Sunday, December 31, 2006

Bits and Pieces

*109 American soldiers killed so far in Iraq in December, 2006 (as of 12/30) - we are now only 2 away from the not-so-magic number of 3000. We may hit that tragic milestone in 2006 and be ready to start a'fresh on the next 1000 in 2007. Update - the 3000th soldier died in Iraq on New Year's Eve.

- Well, what a surprise - another Bush crony, another screw-up. Donald Bolinger is a Bush Super Ranger, the designation for those who brought big bucks ($300,000 plus) into the Bush political campaign. Bolinger is also the Chief Executive Officer of Bolinger Shipyards. Turns out that a few year's ago, the U.S. decided to up-grade the Coast Guard. Instead of letting this branch of the military plan the logistics of what was needed itself, because we believe everything is better if it is privatized, don't you know (sound familiar, Hoosiers?), the job was handed over to Lockheed Martin and Grumman. They in turn, subcontracted to Mr Bolinger, one of their business partners.

Even before 2003 when the actual upgrades began, Coast Guard engineers expressed doubts about the feasibility of the conversion of boats Bolinger had come up with. Chris Cleary of the Coast Guard Engineering Logistics Center is quoted as questioning whether the boats could bear the extra weight. "You could have a buckling of the structure of the ship."

Nope, Bolinger Shipyards insisted, not to worry, all is well. But all wasn't well. The Coast Guard critics were right. Bolinger can't explain how it happened. In a New York Times article, T.R. Hamlin, Bollinger senior manager said, "the computer broke for some reason, whether it was a power surge or something, who knows?" Sounds a little casual about a program that started out with a $17 billion dollar price tag that has now ballooned to $24 billion and nary a ship or helicopter in sight, doesn't it? But that's what crony capitalism gets you, I guess. We ought to be used to this by now what with FEMA trailers that don't get delivered and gazillion dollar construction projects in Iraq that don't get built and oil tax revenues that don't get collected......I could go on......

- According to an article by Jonathan Amos, Science Reporter for BBC News, 10,000 U.S. scientists, including 52 Nobel Laureates, have issued a statement protesting the injection of politics into political research.

They claim scientists working for federal agencies have been asked to make their data conform to political policies, ranging anywhere from sex education to global warming. They say their work has been censored by agencies, such as the EPA and the FDA. The American Union of Concerned Scientists has released a guide that illustrates dozens of recent charges involving censorship and political interference.

- Similarly, Grand Canyon National Park employees are not allowed to tell visitors the scientifically estimated age of the Grand Canyon, because of Bush administration appointees. In fact, the Grand Canyon gift store sells a book that claims the Grand Canyon wasn't created by geological forces at all, which is what scientists believe, but was instead, created by the Biblical flood, "A Different View," by Tom Vail.

"In order to avoid offending religious fundamentalists, our National Park Service is under orders to suspend its belief in geology," said Jeff Ruch, Executive Director of Peer. Because of protests, the National Park Service promised a review of the issue but according to the response to a Park Service Freedom of Information Act request, such a review was never requested, conducted or completed.

Park Service officials pass off on this book, claiming that the gift store offers a wide variety of "opinions", this just being one of them, but according to PEER, in 2003, 22 books and other products were denied while they approved only "A Different View."

What in the world is going on in our country when science is perverted into politics? Science and religion are two completely different things. Religion is based on faith and science is based on evidence. Most people are able to interweave their faith with the facts of science. The age of the Grand Canyon doesn't reflect one way or the other on whether it was God's plan unless a person believes in a literal interpretation of the Bible AND that everything in the Bible has been interpreted correctly by its human interpreters. It almost seems that while the rest of the world is leaping into the high tech 21st century, anxious to compete in the global marketplace, America is sliding backwards toward ignorance.

- Have you ever noticed how almost everyone who dies becomes a saint overnight? The television has been All Gerald Ford, All The Time as his several funerals take place. For someone who has been described as a humble, unassuming man, his family sure did go to excessive lengths to bury him. Well, that's okay. If my father was an ex-president, I would probably do the same. But, in the way of the media, Gerald Ford has been re-cast from a somewhat mediocre president (my opinion) to practically the savior of his country. I totally disagreed with Ford's pardon of Richard Nixon after Watergate and I still think he set the stage for diminishing America's belief that we are a country that lives by the rule of law. I didn't want Nixon burned at the stake but I at least wanted him indicted in the interest of "no one in America is above the law". Since then, George Bush, Sr. pardoned the key Iran-Contra figures and I expect that George W Bush will pardon Scooter Libby, proving that, in fact, elite Americans often are above the law.

Even as one of his last acts, Ford didn't shine. In 2004, he gave an interview to Bob Woodward, saying that he thought our Iraq War policy was a mistake but the interview was embargoed until after his death. I guess his rationale was that it is unseemly for a former president to criticize the decisions of the current one which seems pretty gutless to me. After all, we are talking about people's lives here, not some aspect of presidential protocol. If he could have made a difference, then it seems to me, it was incumbent upon Ford to try to do it for the sake of all those who have been killed and wounded since 2004. After all, if anyone ever has, Gerald Ford had seen first-hand via Vietnam what the costs of "going along" with a war can be.

In the same way, James Brown has been elevated since his death. I loved James Brown's music and I think he deserves a lot of the credit for pioneering the type of music he performed, leading the way for the Michael Jackson's and Prince's and many other black stars. I'm sure James Brown did some really good things with his fame and money. On the other hand, in some ways, he was a garden variety drug-abuser and wife batterer, just like people we see right here in the courtrooms of Wabash County and everything that he was doesn't excuse that - even now that he's dead. One thing I will say though, comparing the dry, droning of boring old white men at Ford's funeral with the performance art of Brown's, you have to give African-Americans credit for knowing how to turn the celebration of a loved one's life into a joyous occasion.