Archive for September, 2010

Today on FoxNews I see the headline “Clinton Urges Against Iran Military Expansion”, and my first reaction is:

Why does anybody, anywhere, think that anything anyone SAYS matters a damn?

Kyle, in the other room, responds, “Because they believe in magic?”

The United States, Clinton said, is increasingly concerned about the rise of military power in Iran, the main U.S. adversary in the Middle East.

That’s wonderful, Hillary. We’re concerned. And how long have we been concerned? I, for one, can remember us being concerned as far back as when Henry Kissinger was Secretary of State. The word “Ayatollah” has always been an epithet for my generation. We remember the hostages taken in Tehran in 1979, and that wasn’t the Shah who was in power at the time.

“But the early advocates of it said this would be a republic. It would be an Islamic republic, but it would be a republic. Then we saw a very flawed election and we’ve seen the elected officials turn for the military to enforce their power,” she said.

“Republic” is just a word. And to suppose that it is even possible for a government to be Islamic and have any semblance of liberty in its operation is, at best, naive. To permit any religion to dictate the functioning of government is an inherently bad idea. With Islam it is especially pernicious, because of how hostile Sharia law is to the idea of freedom and individual rights. While I understand that there are many regional variations of Sharia, and the extent to which it is implemented may vary, I will firmly claim that it is not a system under which anyone should be forced to live simply because it denies individual rights and equal treatment under the law.

Mandatory tithing (zakat) is described by Sharia. Inheritance is dictated, rather than being chosen by the owners of the wealth. Virgin women have their husbands chosen for them, and Muslims in general may only marry other Muslims. Any sexual intercourse outside the confines of marriage (and with the spouse) is forbidden and carries heavy penalties that include flogging and death. It is notable that women are typically punished more severely than men.

Court proceedings under Sharia are conducted by a judge only. There is no jury, no attorneys, no discovery process, and no punishment for perjury. Witnesses are considered more important than empirical evidence (modern law enforcement has long since known how unreliable even honest witnesses can be). Most of the legal protections and precedents codified in modern Western law are not recognized in Sharia.

I could go on at length about this. But my point is that talking about how much we dislike Iran doesn’t mean a goddamn thing. It won’t change Iran’s behavior. It won’t change their beliefs. It won’t do anything to address the threat that country is to its neighbors and the world at large. Clearly we are going to have to learn the hard way. Again. Iran is going to build a functioning nuke and deliver it to a major city, probably Tel Aviv.

What will we do then? Keep talking? Wring our hands and whine like we always do? Israel can probably be counted on to bomb the shit out of them, and anyone who tries to claim they shouldn’t will have absolutely no moral standing.

You would THINK that flying three airplanes full of people into 3 buildings full of people (and I can only wonder if the fourth plane was meant for the Capitol Building), causing the deaths of several thousand human beings and destroying a major cultural landmark in one of the world’s most prominent cities would wake people up. Especially people who remember it like I do. The enemy tried it once before in 1993 with the underground parking garage at World Trade One and Two, and failed, and we all went “ho hum”.

But no. We’ve forgotten. Politicians have let themselves feel safe again, and gone back to petty bickering about money and their own reelection. The President is babbling about another economic “stimulus” (which won’t work any more than the last one did, and will actually make things worse. Again) or some shit. Maybe if Flight 93 had destroyed the Capitol Building and killed 90% of Congress, we would have taken it more seriously. Somehow, with this level of apathy, I doubt it.

There is a simple solution to this, and it’s called “homeschooling”. I especially enjoy the internal contradiction of this:

A New York couple is suing a Catholic high school for refusing to grant a religious exemption that would allow their 14-year-old son to enroll in ninth grade without state-required vaccinations, claiming immunizations are a “violation of God’s supreme authority.”

They claim their son . . .should be granted an exemption to public health laws that require children to be inoculated for diseases including mumps, measles, rubella, hepatitis B and others.

“[W]e are all created in God’s image,” reads a letter the Polydors sent to the school on Feb. 13, according to the lawsuit. “Therefore, we must not defile our blood and our bodies with diseases and other impure substances. As the divine Architect, God designed our bodies to have immune systems that must not be defiled by vaccines. Immunizations are a violation of God’s supreme authority, and therefore, unholy. Since immunizations are unholy they violate my religious beliefs.”

The Polydors also claim that using vaccines would show a “lack of faith in God, and His perfectly designed immune system,” according to the lawsuit.

Okay…so…God created a perfect immune system for mankind. And that’s why nobody ever gets sick. Oh wait, is that only supposed to apply to people whose faith is strong enough? Or does it only apply to people who never “defile” their bodies from the time they’re born?

If the latter, it’s not very perfect, is it?

I’m used to reading about parents’ whaargarbl about their snowflakes being entitled to an education in a public school regardless of whatever ridiculous exceptions and special cases they insist upon. But for this whaargarbl to extend to a private school is a whole new level of entitlement. “I DEMAND THAT YOU TAKE MY MONEY AND MAKE AN EXCEPTION TO YOUR RULES”.

What the hell, guys? Find another school. That’s unlikely, however, given that God’s perfect immune system seems vulnerable to measles, mumps, rubella, polio, diphtheria, hepatatis B, and a variety of other dangerous illnesses.

Schools are ideal transmission vectors for diseases like this. For a school to not require immunizations is an invitation to epidemic among its students. It’s precisely because of the vaccine hysteria that diseases like measles are being seen again in outbreak clusters.

I don’t even want to talk about the “autism is caused by vaccines” issue. It’s stupid and doesn’t have a shred of evidence to support it.

