Wednesday, November 28, 2007

The Telephone Keeps Ringing So I Ripped It Off The Wall

I hope everyone had a pleasant Thanksgiving. Florida was nice, although my dives got cancelled by an overly cautious boat captain. Jack is 10 months old today. Man, this year has flown by. Today is also the Patriot’s last day at his current job. Monday finds me cruising up and down the New Jersey Turnpike commuting to my new gig. This will be a big adjustment since I have worked in and around NYC for my entire adult life. I’ll miss the ferry in the morning but not the chaos of downtown. I suppose the next step is to buy a mini-van and move to North Jersey.

So when I switched to Verizon last month because T-Mobile SUCKS, I purchased a smart new phone manufactured by the Korean company LG. I have been enjoying the QUERTY keyboard and built in GPS navigation system and up to this point the only thing that scared me about the phone was the prospect of receiving an enormous bill. Then I read this (from CNN):

SEOUL, South Korea (AP) -- An exploding mobile phone battery apparently killed a South Korean man in the first such known case in this gadget-obsessed country, police say.
The man, identified only by his family name Suh, was found dead at his workplace in a quarry Wednesday morning and his mobile phone battery was melted in his shirt pocket, a police official in Cheongwon, 135 kilometers (85 miles) south of Seoul, told The Associated Press.

"We presume that the cell phone battery exploded," the police official said on condition of anonymity.

The official said the phone was made by South Korea's LG Electronics, the world's fifth-biggest handset maker.

LG Electronics confirmed its product was involved in the accident but said such a battery explosion and death was virtually impossible. E-mail to a friend

Virtually impossible doesn’t sound like completely impossible. The doctor who examined Suh said the death was probably caused by an explosion of the battery.

"He sustained an injury that is similar to a burn in the left chest and his ribs and spine were broken," Yonhap news agency quoted Kim as saying.

His freaking spine was broken? What kind of insane technology is involved here? An exploding cell phone battery has the force potential to actually break your back? Imagine if he was holding the damn thing up to his head at the time it exploded. Ewww.

A little internet research reveals that similar explosions have taken place in New Zealand. The phone that exploded there was made by Nokia who issued a warning about bl-5c batteries made between December 2005 and last November. That story also proffered the statistic that around 100 out of 46 million cell phones worldwide have overheated or exploded “so far”. This begs the question as to whether we are all carrying around little potential hand grenades which could rip off the side of our faces at any time without any warning. Wonder if the TSA will ban them on commercial flights. Seems to me the risk is at least equal to the shoe bombs.

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Giving Thanks

The Patriot is taking Jack and heading for Florida to celebrate the Thanksgiving holidays with the parents. It will feel strange to be wearing a golf shirt and shorts on what is usually a blustery day here in the northeast, but I suppose we should all get accustomed to the effects of global warming and this will be a good start. Plus I can go to the beach and even fit in a couple of dives assuming my nagging head cold clears up by Saturday. I’m flying out of Newark tomorrow morning, Thanksgiving Day. I learned last year after a 27 hour nightmare trip to Oklahoma City that flying the day before the holiday is a recipe for total disaster. Hopefully the airlines will have worked out any massive delay issues by tomorrow morning.

To get into the spirit of Thanksgiving on my morning commute I was ruminating on American gluttony and consumer culture. Despite the fact that a barrel of oil is approaching the $100 level, sales of trucks and SUV’s were actually up last quarter. Americans are so addicted to their lifestyles that a few more dollars at the pump certainly isn’t going to interfere with their favorite sport-spending money they don’t have. These are the same overextended Americans who are losing their homes at a record rate because they took out $500,000 mortgages while bringing in an average yearly income somewhere in the $36,000 range. Who on earth actually needs a 3500 square foot house besides a family with eleven children? Well, we’re told that WE do. We’re entitled to one. We’re Americans and therefore deserving of a larger share of the world’s resources, even if we can’t afford it. I am the biggest anarchist around, but even I have a hard time blaming the banks for this real estate mess. Greed drove the market to unsustainable heights and hubris brought it crashing back to earth. PT Barnum had it right a hundred years ago, there really is a sucker born every minute. These suckers who think that there should be “less government” are now running to the feds begging for a bail-out. As a wise friend noted in a text this morning, “self-reflection and sustainability are not embedded in the archetypical American identity.” Indeed. It’s bad enough that we are self-destructing economically here at home-the weak dollar, the mortgage mess, the spasms in the markets, etc., but we are exporting our American Exceptionalism to the rest of the world, often at the point of a gun. And we’re not even running out of oil yet. Imagine how many countries we’ll have to invade when things get really tight?

