Friday, January 30, 2009

Move Over, Guitar Hero

Let's lighten things up a bit, and move into the realm of things you just really might be able to do.

Ever wish you could play an instrument? You just might be able to. Yyour instrument might just be the Theremin. If you're a SciFi buff, you'll recognize the sound instantly.

It's actually a bona fide instrument, from my point of view, it's just somewhat, um, unconventional.
The theremin is unique among musical instruments in that it is played without physical contact. The musician (occasionally referred to as a thereminist) stands in front of the instrument and moves his or her hands in the proximity of two metal antennas. The distance from one antenna determines frequency (pitch), and the distance from the other controls amplitude (volume). Most frequently, the right hand controls the pitch and the left controls the volume, although some performers reverse this arrangement. Some low cost theremins use a conventional, knob operated volume control and have only the pitch antenna.
Yep - a touchless instrument. How wild is that? Aside from the funky concept, actual art is produced from it. Observe Masami Takeuchi play Camille Saint Saens "Le Cygne" (The Swan) from "Carnival of the Animals."

As the post is titled, Move Over Guitar Hero! I'm getting me a theremin! Ingve Malmstein, look out!

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Sunday, January 25, 2009

That Mysterious Fleet of Buses

Is the Government Still Gearing up for a Police State?

Here's an interesting story from Ellen Hodgson Brown, writing at Global
On a recent visit to Tucson, Arizona, where I was invited to give a presentation on monetary reform, I was disturbed by a story of strange goings on in the desert. A little over a year ago, it seems, a new industrial facility sprang up on the edge of town. It was in a remote industrial zone and appeared to be a bus depot. The new enterprise was surrounded by an imposing security fence and bore no outward signs identifying its services. However, it soon became apparent that the compound was in the business of outfitting a fleet of prison buses. Thirty or so secondhand city buses were being reconfigured with prison bars in the windows and a coat of fresh paint bearing the “Wackenhut G4S” logo on the side.

The new Wackenhut operation is shrouded in mystery. It has been running its fleet of empty prison buses night and day, apparently logging miles on a Department of Homeland Security (DHS) contract. Multiple buses can be seen driving all over town and even on remote desert back roads. Oddly, except for the driver and one escort guard seated in front, these buses are always empty.

Wackenhut Services was founded by George Wackenhut in 1954 to provide prison guard services to state and federal governments. Wackenhut Services is now owned by the Danish corporation G4S.

Observers originally thought that the purpose of the new Wackenhut operation was to outfit prison buses to be distributed in other parts of the country. But it soon became apparent that none of the buses was leaving the Tucson depot. Recently, a passerby observed what appeared to be a training operation there. In what seemed to be strange activity for 10:30 PM on a Saturday night, the depot yard was fully illuminated, the entire fleet of buses was up and running, and drivers and guards were scrambling around the yard. The question is, what were they training for?
First off I should tell you that Ellen Brown does a fair bit of economics blogging, and has written a book Web of Debt on the "shocking truth about our money system" as it stands. Private interests like the Federal Reserve control the issuance of US currency, and don't think they are doing it out of the goodness of their heart. But I'm just saying that to give you a bit of background on the source of the story. Ellen also has a Web of Debt Blog, which I recommend. She is not an economist, which ironically gives her an edge when discussing how the economy really works. I first blogged about her last October, in a post that discussed The Working Group on Financial Markets, also known as the Plunge Protection Team. Set up by the Reagan administration in 1988 the PPT was established to stabilize the financial markets, but like all things Republican it a) operates without any real oversight and b) has a great potential for corruption.

To segue back to the buses story, one could see this as just a continuation of the corruption and waste that has prevailed through the Bush administration. The DHS is after all still largely in the same hands as it was on Jan. 19. It will undoubtedly take the new President months if not years to weed out the Repugnicant operatives that have been embedded in DHS and other agencies of government; in fact many of them are in supposedly non-political civil service positions, protected by law, the proverbial headless nails.

Some time ago I pondered how taking over the government from Bush would be like taking the controls of the Hindenburg after it had burst into flames. I never considered that a mutinous crew would also be part of the disastrous equation. And you can rest assured that as long as it is in their power these same Republican hirees will be handing out as many no-bid contracts to as many cronies as they possibly can. And maybe these buses are just part of that.

