Yak Attack

A place to unwind and spend some time yakking.

Tuesday, October 25, 2005

The famous phrase is, "How safe do we feel?"

Have you heard that the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) is getting into the education business? Specifically, our buds at DHS are handing out our money to create Centers of Excellence, which are charged with protecting Mr. and Mrs. America and “their way of life” by looping universities into DHS partnerships to conduct research for the government. So far, there are four Centers of Excellence; number one deals with terrorism and economic impact; number two dabbles in terrorism and animal agriculture; number three scopes out terrorism and post-harvest food; and the fun begins with number four, which examines terrorism through the rose colored glasses of behavioral and social sciences.

Center number four, The National Consortium for the Study of Terrorism and Responses to Terrorism (START), was awarded its 3-year, $12 million grant back in January 2005. Gary LaFree (ironic name, isn’t it?), a professor of criminology at the University of Maryland, is the START director. Since its inception, START has built a relationship with 5 major university partners, brought on board Arie W. Kruglanski, Clark McCauley and Kathleen J. Tierney to head up the center’s three “thematic working groups” and began offering fellowship money to lure graduate students, and those who have completed graduate school within the last five years, to conduct research for START.

LaFree hit the mother lode when he discovered Pinkerton Consulting and Investigations Inc had index card records of 70,000 international terrorist incidents catalogued from 1970 to 1997. He convinced Pinkerton to let him record their data in a computer database, which gave him an edge in the competition for the Center of Excellence grant. Squeezed out of the running was a similar database project conducted by Sam Houston State University with $2 million of financial help from the Department of Justice. He stated in an article that originally ran in the Baltimore Sun, "As a private money-making concern, Pinkerton didn't have all the political pressure that the State Department does… Pinkerton tended to err on the side of inclusiveness."

Interestingly, Pinkerton Consulting and Investigations Inc, which merged with Burns International in 2001 to form Securitas Security Services USA, Inc., is now part of the world’s largest security service company. Allan Pinkerton, founder of Pinkerton Consulting and Investigations Inc., helped form our nation’s first secret service to infiltrate Confederate territory during the Civil War. Burns International’s founder, William J. Burns, was appointed in 1921 to the directorship of the National Bureau of Fingerprint Investigation, which morphed into the FBI.

LaFree refers to START as “the Manhattan Project of the social sciences.” The intentional correlation to the research consortium that produced the most destructive force, to date, ever unleashed on people just doesn’t buff the soul with warm fuzzy vibes, now does it? He also stated in the Baltimore Sun, “"The famous phrase is that one person's terrorist is another person's freedom fighter," defining terrorism and terrorists by technique which involve, “a "sub-state" agent, violence or the threat of it, and goals that are political, religious or social.”

How come I don’t feel safer now that you’re on the dole, LaFree?

post script: as I was adding this entry, I noticed that a fifth Center of Excellence was awarded a grant in October. They're concerned about critters, too, of the microbial variety.

Thursday, October 13, 2005

One stop blog shopping

There’s a groovy new place to hang your hat in blog land. Tim Osman, creator of yourleaders.org, rolled out a new blog site last week. Libertyfilter highlights posts from a variety of liberty based blogs, so you can get more out of your reading time in just one stop. With Mr. Osman’s blessing, I’ve placed links to both blogs over in my link section, for your convenience. Head on over to Libertyfilter and check it out.

More than dog heads and buxom women shadowed in ice cubes

Before hurricanes dominated the media landscape, Business Week Online published Uncle Sam Wants You in the Worst Way in their August 22nd News: Analysis & Commentary section. It’s no secret that the armed forces are hurting for people—they can’t lasso pre-adults fast enough to feed the quota coffers in DC.

Rather than hanging his head in shame, Uncle Sam is cranking up the heat. He’s going to drop some significant coin to wash the brains of American parents, specifically parents of today’s young men and women. The intended outcome is that Ma and Pa Patriot will twist little Joey’s arm, after being blitzed with a multipronged campaign, to head on down to the nearest Army recruiting office.

