Archive for December, 2011

Untallied Iraq casualties

| December 31, 2011 | 4 Replies
Untallied Iraq casualties

What are the U.S. casualties so far from the Iraq invasion and occupation? It is a huge number that has not yet been calculated, according to this article by Dan Froomkin:

The death count is accurate. But the wounded figure wildly understates the number of American servicemembers who have come back from Iraq less than whole.

The true number of military personnel injured over the course of our nine-year-long fiasco in Iraq is in the hundreds of thousands — maybe even more than half a million — if you take into account all the men and women who returned from their deployments with traumatic brain injuries, post-traumatic stress, depression, hearing loss, breathing disorders, diseases, and other long-term health problems.

We don’t have anything close to an exact number, however, because nobody’s been keeping track.

These numbers, whatever they might be, are a tiny portion of the total human casualties caused by the decision to invade Iraq.

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What Ralph Nader, Ron Paul, Dennis Kucinich and Noam Chomsky have in common

| December 30, 2011 | Reply
What Ralph Nader, Ron Paul, Dennis Kucinich and Noam Chomsky have in common

Here’s what Ralph Nader, Ron Paul, Dennis Kucinich and Noam Chomsky have in common:

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What a real war on Christmas would look like

| December 30, 2011 | 3 Replies
What a real war on Christmas would look like

Many conservative commentators claim that there is a “war” on Christmas. I don’t agree, for the reasons cited by Alex DiBranco at Alternet.

Reading the Alternet article caused me wonder what a real war on Christmas would look like. A real war would involve governments and individuals invading private residences and churches to shut down Christmas celebrations, religious services and even discussions about the meaning of Christmas. A real war on Christmas would involve a systematic vandalizing of the Christmas decorations that are ubiquitous at this time of year.  I have not yet read of anything like that happening in the United States.  A real war on Christmas would involve amending federal law so that Christmas Day is no longer a legal holiday.

It is a stunning fact, however that those who claim to believe that Jesus was “divine” rarely talk about Jesus except when they attend their churches. They do say “Merry Christmas”  to everyone in hearing range, but they rarely discuss their religious beliefs in public at any time of the year, even at Christmas, allegedly one of the holiest of holy days. Instead, 99% of their “Christmas” discussions are about shopping for goods and services, attending parties, football, entertaining others, preparing food, visiting with friends and family and traveling.  Based on the actions of most Americans, 99% of “Christmas” is not about Jesus, and that’s the way they like it based on their willing participation in many decades of non-religious Christmas activities.  Based on the above observations, the real “War on Christmas” is being conducted by purported Christians, most of whom believe in belief in God rather than actually believe in God.  I’m not criticizing them for celebrating, only for claiming that Christmas is about Jesus when any diligent Martian anthropologist who visited Earth would quickly conclude otherwise.  Those Martian scientists would also wonder why a society that fervently believed in the love of Jesus so intensely celebrated war, spying and hatred of Muslim neighbors.

I suspect that it is out of frustration regarding their own religious doubts that conservatives (or more accurately, the conservative media) howl that governments, merchants and non-Christians should publicly espouse pre-packaged Christian religious beliefs.  It makes Christmas Apologists feel holy to force others to give verbal homage to unsubstantiated stories by uttering “Merry Christmas!”   As usual, it is easier to fight for a cause than to actually believe in it.

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Phenomenal scientific images

| December 30, 2011 | 1 Reply
Phenomenal scientific images

Here is an excellent collection of some of the stunning images that substantiate the path of science over the past several hundred years.

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A Different Way to Look at Art

| December 28, 2011 | 1 Reply
A Different Way to Look at Art

My wife (an artist) posted Ursus Wehrli’s TEDTalk on her Facebook page yesterday.
She said, “This is great! My engineer hubby should appreciate this!”

Well, he certainly does. I particularly liked Wehrli’s takes on Jasper Johns and Jackson Pollack.

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Pinhole camera watches the sun go by for six months

| December 28, 2011 | Reply
Pinhole camera watches the sun go by for six months

Take a look at this six-month exposure of the path of the sun.

The spectacular picture is a six-month image showing the summer solstice on the top and the winter on the bottom. Apparently, “the pinhole image ‘burns’ itself into the paper over the six months of exposure time meaning you don’t need to develop the photographic paper.”

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Treat all those who cheat the public like crooked locksmiths

| December 28, 2011 | 3 Replies
Treat all those who cheat the public like crooked locksmiths

Here is an MSNBC feature on locksmiths who cheat people who call them in emergencies when they are locked out of their homes. This news piece follows a tried and true formula for creating a good memorable story: It vividly exposes an unscrupulous practice, and then turns the camera on the perpetrators as they try to slink away. To tell the complete story, the producers included the fact that there are honest people in the trade (in this case, honest locksmiths); locksmiths can make a living while giving people a fair shake.