In fact, one should fervently hope that it's as simple as that. As Ms. Brown explains:
Fraud and waste aside, this mysterious activity has sinister implications. Why the obvious secrecy? Since the World Trade Center disaster in 2001, the Department of Homeland Security has grown to monster proportions, claiming a projected $50 billion of the federal budget in 2009. DHS includes the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), which earned notoriety in 2005 for its gross mishandling of the Katrina disaster in New Orleans. Al Martin, a retired naval intelligence officer and former contributor to the Presidential Council of Economic Advisors, has linked the remilitarization of FEMA to the civil unrest anticipated along with economic collapse. He wrote in a November 2005 newsletter called “Behind the Scenes in the Beltway”:

“FEMA is being upgraded as a federal agency, and upon passage of PATRIOT Act III, which contains the amendment to overturn posse comitatus, FEMA will be re-militarized, which will give the agency military police powers. . . . Why is all of this being done? Why is the regime moving to a militarized police state and to a dictatorship? It is because of what Comptroller General David Walker said, that after 2009, the ability of the United States to continue to service its debt becomes questionable. Although the average citizen may not understand what that means, when the United States can no longer service its debt it collapses as an economic entity. We would be an economically collapsed state. The only way government can function and can maintain control in an economically collapsed state is through a military dictatorship.”

All of this is quite ominous. It is also a good argument for considering radical funding alternatives. There are other ways to deal with the federal debt besides relying on the waning appetites of the Chinese and the Japanese for U.S. securities. Some innovative alternatives for funding both the federal debt and President Obama’s new economic stimulus package will be the subject of followup articles. Stay tuned.
So, the obvious pertinent questions to ask here are,

1) Can Barack Obama pull off a miracle and forestall economic collapse in spite of eight years of Republican policy?

2) If he can't, would he contemplate becoming America's Stalin, ruling with an iron fist to maintain some civil control?

The latter question is undoubtedly an imponderable. We may get some indications of the former in the upcoming week, when several important economic indicators will be released. To put it simply, the country is about to get the official report card on how the economy did in the last 3 months of 2008.

From CNN Money: Earnings, economy - here comes 'terrible'

From MarketWatch: Economy in free fall in fourth quarter

If there's one thing that seems to be more obvious every day, it's that the infamous Bush 'bailout' and its continuance into the Obama presidency seems geared not to actual economic recovery but to further insulation of the plutocracy from accountability. Nothing would suit the corporate feudalists more than to see the Cheney wet dream of a police state implemented by their political rivals. And I for one wouldn't put such a Machiavellian plan past them. Barack Obama would be well advised to remember the Bay of Pigs fiasco handed to Democratic President John F. Kennedy by a largely Republican intelligence community. Sometimes these guys play dirty.

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Thursday, January 22, 2009

Is It Just Me, Or...

Have you noticed that the whole "pissed-off-o-meter" level of the country is down? I am just noticing around me that since the actual Inauguration and the Farewell to Bush (oh I can't help it, you gotta see the video: listen to the background "nah nah nah nah, nah nah nah nah, hey hey, good bye")

and Cheney out of the Capitol, that people are just overall, um, less pissed of and a wee bit nicer?

Yes, there's this whole economic gloom-and-doom going on, and people should be watching the money and the predators. But that whole level of concern is somewhat allayed, or at least not tinged by the whole "GODDAMMITYOUFUCKINGPRICKSWHATTHEHELLAREYOUDOING!?!?!"

The "house cleaning" has just reduced the this-shit-in-the-zeitgeist stuff we've been dealing with for so long. We are getting the last years of unbridled criminality Out Of Our System. It's really kinda nice that the whole frikking WORLD is giving the US another chance not to be jerks, not to be criminals, not to be pariahs. It's only been two days and while we have every opportunity to blow it, so far, so good.

In two days, we have Executive Ethics Reform,
“We are here as public servants, and public service is a privilege,” Obama said, addressing his White House staff and Cabinet on his first full day in office. “It’s not about advancing yourself or your corporate clients.”
an Executive Order to close Guantanamo, FOIA transparency, some most excellent appointments to the DOJ (that's Department of Justice; not Dave of the Jungle. Sorry Dave.) and poll numbers that support investigations into Bush and Cheney's illegal activities. (We also have the stoopid media, but that's for a post on another day.)

It's like the country is AWAKE! In spite of our stoopid media. How weird is that?

