Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Beware Nibiru, the death planet

By Bob Gaydos
So, you know about Nibiru, right? Planet X?
Why are you giving me a blank stare? Nibiru. Or maybe you prefer Elenin. C’mon, it’s this freaky big planet hiding behind the sun that’s supposed to crash into Earth in December of 2011 killing us all. It’s all over the Internet, man. Don’t you ever watch YouTube?
This thing is so big and so scary that NASA and Google have formed a conspiracy to hide the information from us. They don’t want us to know when the end of the world is coming because, well, that’s part of the conspiracy, too.
I can understand your confusion. I am embarrassed to admit that I hadn’t heard of Nibiru either until about a week ago when my son, Zack, and I were watching TV. Something, perhaps some power of suggestion implanted in him hundreds of years ago by aliens, compelled him to ask me: “You know about that, right? That planet that’s supposed to hit the Earth?”
“Uh, no. How do you know this?”
“It’s on YouTube.“
‘‘Oh. And how do you know it’s true?” (Force of habit.)
“There’s a black rectangle on GoogleSky where it’s supposed to be.”
“So it’s a conspiracy?”
“Uh huh.”
(Disclaimer for Zack: He is a very bright 17-year-old with a particularly sadistic sense of humor on occasion. He will go right for your weak spot. Ergo: “How do you know it’s true?” “It’s all over the Internet.”
Of course, it is. David Morrison, a planetary astronomer at NASA and senior scientist at the NASA Astrobiology Institute, estimates that there are 2 million websites discussing Nibiru. It has been the source of countless wasted hours as people either expanded the hoax or wasted precious time trying to convince believers it was nonsense.
For the life of me, after four-plus decades in journalism, I still don’t get people’s attraction for conspiracy theories, the wilder the better. One of my operating principles has always been that the more complex, outrageous the theory being proposed, the simpler the probable answer: It’s about money; it’s about sex; it’s about fear/ignorance. It’s B.S.
So, personally, I am inclined to accept NASA’s statement that there is no mysterious planet hurtling to Earth because they -- or one of the millions of other humans who scan the night skies with really good telescopes would have seen it by now. And I accept Google’s explanation that the blank spot on its sky photo was the result of technical problems involving one of their many source for the data. I add credence to this explanation by also accepting the argument that, since GoogleSky is a picture of the actual sky, anyone could simply go outside, look through their telescope at the area in question and see what was there and take their own picture. Apparently no one has thought of doing this.
Simple, common sense explanations.
I also subscribe to the late Carl Sagan’s principle that “extraordinary claims demand extraordinary levels of evidence if they are to be believed.”
And the claims about Nibiru are nothing if not extraordinary. Still, I ventured relatively objectively into the Internet universe to research the subject until I stumbled on the origin of the Nibiru story.
In a nutshell: The doomsday scenario of collision with another planet was first described in 1995 by Nancy Lieder, a self-described "contactee." She claims to be able to receive messages through an implant in her brain from aliens in the Zeta Reticuli star system. She says she was chosen to warn mankind of an impending planetary collision which would wipe out humanity in May 2003. Oh yeah, this catastrophe was supposed to happen eight years ago, but when it didn’t, the doomsday fans looked around and found the Mayan calendar prediction of a 2012 cataclysmic end. Convenient, no?
Lieder gave the planet the name “Planet X,” which astronomers traditionally reserve for planets yet undiscovered. She further attached it to a popular book, “The Twelfth Planet,” which pinned the Nibiru story on ancient Sumerians, who supposedly believed humans evolved on Nibiru and stopped briefly on Earth to colonize it.
At this point, I was becoming somewhat less objective. I found more support for the Nibiru theory on websites that also wrote about extraterrestrials, the Illuminati, mind control, Freemasons, the matrix, and other prophecies. The constant theme was that, despite its size, no one could see Nibiru -- and thus prove its existence -- because of a grand conspiracy by government and science (and apparently Google) to hide it from us, to what end I still cannot fathom.
I leave it to psychologists to explain why some people feel the need to create grand hoaxes and conspiracy theories and why so many more people feel the need to believe them. I suppose it makes life more interesting, but I’m a “keep it simple stupid” kind of guy. Plus -- and this is just between you and me -- I know the U.S. government has a massive, secret, anti-alien unit that will make toast of Nibiru. It’s under the Denver Airport. Zack saw it on YouTube.