Sammy is getting clever in his old age. Rather than just rely on commercials to snag warm bodies, the Army is planning to stage televised town hall meetings with “carefully selected soldiers” to “tell positive stories about military accomplishments in Iraq and Afghanistan and answer questions.” According to BW Online, these town halls are “a risky strategy” because the audience will not be prescreened. Oh, okay, only the actors—I mean soldiers—will be prescreened. Gotcha. In addition, Army personnel recently made an appearance on Monster Garage and are slated to break into reality TV with ESPN’s new show Bound For Glory: The Montour Spartans. It’s all in the presentation, dear American.

The Army is digging deep into our pockets to make this magic happen. Fiscal year 2005, they plunked $240 million of our dollars on the table for marketing. Next fiscal year, the ad companies get a raise--$320 million is ready to slush into the marketing fund. BW puts the increase in the Army’s marketing budget into perspective—they’re planning on spending two-plus times as much as Toyota, per recruit. That means Toyota spends less than $2000 per customer to reel them in, while the Army plans to pay $4000 per recruit on bait; if they don’t make quota next fiscal year, the per recruit price tag goes up exponentially.

I do not yet have the courage of tax protester Dave Gross, over at The Picket Line. His writing is spurring me to delve deeper into my mind and conscience, however. I can’t stomach the thievery anymore—stealing my money to lure folks to their death. Death can take on many forms; you don’t have to leave this earth to feel dead on the inside. I really can’t stomach it, and it appears I’m not alone.

Tuesday, October 11, 2005

Whatever tomorrow brings

I heard the song Drive by Incubus on the radio today. It made me think about some sad news I received this morning.

Fear of the unknown is haunting, but those that get it, at some point, let go and get on with life, taking in stride all the meadows and switchbacks on your personal hiking trail.

I dedicate the song Drive to a special person. I hope your switchback will feature some wild lupine and songbirds along the way.

Lately, I'm beginning to find that when I drive myself, my light is found Whatever tomorrow brings, I'll be there With open arms and open eyes yeah Whatever tomorrow brings, I'll be there, I'll be there
From Drive by Incubus © 1999 Album: Make Yourself

Monday, October 10, 2005

Waxing on candy

Lew went to the grocery store for me on Saturday. Since he’s usually hungry, it’s always fun to unpack the grocery bags and see what hopped into his basket at the store. While making the rounds at the local Win-Co, he picked up a gi-normous bag of gummi jungle animals, five whole pounds of confectionary delight for only $2.49.

I know you must be asking yourself why he would pick up such a frickin’ huge bag of candy. There are three reasons: 1) the children of LEWville (thanks bucctoo for coming up with this lovely term) love candy, and having a little treat for their lunches makes them happy; 2) I, myself, am a sucker for gummi candies, so he was looking to score some points with said purchase; 3) it was cheap, which makes it a win-win purchase in Lew’s book.

As we were bagging up the gummi lions, gorillas, alligators and parrots into lunch box sized portions, I told Lew that one of my favorite foods must be carnauba wax. His eyes widened. “You like to eat car wax?” he asked.

I’m prone to off-the-wall behavior, but I usually keep my snacks safely within the four food groups. “No, silly. Gummis always have carnauba wax in it. Look,” I replied, pointing at the bag’s ingredient list.

“That’s the same stuff I wax my car with,” he said. This time, my eyes widen. When it comes to the Chazmobile, Lew cuts no corners. Carnauba must be the bee's knees in the car-geek universe. So what the hell is it doing in my gummi candy?

As I munched on squishy hippos and rhinoceros, I tried to erase the image of me scooping Turtle Wax (tm) out of a half-shell with a Ritz cracker (tm). The turquoise elephants didn’t banish this awful mind-picture. Neither did the indiscernible blob I dubbed the Yak (although technically, I think water buffalo, not yaks, reside in real jungles; it’s my gummi jungle, so it’s a yak).

In hopes of relieving myself of this icky image, I looked up carnauba wax. According to foodnet's directory of commodities, “Carnauba wax covers the fan-shaped leaves of a South American palm tree called the ‘tree of life’, which grows up to 13 metres in height. The wax is extracted from trees, which grow in the dry regions of the northeast states of Brazil and can flourish for 200 years.” I also learned that about half of the yearly production of carnauba wax is imported by the US. There was a bunch of boring stuff about how it's harvested, and what grades there are in within the carnauba family.

