Friday, January 28, 2011

Last Call

Republicans have found a fun new game to play.  Find a government-provided service, point out that it wasn't in the Constitution, declare it unconstitutional, demand it be eliminated, then when somebody calls you on your logic, twiddle your thumbs.  You too can be an idiot.

In an interview about federal transportation issues, Streetsblog asked Rep. Duncan Hunter (R-CA) about supporting legislation that would support things like bike trails. Hunter responded by saying that he doesn’t “think biking should fall under the federal purview of what the transportation committee is there for. If a state wants to do it, or local municipality, they can do whatever they want to. But no, because you have us mandating bike paths, you don’t want either.”

Streetsblog followed up by asking if he was okay with “mandating highways.” Hunter responded by saying that he doesn’t “see riding a bike the same as driving a car or flying an airplane” because “it’s more of a recreational thing

Right.  Bikes aren't transportation, you don't actually go anywhere on one.  Hurr, stupid hippies, get an SUV!

I expect that kind of argument from the peanut gallery, not Congress.

Chickens Coming Out Swinging

And so it goes like this: Chick-fil-A is a restaurant where franchises frequently donate to anti-gay organizations like the Pennsylvania Family Institute, Focus on the Family and others. The restaurant's charitable arm, WinShape, holds conferences for opponents of gay marriage and praises their work. And this charitable arm's Retreat program puts a blanket ban on gay couples using their facilities, because they "do not accept homosexual couples."

Yet the President of Chick-fil-A still says that all people, including LGBT people, are treated with respect by the restaurant? Huh, what a funny definition of respect.

I heard rumblings weeks ago, but I waited to see if a fuller picture developed.  Businesses have the right to donate and operate within the boundaries of the law.  It becomes hypocrisy only when they try to deny the left hand knows who the right hand is flipping off. It's the same dilemma that challenges pharmacies whose owners don't want to sell birth control: when you operate a business that serves the public, it isn't wise to alienate your customers.  Especially by denying services or supporting charities that don't actually enhance society but merely try to control it.

Oppressed So Hard They Could Not Stand...

Let my people go.

Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak says he has asked the government to resign, and that he will appoint a new government Saturday. He gave no indication that he would step down or leave the country. 

Talk about as stubborn as Pharaoh.   Somehow I don't think Mubarak is going to remain in power much longer.  He hasn't got a friend in the world right now and if he thinks people are going to settle for him remaining in power, well.

Meanwhile, protests are spreading east to Yemen and Jordan, where the people are demanding Prime Minister Samir Rifai step down.

In the third consecutive Friday of protests, about 3,500 opposition activists from Jordan's main Islamist opposition group, trade unions and leftist organisations gathered in the capital, waving colourful banners reading: "Send the corrupt guys to court".

The crowd denounced Samir Rifai's, the prime minister, and his unpopular policies.

Many shouted: "Rifai go away, prices are on fire and so are the Jordanians.''

Another 2,500 people also took to the streets in six other cities across the country after the noon prayers. Those protests also called for Rifai's ouster.

Members of the Islamic Action Front, the political wing of the Muslim Brotherhood and Jordan's largest opposition party, swelled the ranks of the demonstrators, massing outside the al-Husseini mosque in Amman and filling the downtown streets with their prayer lines.

King Abdullah has promised some reforms, particularly on a controversial election law. But many believe it is unlikely he will bow to demands for the election of the prime minister and Cabinet officials, traditionally appointed by the king.

Rifai also announced a $550 million package of new subsidies in the last two weeks for fuel and staple products like rice, sugar, livestock and liquefied gas used for heating and cooking. It also includes a raise for civil servants and security personnel.

Things are getting ugly, folks.  The big fat domino at the end of this 2,500 mile chain that started in Tunisia is Saudi Arabia and our oil producing OPEC pals.  If the unrest goes that far, we're going to have all kinds of problems on our end and damn soon.  Last thing you want to see is Zimbabwe style hyper-inflation in an OPEC exporter.

Tunisia's down, Egypt's on the brink.  The whole of North Africa into the Middle East is looking bad. Stay tuned, folks.  This isn't one song on the jukebox, it's a symphony of chaos and it's been warming up for years.

