Green USPS

22.42.02 - Mark

Last week I learned about an interesting bill called e-Drive [oddly discovered via Hacking Netflix] that was introduced to the national House of Representatives late last December. It's basic pitch is to convert or replace 20,000 US Postal Service's local delivery vehicles into full electric and hybrid electric vehicles.

While it's a little murky having the US government go back to fiscally supporting the USPS to, among other things, help lower the cost of operations, I think that getting this bill passed would further push electric vehicles into our culture, as well as help us learn if it can be practical on a corporate level. Even if it fails at those points, it's helping reduce pollution. I've been told that the USPS uses something like 800 Million Gallons of gasoline each year, which I think translates to about .6% of all the gasoline used in the US. While written out it's not an enormous change, but it's enough to take note. I'm going to think about it some more, but it maybe worth sending a letter to my generally useless congress critter.

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Aborted Discussions

22.14.58 - Mark

The abortion issue is an ugly one for a lot of reasons, the obvious one is because the core issue is talking about ending the life of a something* that has a potential to be a living, breathing, contributing member of the human race. The topic only gets uglier there when you start looking at the physically disturbing subtopics like how a something* is aborted, the final minutes of a something*'s "life", the psychological trauma of those directly involved, the political maneuvering around the issues, the ethical questions that always get phrased with a steep bias then left unanswered, the history of violence around the subject, and the blatant (often intentional) ignorance of people who talk about this issue.

This last point isn't helped by the fact that both sides use language so carefully selected it puts most marketing departments and spin doctors to shame, which combined with a lack of clear cut definitions of the unloaded language makes it extremely hard to find unbiased information. Add in a heaping pile of religious extremists and you have such an ugly mess that most people won't look at the topic, let alone touch it with a 30 foot pole.

Those who try are usually blasted from the other side, and moderates tend to get yelled at from everyone. This is an old issue (abortion was mentioned in the original Hippocratic oath) but it's become so politically and morally charged the level of discourse has plummeted. Even smart people who love talking about politics and policy want to avoid the topic. It's infuriating before you even attempt to drag politics into the matter.

Just like in "civil" conversation, the abortion issue is a topic politicians don't want to spend time with. Unlike in civil conversation however they have a harder time ignoring it. So rather than holding intelligent debates on the subject they craft utterly useless legislation designed to appease the anti-abortionists (I voted for XYZ bill) without creating a law that dose anything new and only vaguely reinforces things already on the books so they don't piss off the other side. Or, if they're feeling confident (or don't mind being self-serving assholes), craft the language of the bill in a way that everyone who reads the thing knows that it will fail at some other level of government.

There are a lot of people who claim that if we "respect life" the problems of our world will go away. Aside from that fact that this is code for "believe in my god and you'll be saved" many of these people are the same ones who almost instantly called for this country to go to war after 9/11/01, and who don't see a little racism or homophobia as wrong - even when it means some unlucky people get beaten to death by hicks. We don't need to "respect life", we need to be more open minded, push for better communication, less radically religious opinions, and most of all more accepting of others and the decisions they make. Until we all agree to stop using loaded language and stop attempts at legislating according to some moral guidelines written over 2000 years ago, we're not going to find an acceptable solution to a topic that is in despite need of a fair, unbiased position.

* About the "something*": fetus, embryo, baby, and infant are all too often interchangeable terms in the abortion issue, and none of them seem to really do a good job of accurately describing a potential life. I'm tired of the loaded language used by both sides of the argument and in this post I tried to avoid using politically charged terms

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Unasked and Unanswered

18.59.08 - Mark

We've had a few dozen presidential candidate debates (with a plenty more being scheduled or planned or are simply inevitable) but aside from some questions based on whatever new campaign tactics have popped up since the last "debate" the things are the same old political show and tell, except all show and little told.

I get that the economy is a bit issue, with subtopics like NAFTA and free trade, and China, and tax refunds, and the recession. The War on Terror has been a hot topic since 2002, and once you add immigration and health care you have a pretty stable set of issues that just about any one can find something to cheer or chastise, except it really doesn't tell us much about a candidate, which is probably why they happily blather on about "experience" and who's more "qualified".

