Sunday, December 29, 2013

2013: The Year In Review (Part 3)

Here we are in the strange, surreal, no-man's-land between Christmas and the start of the New Year, and 2013 is on death row.  There will be no last-minute reprieve from our 400-year-old, hatchet-faced governor, nor a last-minute phone call from Amnesty International.  2013 sits in its dank little prison cell, marinating in melancholy, and dejectedly gnawing on its bitter last meal of broken dreams and unfulfilled promises.  So, when the prison chaplain shows up at the door with his Big Black Book of Contradictory Nonsense to make one last-ditch effort to redeem the soul of this year before it gets marched off to the electric chair and be plugged into eternity, 2013 will spit in his face with cheerful defiance and blurt out, "Stuff it, Padre!  I apologize for NOTHING!"  There were some good things in this year, some bright spots of greenery in a desert of bland mediocrity, and we're going to remember some of them:

The WELL, BUTTER MY BISCUITS AND CALL ME SCREWED Award goes to the redoutable Paula Deen.  Paula was the nation's Buddha of Bad Eating, the Princess of Pork Belly, the First Lady of Fricasseed Funk, and a Southern-Fried Cracker Queen whose toothy, perfect smile graced dozens of magazines every time I stood in a grocery store checkout line.  She was like a lowbrow Martha Stewart, but without all the murderous psychopathic qualities and barely-concealed hatred for the people who buy into her house-of-mirrors media empire.  In Paula Deen's world, there was no problem that could not be fixed with a couple of pounds of butter and a big ole mess of possum skracklings, or a hundred other things I would never consider putting in my mouth.  Well, maybe except for the problems that will arise from injudiciously dropping the N-word at a court deposition, seemingly tolerating an atmosphere of sexual harrassment at the restaurant she co-owns with her brother Earl "Bubba" Hiers, or letting plans slip out about a "plantation-style" wedding with black waiters in white jackets.  Fancy white jackets are apparently one of the many wonderful perks slaves enjoyed during their working vacation, I mean, servitude to white people, if that old Duck Dynasty scumbag is to be believed.  For the national media, it was Thanksgiving Day and Paula was the biggest, fattest turkey they had ever layed eyes on, and they went after her with a vengeance usually reserved for mass murderers or child molesters.  Paula immediately went on an I-so-sorry tour of morning talk shows and seemed genuinely repenitent for her gaffes.  But Our Lady of Perfect Gravy is nothing but resilient, and as recently as this month was spotted cheerfully visiting a bunch of backyard chickens in Savannah.  Hang in there, Paula!  Redemption is yours for the asking, just don't say the N-word out loud anymore. And yes, I don't mind if I have another one of your delicious crescent dinner rolls.

The CRAP HIT THE FAN, THEN HIT IT AGAIN 90 MINUTES LATER award goes to the movie "Gravity."  According to - the Careless Whispers preferred resource for movie statistics - the highest grossing film of 2013 was "Iron Man 3," which earned over $400 million in its US release.  Pretty impressive, when you consider that the third installment of a film franchise featuring a second-tier Marvel Comics character can pull down nearly a half-billion dollars worth of scratch.  I'm not sure why that is, but I'm thinking it has something to do with the appeal of its star, Robert Downey Jr., who seems to be very talented and a good person, and not as grubby and unkempt as Johnny Depp.  But this item truly moves into WTF? territory when you consider that "Iron Man 3" made TWICE as much in foreign release, bringing its total worldwide gross to nearly $1.25 BILLION!  Well played, Buena Vista Pictures, for a $200 million investment.  It's been a very nice Christmas for you, indeed.  I haven't seen 95% of the major movies of 2013, but one I did see and enjoyed very much was "Gravity."  This movie had EVERYTHING!  Sandra Bullock in her underwear!  Authentic looking space hardware!  Mind-twisting special effects!  George Clooney's GHOST!  A cloud of hypersonic satellite debris ripping the crap out of a space station, and then doing it AGAIN ninety minutes later as it circled the earth!  Oh, my inner science nerd was having a field day with this movie!  A number of other people agreed, because "Gravity" made $254,592,000 domestically and $653,292,000 worldwide, on a production budget of $100 million.  Not as much as Robert Downey Jr. in an aluminum jump suit, but still nothing to sneeze at.  Contrast, if you will, the number 54 movie of the year, "Ender's Game," based on the novel by homophobic garden gnome Orson Scott Card.  That resounding flop of a movie had a worldwide gross of $88 million on a production budget of $110 million, costing Lionsgate Pictures over $20 million, more if you factor in the advertising and promotion money the studio had to spend publicizing that stinker.

The IT'S COMING!  IT'S COMING!  IT'S... NOT COMING! award for 2013 goes to Comet ISON. We astronomers are a prickly lot.  Some might even consider us dour; spending endless nights when normal people are sleeping, freezing to death while peering morosely into tiny glass eyepieces attached to big metal tubes, hoping to spot a dim smear of gray light from an object impossibly far away.  People just don't grasp the awe and excitement we feel when we do see that tiny bit of fuzzy light, knowing that it took 50 million years or more to travel to our earthbound retinas and register in our tiny mammalian brains, and that it, in fact, represents an entire galaxy composed of hundreds of billions - if not trillions - of stars, with many billions of planets circling them, and many millions of intelligent civilizations with sentient beings very different from humans, who may be looking right back at us with the exact same sense of astonishment.  We get really excited about stuff that happens up in the sky, and a whole lot of stuff does happen.  But, ironically, we are bound by our gravitational attachment to Earth, and being able to see many astronomical events depends on exactly where we are on Earth and what time zone we're in.

For instance, by all accounts the most amazing, mind-blowing astro-event you can witness is a total eclipse of the sun, but the path of totality - which is the only place to be, really - is a tiny little strip of land often 50 miles in width or less, and almost always in the most remote, desolate, god-forsaken location possible, such as the Antarctica, sub-Saharan Africa or the middle of the Pacific Ocean.  Even if, through the greatest of luck or the most expensive of efforts, you find yourself in the VIP seating section for a solar eclipse, you are still at the mercy of a passing weather front, which can most surely obscure your much-sought-after vantage point and basically ruin your life.  I lucked out majorly in May 2012 when I was able to see a very rare annular eclipse of the sun, and I only had to drive 5 hours to northern Arizona, which was totally worth it.

Other celestial events are more widely observable, such as the aurora borealis (or the southern hemisphere counterpart, the aurora australis), but they are best viewed in high latitudes, above 50-60 degrees.  Here in Phoenix, at 32 degrees north latitude, we never see the northern lights, and if we did, it would probably mean big trouble, since the earth would have to be blasted with an epic, historic radiation storm to see them down here.  Other astronomical sights are very widely viewable, such as meteor storms, or total lunar eclipses, which are visible over entire hemispheres with clear skies.  Another such event is a comet.  The appearance by Comet Hale-Bopp, a number of years ago, was a world-wide event which sparked huge excitement and interest in these dirty snowballs which cross our path every so often.

When Comet ISON was discovered, immediately the hype started.  Portrayed as the incipient "Comet of the Century," lots of people painted vivid word pictures about the "Christmas Comet," which would grace the skies in December, make a close encounter with our sun, and (remember these words ==>) if it survived, would continue on a path which would take it even closer to our planet.  It would then put on a spectacular show in January, with some people saying (be still, my heart) that it could be as bright as the full moon.  Many astronomers (myself included) dreamed many, many dreams of a brilliant comet hanging suspended in a clear winter twilight sky, gossamer tail extending almost to the horizon, and being there for weeks if not months on end.

Astronomers tracked ISON with pain-staking precision, and the expectations grew faster than the comet did in telescopic photographs.  Things started to unravel a bit in September when some Debbie-Downer-type astronomers said ISON wasn't brightening quite fast enough as it plunged through the outer solar system toward the sun.  But we didn't care because comets are notorious non-conformists and will do whatever they please, light-curve predictions be damned.  We watched in breathless anticipation as satellite-based solar observatories saw ISON cruise in past Mercury, getting bigger and brighter as it approached our central star, finally disappearing in the harsh glare of the sun, an Icarus with white wings soaring into the light and heat.

Now, those three words I asked you earlier to remember: "if it survived"?  This is where they come in.  ISON swung around our Sun, barely a million miles above its searing surface and then.... broke into a bunch of pieces.  Scientists the world over expected to see a big, brilliant cometary body with a long, bright tail sweeping in front of it, but instead saw a small, indistrict bright patch with a tiny tail, which eventually got smaller and smaller until there was nothing but small pieces left.  It was officially declared dead a couple of weeks later.  Thus, Comet ISON, the "Comet of the Century" became Comet ISON - the DUD of the century, leaving us astronomers severely disappointed and demoralized.  But we went right back to scanning the skies in hopes of being the first person to spot the next incoming Great Comet Hope, which would again be granted the mantle of Comet of the Century, and this time maybe will actually fulfill that promise, instead of breaking all our astronomical hearts.