Just think. If we can get Obama off of this whole WAR IN AFHANISTAN mode, we might have Ghandi Nation. Where "The Simpsons" would turn into.....

Can I have some really spicy Vegetable Korma? Maybe some Vindaloo?
Mmmmm, Vindaloo.
A little Elephant Ride wouldn't be out of order, if you don't mind.

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Monday, January 19, 2009

Tomorrow's Inauguration Speech, Among Other Things

I'm very fortunate. My work made several and continued efforts today about 1- MLK Day today, and 2- The Inauguration tomorrow.

I am very proud of them, my Corporate workmates. They sent two very cool MLK messages out today, one "Think About What Martin Said" then "Think About What Martin Did."

Then, they sent out support AND a directive to make sure that we would BROADCAST THE INAUGURATION and MAKE TIME FOR PEOPLE TO WATCH IT LIVE! That is frikkin awesome in my book.

So, I'm all with these efforts. I will not try to hear what I want to hear in the speech however. I will simply listen and be glad in the moment, as that seems the thing to take some Joy in.

What I want afterward though is Justice, and this guy says it pretty well. Crazy things like "Adams" "Rule of Law, not by Men" and, well, you know, generally crazy dirty fucking hippy-ness:

The Object Lesson Here: All Crime Prosecuted Have Happened "In The Past."


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Saturday, January 17, 2009


Keith Olbermann Reminds Us
Why We Have Reason To Celebrate
Obama may not be perfect, but at least he's not Bush. (Fingers crossed for the future.)

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Monday, January 12, 2009

Obama Names My Pope to Lead National Prayer Service

From the Presidential Inaugural Committee, General Minister and President Dr. Sharon E. Watkins of the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) has been selected to give the sermon at the National Prayer Service on Wednesday, January 21st. The National Prayer Service celebrates America’s diversity of faith and, albeit a Christian, if you want someone to honestly celebrate diversity, then pick a Disciple of Christ.

Here's what the NYTimes said:
...Ms. Watkins is not well known nationally. She came to the attention of Mr. Obama at a meeting he held during the campaign last summer to introduce himself to a politically and theologically diverse group of ministers. At that closed-door meeting, some of the conservative ministers bluntly questioned Mr. Obama on certain issues. Ms. Watkins was asked to give the closing prayer.

“Sharon was able to conclude in a way that tied everyone together,” said the Rev. Joshua DuBois, director of religious affairs for the Presidential Inaugural Committee, who was at the meeting. “It left folks on a buoyant note, with a degree of hope and optimism that we could find some common ground.”
Of course, this is also the exact thing that sometimes leaves me exasperated. The NYTimes notes her oppostition to torture. Our General Assembly passed a resolution condemning torture at our Ft. Worth assembly in 2008. But when she speaks to the denomination about torture, it isn't her opposition, but rather her desire for unity in our diversity of opinions on torture. Blech!

But such is the nature of our denomination. As Dr. Watkins puts it, “We really emphasize the responsibility as well as the freedom of individuals within the church to study Scripture to prayerfully pursue their own spiritual journey,” Ms. Watkins said. “That means we end up being incredibly diverse politically, theologically and socially."

And that makes us a pretty tough group to speak to and for. So while I don't see us taking a stand, for example, on gay marriage as a denomination under her leadership, she will help us to engage the conversation, engage one another, and guide us in finding common ground. She'll challenge those of us who say "you just can't talk to those people." And she'll prove you wrong.

So I'm thrilled that the leader of my denomination has been selected to deliver the message at the inaugural prayer service. As a woman, I'm thrilled that she is the first woman to have this honor. And I'm proud - if not relieved - that our little liberal-leaning denomination might continue to influence our new President.

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Saturday, January 03, 2009

Israeli Ground Troups Invade Gaza

"This will not be easy and it will not be short," Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak said on national television about two hours after ground troops moved in.
Of course it won't. Because the current war hawks in the Israeli government don't want it to be easy or short.

"We have many, many targets," Israeli army spokeswoman Maj. Avital Leibovich told CNN. "To my estimation, it will be a lengthy operation."

Israeli leaders said the operation, meant to quell militant rocket and mortar fire on southern Israel, would not end quickly, but that the objective was not to reoccupy Gaza or topple Hamas. The depth and intensity will also depend on parallel diplomatic efforts that so far have been unacceptable to Israel, the officials said. [emphasis added]

This is the Bush Regime's "my way or the highway" diplomacy. Do what we say, or no deal.