Friday, September 23, 2011

Class warfare in the Bayou State

By Bob Gaydos
Poor John Fleming. He lives in Louisiana, generally regarded as one of the worst -- if not the worst -- state in which to live, yet he has been specifically targeted by President Obama as someone who should pay more taxes to the federal government. What’s a poor millionaire member of Congress to do?
Apparently what all conservative Republican politicians do today: Go on TV to rip Obama with absurd claims that only further serve to illustrate how far removed the Tea Party and its GOP sycophants are from reality.
Fleming appeared on MSNBC to criticize Obama’s jobs plan, which includes a provision for a higher tax rate for millionaires. That’s a concept that sits well as fair and just with a solid majority of Americans every time it is proposed. But the anti-tax party, which is what the Tea Party really is, will have none of it. When Fleming was asked why he shouldn’t pay more taxes on the $6.3 million he makes each year as a family physician, congressman and owner of several Subway and UPS franchises, he said: “My net income is more like $600,000 of that $6.3 million... By the time I feed my family I have maybe $400,000 left over to invest in new locations, upgrade my locations, buy more equipment.”
OK, you’re trying to figure out how he manages to feed his family on only $200,000 a year, right? And getting by on a mere $400,000 a year after everything is paid for? Every year? Seeing as this was not FOX News, the interviewer challenged him: “You do understand, congressman, that the average person out there who's making maybe 40, 50, $60,000 out there, when they hear you only have $400,000 left over, it's not exactly a sympathetic position. You understand that?"
“Class warfare has never created a job.” Fleming replied. “This is all about creating jobs, not about attacking people who make certain incomes. You know in this country, most people feel that being successful in their business is a virtue, not a vice, and once we begin to identify it as a vice, this country is going down.”
Poor successful John Fleming. Even if he believes what he says, you would think he would be smart enough to display some compassion for the majority of Americans who would be happy to have a mere $400,000 left over to play with at the end of their working careers, never mind each year. But maybe he’s not concerned with the average American, or those struggling to survive on the poverty level income of $22,000 a year for a family of four. He brags on his website: “I have never believed in the fallacy that the federal government can buy its way out of economic troubles through needless spending. For that reason, I am proud to oppose ‘stimulus‘ packages and endless corporate bailouts, which will do little but weaken the long term integrity of the American economy.”
Fleming, of course, argues that taxing wealthy business owners more makes it harder for them to create more jobs. It’s a rewrite of “trickle down.” Let us keep our money and we’ll create jobs. Except that they don’t. And Fleming ignores the fact that Obama wants to provide tax cuts for businesses that actually create jobs.
John Fleming is a family physician who owns businesses that employ about 500 people. He is in his second term in Congress. He has been a church deacon and Sunday school teacher. He and his wife have been married 33 years. They have four adult children and two grandchildren. I get this from his website. What I don’t get is how he can live such an apparently successful life and seem to be so unsympathetic to the lives of so many of his fellow Louisianans.
I mentioned Louisiana was at the bottom of the list of best states to live.* It is also 48th out of 50 in median household income, second in percent of people living below the poverty level, and next to last in an interesting category -- next egg index. That means how much people have put away in savings, investments and other assets to live their lives. Like the $400,000 a year in “leftovers” Fleming complains about.
Since he’s a doctor, it should be noted that his state had the highest gonorrhea rate in the country and the second highest chlamydia rate and was dead last in the prevalence of poor mental health. Its health index, which measures a variety of factors, was the worst in the country. It also was second among states in firearms death rate and alcohol-related traffic fatalities. Among the 50 states and Washington, D.C., Louisiana is next to last in percentage of residents with a high school diploma or higher and, not surprisingly, next to last in percentage of children under age 6 who are read to every day.
These are Fleming’s people. His constituents. I certainly don’t blame him for all of Louisiana’s ills. But I do fault him for seemingly being unsympathetic to the real life problems his neighbors face. Simply being automatically opposed to all tax increases, even when common sense and consensus say some are necessary, is not a viable management principle. It’s dumb and Republicans at some point are going to have to acknowledge it. But pleading poverty on top of that when you’re netting 400 grand a year (and feeding your family for 200 grand) is worse. It suggests you have no clue as to what real life is like for millions of Americans, or that you don’t care.
If you want to find class warfare, Mr. Congressman, go home to Louisiana and look around.