The ALL THINGS MUST END... SOMETIMES BADLY award goes to the series finale of Dexter.  The Showtime series finished up its eight-season run earlier this year, not in a blaze of glory, but a resounding THUD, reminiscent of the sound your head makes when it hits the side of the toilet as you rush to puke into it.  When it was firing on all cylinders, Dexter was a stylish, intelligent, and well-written tour de force through the labyrinthine mind of a serial killer.  His "dark passenger," as he called his murderous alter-ego, alternately surfaced and retreated in the ever-changing facade that Dexter presented to his family, friends and the outside world.  But things really derailed for the last season, and in the climatic episode, Dex was shown carrying the dead body of his sister Deborah Morgan out of the hospital in the midst of massive hurricane evacuation through crowds of police and public-safety officers onto his boat, and NO ONE STOPPED HIM.  After dumping Deb into the ocean, the last we saw of Dexter was him driving his power boat directly into the swirling maelstrom of the approaching storm.  Well, "the last" until he surfaced inexplicably somewhere in the Pacific Northwest, where he labored as the Unhappiest Lumberjack Ever (or stunt double for a post-apocalyptic Bounty paper towel commercial), living in numbing isolation in a dreary, decrepit boarding house, with only his memories of his previous life in Miami.  I can't remember another series finale that was so thoroughly and universally condemned and reviled by fans and critics alike, with levels of hateful derision and virulent contempt normally reserved for Republican presidential debates.  Sorry things ended so badly for you, Dex, but it could have been worse.  You could have been one of your fans. 


TV Shows I Like:  Boardwalk Empire, Homeland, True Blood, Breaking Bad, Live From Daryl's House, Later with Jools Holland, Real Time with Bill Maher, Sons of Anarchy, The Rachel Maddow Show, Last Word with Lawrence O'Donnell, Nurse Jackie, House of Cards (on Netflix).

Things I Love:  Rabbits, animals in general, my dear friends (both local and Facebook), Brambley Hedge Rabbit Rescue, hiking, secret crushes, sunsets and sunrises, astronomy, sushi, my friend Meme's homemade Chinese Seafood soup, chocolate, writing, photography, artwork, dinners with friends.

Here's hoping 2014 is a turning point for our country, and we can get back to being the great nation we truly are.  Sometimes it's very hard to see that potential.  I wish there were no unwanted and unloved children and animals, everyone had a decent standard of living and health care, and a decent place to live.  I wish people in power weren't so evil and hypocritical and dishonest and deliberately ignorant.  I wish people would mind their own damn business and stay out of the lives of others with whom they have no reason to meddle.  I hope people continue to turn away from religion and other stifling, suffocating poisons of the human spirit.  Most of all, I wish for peace, love and continued health for my friends.  I hope I never lose the sense of child-like wonder I feel when I look up into the night sky, or into the eyes of a beloved rabbit.  I also hope I never lose my belief in angels and miracles.  If I die tomorrow, it will be with the knowledge and satisfaction that I have lived my life exactly as I wanted to live it, and I have no regrets.

Friday, December 27, 2013

2013: The Year in Review (Part 2)

Hey, we're on a roll here. Not really, but cut me a giant slackburger with cheese, okay?  It's Christmas.  Here are some more highly desirable and coveted awards for the Year That Almost Was - 2013!

The ONE-TRACK MIND/NO-TRACK BRAIN Award goes to the Republican Scandal Industry:  "Benghazi.  Benghazi.  Benghazi.  Benghazi.  Benghazi.  OH LOOK! A SQUIRREL!  Benghazi.  Benghazi.  Benghazi.  Benghazi."

The WINTER OLYMPICS AWARD FOR SPECTACULAR WASTE TIME AND MONEY goes to the government shutdown last October.  This was when the Republican party completely lost their minds and got hijacked by a bunch of noisy, obnoxious douchebags in their own caucus and brought the entire US government to a complete halt.  The Tea Baggers, ostensibly led by pasty-faced bed-wetter with questionable citizenship Ted Cruz (aided by his completely demented, Alzheimers-ridden father), threw a hissy fit and turned what should have been a routine budgetary procedure - raising the federal debt ceiling, something that Republican false idol Ronald Reagan did 18 times during his reign of error in the 80s - and tried to use it to cripple the Affordable Care Act which also debuted in October.  Because that's the way one of the oldest representative democracies in the world changes legitimately-passed laws that run afoul of a bunch of dimwitted loose cannons in the House of Representatives - by shutting down the government.  Millions of federal employees furloughed, national parks closed, airport security compromised, for what reason?  Less than three weeks later the Tea Baggers capitulated in a hugely embarrassing loss, gaining ABSOLUTELY NOTHING other than a monstrous amount of bad publicity, the Republican party rightfully buried under the condemnation and derision of the public, and the Office of Budget and Management estimating that over $64 BILLION dollars of taxpayers money were completely squandered by this useless exercise in constipated government.  And the target of their misplaced ire, the Affordable Care Act, was completely and utterly unscathed by all this (although it definitely had problems of its own making, more about that later).  Hope you enjoyed your little 64-billion-dollar tantrum, Tea Baggers, because the result was that most people in this country had their pre-existing opinion reaffirmed - that you are a bunch of selfish, useless, idiotic dicks.

The WHY ARE YOU STILL ALIVE? Award goes to Miley Cyrus and her delightful twerking episode on her appearance at the MTV Video Awards (or something, I can't tell any of those award shows apart anymore).  Stretching the definition of "entertainer" to nearly the breaking point, Ms. Cyrus and her grotesquely large tongue made their entrance from the inside of a gigantic teddy bear complete with Battlestar-Galactica-Cylon scanning red eye.  And things went downhill from there.  Floundering and gyrating around on stage like a zombie scarecrow with a severe neurological disorder, she made her way through a bunch of confused dancers dressed up like plush animals.  Then singer Robin Thicke sashayed out of nowhere, decked out in the latest football referee formal wear and warbled out his current song "Blurred Lines" (which, I'm embarrassed to say, I find irresistibly catchy and have on my MP3 player).

But, cultural critical mass and nuclear detonation was achieved when Cyrus bent over, backed into Thicke's crotch and did some half-hearted spasmodic twitching which the kids nowadays call "twerking."  500 years ago folks would have called it "St. Vitus' Dance" and burned her at the stake.  Well, the next day the American public went completely batshit crazy, just like they did when Janet Jackson had her infamous "wardrobe malfunction" during the 2004 Superbowl halftime show with Justin Timberlake, and kiddies all over the world were treated to the unexpected sight of her boobie and nipple shield (and I'll bet THAT made for some interesting post-Superbowl parent-child conversations).  Every single pundit went into overdrive and were unanimous in their conclusion that this is America, not some godless wicked society which would allow such a wanton display of abysmal taste and moral dissolution.  Ironically, this really IS America, and the only bad publicity is no publicity.  Instead of being banished to the outer reaches of cultural Siberia, Cyrus received an unprecedented avalanche of publicity which she funneled right into the release of her latest music album, resulting in spectacular sales and well over 35 MILLION likes on Facebook.  Jesus Christ's Facebook page, by comparison, has fewer than 6 million likes.

So what are we to make of this, when a very marginally-talented, utterly forgettable celebrity behaves in an overwhelmingly crass and tasteless fashion, and immediately reaps an enormous, priceless bonanza of attention and publicity?  In our culture, sensationalism trumps quality any day of the week, and people delight in watching others degrade themselves, the more publicly, the better.  What we can expect in the future is more of the same, because nothing succeeds like success, and Ms. Cyrus has very clearly shown us that the reward for bad behavior is infinitely more lucrative than the reward for good behavior.

The "PLEASE LET ME KNOW IF THERE'S SOME OTHER WAY WE CAN SCREW UP" Award.  The name of this award comes from a scene in the classic movie "Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country."  After a particularly awkward and uncomfortable dinner with a delegation of Klingons, Capt. Kirk says, "I'm going to bed now.  Please let me know if there's some other way we can screw up tonight!"  This award is given to the most monumental screw-up of the year, something that was so horrifically misconceived and so dismallly executed that the inevitable carnage was spread far and wide, from sea to shining sea.

Everyone knows that the staff here at the Careless Whispers blog (me and 17 rabbits) is nothing but even-handed and impartial (I would have said "fair and balanced" but those dirtbags at Fox News have ruined that phrase for the rest of eternity), and we assign blame wherever appropriate, regardless of political affiliation.  Thus, this award goes to the roll-out of the Affordable Care Act.

The ACA had been in the works for a long time, and is the signature legislative achievement of the Obama administration.  Central to the idea of health care reform is a national website which would allow people to shop for health insurance and sign up online.  The website is widely reported to have cost over $400 million dollars when it went live on October 1st.  For nearly HALF A BILLION dollars you'd think you'd get the Lamborghini of websites, a platinum-standard of efficiency and user-friendliness.  What we got instead was a clunky, poorly-designed mess which was well nigh impossible to navigate.  I got on the site about two weeks after launch and it was incredibly slow and tediously frustrating.  There were many things wrong with it, too many to list here, but suffice to say it was a big pain in the ass to use.  I stopped using it whenever it took 20 minutes to get some information back after you hit ENTER, and the questionnaire part that gathered personal information was a complete mess, asking ridiculous questions and taking an unacceptably long time to do anything.  I went and did something else for a month and came back to the site, and it had improved considerably.  I found a health care plan which I liked and the rest of the process was really pretty easy.

But the damage was done and the entire country went crazy.  The Republicans jumped on it like a pack of ravenous hyenas on a geriatric antelope and took every single opportunity to inflame and misinform the public regarding the entire concept of health care reform.  At this writing, the Obama administration has just barely begun to drag itself out of the mammoth crater it dug for itself and hopefully by this time next year, the extreme screw-up that greeted the launch of the ACA will be a distant, unpleasant memory.  But not before the Republicans squeeze every single drop of political advantage out of it.

Next up:  Part 3, in which we tie up the loose ends and send 2013 to the Promised Land.

