Sense from Seattle

Common sense thoughts on life and current affairs by a Seattle area sexagenarian, drawing on personal experience, years of learning as a counselor to thousands of families and an innate passion for informed knowledge, to uniquely express sensible, thoughtful, honest and independent views.

Monday, May 30, 2005

Question for Readers: Prayer for Permanent Peace

As directed by Federal law since 1950, Memorial Day is a day of prayer for permanent peace, including a National Moment of Remembrance for those who have died in War service to this country. Note how this year’s Bush proclamation includes his stump speech rhetoric he uses for his defense of the invasion of Iraq. For comparison, read Clinton’s last proclamation, in 2000.

Note also, how both proclamations, though mentioning the fact that the day is intended as a day of prayer for permanent peace, do not in fact include such a prayer. Maybe a prayer does not belong in a proclamation, but I have not yet been able to find an actual Presidential peace prayer. Searching Google for the quote "prayer for permanent peace" only produced 467 results, mostly referring to the proclamations, and when "proclaims" and "proclamation" were removed from the search, the resulting 61 hits did not seem to include any Presidential prayer.

Did you know Memorial Day was supposed to include a prayer for permanent peace and have you ever heard such a prayer offered on Memorial Day or offered one yourself?

Wednesday, May 25, 2005

Bush Stranglehold Loosening

George W. Bush could be about to exercise the Presidential veto for the first time in his regime. The House of Representatives just passed a bill allowing some embryonic stem cell research, which would overturn the ban put in place by Bush. This is a further sign that he is losing his stranglehold on our Government. An early sign was that he had to fight so hard and dirty to just barely get elected in 2004. An enormous sign was the extent to which his campaign to undermine Social Security has failed to fool most Americans.

The bankrollers of the right got the red meat they wanted in the first four years of George W. - siphoning billions of dollars away from the Federal Treasury in spite of running up unprecedented budget deficits. They now have added gravy in the form of limiting the rights of their victims to obtain compensation in the Courts and making the Federal Government their free collection agent through the Bankruptcy Courts, and may also achieve the rape of ANWR if that provision survives the budget process.

The religious right has not been getting as much as they wanted in return for their Bush votes. Homophobia will not produce a Constitutional Amendment to ban gay marriage. The unconstitutional Schiavo intervention was a PR fiasco, as will be the pending stem cell research veto or a filibuster of the bill by Senate Republicans. About all the holier than thou crowd has received from Bush is Federal money for "faith based" proselytizing, some of which may eventually be declared unconstitutional and also be proven ineffective.

The most significant sign that power may be shifting away from the Bush Administration and back to the people is the fact that seven Senators from each party worked together to reach a compromise, preventing the Bush administration from achieving its goal of eliminating the filibuster right. Like the Social Security disinformation campaign, Bush has been waging a war of falsehoods to try to strangle the Senate and kill this historic right to Senatorial conscientious objection.

Whether Bush has to exercise the veto depends on whether the Senate passes the stem cell bill. A majority vote may exist in the Senate, but some Republican Senators who loudly clamor to end the filibuster regarding Bush judicial nominations are likely candidates to use the filibuster to block stem cell research. Consistent application of the rules is not a hallmark of that type of Republican.

In February, I posted a piece about the Civility Caucus. This Senatorial compromise on the filibuster was reached in that same spirit. Bush and Seantae Majority Leader Frist will continue to try to undue what these courageous Senators have accomplished, but the stranglehold has loosened.

Thursday, May 19, 2005

Netflix Beats Wal-Mart

Here is something for the good news department - I think. On-line DVD rental pioneer Netflix has successfully withstood the attempt by Wal-Mart to undercut Netflix on price, purloin its customers and drive it out of business. The two reached a deal in which Wal-Mart drops its rental business and promotes Netflix on the Wal-Mart web site, while Netflix in turn reminds its subscribers they can buy DVD movies from Wal-Mart.

