Sunday, May 28, 2006

Feeble Weevle

When I was a kid there was a toy that would be advertized with the jingle, "Weevles wobble, but they don't fall down." That has become, in my mind, the theme song for the present Bush administration. The Feeble Weevle keeps wobbling around the White House and, save for the many hands around to prop him up, he'd have made several face plants into the Oval Office's carpet by now.

The present public opinion of the president is low enough to have the White House staffers thanking God that they don't have to run for re-election in 2008 ... oh, but wait, they really do run for re-election don't they, even if it isn't with Bubba Bush, there will be a Republican on the ticket.

Perhaps that's why the President did something this week that he hasn't done in the past six years: He changed his story, shifted gears, moved his mind into another space. During a televised press conference that lasted about an hour and included Bush's favourite world leader puppet, Great Britain's visiting PM, Tony Blair (who is similarly stumbling in the polls in the UK and whose ability to regain the trust of his own electorate is rather bleak as a result of having had Bush's manipulating hands so far up his arse since the creation of the great alliance against terror), the "most powerful man in the world" was asked if he regretted anything in the way he had handled the situation with the "war on terrorism". The answer was something that caught quite a few people off guard, but how sincere was it? Was it the sign of a conciliatory move, or was it something else? Considering that there were no moves towards conciliation, there must be another answer.

His response was stunning, and truly cunning, but it was not an effort at conciliation with an enemy continues to kill American troops that they see occupying their homeland, Iraq. It also demonstrated the true level of desperation that the White House Republicans must be feeling given the recent 37% approval ratings of the President. Instead of his usual, arrogant attitude, Bush replied that he regretted having said "bring it on" in regards to the insurgents in Iraq and to saying that he wanted Osama bin Laden "dead or alive". Bush went on to say, "I learned a lesson about expressing myself in a more sophisticated manner. In certain parts of the world, it was misinterpreted, so I learned from that."

The truth of the matter is quite different, and that is what we should really be looking at right now. Can people really change in the manner that George W. Bush is indicating? Will someone infamous for speaking without considering what they are about to say be able to make a complete 180-degree turnabout, to become a well-spoken, thoughtful, erudite and, dare I say, enlightened individual? Someone that exudes the qualities of leadership and who would make a great president?

In the movies, perhaps, but in real life? It seems to me that someone has been watching Pygmalion by George Bernard Shaw. Taking the young woman out of the poorest parts of London, England, and turning her into the epitome of the "society women" only proves the veneer of substance involved within the class structure, it does not, however, make up for someone's ability to actually be intelligent when that is a necessary skill.

This is something that George W. Bush sadly is not. His reliance on aides and assistants is not unlike anything that any other successful leader hasn't used, but it is his reliance on their guidance that is so troublesome.

Is this going to be a Presidency that will go down in history as having been directed completely out of the Chief of Staff's office, and the other top aides? Or, is the President really at the helm? When this man speaks, and he isn't reading from a prepared statement, can you imagine the looks of anticipation on the faces of the White House staff, wondering what kind of damage control might be necessary after this speech.

After a top U.S. military official in Iraq had stated that their force reductions were already under way, Bush stated they would be sending MORE soldiers to Iraq. Oh. Apparently someone had neglected to brief the Commander in Chief of the United States Military that they were beginning to reduce their military presence, especially since the country in which their men and women were dying had recently elected its own government, and was beginning to take care of things itself.

Maclean's magazine (April 17) asks if Bush is "The Worst President in 100 Years?" The United States will be 230 years old on July 4 this year. I would toss my vote into the fray that Bush is the worst President in the last 230 years, and it would have to be someone really remarkable to beat him.

At least Nixon resigned.

Thursday, May 25, 2006

Some Fractal Fun

For quite sometime I've enjoyed playing around with a program called "Fractal Explorer". The best part about the program is that it is entirely free, but it is also a very powerful tool that enables you to create, manipulate and play around with fractals based on dozens of existing formulas. You can also enter your own formulas (if you can). Here are a few of the fractals that I created using FE.

The globe-shaped image was taken from FE and further edited in JASC Photoshop, which provided the lighting elements and other transformative tools.