Here's a hint, unless you've already been a president of the US, or the governor of a state you have nothing close relevant experience or qualifications. Even then being a Governor doesn't help much - case in point: the current POTUS. So let's cut out this experience and qualified BS and move on to real issues, as many of them as possible. This county has more problems than illegal immigrants, taxes, and a handful of terrorists who "terrorize" us because of our foreign policy decisions (and we're not just talking Iraq).

In no particular order let's have a reasonable talk (preferably multi-partisian) science's influence on policy, technology, education, cost of college, the war on drugs, position on tobacco and alcohol and the legal age, sex education, religion in government, non-existence of viable third parties, election (and specifically electoral college) reform, civil rights, green technology, nuclear energy, sensible energy independence (which is more than "no foreign oil"), transparency in government, lobbyist and PAC reform, abolishing ear marks, how we'll fix our global reputation, our lack of participation in numerous global treaties (like the antilandmine treaty, or the one opposing child slavery, etc), ethics in government, the role of the average citizen in government, gay rights, minority rights, moving past petty social labels (like black, Hispanic, etc), controlling the FCC's influence on content, getting rid of the national debt, whether or not we're taking the right course of action in regards to China, Cuba, Iran, North Korea, how we'll fix our relation or at least get past our difference with the United Nations, this list goes on...

The guilt isn't entirely on the candidates, the news networks no longer want to ask these hard questions, not that the candidates would answer them but if everyone is serious about "change" let's stop playing politics as usual with it's selected and vetted clean cut party line issues and tackle real problems big and small, long standing and dormant to the near future and extremely pressing.

Of course this is only going to get worse as we start getting into congressional and gubernatorial races.

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Hillary Care

18.31.43 - Mark

While I wish the US Presidential campaigns would give some airtime to something other than Iraq, Immigration, the economy, and health care the last one is really getting on my nerves.

Hillary Clinton is out of touch with reality on the issue in her continued insistence on every single American buying a health insurance package or facing fines. It's almost like she's getting kickbacks from the insurance industry as a whole.

I'm not disagreeing with improving the heath care system in this country, but forcing people to buy insurance is not an ideal solution. From my perspective as a healthy (and uninsured) young adult paying for my own insurance would be far more than my current medical expenses. The national average for individual health coverage is about $220 a month. My medical bills for the last two years might total up to $600. That works out to something paying over $5,200 for $600 of expenses, and that's not accounting for deductibles and makes the assumption that the plan would cover the cost of contacts.

I know that insurance is supposed to be there for the unexpected, but for now keeping that same money in a rainy-day savings account makes more sense than letting an insurance company sit on the money. I don't need the government telling me I have to spend that $2600 a year "or else"

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Whereas, I want to beat my head agasint a wall

00.56.50 - Mark

In the midst of the Iraq war, a failing economy, and other national issues, our Congress has found one issue so important that they managed to spare the time to recognize it. That issue is The Importance of Christmas (and Christians).

The fact that this bullshit resolution was not only introduced, but passed with 372 votes is fucking terrifying. I know congress critters aren't big on actually reading the things they vote on but surely they're obligated to read the Constitution a time or two. This thing just barely skirts a 1st amendment violation.

I'd try and argue it on points, but if I've learned one thing this holiday season, Christians get extra irrational at Christmas. Instead I'll just lift a paragraph from John Rodgers (excellent) post on the resolution:

... Christianity's been acting kind of needy lately. Like, "crazy girlfriend who suddenly believes you're thinking about how to pack your shit in ways she won't notice and sneak it out to the car, and so perversely thinks the way to keep you from bolting is to demand you tell her she's super pretty every hour, which, ironically, is what actually prompts you into thinking about packing your shit, even though you weren't before but now ..." needy.

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Your vote was foretold by the stars

04.13.34 - Mark

I was looking up how my Senatorial congress critters voted on the Mukasey confirmation (they're for it, which isn't surprising considering their track records) with the Washington Post's Vote Database. It's is easier to use than THOMAS but what I found odd was I can sort by astrological sign, among other criteria of various silliness (baby boomer status, late night votes, political affiliation...) I know congress critters were predictable, but I didn't realize that it was written in the sky.

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Don't buy a single vote more than necessary...

22.45.33 - Mark

Google AdWords Screen Capture from 11/4/07

I saw this google adwords block in my rant on local politics. The Hillary block sounds like an invitation to a country club social group, and I find it amusing that I can get local election results on eBay.

