Friday, January 27, 2006

Duck... Duck... George...

There's no dickering with John Dickerson, chief political correspondent for Slate. I agree, George W. Bush sets the precident for a casual president behind the podium. And I agree, George W. Bush has a wit about him when he doesn't have to think about spin.

Just look at the photo on the link (right click and open a new window)! This president is cassssual. Either that, or he's trying to keep back from letting out a huge belch. Look at his hand on the photo gripping the podium. He forgot to take his Beano or Gas-X before eating that bean burrito grande. Or maybe his hand is looking for a drink at the end of the podium because his throat is so parched from answering all these inconsequential questions from reporters.

Who knows. But George W. Bush certainly handles the podium much differently that past presidents.

Is Your Fallout Shelter Ready?

You may have noticed that I didn't post yesterday, even though there were several breaking news stories that needed a dip in Indigo Lake (like this one about Hamas Voted In in Palestine and the stretched US Army). Well, I took that time to get my fallout shelter ready.

Ok, ok. You don't know what a fallout shelter is? Back in the days there were forces, big forces, that just would have loved to see the United States blown to smithereens. Oh, wait. I guess that's still the case. Well, going back in the days, there were buildings designated as fallout shelters. My school when I was growing up had an old partially rusty sign on it that said "Fallout Shelter" on it. I gues they were popular back then, because many old brick government and public buildings had these signs on them.

Back in the 50s, when the scare was really big, families would dig bomb shelters in their back yards and stock them so they would be prepared to live there if the "bomb" were to drop.

Hmmmm... You'd think that after 9/11, there'd be companies sprung up to help scared people build their terror fortresses. Why didn't that happen? Maybe terrorism isn't scaring people as well as they though.. They need Monsters, Inc.

Anyway, do you have a fallout shelter? I'd love to hear about it!

Wednesday, January 25, 2006

Love: Controversial Subject in Catholic Church?

It may have come as a surprise to many: an ageing theologian known for his conservative stance on sex exploring a highly controversial subject for the Roman Catholic Church -- love.--Mail & Guardian Online

Huh? Whhhhaaat? For many Christians and Catholics, God is love. Nothing about that is controversial to those who know the true meaning of love.

With Pope Benedict the 16th's first official writing, he strives to define love, with the true meaning.

And then, he brings up two Greek (human) concepts of love "eros" (erotic form) and "agape" (spiritual and selfless form).

The pope also brings up "philia," Greek for the love of friendship in this encyclical.

Did Christianity "kill" eros? Nah, not necessarily. We still have that commandment to "be fruitful and multiply," and the Roman Catholics know that very well.

As the pope states, a disciplined and purified form of eros is a "foretaste of the pinnacle of our existence, of that beatitude of which our whole being yearns."

According to the Mail & Guardian article, the pope puts on his best moral polite jacket to say that eros without agape is a weak form of love, that both go hand in hand together.

What about agape without eros? All priests ordained in the Roman Catholic Church in all correct senses should only espouse agape love, and put to death any thought or action of eros love in their lives. Isn't having agape without eros, stifling to the eros love in priests? Thus, do priests have a weakened form of love? Hmmmm....

I think many Christians, both Catholic and protestant, are raised with a certain notion that sex is mysterious and virtually untouchable until marriage and is only practical in creating a new generation. In some way, shape or form, the encyclical reads that married Christians need to put the spiritual back into our love lives. Maybe married couples need to pray before sex (although some probably do that during the act), like praying before your meal.

"Bless us, O Lord, and these Thy gifts, which we are about to receive from Thy bounty..." Hmmmm...

If you have ever checked out the Kama Sutra, they meditate before the act, so in some ways a prayer or spiritual meditation to focus the couple with the connection between eros and God would likely help to elevate ecstasy that could transport them to the gates of St. Peter. Maybe that's why Brian Adams sings about heaven so much?

Much of the pope's writing reminds me of a Jewish website I came across recently (while looking for low carb recipes, of all things). It described kosher Jewish sex, and the Jewish stance on sexuality.

Stop smiling... Hehe. I know I got a chuckle from those three words together, too (You don't have a silly grin, yet? Just think of what normally is kosher: salt, hot dogs, pickles... ok, ok, you sort of get it. Ok, so you are wondering how a rabbi could bless kosher sex? Me, too.).

This writing about kosher Jewish sex really made me appreciate the Jewish culture and how they cherish their traditions. It also made me wonder why the Roman Catholic Church didn't have much to say in a positive fashion about sex and spirituality, until now.

Thank you, Pope Benedict XVI! Now, when are you going to let priests be married and properly enjoy this eros gift from God, too?

Storm Papers? Where?

I love this headline:

White House Declines to Provide Storm Papers

"Yeah, the storm blew them away... Hey, we can't be responsible if the storm came and blew them away before we had the chance to put our papers in a safe place."--a possible quote from Scott McClellan?

Tuesday, January 24, 2006

Ford, GM & US Education: Living in a Box?

You've probably seen these headlines: US Schools Lag Behind; College Grads Deficient in Basic Skills...

