Friday, June 29, 2012

Death might be feeling a little bummed out, but insurance companies must be rejoicing. They've just been guaranteed a shitload of new customers. One of the more amusing aspects of the entire "Obamacare" kerfuffle has been the way the tinfoil hat types (including the pundits on Faux News) have bloviated about the insurance mandate as being a government program and rampant socialism when it is the opposite -- it's a huge giveaway to private insurance companies. For me, one of life's little mysteries has been the way the Repugnicans as a party allowed their distaste for President Obama to overrule their usual love for anything that's good for big business and corporate interests -- and the Affordable Care Act certainly qualifies as something the corporatists should have loved.

Personally, I would have loved to have seen the ACA nullified so that maybe, just maybe, it would have been possible to get a single payer system in this country in my lifetime, but it looks like we're SOL on that fantasy for awhile.

Thursday, June 21, 2012

How ignorant is the American public?

Every so often I think I've seen the ultimate in stupidity being mouthed (or, more accurately, typed) by the tinfoil hat types on the Internet. Then I'll make the mistake of looking at the comments following a news article or opinion piece at a site like CNN, the Washington Post, or MSN. Today's gems came from the comments opining about an article about the Supreme Court's ruling regarding the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), television broadcasts, and indecency. Basically, the court ruled that the FCC had treated broadcasters unfairly by not warning them in advance that fleeing nudity or spontaneous profanity during a live broadcast might be subject to hefty fines. There were a fair number of reasonably sane comments along the usual lines, e.g., if people think a program is obscene they can always change the channel. Then the comment string deteriorated in a really strange direction. . . .

Bottom line, as expressed by the mouth breathers: Why was the FCC involved? After all, it's NOT a government agency.

Did these people sleep through civics classes? What type of cognitive impairment does it take to not understand that when an agency has a name like "Federal Communications Commission" the odds are it is indeed part of the federal government?

Then again, this is no doubt the same crowd that wants the government to keep its hands off their Social Security and worries about socialized medicine interfering with their Medicare. The stupid, it burns.

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Trying again

I am trying again with the upside down tomato. The past two summers my efforts fizzled (sizzled?) in the Georgia heat. This year I'm hoping the plant lives at least long enough to produce a blossom or two.

I'm not sure what's going to happen with the rest of the garden, the stuff that was actually planted in a traditional fashion and is being allowed to have its roots go down and its stalks go up without any manipulation. We had so many weeks of unseasonably hot and dry weather that the cool weather crops that were planted in May are bolting straight to seed, and the stuff that went into the ground more recently has been slow to sprout, despite irrigation. We finally got some real rain, so at this point it does look like -- if nothing else -- we will have those old reliables, green beans and potatoes.

This year's variety in the upside down planter is something called "Celebrity." It's a tomato I'd never heard of before, although it did get good reviews on the Burpee's web site. (That's not where I bought it; my plants came from Pamida.)

Thursday, June 14, 2012

Dirty politics

The thing that hath been, it is that which shall be; and that which is done is that which shall be done: and there is no new thing under the sun. Ecclesiastes 1:9

I've been reading a biography of Andrew Jackson, seventh president of the United States, and the first one to come from what today might be referred to as "outside the Beltway." Viewed by both himself and the general public as a man of the people, Jackson had never been part of the Washington elite, the political class that saw themselves as the logical heirs of Washington, Jefferson, et al.

Jackson's life was interesting, but what's intriguing me at the moment is seeing just how little is actually new in contemporary politics. You think this year's presidential campaign is turning nasty? That it was unfair of an Obama supporter to comment that Ann Romney had never worked? Every so often some pundit will call for a return to the past civility of presidential politics. Obviously, those pundits don't read history.

Back in 1828, Jackson's opponents came right out and called his deceased mother a whore who had slept with black men and sold a son into slavery. They slandered his wife, Rachel, so viciously the stress may have triggered a heart attack and caused her death -- Jackson certainly blamed his opponents, such as Henry Clay, for hounding Rachel into an early grave. Compared to early 19th century politics, we're playing the game remarkably cleanly these days.