Wednesday, December 25, 2013

2013: The Year In Review (Part 1)

Like the rheumy old geezer you're forced to sit next to in a theater or on a three-hour plane flight, 2013 is coughing, hacking and wheezing its way into the outhouse of history.  While not as bizarrely awful as 2012 (and that was due in large part to the presidential election), this year will go down as having more than its share of weird, unsettling and just plain annoying happenings.  So, let's take a look back at the crazy quilt of human folly that was 2013 and present some well-deserved awards for galaxy-class stupidity, starting with our premiere award:

The MUCH ADO ABOUT NOTHING Award:  We thought we were going to get through this year without millions of right-wing dimwits getting all whipped up into a frenzied lather over some faux-controversy, like they did with the Chick-Fil-A idiocy last year.  You might remember that the COO of C-F-A made some ill-advised comments to religious publications that he was proud of financially supporting some groups that advocated a "traditional definition of marriage" (a.k.a. homophobia and bigotry disguised as piety).  When some people suggested we may want to direct our discretionary spending to a restaurant chain that wasn't quite as intolerant and hateful, the conservative sheeple were summoned into action by the right-wing garbage-mongers on Fox News and other pseudo-journalistic bastions of stupidity.  What better way to show your innate homophobia than by running down to your local Chick-Fil-A outlet and ordering up a big mess of their nasty fried chicken?  Yeah, that'll show those queer-loving liberals - go out and buy a shitload of artery-clogging, greasy animal parts.  A lot of people really had no intention of eating what they bought; many of them threw the food away immediately.  But gol darn it, they were going to make a STATEMENT and stand up for the First Amendment rights of some idiot who insists on sticking his nose into the lives and business of fellow Americans.

Back to 2013:  Fox News tried to get the ball rolling by kicking off their annual "War Against Christmas" pseudo-controversy.  When it appeared it wasn't getting enough traction with their easily-distracted-by-shiny-objects viewers, they decided to let slutty Botox abuser Megyn Kelly spew some incomprehensible drivel about Santa Claus only being white or... something? I don't even know.  But the shitstorm really spooled up to high gear when the patriarch of a clutch of barnyard animal-human hybrids that appear in some ridiculous reality show called "Duck Dynasty" cut loose with a rambling diatribe in GQ magazine that was pretty stunning and extreme in its stupidity, racism and homophobia.  Now I've never seen "Duck Dynasty," nor would I ever consider soiling my brain with whatever genetic-cesspool nonsense those hairy snake-oil salesmen are perpetrating on a dimwitted, gullible American public.  I spend my entire life avoiding those kind of people and trying hard to convince myself they don't really exist.  But you would really have to be living on some other planet these past couple of weeks to not have heard about this crapfest on nearly every news outlet.  The A&E network almost immediately tried to distance itself from the one program on their schedule that was an absolute cash cow, and "suspended" the noxious old fart from his own show.  Always eager to show its clout, the right-wing stupidity machine went into overdrive and cast this suspension as a heinous, unwarranted violation of someone's First Amendment Free Speech rights.  There's that pesky First Amendment again.  It's almost as misused, misquoted and misinterpreted as the Second Amendment.

The right wing loves to shriek like a stuck pig whenever they imagine someone violating their own rights, but gleefully and willingly will try to curtail the rights of any group of people they don't agree with, such as gay people seeking marriage equality or adults seeking to maintain access to a legal birth control procedure.  Then you get irrelevant, obsolescent gasbags like the scrawny, brittle, trailer-trash queen Sarah Palin dragging herself out from under some rock and shoving her pinched, ravaged face in front of any camera she can find, forcefully broadcasting her opinions like anyone gives a screaming shit about what she thinks.  The ignorant conservative hordes jumped up at their leaders' command and goose-stepped their way down to their local Walmart or Cracker Barrel restaurant and willingly blew their (irony alert) welfare checks on useless crap they really didn't need, just because some media hack told them they were defending some pseudo-celebrity's right to free speech, and snapped up every bit of Duck Dynasty schlocky merchandise they could get their fat, stubby fingers on.  It's astonishing to me that those idiots will do whatever their right-wing puppet-masters tell them to do, without a smidgen of critical thought.  As long as they see other people like them doing the same thing, they think they are on the right side of things.  Adolf Hitler would be so proud.

It's really difficult to understand how this country has changed so much that some repulsive, grubby old scumbag can spout a load of vile, disgusting hatespeech to a national magazine and then have millions of idiots defend his right to call gay people "terrorists" and make astonishingly ignorant statements about how black people were better off under slavery.  Twenty years ago someone saying that would be roundly criticized and condemned from every part of the political spectrum.  Nowadays, you could come out in favor of child molesters and as long as you managed to sneak in some Bible quotes, you will get people defending you and your right to be an asshole in public.

How did that happen?  I think it's the result of a number of things; one of them being the death of civil political discourse and intellectual thinking in this country.  The internet and social media have given everyone a global, anonymous platform to expel any and all kinds of hateful, disoriented thinking, with little or no consequence or accountability.  The gun lobby has set an example of scorched-earth policy by vehemently opposing even the smallest, most innocuous and toothless tightening of gun laws in this country.  Even the slaughter of 20 innocent children in December 2012 meant nothing to them.  The only thing they cared about is the fictional "slippery slope" which would surely lead to the government forcibly confiscating everyone's firearms if they banned one assault rifle or extra-capacity ammo clip.  Throw in an ignorant, uneducated population that accepts claptrap like that as gospel, and the spineless, cowardly stooges in Congress who are firmly in the back pocket of the gun manufacturers, and you have a great example of neo-fascism knocking at your door disguised as "patriotism."

But I digress.  Thankfully, Christmas is providing a welcome (albeit short) relief and distraction from all this small-minded stupidity, but I fear the argument will only be resurrected next month as the new season of that Duck Dynasty trashfest starts up.  It seems the conservative parts of the population will put up with absolutely any kind of horrible stupidity and intolerance as long as it's painted with the varnish of "religious expression," which has become the dog whistle to automatically incite the vast unwashed hordes to jump up and do whatever they are told.  After all, Jesus is on their side.  Or so they think.

Therefore, I give the Much Ado About Nothing Award to Duck Dynasty and their mindless followers for all their spectacular bigotry and ignorance.  They have taken the entire country one giant step closer to hell.

Friday, October 11, 2013

End of the Experiment

Once again the greatest representative democracy the world has ever known finds itself in a maelstrom of confusion and insanity.  Thanks to the shamefully stupid Tea Buggers and their lethal demagoguery, the whole entire US government is shut down, brought to its knees, spinning its wheels while nearly a million federal workers are idle, national parks and recreation areas are closed, and numerous programs that provide real help to real people are shut down.  Welcome to the end of an experiment.

Our system of government has always been a social experiment on the grandest of scales.  Imagine a form of government born of the ideas of freedom, liberty and equality for all.  Something quite like that had never really been seen on this planet prior to the 18th century.  Thousands of years ago when primitive humans were first starting to gather together and form settlements, one of the first governments to evolve was a monarchy, a "king" to rule the others.  This ran through a couple of permutations, such as an oligarchy (rule by a small, chosen group of people) or plutocracy (rule by the wealthy) or theocracy (rule by religious leaders) but by and far it proved a fairly workable way to keep a bunch of farmers and shepherds kind of toeing some sort of line.

For a long time monarchies worked well, and still do in a number of countries in the present day, but as large number of people became more educated through technological advances such as the printing press, they soon outgrew the confines of royalty and royal lineage.  As the world expanded, wealth (and resultant power) became more distributed, government likewise expanded and adapted.  People were demanding more of a say in how their lives were run, and various forms of representation were created.  General assemblies, or bodies of citizens representing other citizens, began to take root in Europe, one of the earliest being Iceland's Althing, created in the year 976.  Eventually hybrid systems of government were created, merging kings with prime ministers and parliaments and a new form of representational government took hold.

The US government was born at the confluence of a number of serendipitous forces.  Initially formed by those fleeing religious persecution, it was a brand new world, full beyond measure of immense natural riches, free from the limited land mass and resources of Europe and the stifling weight of history and their stodgy traditions.  America was a clean slate, a chance to start anew, to get it right, to create the most perfect form of government that humans could possibly dream up. And dream they did.

The Constitution that came out of the late 1700s has become the gold standard of good government.  Not perfect, but better than anything else that has been around.  Even though it has been amended 27 times (with a 28th amendment proposed - one that would make all laws applicable to everyone), these adjustments have allowed the government to change in response to a rapidly changing world.  Some of them have been foolhardy (No. 18 - Prohibition) but others have been true to the finest expressions of the best of humanity (No. 13 - Abolition of Slavery and No. 19 - Women's Suffrage).  The great social experiment that is the United States of America was in full bloom, and doing very well indeed.

Scientists will tell you that the best experiments are those which are conducted in a closed system; that is, an environment where everything is carefully controlled and random outside forces kept to a minimum.  Even under the best of circumstances, a running experiment will start to degrade as entropy creeps in and wear and tear causes deterioration.  Our government has been beset with destabilizing forces from inside and out, from those which occur in nature to those created by our own shadow natures.

It seems the worst forces that befall our nation and disrupt our constitutional government are those created by ourselves.  In the past century, two devastating world wars, a number of smaller but still very significant skirmishes (Korea, Vietnam, Iraq) have caused great stress.  The threat of nuclear annihilation or environmental catastrophe has been shaping policy through most of this century.  But most insidious, it seems, are the forces of greed and religion.  They form a double-headed serpent, and it is at the nexus of those two where the most damage is done.