I've read expert comments about the results of these recent research studies, stating that much of the issue surrounding the lack of skills in students and graduates is due to teachers and educators instructing inside the box. That is, when educators instruct in the classroom, they don't let their students use their knowledge and creativity in every day situations. It is allowing that thinking and working "outside of the box" that students are missing.

Part of the issue is that schools and colleges are not in the business to teach students how to understand a credit card offer or balancing the checkbook. Nooooo, they are in the business of teaching them readin', 'ritin', and 'rithmetic (and then expound upon that in college).

Nothing beats the experience of figuring something out on your own, even after you fail, and fail again. Look at Einstein, Edison, Bill Gates... all college dropouts.

So, what's this got to do with the widespread layoffs and changes at Ford and GM? Well, there's a lot of similarities between the two, if you think about it. Ford and GM are restructuring because of foreign competition. The same is true with US education. In fact, neither groups can hold a candle up to their past successes. We've lost that competitive edge, both in innovative industry and excelling education.

Why? I don't think it is so much that we have gotten worse, in as much as we haven't advanced like our competition. I enjoy driving my 1994 Toyota Corolla, and plan to enjoy driving it for many years to come. Why? Because it is dependable. It is not a Fix Or Repair Daily vehicle. It is not tempramental and doesn't break down on me without reason. I also have in my possession a 1997 Chevy Malibu (I didn't buy this one, long story...). It is a good car. It has a lot more balls in it than the Corolla, but it also eats gas more than the Corolla. But I don't feel comfortable in it, like I do in the Corolla.--This is why Ford and GM are struggling to compete. Ok, probably not top on their list, but it is on mine. And, probably a lot of others, too.

Have you noticed how many of the American-origin car manufacturers (i.e., Ford, GM, etc.) are styling their new vehicles to look just like their foreign counterparts? That's because they want people to think their cars are just as good as their competitors, that they are in the same league. However, you can't mimic the quality and feeling of foreign cars. After test driving the VW Touareg, I noticed it has such a commanding style compared to its US imposters, and a feel like it is solid (btw, that wood look on the dash--that's real wood). Cheaper made vehicles cannot equal that feeling of being solid and dependable.

So, how does that convert to education in the United States? Regarding school education, there are so many variables that distinguish the education of our youth, including the rise in divorce, the rise in students who must be drugged due to apparent ADHD or another type of mental issue to be in the classroom, the fall of discipline in schools, and the rise of dual income homes where both parents must work to make ends meet. Put on top of that the rise in costs to educate our students have risen way above the adjusted rate of inflation.

Sigh. These are among the reasons why US students, and US industry is declining against foreign competition. Educators, school boards, and car manufacturers do not seriously address our competition and truly understand and get a grasp why foreign students or vehicles are exceptional compared to ours. They don't get why the foreign cars are selling (or foreign students are excelling) and translate that into their own product. And, they aren't innovative to think beyond the box and see how they can take the concept of solid dependability (or scholarly achievement) and make it even better.

Why? Maybe it costs too much. Maybe it would involve them to think. Maybe they get too many headaches from thinking too much. Maybe they have been living in a box way too long.

Monday, January 23, 2006

Good to See You!

It is completely amazing to see what events bring people together.

Wild Rose Casino and Resort held their job fair last week, and just like everyone else in our county, I went and waited, and waited, and waited to get a quick mini-interview with Wild Rose. For some the waiting was difficult, especially since it was taking about three hours on the first day of the job fair to be interviewed.

For me, the waiting was almost like a blessing. I got to chat with my cousin and his friend for a while. Then, I spotted my high school history teacher that I had not seen since I graduated over fifteen years ago (has it been that long?) at another table. I couldn't believe it! He was one of the most fun (or is it fun-est?) teachers I had in high school, and he was even my driver's ed teacher, so that does say a lot for the guy. I can still hear him sing the War of 1812 tune, and imagine him flipping his pen on his podium.

After exchanging mini-summaries of our past fifteen years, I had to tell him about how I had completed some assignments he had given to us as graduating seniors.

I remember my senior year in his class, he mentioned several things we should do in our lifetime, if we got the chance. The first one I remember was, if we were ever in Washington D.C., to make the time to see the Constitution in person. He really stressed the importance of this document that gave us the freedoms that make all other countries envious. Check, did that. (The thing that amazed me was the amount of mistakes in the Constitution, but then again they didn't have computers and spell check back then.)

The other thing he mentioned that we should do if given the opportunity, was to see someone become a citizen of the United States. Again, he had emphasized how advantaged (is that the right word?) we are as United States citizens. Something that we too quickly take for granted in our daily lives.

My friend from Mexico had waited over eight years to become a US citizen when I attended the ceremony that made him an official citizen. Sure, it was a special day, but I was surprised how little fanfare there was in the ceremony. Basically, they squeezed about fifty participants, plus their supporters, family and friends into a room at the immigration and naturalization office, much smaller than the business classroom at my old high school, and went through the motions. I think they had a state legislator speak at the ceremony, which beyond my friend getting his certificate of citizenship, was the highlight of the ceremony. Yet, I still felt a sense of pride that these people will now get to share the wonderful freedoms, rights and responsibilities of being a citizen of the United States of America. Those same freedoms that I have enjoyed from day one.