Of course it may not come to that. Thomas Friedman (the NY Times Op-Ed contributor) in his recent book, The World Is Flat recounts a journey to Bangalore, India, when he realized globalization has changed core economic concepts. Due to this discovery, he suggests the world is "flat" in the sense that globalization has leveled the competitive playing fields between industrial and emerging market countries. Americans now compete for jobs not only with other Americans, but with the most brilliant minds around the globe. This does not bode well for future generations of Americans when one considers the pathetic state of our educational system and general lazyness. The number of American college students now studying math, science, and engineering is at a dramatic low yet students in China and India are now graduating their own cadres of mathematicians, scientists and engineers that outnumber America's by prodigious margins. And these people are hungry. They look at the American shining City on the Hill and want it for themselves. And who are we to tell them they can’t have it? The rest of the world doesn’t believe in American Exceptionalism. They believe in Indian and Chinese Exceptionalism. The problem is that there are nowhere near enough resources on planet earth to allow a billion Chinese people to live the American lifestyle. So what do you think is going to happen? My guess is that we will eventually rip each other apart with nasty wars over dwindling resources unless the idea of diminished consumption and the virtue of conservation are sewn into the fabric of our domestic and foreign policy. How likely is that to happen in a capitalist system?

Anyway, Happy Thanksgiving y’all. Remember the needy, since the government can't be bothered. Also, heritage turkeys aren't just for yuppies anymore. They're tasty and good for the environment; a win win.

Friday, November 16, 2007

One Pill Makes You Larger...

I ran across an interesting site today in my wanderings through the back alleys of the internet. The "The Erowid Experience Vaults” are “an attempt to catalog the wide variety of experiences people have with psychoactive plants and chemicals as well as experiences with endogenous (non-drug) mystical experiences, drug testing, police interactions, deep experiences of connection to music, etc.”

Most of you know that the Patriot hung up his crack pipe years ago once things started to get ugly back in the boogie down Bronx. Nevertheless, being an unrepentant Deadhead, I still find stories of people doing weird and illegal things while under the influence of psychedelics to be vastly entertaining. I don’t know if this is because I can personally relate to some of the stranger aspects of the psychedelic experience, or if getting away with stuff while tripping my brains off has left some kind of indelible mark on my psyche. Either way, the following excerpt is representative of the type of tale categorized at erowid. The title of the entire piece is called “It's Fake....Let's Eat It All' (WRONG!)” Been there, done that.

“At one point, probably six hours into the trip, I decided that I just needed to leave for a while. Just go away, into the woods, AWAY from this seething mass of lunacy swirling around me. I walked into the edge of the forest, into a little sunlit glade filled with white flowers here and there. Ohh the relief I felt! here was a perfect spot to lie down and grab ahold of the fraying edges of my sanity and...wait...that's not a flower!! I had stumbled into a shithole. The white flowers were wads of toilet paper that had recently wiped some dirty hippie's ass. THERE WAS NO ESCAPE. The crushing blow struck me between the lobes and i was paralyzed, stark still for several minutes. Then I pulled myself together and plunged back into the howling, gibbering carnival of humanoid creatures which now spread out for miles and miles. I knew I had no choice but to surrender myself to it.”

There’s a lot like of stories like this one. Have fun, my freaky friends.

