with issues, personalities, vision, party affiliation, etc. But, can a black man or a woman be elected to the highest office of our land today? Can Americans elect a President without paying attention to race and gender? I don't think we have a definite answer; although, because we don't know, it bothers me. Doesn't the absence of a unequivocal answer reveal something about the US?

Dec 12, 2006

Warning: This is about Sex! Could Politics be far Behind?

Just Say NO to Anything that has to do with Sex! Why didn't God Invent a Better Way?..

Today (12/01) is world AIDS day and faith groups in the US are urging the Bush administration to cut AIDS funds because they say we place too much emphasis on preventing AIDS (and other venereal diseases) without ..banning sex! Oh, and because we don't give most of the money to faith-based groups that preach the abstinence-only dogma. Never mind that this dogma doesn't work! Never mind that the US has the highest teenage pregnancy rate in the industrialized world. Never mind that our kids that take "the pledge of abstinence" have higher rates for oral and anal sex! And, when they do have vaginal intercourse, they're less likely to use contraception! The states drenched in Biblical, born-again Christianity have the highest rates of teenage pregnancy and abortion! The "godless, hedonistic" Massachusetts. by comparison, has one of the lowest rates of teenage pregnancies, and the lowest divorce rate in the union! God works in mysterious ways indeed!

Is there anything we can do to fix the problems? Well, yes and no. Yes, if we employ a realistic approach, hire competent people to run educational and prevention programs, and begin to develop a healthy attitude towards sex. No, as long as sex is seen as a perversion and a vice to be resisted, then we won't make much progress in reducing teenage pregnancies, abortions, and venereal diseases. If we keep electing people to powerful positions that have an aversion to science and reason! Elections have consequences on a wide range of issues that affect our lives. This president has been promoting ignorance and rewards incompetence since he took office. Perhaps he doesn't know any better. Perhaps he's such an extreme and passionate ideologue--without the passion that rests on knowledge and the facts--that he wants only like-minded people around him.

In the name of national reconciliation and moderation after the last election, president Bush picked Eric Keroack, a theocon, to head the federal office that finances birth control, pregnancy tests and a host of other important health care services for the poor. Keroack is affiliated with a group that strongly opposes birth control! Yes, birth control! When he speaks at abstinence conference, Dr. Keroack says that having sex with multiple partners alters brain chemistry in a way that makes women not to want to form bonding relationships! Oh, you women don't worry. He's a quack-doctor, and as such his theories are complete pseudoscience.

Keroack's group, A Woman's Concern, gives pregnant women "counseling"--which basically means they try to convince women not to have an abortion. When I say "convince" I don't mean by reason and providing proper medical information, but rather by condemning abortion (in all cases), and by falsely claiming that abortions will most likely result in breast cancer! [These outrageous claims appear on the group's website] Isn't illegal to make false medical claims? Misleading advertising about ..toasters is illegal, how about our health? Yet, we all know that if a misleading or even utterly false claim is cloaked with religion then the law looks the other way.

So, what is it about sex that makes many people uncomfortable? After all, aren't we all here because of sex? Why is it sinful to engage in this activity (between consenting adults) outside some very narrow religious prescriptions? I see, it is because of religion that the human body and carnal pleasures have been identified as "unclean," "evil," etc. Somehow, a few men, a very long time ago, decided what sex should be all about; that men should have many more sexual privileges, the females should be subjugates and more harshly punished for indiscretions. Those men decided that sex-for-pleasure most certainly will land the transgressors into eternal damnation.

Keroack's group (one of many) has an issue with the sexual act. It doesn't like it! Sex for pleasure is a deadly sin. I wonder if they self-flagellate themselves after having impure thoughts... A Woman's Concern is really ..concerned about "the drugs or devices" that are "demeaning to women, degrading of human sexuality and adverse to human health and happiness." Ergo, no contraception even to married women!

I'm starting to adopt Richard Dawkins' stance that we have to be more aggressive when it comes to the arguments promoted by persons who want to impose their own unscientific absolutism on the rest of us. We have to call their arguments for what they are: personal, unsubstantiated, and dangerous beliefs. We have to tell our leaders that we expect professional competency from the persons appointed to important positions. Persons who have such extreme ideological, non-reality based beliefs should be avoided. They can exist happily in their own private sphere not make policy decisions for the commonwealth. And, yes, there is a difference between opinion based on non-evidence and opinion based on facts. It is a sign of ignorance to believe that the Earth is the center of the universe, and, I suppose, a person has the right to remain ignorant if so desires. But, applied ignorance is deadly--as we've already seen in the AIDS epidemic.

UPDATE: British Prime Minister Tony Blair urged the Vatican to "face up to reality" on condoms & AIDS: "
I think that the real key to it is education. That is about two things: educating people about sex when they are young, but also making sure that if people are sexually active, then they are taking protection. There is a big debate about this; how far are you going by saying to people, 'take protection with you'? Are you encouraging young people to have sex?" Mr Blair added: "You should try to encourage people to be responsible, but you should recognise that, if you are sexually active, it's better to be sexually active and responsibly so."

Dec 11, 2006

UN's Kofi Annan Thinks Bush is Near Sighted! Well, He's Wrong!

Bush Thinks "History Will Get it Right" After He's Dead! (He's convinced but not convincing!)

"This country has historically been in the vanguard of the global human rights movement. But that lead can only be maintained if America remains true to its principles."

Outgoing UN Secretary General, Kofi Annan in his speech at the Truman Library.

I wanted to note the last speech of Secretary Annan and how true his statement rings. As I've said before on many occasions, we cannot give up all those things that made us strong in order to defend ourselves from our enemies. Otherwise, we'll become like our enemies and we'll lose our edge. It's no accident that open societies, where people enjoy liberty and personal freedoms, tend to be more successful than other states where Big Brother rules. Democracy is a continuous process, an evolving education, an opportunity to self-fulfillment. Trust has to earned, leadership has to be exercised responsibly, and common values have to be cultivated.

G.W. Bush waisted the opportunity of the century, after 9-11, when the world was behind the US. This man--devoid of any historical knowledge, disinterested in world affairs, fanatical in his absolutism, incompetent, and corrupt--has divided our friends and united our enemies. I hope it has become evident that elections do have consequences, and they are not about electing a folksy person we'd like to have a beer with...

"No nation can make itself secure by seeking supremacy over others," Mr Annan said, urging the US to respect human rights in its "war on terror. " But, I'm afraid that stubborn frat boy in the White House isn't listening...

I think Mr. Annan is right about a far-sighted US leader in the Truman tradition, but he's wrong about Bush's near-sightedness. The latter is divorced from reality altogether! Only he can see the US winning in Iraq.