This situation highlights the problem with the whole “religious exemptions” concept in our society. These people are just making up something that they want a religious exemption for. Is that the same thing as Muslim Sikhs who want to wear a kirpan (which, regardless of its symbolism, is a knife) to school or work? Is it the same thing as Catholics insisting on having Christmas Day off because it’s a high holy day for them?

I would argue that it is the same thing. Businesses and schools have rules. If you don’t like the rules, you should be free to find another business or school (yeah I know, the public education thing is another conversation entirely). Now personally I happen to think people should be allowed to carry daggers, even if they’re not Sikhs. Want Christmas Day off? File for vacation time.

But if you’re not willing to abide by the rules of a place, then that place should have the right to exclude you. Yes, I’m including things like disabilities, too (in some cases it’s a dick move but that’s part and parcel with private property rights and freedom of association). Courts should not even entertain a case like the Polydors’, because it should be an open-and-shut example of “private owner gets to make the rules on use of their own property”.

A police officer runs towards the fire (Getty Images: Justin Sullivan)

A police officer runs towards the fire (Getty Images: Justin Sullivan)

San Bruno is a small town just south of San Francisco, on the peninsula. Apparently, a couple of hours ago, a neighborhood exploded.

Witnesses reported hearing a huge explosion. An entire neighborhood is engulfed in flames, and so far 12 homes have been confirmed destroyed. PG&E has just confirmed that it is a ruptured natural gas line under Sequoia Ave and Sneath Lane.

Another view of the San Bruno fire. (Photo by osxdude via SFist.com)

Another view of the San Bruno fire. (Photo by osxdude via SFist.com)

Photo by RodrigoBNO via SFist.com

Photo by RodrigoBNO via SFist.com

Current updates indicate the fires are moving from house to house, and the nearby hospital has reported a large number of people with injuries. Flights in and out of SFO are operating and on time. Residents displaced by the fire can find food and shelter at the Veterans Rec Center at 251 City Park Way in San Bruno.

This is just incredibly weird. I can’t help but wonder if there are shenanigans, because a gas main blowing up is just something that doesn’t happen with any regularity. The last one I can even recall reading about was in New York City several years ago. Kyle speculates that this would be a good pilot project for a terrorist attack on infrastructure. A test run on a soft target (residential neighborhood in a low-risk area) would be one logical step toward such an attack.

On an entirely unrelated note, when I drove to class this morning, the entire campus was blocked off and posted “campus closed until further notice”. The emergency turned out to be a campus-wide power outage. I suspect the construction crews that are working there. Last semester they kept setting off the evacuation alarm. It wouldn’t surprise me overmuch to learn that they somehow severed power for the whole college.

Detroit Fires High Winds

A firefighter walks from the scene of three destroyed homes in Detroit Tuesday, Sept. 7, 2010. (AP Photo/Detroit Free Press, Kathleen Galligan)

Normally when a major city in the United States is swept by more than 85 fires over the course of a single night and 74,000 people have a power outage, the national news media talks about it. High winds overnight may have been the initial cause:

Detroit Fire Commissioner James Mack addressed questions from reporters who asked how all of these fires started. Commissioner Mack said the high winds and the downed wires played a major role in the outbreak of the house fires. However, he says at least two fires may have been the work of an arsonist.

Some of the worst damage is on the city’s east side. At least 20 homes burned in the area of Robinwood and Van Dyke. The fire spread across the city block to Robinwood Street. Firefighters say it’s possible the blazes in this neighborhood were ignited by a faulty transformer spraying sparks. Those sparks were carried by strong winds and started fires at a number of other houses.

Detroit Fires High Winds

A home is engulfed in flames on Detroit’s east side Tuesday, Sept. 7, 2010. (AP Photo/Detroit Free Press, Marcin Szczepanski)

The number of buildings affected is currently estimated in the dozens, and it has been noted that many of those buildings are abandoned or uninhabited (which is not unusual in Detroit these days).

More interesting, however, is the possibility that there were known, preexisting problems with the power grid that residents reported and which were ignored by the utility company:

The family of a Detroit couple whose home was burned in one of dozens of fires that swept the city Tuesday night said they had been trying to get DTE Energy to the home to check on power surges and service interruptions since last week, but no one from the utility came.

The family also suspected a neighbor was trying to hook into the electric line illegally and told DTE as much, Michelle Denton said.

It would not surprise me much to learn that there is a lot of illegal power grid tapping going on in Detroit these days, given the abject poverty and decay of the city.

Also at issue is the fact that Detroit doesn’t have enough firefighters on the payroll to deal with an emergency of this magnitude.

“We’ve had aid before, just to help out in a specific area, but this time is different. We don’t have anyone available,” said Detroit Fire Capt. Dan McNamara, a 33-year veteran of the department who is president of the Detroit Firefighters Association. “It used to be we could throw enough resources to knock something big down and work our way into it. The day of reckoning has come.”

Though the city does not have enough fire trucks, McNamara said the main concern is the city doesn’t have the firefighters to staff them. Eight or nine fire companies out of 65 are shut down each day, he said.

detroitfire3

A Detroit firefighter looks through the smoldering yards of burned homes and garages on East Robinwood in Detroit, Michigan Sept. 8. Dozens of fires swept across Detroit Tuesday night, fanned by high winds and downed power lines with as many as 20 of the fires on East Robinwood and adjacent streets. (Reuters, Rebecca Cook)

Even after firefighters arrived at the scene of a fire, they had to wait for DTE to send people out to deal with the high voltage power feed.

So why is the mainstream press apparently uninterested in this story?

UPDATE: Here’s some raw video. No voiceover.