Category Archives: Life in Dystopia

The Beatitudes, Republican Party Translation

I’ve been paying attention with interest to the 2010 midterm elections, where America seems poised to make the mistake of putting the Republican Party back in the driver’s seat, since apparently the 6 years of Republican rule in the last decade were simply not awful enough. What particularly fascinates me, though, is to listen to Republican primary candidates simultaneously promote themselves as Christian, with talk about values and such, while at the same time relentlessly undermining the values propagated by Jesus Christ.

It occurs to me that perhaps there’s a reason for this. Growing up Catholic, it wasn’t until I was a teenager that I discovered that the Bible I read had several more books than those of my Protestant friends. It was then that I also discovered different translations of the Bibles, sometimes hinging around quite important theological points.

Accordingly, perhaps it is not that Republican candidates who promote themselves as Christian while at the same time viciously working to undermine the lives of the poor are not hypocrites. Indeed, it seems much more likely that they simply have a different translation of the Bible than I do.

As it turns out, I’ve been able to find a part of this translation for Luke 6:20-26, more commonly known as the Beatitudes. As it turns out, the Republican Party translation is a bit different than the one you may be familiar with. Here it is:

Looking at his disciples, he said:

“Blessed are you who are rich,
for yours is the kingdom of God.

Blessed are you who want more drilling for oil,
for you will be satisfied and it will never run out or spill.

Blessed are you who weep now because of high taxes,
for you will laugh when they are lowered.

Blessed are you when the media hates you,
when they exclude you and insult you
and reject your name as evil, because they’re liberal meanies.

Rejoice in that day and leap for joy, because great is Fox News’ reward in the ratings battles. For that is how you can avoid contrary points of view.

But woe to you who are on unemployment,
for you have already received your comfort and you should get a real job.

Woe to you who are hungry,
because food stamps are a waste of taxpayer dollars.

Woe to you who laugh when Democrats are in office,
for you will mourn and weep when sharia is declared.

Woe to you when the media speaks well of you,
for that is how they treat RINOs who want to attend cocktail parties.”

You can understand now why the GOP is the way it is, right?

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I Don’t Care Much About Elena Kagan

As someone who’s decided to comment on politics, I feel somewhat obligated to comment on the Elena Kagan nomination, but it’s hard to care too much. Like Sotomayor, she’s pretty biased towards the system–police, prosecutors and Presidents–and doesn’t seem to be too much concerned about the rights of the accused.

But realistically, I wouldn’t expect any other type of Justice to be nominated anymore. I’m sure I’d have the same complaints about any of them.

That’s depressing, but it’s also the way of the world.

How the Ocean Was Wrecked

This TED talk from scientist Jeremy Jackson is simply depressing.

I don’t really have comments here–it just speaks for its depressing self. I wonder, sometimes, if the ocean ecosystems will survive humans. And I wonder if humans will survive the loss of ocean ecosystems.

Your “Happy” News Today

Remember the hole in the ozone? Which we’ve managed to decrease substantially thanks to a rare willingness for the world to get together and do the right thing? Turns out that, but for a happy accident, the ozone hole might have killed us all.

Looking back, it’s remarkable to ponder the serendipity of these discoveries—and how little margin for error we had. As luck would have it, DuPont had been using chlorine instead of bromine to produce CFCs. As far as anyone could tell, the two elements were interchangeable. But, as another prescient ozone researcher, Paul Crutzen, later noted, bromine is 45 times as effective at destroying ozone as chlorine. Had DuPont chosen to use bromine, the ozone hole could well have spanned the globe by the 1970s instead of being largely confined to Antarctica—long before anyone had a glimmering of the problem. It’s not hard to see what massive worldwide ozone depletion would’ve meant. Punta Arenas, the southernmost town of Chile, sits under the Antarctic ozone hole, and skin cancer rates there have soared by 66 percent since 1994. If humans had destroyed stratospheric ozone across the globe, we would likely be unable to set foot outdoors without layers of sunscreen and dark shades to prevent eye damage. Worse, the excess UV rays could have killed off many of the single-celled organisms that form the basis for the ocean’s food chain and disrupted global agriculture (studies show that bean and pea crop yields decline about 1 percent for every percent increase in UV exposure).

Happily, though, scientists did discover the ozone hole. And, despite industry warnings that abolishing CFCs would impose unbearable costs, world leaders agreed to phase out the chemicals in 1987, and economic ruin never arrived. DuPont developed a substitute for CFCs, and ozone levels in the atmosphere have stabilized, with the hole over Antarctica expected to heal by 2050. A topic that once graced the cover of Time and generated heated congressional debates now barely gets mentioned. We learned to stay within one planetary boundary without impeding human prosperity. That should give us every reason to think we can respect the others we are now barreling past.

What’s frightening is that this lucky accident of using chlorine over bromine was simply that chlorine was cheaper. Somewhere in the multiverse, there’s an alternate world doing far, far, worse because there was a run on chlorine that caused Dow to go with bromine instead.

Our world barely missed the apocalypse by accident. But with so many other threats out there being ignored, how long can our luck hold out?