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

$12 Billion Per Month

CNN is reporting today that according to a recent congressional committee report the total economic impact of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan is estimated to reach $1.6 trillion by 2009. The figure -- which includes the cost of borrowing to pay for the war, higher oil prices, and the cost of caring for wounded veterans -- is nearly double the $804 billion in direct war costs already requested. The committee calculated that the average cost of both wars for a family of four would be $20,900 from 2002 to 2008. The cost for a family of four would go up to $46,400 from 2002 to 2017.

The Democrats, who seemingly don’t care enough about the cost of the war to actually cut off financing, nevertheless made some small squealing noises when confronted with the reality that $12 billion per month is being paid to support our aimless wandering in the Iraqi desert. It is noteworthy that Dennis Kuchinich stands alone among the Democratic candidates running for president who is advocating an immediate withdrawal. While Kucinich has about as much of a chance at being elected President as I or Politicalspazz do, there is another Democrat with a better shot at the oval office who understands that cutting off Congressional financing for the war has to be the first step in any discussion of pulling out. John Edwards position is rather simple yet eminently reasonable. According to Edwards, “[w]e have to take the next step and cap funding to mandate a withdrawal. We don't need debate; we don't need non-binding resolutions; we need to end this war, and Congress has the power to do it.” The power, yes, the will, no.

Wednesday, November 07, 2007

Ten Days That Shook The World

Ninety years ago today, Bolshevik revolutionaries seized power in Russia. NPR chose to commemorate the event by broadcasting a story on the murderous excesses of Josef Stalin and the heavy handed tactics of the Soviet government. As usual, Soviet rule was equated with communism and dismissed as an anachronistic philosophy with no modern appeal. The USSR was clearly not a communist state, at least not in any way that Marx would recognize. As I understand the term, communism is an ideology that seeks to establish a classless, stateless social organization based on common ownership of the means of production.

Under Stalin, the Communist Party of the USSR adopted the theory of "socialism in one country" and claimed that, due to the "aggravation of class struggle under socialism", it was necessary, to build socialism alone in one country, the USSR. This line was challenged by Leon Trotsky, whose theory of "permanent revolution" stressed the necessity of world revolution. (For his defense of the revolution, Trotsky ended up being murdered with an ice pick while in Mexican exile in the late 1930s).

Marxist critics of the Soviet Union, most notably Trotsky, referred to the Soviet system, as "degenerated" or "deformed workers' states," arguing that the Soviet system fell far short of Marx's communist ideal. They called for a political revolution in the USSR and defended the country against capitalist restoration. Others, like Tony Cliff, advocated the theory of state capitalism, which asserts that the bureaucratic elite acted as a surrogate capitalist class in the heavily centralized and repressive political apparatus.

Wow, the Patriot is getting bored. This reminds him of interminable political lectures by the League for The Revolutionary Party that he sat through in college. Anyway, the October Revolution (November in the Gregorian calendar) overthrew the Russian Provisional Government and gave the power to the Bolsheviks. It was followed by the Russian Civil War (1917–1922) and the creation of the Soviet Union in 1922.
The revolution was led by the Bolsheviks with the Left Socialist-Revolutionaries and anarchists coming along for the ride. The Bolsheviks viewed themselves as representing an alliance of workers and peasants and memorialized that understanding with the Hammer and Sickle on the flag and coat of arms of the Soviet Union. The rest, as they say, his somewhat distorted history.

Tuesday, November 06, 2007

New Directions?

Happy Election Day; go vote in your local elections, they’re the only ones that mean anything. For some reason the Patriot has been content lately to sit on the sidelines and watch the country convulse on its own. One bright spot in the firmament has been the lawyers rioting in Pakistan over the suspension of constitutional freedoms. If only the lawyers in this country went out into the streets over Lynn Stewart and the Patriot Act. Unfortunately they were too busy either over billing their corporate clients or chasing ambulances (depending on their ideological bend) to be bothered.