* Data from statehealthfacts.org

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Close encounters of the remarkable kind

By Bob Gaydos
I saw a coyote the other day. Not on television, but about 150 feet in front of me. I was sitting in my car, having my morning coffee-and- newspaper fix (old habits) when I caught a glimpse of something moving on the road in front of me. The road is a quiet one that parallels a state highway on one side and a corn field on the other. No houses, businesses or other distractions. A rare hideaway in a suburbanized world.
That’s probably why the coyote sighting surprised me. The animal came out of nowhere -- actually, it would have to have been from across the busy highway to my left -- and moved purposefully across the road and into the corn field on my right. It took maybe 10 seconds, not long enough for me to realize what I was seeing and grab my camera from the backseat. So you’ll have to take my word for it.
The scraggly looking critter -- and they are particularly ugly animals -- disappeared into the corn and out of my life. I have since returned to the road for coffee and contemplation. But thus far no coyote. Not that I really expect a revisit. Then again, I never expected the first one.
At the same time, I have been thinking how remarkably unremarkable the brief event was -- Hey, everybody’s seen a coyote around here -- and yet how unremarkably remarkable it was -- Really? Everybody’s seen a coyote around here?
I think it was just plain remarkable, though I haven’t figured out precisely why.
For starters, I guess, it gives me something a little offbeat to throw into conversations when I don’t feel like talking politics.
“Hey, Bob, what did you think of that Republican debate the other night?”
“Yeah, you know what? I saw a coyote the other day -- middle of the morning, big as life, right in front of me, ugly as could be. Ran from the highway into the cornfield. Where the heck did he come from? How dangerous do you think he might be? How far do they travel? What are they doing down here anyway? Are they instinctual survivors? Do they eat cows? Can people shoot them legally?”
Good political questions all, turned masterfully into environmental musings.
The coyote sighting, plus my firsthand experience with the earthquake -- sitting in my car again, in front of my home, listening to two idiots on a talk radio sports show discuss the Mets for some reason, when the car starts shaking back and forth like it’s in a Category 3 hurricane, then repeating the scenario a few seconds later -- are godsends for future social chitchat. No harm, no foul, plenty of aww shucks.
But is that remarkable? Or just luck?
In any event, it got me thinking about the unpredictable encounters we have in our lives every day and how they affect us, or not. For example, I stopped in at QuickChek for my morning coffee recently and was struck by the sound of a loud, female voice engaged in earnest (although clearly not a business) conversation. This was over the sound of the piped in music and usual hum of store business. Scanning quickly, I spotted the culprit, in a far corner, cell phone to ear, oblivious to her decibel level and intrusion into other people’s lives. I later spotted her on line, still talking into her cell phone and cradling two half-gallon-size fountain drinks in her arms. I may have said a prayer of gratitude that I didn’t know her.
On the other hand, a few days before Madame Megaphone and the coyote, I was starting my coffee routine at QuickChek when I noticed a gentleman of a certain age -- you know, mature -- swaying and bobbing in perfect step to the piped-in music as he added sugar to his coffee. He was smiling too, broadly, and I swear he was humming.
“You’re having a better morning than I am,” I volunteered.
“He woke me up this morning,” came the happy reply.
Say what you want about the value of living life with a positive attitude, people do not often invoke Him in public -- certainly not in a convenience store to strangers -- in order to explain their joyous attitude. And this gentleman was indeed joyous. I’d said I felt cranky. My bones. He said I could talk to my bones and change that.
He even let me go before him in line.
Total honesty: I had a much better day after that encounter and, like the coyote, I’ll probably never forget the joyous gentleman, although I do look for him in QuickChek every time I give them some of my money.
And if Madame Megaphone returns, as I fear she will, I will do my best to tune her out and tune in to the piped-in music. Let’s hope it’s upbeat. If you happen to see me there with a cup of coffee, humming with a dumb ass grin on my face, I’m probably having a good, if not joyous, day. I’ll be heading out to my road to catch up on the news and wait for the next coyote.