Challenging The Stars

Some 25 years ago today, a knuckle-headed elementary school Zandar was watching the launch of the shuttle Challenger, just like every other schoolkid in the country.  Hey, we were going to get lessons from a teacher in space.  How awesome was that going to be?

Turns out it was awesome, but in the literal sense.

Seventy-three seconds.

That's how long NASA's space shuttle Challenger was in the air before an O-ring failure turned a routine mission into space into a tragedy on January 28, 1986.

Twenty-five years after NASA's first fatal in-flight accident, the memory of the Challenger disaster is still strong.

CNN's John Zarrella was at Kennedy Space Center to cover the launch - the first from NASA's new launchpad 39B. "I just remember seeing the cloud of smoke and what looked like fireworks coming out from the vehicle," says Zarrella. "We were all just looking at each other wondering 'OK, what's happened here?'"

CNN, still in its early years, was the only network to carry the launch live that Tuesday. Among those tuning in were children in classrooms across the country, watching what was to be a milestone: Christa McAuliffe, the program’s first teacher in space, lifted off as a member of the crew.

And we watched it live, and we all looked at each other, and asked the teacher what happened, and she shushed us, because she didn't know either.  None of us did.  I remember watching the booster rockets fork off in a V, going in different directions, and the thing cracked up.

And they were gone, the whole crew.  Just like that.  That was my first introduction to the concept that really, really bad things happen to really nice people, and there's not anything you can do about it.  Sometimes, things just go horribly wrong in life and people don't come home again.  Ever.

Yeah, by February we were all fine, cracking really bad jokes about the accident ("No, I said BUD LIGHT!") and dreading Valentine's Day.

But I remember my mom asking me if I was okay when I came home from school, and I said that I was okay, and I did my homework and ate dinner, and I remember thinking "Well, I guess there is a reason bad things happen" but for the life of me I still haven't quite figured out why that is.  Anybody in my generation, that was the event you remembered from school, you remember seeing it unfold live on TV and the entire country going..."Crap."

Now, 25 years later, I'm reminded the space shuttle program is all but over.  We thought it was over back then, too.  Life goes on.

But you remember that for some, life doesn't go on.

The Damn Hippie Scientists Save The World

UK-based Cella Energy has developed a synthetic fuel that could lead to US$1.50 per gallon gasoline. Apart from promising a future transportation fuel with a stable price regardless of oil prices, the fuel is hydrogen based and produces no carbon emissions when burned. The technology is based on complex hydrides, and has been developed over a four year top secret program at the prestigious Rutherford Appleton Laboratory near Oxford. Early indications are that the fuel can be used in existing internal combustion engined vehicles without engine modification.

Add to that Volkswagen's development of a car that can get over 235 miles per gallon, and advancements in carbon fiber technology that lets lightweight cars take the advantage back with consumers.  They are also able to learn how to make them more affordable, a bonus for the automobile industry that has struggled to turn a reliable profit.

NBC Snatches Up New Shows

It's Showtime at NBC: The Peacock late Friday picked up two big, bold pilots -- one a musical, the other a lesbian love story -- that very clearly seem to be the work of incoming chief Bob Greenblatt.

It's about time networks launched a show that represented the gay population. Ellen broke the ice, and Will And Grace opened a potential that was never fully realized. The best part of the concept, according to one source, is the  "opportunity to approach and break down stereotypes in a thoughtful manner. For example, there really ARE very nice, funny lesbians out there. The scowling, cargo-short-wearing dyke is just as reductive a stereotype as the hot pants/mesh shirt-wearing gay man."

Meanwhile, NBC yesterday also gave the thumbs-up to a half-hour romantic comedy pilot called I Hate That I Love You. It's from Will and Grace alum Jhoni Marchenko, and the logline is certainly eye-catching: "A straight couple introduces two of its lesbian friends to one another and what results is both instant attraction and a pregnancy."

It's already sounding better than more tired cop shows and "reality" programming.  It will surely take some time to develop, but really, this was long overdue.

Under The Radar, Over The Border

So, Mythbusters...what kind of catapult specs would you need to chuck bags of pot over the border, anyhow?

Mexican and American officials have foiled a scheme where smugglers tried to fling marijuana across the Arizona-Mexico border using a catapult.