I don't know anything about Netflix as an employer, but I do like the fact it was an innovative startup company that provided a new and useful service at a reasonable price, apparently without exploiting anyone. The reason my praise of the deal is qualified with the "I think" is because Netflix ends up promoting Wal-Mart DVD sales. My ex-lawyer instincts make me hope the lawyers for Netflix left lots of wiggle room in the deal for Netflix to downplay the Wal-Mart sale promotion and to reduce its impact by including other sale sources, possibly even sales by Netflix itself. Wal-Mart is shrewd though, and may have included some provision restricting Netflix DVD sale options. I would not be surprised at all if this mutual embedding arrangement eventually goes sour and ends up in court. But anybody who can withstand a challenge from Wal-Mart deserves praise and support. If you have not already done so, you might consider subscribing to Netflix.

The third player in the rental game, Blockbuster, came late to online rentals and has not attracted a significant number of customers. At least one analyst has suggested Blockbuster partner with Amazon.

Tuesday, May 17, 2005

She Said / He Said

Sounds backwards, doesn’t it? It is usually put the other way around, with the male pronoun first, even though the situations described by this phrase are overwhelmingly ones which begin with a woman saying a man engaged in inappropriate sexual conduct toward her.

Placing men before women seems to be a cultural norm. In the Judeo-Christian mythology, God first created Adam. Eve was an afterthought and was actually Adam’s idea, not God’s. God had tried to please Adam by creating animals, but when they did not solve the problem of Adam’s loneliness, God created Eve from one of Adam’s ribs. [Here is an interesting university forum discussing the question whether every fetus begins as a female.]

Please forgive a digression. Opponents of same sex marriage point out that "God did not create Adam and Steve". But since God sent animals to Adam before he sent Eve, what if Adam had been the kind of guy who likes sex with animals - would that have made Eve unnecessary? Bible students point out that only Adam and Eve could procreate, but former Jesuit Priest Jack Miles, in his Pulitzer Prize winner, "God: a Biography", shows the Old Testament indicates God was not that clear from the start as to just whether, and if so how, other humans would be coming along.

Egg production and child bearing have been exclusive domain for women. Some people think sperm banks with enormous deposits could make men unnecessary. Egg banks could eliminate the need for women if the artificial uterus is developed. Truth is, neither women nor men want to see the other permanently disappear. Heterosexuals, constituting the significant majority, have a mutual attraction to the opposite sex; homosexual attraction exists in both sexes; and bisexuals of either sex are attracted to both women and men.

The healthy pursuit of these sexual attractions is one of the spices of life. Consensual mutual attraction is a delight for both people. But men have a long history of sexually attacking women as Susan Brownmiller excellently documented in her classic book, "Against Our Will". When such an attack is alleged, and when there are no witnesses to the actual attack other than the woman claiming to have been victimized, that is a "she said / he said" situation - her word against his. The case involving Kobe Bryant is the most recent high profile example. When the alleged victim calls off the criminal prosecution and reportedly accepts a large cash settlement, some people question whether she was being honest in making the claim.

Sexual harassment by a workplace superior can also boil down to a she said / he said situation. Such cases have come to play a role in American politics. I am currently reading David Brock’s book, "Blinded by the Right", wherein he explains how he operated as a right wing hit man in writing his first book, "The Real Anita Hill", in which he unfairly attacked and maligned the woman who accused Supreme Court nominee Clarence Thomas of sexual harassment. Brock cites the Hill & Thomas case as opening the door to use of sexual harassment claims against targeted politicians - like Bill Clinton, with the claim of Paula Jones being funded and exploited by the right wing establishment . The Courts said she had no legal case, but Paula still got a significant settlement, nose job, maybe other plastic surgery and "spreads" in Penthouse and Playboy, and the right wingers diverted Clinton's energies away from doing much of the meaningful work for which we elected him.

