Random Rants, by Thomas Andrew Olson

Monday, August 06, 2007

Buddhist Monk Reincarnates as Chinese Bureaucrat, Arrests Self

I just don't know how else to describe it. It's too fucking absurd. Go here.

Perhaps this will foment a new revolt to free Tibet: "No Reincarnation Without Representation!" could be their battle cry.

Friday, August 03, 2007

Coming to a showroom near you, the new Nissan "Orwell"

Yes, indeed, folks. Without being asked by anyone, Japanese automaker Nissan is taking it upon themselves to "solve" the DUI problem by making a car with multiple biometric technology interlocks, the sole purpose of which being to save the driver from him/herself.

It monitors your breath, your body odor, facial expressions, eye movements, the sweat on your palms, and probably your brain wave pattern. If the car detects any hint of "wrongdoing" (in the minds of the engineers), and the vehicle shuts itself down - or fails to start to begin with. The only feature it doesn't tout is electronically ratting you out to the local authorities for attempting to drive the vehicle or bypass its "protective" functions. But expect that as well.

So you've had a beer, and now your car refuses to start, even though you are well below the legal limit in your community. Nevertheless, a cop car comes round in response to the car's digital "cry for help" - you get arrested anyway. Will the car now be called to testify at the trial??

A vehicle such as this crosses the line between you owning your car and the car owning you - and by extension the State owning both. I'm sure the safety and health nazis on both sides of the pacific are salivating to mandate these features in all new vehicles sold. The term "slippery slope" doesn't begin to describe this.

I'm sure this will sell well in government-worshipping countries like Japan or most of Europe, but expect massive resistance in Red states, and a tepid response even in Blues.

Friday, June 01, 2007

Seduced and Abandoned - Cindy Calls it Quits

When I first saw the title of Cindy Sheehan's piece, "Goodbye, America," in yesterday's Chron, I had an initial fleeting thought that she actually meant it. Was she so fed up with war, the Bushies, the Dems, and the failings of peace-activists that she finally just said "Fuck it all, I'm moving to Argentina and learning tango."?

Well...no. But the honest, gutsy outpouring that has characterized her contribution to the conversation since she first sat alone on a chair outside the Bush's Crawford ranch, was refreshing indeed.

Money quote: "I am deemed a radical because I believe partisan politics should be left by the wayside when thousands of people are dying in a war based on lies that is supported by Democrats and Republicans alike. It amazes me that people who are sharp on the issues and can zero-in like a laser beam on lies, misrepresentations and political expediency when it comes to one party, refuse to recognize it in their own party. Blind loyalty to party is dangerous, whatever side it occurs on. People of the world look on us Americans as jokes because we allow our political leaders so much murderous latitude and, if we don't find alternatives to this corrupt "two" party system, then our representative republic will die and be replaced with what we are rapidly descending into, with nary a check or a balance: a fascist corporate wasteland."

A lot of 3rd-party partisans would say "Amen, Sister!" to that. Multiple parties don't hurt Costa Rica any. In the 2002 election cycle, when I visited there, there were presidential candidates representing 12 political parties - every one got an equal voice in the debates. Costa Rica enjoys a better than 90% voter turnout, consistently. We can barely scrape up 50% in a good year.

When I read her article, I saw the pain of someone who finally understood the true nature of 2-party politics in America - which is about being the "in's" or the "out's" in DC. Nothing else matters. And both sides love to find sacrificial lambs for their cause. The "peace movement" left hooked themselves to Cindy like a giant pond leech and bled her dry as long as she would give.

But the neocon right loved her too, as they could use her as a lightning rod for ridicule, raw meat for the crowd, in support of their otherwise unsupportable positions. To jingoistic hacks like Hannity and Limbaugh, Cindy Sheehan was a dream come true, and it kept the "FoxNews Republicans" tuning in, and advertisers onboard. Who will they target now that she's gone?

When she began questioning the assumptions and agenda of her strategic partners, they turned on her, as extremists on both sides, with a reputation of eating their young, always will. So she said: "no more."

It's got to be the hardest thing in the world to conclude that one's child died for nothing in a pointless conflict crafted solely for the geopolitical ends of greedy and evil men. But she had much to teach us from her experience, in her utter transparency in the sharing, which had to be even harder than the personal pain she endured.

But I don't think the term she left us with - "Goodbye, America" - is accurate. She didn't leave America. America left her - and millions of the rest of us - a long time ago.

