The Texas state house must still be on the typewriter system. This is an actual ad from Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott, who – like Governor Rick Perry – is the longest serving official in his respective position. We grammar goons were quick to notice that the correct verbiage should be “is,” as in ‘Neither of which is taught in schools.’ The word ‘neither’ is singular; therefore, so should the corresponding verb. If that’s too much for a Friday night, I understand. In a seemingly unrelated event, Texas gets a D+ in school financing.
Monthly Archives: March 2013
Filed under Curiosities
Freedom Means Everything
Palestinian cartoonist Mohammad Saba’aneh has been detained without charge by Israeli officials since February 16 at the Allenby Bridge checkpoint between Jordan and the West Bank. Saba’aneh, a popular editorial cartoonist for “Al-Hayat al-Jadida,”s the Palestinian daily newspaper, is also head of public relations at the Arab American University in Jenin. His imprisonment has sparked an international outrage.
The Cartoon Movement, a global cartoonist collective, Cartoonists Rights Network International and Reporters Without Borders have joined in an effort to have Saba’aneh released. It’s hard to imagine cartoonists getting into an uproar, but like most artists, they’re often the voice of the people.
I was surprised to learn that Israeli law allows for the detainment of foreigners without charge; mere suspicion can induce imprisonment. I suppose if I happen to find myself in downtown Tel-Aviv and ask for a BLT, I could end up in the slammer. Damn! For just that?! In such a hostile society, anything can happen.
Filed under News
Hello! Earth to Mars!
I’ve signed up to be a candidate for a Martian colony. Okay, I’m actually just on an email list, but I’m seriously considering this. Mars One is a non-profit organization with a goal to establish a human settlement on the “Big Red Planet” by 2023. So far, they have a goal and a web site – and not much else. But hey, why not dream big?! That’s what prompted our ancestors to move north out of Africa and sail across the vast oceans of this planet. This falls in line with an essay I wrote last year, where I included the prospect of sending people to Mars. With the current budget deficits and political wrangling here in the U.S., that won’t happen anytime soon.
Thus enters Mars One, a Dutch-based entity that has joined with the for-profit Interplanetary Media Group to raise money for the mission. They don’t just want to launch a spacecraft to Mars for a brief visit; they actually establish a permanent settlement. As of January, Mars One has secured funding from Trifork BV, another Dutch company that “is a leading full service supplier of high-quality custom-built applications for organizations primarily in” education, research and government non-profit. That’s amazing. A country known for its tulips and marijuana cafes actually has the temerity to create companies with such grand visions.
But, the first stage for Mars One is conceptual design. They have to convene a gallery of talented engineers and architects to visualize what Martian structures would look like and how they would function. They have to consider air, heating, cooling and insomnia. Next is an astronaut selection program. That will be the most challenging aspect of the project; finding people willing to give up so much of their lives for something so incredibly unknown. They hope to start taking applications from prospective astronauts soon. As with anything so extraordinary, hope is the first and most significant investment. Yet, Mars One seems undeterred.
Their literature indicates that residency on the colony will be permanent. I don’t know how that will work out for some people. Personally, I’m a creature of habit and enjoy certain comforts here on Earth. I believe, though, that Mars One will have to reconsider that aspect of the project, since plenty of people may get homesick; while others will be so incorrigible they need to be sent back to Earth. Unless they can meet an untimely death and their bodies be used for fertilizer.
I still have to give this a lot of thought. I’ll be 59 in a decade, but I already take better care of myself than most people. Hell, I take better care of my dog than most people do themselves! I figure the colony will need a technical / fiction writer anyway. I could regale the group with frightening tales of being a Democrat in a state gone wildly Republican. That surely would keep them on Mars!
But, I have plenty of questions.
- Will I be able to have a dog or two with me? I can’t imagine living the rest of my life without a canine at my side. I don’t need another person in my life. Most people are assholes, and dogs seem to understand me better anyway.
- Will I be able to bring my gigantic collection of books and National Geographics? Or, will every piece of literature have to be digital? As a writer, I’m a natural bibliophile, so books are as much a part of my life as dogs and rum.
