Wednesday, January 24, 2007

State of the Union...I think

As I sit down to begin what I hope will be a pretty short-winded blog regarding the State of the Union address last night (I mean really, what could I say that hasn't already been said?), I must apologize for my tardiness in getting this up; I managed to hold on throughout the meat of the speech, but by the time he started playing hype man to Dkembe, I fell asleep and woke up just an hour ago. Hell, even then I only woke up because my body clock went off reminding me that I Love New York was on.*

Now you, my readers (all one of you) may be asking yourselves, "Josh! How could you have possibly fallen asleep during that speech? It was a somber, heartfelt affair, with circumstances and contexts demanding the careful dissection of every moment. And do you really watch I Love New York?**"

First question gets first answer:

President Bush's speech was in effect an outline one of the most simpering, repetitive, uncommitted plans through which I have had the displeasure of sitting. It was a canker sore on the inner lip of politics (a lip that is already chapped beyond medication); I would rather listen to color commentary on a three-foot streamer of drool emitting from the mouth of Benjamin Franklin. I, along with every other viewer, was subjected to roughly 48 minutes of the President rattling off a list of things that need to get done, reforms that should have been instigated at least three years ago, stuff that focus groups have been screaming into his ear for what seems like eons.

There are a couple of points in particular which I would like to address. One, the mention of No Child Left Behind. Bush brings this topic up first thing, using the passing of that act as an example of Congress' "newfound bi-partisanship." We have here one hit and one miss: it is indeed true that there is a newfound lack of partisanship in Congress. It did not, however, stem from the passing of that act; it stemmed from wanting his sorry butt out of the White House. In the past few weeks, there have arisen far more condemnations of the "new" war plan than endorsements, many of them coming out of his own camp.

Two: let us address the war plan, and his discussion of it last night. Honestly, I don't know what to say on the subject. His explanation for sending off 21,000 more troops to Iraq is the same tired old song we've been hearing for years now: the terrorists hate democracy, they hate Americans, they want to kill all of us. To quote the President, "To win the war on terror we must take the fight to the enemy." Never mind that winning the war on terror is about as likely as winning the war on drugs. For every cell wiped out, two more will spring up in its place; it is the nature of the beast, and martyrdom is revered in that society like nothing else. As far as the terrorists' "hatred for Americans" is concerned...well, most of that is certainly justifiable. We likely wouldn't be having the problems we're having today if we had just stayed the hell out of that region in the first place (and by first place, I mean at least thirty years ago); our continued support for Israel has made this a social, economic, and political issue, all amplified religiously because of the society that it involves. We are a perpetually warring and paranoid nation; many of these cells can trace their origins back to our own Special Forces training them to drive the Russians out when they were still the enemy du jour.

And finally, the magic words were uttered: "global climate change," an utterance followed by a list of goals and pursuable standards once again bereft of any complementary focus, plan, or clearly stated objective.

To what does all of this translate? It translates to a meager attempt (by an even more meager president) to appease his critics by making mention of issues without actually proposing a specific plan, and to fire up the 34% of the country that still has his back with a rehashing of the same recycled war propaganda that has been shoved down our throats for the last three years. The man's like Chuck Wepner: he knows he can't win, he just wants to last the 15 rounds.

As a side note, the media's reaction and coverage of this thing was outlandish. Every network I turned to, all I heard about was this somber and honest speech, this admittance of wrongs, this recognizing what steps must now be taken to rectify the state of the nation (read "clusterf!!k"). My no one intelligent enough to not take the Positive Press bait?

*I do not watch this show. If you do, you should be strung up by your testicles and beaten with Singapore canes.

**I told

Wednesday, January 17, 2007

New CTL bill an Obamanation

My apologies. The pun was irresistible.

By now the 110th Congress of these United States has gotten cozy in its new position, probably long enough now to have left a warm spot with its butt in the spinning black leather chair of Washington. As many would expect, a good deal of bills on the floor are energy and fuel-related, something that certainly has not gone unforeseen in the weeks leading up to the changing of the guard in Congress. Whether it is for anyone's good or for the sheer publicity that the Democrats will garner from doing so, we are in for a good deal of these types of bills.