I also saw many friends and acquaintances at my three hour wait at the Wild Rose job fair. We got to sit and chat, and catch up on each other's lives. It's not very often that we get such a unique chance to be with others in the community and the surrounding areas.

Friday, January 20, 2006

On The Brighter Side: Mobile Phones Do Not Equal Brain Cancer, Yet

Just wanted to pass along a little bit of inconclusive good news to brighten your day. Some researchers have not found evidence to confirm that mobile phone use causes brain cancer.

So, I guess all the talk about mobile phones causing brain cancer is all in your head...

Next time you get a major headache right around where you have your mobile phone pressed against your head most of the business day, maybe its not brain cancer. Maybe it's just a pain in the neck.

Bin Laden to Strike in US? Again??

Osama, Ohhhhh saaaah maaaah. When I say it like that it kind of sounds like something a magician's assistant's kid would say to the magician.

I look at all the stories I am highlighting today and wonder--Is this all a sick, twisted plot? Well, I hope not.

I think most of us will say we want peace in the world. I think the wise words of one strong Hulk Hogan in an anti-perspirant/deodorant commercial come to mind: "The best defense is not to offend."

I just can't believe that most of the media still doesn't remember that the United States used to assist and arm the Taliban in the 1980s when they were fighting against the Soviet Union in Afganistan. You know, the 80s, when George H.W. Bush was first the vice president, then elected president for one term. What do you think happened that the Taliban doesn't like the US anymore?

If you read the full transcript of Osama Bin Laden's latest audio release (see the title link), he does note the time when the Taliban fought against the Soviet Union, but does he thank the US for their support then? Noooo.

Also, the transcript notes that Osama thanks God several times. I thought they worshipped Allah. So what's will all this God, but no mention of Allah?

American Privacy?

With the revelation that President Bush is authorizing warantless wiretapping of US citizens without solid evidence to warant such invasion of privacy, it brings to light other issues of privacy that many Americans may become or already are subject to.

The current banter is about the US government requesting website searching information from online companies like Google. Is it for a criminal case or international security? No. They just want to do a survey to prove that children are not protected against going to porn sites.

Hey, isn't that the job of the parents?

Anyway, this raises the question of how private are the private affairs of people. I'm not talking about sleeping around here. It's about the private affairs like our financial interests, correspondence and research (like snail mail, email, library and internet use), and even health care.

Speaking of health care, it seems that where ever you go to see any type of doctor, you have to sign a HIPAA form. Do we really know what we are signing there? Is it really for the privacy of our health care, or does it in so many words let governmental organizations privately know what doctors are doing for us?

We all know that policies and procedures surrounding HIPAA guard the privacy of our health care from our neighbors knowing what status our health is in. I think that if I were on my death bed and couldn't contact anyone myself, it'd be nice if the people I love would be able to find out that I am on my death bed.

Now if I were in some odd situation that I was quickly and immediately knocking on heaven's door and rushed to a hospital, and they couldn't contact my husband or family, the hospital, under HIPAA regulations, cannot disclose that I am there to anyone who asks. I could not even have clergy visit me without my request, and if I were incapacitated with no one to speak for me, then there'd be no final rites for me. So, I guess the moral of this story is to plan for your doctor's visits and hospital stays ahead of time, and let friends and family know before you see the doctor, because once you're in the system, you're stuck.

Okay, going back to the other privacy issues. Sigh. Anyone with a bank account or credit card or a mortgage or loan of any type has relinquished their rights to financial privacy and any say in their credit reports. By the way, credit reports are controlled primarily by the same people that hold your money or credit in their interests, so if you have had a complaint with a credit card charge in the past like I have, it will haunt you for at least seven years or more.

(Don't ever, ever take your car to Sears for brakes, ever. If they don't kill you with their faulty brake installations, and refusing to credit your Sears card for the crappy work for three months--the same work that you had to get done elsewhere plus get new rotors that would not have been needed if you hadn't gone to Sears, then when they finally do credit your card they still show on your credit report for years that you didn't pay that amount for three months! I now avoid Sears like the plague.)

I think many internet users know that many of their online activities are being watched by professional voyeurs and hackers alike. It just kind of makes you wonder why would the government want such information for a study. What's their true motives, except to maybe spy on US citizens to implicate them later?? Or it may all be very benign and innocent. What? The government benign and innocent? Hey, let's give them the benefit of the doubt.

Kennedy on Alito

If you listen to what Senator Kennedy says about Alito, you'd think this Supreme Court judge nominee is all for degrading the powers of the Supreme Court and congress in an effort to make the executive branch the most powerful and influential entity in the United States.

Well, I think President Bush has been working toward this since he landed in the White House. He's already made at least two public references about wishing to be a dictator. Sure, being a dictator would make anyone's job easier, but its just not how our government's set up and how our constitution is read.