Full sized images will open in a new window.
All images Copyright 2006 by Peter Amsel

Signs of the Times

This picture says several things to me, not the least of which being that somewhere out there (and I'd really like to know where) somebody's got a great seat for some really nasty car crashes as people drive past, contemplating what a sharp-edged sign may have to do with anything in their immediate future, and why caution is in order ... and then, whoosh, we have an airborne car ... it is an image that I've had in my head since my mother sent me this picture (thanks, mom ...).

She should have known better to send me a picture like this, but what really disturbs me is that this is a real sign. In Canada. That hurts ... well, not too much ... mostly when I stop laughing. But seriously, if I may try to be serious (for a change), what in the world could someone have been thinking ....

Then again, maybe the first people to go over the bridge were the ones who cut their hands on the previous �bridge out� sign ... or not.

Smoke This

What a Surprise: "Mychoice" offers no choice at all.

The news makes me crazy. Watching the news (or reading it, as in the case of this particular story) is one of those experiences that I rank alongside with wanting to stick needles in my eyes. While I don't do the latter (at least, not just yet), watching the former makes me wonder whether the latter could possibly be so bad. The story that inspired this current diatribe is a perfect example of why I find the contemplation of self-mutilation to be such a warm, fuzzy thought.

It would seem, though ... dare I even say it? Yes ... I must. Sigh. Ok, here goes: People are starting to feel a sense of "social stigmatization" because they smoke, and they feel that the upcoming provincial ban on smoking in all enclosed workplaces and enclosed public places will not benefit society, as the government claims, but rather hurt "their interests".

Exactly what are "their interests", and who is it that I am writing about? This is where I start looking for my needles.

In a move that is so blatantly transparent for its manipulative factor, a group was formed. It is a group that is thinly disguised as a "special interest" group comprised of "interested individuals" coming together under the banner of a common cause. In this case, that cause is smoking. Well, more precisely, it is the cause of smoker's rights, but you get the idea.

So, how do about 32,000 smokers find each other and unite in order to develop a unified vote against the powers that be? Easy ... they find someone to organize for them. Enter the tobacco industry (you may ask yourself why a multi-billion dollar a year industry would want to take up the battle cry against legislation aimed at public health, in which case you may want to start reading from the top as you haven't gotten it so far).

The Canadian Tobacco Manufacturers� Council has organized "myspace dot ca", a "non-profit" organization that is "membership driven" ....

The truth of the matter is far easier to see. This is a thinly veiled attempt by the tobacco industry to continue to manipulate the system in their favour. How many products can you name off the top of your head that, when consumed according to the manufacture's intent, will cause fatal diseases, and yet receive governmental support to continue the production of that product? Not an easy question to answer, is it ... though I'm sure there are several things, none of them likely reach the same number of people that consume the poison sold by the tobacco industry.

According to the president of "mychoice", the Smoke-Free Ontario Act will not be offering protection for smokers. The counterpoint to this is that the ban will benefit society. Well golly, how could the banning of something that has been proven, beyond any shadow of doubt, to cause harm in those who are not even consuming it be construed, be even the most mentally depraved individual, as something other than a boon for society? The reason is quite simple: these people do not have the interests of society at heart, they are the drug-addicted pawns of a billion dollar industry, afraid of losing its piece of the economic gravy train.

Is someone came up to you and said there was absolutely no danger involved with drinking and driving, what would you think? Even the producers of alcohol advertise not to drink and drive, because they recognize that their products are abused by many people. It is their choice to drink, and unfortunately it is their choice to drive. It is our choice, as a species, to do stupid things, but when those stupid things infringe on the rights of others - when it makes it impossible for someone else to enjoy their life, or causes them to become ill, that is going to far.

The issue of human rights is something that is very important - too important - to make light of, so it always seems to irk me (to notch it back a bit) when the rhetoric gets so misappropriated to a topic such as this. The banning of smoking in enclosed public spaces is not an infringement of the rights of others, it is a protection of the rights of those who believe that it is their right to go about their daily lives without being exposed to dozens of airborne toxins that are known to cause cancers. Second hand smoke kills. Period.

If you say it is your right to smoke, or it is your "choice", fine. No arguments there. However, if you expect me to stand by and suck in your poisons, while in a public space - think again. My choice is that I don't want to develop small oat-cell carcinoma, or any of the other cancers that have been associated with second hand smoke. Is my right to breath clean air (relatively speaking) any less than your "choice" to be an addict?