One of the bills that has caused some of the most fervent head-scratching among both parties is one introduced on January 4th calling for funding of coal-to-liquid energy production. This method of fuel production is, as most anyone could tell you, not the cleanest or most efficient; to put things into perspective, a new study released by the Natural Resources Defense Council Climate Center reports that a 35 mpg vehicle running on CTL fuel will produce as much carbon dioxide as a 19 mpg car running on conventional fuel.

Now this is all very depressing for environmentalists, but the subject causing the most confusion in this situation is that the bill was jointly released by Republican Sen. Jim Bunning of Kentucky and...Sen. Barack Obama, a man who, up until this story broke, had a 100% approval rating among voters in the League of Conservation. The usually climate-concerned Congressman is, needless to say, in hot water with the greeners.

The obviously detrimental effect that this would have on the environment is not the only issue here; for the time being, no known CTL process involves carbon-catching (the primary reason that the process is so dirty), and adding this feature would inevitably jack up the cost of production. As it stands right now, the fuel produced by most CTLs is up to 40% more expensive than conventional fuel processing. Considering the already fluctuating nature of oil prices, this option is right out.

In Obama's defense, he seems to be looking to the long term. Utilization of American coal to produce fuel would cut significantly into our dependence on foreign oil; for those playing the home game, this is a good thing. In addition, the process is not completely new; China has been at it for a few years now. Not only that, but researchers at the University of Pittsburgh have been working on improving the quality of CTL fuel, as well as lowering the cost.

So far, however, there haven't been any major breakthroughs of which to speak, and the bill comes to us after at least four or five years of research. It would, I suppose, be superfluous at this point to observe that this bill would undoubtedly benefit the coal industry in Obama's home state of Illinois.

David Doniger, policy director for the NRDC, sees this largely as a step sideways: "Coal-to-liquid is, in the best-case scenario, no worse for the climate than oil-derived gasoline -- and no better," he says. And while Doniger does support coal gasification as an alternative to coal-burning power plants, he warns that CTL is not at this point a dependable alternative.

Can the purification of CTL fuels be accomplished with "investment and innovation," as Senator Obama phrases it? I'll be monitoring this topic for a while; until I see reports of progress, a skeptic I remain.

Monday, January 15, 2007

Climate issue now a matter of human rights.

This is an entry I posted on my now-trivial MySpace blog, and figured it carries enough merit to be on here. Its a couple of weeks old, but still relevant. Enjoy.

Well boys and girls, it's official: the infection that is bureacracy has spread to climate change and it's possible effects on the lives, habits, and cultures of certain peoples. The common thread between human rights and indigenous climate has now been formulated.

Does this fact, however, make climate change a human rights issue? We can't "officially" know for the time being, as the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (in, you guessed it, D.C.) decided to parry rather than address a 175-page petition issued by the Inuit Circumpolar Council (based out of Alaska and Canada) regarding the amount of greenhouse emissions. The petition, signed by 63 individuals, outlined the negative results on the climate heretofore enjoyed by the Inuits, and called for lowering of emissions.

Did petitioner Sheila Walt-Cloutier expect immediate action, or any action at all? Probably not, but check out the IACHR's terse response: "we will not be able to process your petition at present... the information provided does not enable us to determine whether the alleged facts would tend to characterize a violation of rights protected by the American Declaration."
"It was disappointing for sure. Their letter was evasive and dismissive, and that's the part that disappoints me and angers me more than anything else," Watt-Cloutier said.

Dear readers...all two of you...listen up and spread the word. If it happens there, it can and WILL happen here. It is imperative that Southern populations wake up and realize that the contempt harbored by government and big business towards Nature will not be without consequences. Eating away at the fabric of Nature and her processes will deteriorate our standard of living.

And I think there's some document in Washington that forbids that.

Oh, if you want the source of this story, here ya go:

Sunday, January 14, 2007

Dear God help me, I'm writing about Jay-Z

As the title of this entry should imply, this topic involves an individual about whom I would usually care not to write; my sentiments towards many celebrities flow in a similar vein. At the same time, I must regretfully acknowledge the ironclad grip that celebrities seem to possess over us. The sheer extravagance, eccentricity, or absurdity that seems to pervade many of their lives are the rancid turds to our common fly. Thusly, equally as a result of their position and influence in life, as well as our susceptibility to vicarious living and interest in the wealthy elite, celebrities carry with them a responsibility to act as an example and to utilize their fame to the most universally beneficient ends possible.