Let's think about it for a moment. George W. Bush has mentioned this wish to be dictator twice since landing in the White House. It is also the same George W. Bush who mentioned in essence that he needs to repeat things over and over before they sink in. How many times did Bush think about this repeatedly before he publicly mentioned his wish to be dictator, even in jest?

Is Alito just another small way to change the foundation of our country until we get the US of A changed to the US of SA (United States of Saudi Arabia)? What do you think?

Tuesday, January 17, 2006

Sleeping With The Enemy?

Imagine if reporters would only research, then ask the right questions to the Bush Administration. Maybe it would go something like this:

Reporter Ms. Reportstruth: You've accused Al Gore of being a hypocrit because you believe that when he was vice president, the White House allowed searches to happen without a court order.

Scott McClellan: Gore is a hypocrit. He just can't allow something during his stint as vice president and then reverse his opinion while President Bush is in the White House.

Reporter: Mr. McClellan, I these are two completely different situations.

McClellan: No they are not. They are the same.

Reporter: You mention that both Clinton and Carter also authorized physical searches without a court order. How are those executive orders similar to the warrantless eavesdropping President Bush has authorized?

McClellan: Well, umm, those were all done without a court order, just like the president's wiretapping.

Reporter: Mr. McClellan, is that it?

McClellan: Well, are you calling me a moron? I know that wiretapping and physical searches are not the same. But, both Clinton and Carter set the precident.

Reporter: Did they? Mr. McClellan, the specifics of both of those executive orders were on a case by case basis. Is President Bush authorizing wiretapping on a case by case basis?

McClellan: Ms. Reportstruth, these are unusual circumstances, and it really takes too much time for the president to authorize wiretapping on a case by case basis.

Reporter: Mr. McClellan, Clinton's executive order still followed the law as he allowed a physical search of an agent of a foreign power without a court order. That agent, a Soviet spy, was indicted in the case and the items found in that search were submissible in court. And, the access a Soviet spy would have for weapons of mass destruction would be the envy of any terrorist.

McClellan: Ahhhh, well, you know. We are dealing with terrorists. We have no idea what they have supporting them. They could be agents of a foreign power, but we just don't know until we do some wiretapping.

Reporter: Clinton had reasonable evidence to prove this CIA agent was a Soviet spy before allowing the search, which was verified by the attorney general. Does President Bush have reasonable evidence to show that these people he is wiretapping are indeed a foreign power or agents of a foreign power?

McClellan: Look, we are dealing with terrorists here. We have no idea what is backing them, whether it be a foreign power or people with a lot of money. That is why we have to have warrantless wiretapping.

Reporter: Then, when Carter authorized surveillance, he did so knowing that there would be no contents of communications that a United States person would be a party. Is President Bush also protecting the privacy of US persons with his wiretapping?

McClellan: I cannot say at this time. Discussion of the specifics of the wiretapping might hamper our efforts against terrorism.

Reporter: Mr. McClellan, if I'm hearing you right, you've proven that the situations between Clinton, Carter and Bush are obviously different and are not comparable, and you're saying that going through the proper channels is too slow, suspected terrorists are beyond agents of foreign powers, the war on terrorism trumps any constitutional right any US citizen might have, and anyone is guilty until proven innocent.

McClellan: Ms. Reportstruth, I believe that the president is doing the best he can to defend the country against terrorists.

Reporter: Didn't all public officials in the White House swear to defend the Constitution?

McClellan: Right now, we are charged with keeping Americans safe.

Reporter: There are reports that the FBI and CIA are backlogged with routine work, and much of the amount of warrantless wiretapping authorized by the president would never be analyzed. So, how is this extreme warrantless wiretapping going to keep Americans safe?

McClellan: Our agents are hard workers, and we just don't know what information will prove to save our country from the work of terrorists. There just might be a piece of information that could prove valuable to our efforts to combat terrorism.

Reporter: In the meantime, are you saying that Americans should allow a president to go untethered without proper checks and balances?

McClellan: We have to do what it takes to stop terrorism.

Reporter: So, in this war on terror that the president has declared, there is no need for Congress and the Supreme Court?

McClellan: Our president is our commander-in-chief, and we must allow our commander to command. If we don't, then we will be susceptible to terrorists.

Reporter: There seems to be a prevailent thought in the White House that our only enemies are the terrorists. Terrorism has been around for centuries. Why are they such a perceived threat now?

McClellan: They attacked us on our own soil on 9/11, leaving us vulnerable to more attacks.

Reporter: We were just as vulnerable before, and looking at our progress on the homefront, it looks like we are just as vulnerable now, or even more so, than on 9/11.

McClellan: That is why we need to give even more power to the president. He just doesn't have the freedom to accomplish what needs to get done to prevent another 9/11. Just like we had the Soviet Union in the cold war, now we have terrorists whose only goal is to harm the United States. Terrorists are our number one enemy.

Reporter: What is the president's plan if the United States finds a "new" enemy in a true foreign power that sneaks up on us like a prowling tiger and devours our vulnerable and weakened country because we have relinquished our freedoms and given our financial stability to foreign powers?