“The wax is the hardest and has the highest melting point of any natural wax. It is water resistant and can hold a high polish. Carnauba wax emulsifies as a clear liquid, which makes it ideal for quality floor and furniture polishes, which generally have a base of paraffin or beeswax. It is also used in the ‘lost wax’ metal-casting process and in lipstick and varnishes.”

That’s great, you stupid directory, but what is it doing in my gummi food?

As I dug deeper, I discovered that S.C. Johnson(tm) attributed its edge in the cleaning market to the carnauba wax in their products. Little wood bowls look prettier after being buffed with pure carnauba bars. Carnauba is the bee's knees of the car world. It helps water bead better on cars, soaks up acid rain, conceals minor paint flaws and “tends to produce a deeper, darker, richer shine than any other wax.”

The clump of masticated jungle critters hanging out in my belly made me feel pretty sick, after reading what non-edible stuff carnauba wax is in. Dang it all, why do I read those pesky labels? Then I found a little food science gem, titled Generating Yummy Gummies. It’s a major snooze-fest, unless you are into crystal inhibition, moisture retention, gelling agents and how ph effects the co-precipitation of gelatin and pectin. It did answer my burning question, though. Carnauba wax is in my gummi stuff because it improves the appearance of the candy and prevents stickiness and moisture loss.

It’s giving my gummis a high-gloss buff. I love to snack on the Chazmobile of the candy kingdom.

In the same article, it stated that carnauba wax makes up only 2% of the “polishing agent” that’s sprayed onto candies toward the end of the gummi-making process. 2% isn’t too bad, right? That’s 2% of a small, itty-bitty part of the whole ingredient list. I felt so much better.

But no, I had to ponder about what gelatin is made out of, thanks to the handy-dandy food science article. I already knew, in the briefest sense possible, the beef connection; that is vile enough, but there’s more to the whole gelatin scene. Type B gelatin is made out of beef by-products (skin and bone). Type A is made out of pork skin. Yummy.

No wonder curiosity killed the cat.

Is there hope for Serenity?

I checked the weekend’s box office results, and while Serenity was in the top 12 for highest earnings this past weekend, it dropped seven places and settled into 9th place, bringing in only $4,925,000.

There is some silver lining in this Firefly storm cloud. Serenity banked more money in two weeks than A History of Violence made in three, even with Viggo Mortensen’s star power; it’s made $4,000,000 more than bikini-clad Jessica Alba’s Into the Blue, and almost $9,000,000 than Disney’s golf movie The Greatest Game Ever Played (wasn’t it George Carlin that said that watching golf on TV is about as exciting as watching flies f*ck?).

Thursday, October 06, 2005

Linda Schrock Taylor’s recent article, 100% Control for 6.5%, brought up a sizzling statistic. It’s one that I hadn’t read before, and it made me sit up straight in my seat. “We are selling the souls and minds of our children, and the future of our country, for 6.5 cents on the dollar!” she states right off the bat. Wha…? I knew that the fedbeasts didn’t cough up much dough for schools, even though they’d like you to think they’re all wringing their wallets dry “for the children.” But 6.5 cents per dollar spent? Could the fed-imposed chains that bind up each public school, and sadly more and more private schools, be purchased with such a paltry amount of funding?

After reading Taylor’s article, I started to dig around on the Internet for some back up to her claim. Yes, Virginia, it turns out that the fedbeasts are both bullies and cheap.

Disclaimer: When it comes to statistics, education sources are infamous for being immensely behind. As any ed activist knows, if you can find a source that’s only two to three years old, you’ve miraculously stumbled across the most recent statistics available. It is on par to find “current” statistics that are at least five years behind the times.

I found more than three sources that support Taylor’s claim. For your reading pleasure, I’ll site the top three. Back in 2000, the New York Times ran several articles about presidential candidates’ views on education. In The Education Issue: Each Candidate has a Plan for Schools, it is stated:

“Underlying the platforms of all four candidates is a central frustration: with the federal government responsible for contributing only 7 cents of every dollar spent in public schools, each candidate is struggling to demonstrate how he would improve performance from a perch so removed from the classroom.”