CIA Given the Go-Ahead to Send Robot Death in Pakistan

Nobel Peace Prize Winner and U.S. President Barack Obama has, it appears, given the go ahead to the CIA to send its Predtor drones out into the Pakistani countryside at any targets it so chooses.

The CIA received secret permission to attack a wider range of targets, including suspected militants whose names are not known, as part of a dramatic expansion of its campaign of drone strikes in Pakistan’s border region, according to current and former counter-terrorism officials.

The expanded authority, approved two years ago by the Bush administration and continued by President Obama, permits the agency to rely on what officials describe as “pattern of life” analysis, using evidence collected by surveillance cameras on the unmanned aircraft and from other sources about individuals and locations.

The information then is used to target suspected militants, even when their full identities are not known, the officials said. Previously, the CIA was restricted in most cases to killing only individuals whose names were on an approved list.

The new rules have transformed the program from a narrow effort aimed at killing top Al Qaeda and Taliban leaders into a large-scale campaign of airstrikes in which few militants are off-limits, as long as they are deemed to pose a threat to the U.S., the officials said.

Given that this is the same CIA that assured us that the case for “weapons of mass destruction” in Iraq was a “slam dunk”, told us that the Soviet Union’s economy would eclipse our own a few years before it collapsed entirely, and has unsuccessfully assassinated Fidel Castro approximately 973 times, I’m certain that we can trust them to be only hitting the correct targets.

Of course, the fact that we are not currently at war with Pakistan, that Congress has not authorized any military action in Pakistan, and that Pakistan has not authorized U.S. strikes within their borders is often deemed irrelevant in this scenario. But dammit, it should be front and center. The President of the United States may be the commander-in-chief, but decisions about whether to go to war should be left up to the Congress. I realize that Congress has truly given up having any say in these matters of the past 40 years, but we really should demand that that change. The President should not, at his discretion, allow the CIA free reign to send robot planes to bomb targets in a foreign country.

No matter how many damned “Peace” prizes he’s won.

Professor Brother Is Watching You

Northern Arizona State University has decided to implement a policy to implant RFID tags in student IDs so that they can track the movements of their students.

Not to worry, though–the students have taken to complaining about it on Facebook!

Yes, the same Facebook that has evolved to offer virtually no privacy protection at all unless you’re very, very careful.

A better idea for the RFID ID cards is simply to make them useless. Surely there are some students out there willing to collect a 100 or so IDs for a day and have some fun with them. Tie them to dogs, walk in and out of every classroom with them, whatever.

And, you know, a good old fashioned protest–like one where folks just dropped their cards and burned them–wouldn’t be that bad, either.

Ah, who am I kidding? Tweet away, students! I’m sure the administration is listening.

That is, if they’ve figured out how to use Twitter yet.

Gulf Oil Spill Might Change the Ecosystem Forever

The oil spill in the Gulf Coast, which will stand as a monument to human stupidity and greed, could possibly completely devastate the ecosystem–turning it into something else entirely.

If the flow is soon staunched, affected populations should rebound from losses in a few years, and even sooner if the oil stays at sea long enough to be churned by waves and consumed by microbes. Ecosystems will stay intact.

But if oil flows continue, plant and animal populations may be pushed to species-level tipping points, their numbers so low that replenishment is impossible. When this happens, food webs change. Some remaining species become more common, and others less. Disruption favors low-level opportunists that rush into newly open niches. Local ecosystems tip. If that keeps happening, an entire region can tip.

What does that mean? Its means the fish might go away. Or the shrimp. Or some of the plants. Or all of the above. It’s impossible to know right now. Adding insult to injury, as the article points out, is that overpollution has already stressed the Gulf ecosystem, meaning the oil spill might be the straw that breaks the camels back.

Unfortunately, the Gulf is already stressed by fishing and pollution. Mississippi River dams and levees have altered water and sediment flows that historically nourished the delta. In the last 50 years, some 1,500 square miles of wetlands have vanished. Sea-grass losses range from 12 percent to two-thirds. Researchers have reported changes in species compositions, and growing areas of vegetation “patchiness,” a pattern considered symptomatic of stressed systems verging on tips.

“The system is already becoming degraded,” said University of New Orleans ecologist Denise Reed. It’s too soon to know if local systems will tip, but “oil could push a marsh that’s already hanging by its fingernails over the edge,” she said.

Especially vulnerable are sea grasses and marshes in the western Gulf, home to a fishery worth $2.4 billion annually. The western Gulf has few beaches, which would allow oil to be cleaned with relative ease as it washes ashore. It lacks the barrier islands that line northern and eastern shores, calming waters and slowing the oil’s advance. Louisiana’s scalloped coastline could soak oil like a sponge.

The worst part of it all is that, at the present time, it looks like it might take weeks to stop the oil from leaking. Meaning we’re probably going to see some terrible, permanent effects and soon.

What’s the most mind-boggling about this disaster is that it illustrates an unbelievable lack of foresight. Oil pipelines have exploded before. Offshore rigs have leaked before. There is, in fact, technology available to make shutting off undersea valves quite simple. They are, in fact, required by law in Norway and Brazil. Alas, though, they are not required in the United States. So what could have become a manageable accident has become an unmitigated disaster.

All because the folks running the show were too stupid to put existing safeguards in place.