Friday, October 09, 2009

Noble Start rewarded with Nobel Prize

While we congratulate our fellow American President Barack Obama for winning the Nobel Peace Prize, we might also have a little head-scratching. He's been in office only six or seven months, and there are a great many evils yet to be dispatched. So what's the deal?

It is spelled out quite clearly in the official announcement:
"The Norwegian Nobel Committee has decided that the Nobel Peace Prize for 2009 is to be awarded to President Barack Obama for his extraordinary efforts to strengthen international diplomacy and cooperation between peoples. The Committee has attached special importance to Obama's vision of and work for a world without nuclear weapons.

Obama has as President created a new climate in international politics. Multilateral diplomacy has regained a central position, with emphasis on the role that the United Nations and other international institutions can play. Dialogue and negotiations are preferred as instruments for resolving even the most difficult international conflicts. The vision of a world free from nuclear arms has powerfully stimulated disarmament and arms control negotiations. Thanks to Obama's initiative, the USA is now playing a more constructive role in meeting the great climatic challenges the world is confronting. Democracy and human rights are to be strengthened.

Only very rarely has a person to the same extent as Obama captured the world's attention and given its people hope for a better future. His diplomacy is founded in the concept that those who are to lead the world must do so on the basis of values and attitudes that are shared by the majority of the world's population.

For 108 years, the Norwegian Nobel Committee has sought to stimulate precisely that international policy and those attitudes for which Obama is now the world's leading spokesman. The Committee endorses Obama's appeal that "Now is the time for all of us to take our share of responsibility for a global response to global challenges."
Keep in mind that what passes for News in the American Corporate Press is not necessarily the most important thing in the world. The press might give whole nuclear arms stuff one headline, then replace the headline about a kidnapping or puppies. Even in foreign affairs, let's look at our preoccupations:
  • Afghanistan: important to the Afghans, to the Americans who suffer there, and as a recruiting tool for Al Qaeda. To anyone else, not so much
  • Iraq: like Afghanistan times three.
  • The entire international order: relevant to the entire planet.
Now, look at the change in the last half year. I defy you to think of any six months OTHER than the outbreak of a war which has seen such a radical change in diplomatic efforts worldwide, AND in this case it's in a positive direction.

YES the award may seem odd to we Americans, accustomed to seeing the world as our appendage. Iraq, Afghanistan, Gitmo and the Patriot Act loom large in our minds, not to mention the more comical Teabaggers. But not that many people in the rest of the world really care, except for the recruiting offices of AQ/Taliban, the latter of which condemns the award right along with the RNC.

 Obama of course is just one guy, full of errors and all too likely to make Afghanistan his Vietnam. It's entirely possible that AfghaNam will result in the election of Mitt Romney and the resumption of blow-M-up diplomacy.

 But if Obama retired today, he'd have made one of the biggest positive changes ever ... it's just not the sort of bleeding firey explosion that sells ad space.

In my opinion. What's yours?


UPDATED:

Some have questioned whether Obama deserved the prize, when so much work remains to be done. To this, there are several replies, all beginning with "Read The Award Announcement".

In addition, let us note that many Nobel Peace Prizes are awarded in media res. For ezample Aung San Suu Kyi still has not freed her Burma from its tyranny, yet no-one can possibly criticize the justice of that award and its usefulness in forwarding her work.

A year ago, Obama's critics complained his message of multilateral diplomacy was too popular; now they say it could not have been popular enough to justify his nomination. I wish they'd get their story straight!

The House Brau Vow

I was enjoying a night out with the lovely spouse, and we were talking about buying a house.

Now is a good time, with prices down. Looking ahead 20 years, we'd like to retire from mandatory work (we can never stop working at something, but it'll be nice to have a choice). With a house that's paid off, we'd be o.k. with a meager retirement income.

But where would we get a down payment?

I looked at my beer.

Very little in life is as much fun as a night out with the wife and, often, with friends. Humans are social critters, and an evening in a pub is better than anything you see on T.V. But the price adds up:
  • 3 beers each, for two people, plus something to eat can come to $50 easy
  • $50 a night, 3 nights a week is $150 a week
  • 52 weeks a year brings us to $7800 a year
  • 5 years of this costs $39,000 ... and that, my friend, is a down payment plus!
This is a crude analysis, and with a little work could be made more precise; however, it is accurate enough to support the strategic decision: I must stop drinking alcohol until we cross the threshold of a house we own.

Now, I'm not an extremist. I'm willing to share the ownership of the house with a mortgageholder. I'm very willing to go out and have a good time, buying just enough to be fair to the bartender. I've got to leave good tips if I'm generating a small tab; it's just as much work to bring a glass of lemonade to a table as it is to bring a microbrew. And I'm happy to take a sip, not a drink, just to be friendly, in a toast, or to sample something my wife finds especially good.