The past two decades have seen the ascendency of greed and religion in our government at a level that can scarcely be comprehended.  Like some kind of virulent zombie virus, it has taken over vast segments of the population and most of Congress, turning them into blathering idiots, and malignant ne'er-do-wells.  Complicated by a Supreme Court that has some of the most backward-thinking, regressive conservatives around, the complete corruption of our government by money has been aided and abetted by heinous, abominable rulings such as Citizens' United, which virtually assured the democratic system will be irretrievably choked and debased by an enormous influx of special-interest monies and corporate meddling.

Religion, and in particular Christian fundamentalism, has also insinuated itself into our legislative system at all levels.  Like a many-headed Hydra, it manifests itself in an appallingly large number of ways, from advocating to pharmacists to refuse to dispense birth control because it violates their "freedom of religious expression", to taking over school boards and forcing changes to their curricula to include bogus, intellectually untenable pseudo-sciences such as "intelligent design", to doing everything they can to prevent certain segments of the population from exercising their right to vote.  Using their religious beliefs like a shield, they cowardly pass preposterous laws designed solely to prevent women from exerting control over their reproductive destinies by forcing them to undergo unnecessary medical procedures such as ultrasounds, and enacting biased, draconian regulations that make it nearly impossible for planned-parenting agencies to legitimately and lawfully provide needed and wanted services.

We have seen the wealth of this nation being concentrated into the top 1% of the population, while everyone else considers themselves lucky if they just tread economic water.  This has caused this wealthy segment to tighten and consolidate their control over the Republican party, which is essentially working for the Koch brothers and the Dick Cheneys of the world.  Wars are started under the flimsiest of pretenses, bolstered by blatant lying and disinformation, and private corporations rake in the profits.

Sure, there are many evil people in this country who will gladly take this nation down a pathway to complete destruction if it meant getting their political agenda in place. All this is ultimately made possible by an uneducated, disinterested electorate, for whom critical thinking and skepticism are unknown concepts.  Too many people are more than willing to let Fox News or Glenn Beck or Rush Limbaugh or dozens of other conservative blowhards tell them exactly what to think and do.  They find it much easier to hate people who are different from them, and they make these "other people" convenient, easy scapegoats for the awful things their legislators - who they themselves had voted into office - do to the quality of their life and the complete ruination of the future of their children.  They just don't give a crap, and are too stupid to care.

The drama going on in this country now - the government being held hostage by a gang of 30 or 40 zealots, blinded by their own radical ideology to the damage they're doing - and the upcoming threat of a debt ceiling crises - which nearly all knowledgeable economists in this country agree would be a complete and unmitigated disaster on a global scale - is unprecedented, certainly in my lifetime.  I have never seen the country so thoroughly polarized, even back in the worst days of the Vietnam war, when our society was nearly ripped apart by a costly, tragic war which we eventually lost.  These Tea Baggers don't care how much damage and hardship they inflict on millions of people, or the millions and millions of dollars that will be shamefully squandered by a completely unnecessary government shutdown.  The only thing they care about is getting their own way, and they don't care how many lives are wrecked in the process.

Sadly, I'm beginning to think the great social experiment in representative democracy that is the United States of America is starting to wind down, to sag and break apart under the weight of its own misdoings and corruption. Our system of government is being poisoned by right-wing ideologues and religious zealots, who are pulling everyone down into their toxic cesspool of psychotic paranoia and dissolution.  I don't see a way out for America to save itself.  We may come out the other end of this somewhat intact, but we will be so changed that we will no longer be the America we once were.

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

The Syrian Minefield

The dire situation in Syria has exploded on the world stage and the global reaction to it has quickly become the geopolitical version of an M. C. Escher painting.  You know what those are - mind-bending drawings of staircases that go around and around but end up nowhere, or buildings with unending twists and turns which also lead nowhere.  Likewise, the political twists and contortions that are still going on also seem to expend a lot of time, energy and media bandwidth but fail to go nowhere.

It all started several weeks ago as the Bashar al-Assad dictatorship in Syria, feeling threatened by a rebel insurgency that wants to see it gone, turned chemical weapons on its own people.  We all cringed at the photos and videos of the dead and dying Syrian civilians suffering the ravages of what has to be some of the most horrific and awful weapons ever created, next to nuclear.  President Obama, being the highly moral person he is, was thoroughly appalled and horrified over what had happened and rightfully condemned the government in Syria for violating a U.N. proscription against the use of chemical weaponry.  Saying the Assad regime crossed a "red line," Obama left it quite clear that he felt a military response against such an atrocity should not only be appropriate, but almost mandatory.  Obama expected the American people and the rest of the world to be properly and instantly outraged, and to fall in line in support behind him in moving forward with a military strike which would cripple or eliminate Syria's capability to gas their own helpless, innocent people.

What he got instead of support was ... virtual silence.  Obama was all set to go ahead with the attack using his powers as head of the executive branch without consulting Congress.  There was a clear precedent to this when George W. Bush decided to invade Iraq about a decade ago, on a wildly dubious and ultimately untrue basis of Saddam Hussein's weapons of mass destruction, which proved to be something between astonishing incompetent intelligence information or just plain old-fashioned lying through your teeth.  But conspicuous in its absence in the wake of a terrible atrocity was a groundswell of incensed clamoring for immediate military action.  Where were all our allies in the West - Canada, the UK, France, Germany, Australia, even Poland?  Surprisingly, the prickly French, who seem to delight in taking a contrary position to whatever the U.S. is taking, were the most agreeable to a forceful response to Assad.  The American people, while recoiling in disgust to the human tragedy, were also recoiling from the prospect of dipping our toes in another Middle East quagmire, with Iraq and Afghanistan being prominently featured in their reasoning.  Baffled and caught off-balance by the blatant non-response to a humanitarian catastrophe, Obama still went ahead and tasked the Pentagon with coming up with a plan of action and risk-assessment for what was being portrayed as a "surgical" strike.

This whole Syria issue has taken on a life of its own.  It has split into two different news stories: the first being the gas attack itself, and the second being the political reaction to the gas attack.  The second story has grown so rapidly that it has overtaken the original event, relegating it to the status of an afterthought or a mere detail in a bigger picture.  It has produced some very unusual and novel things, like Republicans calling for calm and restraint in the face of an opportunity to attack another country, which is like a starving dog turning down a big piece of filet mignon, or Democrats screaming to let the bombs fly sooner rather than later.

Syrian president Bashar al-Assad looked like a character out of a John Waters movie on an interview today.  He denied that chemical weapons were ever used by his forces.  In fact, he made some vague, unsupported assertions that HIS military forces were the ones who got gassed.  Assad is quite a creep, and looks like he would be most comfortable in the back row of an X-rated movie theater.  When asked about the deaths of the people he is supposed to serve, he acted like he just got caught by his wife, making out with a trashy waitress he met at the downtown Damascus Hooters restaurant - deny, deny and deny some more.

The situation is very fluid and things change every day.  Now the Russians have come up with a proposal to put all of Syria's chemical weapons under international control, to be eventually destroyed.  This may be an out for all concerned that avoids a military conflict.  The American people are staunchly against any military involvement, and many make the "slippery slope" argument that a "limited surgical strike" will lead to American boots on the ground, and another Afghanistan in the making.

There are so many variables, so many possible ways this can play out.  If Congress does give the go-ahead and the U.S. goes through with the attack, how will the Assad regime react?  How will his neighbors feel about another country lobbing rockets at someone right in their back yard?  Will Syria pop a couple of missiles over the fence on Israel?  Would a surgical air strike against Assad's chemical weapons capability actually do any good?  It would be virtually impossible to cripple his entire chemical weapon stockpile, and would he then be much more willing to use whatever remains?

If Congress says no to the whole thing, would that encourage other dictators to use chemical weapons because obviously they could do that and get away with it?  What will a "no" vote do to American prestige and influence all over the world, but especially in a region where fear and intimidation are the main glues that hold together a fragile peace?  What will that do to the Obama administration as its second term plays out?  Will it cripple an already lame-duck president and compromise his ability to push through all the other things he wants to accomplish?  Will it be more difficult for him to get his way on other issues, like the upcoming debt crisis and immigration reform?  Will Obama himself be seen as weak and dithering on important issues?

Obama's move to drag Congress, kicking and screaming, into the fray may be either a good idea or the worst idea ever.  Now Congress will be on record as either opposing or approving an air strike, so they will share either the credit or the blame.  But bringing this incredibly dysfunctional body into center stage may be really dumb, since Congress seems incapable of doing anything constructive or useful.

We will probably get the first vote on the Syria matter in a couple of days, when the Senate votes to invoke closure on the topic, and deny any use of the filibuster (the Republicans' weapon of choice when they can't get their way by, you know, actually coming up with good alternative solutions to a problem) to gum up the works.  The House of Representatives looks like to won't vote for a couple of weeks on the matter, conceivably giving the Assad regime time to move its chemical stockpiles around and conceal them, or "harden" them by making it tougher to find and destroy them.  This will also involve moving them into civilian neighborhoods so if the chemical weapons do manage to get blown up, the gas will be released and cause horrific collateral damage and deaths of innocent people.

This is a quagmire of the first order, and one which definitely changes daily and often seems to evolve by the hour.  It would be completely fascinating to watch if it wasn't for the fact that so much is riding on what will happen when the U.S. and the world finally decide to take some sort of action against a heartless dictator who sees no wrong in subjecting his fellow citizens to die in a gas attack.

