Archive for the 'Current Events' Category

666: The Number of Money

Jun 06, 2006 in Current Events

Unless you’ve been living in a cave without a calendar, today is 06/06/06 – a date that is bringing on a mildly uncomfortable case of hexakosioihexekontahexaphobia for some people.

A few have even been using it as a marketing tool. The remake of The Omen comes out today. New books by the authors of the Left Behind series and conservative she-beast Ann Coulter are hitting bookshelves. Several death metal bands – including Deicide, Gorgoroth and Behemoth – are taking advantage of the sinister associations of this date to promote their new releases. However, Slayer’s Unholy Alliance Tour, originally scheduled to begin today, has been delayed until June.

The cultural appeal of 666 comes primarily from popular Christian evangelical “end times” literature, such as the aforementioned Left Behind series, and the works of best-selling author Hal Lindsay. These authors and publishers have become millionaires peddling end times prophecies, and the genre has spawned a profitable industry.

The attention that 06/06/06 brings provides an ideal opportunity to examine the facts behind the “number of the beast.” First of all, the number of the beast in the Book of Revelation may not actually be 666. A recently examined early manuscript lists the number as 616, and the 666 vs. 616 debate has been waged by Biblical scholars for years.

The consensus among scholars is that the number of the beast actually refers to a Roman emperor, most likely Nero. The Book of Revelation – a series of letters by John of Patmos to the Christian churches of modern-day Turkey – was written during a time when Christians and Jews were being persecuted by the Roman Empire. Christian Jews were known to have used numerology and codes while communicating, likely to avoid punishment by authorities if the communications were intercepted.

Using the Hebrew numerological system of gematria, the letters in the Hebrew spelling of “Nero Caesar,” Nrwn Qsr, add up to 666. (There was no separate system of numbers – letters did double duty as numerals. There are also no vowels in Hebrew.) An alternate spelling based on the Latin form, Nrw Qsr adds up to 616, which could explain how both numbers ended up in different manuscripts.

The number of the beast is associated with the idea of the anti-christ in modern end times literature. Oddly enough, the word “anti-christ” does not appear in the Book of Revelation, nor was it ever used by Jesus – the only appearance of the word in the Bible is in letters from the apostle Paul. A wide variety of questionable numerological calculations and scriptural citations have been used to identify the anti-christ as everyone from the Pope to Hitler to George W. Bush.

Self-styled prophets have been predicting the end of the world since the beginning of recorded history, and to date, all those who have attempted to have been exposed as fools. The current batch of end times literature is simply conspiracy theory masquerading as religious faith.

So, relax. Don’t freak out if your child is born today, or if your coffee and muffin add up to $6.66, or if the speedometer on your car goes three-sixes. Here’s a collection of 666 humor, and some neat mathematical facts about the number 666.

Another stolen election controversy?

Jun 03, 2006 in Current Events

Grab your pitchforks and torches everyone, cause Robert F. Kennedy Jr. — writing in the latest issue of Rolling Stone — has lent greater credence to what was once considered just a left-wing conspiracy theory: the possibility that the 2004 election was stolen due to Republican voter fraud.

The evidence is damning. Final vote tallies differed from exit poll results by such a wide margin as to be statistically improbable. Widespread allegations of misconduct by Republican election officials in Ohio, as well as voting machine irregularities, raise the possibility that Kerry might have won Ohio, had voting in largely Democratic precincts not been obstructed.

Critics such as Tucker Carlson may ask: Is it possible that such a wide ranging conspiracy could have taken place, and been kept secret for so long? Frankly, nothing the Republicans could do surprises me anymore. And if you don’t believe in the idea of a “vast right-wing conspiracy,” read David Brooks’ Blinded by the Right.

The Rolling Stone article is extensively footnoted, and the online version has links to additional resources. There is no “smoking gun,” so to speak, but the Bush administration has led us into war on far less convincing evidence. Considering the Republicans’ current unpopularity, could this become the next big GOP controversy?

The immovable third

Apr 24, 2006 in Current Events

Bush’s approval rating hits new low - Yahoo! News

According to the latest polls, Bush’s approval rating stands around 32-35 percent. It’s not surprising at all that Bush’s approval ratings are so low. What is surprising is that they’re not lower.

The war in Iraq is an expensive, intractable quagmire. The federal deficit has ballooned. The economy is still shaky. Bush’s domestic policy is in shambles. His worldwide popularity is in the toilet, and his domestic popularity is circling the drain.

Yet, despite all of this, a stubborn 1/3 of our country insists that Bush is doing a good job. This 1/3 roughly corresponds to the number of registered Republicans and/or evangelical Christians in this country. (I don’t have the numbers, but look ‘em up.)

Christ, all you gotta do is throw out some God talk, be faithful to the party line, and at least 1/3 of the country will come out for you. Unless George Bush is exposed as a baby-eating liberal Satanist in disguise, I doubt we’ll see those poll numbers get much lower.

Like cheap vegetables? So do I!