With that out of the way, let us now get down to business. It has recently been reported that rapper/mogul Jay-Z (or "Jigga" or "Big Goofy Douche") has teamed up with GM to design a new customized version of the Denali, officially dubbed the "Jay-Z Blue," though it is already being nicknamed the "Big Pimpin'-Mobile." And Jesus wept.

Now, I wouldn't begrudge anyone his payoff who has worked his ass off for over a decade (which Mr. Z has done) doing something about which he is passionate. Eat your caviar, drink your fine wines and $80 vodka. Date Beyonce; I would too. But...

The Denali has consistently ranked among the worst commercially available vehicles available in terms of gas mileage, usually clocking in at somewhere between 15-17 miles per gallon. Never mind that it never fails to rank as one of the worst gas-guzzlers on the market today; on top of all that, it is exempt from new CAFE regulations that have been put in place to increase gas mileage on pickups and SUVs by 2011, due to its Gross Vehicle Weight Rating of over 8,500 lbs, a figure that doesn't even take into account load capacity.

In short, this is exactly what we need: another high-profile, immeasurably influential celebrity promoting a product that is blatantly detrimental to the environment and the green movement, a product that 98% of Americans can't afford to buy or maintain, and a product that 0% of Americans actually need.

The wheels on the unabashedly capitalistic machine go round and round...round and round...


Friday, January 12, 2007

Fear and Loathing from the Sofa

“It is all that remains of my friend; the friend who led me on to madness and wreckage; a godlike head of such marble as only old Hellas could yield, young with the youth that is outside time…They say that haunted memory-face is modeled after my own, as it was at twenty-five, but upon the marble base is carven a single name in the letters of Attica—HYPNOS.”
-H.P. Lovecraft, “Hypnos”

The above quotation is a portion of the final paragraph from Lovecraft’s short story “Hypnos,” which can be found in the anthology The Dreams in the Witch-House. To provide a quick summary, the tale is told of a young man who takes on as his friend and teacher in manners of dark, drug-fueled, and unspeakable psycho-cosmic excursions a strange, yet hauntingly beautiful man whom he meets at a railway station. For a few years following, the pair shut themselves away in a studio apartment and embark upon a series of gruesomely psychosomatic experiments, often launching their consciousnesses into farther reaches of the cosmos than man had ever dreamt. Eventually, the teacher sees a certain vision that literally paralyzes him with fear. As you may, however, be able to gather from the quotation, everything happened in the mind of the narrator himself. It is, of course, unclear as to whether or not anything remotely resembling the described events actually transpired, or whether or not the narrator is in fact telling the truth. It is this ambiguity that entrances Lovecraft fans and frustrates his critics to no end.

In case you are wondering, this is not intended to be a review of a grisly little story written close to seventy years ago. I wish to say something regarding the nature of fear, specifically as to how it relates to this point in the course of human history.

Fear is a ridiculously powerful entity; in its most potent form, it has the ability to inspire actions that, quite frankly, seem or will seem utterly boneheaded in retrospect:

--The wiping out of Native Americans. When colonists first came to this country and began to develop it, the only serious threats at first were a lack of knowledge as to how survive in this unfamiliar land, and the presence of indigenous peoples. Well, they were able to put aside their fear of the natives long enough to learn how to work and utilize the land; after that, it’s the beginning of mass genocide and whacking babies against trees. I know full well that most of us look back at that episode and gasp at the brutality of our ancestors, but I am willing to bet that most of us think far less about the subsequent repression and marginalization of the remaining tribal Americans that still continues to this day, though by now the wheels have been turning long enough for things to simply continue running their course, so it is predominantly in a state of indifference that we deal with these people nowadays. Our initial fear, though it has since evolved into a comfortable apathy, has left our tendencies paralyzed and has held the lives of those whom we oppressed in permanent stasis.