Thursday, September 5, 2013

Running Down The Clock

Summer in the desert is starting to wind down, on this, the first week of September.  You wouldn't know it just from the temperature, because it was 110 degrees today.  It sure felt hot outside and the next couple of days are predicted to be moderately cooler, maybe all the way down to 108 degrees.  Summertime kind of quietly weasels its way into your life during the month of May, but it always needs to be dragged out - kicking, screaming and clawing the ground - all through September and half of October.

But there are subtle indications that the wheel of the seasons is beginning to turn.  It is becoming noticeably darker earlier these days.  When I left the gym yesterday at 6:55 pm the sun had already set, the first time that has happened since last April.  I read something where the sun's position in the sky doesn't change much from the summer solstice on June 21st through Midsummer Day (this year on August 6th).  After that date, the sun begins to move more swiftly in its southerly journey to the autumn equinox and then the winter solstice.

In the nighttime sky, when it's not full of monsoon clouds, the stars are starting to belie the passing months.  Scorpio the Scorpion is beginning to slink away toward the southwest horizon.  For just a couple of weeks, you can spot two beautiful crowns in the sky - Corona Australis, the Southern Crown, a little below the scorpion's glittering stinger, and Corona Borealis, the Northern Crown, low in the western sky not far from the sparkling orange Arcturus, one of the brightest stars in the sky.

The Great Square of Pegasus is starting to vault its way up the eastern sky.  A large, nearly perfect square, it's easy to spot and is a sure sign of autumn.  A little less obvious is the constellation of Andromeda, hanging on to one of the corners of the Great Square for dear life and trailing it as it rises in the sky.  With binoculars, it's not hard to spot a smudge of dim gray light in the boundaries of Andromeda, and the multi-million-year-old light which finally has made its way to your retinas after crossing a gulf of 12 quintillion empty, frigid miles.  This is the Andromeda Galaxy, an island universe of billions and billions of stars, similar in shape to our own home galaxy, the Milky Way, but even larger.

The two galaxies are part of what's known as the Local Group, a collection of dozens of galaxies bound together gravitationally in our own little neighborhood in space.  Astronomers are pretty sure Andromeda and the Milky Way are speeding toward each other, and will most likely collide in a couple of billion years.  Surprisingly, they also think the two galaxies will just pass through each other, the distance between individual stars being vast enough so that the probability of a star running into another star is extremely low.  But the collective gravitational tidal forces will be more than enough to bend and warp the two galaxies into very distorted shapes, and invariably millions of stars will be cast off into intergalactic space, to wander the deadly cold vacuum as rogue stars, in desolate solitude.  Over even more billions of years the two galaxies will dance and loop around each other, colliding over and over again.  Eventually, in the far distant future, the galaxies will merge into a super-galaxy and probably even the supermassive black holes in the two galactic centers will merge into one ultramassive black hole.

In fact, astronomers have spotted a couple of galaxies, 30 times farther away than Andromeda, which are in the process of colliding.  This ultra-slow train wreck of galactic proportions has been going on for hundreds of millions of years and will continue on for many more millions, leaving a huge mess of stars, gas, and dust strewn over an impossibly vast area of space:

So, sometimes I think about our home galaxy being on an unavoidable collision course with an even larger galaxy, and I dream about what that might look like, assuming Planet Earth is still in one piece and there will be humans living on it in a couple of billion years.  No matter who or what is around at that time, it will be the greatest show in the entire universe.  For now though, I have to be content with dreaming about the cool, crisp autumn mornings which are also slowly, inexorably inching their way to us, and the dramatic cranberry-colored sunsets which give way to dark, deep and chilly nights.  And the 110-degree summer days will be a distant memory.

Wednesday, July 31, 2013

20 Years in Arizona

Today marks the day 20 years ago in 1993 when I officially moved to Phoenix.  I've written about my "Arizona-versary" several times in this blog so I won't go over things that I've already talked about, but it is somewhat of a milestone.  Just short of one-third of my whole life I have lived here, and in spite of being born in Pennsylvania, I consider Arizona my home.

I have always loved the desert, even as a little kid when the only desert I saw was on our black-and-white TV.   Something about the dramatic starkness and the beautiful barrenness of the land spoke to me, and I was always mesmerized by the craggy, windswept mountains and vast expanse of sun-baked earth.  Where a lot of my peers saw nothing but brutal desolation and debilitating emptiness, I saw life, history, color, art and intricate, ageless patterns and rhythms.  This is a land that holds more ghosts than people, and the footfalls and songs of countless previous generations echo down the canyons of time right to the present day.  The desert might appear to be a lonely place, but you are never alone here.  Wherever you go, spirits walk with you.  Monument Valley, in far northeastern Arizona, is one of those places where the veil between the temporal world and the spirit world is especially thin.

Arizona is a place where cultures collide, intersect, conflict, separate and come together again, over and over.  Cultures such as the Native American, Hispanic, and Anglo have mixed uneasily at times but have still melded together to form a uniquely colorful and vibrant pastiche.  A fine example of this is the church at San Xavier del Bac, in southern Arizona.  Known as the White Dove of the Desert, it rises in hallucinatory splendor from the shimmering, heat-blasted expanse of ochre- and olive-colored desert near Tucson.

It seems, though, as time goes on the various cultures who make up this land are increasingly at odds with each other. Discrimination and bigotry are rampant in Arizona, particularly against Native Americans and Mexicans who have lived in this area for a very long time.  A lot of those doing the discrimination are people who have moved here from somewhere else, and really have no claim on the land or any of its residents.  I guess Anglos have a way of doing that, moving into a land and then taking it over and appropriating its culture as their own, making aboriginal residents feel like outsiders and trespassers.  They did that with rock and roll music of the 50s, when black gospel and rhythm-and-blues music were co-opted and taken over by white artists like Elvis Presley and thus made palatable to the presiding (white) culture, who milked it for as much money as they could get out of it.  They took everything, and gave nothing back in return.

The Anglo culture has been dominant here for a long time, but that is coming to an end. The increasing Hispanic population fairly guarantees that the white population of Arizona will become a minority, as early as 2025. What that will do to this state, its culture and its population cannot be reliably foreseen, but it will be amazing and fascinating, and it will blaze a trail to a new reality and a new state.  Maybe Arizona, as it rushes into the future, will find that it more closely resembles the Arizona of 100 years ago than anything else.

I feel that I have carved myself out a really good life here in Arizona.  I have a home which I dearly love.  Buying this house was one of the best things I've ever done, and it is a place where I feel perfectly safe, secure and satisfied, and where I can enjoy my beloved rabbits in peace.  I have made many wonderful, faithful friends who I value very highly, and a new chosen family in Brambley Hedge Rabbit Rescue. I've been a volunteer with BHRR for going on 13 years and it has made a huge, incalculable difference in my life.  BHRR is also one of the best things that has ever happened to me, and I feel that I have gained much, much more than I have given.

The yearly parade of what passes for seasons here in the Phoenix area never ceases to fascinate me, and a beautiful desert sunrise can still imbue me with an awe and an appreciation every bit as strong as the first time I witnessed one.  The cranberry-colored clouds of a December sunset can fill my mind with a beauty and serenity unsurpassed by any other.   The summer monsoon can set the sky ablaze and turn the evening twilight into a living painting of the most amazing and intricate textures and colors.  And most certainly, a clear nighttime sky far away from the lights of the city is absolutely one of the most mind-blowing and awe-inspiring things I have ever witnessed in my life.  The sheer number of stars you can see defies comprehension and is a treasure beyond any valuation, and far beyond my ability to adequately describe.

The vast diversity of the land and the eternally-changing tapestry of the sky turns this state into an artist's-canvas of the soul, a multifaceted prism which shows you many, many different, new sides and angles of something you have seen dozens of time.  The desert renews and reinvents itself constantly, but in very subtle ways and if you don't tune your mind to these changes, you will most likely miss them.

But, all things have a beginning and an end, and I am starting to get a bit restless.  I find the right-wing, ultra-conservative politics of this state to be destructive, suffocating and toxic.  Too often these days conservatism is just a convenient cover for racism, homophobia, religious intolerance and bigotry.  American politics is fracturing along many different fault lines, not only by political orientation but also racial, economic, gender and class lines, to name a few.  People are much less inclined to open their eyes and their minds to new outlooks and opinions, and many of them opt to shut out any voices which are different from their own.  They choose to not make an effort to understand what their neighbor is saying to them, and prefer instead to surround themselves only with others who share their narrow views.  Understanding different points of view takes a little effort and so many people in this state are very disinclined to do to make that effort.

So, I am starting to look elsewhere to live, most probably out of Arizona.  I'm looking toward New Mexico or Oregon/Washington state.  I have no concrete plans as of yet, but this is how things happen in my life.  There will be a slow, almost imperceptible change in me and eventually, when the time is right, I will leave Arizona and move on to the next adventure in my life.

There will come a time when I will have no more Arizona-versaries, but I will always have memories of the great times and unrelenting beauty of my desert home.

Friday, July 19, 2013

American Justice: An Oxymoron (Part 2)

One of the tenets of the American criminal justice system is the idea of trial by jury.  Having its roots way back in the British Magna Carta, the idea that a "jury of your peers" could provide the purest, most unadulterated dispensation of justice possible has been a central pillar of the house of cards which passes for our justice system.

But just how good is this "jury of your peers" idea, and how does the court system maximize the ability of a jury to provide this invaluable service?