Question for Readers: She Said / He said

Now a question for readers:

What advice would you give men and women for avoiding getting into a she said / he said situation?

Friday, May 13, 2005

Presidential Spandex

Laura Bush and Nancy Reagan were rushed to a secure bunker. Dick Cheney was evacuated to a secret location in accordance with the emergency plan for attacks on Washington. Congress and the Supreme Court halted the business of government in order to avoid becoming attack victims. Who knew if the small plane heading for our nation’s capital was carrying an Al Qaeda nuclear bomb or some dreaded chemical or biological weapon of mass destruction?

Jets were scrambled to defend America. Was this to be the first strike in an attempt to repeat or exceed the havoc of 9/11? Would the War Room be thrust into action with the Commander-in-Chief heroically assuming command? Surely there would be no repeat of the "President as deer in the headlights" footage from "Fahrenheit 9/11", with the President continuing to read to the grade school children after being informed of the ongoing attack. Of course not. We learned from 9/11 how to handle such attacks. New, secret protocols are in place.

Though the protocols are secret, we now know what the number one priority is. Do not interrupt the President to inform him, unless he is personally in danger. The hell with Laura, Nancy Reagan, Dick, Congress, the Supreme Court and the rest of America, let "Numero Uno" finish his bike ride in the Patuxent Wildlife Research Reserve without being disturbed.

Though the President has been silent and the White House Press Secretary has been trying to play the matter down, if there is a next time, the protocols may have been modified by then and we may later see footage of our fearless Commander pedaling into the War Room in his Presidential spandex to personally take charge of our national defense.

Monday, May 09, 2005

Question for Readers: Culture Shock

After several weeks of preparing for the arrival of son Anthony and daughter-in-law Pat from Thailand, the newlyweds arrived a few days ago. Anthony has been gone for a couple years and says he has minor culture shock on returning to the US, but I am still trying to grasp the strangeness of all this to Pat, who has never traveled beyond Bangkok and environs and has only rudimentary English skills.

Picking them up at the airport on a fairly mild and partly cloudy Seattle day, Pat stood near the car shivering before we realized she would appreciate sitting in the car with the heater on while we loaded the luggage. I don’t think she had ever experienced air temperatures in the low 60s. I remember son Jon telling about the excitement of his WSU roommate from Hawaii at being able to see his breath on a cool autumn day. When Pat is more rested, we will drive her into the mountains to find snow.

We knew Pat would have her own preferences and needs in food, so we did not stock up on anything beforehand. We took her to an Asian supermarket where she was able to find many food items familiar to her. We also visited a Safeway and QFC to show her what Americans eat. One item that she found delightfully humorous was the bags of peeled baby carrots - she was not sure what they were and wondered where they came from. I thought a bland diet would help Pat’s queasy stomach, but learned that to comfort a Thai stomach one needs spicy food.

I have never traveled to anywhere more exotic than southern Europe. Basic training at Lackland Air Force Base in Texas supposedly offered its own version of culture shock, but it wasn’t that bad for me after growing up with an onerous step-father and spending four years of high school under the Irish Christian Brothers version of fascism.

For this week’s question, what has been the biggest culture shock of your life?

Wednesday, May 04, 2005

Election by Statisticians?

The challenge to the election of Washington Governor Gregoire is scheduled to go to trial May 23rd. National Republicans are paying big money to fund this challenge to the closest election for a State Governor in American history. There is a principle at stake for Republicans - developing the right to overturn elections of Democrats based on cherry picking Democratic precincts for convicted felons who voted illegally.

The Washington State law on contesting an election is not very detailed. General rules of law and evidence apply and votes proven to be illegally cast will be subtracted from the party receiving them. The problem is how to prove for whom the illegal votes were cast. This is where the Republican "principle" comes in; they want to argue that if a precinct went 80% for Gregoire and there were 10 illegal votes cast in that precinct, that should be sufficient proof that 8 of those votes were cast for Gregoire. The Democrats argued that such statistical evidence should not be allowed, but the Judge ruled that he would let experts testify at trial as to the validity of the statistical method and then he would decide whether to allow such evidence in this case.