Similarly, almost every election cycle, several suggestions for reform pop up. The two most common are direct election of the president (i.e., eliminate the electoral college and the apportionment of votes by state; make it a simple nation-wide popular vote) and change the presidential term to a single six-year stint in office instead of the current four year. You know who first proposed those reforms? Andrew Jackson in his first annual address to Congress. Today, the rationale for the latter is that it would eliminate the President's spending most of his or her first term trying to get re-elected to a second. Jackson's reasoning was that by making the presidency a single term it would eliminate the possibility of a President turning into a despot. Although the first six presidents (and as would Jackson himself) had stepped down after a second term, he had visions of a potential despot being elected who would run for repeated terms and be removed from office only by death.*

Of course, Jackson's rationale could have just as easily been that it would eliminate the perpetual campaigning. He had first run for President in 1824. Following his defeat, he immediately began building support for a second try in 1828 -- and when he arrived in Washington in January 1829, he and his supporters at once began plotting and maneuvering in preparation for the 1832 election.

There is indeed nothing new under the sun.

[*It took FDR's doing exactly that -- election to 4 consecutive terms and then death in office -- to inspire Congress to pass the 22nd Amendment to the Constitution in 1947; it limits the presidency to two terms and was ratified by the required number of states in 1951.]

Friday, June 8, 2012

I guess Communism isn't dead after all

Down in Alabama, the members of the state legislature have managed to pass legislation designed to hold off the evils of a dastardly Commie plot. As reported by the Southern Poverty Law Center:
Since September, the [John Birch Society] has sponsored a national lecture tour on the supposed dangers of Agenda 21. Using slideshows replete with images of Karl Marx and Alger Hiss, the accused communist spy who helped draft the U.N. Charter, JBS scare-mongers have fanned out across the country to warn locals of the evils of the U.N.’s sustainability initiative. Agenda 21, they claim, calls for “a profound reorientation of all human society, unlike anything the world has ever experienced.” According to the JBS, the ultimate purpose of this decades-old plan is nothing less than a new world order in which rural regions will be depopulated and foreign bureaucrats will mandate family size here in the United States, imposing forced abortions as they do in communist China.
Apparently, these threats were enough to spook the Republican National Committee, which in January passed a resolution opposing Agenda 21, decrying the nonbinding measure as “a comprehensive plan of extreme environmentalism, social engineering, and global political control.” Counties in various states have adopted similar resolutions, as has the Tennessee House of Representatives. According to The New American, activists in New Hampshire are lobbying to pass anti-Agenda 21 legislation. Arizona’s state Senate this spring passed a bill similar to Alabama’s, but it died before the session ended.
Community sustainability efforts are coordinated through something known as ICLEI – the International Council on Local Environmental Initiatives. Under its auspices, more than 1,000 cities and municipalities around the world, including hundreds in the U.S., have received grants (or bribes, if you agree with the JBS version of the story) that will help implement local sustainability proposals.
News of the Alabama passage heartened anti-ICLEI activists across the nation. The headline on one Virginia blog, for example, reads:  “VICTORY! ICLEI BAN PASSED ALABAMA LEGISLATURE! YEAAAAAAHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHH! Read it and weep, globalists!”
The Alabama cities of Birmingham and Huntsville are both ICLEI members (though depending on how this law is interpreted, they may not be for long). As their residents gear up for another long, hot Deep South summer, they – and the rest of us Alabamians – can breathe a sigh of relief, safe in the knowledge that the communist menace of environmental protection has been beaten back from our doors.
I've been reading about the hysteria over Agenda 21 for awhile now. Paranoia about black helicopters and blue helmets has led to the defeat of land use planning for smart growth in Colorado, for example, and, as the SPLC notes, the conspiracy theorists are popping up elsewhere around the country. If it wasn't having serious consequences, it would be laughable. You know, "Omigod. The oppressive and evil one world government is going to force us to breathe clean air!!" Only the tinfoil hat types on the extreme right could manage to come up with a conspiracy theory that takes a suggestion to stop wasting resources and trashing the planet and turns it into a plot for global domination.