I have a little bit of direct experience with the jury system, having served on a jury in the city of Phoenix court several years ago.  I was seated on a case involving drunk driving, which make up like 95% of all court cases in this town.  I was chosen as jury foreman, which I wanted because I thought it was my best chance to hurry things along and get the hell out of there.  I had to almost immediately jerk one of the other jurors back in line, because he loudly announced that a long time ago some cop gave him a traffic ticket which he considered unfair, and because of that he was going to vote for acquittal no matter what.  I explained to this dickwad in no uncertain terms that nobody gives a crap whether he was fairly ticketed or not, and he wasn't there to exact some kind of vague revenge against the system which he felt unfairly persecuted him.  His job was to examine the evidence of this particular case and render a verdict, and not launch a vendetta against some perceived injustice he suffered years ago at the hands of a traffic cop.  Admittedly I was tired, in a really REALLY lousy mood and I would have slapped the shit out of any fellow juror who pissed me off in a hot second.

Fun fact: I was called for jury service a couple of years later and yet another drunk driving case (I know, boring as hell) but since I think people who drink and drive are absolute scum of the earth, I made those feelings abundantly clear during the courtroom interview.  When asked about the law providing a "legal limit," or a level of alcohol intoxication under which it is permissible to drive, I loudly announced that "I don't care what the law says," (exact words) and I would vote to convict anyone who has a B.A.C. other than 0.  Needless to say I was hustled out of the court room and actually dismissed from serving on a jury that day.  I was home by 9:30 that morning and was incredibly happy and delighted with myself.  I will definitely do that again the next time I'm called for jury duty.

Jurors bring with them all manner of batshit-crazy experiences and biases which have nothing to do at all with the case at hand, but which can affect any decisions they make, and in the privacy of the jury room the judge knows nothing about these biases unless someone tells them.  When jurors are selected, the judge and lawyers are looking for people who don't know a lot about the case being tried, and supposedly their ignorance about the facts of the case would be a "tabula rasa" (empty tablet) on which the relevant facts would be written and their conclusions drawn, outside of the refractive lens of pre-existing knowledge.  The case of George Zimmerman was such an immediate national sensation that it's very difficult to understand how anyone in the Sanford, Florida, area could have missed hearing about it.  Call me an elitist, but I think the more intelligent you are, the more you know about news events happening around you.  Smart people tend to follow current events and watch news shows on television; less intelligent people watch "The Bachelorette" and other such drek.  Therefore the lawyers favor people of limited intelligence to serve on juries.

Because it seems that jurors are kept in the dark about a lot of stuff happening during the trial, and the more poorly-informed you are about everything the more desirable you are as a juror, that is the best incentive I can think of to live a crime-free life.  I consider going on murderous rampages at least two or three times a week, but it's the prospect of having my fate decided by a bunch of clueless, detached "peers" in a circus court of law that keeps me from acting on these feelings.  I may have regular homicidal urges, but I'm not stupid enough to get caught for them.

So, I really was not surprised by the torrent of outrageous idiocy when one of the jurors on the Zimmerman case decided to speak out to the media about her experience.  "Juror B37," as she was cryptically called, spoke to Anderson Cooper about her jury service and you can read her bewildering thought processes here.  Some highlights:

"I think George Zimmerman is a man whose heart was in the right place, but just got displaced by the vandalism in the neighborhoods, and wanting to catch these people so badly that he went above and beyond what he really should have done."

Since when does "above and beyond what he really should have done" include shooting a 17-year-old to death?  That's a little bit more serious than having a minor lapse of judgment.  Poor judgment is when you post something stupid on Facebook or say something horrible about your boss when they are standing right behind you.  A lapse in judgment usually does not result in a teenager being shot and killed.  Also:

"...I think his heart was in the right place. It just went terribly wrong."

Well yeah, occasionally things do go "terribly wrong."  But I thought in our justice system there are legal consequences when things go "terribly wrong."  This shooting was no accident; Zimmerman knew what he was doing from the moment he racially-profiled Martin in his hoodie.  He took deliberate, intentional actions despite being warned, and precipitated this confrontation.  He could not be more guilty, and yet he walks.  Because the state of Florida has decided that under a wide range of circumstances, you have a right to act as judge, jury and executioner of someone whom you think is acting in a threatening manner.  Another quote from Juror B37:

"Anybody would think anybody walking down the road, stopping and turning and looking -- if that's exactly what happened -- is suspicious."
"I think all of us thought race did not play a role. We never had that discussion."
That is one of the most transparently stupid and simple-minded things ever spoken.  Anyone who thinks race is not a major factor in what went down that night is either a complete idiot or being deliberately disingenuous.  Zimmerman was clearing gunning (pun not intended) for a black youth because he felt they were responsible, as a subset of citizens, for all the vandalism and crime occurring in that neighborhood.  The fact that Martin was wearing a hoodie branded him as a "thug" in Zimmerman's mind.  Juror B37 even went so far to say that the fact that it was raining also contributed to Martin acting "suspiciously."  How many people do you see on a daily basis who look, act and walk "suspiciously?"  If I took a shot at every dirtbag in Phoenix who I thought was looking or walking in a suspicious manner, the police wouldn't be able to keep up with the bodies piling up.

Reading through a transcript of everything Juror B37 said in her interview illustrates every single thing that is wrong with the criminal justice system in America.  The fact that someone as blatantly stupid and ignorant as she would get anywhere near a courthouse is an abomination.  Sadly, the whole vast spectrum of things that have made up the regrettable jigsaw-puzzle that is the Trayvon Martin case show how spectacularly dysfunctional, unfair, and racist the American justice system is.

Monday, July 15, 2013

American Justice: An Oxymoron (Part 1)

This past weekend on a hot and sultry Saturday evening a bombshell was dropped on this country which is still reverberating three days later.  The Florida trial of 29-year-old George Zimmerman, killer of 17-year-old Skittles-carrier and chronic iced-tea abuser Trayvon Martin, came to an end with Zimmerman's acquittal.  The moonpie-faced defendant sauntered out of the courtroom a free asshole man (not really totally free, more on that later) while Trayvon Martin, well, remains buried in his grave.

The largely arcane, inscrutable wheels of the American judicial system churned and wheezed and rattled one more time, and once more left huge numbers of people extremely upset and disappointed in a very obvious miscarriage of justice.  Our court system has a way of doing that, ignoring the big-picture for the niggling little details and minutiae of process.  Remember O.J. Simpson?  There wasn't a shadow of a doubt that he committed the murders, yet he got let off by a jury who was talked into having reasonable doubts.  Now, almost two decades later, it is an indisputable fact of public knowledge that he murdered two people in cold blood.  Casey Anthony, who murdered her daughter and failed to notify authorities of her disappearance for a month because she was too busy partying and participating in wet t-shirt contests, also skated out the front door, thanks to the jury.  On what planet is it considered justice when obviously guilty criminals can get away with their heinous actions scot free?  Also, how is it possible to have a shred of respect for such a system that allows such glaring, atrocious failures to happen?

Prosecutors in the Zimmerman trial certainly had their work cut out for them, because the investigation of the case was horrifically botched up from the start.  Evidence was contaminated or not collected at all.  Martin's body was physically moved from the sidewalk to a grassy area, disturbing and tainting the evidence.  The now-famous hoodie he was wearing was placed in an airtight plastic bag after being moistened by rain, further destroying and corrupting evidence.  At first it seemed like a slam-dunk for the state.  The initial statement by the prosecutor was riveting and emotional, and the opening statement by dickwad defense attorney Don West started off with a supremely ill-advised and staggeringly unfunny knock-knock joke, which seemed to imply the jurors were idiots.  Laying the biggest egg since the brontosaurus walked the earth, the silence in the courtroom that followed that incredibly stupid attempt at comedy was deafening, leaving West chortling and grinning at himself like the biggest jerk in the world, which he is.

Slowly but surely it changed from George Zimmerman being on trial to Trayvon Martin being on trial, for having the audacity of dressing like a thug and walking through a neighborhood.  Zimmerman, a wanna-be cop with apparently a lot more free time than common sense, decided that Martin was surely up to no good being in that part of town looking the way he did and took it upon himself - despite clear admonishment from a 911 dispatcher to mind his own business and stay put - to confront Martin for ... what?  A cell-phone recording of someone calling for help became a bone of contention as families on both sides claimed it was their relative screaming for his life.

Central to this case is the concept of self-defense and when it is appropriate to use deadly force to save your own hide.  Florida's recent "stand your ground" law makes deadly force a much more viable option because it says if you perceive yourself to be in imminent danger of death or severe bodily harm, you are justified in the use of deadly force to defend yourself.  If you PERCEIVE yourself to be in danger!  You don't have to actually BE in danger, only THINK that you are.  Think about the ramifications of that for a second.  Someone you don't like because of the way they dress or the color of their skin is walking in a part of town where you don't think they belong, and they turn to look at you as you approach them from behind to confront them, and you think THEY are being threatening??  How many dimwitted, gun-happy douchebags would find that a "threatening" situation when in fact they are the ones doing the threatening?  Just think of all the batshit-crazy, mentally-unstable nut cases there are in Florida and then imagine them given carte-blanche by the authorities to shoot anyone who happens to look at them the wrong way.  That's what "stand your ground" does.