--McCarthyism. Boy, did the Senate pull a boner with this one. I don’t need to go into a lot of details, as I’m sure most of you are perfectly aware of the highlights (or lowlights, as the case may be), but I’m sure that most of us can now agree that this is just about the most irrational cause for mass hysteria that was ever concocted. The mainstream spread of Communism…rrrrrriiiiiight. The capitalist system by that point was already well enough in place to effortlessly shrug off any attempts at cultural “insurgency.” There really was nothing to be afraid of; I suppose gray suits and pamphlets were a great threat to our society. Really, this (along with its offshoot, the Vietnam conflict) was just another way to marginalize the rest of us, to give us something to fear.

--But we can’t be afraid of the Russians forever, now can we? They’re a disheveled third-rate power now anyway, so that option is right out. So presently we are supposed to be deathly afraid of the terrorist threat. Well, 9/11 helped us out a bit with that one, though we should’ve seen it coming (again, a completely separate topic for later). So after we are attacked by groups based out of Afghanistan, we invade…Iraq. Never mind that there never was any correlation or cooperation between the two nations; at that point, Americans heard the words “terrorists” and “nuclear” in the same sentence on CNN and went completely bonkers. From there, you run into arguments like “These terrorists, these suicide bombers, could come into YOUR home and endanger the lives of YOU and YOUR KIDS!” Which is just absurd; any rational teenager can deduce that any terrorist attacks are going be geared towards a symbolic target: the towers and the Pentagon (conspiracy theories on the backburner for the time being) for instance. Not one terrorist cell has given any thought to your personal habits or has harbored any intentions of hijacking a single-engine plane to take off from Beetlestraw, Nebraska and drop a smart bomb on your head. It doesn’t matter, though; we’ve bought it for a long time, why should we stop now? That’s a notion on which those in power are counting, and rightly so, as its worked so far. We’re starting now to see some real signs of discontent with approval ratings; its always been there of course, but it started small back in late 2001 with those blessed with some foresight and has since grown exponentially, coinciding with each subsequent blunder of the current administration.

Two things could have arisen during the first post-9/11 months, based largely on official, as well as public, reaction to the atrocities: one, a stunned nation and government, totally caught with their pants down (again barring all feasible conspiracies at this time), could regroup and seek to understand what led to these attacks, or two, immediately label any and all Arabs/Muslims as suspected terrorists, and then spend tax dollars to undermine the Bill of Rights, dubbing it “patriotism.”

The former should have happened, and we would likely have moved from shocked fear to healthy caution and knowledge-seeking within a matter of months instead of a matter of years, as has been the case. The latter is what actually happened, and has left the nation as horrifically paralyzed as Lovecraft’s cosmic sojourner.

Monday, January 8, 2007

New Iraq War Plan: Dumber and Dumbererer

I realized even before I decided to make this posting that probably every amateur political scientist and activist in the blogosphere has already commented on this subject in more coherent, eloquent, and informative manners than I am able. But you may not have read theirs, so it is with my two or three cents that you are stuck, my friend.

It has been reported that President Bush and his administration (read "cronies," or "The Borg") will unveil on Wednesday a New Plan for Iraq, one that will start us out on the Road To Peace, that will Win Hearts And Minds, Preserve Freedom, and accomplish all kinds of other capitalized objectives towards which we've been working for close to a term and a half now.

The details of the plan have not been disclosed as of yet, but it has been strongly hinted that deployment of ground forces will continue, most likely in numbers that will escalate beyond the usual 20,000 troops per...per...oh, I don't know, per whim or something like that. Never mind that despite, or perhaps because of, the increasing amounts of troops (and the amounts are certainly increasing; compare regular deployments of 20,000 to a total of 3,021 confirmed dead since March of 2003) have coincided with a gradual escalation of violence.

Never mind also that the Army and Marine Corps numbers are being stretched too thin for comfort. The Army's on-standby brigade of around 4,000 soldiers (from the 82nd Airborne) has already left for Kuwait, meaning that another will have to take its place (credit: These days, voluntary enrollment in the armed forces is at a low point (anybody know why? hands? Bueller? Bueller?), and the amount of readily available brigades has dwindled significantly. That translates into recycling of already-enlisted soldiers, which in turn for them means longer war-zone hours, shortened spans of time back home, and less than twelve months to regroup and re-train between tours. That, says Army Chief of Staff General Peter J. Schoomaker, is a "red line" that we do not need to cross.