Virginian U.S. Senator, John Warner (who joyously proclaimed he helped bring No Child Left Behind to every neighborhood school in the country), stated on his web site back in 2002:

The No Child Left Behind Act makes important reforms to the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA). Originally passed in 1965, the ESEA provides authority for most federal programs for elementary and secondary education. These programs currently receive about $18 billion in federal funding, which amounts to an estimated 7 cents out of every dollar that is spent on education on all levels of government.

According to the May 2003 report Statistics in Brief from the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES):

As in the previous school year, local and intermediate sources for school year 2000–01
made up 43 cents of every dollar in revenue; state revenues comprised 50 cents; and the
remaining 7 cents came from federal sources.

No matter how you slice it, the gooberment is calling all the shots while chipping in the least amount of moola. They fly is in the face of that old cliché’, “Money talks and bullshit walks.” Taylor, appropriately, calls this travesty what it is: a shell game. In the NCES report, under the definitions section, the term federal revenue is explained:

Federal revenues include direct grants-in-aid to schools or agencies, funds distributed through a state or intermediate agency, and revenues in lieu of taxes to compensate a school district for nontaxable federal institutions within a district's boundary.

So, for a measly 7 cents on the dollar, which is probably rounded up from the 6.5 cents that Taylor sites, the gooberment wants to run the whole education show, call the shots and generally make everyone miserable. This comes to no surprise to me—that’s how those fedbeasts operate. What does astound me is that the state and local folks give in to them; parents let it continue, unchallenged. Educators who try to blow whistles find themselves unemployable—no one black balls better than the public education system. We all play the three monkeys—see no evil, hear no evil and say no evil—while our kids become increasingly ensnared in fedgov education, just to reap 7 cents on the dollar.

“Not my child,” you intone. Maybe you home school; or you scrimp and send your child to a private school. Taylor mentions in her article a review Steve Yates wrote on FedEd: The New Federal Curriculum and How it’s Enforced by Allen Quist. In this review, Yates noted that FedEd brings up the fact that, “…New Federal Curriculum is, for all practical purposes, federal law.” That 7 cents comes with gnarly chains that bind our local schools, by law, to the nonsense the fedgov instigates back in DC. With each “voluntary” piece of federal legislation that offers seed money so states can start the legislated program in their schools, the states have to sign an agreement that that outlines quite clearly what the states have to do if they accept the tainted money. If you ever get a chance to read any of these documents—they disappear quickly as they sunset and new, worse legislation takes over—there’s lots of mention of “all.” Folks, all means all. The gooberment wants all children to be roped into this system, because like houses made of cards, it’s flimsy. To work, the changes within a generation have to be all-inclusive. It won’t do to have these little homeschoolers running around, mucking everything up.

According to Yates, Quist discusses how the feds propose to pull all students into the brainwashing mix through means like the NAEP. Plans to make the NAEP an admission for colleges or employment is apparently in the works. That makes fedgov education everyone’s problem. Yates asked the question, “How is all this to be enforced?” Well, besides money strapped education systems that will exchange their essence for 7 pieces of copper, most of the hair brained schemes of the fedbeasts go unnoticed. People are caught unawares. That’s why so few parents make a stink. And the ones that do are obligingly painted up as nut jobs.

Education, its impact on our society and on our freedoms, is a special interest of mine. I’ll be following up in the near future with two more entries on education. Stay tuned.

Monday, October 03, 2005

[Finally!] My review of Serenity

I had the pleasure of seeing Serenity a week ago, thanks to Universal Studios’ Blogger Bonanza. One thing, however—I’m dreadful at keeping a secret; I don’t mean to blab, truly. When I get excited, though, it kind of all tumbles out and I’ve spoiled the surprise party. Because of my inherent flaw, my desire to review Serenity weighed heavily on me. How could I do this without spilling the beans? Even when you include well placed**** spoiler alerts****, some schmoe always decides to perform a speed-reading skim of your review, and stumbles upon that which he did not wish to know.

Since I also have a huge aversion to knowing a spoiler before seeing a movie, I’ve hesitated to prematurely review Serenity. My hesitation has given me time to process the movie, and that gnawing impression that something wasn't quite right. Each time I sat down to work on my review, I’d stare at my blank computer screen, unable to corral my thoughts.