Some people think this trial was only about race, and others think it's about self-defense.  Personally I think it's about both, with the added complication of guns and gun use in America.  Again the problem of mentally-deficient faux-vigilantes carrying firearms and being all too eager to use them has resulted in a pointless loss of life.  But how can we expect anything different if twenty young children in Newtown, Connecticut can be blasted to smithereens by a deranged gunman and months later Congress is too cowardly and spineless to pass even the most innocuous, toothless law about background checks?  Because of such selfish, narrow-minded cowardice, these types of ridiculous, tragic murders will continue until every street in America is stained with blood.  And still the NRA, their ape-like, knuckle-dragging supporters and their bottom-bitches in Congress will bleat and complain about how their precious, god-given Second Amendment rights are being trampled and violated.  Well, BOO-FUCKING-HOO.  You want a nice Camembert to go with that whine?  At least your damned kid is still alive.

The trial may be over, but Zimmerman's life will be forever changed.  He will need to be on the alert every minute of every day, because he must be painfully aware of the millions of people who are outraged at this travesty of justice.  Some people will not be content to move on; still others will seek some sort of vigilante justice (which, in a weirdly ironic way, is not at all different from what Zimmerman was instigating on that cool, damp, February evening in Sanford, Florida).  It will be next to impossible for Zimmerman to function in the general public, being instantly recognizable (read: targetable).  No one will want to hire him with the toxic baggage he will carry for the rest of his life.  He is the one who will be in a kind of solitary confinement for the rest of his life.  Meanwhile a seventeen-year-old person lies in a grave and a family, along with millions of American citizens, grieve at how spectacularly broken our justice system is when an obvious murderer can be set free and walk among us.

Monday, July 1, 2013

Hell On Earth Weekend 2013

Oh my my my I have been such a bad person, ignoring my blog like this.  I really love writing my blog but I go through phases where I just don't have the motivation to write. It's been three months since my last post, and I said I wouldn't let months go by without posting.  Oh well enough with the recrimination.  I'm here now and I'm ready to WRITE!

Just got through Hell on Earth Weekend, which is what I call the weekend right before July 4th.  And it really lived up to its name.  Friday and Saturday the temps rocketed up to 118 degree territory.  The very air seemed to be burning, and you can tell when it gets above, say, 115 because you notice how hot the air is when you breathe.  I don't know what's going on or why there's any reason why it has to be so hot.  But even at 10pm it was still 100 degrees outside.  This is such a strange place where I live.

I keep thinking more and more that I have to get out of Phoenix and get away from these horrible, awful, miserable summers.  I was sick and tired of the heat three weeks ago, and there's still at least three, and more likely three and a half more months of this crap to get through.  It seems the air conditioner runs all the time, valiantly waging a war against the blistering heat outside, doing its best to maintain as much of a difference between indoor and outdoor temperatures as possible.  It wouldn't be so bad if it cooled off during the night, but summer low temps are almost never under 80 degrees, and more often in the upper 80s or low 90s.  That makes for a nasty climate where the heat is unrelenting and constant.  And debilitating of mind and spirit.

When I first moved here 20 years ago I loved the heat; I thrived on it.  Maybe it was moving from the San Francisco Bay Area where the marine fog layer was often an enemy, a spoiler.  Many times I would awake on a clear morning anticipating a day at the beach, and I would begin the drive out there and it was beautiful and sunny but one mile away from the coast the gray clouds started spreading out in front of me.  When I got to the beach itself it was gray and overcast and windy and cool.  Some of my fondest memories of the Bay Area were the days I spent at the beach.  The days when there was an offshore breeze and all the fog got pushed way out over the ocean, the beaches were spectacularly beautiful.  The sky was a crystalline blue and the air felt so very fresh and clean.  I would get to the beach at 10am and stay till 6pm, broiling constantly in the sun.  I know now that was not a smart thing to do, skin-cancer-wise, but I would not trade that experience for anything in the world.  I felt so perfectly happy and content, surrounded by a world of unbelievable beauty at the beach on those crystal-clear, perfect days.  I didn't want to be anywhere else and never wanted it to end.  It truly was a paradise on earth.

There are great days here in Arizona, mostly in the fall, winter and early spring.  I find I function much better in the cooler weather.  I feel more energized and excited to do things.  When it's so hot that you end up sweltering in your own home, even minor chores like cleaning are a real pain in the butt.  I hate the fact that the hot weather is so horrible outside that you spend way too much time indoors.  It's just the reverse of when I was a child.  The wintertime was when you hibernated, stayed indoors because it was so nasty and cold outside.  Here, you hibernate during the summer, when it's disgustingly hot outside.

I used to love living here, but the political climate in this state is so vile and hateful I can't stand it anymore.  There are so many hate-filled conservatives here, and they are some of the most ignorant and uneducated people I have ever encountered.  The state legislature has some of the the most repugnant excuses for human beings that ever befouled a voting booth.  There are also more burned-out meth heads and white-trash dirtbags than I'd ever believed possible.  Racism is absolutely rampant in this state and runs wide and deep - racism against Mexicans, native Americans, gay people.  There are dimwitted, bigoted, fundamentalist Christians who are totally delusional in their Bronze-Age beliefs and superstitions, and robotic, insular Mormons who try so very hard to conceal their virulent bigotry and prejudices with their thin, studied smiles and carefully chosen words.

The question is, where would I go if I moved?  I like Payson, about an hour and a half northeast of Phoenix.  There, up on the Mogollon Rim, they actually have seasons and the occasional covering of snow.  But it's still Arizona, and everything that goes along with it.  I don't want to move back to California, since my love-hate relationship with that state still hasn't resolved itself.  You need a lot of money to live there, and I'm not sure it's worth it.

That leaves moving out of state, and possible places are northern New Mexico, north of Albuquerque and south of Taos.  I would consider Oregon or Washington State, too.  Colorado would be nice but the winters can be very harsh, and I don't want to get into a reverse-situation like I have now.

So, with the twentieth anniversary of my move to Phoenix (July 31, 1993) coming soon, I am looking to move again.  I am forming a five-year plan to be out of here, and on to my next adventure in life.

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Same Old Grind

Spring has just sprung, today is the day of the Vernal Equinox.  The sun is noticeably rising earlier and setting later.  We've already had a blast of unseasonably hot weather, and just a couple of days ago we were basking in record heat for the date (94 degrees).

While it is WAY too early for such temperatures, and the trend over the next couple of days is moderation closer to normal (80 degrees), time does march on.  Springtime inevitably brings the Easter holiday, and with it the equally-inevitable problem of live rabbits as Easter gifts.

Last year I created a meme for Brambley Hedge Rabbit Rescue to be used on Facebook.  Much to my delight, it was wildly successful and got a great deal of sharing and "likes."  You can see it below:

We re-released that meme a couple of days ago and it is again getting widespread attention and sharing.  Update:  According to Facebook insights, as of April 14 this meme has been seen by 962,571 people worldwide.  Inevitably, along with the sharing comes the barrage of hateful, idiotic comments from real scum-of-the-earth types.  Just this morning I had to wade through a bunch of stupid comments and delete-and-ban at least 15 people.

These comments, sadly, are pretty much the same.  A simple-minded, juvenile comment about how rabbits are so good to eat.  The vast majority are from males, which makes me very ashamed of my gender (athough women aren't entirely immune from such assholery).  I don't call them "men" because they are not men.  They are small-minded, psychopathic little boys who spend their worthless, pointless, and hopeless lives parked in front of a computer, trolling the internet for ways to inflict their mental illnesses on the world.

Much like a really annoying 12-year-old boy starving for any kind of attention, no matter how negative, they make it a point to pipe up and insert their bile into any discussion.  I just don't understand the mindset of people who think their opinions are either needed or wanted.  If you don't have anything nice to contribute to a group of people who are working for the welfare of innocent animals, then go back to your internet porn or something.  But no, so many of them choose to write a hateful comment which serves no useful purpose other than to make them feel like men, which could not be further from reality.

There has never been anything like Facebook in the entire history of humankind on earth.  Even back in 2000, when the internet was still pretty much in its infancy, something like Facebook could barely be imagined.  A global platform, easy to use, available to all free of charge (except for advertisements, but I have an ad-blocker on my browser and I see ZERO Facebook ads), which provides instantaneous communication to users in all corners of the world.  The egalitarian nature of Facebook means your comments can appear right next to celebrities and national figures.  The very democratic, populist nature of Facebook is its greatest strength, and also its greatest weakness.

Because any idiot in the world can sign up for a Facebook user id, it more often resembles an overflowing toilet instead of a freewheeling digital repository of ideas.  The isolation and protection Facebook offers means that really diseased, disturbed individuals can hole up in the moldy comfort of their mother's basement and spew their garbage-filled comments far and wide, free of responsibility or fear of retribution.  They are the ultimate cowards, because if they were actually out in a group of people I highly doubt they would be spouting the offensive bullshit that they so often do.  If they had to answer for their comments, and get called on the carpet for their festering, disgusting bile, you can be sure the vast majority of them would crawl back into the toilets they came from and continue their sad, stunted lives in mommy's cellar.

Far from being a new development, the very toxic minds of people were on full display right after the Newtown shootings last December.  As the gun control debate raged anew, I was astonished to read some extremely vile and disturbing comments from people whose only priority is to keep their arsenals of guns and high-power weapons.  Whatever happened to America that citizens feel so under-siege in their own communities that they need to stockpile such lethal weapons?  So many of them are extremely paranoid, and feel that the world is going to come to an end very soon, with vast hordes of criminals sweeping into every town, village and hamlet in this country, raping, pillaging and waging war on the innocent.  Where did this poisonous, malignant paranoia come from?