But I'm not happy to be literally pissing away a house. Standing in the men's room of many a bar, I have sent into the sewer our retirement piece of land. However, it's never too late to change. To make such a change stick, I need to make a commitment: a vow.

According to Larry Goniff's wonderful Cartoon History of the Universe, the ancient Medes used to reconsider sober every promise they made drunk (...and to reconsider drunk every promise they made sober.) This rule has always seemed wise to me, drunk or sober. So I thought about this vow proposal for a couple of days; it still seemed a wise move because it risked no great harm, it might have the intended effect, and I could not see another way to get the job done.

Therefore, I made the vow: I will not have a drink of alcohol until we cross the threshold of a home we own

(... with the bank...).

A vow is a promise to make to yourself. You may include others, as in a marriage vow. But the first person you make any such promise to is yourself, so you'd better plan on keeping it! If you break a vow, you can't really talk your way out of it, or bribe yourself with flowers, or find another self to live with. So it's best to stay away from vows unless you like the challenge and will do what it takes to fulfill it.

As it happens, this vow is not particularly onerous. I've learned that bartenders are quite happy to bring you a lemonade or iced tea (see note on tips, above) although the fun ones are also happy to have a little fun with it. What the heck!

The money is adding up, slow like a turtle, but also steady. Another thing that is adding up is the time. Without the spur of alcohol, we go out a little bit less but we read a little bit more, work on projects more, and have time to look at prospect houses more. In particular, let me mention weekends: there was a time where I could drink all night and get up the next day feeling fresh, but that was a lot of brain cells ago. Today, one or two pitchers, and I'm ready to sleep. This is fine for late in the evening, but having lunch in a pub on a weekend meant that I'd nap til dinner, and therefore blow one of my most productive periods. Now I have those early weekend evenings back, and I like them!

A final, albeit mixed, benefit is this: when you're playing any sort of game that requires thinking to win, and everyone else is drinking, but you're not, you have a huge advantage. Use this superpower only for good!

One day, we will cross the threshold of the house we own (...with the bank...). And on the other side of the threshold will be a nice drink, or to be honest, a great many nice drinks. I won't be driving, using power tools, or winning at cards for at least a day after. But the vow will have worked and we will be happy.

Wednesday, October 07, 2009

30 Senators Support Rapist Rights: Epic FAIL


This sounds like a sick joke, but it's true ...

Jamie Leigh Jones is an American woman who tried to serve our great nation in Baghdad as a contractor for Halliburton/KBR. There, she was gangraped by her fellow Halliburton employees, and then imprisoned against her will in a shipping container for at least 24 hours without food, water, or a bed. She escaped only because a guard let her call her father who contacted he authorities. Halliburton lost or destroyed Jones' rape kit.

You think that's sick? Don't worry ... there's more.

In a nation ruled by Law, Jones would be able to present charges against her attackers, and against the corporation that ordered her imprisoned, destroyed evidence, and generally contributed to he situation. At the very least, she would get a day in court for civil damages.

But in the small print of Jones' employment contract was an agreement that sexual assault allegations would only be heard in private arbitration. You really have to wonder why Halliburton felt it necessary to try to immunize itself against the consequences of its employee rape.

Jones' is only one of many such cases, but the Federal Government has been slow to act, preferring to shield rapists and keep the federal dollars flowing to them. Today, however, the rule of law is bring reasserted, as the United State Senate voted 68-30 to deny Federal funds to contractors who do this.

No less that thirty Senators sided with the rapists and their enablers; these men (all four Republican women voted FOR the amendment and AGAINST the rapists as did 6 male Republicans and all the Democrats present) need to be called out for what they are: pro-rape.

Pro Rape Senators
NAYs
Alexander (R-TN)
Barrasso (R-WY)
Bond (R-MO)
Brownback (R-KS)
Bunning (R-KY)
Burr (R-NC)
Chambliss (R-GA)
Coburn (R-OK)
Cochran (R-MS)
Corker (R-TN)
Cornyn (R-TX)
Crapo (R-ID)
DeMint (R-SC)
Ensign (R-NV)
Enzi (R-WY)
Graham (R-SC)
Gregg (R-NH)
Inhofe (R-OK)
Isakson (R-GA)
Johanns (R-NE)
Kyl (R-AZ)
McCain (R-AZ)
McConnell (R-KY)
Risch (R-ID)
Roberts (R-KS)
Sessions (R-AL)
Shelby (R-AL)
Thune (R-SD)
Vitter (R-LA)
Wicker (R-MS)

To be fair, maybe those men are not so much pro-rape, as willing to allow the rapes to continue so long as they get their payoff.

Read the Roll Call details"

And enjoy the bitchslapping of the pro-rape Senator Jeff Sessions (R-Rape) by the new Senator from Minnesota, Al Franken --- the guy who stepped forward and said "STOP IT!"