Apr 11, 2006 in Current Events

Listen up America: Yesterday, millions of Mexican and other Latino immigrants stopped building your houses, tending your gardens, picking your vegetables and washing your dishes to take to the streets in large numbers and tell you that they’re tired of being treated like criminals.

America is a nation of immigrants, and unless you’re 100% Native American, chances are your ancestors came here on a boat for the very same reasons that Latinos and other illegals come here. And even though they may have come legally, your ancestors likely faced the very same discrimination and anti-immigrant sentiment that the Mexicans do today.

Like it or not, we live in a world where brown people of many different races work for comparatively low wages, so that you can maintain your standard of living. Guess who built that house you just bought in that nice suburban subdivision? That nice shiny office building with the attractive landscaping? Who picked your fruits and vegetables? Who slaughtered and processed your store-bought chicken or steak? Who keeps these and many other things cheap?

Obviously, immigration reform is a complex issue with no easy answers. But stricter penalties against illegal immigration would do little to address the 10-12 million illegal immigrants that are already here. They’re not going anywhere — the cost of deporting 10+ million immigrants would bankrupt the economy. Not to mention that many businesses, especially in the agricultural sector, would go bankrupt if not for a steady influx of immigrant labor. Better to find some way to integrate them into society, and address the issue of border crossings seperately.

There’s a lot of racism and xenophobia regarding this issue, much of it, not surprisingly, from the Republican Party and its supporters. (Latinos are yet another group they’ve managed to alienate.) Polls show that immigration has become a major concern among Americans. With all the major issues demanding attention, doesn’t this sudden emphasis on illegal immigration seem like a smokescreen to you?

This is not an issue that is going to be resolved by those with authoritarian and xenophobic motives. This issue requires forward thinking, and I don’t think the politicians in power have the ability to resolve this issue fairly. Good thing there’s an election coming up.

The World’s Largest Burger

Mar 17, 2006 in Current Events

Clearfield, Pennsylvania — the town where I was born — claims the dubious honor of being home to the world’s largest burger. Denny’s Beer Barrel Pub had already captured the world record for the world’s largest burger at 6 lbs. The new, improved burger now weighs in at a whopping 15 lbs. It’s free if you can finish it in 5 hours.

Myself, I want to move to the town with the world’s largest veggie burger. Does such a thing exist?

Sex toy drive — Help a repressed state legislator today!

Mar 03, 2006 in Current Events

As reported in this week’s Nashville Scene, two Tennessee state legislators, Sen. Charlotte Burks (D-Monterey) and Rep. Eric Swafford (R-Pikeville), have proposed a bill banning the sale or display of sex toys.

As John Spragens remarks, while legislators were occupied with restricting the right of adults to legally purchase dildos and vibrators, Tennesseans “died from a lack of health care, remained poorly educated and were among the most obese state populations in the nation.”

Aside from being ridiculously narrow-minded, the proposed sex toy ban would decimate a lively cottage industry — everyone knows how popular those women’s lingerie and sex toy parties are in the South! Not to mention that Nashville’s Hustler Hollywood, the Purple Onion and the World’s Largest Adult Bookstore would have some empty walls.

I propose that Burks and Swafford be educated on the joys of vibrating, phallus-shaped objects. Someone in their district(s) should send them a sex toy. For Burks, I recommend a rabbit vibrator. For Swafford, a vibrating butt plug.

Bill seeks to outlaw online poker — again

Feb 17, 2006 in Current Events

U.S. Takes Aim at Online Gambling - Yahoo! News

Now, I’m willing to bet that a handful of you readers have partaken of online poker or some other kind of online wagering. While I don’t gamble very much, I do make a nice income from other people’s gambling activities.

Internet gambling is currently, and always has been, illegal in the U.S. But a slew of online gaming companies — some who are publically traded, such as online poker giant Party Gaming — have met the public’s desire for online gambling to the tune of $12 billion a year, much of it from U.S. customers.

Instead of legalizing, regulating and collecting taxes from online gambling, people like Virginia representatives Bob Goodlatte and Rick Boucher seek to criminalize it — a futile task considering that all online gambling companies do business outside of the U.S. where their activities are perfectly legal. Not to mention that this proposed legislation could conflict with a WTO decision that declared U.S. prohibitions on internet gambling as an unfair trade practice.

But let’s hear it straight from the horse’s mouth: “For too long our children have been placed in harm’s way as online gambling has been permitted to flourish into a $12 billion industry,” Goodlatte said in a statement. Hey, Bob? Kids don’t gamble; adults do. You’re basically telling adults what they shouldn’t do with their money in the privacy of their homes, in the name of “protecting the children.” Bullshit, Bob.

“These Internet gambling websites typically operate offshore and often serve as a prime vehicle for money laundering and other criminal enterprises.” Proof? Like I said, most online gaming companies are as reputable as Vegas casinos. They operate under the jurisdiction of their localities and international gaming authorities, and their random number generators are regularly audited by well-known accounting firms. By criminalizing them, you only make these unsavory activities more likely.

