Monday, November 27, 2006

Here’s some fascinating stuff I picked up watching Nova Science Now, which is news magazine focusing on science on PBS. Anyway about 250 million years ago there was a tremendous loss of life on Earth dubbed by some scientists as “The Great Dying”. About 95 percent of all species on Earth were lost. What caused “The Great Dying” or, if you must be all scientifically correct, the Permian-Triassic extinction? Scientists aren’t positive but they have a fascinating theory.

The theory goes a little something like this. At the time of the extinction the region now known as Siberia was extremely volcanically active. All that volcanic activity released a tremendous amount of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. Carbon dioxide then started to warm the atmosphere, as the atmosphere warmed so did the oceans. The oceans as they got warmer became less able to hold gas, warm water can’t hold onto gas effectively as colder water. The weakened ability to hold gas meant they could hold less oxygen. As the oxygen levels decreased in the ocean bacteria that thrive in wet low oxygen environments began to multiply. These same bacteria give off a gas called hydrogen sulfide, which is toxic. The hydrogen sulfide then began killing aquatic life and eventually began poisoning the air on the surface.
Now scientists aren’t certain that this is what happened. But they do feel like they may be on to something. Now what you need to do is notice any parallels between what wiped out 95 percent of all species a quarter billion years ago and what is happening today. Now I’m not saying anything bad is going to happen. But if you notice a lot of dead fish and the air smells a bit like rotten eggs don’t say you weren’t warned.

Friday, November 24, 2006

So we’re a couple weeks out from the mid-term elections and I’ve been thinking. As you know the Democrats have taken control of both the House and the Senate and have promised a few things like ethics reform, a higher minimum wage and lower interest on federal student loans. Those are fine things and should be perused. But as Mark Twain once advised, “Whenever you find yourself on the side of the majority, it is time to pause and reflect.” Now I’m by no means a staunch Democrat so I’m not sure how much of a majority I’m in here. But the party that at least is somewhat closer to my ideals is in control of both houses of Congress. So I feel it necessary to consider what it is that I would like to see done.

First and foremost is ending the war in Iraq. It is a war fought on lies and was a poorly fought war on top of that. I’m not demeaning our troops, rather the Pentagon, especially Donald Rumsfeld, tried to fight the war on the cheap. That never works. So bring our troops home as soon as we are able. The fight in Iraq has bogged down our military and has made no real progress in winning the “war on terror”. So declare victory, if you have to, pack up our troops and leave this awful bloody civil war once there is a cooperative effort of neighboring nations and the international community to help rebuild Iraq.

Universal health care would be also very high on my list. We live in a country when people squander millions on cosmetic surgery and kids can’t get flu shots. There’s elderly that must decide between heat and medicine. Before the bankruptcy rules were changed about half of all bankruptcies were filled due to medical expenses. We simply cannot live under these conditions in good faith or conscience. There is no intellectually sound or morally just alternative to ensuring that all people have access to health care.

Our schools need fixed. College costs are out of control. Many public schools systems have inadequate facilities. If we do not do something as a nation to fix our broken education system then the democracy will suffer for it. A well-educated population capable of critical thought is essential to a democracy’s well being. If our schools fail so does our democracy.

I’m sure these three things will be given at least lip service. I’m not sure they will be given much else though. Which brings me to the fourth thing I’d like to see done. I’d like to see the power of lobbyists and corporations diminished exponentially. Lobbyists should be treated like the cockroaches and vermin they are and kept far away from Capitol Hill. The funding of all elections should come from public moneys and all advertising should be free and available to all candidates. Let’s level the playing field and let the candidate with the best ideas win not the one with the deepest pocket book. Gerrymandering also needs to stop. The only basis for Congressional districts should be population not demographics.