- Speaking of rum, will I be able to imbibe in such spirits while on this colony? Things may not be as stressful on Mars as here on Earth, which is probably the whole point of establishing a settlement. But, knowing how quirky most people are – especially engineers and scientists – I’d need to have a drink or two after a day of installing air filters.
- Will I be able to masturbate in seclusion? I’m an introvert by nature, so teaming up with others in such a remote environment will be a real challenge. Ultimately, though, I seek out others for basic human interaction. But, I’d still need some hand time.
- Will I be able to have steak and meat tacos? Or, will everything be freeze-dried and MRE style foods? I’ve lived off peanut butter sandwiches, canned meat and blueberry muffins before. I’ve even had a full-fledged MRE. They’re different now than from the spam-based crap my father ate when he served in the Korean War. But, unless there’s a chance they improve dramatically in the next ten years, I can’t see living off them for a lifetime. I mean, I already suffer from dry mouth syndrome.
A great deal of thought and planning has to go into establishing a colony on another celestial body. Just the logistics of getting material to the place to build will be difficult enough, unless structures can be put together here on Earth and then shipped. I don’t think FedEx goes that far. There’s insufficient oxygen on Mars, so no one can take a walk around the terrain without dressing up like a beekeeper. There probably won’t be much room to move around, which means the colonizers will have to live in close proximity to one another. That alone could take a psychological and emotional toll. The intrepid astronauts will have to get along with each other and learn to cooperate even under the most jaded of circumstances. That would be difficult, considering you just wouldn’t be able to get in your car and go home. I got pissed off at some people during a play party once many years ago, so I just packed up the wine coolers and sex toys. They tried to stop me, but I wouldn’t relent. On Mars, I wouldn’t be able to just grab the remaining MRE’s and canisters of air and head back to Dallas on a moment’s notice. Knowing how easily people annoy me, I really have to think about this whole Martian colony enterprise.
Still, I feel it’s a worthwhile endeavor. Humans are naturally curious. Think about getting into a boat and sailing into an ocean without knowing how far away the next island or land mass is. Imagine just getting up from a grassy plain and starting to walk – to anywhere. That’s what our ancestors did. Americans made it to the moon, as part of the “Cold War” space race. I’m certain we, as a global society, can make it to Mars within a generation. In the meantime, I’ll imbibe in a Bacardi and Coke and begin stockpiling stories for those lonely Martian nights.
In Memoriam – The Iraq War
Today marks the 10th anniversary of the U.S. invasion of Iraq. It’s tough to believe an entire decade has actually passed. Any war is a sad, catastrophic affair. But, this conflict is made even worst when we realize it was not only completely unnecessary; it was based on a pack of lies.
The nexus of the invasion was that former Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein had “weapons of mass destruction,” or yellow-cake uranium from Nigeria, or something that could wreak havoc on our world. I knew almost from the moment that President George W. Bush stood before the United Nations in September 2002 that he was lying about Hussein’s nuclear weapons capabilities.
It’s equally sad that the U.S. media followed suit with the Bush Administration’s lies, and – to make matters worse – so did much of the American public.
The Iraq War did have one clear winner: the American oil conglomerate. Before the invasion, Iraqi oil reserves were closed to Western oil companies. Now, it is largely privatized and almost completely dominated by foreign entities.
“Of course it’s about oil; we can’t really deny that,” said Gen. John Abizaid, former head of U.S. Central Command and Military Operations in Iraq, in 2007.
Then Senator and now Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel pretty much agreed, when he said also in 2007, “People say we’re not fighting for oil. Of course we are.”
The Iraq War was a long time in the making. You only have to look back to 1998, when Kenneth Derr, then CEO of Chevron said, “Iraq possesses huge reserves of oil and gas-reserves I’d love Chevron to have access to.” Derr later became CEO of Halliburton – the same company Vice-President Dick Cheney lead until May of 2000, when he abruptly resigned and moved from Texas back to his native Wyoming.
In 2000, Chevron, Exxon, BP and Shell dumped millions into the Bush presidential campaign; more than any other presidential race. Their efforts seem to have paid off. Less than two weeks after Bush took office, Cheney chaired the newly-formed National Energy Policy Development Group whose entire purpose was to lay out the course for America’s energy future. In March 2001, the group outlined Iraq’s oil production capacity and produced a final report two months later.