Visit msnbc.com for breaking news, world news, and news about the economy

Why, then, don’t networks treat all of those who lie, cheat and steal with comparable scrutiny? What I have in mind are Wall Street Banks, telecoms, fossil fuel industries, healthcare insurers, the defense industries and other powerful entities who have purchased Congress and then made certain that industry reform is impossible. These industries have driven out competition and/or figured out how to freely feed out of the public trough. They’ve been gouging consumers, directly and indirectly, in ways that make the crooked fees charged by locksmiths look like chump change. Consider this recent article by Matt Taibbi, illustrating how big banks are cheating taxpayers.

Consider also how Barack Obama’s promise of an expanded industry of energy conservation and sustainable energy production would be a centerpiece of his Administration. Though he has done some good things, has also opened up large tracts of Western lands to coal mining and providing much more funding to nuclear and fossil fuel than to green alternatives. This is one of many of Obama’s broken promises– somehow, indefinite warmongering against undefined enemies is somehow much more important that having a sustainable economy back home. And even after “health care reform,” people who had health insurance are struggling mightily to pay uncovered medical bills, many of them tipping over into bankruptcy. Payday lenders run rampant across the country. A few months ago, telecoms almost succeeded in destroying what is left of net neutrality.

These sorts of thing don’t just happen; powerful people are consciously making these terrible decisions, and they (including most of our politicians) are motivated by money, not public service.

I fear that one of the main reasons we are cleaning up these industries is that too many Americans are math challenged — they suffer from innumeracy. And most Americans would flunk a basic test on American civics and history. Foxes run rampant in the American hen house. One would need to spend some serious time thinking about the effects of lack of competition in order to appreciate how much the public is being fleeced, but Americans are highly distracted with TV and other forms of entertainment. Another hurdle is that big media is owned by big companies and serves big industries by selling them commercials. Thus, we don’t see constant aggressive journalism illustrating how the public is being ripped off by many (by no means all) big businesses.

Don’t expect the journalism to get better, especially for the reasons outlined by John Nichols of Free Press. Expect things to get worse, in light of the fact that this week the FCC proposed a new set of rules that would unleash a wave of media consolidation across the country. If the agency’s proposal sounds familiar, that’s because it’s nearly identical to rules the FCC proposed during the Bush administration. This proposal is especially scandalous for the reasons stated here.

An additional hurdle to getting these stories out is to make them simple and memorable stories, but this is quite a challenge. These industries have successfully complexified themselves–it now takes “experts” (including teams of lawyers) to understand how these industries function. Ordinary people don’t have much of a chance of even articulating how and why they are getting ripped off, much less understanding what can be done to fix the problems. Complexity is not an accident–it is a tactic. Consolidating the mass media isn’t simply happening–it is a tactic of big business to maintain control, as are recent attempts to give private businesses the power to shut down internet domains without a court order.

There is no incentive for the mass media to excoriate those behind any of these proposals. There is little to no incentive for big media to descend on those behind these movements as though they were crooked locksmiths. If only.

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Proof that every American is a criminal

| December 28, 2011 | 2 Replies
Proof that every American is a criminal

Bad news from Scientific American: We all produce marijuana-like chemicals in our brains. Therefore, all of us need to turn ourselves in and spend time in prison.

[Marijuana] is also something everyone is familiar with, whether they know it or not. Everyone grows a form of the drug, regardless of their political leanings or recreational proclivities. That is because the brain makes its own marijuana, natural compounds called endocannabinoids (after the plant’s formal name, Cannabis sativa).

For some serious criticism of the alleged “war on drugs,” see this recent post.

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The coming accidental war with Iran

| December 28, 2011 | 3 Replies
The coming accidental war with Iran

According to Lyric Hughes Hale, the United States is working hard to cultivate a climate of ignorance that will heighten suspicions about Iran and put us on a hair-trigger:

[Author Trita] Parsi faults Obama for allowing the same neoconservatives who brought us the war in Iraq to frame the Iran debate as well, for not creating “a new metric of success in our dealings with Iran.” He quotes Albert Einstein: “You cannot prevent and prepare for war at the same time”.

There are alternatives to war with Iran. For instance, the National Iranian American Council (NIAC) offers this alternative:

NIAC opposes war with Iran because military conflict would imperil a democratic future for Iran, devastate Iran’s democracy and human rights movement, undermine U.S. national security, and strengthen hardliners in Iran’s government.

NIAC supports a policy of persistent strategic engagement with Iran that includes human rights as a core issue and addresses American and regional security concerns.

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