Friday, September 2, 2011

From God's lips to Michele's ear

By Bob Gaydos
Good lord, does Michele Bachmann really believe that God is taking sides in the American presidential campaign? More to the point, does the Republican congresswoman from Minnesota expect us to believe that she knows which side God is on because she can interpret the messages He sends us in the form of catastrophic natural events?
It would appear so. The tea party darling, who has repeatedly demonstrated an appalling lack of knowledge of history or an understanding of science, has now offered American voters a glimpse of her evangelical Christian faith in which, apparently, God controls all natural events and directs them at certain people to deliver a message. Let the bodies fall where they may.
Speaking in Florida a few days ago, Bachmann said: “I don't know how much God has to do to get the attention of the politicians. We've had an earthquake; we've had a hurricane. He said, 'Are you going to start listening to me here?' Listen to the American people because the American people are roaring right now. They know government is on a morbid obesity diet and we've got to rein in the spending.”
So God punished the East Coast, home to those dreaded Democrats and liberals, with a rare earthquake and then a hurricane that killed 45 people and caused billions of dollars in damage because Democrats in Congress and the Democratic president would not go along with her views on how to fix the country’s financial problems?
Really? That’s all God has to worry about these days? Poverty and sickness and hunger and bigotry and religious fanaticism have all been dealt with, so let’s balance America’s budget? This is frightening on so many levels, even for Bachmann and, I might add, an insult to God.
Of course, Bachmann, as is her wont (and her habit) reacted to criticism of her comment by having an aide say it was only a joke. Oh, OK. Hear that Vermont? She was only kidding. You farmers who lost all your crops and you people whose homes were made unlivable, stop griping. Can’t you take a joke?
The thing with Bachmann is that she always has to backtrack on some dumb statement and always excuses it in an offhand manner as a meaningless misstatement or a joke. Which means she’s either dangerously clueless or -- the really dangerous option -- absolutely convinced that anything she believes is right and true and those who disagree with her are wrong and false. And, one may then assume, deserving of a vengeful God’s wrath until they are converted.
But she’s even got this God thing wrong. Disclaimer: I do not believe, as did the Greeks and Romans, that God, or the gods, are sitting around controlling natural events to reward or punish humans. But if one did believe this, then it would appear that conservative Republicans in the Deep South and Midwest, home of many fundamentalist religious zealots who support Bachmann and Texas Gov. Rick Perry, have not been heeding God’s messages.
The worst natural disaster by far in America this year has been the record-setting drought that has engulfed 13 states, all but one in the South and Midwest. The states of Alabama, Arkansas, Arizona, Florida, Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi, New Mexico, North Carolina, Oklahoma and South Carolina -- homes to so many Republicans and true tea party believers -- have suffered for months with no relief in sight. Worst of all is Texas, where Gov. Perry has tried to out-God Bachmann in his presidential campaign. The outlying drought state? Alaska. How ya doin’, Sarah?
There’s more. Sixty-two tornadoes devastated Alabama on April 27. From May 22 to May 22, central and Southern states were hit by 180 tornadoes, with 177 killed, 160 in Joplin, Mo. alone. Cost: $4.9 billion. In all this year, Midwest and Southeastern states have been hit by about 750 tornadoes, causing more than 500 deaths and $16 billion in damage. There was also a hail storm that a did a billion dollars in damage in Oklahoma. God must have been really ticked at those Okies over something, no?
So, wasn’t anybody in these states listening to God when he told them to compromise on the debt crisis? Or was He telling them to take global warming seriously? I have to admit that, apparently along with Bachmann, I didn’t catch His meaning in these instances, but I did notice that all those states readily accepted help from the federal government to deal with the destruction of the natural disasters.
Actually, let’s keep this simple. If Michele Bachmann truly believes that God is punishing Democrats with lethal natural disasters for not agreeing with her on the budget, she hasn’t got the brains to be president. If she thinks this is a joking mater, she hasn’t got the heart.