In 2004, Bush’s first Treasury secretary, Paul O’Neill, said, “Already by February (2001), the talk was mostly about logistics. Not the why (to invade Iraq), but the how and how quickly.”
They found a way: the September 11, 2011 attacks on New York and Washington. Dancing on the graves of the nearly 3,000 people killed in those attacks, the Bush Administration shifted attention to Iraq; accusing it of complicity in the calamity. But, even before our troops landed in Baghdad, Cheney’s group was already making plans for Iraq’s postwar oil and energy industries. Now, Chevron, Halliburton and several others have full access to Iraqi oil. They must be happy – and proud.
It’s easy for draft dodgers like Bush and Cheney to wrap themselves in the American flag and cry freedom, before sending others into battle. Like most wars, this one was commandeered by old men lounging safely ensconced in their leather chairs and fought by young people who often had no other opportunities in life, except to join the military.
Here’s what we have to show for the Iraq War:
- 4,488 total U.S. service member deaths;
- 100,000 estimated U.S. wounded;
- 1,455,590 estimated Iraqi deaths;
- 32,000 to 54,000 estimated deaths of aid workers, journalists and security forces;
- $1.7 trillion in overall costs as of now;
- $490 billion estimated in benefits to war veterans;
- $60 billion estimated in taxpayer expenditures for aid and reconstruction;
- $8 billion estimated lost to fraud and waste.
Social conservatives always seem to find money for war – but never enough for education or health care. Aside from the tangible costs, there are the emotional and psychological effects endured by military personnel and their families. Nothing can replace the loss of a loved one – even if that person willingly joined the military, knowing they may never return alive. The level of arrogance in the Bush Administration extended to the display of flag-draped coffins returning to the U.S. In an effort to hide the true impact of war, photos of these coffins were banned from publication by the White House; a move you’d expect from the military dictatorships of Myanmar or Uganda.
Making matters worse, President Bush’s own mother, Barbara Bush, appeared on “Good Morning America” just a day before the Iraq invasion and said, “But why should we hear about body bags and deaths, and how many, what day it’s gonna happen, and how many this or that or what do you suppose? Or, I mean, it’s not relevant. So, why should I waste my beautiful mind on something like that, and watch him (her husband, former president George H. W. Bush) suffer?”
God forbid if Barbara Bush’s quaint little tea parties should be disrupted by the sight of body bags on television! I mean, that would be wrong, wouldn’t it? I remember Bush, Jr., saying that he still listened to his mother. Now, we know why he’s such an arrogant bastard.
A few years ago my local ABC News affiliate showed a young man returning to his home in a small East Texas town on Mother’s Day weekend and surprising his mother who worked at a Dairy Queen. Only his father knew he was coming back, but kept it a secret, so the kid could surprise his mother. I thought, ‘That’s who’s fighting this war: kids from small towns whose mothers work at Dairy Queen.’ Not Ivy League lawyers and Harvard graduates; not the sons and daughters of hedge fund CEOs – kids with few options in life. Many of them are dead now; their promising futures squashed so cowards like George W. Bush and Dick Cheney can look good in the eyes of their blind supporters and large oil companies can earn extraordinary profits.
I know that the Great Creator will damn the likes of Bush, Cheney, Donald Rumsfeld and Condoleezza Rice for fabricating this mess and trying to sugar-coat it with layers of patriotic fervor. Until then, I pray for the welfare of those who actually did the dirty work of fighting this war.
Filed under Essays
Pass the tequila, but hold the picante sauce!
In keeping with today’s theme of saints and popes, I present this piece. A man in San Antonio, Texas claims he discovered an image of Jesus on a flour tortilla. As a Hispanic who was raised Catholic, I have some idea of the excitement Arturo Ruiz must have felt when he opened that package and saw the Savior burnished into the compacted lard.
“I thought I was hallucinating, so I showed it to others, and everybody claimed (the tortilla) showed Jesus,” Ruiz told a local TV station earlier this month. He had been preparing breakfast when the image apparently caught his eye. Hard times may have blurred his thinking. He’s facing eviction and expects his cell phone service to be cut off. I guess that means we’ll see this beauty on Ebay some time soon.