McClellan: The president doesn't work on plans, he works on power. Oil, specifically, and regardless what some say, petroleum is the energy of the future. We will always be the number one super power, so we shouldn't worry about all that foreign debt. We must do everything we can to stabilize that power.

Monday, January 16, 2006

Duh! Are We THAT Stupid?!

Sigh. Well, I know I got a pretty good education through the 70s and 80s. Not the best by far, but I learned a lot and scored well on test scores. I learned how to read, write, type, draw, play drums, sing, and do some bamboo jumping dance. Yes, I can write a sentence, and I'm a pro at diagramming them (it was a form of entire class punishment for individuals misbehaving).

I am concerned for my children's education and future wellbeing. Articles like this one from ABC News confirms my concerns. I am sickened when I read and hear about parents who have to medicate their children just so they can go to school, and threatened by the school to take their children away if they don't comply. Then, the schools wonder why the kids don't learn and score poorly on standardized tests.

I have two very happy, and very active boys. I am fairly sure that the older one will be an issue in public school if the teacher doesn't know how to deal with a child who has difficulty transitioning between activities. Unfortunately, it seems teachers have a lot more skill in their own knowledge of subjects than they do in teaching and working with a variety of children's behaviors. In my opinion, no kindergartener should be forced to take medication because they are overactive and the teacher does not have the skills required to work with young children.

It also seems that schools are turning to larger class sizes to save on costs, but are unwilling to let go of other costs, like expanding their gymnasiums and auditoriums. It is frustrating to see in our own town a school board that would rather close the middle school and push classes together in the high school to save costs. In such an effort, they would have to build more classrooms, an extra gymnasium and an auditorium in the 1960s era high school that has just as many negative structural issues as the 1920s era middle school. Of course, they would have to raise the money through public bonds. Sigh.

I thought about taking my children to the Catholic school in town so they would be in a smaller class size, but I just read an article in the Catholic paper that they are going to standardize the tuition in our diocese, so every school will have the same tuition rate. It used to cost $1,000/year to send a kid to our Catholic school (in 2002), now it will cost over $4,000. (It is either 7% of a family's income or the full cost per student.) So, if we don't have good paying jobs to pay for their education, there's no way they will go to school there.

We've also thought about homeschooling, but that would mean that we would have to be super organized parents. I've heard that two-thirds of the day in a public school is wasted because the teacher is trying to gain control of the class, or there is some type of disruption in the classroom. Thus, homeschooling would be one way our kids could learn without interruption.

So, after reading the ABC News article, you think you have no choice? Well, then check out the fact sheet from the US Department of Education. They are throwing millions of dollars to benefit thousands of kids. Will this force our public schools to become creative with their offerings and opportunities they give to our children? I'm not holding my breath.

Wednesday, January 11, 2006

The Lion Continues to Survive

Ariel Sharon, Prime Minister of Israel, still lies in a coma after his stroke. If the Lion survives, will Israel survive? Can Israel survive without the Lion?

As people pray for a miracle, I too, will pray for a miracle--peace in the Middle East.

Take the Money and Run!

Today's proposal by the New Orleans mayor and the Bring Back New Orleans Commision sounds almost like an ultimatum for many NOLA residents affected by Hurricane Katrina and her aftermath.

Here are the main points:
1. Residents have two months to prove they will rebuild
2. If a resident cannot prove they can rebuild the property will be reclaimed as open space.
3. If the government takes back the property, property owners will be compensated 100% of the pre-hurricane value of the entire property.
4. AND, neighborhoods must have at least half of their residents commit to rebuild
5. Neighborhoods that have rebuild commitments from less than half of the residents will be deemed unviable. See point 3.

Hmmm... Nifty deal to me. If I lived there, hey, there's a line to draw, and I think Katrina made it very clear that the that line is now non-existent. Take the money and run, while you still have your sanity.

This situation kind of reminds me of my old school being torn down. There's a time when you just have to let it go, and move on, if only to avoid the bricks that might come down on you (mentally and/or physically).

There's some other points to ponder with this:
1. The federal buyback plan and reclaimation costs would total approximately $18 billion.
2. The plan is dependent on FEMA issuing new maps outlining the most flood-prone areas (hmmm... FEMA is kind of like danger-prone Dafney... wonder how they will flub up this one...), which would determine who gets flood insurance.
3. Improved flood and storm water protection (hopefully they will take cues from Venice, the Netherlands, and Japan, but if FEMA is involved, they'll probably do it their way).
4. Install a high-speed light rail system (if they are thinking right, it will be elevated to withstand hurricanes and high force floods, will have a direct link real land, and be an integral part of future NOLA emergency escape plans).
5. Create an efficient (and effective?) single board for the levy system.
6. And close the Mississippi-Gulf Outlet (Hey, where's everyone going to find cheap kitchen ware? Oh, ooooh, they're closing the waterway bypass that allows boats to cut around NOLA. That'll put a damper on cruising around the NOLA delta with those pimped up boats.)