National Guard troops operating a remote video surveillance system at the Naco Border Patrol Station say they observed several people preparing a catapult and launching packages over the International Border fence last Friday evening.

According to CBS affiliate KOLD, Border Patrol agents working with the National Guard contacted Mexican authorities, who went to the location and disrupted the catapult operation.

The 9-foot-tall catapult was found about 20 yards from the U.S. border on a flatbed towed by a sport utility vehicle, according to a Mexican army officer with the 45th military zone in the border state of Sonora.
The catapult was capable of launching 4.4 pounds of marijuana at a time, the officer said Wednesday, speaking on condition of anonymity for security reasons.

Part of me is going "wow, not really smuggling if you're tossing weed over the wall with a 9 foot catapult in the back of a pickup."   That kind of thing gets noticed, people.  Get a damn tunnel like everyone else.

On the other hand...these guys had a 9-foot catapult in the back of a pickup truck.  Science, it works, bitches! 

StupidiNews Focus: Egypt Me Out Of My Internet, Or A De-Nile Of Service Attack

Ahead of today's planned protests in Egypt, several news sources are reporting that President Hosni Mubarak has either ordered the internet cut off or severely limited in functionality in order to stop protesters from using Twitter and Blackberries to coordinate.  Josh Marshall reflects on what this means.

We've now seen a series of waves of popular unrest which were, if not triggered by, at least accelerated and sustained for a period of time by social media, text messaging, easily-distributed digital imagery and all the rest of systems of our wired world. The latest reports out of Egypt are that the state has either disrupted or shutdown key social networking sites like Facebook and Twitter as well as text-messaging and Blackberry service. It's unclear to me in this report from the AP whether Internet connections themselves have been blocked; but clearly access to the Internet has been significantly curtailed.

On its face, this seems like an obvious step for any embattled regime to take. Taking a whole country off the grid for any period of time would likely be catastrophic in the early 21st century. But surely an authoritarian or episodically repressive regime could disrupt connectivity for some period to prevent its overthrow and not have it do too much damage to the economy.

So two questions occur to me. One is just how much digital media really plays into these episodes of popular unrest in Iran or Tunisia or Egypt. It seems clear to me that it plays a role -- just as print played an important role in creating a popular self-consciousness among hitherto scattered and isolated communities and in facilitating communication. But just how much is unclear to me. Does digital communications really make spontaneous organization and collaboration possible or does it just give us a window into a process that's taken place with less technology in countless popular revolts over the last few hundred years? I don't have an answer to that. But I think it's worth reminding ourselves that it's still an open question.

My personal thoughts are that, especially for those my age and younger, Twitter, Facebook and other social networks allow for nearly instant mass communication with not just people inside the protest zone, but outside as well.  Knowing that a world community has your back is a powerful incentive, and getting real-time updates from protests is powerful information, information that a regime cannot always control.

So yes, authoritarians have much to fear in tweets and texts.  Egypt's crackdown on the net ahead of today's protests are certainly a sign that the Mubarak government is very, very scared.

The question is, could it happen in the US.

Barack For A Benjamin For A Birther

Visibly annoyed Hawaii Democrats in the state legislature want to put an end to the whole President Obama birth certificate idiocy, and they're willing to make the state some money on the side.

Imagine: Your very own, handsomely embossed official Barack Obama birth certificate. It could soon be yours!! A bill introduced in the Hawaii state legislature would allow anyone to get a copy of the president's Hawaii birth records for just $100.

Now that Hawaii's governor, Neil Abercrombie, has officially confirmed the existence of Obama's birth records there, five Democrats have introduced the bill to "end skepticism over Obama's birthplace while raising a little money," according to the AP. It would change privacy laws to allow any American to get a copy of Obama's birth records, for a $100 processing fee.

Brilliant.  Hey legions of Birthers, put your money where your Obama Derangement Syndrome is and buy a copy.  I hope the state does pass this law. I'm sure they could use a couple million bucks or more from some fools who really do need to be parted from their money.  And hey, not stopping any Obama supporters from buying one in solidarity, too.  Certainly Hawaii could use the revenue.

Seems to me this is a novel idea.


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