I have to concede I love flour tortillas, too! Don’t tell me you’re surprised! Of the thousands I’ve eaten since 1964, though, I can’t say I’ve noticed anything out of the ordinary. Well…there was one that looked a little like Agatha Christie holding a glass of bourbon. Hey, what do you expect from a writer?!
Filed under Curiosities
Francis Is in the House
Now that the Roman Catholic Church has crowned Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio as their new leader, followers from across the globe hope he can usher in significant and much-needed changes in an institution that has become as corrupt as it is antiquitous. Bergoglio has taken the name Francis, after St. Francis of Assisi, a medieval cleric known for his work with the poor. He’s also considered the Catholic patron saint of animals, which probably endears him to a greater number of people. St. Francis founded the Franciscan Order in the early 13th century; a mission dedicated to helping the impoverished. It’s obvious economic disparities have existed throughout humanity. So, either the world’s political structures haven’t functioned properly for thousands of years, or religious entities aren’t doing something right. If you realize the massive wealth the Roman Catholic Church possesses – how else can you explain their ability to pay out millions in sex abuse settlements? – then it may be a mixture of both.
Many Roman Catholics are excited about Frances, especially here in the Western Hemisphere. But, while some people see change on the horizon, I see just another geriatric virgin (or maybe not) swaddled in silk and velvet; ensconced in a cloistered society, far removed from the real world in which most Catholics (and people of other faiths) reside.
Francis is the first pope outside of Europe. He’s also considered the first Hispanic pope, since he’s from Argentina. But, he’s an Argentinian of Italian ancestry. Thus, in effect, the Church has just put another Italian in the pontiff’s chair; not much different than before Pope John Paul II. Francis is 76, only two years younger than Pope Benedict XVI was when he ascended to the papacy in 2005.
Allegedly, as votes were being counted last week during the papal conclave, Bergoglio told a fellow cardinal, “Remember the poor.” This is an interesting proclamation, noting that the Roman Catholic Church is one of the wealthiest institutions on Earth. No one can put an exact figure on it, primarily because the Church isn’t beholden to tax burdens. But, it’s estimated net wealth is between $400 billion and $750 billion. This includes its vast collection of artwork and other treasures (often made of gold or silver) that sit in its tightly-guarded environs. It costs a great deal of money to maintain the buildings that comprise Vatican City alone, as well as the heavily-armed security guards that surround the pope.
With such massive wealth comes power. The Roman Catholic Church ruled much of Europe for centuries; often dictating who would be crowned king or queen. But, the advent of political democracy – first here in the U.S. and then in Europe – weakened much of that authority. In modern times, the Church has often confronted military and political dictatorships. That’s what makes the selection of Francis a rather curious development. He was around during Argentina’s notorious “dirty war,” when thousands of people either were killed by the country’s military dictatorship, or mysteriously disappeared. Criticism about his activities in those years ambushed him almost as soon as he greeted the crowd in St. Peter’s Square. I suspect it’s something that will haunt him for the rest of his life. Yet, when Francis spoke openly about the poor, I was reminded of Oscar Romero, the late Archbishop of El Salvador, who once said, “When I feed the poor, you call me a saint. When I ask why they are poor, you call me a communist.” For his outspoken views, Romero was assassinated while conducting Easter mass in 1980.
I left the Roman Catholic Church years ago, mainly because of its disrespectful attitude towards women who make up more than half of its 1.2 billion adherents. After two millennia of existence, why hasn’t the Church agreed to let women into the priesthood? It’s clearly a patriarchal entity. But, ignoring more than half the human population is an abomination. It’s also just plain rude. I mean, women can do more than have kids, mop floors and cook meals for the menfolk. Any single mom will tell you that! Besides, women would look better in those flowing velvet gowns.
The pedophile priest scandal that has swept across the U.S. these past several years only solidified, in my mind, ineptness and utter irrelevance of the Catholic Church. I know the great majority of priests would never harm a child. But, I just never could understand why the Church shuffled the perverted ones from one diocese to another. I suspect it was a matter of self- preservation – one that backfired.