Jones is a survivor; her new foundation is dedicated to holding criminals accountable. See http://www.jamiesfoundation.com/

UPDATED
And it will be a surprise to no-one that Jones' is not an isolated case. Other survivors are coming forward: http://www.alternet.org/world/81266/

Jon Stewart takes on the "Anti-Government Rape Liability Amendment"
: "It's not the government's business to decide who the government does business with."
The Daily Show With Jon Stewart
Mon - Thurs 11p / 10c
Rape-Nuts
www.thedailyshow.com

Daily Show
Full Episodes

Political Humor
Ron Paul Interview
clips show that Sessions(R) is truly one of the most disgusting persons in the world in the world; to him, gang rape is just one of "these kinds of disputes"
---------------------


AND NOW: 
They have their own website: http://www.republicansforrape.org/legislators/

Tuesday, October 06, 2009

Student-Veterans: Good News!



Emergency Payments for Veterans Awaiting VA Educational Benefits
https://advancepay.gibill.va.gov/
"Secretary of Veterans Affairs Eric K. Shinseki has authorized advance payments up to $3,000 for Veterans who have applied for VA educational benefits and who have not yet received their monthly education payments.

If you are a Veteran who has applied for one of VA’s education programs and have not yet received your monthly benefit payment for the Fall 2009 term, you can submit a request for an advance payment on this website.

Advance payments will be issued by the U. S. Treasury within 3 workdays (Monday through Friday) following submission of this request. Payments will be in the form of a check sent through the U.S. mail. You should therefore anticipate an additional 3 days (excluding Sundays) for the U.S. Postal Service to deliver your check.

You can also visit one of VA’s 57 regional offices across the country to immediately receive an advance payment. You will need to bring a photo ID and your course schedule when you visit the regional office. A list of VA’s regional offices is available at www.vba.va.gov/VBA/benefits/offices.asp.

The advance payments will be reconciled with future education payments owed to you."
MORE INFO: https://advancepay.gibill.va.gov/

It would be better to have no problems, but the VA deserves credit for dealing with this one instead of sweeping it under the rug. It's gonna take a while to fix the mess.

Monday, October 05, 2009

#ConservativeBible: Twitter vs Conservapedia

SHORT STORY: see http://twitter.com/#search?q=%23ConservativeBible

LONG STORY: Twitter "hashtags" are short phrases preceded by a hash mark, that facilitate searching for topical twitters. For example, if you're interested in widgets, search for "#widget"; if you're twittering about widgets and want like-minded people to notices, include the hash tag. There are popular made-up hash tags usefully gain currency as well, such as #p2 for "Progressive".

So .... when conservapedia ( a wiki that decided wikipedia was overly dominated by liberals ... cuz you know, reality has a pronounced liberal bias!) decided that all existing bible translations had a liberal bias (kinda like wikipedia....) and announced it was launching an effort to PURGE THE BIBLE of its LIBERAL BIAS (...I shit you not!) naturally the web reacted.

With mockery.

On Twitter, someone started posting with a helpful #ConservativeBible and within minutes there were hundreds of contributions. Most were pretty funny. You can see what's current (but there is not gaurantee WHAT is there at this instant): http://twitter.com/#search?q=%23ConservativeBible

UPDATED:

Michelle and Les Got Married

Our cousin Michelle married a real nice guy (smart too!) last Saturday.

Kris & I carpooled with Larry and Ginger. Since we were early, we stopped for a snack at the Tin Fish.

The reception was in the basement of my old grade school, St. Mary Magdalen. Some things have changed but much remained the same.

Much happiness!

Sunday, October 04, 2009

Sagan/Hawking Duet: A Glorious Dawn

This work by melodysheep is delightful ... give it a minute, you'll like it.... the singing effect was ADDED to Sagan's spoken text by software...

Lyrics
[Sagan]
If you wish to make an apple pie from scratch
You must first invent the universe

Space is filled with a network of wormholes
You might emerge somewhere else in space
Some when-else in time

The sky calls to us
If we do not destroy ourselves
We will one day venture to the stars

A still more glorious dawn awaits
Not a sunrise, but a galaxy rise
A morning filled with 400 billion suns
The rising of the milky way

The Cosmos is full beyond measure of elegant truths
Of exquisite interrelationships
Of the awesome machinery of nature

I believe our future depends powerfully
On how well we understand this cosmos
In which we float like a mote of dust
In the morning sky

But the brain does much more than just recollect
It inter-compares, it synthesizes, analyzes
it generates abstractions

The simplest thought like the concept of the number one
Has an elaborate logical underpinning
The brain has its own language
For testing the structure and consistency of the world

[chorus]

[Hawking]
For thousands of years
People have wondered about the universe
Did it stretch out forever
Or was there a limit

From the big bang to black holes
From dark matter to a possible big crunch
Our image of the universe today
Is full of strange sounding ideas

[Sagan]

How lucky we are to live in this time
The first moment in human history
When we are in fact visiting other worlds

[chorus]

The surface of the earth is the shore of the cosmic ocean
Recently we've waded a little way out
And the water seems inviting

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