“Don't buy a single vote more than necessary. I'll be damned if I'm going to pay for a landslide." -Joseph P. Kennedy (JFK's father)

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Political Statements

00.37.41 - Mark

Normally I only rant about national politics, but in the upcoming elections I'm really focused on the local races. My experience has always been that local elections suck. Low turn outs and few races, but for some reason what would normally be a pretty quiet low turn out local election has become a furious wave of ignorance and lies (and a fair bit of namecalling). If you're willing to stretch the truth it's almost as entertaining as a Californian gubernatorial race. We might not have a stripper, but one of the candidates is a belly dancer.

Like California's races, majority of the six candidates for the three city council seats are so ignorant of what their powers would be that it's downright scary, and the few that seem to have a clue about what is involved in city government are proposing ideas that are either totally dangerous dangerous, or your average political promise of change to gain a few votes.

One candidate has proposed closing down a water plant when our surplus of water (even in the current drought conditions) is one of the city's strongest economic selling points, while another (the only incumbent) is proposing an economic development czar, someone who would likely just wine and dine potential employers, when we already have a competent economic development partnership.

At the candidates forum a few weeks ago, many of these potential leaders were under prepared, from not knowing what roles council members play in relation to other boards and commissions receiving city funding. All but one (who lost in a primary election a week later) didn't have any idea about a referendum that would appear on the same ballot they would (those comments boiled down to "I support schools" and "I don't support taxes").

The only thing more frighting than the politicians are the supporters. While it's a little hard to get good information out of either local newspaper, the blog that the Surry Messenger is running makes for some amusing comments, from allegations that candidate A is incapable of working, to regular comments that voting for candidate C is a vote for business as usual. They're demanding the city being in jobs, water prices get reduced, cancer be cured and world piece established. The citizens, just like the candidates have no idea where limit of the government lies. City councilmen don't author the budget, they don't bring in businesses, they don't have much say in big projects. They make formal proclamations and approve rezoning requests (after being advised by the city manager). Their big decisions are about what bagels to order or who makes the first closing remark at the biweekly meeting.

If these supporters put a fraction of the effort they're exerting to elect so-so candidates towards effecting actual change it wouldn't matter if a dog was elected. I'm fairly convinced that Government doesn't solve problems, people solve problems.

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Gore/Obama '08

17.59.42 - Mark

Sometimes I get tired of the Cult of Al Gore, but there are a lot of things I respect about Gore, and would likely vote for him in an election. Now that he's Won the Nobel Peace Prize for his work on the environment, it would be a good time if he announced his intentions to run as president. The Peace Prize secures his credibility as an international leader, which is what the United States needs in a president right now. If he then got a strong domestic candidate (I like Obama, and he's probably smart enough to do this) to sign on to a ticket, they would have a distinctive edge over other candidates.

As influential as Dick Cheney has been in the Bush administration, I can see this election cycle focusing on both the presidential and vice-presidential candidates. At least I hope it does, VP is too important a position to hand over to just anyone.

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As If I Really Forgot...

20.19.31 - Mark

I've got the democratic presidential debate on the TV right now. As anxious as I am to get Bush out of office, watching this political jockeying feels like watching a slow motion train wreak. I mean we've already had people announce and drop out, and as pointed out above we're seeing presidential debates 18 months before the election - and like all politicians they're doing a splendid job of not saying anything. The only thing I'm learning from this is that right now I really don't want to vote for any of the candidates, even if I do like and agree with what they have to say.

By the time the actual election comes around we're going to be tired of this batch of f**king jokers that no one will want them sticking around for 4 to 8 years. It's a shame that there's no way to stop this whole BS engine and put it on pause for 6 months or so.

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F**k - It's a documentary too.

15.45.35 - Mark

I've been finding that Netflix's recommendations for me are pretty good anymore, so when Netflix started telling me that I would love F**k (4.6 out of 5) I went ahead and added it to my queue. It showed up over the weekend and I watched it yesterday. I don't quite regret renting it, but it also didn't live up to netflix's suggested rating.

F**k is a lot like The Aristocrats which I loved, except it's a whole lot weaker. Where The Aristocrats was comedy with a hint of documentary style story telling, F**k almost feels like a comedy film that had every intention of being a documentary. In an hour and a half there was plenty for me to laugh at, the producers were doing a great job of juxtaposing ultra conservatives like Pat Boone and Miss Manners with foul mouthed personalities like Ice T, Billy Connolly, George Carlin and others. So for about the first half hour they play with some of the urban legends surrounding the origins of the word, from Playboy's "Fornication Under Command of King" to it's appearance in Flen Flyys (a poem written around 1475). All in all a whole lot of good natured, foul mouthed fun. The problem with that is that I had almost written it off entirely as comedy by the time it actually got around to the 1st amendment and censorship issues 40-50 minutes into the film.