There is no other institution on Earth quite like the Roman Catholic Church. Lutherans and Methodists, for example, don’t have a supreme leader in quite the same mold. The Greek and Russian Orthodox Churches come close. Baptists and Pentecostals here in the U.S. certainly have no central commander, which may explain why they hate Catholics so much are always pissed off. Neither Judaism (Christianity’s cantankerous mother) nor Islam (its ugly offspring) have leaders similar to the pope.
Some observers hope that Francis will be a reformer along the same lines as Pope John XXIII who convened the Second Vatican Council in 1962 to update Church doctrines in accordance with various scientific discoveries and advancements. But, Francis has already shown displeasure with contemporary issues, such as birth control and homosexuality, which is to be expected. So, unless Francis accepts that some people use birth control, while others are queer, how is he going to be a reformer?
It would have been great if the Church had elected a truly unconventional and imperfect figure to the papacy; say, a 50-something man who perhaps had been married, maybe even has a juvenile criminal record, prefers vodka to wine, loves ultimate fighting and likes to tell bathroom jokes. Somebody who – albeit multi-lingual and well-versed in religious scholarship – could still identify more clearly with the average person. How could anyone who has spent most of their years enmeshed in prayer and meditation understand the complexities of daily life?
I don’t know what the future of the Roman Catholic Church holds under Francis’ leadership and I almost don’t care. I know that too many people adhere to every word that spills from the gilded lips of the Church’s hierarchy, which of course, is their right. But, it’s also their greatest fault. I would only visit Vatican City for one reason: to check out the artwork. Art serves a purpose; blind faith does not.
Filed under Essays
Happy St. Patrick’s Day!
The legend of St. Patrick has become lost amidst the blur of green beer and leprechauns gone wild. But, Patrick was a real person born in – of all places – England around A.D. 390. Whether he heard voices in a dream and ultimately drove snakes out of Ireland is all part of the mythology surrounding such historical figures. Still, it makes for some great storytelling!
Stupid Quote of the Week #2
“Dear Joe, Jack in the Box restaurants will likely drive customers away if they continue advertising in a manner that offends parents. Their newest commercial has Jack telling his son how he met his mother at a rock concert. In a flashback, just as she is about to lift her shirt exposing herself to Jack, the ad ends but leaves nothing to the imagination. Even though Jack in the Box is not located nationwide, One Million Moms has received numerous complaints from concerned parents and could not ignore this issue. It is important to let people know how they market their restaurant so they do not patronize the fast food chain while on vacation. Jack in the Box needs to know we do not approve!”
– One Million Moms, in an email to the Joe.My.God blog, complaining about the latest Jack in the Box commercial.
Meanwhile, on March 1, filmmakers Lori Silverbush and Kristi Jacobson released “A Place at the Table,” a documentary that asks why 50 million people (including 17 million children) in the U.S. suffer from food insecurity.
Like most conservative groups, One Million Moms (a.k.a. ‘Housewives with Nothing Better to Bitch About’) has its priorities skewered.
Filed under News
Stupid Quote of the Week #3
“I am concerned that the size of some of these institutions becomes so large that it does become difficult for us to prosecute them when we are hit with indications that if we do prosecute – if we do bring a criminal charge – it will have a negative impact on the national economy, perhaps even the world economy. I think that is a function of the fact that some of these institutions have become too large.”
– U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder, in testimony to the Senate Judiciary Committee, later emphasizing that he was speaking generally.
Holder had been subpoenaed to testify about the fraud and money laundering case involving banking giant HSBC (formerly Hong Kong and Shanghai Banking Corporation). HSBC has been accused of laundering money for Mexican and Columbian drug cartels; interesting, once you realize the company was founded in 1865 by opium merchants.
If I’m arrested for robbing a convenience store of $100, I suppose I could say I shouldn’t be prosecuted because I’m caring for my elderly parents. While HSBC paid a record $1.92 billion in fines, none of their senior level officials have been imprisoned. Holder’s claim makes him sound like a Republican businessman! From Texas!
Filed under News
Tagged as bank fraud, Eric Holder, HSBC, money laundering, stupid comments