Monday, January 09, 2006

Cheney A Healthy Bird?

Surely, you jest? Here's just a laugh for everyone's Monday.

US Vice President Dick Cheney has been released from the hospital today after coming in earlier with reports of respiratory issues.

After extensive tests, hospital doctors found that indeed the VP is a bird, and not human. They also found that Vice President Cheney has a weakened form of the Avian flu that was possibly passed from another bird close to the vice president. The bird test was mostly inconclusive, but show that the bird species might be a raptor.

Hospital and disease control officials called George W. Bush in to be tested for the Avian flu virus, and also found evidence that the US President is a bird, as well. Doctors have found the rare weakened Avian bird flu in President Bush, whose bird genes were detected as a possible fowl bird, which may have given him immunity from becoming ill from the raptor-originated virus.

This may be a reason why the US government is so concerned about the Avian flu, even though it hasn't mutated to be transmitted from human to human, yet.

Pope's Assassin To Be Free?

The man who shot Pope John Paul II in 1981 will be freed from a Turkish prison soon. Actually, this will be the second time Mehmet Ali Agca has been freed after serving time for murderous activities.

Agca served 19 years in an Italian prison for the attempted murder of the pope, when the pope pardoned him. Agca was then sent to Turkey authorities to serve time for murdering a journalist in 1979. Agca will possibly be released as early as tomorrow for good behavior.

Let's put this picture of a prisoner against another, who recently received a different fate for his actions: Stanley "Tookie" Williams, who was executed on Tuesday, December 13, 2005 after being on death row for 24 years. Williams was accused of brutally murdering 4 people in 1979, although he adamantly maintained his innocence in the case.

Williams, a five-time Nobel nominee, had gone on serving his time and showing that he changed his life by actively promoting anti-gang agenda and writing children's books to keep kids out of gangs (although he was a violent inmate until 1993). He even cooperated with the guards during his final moments.

Apparently, Turkey and the United States has different definitions for punishment and mercy.

In our capitalist society, maybe capital punishment is just another way of showing how capitalism works.

Friday, January 06, 2006

The Lion Sleeps Tonight...

It looks pretty evident that Israel will lose its leader soon. Will this be a turning point for tension in the Middle East?

Let's just pray for Israel's leader, the people of the Middle East, and for peace...

The Book of Daniel=Webster's Dictionary?

For all those Catholics who thought there might be a glimmer of hope for the married priesthood in the future, well, that glimmer is going to fade fast. And for all those Episcopalians who hope for some honest positive Christian virtues to be publicized about their church, well, you are going to be disappointed. Wait, disappointed is way too lame of a word for this.

It's the Book of Daniel, a TV series to be aired by NBC. When I first saw the preview for it last night, I thought it was a joke. But, no. No joke. The Book of Daniel takes every crisis and human failing and ties it into this Episcopalian priest, whose own addictions quite vividly puts a strangle hold on the very righteous values that he ought to be portraying as a minister of God.

The humor of this sitcom seems to likely fall short, only because the web it weaves looks like it would tangle itself over and over. So, maybe the humor will be that the Book of Daniel will be tripping over it's own plot lines.

Maybe the biggest laugh people might get is from the main character's name: Rev. Daniel Webster. Hey, isn't he one of those guys that wrote the Dictionary? Maybe the Book of Daniel is not referring to the Bible, but maybe to Webster's Dictionary, which explains it all.

Sure, churches will chastize the sitcom, especially the Episcopalian church. Oh, ok, just those righteous Episcopalians, who will condemn the misconceptions this TV show gives about their members and clergy.

However, I foresee the Catholic Church being overly quiet about this sitcom. Why? Because it reinforces that the thought of the married priesthood leads to no good. And that the Book of Daniel (overly) focuses on the flaws and errors of the Episcopal Church, which in the Catholic Church's eyes is the black sheep of Christian churches, and hopefully gets the focus off the bad press Catholics have faced against the dark accusations of priestly incest.

The issues behind the sitcom The Book of Daniel, should in any case, make Christians think about some of the insanely sinful human things we do just for pleasure, and pray that the Holy Spirit leads us out of those directions, at least just so we don't look as stupid and insensitive to our faith and beliefs as those actors portray us to be. And at the most, it will be an example not to follow that will push us to live our true faith, be true to our beliefs and true to our God.

Thursday, January 05, 2006

Oscar Night Traditions

Congratulations to Jon Stewart for making it to network TV and hosting the 2006 Oscars. Even if I don't know if you are a host that is coming or going, at least you will be among the stars for the 78th Academy Awards presentation March 5th in Los Angeles.

I remember celebrating Oscar Night almost vividly blurry, was it 1999 or 2000? It was either Whoopi or Billy Crystal hosting, or was it David Letterman? We went over to a friend's house where we had a wonderful barbeque with some delicious slabs of meat, drank a little (too much), and enjoyed the Oscars under the stars in their hot tub. That year the Oscars ran long and it wasn't until 1 or 2 in the morning that we finally stumbled back home to get a few hours of shut-eye before returning to work.