I'm also real intrigued by the way the tinfoil hat types are doing their best to turn sustainability ("Sustainable: a method of harvesting or using a resource so that the resource is not depleted or permanently damaged") into a dirty word. The stupid, it burns. 

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Promotion from within

I see we've managed to kill still another Al Qaeda leader, someone who was supposedly the Number 2 guy in the organization. So how many of the top leadership have we offed to date? If promotion is strictly from within, it's got to be getting to where the "number 2" guy is also the poor sap who gets to empty the wastebaskets and scrub the floors. Pretty soon they're going to run out of members to promote. I have this image of the lower echelon Al Qaeda members, what you might term the support staff (the gophers, file clerks, whatever, the dudes who claim to be for jihad but don't really want to strap on a C-4 vest) reacting to the news there's an opening at the top with a fair amount of nervousness while talking up their colleagues' qualifications and doing a pretty good Chip 'n' Dale impression:

Ahmed: "Promote Mustafa -- he deserves it more than I do."

Mustafa: "No, no. I am not worthy. Please, Ahmed is best qualified."

Ahmed: "No, I insist, Mustafa should get the job."

And so it goes. . .

Monday, June 4, 2012

Grassroots politics

I've been spending a fair amount of time in Wisconsin lately, albeit all in the northern part of the state, and I've noticed an intriguing phenomenon in the lead up to this week's recall election of the governor: the hand-made yard signs for the Democratic candidate, Tom Barrett, far outnumbered the commercially printed signs for the Republican governor, Scott Walker.  I have no idea what this might signify in terms of which guy is actually going to win the election, but it does tell me two things: the people who dislike Scott Walker are a lot more passionate in their distaste for him than his supporters are about backing him (which could be a good thing for Barrett; his supporters might be more likely to vote than Walker's) and that the national Democratic Party is led by idiots.

Why do I say that? Because the national party, the inside-the-Beltway professionals running the Democratic National Committee, has been ignoring Wisconsin. Instead of seeing the vibrant grassroots movement as a way to re-energize voters in general, the DNC's been looking the other way. While Republican backers, like the infamous Koch brothers, pour money into Wisconsin to try to keep Walker in office, the DNC can't be bothered. A recall of Walker would scare the bejesus out of every other Republican politician in the country, but Debbie Wasserman-Schultz  (current DNC chair) is too dense to see that. If the DNC isn't willing to fight now for Wisconsin's Democrats, why on earth should anyone in Wisconsin bother to support the national ticket (i.e., Obama) in the fall?

Sunday, June 3, 2012

Playing in the dirt

I haven't felt much like blogging lately -- the unseasonably warm weather in May has kept me busy indulging in fantasies about the amazing garden we'll have this year. It's a fantasy, I know, because right about the time everything has popped out of the ground and is looking good, we'll get one of the U.P.'s infamous Flag Day frosts or 4th of July snowstorms, but for now I'm enjoying thinking that this will be the year we get more than one ear of sweet corn. Either that, or the battery will go dead on the fence charger, we won't realize it immediately, and deer will mow everything down to ground level.

Gardening here has always been a challenge. The growing season is short (theoretically Memorial Day to Labor Day, or a little over 90 days) and our soil is marginal. It's glacial till: sand, gravel, and lots and lots of rocks. Little rocks, big rocks, in-between size rocks. We pulled this one out a few years ago:
We've been building up the soil now for multiple summers through the usual methods -- compost, manure, and planting clover that gets tilled under. It's finally reaching the point where the dirt looks like topsoil instead of a child's sand box, and the permanent plantings (rhubarb, asparagus) are starting to yield more than a lonely stalk or two.

On the positive side, it's always had really good drainage.