Facebook certainly has a role in all this, providing instantaneous, worldwide communication of any idea at all, without the responsibility of actually having to justify and explain your opinions.  People make hateful, vicious comments about anything because it's easy, and there are no repercussions.  They spew their loathsome, disgusting hatefulness, solely because they can.

If these disturbed individuals are looking for a platform for their psychoses, they won't find it on the BHRR Facebook page.  I check our page constantly, and immediately delete-and-ban any fool who thinks their being cute or "edgy" with disgusting comments.

Leave it to human beings to screw up and corrupt something as miraculous and astonishing as Facebook.  Count on some people who aspire to be nothing more than bottom-feeders, living in the muck and mire of the lower depths of the gigantic cesspool that the internet is becoming, and lashing out against anyone who is working to make the world a better place for animals, which are so often victimized and exploited in the most horrific ways imaginable. They will do it, just because they can.

And I will check our Facebook page throughout the day and through the end of the month, and I will swiftly delete-and-ban any dickwad who has absolutely nothing else going on in their miserable life other than being a hateful, bitter asshole.

I will do it, because I can.

Friday, March 8, 2013

Taking The Heat

Last evening The Rachel Maddow Show had an absolutely brilliant piece detailing the extents to which two of the biggest death merchants in the history of this country will go to avoid answering for their actions.

For decades the tobacco industry produced a product specifically designed to create an addiction in their users for that product.  Nicotine levels were purposefully manipulated to guarantee that the vast majority of their users would be unable to stop.  The industry was less than subtle when it came to advertising their product to children, knowing full well that the younger you can get a smoker hooked, the more likely you will have a customer for life, even a life that will be significantly shortened by use of the product.

With the full cooperation of the popular media, especially Hollywood, the tobacco industry made sure their product was portrayed as an essential part of American life, a birth right to which everyone was entitled.  It was turned into a symbol of class, glamour and sophistication.

But when medical and scientific evidence began to mount concerning the link between smoking and many of the most severe health issues affecting the population, Big Tobacco began to get nervous.  Through the courageous actions of pioneers like former Surgeon General C. Everett Coop (recently deceased), the harsh spotlight of public attention was being shone on the cigarette makers, and not in a flattering way.

It was starting to get hot, so the tobacco industry decided they needed a "heat shield" to protect themselves from this increasingly aggressive scrutiny, so they created and funded a bogus organization which they called the National Smokers' Alliance.

Ostensibly cast as a spontaneous, "grass roots" organization of fine, upstanding Americans who were seeking nothing more than the freedom to exercise their god-given right to get cancer, the NSA received millions of tobacco dollars to act as national apologists for the tobacco industry.  They came up with completely preposterous pronouncements such as "Accommodation and common courtesy would solve this problem," meaning that the answer to all the health concerns is for everyone to mind their own business and pretend nothing bad is happening.

But it was hard to ignore the huge costs of tobacco addiction, and a number of high-profile, big-dollar lawsuits against the tobacco makers were beginning to get a lot of attention.  And some of that attention came from a Senate investigating committee, which at one famous session summoned a number of top tobacco executives to answer for many years of lying to the American public.  The gig was up for the phony National Smokers' Alliance, and it quickly disappeared from the national scene.

This was an example of a "heat shield" that did not work.  Now, an example of a heat shield that DOES work:

The corporations that make and sell guns found themselves in a similar situation to the tobacco industry.  Their product is produced solely for the purpose of murdering people.  Guns can't be used for anything else than that.  Knives kill people too, but knives have other legitimate uses.  You can kill someone with a baseball bat, but bats can be used for their intended purpose, in a baseball game.  Guns have one and only one use.

The gun industry did not want to have to deal with the messy business of gun violence and the carnage it wreaks on American society.  The daily slaughter of innocent people of all ages was something they did not want to rationalize.  They needed something to take the heat for them and deflect the public anger away from them, to provide cover for the continued sale of their product and rake in many millions of dollars of profit.  Enter the National Rifle Association.

The NRA would like you to believe they are comprised of four million stalwart American citizens who seek nothing but the ability to defend their family and property from vast legions of vicious, bloodthirsty criminals, undocumented immigrants and an increasingly Fascist government that wants to invalidate the Constitution.  The NRA just wants to make sure the Second Amendment stays firmly in place and every obese, ignorant hillbilly who wants to have a half-dozen automatic rifles in their filthy double-wide should be afforded that opportunity.

The Second Amendment to the Constitution contains exactly 27 words and was written at a time when the newborn country was just getting on its feet.  Those 27 words have been mangled and stretched beyond recognition, and I am certain the Founding Fathers could not dream that it would someday cover mass-produced, insanely powerful weapons like the AR-15 or the AK-47.

The truth is, the NRA receives an enormous amount of funding from their "corporate partners," a veritable who's-who of gun manufacturers.  Their decrepit zombie of a CEO, Wayne LaPierre - purposefully as repellent and obnoxious as humanly possible - acts as a very effective lightning rod for the all the criticism coming at the gun makers.  The NRA has one of the most powerful lobbying machines in Washington to make sure that cowardly members of Congress remain firmly in their back pocket and resist any sort of gun control legislation.

The NRA also relies on the ignorance of their own members, who have been duped into thinking that the NRA is really interested in defending their Second Amendment rights from all the socialist Muslims who want to do heinous, vile and un-American things like ban high-capacity magazine clips or close ridiculous loopholes in gun sales.  In reality, the NRA could not care less about gun rights, beyond the extent that gun rights can be used to maintain and increase their sales margins, and it exists only to make sure there will be an insatiable market for more and more guns in this country.

But, NRA members seem to be perfectly happy and content with being stooges, dupes and idiots, blatantly manipulated by gun industry proxies and being played like cheap violins.  No doubt they are laughing insanely in the NRA board room at how easy it is to make really stupid people do exactly what you want them to.

No doubt the National Rifle Association has learned well from the example of the National Smokers' Alliance on how to be an effective heat shield.  Whether or not it is going to save them from the same fate as the Smokers' Alliance remains to be seen.  We are starting to see little cracks in the NRA heat shield today.  We can only hope that these cracks will grow and eventually, the NRA will be seen as the cruel, cynical scam that it has always been.

Monday, February 25, 2013

Financial Frankenstein

Here we go again:  We find ourselves on the brink of an economic catastrophe and once again, it's of our own making.  How is this even remotely possible?

The clock is ticking on the Sequestration Bomb, a breathtaking little bit of insanity that was created not by some vengeful, pissed-off god, nor by some diabolical cabal of fundamentalist Islamists, nor by a gaggle of Chinese cyber-terrorists, but by our very own Congress.  Back in 2011 when Congress was bickering over the debt-ceiling crisis, our very rational, courageous and forward-thinking representatives decided it would be a good idea to force themselves into taking some action on deficit reduction by coming up with a poison pill so onerous that enacting it would be unthinkable.

Congress has become so good at deferring action on critical issues.  Their philosophy seems to be, let's kick the can down the road and worry about it some other day.  Out of sight - out of mind, they think, but their short-sightedness cannot comprehend the fact that someday the piper will have to be paid and they will have to face the issue again, after it's had a chance to fester and grow and metastasize into something truly scary.

On Friday, March 1st, some $85 billion in budget cuts will be imposed across the board.  Everything is going to be hit, even the sacred cow of defense spending.  There are many dire, horrific, sky-is-falling predictions of all the teachers who will be laid off and the hours-long lines at airport security when TSA agents are sent packing.  $85 billion is quite a chunk of change, but it's less than 3% of the national budget.  How so much pain and disruption could happen at such a relatively small bump in the budget is hard to understand.

The Democrats and the Obama administration have been fanning the flames and doing whatever they can to put pressure on Republicans to get a grip and compromise on a debt reduction deal.  Republicans are refusing to consider any increased tax revenues, thinking instead that the President has gotten all the new taxes he's going to get, and are holding out for big-time spending cuts.  Both sides have dug in their heels and the rest of us have to sit on our hands and slide helplessly into Friday when the Frankenstein monster Congress created comes to life, goes on a rampage and eats the economy for lunch.

It's astonishing how myopic Congress can be, and how it can separate itself from the monster it created and disavow any responsibility for it.  They're acting like they had nothing to do with the impending apocalypse, and throw up their hands as if they are completely powerless to do anything to solve the problem THEY created.

All this is eerily reminiscent of another faux-crisis we all endured, the so-called "fiscal cliff" back on December 31st of last year.  This also was a manufactured event, created not by economic forces but by design, by intention.  I suppose we could glean some comfort in the fact that we survived the fiscal cliff, and we will survive the upcoming sequestration.  Leading economists, such as the always erudite Robert Reich, say that most people probably won't directly feel the results of sequestration for weeks or months or maybe never.

But the economy always seems to be teetering on the brink of "another recession."  The recovery from the financial collapse of 2009-2010 has been anemic at best, and even though the stock market has been flirting with record high levels, there's the very real feeling that it's all a house of cards that can come crashing down any minute.  It wasn't that long ago that the Dow Jones Industrial Average was in the 6,000 range, instead of occasionally peeking over the 14,000 mark as it does these days.

Congress seems to have effectively isolated itself from the effects of these cliffs and crises, and somehow deflects the blame away from itself.  More ominiously, there's the chance that this has become the new "normal" - already the next two "crises" are being teed up:  another possible government shutdown coming on March 27th and more debt-ceiling churn in April.  Instead of governing for the long term, it appears Congress has chosen to merely jump from crisis to manufactured crisis, like a flat rock skipping over the surface of the water, accomplishing very little, and pushing as much as they can down the road, over and over again.