Even when it does start exploring issues and facts, they don't present much of anything. They shoot off a few well known facts about the Parent's Television Council for a couple minutes, go back to talking about profanity, and eventually try and make some weak connections between the PTC and the Bush administration, before going on and calling hypocrisy on various republican administrations for supporting decency standards while cursing like crazy themselves (of course Democrats get off easy - despite their various contributions to state sponsored censorship). The informative tidbits of information are so far buried in comedy routines that almost all of the value is lost.

I really wanted to like F**k. As deeply as profanity has entrenched itself into society, and with the regular threats to Constitutional rights and constant outcries from conservatives for decency standards to be made into law, I would really like to see a good documentary on profanity and indecency. Something that goes beyond simply reciting the Seven Dirty Words and goes into how and why we curse, why people take offense, why it continues to be a big deal in modern society, and when it comes time to call bullshit - not pull any punches.

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Weapons of Mass Destruction

11.45.37 - Mark

Do you get the feeling that this country really, really likes having its arsenal of weapons. Our government basically ignored this attempt to ban cluster bombs, we've been ignoring the Ottawa Treaty, an attempt to ban land mines for ten years and we backed out of the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty. We have signed the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty on nuclear weapons but haven't ratified it.

Makes you wonder why we were so obsessed with Iraq's WMD stockpiles.

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First Blood

17.07.00 - Mark

I don't like the fact that the 2008 presidential race started in November 2006, but it did. Now, months before the first presidential primaries, the first candidate has dropped out. Tom Vilsack the second candidate to enter the race back in November has dropped out

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00.51.43 - Mark

It's one thing to complain about the Bush administration, the US government in general, and the sad state of affairs in Iraq when you only have a vague connection to the whole middle east mess.

It's another when it hits close to home. Yesterday I found out that someone I knew,Jonathan E. Schiller was killed in Iraq last week.

Jon and I weren't friends exactly, but we tended to run into each other. I think our families went to the same church, and about the time I pretty much stopped attending church I started seeing him at orchestra practices at school. Jon played the sting bass and I was almost always the last chair cello so we occasionally talked (but more frequently hit each other with our bows)

If I went back to Iowa I certainly wouldn't be looking him up in a phone book, but I did know him, and I have several other, significantly closer, friends serving in various branches of the armed forces that could have been killed just as easily. You can't just shrug that off.

Here's to a quick resolution of this war - in whatever form that solution is

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Elections. Bleh!

01.36.17 - Mark

Today is election day. I'm honestly not looking forward to it but I've finished researching the canidates that I can/are worth while. Aside from the local paper being almost entirely offline tonight and the local gov site making it a pain to find the sample ballots (for some reason they choose to develop a flash based website in a county where majority of users are lower income families and dialup is common). Even if I can't get my head around voting for judges, I think I've made OK decisions there.

I know I'll complain about elected officials and the like when they are actually in office, but it stikes me that one of the main reasons people may be discouraged from voting (at least for canidates and not party tickets) is that its near impossible to tell candidates apart. 99% of the sites and ads I've seen all boil down to the same 3 second blurbs. I support family values, I'm a strong leader, I care about the community, blah, blah, blah. I don't want to hear what some campaign advisor says will get votes, I care about issues and candidate viewpoints.

I despise my current congress critter Virginia Foxx because in every correspondace I've had with her she keeps backing the Republican lines about securing our borders and fighting terrorism. Not only am I more likely to get killed by drowning in a supersized soda than I am in a terrorist attack, I'm not willing to sacrifice my personal freedoms and rights for her so called security. Then again I'm not big on the idea of fencing in the United States either. If a candidate tells, or better yet shows me that they care about those or even similar issues I'll give them my vote (and happened at least once when I was researching the candidates)

I wish more people would vote and vote wisely. Unfortunatly, its too complex, too uninformed, and most of all, too fake.

My name is Mark Welker, and I approve this message.