Thursday, May 31, 2007

Perhaps we should see more of this at home

Two interesting articles caught my eye yesterday: (1) The Chinese equivalent of the US Food and Drug Administration chief was actually sentenced to death for his key role in a corruption/bribery scandal leading to the poisoning and potential deaths of their US-export customers and their pets; and (2) Japan's Agriculture Minister hanged himself in shame, over allegations of significant bookkeeping fraud.

Now, those who know me know that I'm big on fundamental human rights, particularly protecting the rights of the accused, with the presumption of innocence, right up to the point where they are in fact convicted of crimes in a court of law, with all the rules of evidence respected.

But having said that, after all the formalities have been done, punishment should indeed be swift and terrible for high government officials who fail to honor the trust the public placed in them. It is ironic indeed that China, not exactly the greatest example of human rights protections in the world, would protect the integrity of public service in this way, whereas official miscreants in this country are not only protected to the bitter end, but if imprisoned at all, are sent to a minimum-security "Club Fed" facility, and then upon release are feted with book deals and high-fee lecture tours. Some, like Oliver North and G. Gordon Liddy, become talk radio hosts.

Japan, at least, as evidenced by the link above, still has high ethical scruples encoded into its society's DNA, and those officials who yield to temptation while in office, feel the only way to redeem their honor is to sacrifice themselves. We may not understand this attitude in the West, but I must admit a certain grudging admiration for it. I wish more officials in my own government, when confronted with egregious errors in judgement leading to the deaths of thousands, would fall on their own swords, even metaphorically. But given the moral cowardice evinced by todays "leaders", China's road would be the more practical for the US - i.e., severe, inescapable penalties for official misconduct or malfeasance.

Perhaps this would discourage more of the ilk of a Gonzales or Cheney from seeking public office and power, knowing they may face long prison terms, or even a firing squad, for abusing their offices in a corrupt manner unworthy of a free people.

Friday, February 23, 2007

Try doing this in a Blue State

My "hero of the week" is a retired, 70-year-old ex-Marine named Allan Clady, who, when attacked by muggers on a cruise-line tour bus in Costa Rica, killed one of the assailants with his bare hands. This prompted the other riders to defend themselves, and forced the remaining attackers to flee.

Actually, there's another hero in this story: the local police chief, Luis Hernandez, who confirmed no one would be charged in the incident, saying, "They were in the right to defend themselves."

Imagine that - a cop standing up for a sound moral principle.

If this incident had occurred on a double-decker in Manhattan, Ron Kuby would have gotten on the case immediately, defending the "rights" of the deceased thug, and convincing a jury to levy ruinous fines against Clady, with perhaps some jail time thrown in - as a lesson to all septugenarians who would violate the civil rights of muggers.

Many Latin American nations like Costa Rica, when they were founded, used the example of the early United States to build on, in terms of fundamental legal and moral principles. Costa Rica stuck to theirs, apparently, while we long ago abandoned them. There's a lesson here somewhere.

Wednesday, November 08, 2006

A quick thought on yesterday

The biggest news for me, today, wasn't that the Dems retook the House, and, at last count, are 7000 VA votes away from capturing the Senate, but rather the surprise announcement of Rumsfeld's resignation as Secretary of Defense.

Bush claimed that he expected Rummy would serve until the end of his administration, and Rummy himself indicated he wouldn't go sooner, unless it was involuntary. Could it be that Bush decided that his administration WAS, in fact, "over" as of today? Did Rummy agree?

We've already been reading tales of the neocon rats deserting the ship (although an insult to rats). But should the Dems decide to use cultured stem cells from the Founding Fathers to rebuild their collective spine, it's possible that the next Congress could involve a lot of inquiries, commissions, and many, many subpoenas. Perhaps Rummy decided discretion was the better part of valor and opted to flee before the subpoenas headed his way - he'd be better off as a private citizen again, as Herr Bush will presumably swing the Pardon Pen on his way out the door.

Iraq is a mess - Rummy was a big factor in that mess. He will not be missed.

Monday, November 06, 2006

All Incumbents Must Go

While I agree, in principle, with the position taken by several LRC contributors that elections today are little more than a scam supporting institutionalized corruption, I still intend to cast a ballot on Tuesday. I have no illusion that my vote – if it’s even counted correctly – is going to make one bit of difference in terms of my own vision for the future of political governance in this nation, or even in my own local community.

For me, it’s far more personal than that: I am gleefully looking forward to helping vote Rick Santorum out of his Pennsylvania senate seat. And when he goes off into the political sunset, or is dragged away kicking and screaming (a far more preferable outcome), I can sleep soundly with the conviction that I had at least a microscopic hand in ending his career.