Serenity is the first offspring from the TV loins of Joss Whedon’s Fox series, Firefly. Whedon, who wrote and directed the movie, gathered up the whole crew to fly the skies again in Serenity. Captain Malcom “Mal” Reynolds (Nathan Fillion), once a captain in the scrappy, but defeated, Independence forces, now leads a crew of innovative malcontents aboard his Firefly class starship, Serenity. Normally, the atmosphere aboard Serenity leans toward warm, but when Mal agrees to transport two fugitives sought by the galaxy’s governing force, the Alliance, the ship’s atmosphere careens toward extreme heat.

Both the TV show and movie begin with Dr. Simon Tam (Sean Maher) and his prodigy sister, River (Summer Glau), seeking refuge on Serenity. Simon organized River’s kidnapping from an experimental, covert government program. While Whedon recaps nicely for newbies how the Tams end up part of the crew —without overdoing it and boring long time Firefly fans—there is a bit of contention about how the kidnapping scene is fudged from the original series scenario, to facilitate the coagulation of the movie’s plot.

Serenity delivers lots of slam-bam special effects, snappy dialogue and intensity. The original cast is still strong, dynamic, funny and, at times, personable. During the viewing, I sat on the edge of my seat, waiting eagerly for the next surprise. The keys for a great movie are all present. There was something, though, that didn’t set well with me.

After spending a week ruminating over the movie, I arrived at the realization that Serenity has all the right stuff but the timing is off. The comedy bleeds into the rough moments; the fight scenes are cleaned up in too tidy a fashion. Mal and Inara (Morena Baccarin) aren’t allowed to explore their attraction further. Kylie (Jewel Straite) is too cutesy.

****Spoiler Alert**** Reigns were placed on the production from some lofty vantage point, and unfortunately, Serenity is not the best movie it could be. The liberty perspective of the TV series is muted within the movie, even with the surprise revelation of the Reavers’ origins—they’re a defect birthed from the Alliance’s grandiose notion of what creation and civil society should look like and what rate will be used to purchase government illusion. Whedon casually points toward the destructive force of government meddling and cover-ups with this major development, but after a quick nod toward the liberty reality check, he shifts directly into a space battle scene.

Second-in-command Zoë (Gina Torres) provides both strength and ethical guidance for the captain and crew. Pilot “Wash” (Alan Tudyk) offers comedic sunshine in the darkest moments. Jayne (Adam Baldwin), tough-guy mercenary, radiates strength and action, along with snappy comedic timing; he supplies a much-needed balance to Mal’s more measured approach to the crew’s dilemas. These three characters prop Serenity up and provide the most proximity to the innovative brilliance of Firefly. Unfortunately, Whedon chose to kill off Zoë’s light when Wash dies in the climactic Reaver attack.

Shepherd Book (Ron Glass) also meets his end in Serenity, closing one avenue for Captain Mal to explore his humanity. By closing this door on Mal, and not opening another one for him, Whedon dooms Mal to a sort of two-dimensional existence through out the movie.

As a Firefly fan, I hope that Whedon’s just warming up his chops with Serenity. Fireflies and Buffy fans know his work and grasp what he is capable of. Can he do it effectively on the big screen? I think the answer is yes. He needs to adjust the timing belt, so the production engine purrs smoothly in the next installment. It should be noted that while it’s a low budget long-shot, Serenity came in second at the box office its opening weekend, against hit homerun champ Jodie Foster and her new flick, Flightplan. That bodes well for Universal Studios’ unusual marketing projects, like multiple early bird screenings and utilizing blogs to get the word out. It is my expectation that Serenity will hold its own in next weekend’s box office returns and give the crew a chance to fly the skies once more, in a second film. There is enough good stuff in the movie to hook virgin viewers and spawn a whole new generation of fireflies.

Remember, the future is worth fighting for. Even though Serenity isn’t the best it could be, it’s still a fine film and worth seeing. An entertainment vehicle can sometimes be more effective at alerting people about critical matters. I can’t think of anything more serious than the destructive properties of intrusive government.