Tuesday, July 19, 2005

July 18, 2005

Am I Crazy?

It's Monday, the start of another week of trying to figure out if I'm crazy or just missing the point.

Weather Or Not
Folks in Florida and along the US Gulf Coast must be wondering if they should just leave the plywood up their windows year round. Ten years ago I never thought twice about spending a couple of weeks in July indulging my passion, sailing around the Caribbean. I wouldn't dream of risking it now.

Why all the hurricanes all of a sudden? Could it be global warming?

Right wing global warming deniers say no way, continue to scoff at the notion and continue to fight even the most reasonable proposals to limit greenhouse gas emissions.

"A public dispute has flared between two Republican House committee chairmen over an inquiry one of them began last month into the integrity of an influential study of global temperature trends...The study, published in 1998 and 1999, meshed data from modern thermometers and evidence of past warmth or cold, like variations in tree rings. The result was a curve showing little variation for nearly 1,000 years and then a sharp upward hook in recent decades." (Full Story)

These folks are going to go down in history alongside the criminals who spent a quarter century casting aspersions on the thousands of scientific studies showing smoking caused cancer.

Of course anyone who saw a friend or family member die from smoking hardly needed scientific studies. Anecdotally it was pretty friggin clear that smoking was killing millions of people every year. All one had to do was to open their eyes.

Well, same goes for global warming. What we see happening in the south Atlantic is the Mother Nature's version of hot flashes. Hurricanes and cyclones are Mother Nature's way of dissipating excess heat in the atmosphere. The hotter the water, the hotter the atmospher, the more hurricanes. You do the math.

So, I read articles like the one above and scratch my head. Am I crazy, or are they crazy? Am I missing something here? Hot air, you see, comes in many forms.

(Big) Brother, Where Art Thou?
As a child of the 60's I have my very own FBI file. I know this for a fact because "they" showed it to me back in 1970 when I was organizing anti-war rallies in San Francisco.

I was in the Marine Corps reserve at the time and that really drove them nuts. So one weekend my C.O. called me into his office. There were two guys in gray suits there too, a thick manila folder was on his desk.

"Son, " he said to me as I stood at attention, "we just want to show you how you are ruining your life with these activities."

At which point he opened the file and began showing me 8 x 10 glossy black and white photos. There I was, leaving my apartment. There I was again leaving the basement meeting room of the local Catholic church where we held our meetings. There I was going to work. There I was coming home from work. There were dozens of similar incriminating photos.

Well, they had me dead to rights. I did all those things and there was no denying it. They had it all on film. None of it was illegal, of course or, for that matter, even "subversive," - at least First Amendment wise. But they sure had a lot of photos, notes, names, addresses and phone numbers in that file. Busy, busy, busy.

After showing me all the stuff, my C.O. asked me what I thought.

"Well sir," I said, "I think the government should spend less time taking pictures of me and more time coming up with a shape of a negotiating table both sides can agree on so we can wrap this war up." (Those of you of a certain age will understand my response. Those of you who don't... just never mind.)

While that remarkable little show and tell session changed neither my mind or behavior, it did give me a window into the hopeless nature of government surveillance. What I saw was a wholesale collection operation run amok, and run by the kind of people who in grammar school begged to be hall monitors. They had no idea what they doing. Neither did their bosses -- or their bosses. They just gave them cameras and recorders and sent them out to suck up information, and suck they did.

And now, they're at it again. If you have been raising hell about the war in Iraq, there's likely a manila folder on some civil service cubical-rat's desk with your name on it.

WASHINGTON: FBI agents monitored Web sites calling for protests against the 2004 political conventions in New York and Boston on behalf of the bureau's counter terrorism unit, according to FBI documents released under the Freedom of Information Act....A Sept. 4, 2003, document addressed to the FBI counterterrorism unit described plans by a group calling itself RNC Not Welcome to "disrupt" the 2004 Republican National Convention in New York. It also described Internet postings from an umbrella organization known as United for Peace and Justice, which was coordinating worldwide protests against the convention." (Full Story)

This is how governments behave when they go mad. When the highest offices in the land are populated by scheming paranoids, the kind who keep enemy lists, the kind who leak information to smear opponents. Such people have an insatiable appetite for information on what ordinary folks like you and I are up to out here. They worry far more about the "enemies within" than terrorists from abroad, because we demonstrate, rebel-rouse and vote.