Something else struck me as I was reflecting or ruminating or staring into space or whatever you want to call it. There’s a quote by Thomas Jefferson, “The price of freedom is eternal vigilance.” As lots of people are all exited about how good things are going to be I feel I must issue a warning. The government at best has been helpful in social change but it doesn’t initiate it. The people are the origin of all social change in this country. Whether it’s the worker’s rights movement or the civil rights movement or any other movement that has demanded freedom or equality or justice, it has always started outside of the mainstream of American politics. Whether it was Mother Jones or Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. demanding justice it has always taken root far away from the corridors of power. It has always sprung forth from the basements and churches of Main Street America. We are not reliant on some political party to protect our freedoms and ensure equality and justice for all. Rather, that responsibility rests on the shoulders of the people and the people alone. So no matter who is in power, no matter what party has control, it is always the duty of the citizens to write, call, march and protest and demand justice and protect their rights.

We live in curious times. The next two years could either be fruitful or catastrophic. It all remains to be seen. We must never forget it is our duty however to tell the leaders what we want and when they have made mistakes. If left to their own devices they will attend to only their own needs and not those of the people. So we should keep a weary eye on DC and as always hope for the best but be prepared for the worst.

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

It’s odd how full of coincidence life is sometimes. Take today for example. I’m off driving and I see a car in front of me with a few bumper stickers on it. I think you can tell a lot about someone relative to what they plaster on their rear bumper. This particular car had one that read, “If you can’t feed em. Don’t breed em.” So as usual I get to thinking about what really is behind this sentiment. I figure it out pretty quickly. It’s the usual nonsense that somewhere there is this almost infinite amount of poor women who are breeding like bunnies to get more and more welfare money. Now I’ll admit that there are women who take advantage of the system, probably. The funny thing is I never see bumper stickers that bitch about corporations that funnel money through foreign backs to avoid paying taxes. Or whine about corporate farms rakings in insane amounts of money from farm subsidies. Or complain about corporate welfare or no bid contracts. Or even raise a whimper about how the wealthy get tax cuts and the poor can’t even get a living wage.

Then tonight I’m surfing around the Internet and I come across this story. So apparently the Catholic Church now has a “secular progressive philosophy”. I must have missed that in my Sunday bulletin from Mass last week. Just remember kids; if you don’t play along with the Republican talking points you’re a godless pinko commie. Heaven forbid that anyone show Mexicans, who just want a job, any compassion. If Bill ever had an original well informed thought he’d realize that mercy for the poor is a pillar of Catholic social justice. The Catholic Church would also have issues with the bastards that pay these immigrants inhumane wages and treat them like animals, but talking heads like O’Reilly can’t be bothered with that.

Both of these instances are related because they both show a total lack of compassion for the poor. After Hurricane Katrina ravaged New Orleans rapper Kanye West said that George Bush didn’t care about black people. He missed the mark. The bigger problem is that America really doesn’t care about poor people. Sure Congress is thinking about upping the minimum wage but where is a living wage, a wage that allows someone to be fed and housed, for all? Where is universal health coverage? Where are the great public schools for all Americans so that people may lift themselves out of poverty more easily? Why aren’t these issues on everyone’s lips? Why has compassion been demeaned to a sign of weakness? Why is this particular administration that is so fond of its faith not doing more to eliminate poverty especially when the Gospels tell us that will be judged on how we treat the least among us? Why was Lyndon Johnson a president who left office over forty years ago the last president to do anything about poverty? It is because Americans in large part believe the lie that the poor are lazy or stupid or crooks. They have been fooled into thinking that we can ignore the needs of the poor while catering to the needs of the wealthy. They’ve been told as long as the Dow Jones is high that economy is just booming, even while the middle class withers away and more and more people slip into poverty. A new economic class called the “working poor” emerges and America hardly shrugs.

John Edwards during the 2004 Presidential campaign liked to speak of two Americas. Of course right wing pundits accused him of class warfare. Sadly he couldn’t have been any more correct. America’s divide between the poor and the wealthy is growing every year. Now I know there are people out there that are thinking you can’t possibly want the government to intervene because that would be socialism. To which I would reply, “so what?” Socialism has a bad name because the hardcore capitalists want you to associate it with communism, especially Soviet communism. But socialism about equality of all people, a good Christian principle if I must say so, so in matters of education and health care where equality is a must socialism is really the only fair practice.

These same people would also want charity to help these people. To which I would quote St. Augustine “charity is no substitute for justice withheld.”