Why do the Oscars have to be on Sunday evenings? I guess Hollywood doesn't have to go back to work on Monday, like the rest of us.

Bush Record Absence

Again, today I've noticed that President George W. Bush has NOT made the top two stories on Google News. I think it's been about a month since he relinquished his crown at the top of the Google News stories. I'm not sure what to think of such an absence.

Is the world just falling apart in front of us?

Did the reporters decide that Bush was being a media hog the previous six months and, upon such a revelation, choose not to cover the president's movements and words so prominently?

Is the Bush administration laying low for a while?

It's not like I miss seeing Bush as the headliner, but it just makes me wonder what he up to. He's just the leader of the free world, that's all. Kind of like to know what's up in the White House.

Thank goodness the Daily Show is back from their holiday break.

Avian Flu Still Just from the Birds

The Avian Flu Virus scare continues...

Are you enjoying all the hype?

Did you know...

144 humans have contracted Avian Flu, only by contact with live birds with the virus.
Out of the 144, 72 have died from the Avian Flu. (Stats as of 12/05 plus two in Turkey)

The Center for Disease Control (CDC) claims that more than 200,000 people are hospitalized due to complications of the flu and 36,000 die each year from the flu.

Do these numbers for flu deaths seem high to you? It did for a Harvard student who is making some waves. The complication that causes so many flu deaths? Pneumonia. In 2001, under 3% of the deaths in the US were attributed to flu/pneumonia, and as with most deaths, the vast majority were 85 years or older. On the same CDC report, they break down those stats for flu and pneumonia, and you know what? There were 257 flu deaths in 2001, compared to 61,777 pneumonia deaths. Thus, only .01% of all deaths in 2001 were directly attributed to influenza (the flu). As a perspective, more people died (428) due to disease of the appendix.

Lots of numbers there. One number is certain, 100% of humans alive today will die some time in the future.

So, what is there to worry about?

Wednesday, January 04, 2006

Hand in the Cookie Jar

There’s much discussion going on about President George W. Bush wiretapping individuals in the United States without going through the proper channels. Some are deploring the actions of the president spying on the public without getting the ok from the FISA secret court, and calling for an investigation into the president’s behavior and his apparent ignorance of the FISA law and the fourth amendment. Others who back the president, are all upset because someone leaked the president’s secret spying to the press.

If someone hadn't leak that the president was wiretapping without permission, it wouldn't be such a big deal, would it? So who tattled this time?? Sounds a bit childish to be pointing fingers about who tattled about sneaking into the cookie jar, when the cookie crumbs are all over your own hands? What would your Mom do about that? Punish little Sally for tattling, or little Georgie for sneaking into the cookie jar without Mom's ok and taking over 30 cookies?

Sadly, if little Georgie had known, Mom would have given him a cookie if he had asked. --Just like Jesus said, "Ask and it will be given unto you." Whoa, George did ask and the secret court said no (FISA court has granted over 4,000 requests in recent years to the administration and denying less than a dozen). Well, Mom isn't going to let you have a cookie if dinner is just about done. Likewise, the FISA court won't approve of wiretapping that isn't appropriately substantiated.

But Little Georgie and his friends continue to lament: It takes too long to file with the FISA court. Technology is too fast these days, and FISA court just isn't fast enough. Yes, when hunger does hit, it does take a bit longer to ask Mom to have a cookie, but she can be understanding if you are desperately hungry and you just got home from school and Mom's not home from work yet. As long as you tell her when she gets home, she'll most likely be understanding as long as you didn't eat all the cookies in the jar. (In warranted instances, the FISA allows for unauthorized surveillance to happen as long as a request is filed with the secret court in 72 hours.)

There may be other reasons why Mom didn't want you to eat those cookies in the jar without her permission. They may have been made with peanut butter, and you are terribly allergic to peanuts and you throw them up (or you use the ill-gotten surveillance in court and it is dismissed because that evidence was obtained illegally), or she was making those cookies for the ladies club meeting that night and doesn't want you to eat them (or you use surveillance for the unintended purpose to spy on political enemies and personal dissenters).

See what would happen if you didn't ask Mom for the peanut butter cookies first? Ok, so you'd lose respect from Mom and she might punish you, no big deal, right? Unless, instead of being just terribly allergic to peanuts, you unknowingly were deathly allergic to them.

UnChecked UnBalanced Power? Or Road to Dictatorship

The Executive Branch in the United States Federal Government is really challenging the ideal of checks and balances between the branches of government. Now, George W. Bush wants to push the Patriot Act into permanent law.

I see a pattern coming along...

Geoffrey Stone, with Huffington Post, defends his position against Bush's unlimited spying with the fourth amendment. He will also write about the statutory issues in following articles.

Wait, isn't the president supposed to defend the constitution, not go against it?

Bernard Weiner, editor of the Crisis Papers, gave a list of his 12 political insights for 2005.

The Bush Administration has decided that they need to be able to use torture to fight the terrorists. Torture, even though we don't want anyone else to do it to us, we should be able to do it if we need to secure the United States, right?