Statistical evidence has been used in some voting, civil rights and discrimination cases as I understand it, though I have not researched the subject. My sense though is that the use of such evidence is valid only when there is a fraud or abuse of power by one of the candidates or by persons in a position of authority, such as a government rigging election results for re-election or authorities otherwise systematically tampering with a legitimate selection methodology to produce a prejudiced outcome. That is not the case in this Governor election. Illegal votes were cast by individuals and there is no allegation of any systematic tampering or cohesive plan on their part to elect a particular candidate.

What if there was only one illegal vote in a precinct that voted 80% Democrat? Does statistical probability show there is a 4 to 1 chance the vote was for the Democrat and therefore, by a preponderance of the evidence it should be discarded? When there is a systematically co-ordinated plan by the elected party to obtain illegal votes and the results are statistically skewered, that may in fact show the election is invalid, but where several felons independently decide to vote, how can statistics prove the way they voted? Presuming disenfranchised felons voted like the others in their precinct is inherently fallacious, since the felons are illegal voters and the others are voting legally - they differ on the very fundamental aspect of integrity.

Supposedly a big reason Gore lost to Bush in the US Supreme Court was because the Democrats cherry picked certain Florida Counties to recount instead of recounting State-wide, thereby unconstitutionally making the vote of a resident of one of those Counties more important than the vote of a County that was not picked. Isn’t that what the Republicans have done in the Washington case, choosing only some Democratic precincts to audit? True, the Democrats have cherry picked some Republican precincts in response, but since the Republicans are the challengers, shouldn't they have been required to audit the entire State?

For the racial discriminatory history of laws denying the vote to convicted felons, check out the Sense piece Do the Time and Serve the Time . If Washington State had no such law, then lawsuits such as the current Republican generated one would not be available to throw the will of the voters into uncertainty. Ironically, the very felons the laws were designed to disenfranchise may now become key witnesses at the trial, with their testimony as to for whom they illegally voted possibly determining the ultimate outcome of the election.

The two-faced Republicans are hoping "activist" judges of the Washington State Supreme Court will eventually make new law to decide this case in their favor. If not, they may have to try again with the Supremes in the other Washington.

Monday, May 02, 2005

Questions for Readers - Two Different Hummers

Failure to post for a few days I’ll blame primarily on a brief illness. To make up ground, this posting is intended as both a "light" piece and as weekly reader questions.

Yesterday, while driving a local highway, I saw a forty something handsome white male drive his new Hummer down from a hillside recently topped with an upscale housing development taking another bite out of the Issaquah Alps. The pleased look on his face seemed to me to be saying something like, "I love driving this Hummer and pissing off those liberals. I got my man in the White House, so all my goodies are safe. But these damn Democrats have too much power here in Washington State and just increased the gas tax to help pay for transportation needs. I don’t mind paying gas money to Republican oil men and their Saudi Prince friends, but I’ll be damned if I am going to pay more for road maintenance. Hell this Hummer can drive through bomb craters. Guess I better send more money to the Dino Rossi oust the elected Governor lawsuit fund." [Hang on readers - it does get lighter].

This morning I put 1/8 cup of sugar in a measuring cup and added a half cup of boiling water to use for Hummer food. No, I am not going to pour it in the gas tank of someone’s Hummer. I use the sugary nectar in the Hummingbird feeder to feed the little Hummers, as we call them. It was in making the nectar that I was struck by the irony that both the big pig and the little bird are called Hummer. I shake my head when I see either of them, but for different reasons. The shake for the pig is in disgust, the shake for the bird is in delight. Some people like to give the bird when they see the pig.

Questions for the readers:
What car that you have owned gave you the most pleasure to drive, and why?
What bird that you have seen brings you the most delight to see, and why?