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One World Divided

19.33.49 - Mark

Tomorrow there's going to be a 1000-man rally tomorrow in Dobson, NC about some of the immigration issues that are swirling around in our nation's political cesspool - and the local congress critter is anti-imigration/pro-"national security" in a big way.

I've been against the mentality of closing up our borders and allowing the government to monitor citizens' actions because I haven't seen the evidence that it protects us. I dislike the idea that this nation is no longer a shelter for the best minds of the world - those who question the government are condemned and their legitimante concerns are muted while those that want to push the border of human achievement are not allowed to do so.

More recently, I've been feeling that this nation isn't. In the broader picture it seems like this nation is divided in so many trivial ways it has stepped over the line of sickening. Religious individuals think they're the minority while the athiests and agnositcs claim the same title. Republicans and Democrats battle as if there's no tomorrow. Racial and ethic cultures clash internally while they all clamor against the foreigners.

In this day and age when its just as likely for me to hear about the latest news from Eurasia as it is to know what's happening on a local street corner borders have really become a pointless imaginary line in our minds.

Even thought I favor less government, the idea of Supranational Unions like the EU, or a World Government are tempting ideas

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Lame Ducks

17.12.20 - Mark

Here's the latest in Bush's War on Porn

The idea of any form of mandatory labeling is completely ridiculious. Not only will you have plenty of US based sites ignoring it, you will have nearly all of the non-US, and yes Uncle Sam, there is such as thing as a website based in a country other than ours, ignoring it. Trying to create and enforce legislation to force websites into labeling themselves is a waste of everyone's time, effort, and those precious few tax payer's dollars we haven't given away in business subsudies or the middle east.

I can understand why some people want the government to deal with the porn "problem". I want the government to be there to protect me from the big things I can't handle, like nuclear arms and other governments, but a little objectionable content? Thank you, but no.

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Not so alone...

17.20.37 - Mark

I've been digging around in the Gallup Poll archives this afternoon as part of some research I'm doing for a class, and I'm shocked by some of the numbers I'm seeing. Not for the ones tied to my topic (which is presidential approval ratings), but other items, like Congressional approval ratings.

Here I am thining I'm in the minority because I strongly dislike the political positions of my "representatives" when in fact the entire nation has significant problems with Congress. 27% approval rating or lower since the beginning of the year, and under 50% since mid-2003.

This nation just got a little less depressing.

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Congressional Misinformation

18.32.03 - Mark

I got a pretty little letter today, from one of the three congress critters who supposedly represent me (despite the fact that I didn't vote for any of them and they are all almost exact polar opposite of my political opinions). Of the three, Burr is my favorite. The busy politician he is, he makes sure to anwer each and every one of those political action emails I email his way with strait line republicrat bushit

The latest of these recripicated form letters, very thoroughly addressed to Mr. Mark Welker - Mount Airy High School (my home address) was on the subject of civil liberties and electronic surveillance. In this letter Mr. Burr tries to explain to me how need to allow these "new methods and approaches" surveillance because this administration has made it clear that such tools are needed. He also explained to me that we'll never hear of the successes of these programs.

I'm not sure where I want to start with the problems I have with this letter:

The fact that it skirts the fact that fails to address the unwarranted domestic surveillance carried out by government intellengence organizations whose juristiction only covers foreign powers - not domestic.

The not so subtle hints at blindly following the Bush Administration.

The fact that he cites September 11th, 2001 as reason enough to permit these searches - not once, but twice.

The fact that he's trying to reassure me that the government is working with enough accurate infomation to make well informed decisions about its intellengce activities.

BTW, I graduated from high school almost two years ago, I almost never mention it in conversation, and would never put it in my mailing address.

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22.55.18 - Mark

I'm passively watching NBC's coverage of the Opening Ceremonies of the Torino Olympics, and the commentary by NBC is a real nasty reflection of American culture. I mean there's stuff about hoping xyz Middle Eastern City isn't destroyed, mentions of the perceived tensions in the far east. China's politics, Hong Kong's independent march, The Koreas walking together - and how they might be competing together in 2008. Then there's the stuff about the Political cartoons and extra security for Denmark.

What ever happened to the Ancient Greek idea of calling for a peace for the duration of the Olympics? Every country in the world is represented in Torino, then some, and some of the best citizens each can offer as well. So why do we need to being petty politics and squabbles into something that tries to focus on human excellence and cooperation as the Olympics?

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