Before the ground invasion, defense officials said about 10,000 Israeli soldiers had massed along the border in recent days.

Israel initially held off on a ground offensive, apparently in part because of concern about casualties among Israeli troops and because of fears of getting bogged down in Gaza.

Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert said his government decided to mount a land operation despite the risk it posed to thousands of soldiers.

An inner Cabinet of top ministers met with leading security officials for four hours Saturday before deciding to authorize the ground invasion.

Olmert told the meeting that Israel's objective was to bring quiet to southern Israel but "we don't want to topple Hamas," a government official quoted the prime minister as saying. The official spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not supposed to share the information.

The immediate aim of the ground operations was to take control of sites militants use as rocket-launching pads, the military said. It said large numbers of troops were taking part but did not give specifics.

Israeli airstrikes intensified just as the ground operation was getting under way, and 28 Palestinians were killed. Palestinian health officials said civilians were among the dead, including a woman, her son and her father who died after a shell hit their house.

One raid hit a mosque in the northern Gaza town of Beit Lahiya, killing 13 people and wounding 33, according to a Palestinian health official. One of the wounded worshippers, Salah Mustafa, told Al-Jazeera TV from a hospital that the mosque was packed.

"It was unbelievably awful," he said, struggling to catch his breath.

The whole thing is unbelievably awful. Don't get me wrong, any jerk firing a rocket at anybody is an assclown. But organized mass deaths as a response is morally unacceptable to me.

UPDATE: It appears the Israelis are using cluster bombs. In this dense, dense little tiny strip of land. FDL has this: Gaza Update - Nowhere to Hide:

Laura Doty over at Oxdown asks Are Cluster Bombs Falling on Gaza Today? and quotes Sameh Habeeb of Gaza

Today. In reviewing the footage starting to come out (CNN's shows the same but is not yet online in embed format, this is from Italian tv, the same is seen in a Ha'retz tv video), we do see explosions in the air with multiple projectiles - you can see this in the video at right. I asked markfromireland, who is quite familiar with such weapons, if these are cluster bombs and he replied:

"Hard to tell exactly what shell they're using but yes thats what they look like. If you're asking is that what a cluster looks like then the answer is yes."

Each report we see and hear repeats, as I just did, the words “densely populated” and that repetition too easily jades us to the meaning behind those words. Gaza is packed with people – the majority under the age of 17.

It is hard to realize how very small the Gaza Strip is, "about 41 kilometers (25 mi) long, and between 6 and 12 kilometers (4–7.5 mi) wide, with a total area of 360 square kilometers (139 sq mi)."

To get a better sense of that density, look at this map

What's just making me insane is that there is a cure available; withdraw support from Israel. I mean that US policy should say "Israel, these mass killings and invasions aren't going to do you any good. So guess what? Our $6 Billion per year support is going bye-bye. There's nothing you can do to get it back. "

There's a couple other things we should do in terms of moderating US policy in the Middle East if you ask me, which nobody will.

After telling Israel nuh-uh, we should just say to Afghanistan "Provide Bin Laden's body for irrefutable proof of death; we will withdraw immediately afterward. And should you choose to continue a democratic form of government, you will get $2 Billion per year of what we used to give the Israelis. For as many years as we occupied Afghanistan. Strings attached; you have to educate women, and they must be equal in your law and society. That's it. If you don't want to do that, no problem, we just won't give you any monetary support. Your choice."

We then fund an immediate program of green tech science with another of the $2 billion to replace oil. We make sure the Saudis know. In fact, we should hire their American PR firm, Qorvis Communications LLC, as they could use a little rehabilitation, eh?

The other $2 billion should come home and take care of our own homeless. And our own hungry people. All this goes without saying that we should have been out of Iraq yesterday (or 2003 if you lke) as far as I am concerened.

Can you imagine that situation happening? All of the sudden, the US wouldn't be fueling oxygen to the fire of Muslim resentment. We would actually be working on our own security issues by helping real people. And it would all be a hell of a lot less expensive. Including the moral costs.

Nobody's going to let the Holocaust happen to Israel again. But will we let it happen to Palestinians in Gaza?

Yep - just a Dirty Fucking Hippy, but all I am saying, is:

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