Tuesday, December 30, 2008

You'll Put Your Eye Out

Israel is attacking Gaza again. Israel says that Hamas is firing rockets into civilian areas, so Israel has to defend itself by bombing and rocketing into the Gaza strip, and because Hamas hides itself in the civilian population, civilians are getting the brunt of the attacks.

Or is that really the case?

So far, one Israeli has died due to rocket attacks from inside Gaza (homemade rockets, mind you). In the first day or two of fighting, over three hundred Palestinians have died, a lot of them children on their way to school. The Israelis have bombers, fighter jets, tanks and artillery that they may yet unleash on the Gaza, while Hamas and the Palestinians can defend themselves with bricks from the rubble created by the Israeli attacks.

Yes, the Israelis deserve security. And while Hamas has always said they aren't for Israel (well, they're for Israel no longer existing, if that's possible), Gaza itself has become an ironic boil on Israel's backside. Do the Jews of Israel remember the Warsaw ghetto? If they could have defended themselves against the Nazis, don't you think they would have? The Palestinians in Gaza have been cut off from clean water, their food supplies have been restricted, people have died trying to get to hospitals outside Gaza because they've been stuck at the border, waiting to get through. So the people in Gaza are basically being treated with absolute contempt by people who were once treated the same way, and for similar reasons.

Is this some sort of weird, pay-it-forward-style of inhumane treatment? They got us, we'll get you? And this is where I suddenly go from defending Israel (being a good American), and become the one saying, if the Israelis can't deal with the problem in some sort of peaceful way, do they deserve to be treated well? Should we continue to give them guns, money, a free pass? 

300 to 1...

If Mexico sent a single shell into San Diego and killed twenty or thirty people, would we be justified in bombing Tijuana flat?

Monday, December 29, 2008

A Coal Ash Martini, Please

Sure enough, it has happened again. A coal ash waste pond (where they stack the ash, and then mix it with water and divert it into storage "cells") finally blew its buffer and released more than 5.4 million cubic yards of this toxic crap into the environment, near the town of Kingston, Tennessee. This coal ash tsunami invaded twelve homes in the area, covering 400 acres of land between four and six feet deep.

That's 1.06 billion gallons, 100 times the Exxon Valdez spill, and this stuff is pouring into two feeder tributaries of the Tennessee river. The Tennessee, in turn, is a drinking water source for Chattanooga, west Tennessee, and the states of Kentucky & Alabama.

Clean coal, indeed.

Coal ash has high levels of mercury, arsenic and lead, and is more radioactive than spent nuclear waste (Scientific American, thanx for that happy little nugget of info), thanks to the two major radioactive impurities found in coal, uranium and thorium. When the coal is burned, anything that is NOT combustible is stored in concentrated form in the ash. Then the ash is very carefully piled up in enormous mounds inside earthen dams that are sort of affected by stuff like, well, rain, and so on. Yes, there had been warnings about this particular cell and it's ability to hold in the contents. 

There are always warnings that officials decide not to act upon, and hope for the best. This is known as laissez-faire.

Now, this is not the first time this has happened. And it probably won't be the last. The question is, where is the government in regulating this stuff: how it should be contained, how much can be in one place at one time, etc.? Apparently this particular sludge pond was a record-breaker. The kind of thing where the tour guide goes on about how "this here coal ash repository is three times the size of the next smallest one, and there ain't one bigger'n this'un."

Great - a "toxic-waste Titanic."

Monday, December 1, 2008

Dying for that Minimum Wage

The first death of the shopping season was recorded on Friday morning after Long Island WalMart shoppers decided it was more important to buy... something... than to aid a fellow human being, prone at (or under) their feet. 2000 people were so impatient to get in and shop before the bargains were all snapped up, they broke down the door before opening, and ran down Jdimytai Damour, a temporary employee from Queens, who struggled to get up under the onslaught of rushing idiots.

I realize this isn't the normal sort of topic for what's supposed to be a political blog, but it speaks to the United States of Mind. And, of course, repeating my mantra, which is "WalMart is Evil."

What is wrong with Americans? Or is it just Long Islanders? Do we really need the DayGlo hot pink TV Chef Barbie so badly we're willing to kill immigrants just to get our hands on one? Is the value of that new Transformer Car higher than that of the human being gasping out his last breath on the floor? Makes me re-think my whole attitude towards X-Mess.

Yes, I still want to buy presents for my wife, my friends and my cats (though not necessarily in that order), but the crowds are bothering me this year more than ever. Shopping in the middle of a rugby scrum only appeals to those already interested in being in rugby scrums (hint: not me). Nothing against rugby or scrums for that matter, mind you. 

I remember being in London on Boxing Day and thought it was pretty crowded, but to me, the worst part of it was the attitude of the folks working the counter at the Macy's-like department store where we bought a bunch of our stoneware (really really decent price). The guy saw what we were bringing to him and we opened our mouths (here come the rude Americans) and asked to have it all shipped back to the States. "But I'm about to go on break." Whiner. The whole city was crowded, and it hardly bothered me at all, even in the very busy toy store, with zillions of kids. But no one was trying to kill anyone else to get the last whatever on the shelf...

The term "Black Friday" is meant to indicate the day of the year when retailers go into the black for the year, where they make their best sales. It's also the time when sales are at their most extreme in bargains bargains bargains for the consumer. So people get a little crazy.

And now of course, Black Friday has a whole new meaning for one Queens family.


Being WalMart means never having to say you're sorry, right? Even if it costs you an arm, a leg, and a lung? I guess they feel it was no longer cost-effective to avoid paying a tiny fine, since paying it would set some sort of, I dunno, precedent: WalMart spends $2,000,000 to avoid paying $7,000.

Really, you are reading that correctly.