Which leads me to the crux of the issue: The difference between rights and choices. The Smoke Free Ontario Act is designed to protect the rights (and health) of everyone in Ontario. The people opposed to it raise the flag of choice. Here is the problem: a right is something that is to be protected and cherished, it is not something trivial. Here in Canada we have many rights that are precious and should never be taken for granted. These are rights that have been obtained over many years, and have been preserved through the spilling of blood against an enemy that wanted to shape the world in its image. We speak of our right to vote, the right to access health care, the right to not be discriminated against for any reason, and many other rights that make Canada one of the greatest places in the world to live.

Where, in all of that, is it written that someone has the right to kill someone in order to enjoy an addiction? The absurdity of that is obvious, but that is the real question at hand. If the smoking of cigarettes is an addiction, and the smoking of them produces a byproduct (smoke) that is harmful to innocent bystanders, can there possibly be legislated protection for their right to smoke in places where people may be harmed?

As easy as it is to shout about rights and the suppression thereof, it is equally important to keep things in perspective. While the tobacco industry wants us to believe that the issue is as simple as being about "my choice", that only demonstrates the myopic viewpoint of an organization with a vested interest in preventing the passage of the Smoke Free Ontario Act. As many smokers as there are, there are more people who don't smoke. There are more of us who have made a different choice, and do not believe that we should give up our right to live without being exposed to toxic air wherever we go.

If you want to smoke, that is your choice, but is it your right? No, it isn't. More than likely, if you smoke, you are addicted to nicotine. Nicotine, that wondrous substance that the U.S. Surgeon General stated had addictive properties similar to heroin or cocaine. Heroin or cocaine, well, that wraps it all up quite nicely, doesn't it? Consider the outrage that would occur if there was a movement afoot to dedicate millions of tax dollars in order to provide high quality heroin and cocaine to addicts who couldn't afford to pay for their habit. Obviously this would be an inappropriate use of public funds, and yet the tobacco industry is the beneficiary of just that, except the money goes to the companies and doesn't help the addicts pay for their fixes.

In the case of the heroin and cocain the obvious solution would be to use that money in treatment programs that worked on getting people cured of their addictions (which are, after all, diseases). It was the addicts choice to take their first dose (in most cases), but once addicted most people will find that they need help in getting away from what has enslaved them.

That is what an addiction is: Enslavement. Perhaps the greatest antithesis to what a right is, and what choice is all about. Enslavement is about the subjugation of the human spirit. An enslaved individual is at the mercy of their master, unable to make any choice on their own, save for what their master deigns to be appropriate for their property. When you are enslaved you have no ability to chose. You cannot say, "I shall do this ..." - you will do what your master tells you to do. Without question.

"It is time for your fix. Slave. Light up. Do it NOW." That is the dialogue of enslavement: Choice does not figure into the equation at all. Think about it: When a smoker wakes up in the morning do they say, "gee, I wonder if I should have a cigarette this morning or wait until later." Right. The pack of smokes is the first thing that is grabbed (second if the smoker is male), and before the toilet flushes the nicotine is coursing through the addict's system, regaining control of their system for another day.

This is why the health care profession recognizes addiction as a bona fide disease requiring treatment. It is something that we cannot overcome without the help of professionals trained in helping others find their way out of the darkness enslaving their souls.

So why should we consider the pleas of this "my choice" group to be anything more than what it is: An obvious ploy by the tobacco industry to further manipulate the people that they have already enslaved with their deadly products? Clean air is not something that we should have to go looking for, especially in an enclosed area. Letting someone pollute the air of others, merely to service their addiction, violates the rights of everyone who doesn�t "choose" to smoke. There is no good reason to oppose the Smoke Free Ontario Act, unless you are so self-centered that you cannot recognize that your actions are killing others.

It is time to recognize that smoking is different from other "recreational" activities. If you want to sky dive out of an airplane, that is a choice. If you choose to climb a mountain, that is a choice. But if you choose to become an addict, why should we all suffer. Why should we consider this addictive substance as anything less than what it really is: Cigarette smoke is a publicly-subsidized poison that has killed people, and is continuing to kill them, every day of the year. If you don't have the money for cigarettes you won't be given a pack because your "right to smoke" is protected by law. On the other hand, if you are homeless and destitute and need medical care, you will receive it, because that is one of the rights entrenched in our system. Universal health care is a right, smoking is a choice.

My choice is to live smoke free, so don't infringe upon my rights and let me breath air that hasn't been polluted by your smoke.