I’m thinking of taking this blog in an entirely new direction. I just don’t know what it is. There is exactly one year to go before the Presidential election and I can’t stand the idea of writing about politics for another 365 days. I mean, the very thought of it makes me sick, especially when one considers the candidates. The only one I’d consider voting for right now is Kucinich, and that’s because he’s married to a hot 29 year old and admits seeing flying saucers. The other Democratic contenders are just different shades of fascism-lite. Even Edwards, who’s star is setting fast, can’t seem to distinguish himself from Margaret Thatcher, um, I mean Hillary Clinton and Obama-been-forgotten.

There is so much else going on in the world, isn’t there? Does anyone want to hear about anything other than the evisceration of our civil liberties? Please? Maybe I can go back to reviewing restaurants, music and books, or start talking about comparative philosophical systems. I’m going to mull it over for a bit and then get back to you all.

But before I go, here’s a bit of depressing news from the boggie-down-Bronx. As the Patriot predicted over a year ago, law enforcement has been quietly attempting to expand the definition of terrorism to encompass ordinary crime involving Americans. (Disclosure: Most of the following is a paraphrase of the NY Times story.)

As you may or may not know in the weeks after Sept. 11, 2001, 36 states enacted laws that would guarantee harsher sentences to people convicted under state law in terrorism cases. Gov. George E. Pataki signed New York’s law within six days of the attack. These laws were political PR pandering, pure and simple, since how often do you think the feds would give up jurisdiction and allow a state government to prosecute a terrorism case? Nevertheless the application of New York’s law had an unfortunate effect on Edgar Morales, a 25-year-old recreational soccer player and gang member who fatally shot a 10-year-old girl and wounded a second man outside a christening party in 2002.

Mr. Morales was a construction worker and a member of the St. James Boys, a gang formed by Mexican immigrants to protect themselves from being assaulted and robbed by other gangs in the west Bronx.

The Bronx District attorney, Robert Johnson, decided to try Morales under New York’s terrorism statute in order to get a tougher jail sentence. Johnson explained that just as racketeering laws aimed at mobsters have since been used in other crimes the terrorism charge fit because Mr. Morales and his gang had terrorized Mexicans and Mexican-Americans in the west Bronx for years through violence and intimidation. The jury deliberated for four days after testimony ended last Thursday, but despite their disagreements on other elements of the case, jurors said yesterday they had concluded very early that Mr. Morales was guilty of terrorism.

“When you fire a gun into a crowd, whether you hit your intended victim or not, you scare people, you make them fearful for their lives, and that’s why, in my opinion, the terrorism charges applied,” said an apparently marginally educated juror who identified herself only by her first name, Linnea.

Another juror said she had been hesitant about using the terrorism statute against Mr. Morales when prosecutors presented evidence, but once Justice Michael A. Gross told them on the trial’s final day that terrorism was defined as an act meant to “intimidate or coerce a civilian population,” her reluctance dissolved.

The prosecution of Morales under the terrorism statute understandably freaked out the libertarians and the lefties.

Timothy Lynch, of the Cato Institute said the New York law and others like it had no place being used to prosecute gang members. “Lawmakers were told after Sept. 11th that we needed new laws, and it’s become kind of a bait-and-switch, because lo and behold, they are not being used against Al Qaeda, they’re being used against ordinary street crime,” Mr. Lynch said.

Donna Lieberman, executive director of the New York Civil Liberties Union,, also criticized the terror application in the trial. “Without commenting on the manslaughter and attempted murder convictions, the pile-on of a terrorism charge is indeed a matter of concern,” she said. “The law was pitched as New York’s way to protect itself against Al Qaeda and the like. No matter what horrific crimes were committed against the Mexican-American community, that’s not terrorism.”

Robert Johnson might be the first DA in New York to use the anti-terrorism law in an ordinary criminal prosecution, but I’ll bet you my plane ticket to Gitmo that he won’t be the last.