The trouble is that when governments go on a paranoid information gathering jag they end up collecting way too much information. They end up with so much trivial, unless crap they can't separate the mundane from the dangerous.

When East Germany collapsed and Stazi's surveillance files were thrown open, what a mess it was. They had collected so much useless information on ordinary folk, their relatives, their bosses, even their pets it filled a warehouse with boxes. They couldn't have found a real subversive in that mess if their lives depended on it. (Oh, and did I mention East Germany collapsed anyway? Turned out the guys collecting all that information were the real subversives.)

The same problem already plagues this new American Stazi-style information gathering campaign designed, we are told, to fight terrorism. The FBI has already wasted nearly $1 billion trying to build a computer system capable of sorting out all the data field agents are sending in. They will waste a lot more as they try again. But it won't ever work, because it can't. Human behavior is just too nuanced, too complex, too unpredictable for machines to sort out.

Just ask the folks at MI5 in the UK. They have 4 million closed circuit cameras installed all over Britain. They say the average person just going about his or her normal rounds will be on camera an average of 300 times a day. Among all those millions of videos they found pictures of the four train bombers – AFTER they killed 55 people and wounded 700 more. You see, people who are about to blow themselves up really don't give a fig how many photos you have of them. Duh...

Oh, BTW, if my old commanding officer is still out there, would someone please inform him that my anti-war activities did not, as he predicted, ruin my life. I did just fine thank you. But something else that was going on back then sure did ruin the lives of some 60,000 other kids from my generation. Their names will not be found on dusty old FBI files.Their names are on a black wall in front of the Lincoln Memorial.

Nevertheless, here we are spending billions of dollars on useless wholesale domestic spying. Am I crazy, or are they crazy? Am I missing something here?

Caste a Spell, Go to Hell
The new Harry Potter book is out and kids by the millions are wallowing in the magic that only reading a ripping good yarn can provide. For the first time in a generation television, video games and the Internet have a competitor they can't match.

So, one would think everyone would just delighted, especially those bible thumping, home-school loving born-agains. After all, reading is one of the R's they keep complaining public schools don't emphasize enough.

Wrong. Harry Potter, you see, represents a competing brand of superstition. And if there is anything a religious nut hates it's someone else's superstition. They are in hand-waving, lord-praising, bible-quoting panic over Harry.

Sadly enough, this blatant witchcraft has been endorsed by well-known and respected "Christian" leaders, such as Dr. James Dobson and Chuck Colson, who have proven themselves to be modern day Judas Iscariots. Nothing could be more obvious than that Harry Potter books are pure witchcraft and of the devil. Pastor David J. Meyer -- Last Trumpet Ministries International.

(Religious fundamentalist always turn on their own kind sooner or later. Who would have thunk, Colson and Dobson, bleeding heart sorcerer lovers!)

And then there's this:

Young Harry is given a strange marking on his forehead. 'Through the sacrificial goddess magic of his mother's love, baby Harry is saved and his blood is given magical powers....The problem is, witchcraft is not fantasy; it is a sinful reality in our world. '

That from "Christiananswers.com" which has its own book out on the subject entitled, Harry Potter: Making Evil Look Innocent."

So, let's see... "a strange marking on (Harry's) forehead." Could be he was just back from church on Ash Wednesday. I see people with strange marks on the foreheads all over the damn place on Ash Wednesday. But, wait, that's a good superstition. Harry's forehead mark is from a bad superstition. Hindu women have mark on their foreheads too – a red dot – got a problem with that too? You can bet they do.

(Read this too if you want to see what you get when you mix religion and public money.)

I have said it before, and I will say it again – if you think politicians are a nuisance just mix in a healthy helping of religion into the political mix and you will see crazy at its worst.

Nevertheless this administration and its supporters on the right keep pushing for just that, federally funded "faith-based" programs. By which they mean Christian faith-based programs, not Scientologist faith-based programs or Muslim faith-based programs or Wicca faith-based programs. No way. Their own wizard, J.C. Potter, would not approve.

So, am I crazy, or are they crazy? I will stipulate I may be crazy. I certainly have done my share of crazy things. But I never was so crazy as to, at once, believe the earth is only 6000 years old and that Noah really got two of every animal on earth onboard a boat he built in his backyard and then claimed I saw the work of the devil in a kid's adventure novel.

Now THAT's crazy.

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