Now let's give credit where credit is due; that is not all there is to the plan, though the other part is hardly encouraging to anyone who has really been following this conflict. Apparently the plan's piece de resistance (literally, "piece of resistance") calls for the creation, pretty much from scratch, mind you, of a national reconciliation government that will theoretically bring together the two primary Kurdish parties, the two primary Shiite parties, and the Sunni Iraqi Islamic Party. Hopefully, if some success is had on the bureaucratic level, then Moqtada al-Shadr, the powerful Shiite militia leader and head of a group that holds 30 seats and 5 cabinet posts in Iraq's house, can be marginalized and some of his potency sucked away.

Other aspects of the plan involve amending the constitution to address Sunni concerns, short-term work programs to clean up military-secured neighborhoods, and rebuilding of small businesses. The latter is something that was attempted a couple of years back under a free market plan, a boner if there ever was one by the Bush administration, seeing as how Iraq was ready neither then nor now for such a drastic alteration in its economy, or lack thereof. The free market pretext has apparantly been scrapped, so we'll just have to see.

Before I move on, let me get this out of the way: beating a dead horse; banging your head against a wall; adding fuel to the fire; spinning wheels; going in circles; chicken with its head cut off; lost in translation; lab experiment gone wrong. Email me with your own.

Discussing whether or not we belonged there in the first place is at this point irrelevant. Everyone by now has some vague idea of what we should have done; the issue now is what to do today. The fact of the matter is that, in our quest to nation-build (something that George Washington, over 200 years ago, had the foresight to warn us against), we have contributed more to the decline of a nation than it's previous dictatorship had. More importantly than that, we are destroying lives, both of Americans and Iraqis. Our involvement has spawned an all-out civil war from mere (if you can call it that) civil conflict, and given birth to war atrocities both told and untold.

Bush and his cohorts can simply not get it through their heads that Iraq is not America; it is not a democratic nation (strictly speaking, neither are we, but that's a topic for later), and cannot be treated as such. The loyalties of the Iraqi people are not national but strictly regional and religious.

Meanwhile, while the government and armed forces continue to blindfold themselves and throw darts at a Peace Plan board, staunch advocates of the war hide behind yellow ribbons, "Support Our Troops!" bumper stickers, and fabricated horror stories of nuclear strikes by al-Quaida.

What is the answer? I admit I do not know; if you do, I wish you'd give somebody a call. We are losing credibility as a nation and as a people; we believe ourselvs to be an 800-pound gorilla, when in reality we are a twelve-year-old with a chemistry set, Army Men, and a need for Ritalin. This should be fun.

Saturday, January 6, 2007

Standing 5'10", weighing in at 145 lbs...

After much careful consideration (a minute and six seconds), I've come to the conclusion that I will kick off my online blog by introducing myself, explaining my title and address, etc. Allow me, however, to preface the personal introduction by saying that this outlet, composed though it may be of pixels and html languages indecipherable to the ordinary man, will NOT be used to gossip about celebrities, whine about my personal life, or perform any other written task that renders the unknown purpose of human existence completely and utterly irrelevant. Then again...if the purpose of human existence is unknown, then who am I to sit in judgment of these things as trivial? My head hurts.

You will notice that my blog title and address are different; I couldn't decide between the two. The title, "Estimated Prophet," has several shades of meaning to it in this situation. One, it is a wry attempt at humor, considering the fact that I am the son of a preacher. Two, those are the two tasks which I hope to accomplish here: estimation and prophecy. I will, collect, assess, analyze, break down, and comment. I will prophesy. Keep in mind that I am only an Estimated Prophet, an Approximated Prophet. I do not guarantee results.

Third, it's my favorite Grateful Dead song.

I am a college graduate desperately trying to find a job in my field. I am nearly twenty-three, with too much time on my hands and too many thoughts in my head.

In short, I will do my best to make this a meaningful read to those of you who choose to grace these pages. I cannot promise an everyday update; some days, if I'm bored, I may write about a movie I just saw, or a song that spoke to me in a certain way. More often than not, however, this is about the world in which we live, and I will try like hell to do everyone in it justice with my words.

On a final note, check out my dad's blog at He's a Baptist minister, and has some interesting things to say on the subjects of our time.