This isn’t the first time this bill has been introduced. It was voted down in 1999, due partly to the efforts of lobbyist Jack Abramoff. But even with Jack out of the picture, I think it’s unlikely this thing is going to become law, since it’s largely unenforcable and will do little to stop online gambling.

Fantastic, eh?

Jan 24, 2006 in Current Events

Whenever a political party comes into power for an extended period of time, it seems that party is eventually and inevitably plagued by scandal, leading voters to elect the opposition party in the next election. It happened to the Democrats years ago, and it will happen to the Republicans very soon.

And so it goes that Canada has elected a conservative prime minister and minority government, ending a 12 year rule by a Liberal party that has, obviously, become plagued by corruption and lack of voter confidence. For lefties, this is a discouraging development. We’ve always been able to depend on Canada for progressive policies and pissing off the Bush administration.

In the eyes of many lefties, Canada has become a progressive mecca, where pot is decriminalized, gay marriage is legal, and socialized healthcare is abundant. Of course, it’s still hasn’t been enough to trigger a lefty migration up north (as promised after Bush’s (re)election), where the winters are cold and hockey is the national sport.

Maybe we should have warned Canada against electing conservatives as a backlash against the ruling party. A lot of countries, including ours, have elected conservatives in recent years, and while it may seem an effective panacea to weary voters, it’s really not. I mean, look at what conservatives have done to our country in the last few years.

It’s too late for the Canadians, but for other countries who are thinking of voting conservative, I urge you to think twice. Unless you like the idea of George Bush getting another world leader as an ideological buddy, vote for someone else.

Impeach Bush!

Jan 17, 2006 in Current Events

In the upcoming issue of the Nation, former Congresswoman Elizabeth Holtzman (who sat on the House Judiciary Committee during Nixon’s impeachment) lays out the case for a possible impeachment of President Bush.

The illegal wiretaps, the fudged rationale for the war in Iraq, the handling of the war, the torture allegations and the administration’s Nixon-like secrecy, paranoia and arrogance provide enough grounds to start investigating the president and bringing impeachment proceedings if necessary.

Religious broadcasting networks: The Clear Channel of low-power FM radio

Oct 27, 2005 in Current Events

A Boston-area high school radio station has been pushed off the air by a California-based religious broadcaster in a recent FCC ruling. Maynard High School’s WAVM-FM has been broadcasting for over 30 years, and dozens of student DJs have gone on to work in broadcasting careers.

WAVM recently applied for a signal strength increase from 10 to 250 watts; a process which allows other broadcasters to bid on their frequency. The FCC in turn awarded WAVM’s frequency to Living Proof, Inc on the basis that they would be able to “provide first or second primary [noncommercial radio] service to the largest number of people in the community.”

Organized, monied religious broadcasting networks have been cannibalizing the non-commercial and low-power spectrum across the country for a number of years. Broadcasters such as Calvary Chapel (CSN International), American Family Association Radio, and EMF Broadcasting have built cheap networks of low-powered FM translators, which were originally intended to boost local radio signals in weak areas. These translators are used to retransmit nationally syndicated religious programming in areas where the broadcasters often have no local presence.

CSN Int’l, the largest of these broadcasters, currently operates 361 of these translators across the country. The Boston Globe article linked above notes that the president of Living Proof has ties to Calvary Chapel, which has previously been linked to Radio Assist and Edgewater Broadcasting, two large Christian broadcasting networks owned by the same ex-CSN employee.

Radio Assist/Edgewater applied for over 4000 radio translator construction permits during a five-day application window in 2003. The broadcaster has since been awarded over 1000 of these (free) permits, over 80 of which have been sold or traded for profit. DIYmedia reports that Radio Assist/Edgewater made over $800,000 trading translator permits, mostly to other Christian stations and networks.

Community and media activists have been pushing for years for low-power FM (LPFM), a format that would allow small non-commercial community stations to develop and prosper. The FCC approved the LPFM format five years ago, and since then, several hundred LPFM stations have sprouted up across the country. About half of these stations belong to churches and religious groups.

Activists fear that the rush of large religious broadcast networks for FM translator permits endangers the budding LPFM movement. The FCC instituted a freeze on new translator permits in March, in response to petitions from LPFM activist groups.

Another strategy of religious broadcasters has been to attempt to piggyback on small non-profit educational frequencies, many belonging to schools and colleges who are unable to broadcast 24 hours a day. These broadcasters are attempting to take advantage of an obscure rule that can force stations to share their airtime if they broadcast for less than 12 hours a day. Fortunately, these can be overcome if stations purchase automation systems that allow them to broadcast 24/7.

The WAVM debacle illustrates that the large religious broadcasters’ urge to evangelize comes at the expense of non-profit, community and educational stations. The FCC’s tacit acceptance of this situation serves to blur the boundary between government and organized religion. Churches have as much right to be on the air as anybody, but the actions of groups such as CSN, Radio Assist and Edgewater violate the spirit of non-profit community broadcasting.