We must continue the fight for freedom in Iraq; we must not pull our troups out; we must be victorious; a victory in Iraq is a victory against the terrorists. Common phrases for the defenders of the Iraq War. So, what are we really doing in Iraq, anyway? Isn't freedom something for the Iraqi people to win? Isn't victory something for the Iraqi people to accomplish?

As Commander-in-Chief, Bush is doing all this to protect the American people from terrorists. He must be able to defend national security. Even if it means that the role of a checked and balanced government must be overpowered? Did George W. Bush take the literal interpretation that the Executive Branch executes the law, just like Texas executes death-row inmates?

Or are all his actions in an effort to bring into realization a statement he made when first elected as president?

"If this were a dictatorship, it would be a heck of a lot easier - just so long I'm the dictator." --George W. Bush, December 18, 2000

"A dictatorship would be a heck of a lot easier, there's no question about it."--George W. Bush in Newsweek magazine, July 30, 2001.

Tuesday, January 03, 2006

Military Support Fading...

Sometimes we get so devoted to something that it is difficult to see the wrong or the failures behind it. It is a lot like our childhood schools we grew up in. If you were fortunate enough to attend one school kindergarten through graduation, then you know exactly what school spirit and pride is all about.

I can tell you my school experience wasn't the most pleasant thing I endured. I went to the same public school from my kindergarten days to commencement exercises in the same buildings. I was bullied, called names by kids and teachers, put down, spit on and beat up. Some teachers thought I was stupid, while others could see my intelligence, and others probably just tolerated me. I was not the most popular, nor the cutest. But I wasn't the ugliest, nor least likely to get along with others. I cooperated just enough, and I got through it just enough. I wasn't the smartest, but not the dumbest, either.

Go Rams! Go Rebels! Those chants were shouted many times through school, at ball games, wrestling matches, and other sporting events. These are ways a school builds spirit and pride. It almost transcends the mindless torture from mind games and bullying that kids are routinely subjected to, and creates a loyalty beyond measure and beyond compare. My school is the best. Better than the rest. And we'd do anything to prove that.

Yes, my school was a great one. My class was a great one. We had a lot of smart kids, and even though I graduated with something like a 3.4 GPA, I was in the bottom 50% of my class. In the history of my school, we had two Rhodes scholars, countless successful business people, entrepreneurs, and average folk like me. One thing most of us had in common is our allegiance to our school.

In the last decade and a half since I attended my school, the school has merged with the rival school district and we've lost our high school, and gained a larger middle school attendance at the building where I went to school for thirteen years.

Then, suddenly two years ago, we started to lose our school building in my hometown. First it was a few bricks that started falling, then almost a quarter of the bricks from the front of the school building fell. It was a dismal spring day when I heard that they had to condemn my school. Well, they didn't condemn the establishment, just the building, but just the same.

That same building that brought together the worst in us, also brought together the best in us, as well. That same building that gave us Rhodes scholars, beauticians and dairy farmers was failing our spirit in what was one of the last reminders of our previous pride in our school.

The final blow hit when the deciding vote to keep or destroy our school was in the hands of one of our school's alumni. She voted to demolish its final existance. And demolish one of the final remnants of a small town's hope for survival.

It happens in many diminishing small towns in this country, but this one just hits closer to my own spirit. I should have seen the signs, though. In my mind, it started when the old theater was demolished after a fire, then Duff's Furniture closed and that beautiful 1800s corner brick building was demolished. Just before my senior year in high school, they tore down the old bank building on the corner. It was just shy of turning 100 years old, and it, too, was a building of such character.

Now, there are hardly any of the turn of the century brick buildings remaining on my hometown's main street that were there from my childhood. The history of a thriving 19th century community is gone, almost like a ghost town from the gold rush. What remains are some of the smaller buildings and some newer structures that look like glorified sheds, a far cry from the bold magestic three-story towers that practically saluted your entrance into the community.

As I read this article about military support fading for the president and the war in Iraq, thoughts of my declining school spirit came to mind. It is not too difficult to see that these military men rally behind anything that boosts their spirit and give them an opportunity to prove their pride, just as school kids would do anything to prove their pride in their school. Sometimes when you sees the bricks that used to hold the facade of our establishment start falling, at first you try to prop up that establishment. When the establishment continues to fall, sometimes you just have to face reality, and decide that we must let the bricks fall where they may and let go. Yes, let go. Because you don't want any of the bricks to destroy your spirit as well.

Anarchy is Just a Gun Shot Away...

If you like being alive, then you might want to write your state congress representatives and let them know that you don't want something like this to pass in your state.

This example of the Make My Day law underlines the congressional importance of intelligent research before passing laws that protect only the criminals in our society. Herein lies the decay of our society as we know it.

Portrait of Bush?

Roanoke, VA commentarian Tim Abbott analyzes "What Kind of Man is Bush?" in this recent article. I found this to be an interesting read, that targets some of the ideals that puts Bush at odds with the traditions of our country's finest leaders.

What kind of man do you think Bush is?