And I would posit that, should there be an unusually high voter turnout in this midterm election cycle, a major reason would be for that one guilty pleasure – the desire for revenge against incumbents who’ve done us wrong.

While in theory, government “derives its just powers from the consent of the governed”, to borrow from Jefferson, it is clear to me that such consent would have to be withdrawn virtually 100% in order to provoke fundamental change, so I can’t abide by the “don’t vote” argument quite yet – it’s clear the public isn’t ready.

My reasoning stems from this case in point: In 2004, a junior Republican PA State Rep named Kelly Lewis won a close re-election campaign in the 189th district, which includes a part of Monroe County in which I reside, on the usual promises of representing the “hard working people” and “lowering property taxes,” etc. Within 90 days of that re-election, however, Mr. Lewis abandoned both his promises to supporters and his post, by resigning to take a more lucrative job as a technology lobbyist in Harrisburg. There was a special election in 2005 to replace him. A Democrat named John Siptroth won the field. The total voter turnout for that special election was only 17%, and yet the PA Secretary of State declared the results valid. This is really scraping the bottom – 83% of eligible voters in the 189th failed to care enough to show up – but the results still counted. It became clear to me, at that moment, that there would have to be literally no turnout at all, before the political class would question their premises, and perhaps not even then. If a single individual voted, they would find a way to declare that a legitimate election! (Contrast this to countries like Costa Rica, which regularly enjoys 90% turnouts or more. Costa Ricans take their democracy and their politics seriously. Perhaps it’s because every party – and every candidate – has a voice in the debate, as opposed to just the two largest parties.)

But democracy is too ingrained in our national consciousness to just quietly fade away, and until it does, we may as well try to find some enjoyment in the process. If sitting incumbents at the Federal level deserve to be punished at the polls for their mangling of the Iraq war, the economy, the dollar, and immigration, why should incumbent elected officials at any level of government be given a free pass?

It’s been said before, but I’ll say it again - it’s time for a purge – all incumbents must go. Period.

Let’s face it: government at all levels has descended to a base level of lies, corruption, and double-dealing. Everyone who is an elected official today is part of the problem. They should go – all of them. From the Speaker of the House to the county animal control officer. As far as I’m concerned, every elected politician at every level of government is responsible for the mess we’re in today, and it’s time we swept them all out.

Will that change anything? Fundamentally, probably not. We’ll be throwing the bums out and replacing them with new bums. But if all the numbers stayed the same, the Democrats would now control Congress – just not with the same Democrats the party expected. Replacing all incumbents would throw the entire political sphere into complete disarray. The political class would be totally flummoxed by such an event, and they might even decide that listening to their constituents now and then would be a good idea, as they could no longer take “the voters” for granted. This means that “business as usual” at any level of government would be difficult to achieve, from the fear within the “new bums” that they could be next, in another 2-4 years.

We, the voting masses, could begin to get a real head rush from the raw, non-violent exercise of grassroots power in this way, and decide that a “purge” every few years might be a good idea. We might keep our freedom (even get some of it back!), lower our taxes, have more responsive government, who knows where it could lead?

But to start, we need to get out of our heads the mindset that “Yeah, Congress sucks, but my guy/gal is OK.” No, s/he isn’t…s/he’s part of the problem, s/he’s part of the rot that has overwhelmed the system – they need to go – all of them.

If you’re tired of all the nasty ads on TV and the junk mail filling your inbox, vote against all incumbents.

If you’re tired of the hypocrisy of politicians violating every ethical principle they claim to have, vote against all incumbents.

If you’re sick to death of an interventionist foreign policy, vote against all incumbents.

If you tire of allegations that those in power cynically manipulated commodities markets to temporarily lower gasoline prices in order to retain votes from those they perceive to be so easily swayed, vote against all incumbents.

If you consider this man to be Evil Incarnate, vote against all incumbents.

If you’re tired of pols lambasting you with the notion that stem-cell research amounts to wholesale baby-killing, vote against all incumbents.

If you’re sick of the hackneyed, warmed-over arguments concerning gay marriage, vote against all incumbents.

We have nothing to lose by attempting a clean sweep, and everything to gain. However, if/when things do not improve, as hoped, perhaps it will dawn that the process itself is indeed flawed, and it’s too late to fix it. At that point, larger numbers of people might be more willing to accept the non-voting argument, along with those already leading the way in Monroe and Pike counties.

Then, perhaps, by 2012 or 2016, they will hold an election and no one will come – that will indeed be our day of true liberation.