Archives for the Month of February 2006 on Through the Magnifying Glass

There's only 9 of them left...

These nine out of the original twelve had the opportunity to gaze back at our planet from another world. I recommend the book "In Search of the Men Who Fell to Earth: Moondust," by Andrew Smith.

Apollo 11
Commander Neil A. Armstrong (August 5, 1930 - )
Lunar Module Pilot Edwin E. "Buzz" Aldrin, Jr. (January 20, 1930 - )

Apollo 12
Lunar Module Pilot Alan L. Bean (March 15, 1932 - )

Apollo 14
Lunar Module Pilot Edgar D. Mitchell (September 17, 1930 - )

Apollo 15
Commander David R. Scott (June 6, 1932 - )

Apollo 16
Commander John W. Young (September 24, 1930 - )
Lunar Module Pilot Charles M. Duke, Jr. (October 3, 1935 - )

Apollo 17
Commander Eugene A. Cernan (March 14, 1934 - )
Lunar Module Pilot Harrison H. "Jack" Schmitt (July 3, 1935 - )

These men are now in their mid 60's to mid 70's. By the time we go back to the Moon (estimated to be either 2018 or 2020 by NASA or the Bush Administration), these men may not be here to see it.

Will the US be able to endure the next decade to help revigorate the NASA Space Program? While some congressman may believe in the Vision for Space Exploration initiative, some want to get out of the space program altogether, end its participation in the International Space Station (ISS), and just focus on projects that are more lower-to-mid orbit space missions. Is it possible we may cede space exploration to the Chinese or the European Agency? Do we want to just watch and see the Chinese or the Europeans set up moon bases? These are all possiblities that could happen.

Or is it also possible that private space exploration may lead the way instead of a NASA-led bureaucracy? We got suborbital flight service just beyond the horizon. Will the success of SpaceShipOne lead to a privatized space industry that could accomplish more than the US government?

Link: Vision for Space Exploration

Link: The Project Apollo Archive

U. Illinois editors suspended over Prophet cartoons

As such, most US newspapers chose not to publish the Prophet cartoons that have caused an uproar in the Islamic world. Those few that did encountered a few peaceful protests from Muslim organizations as well a bit of scolding from local and state politicians.

On one side, some groups believe they have the right to publish these cartoons as a right to freedom of press. They assert that only extremist Muslim factions are exaggerating the problem here. On the opposite side, people prefer to avoid antagonizing Muslims and to prevent any misunderstanding about being racist and inciting any violence. However, the issue has become quite hypocritical. If newspapers published the cartoon of a Muslim figure wearing a turban made of a bomb and called him Osama Bin Laden, would anyone protest it? What if the name listed was Abu Musab al-Zarqawi?

Yes, under the religion of Islam, paintings, pictures, or caricatures that depict the Prophet in any derogatory way are prohibited. In an interview on BBC, one of the leaders of the Muslim organizations in the UK stated that peaceful and proper images of the Prophet are allowed (forgot the link, but that's what he said). Also, you can check the Cranky Professor blog where pictures of Muhammad can be found at various libraries and collections.

From what has happened so far, it has been unfortunate the way the cartoons caused such a violent reaction in the Islamic world. However, the type of reaction has bordered along the level of insanity. Protests in Pakistan, Lebanon, and Libya for example, have all ended in violence. In some of the places, embassy buildings have been burned down. Some have called for the death and murder of those individuals that have published the cartoons. In London, a group of Muslim protestors held a rally in front of the BBC studios. Some of their placards called for violence, and even one protestor dressed up as a suicide bomber. Is this the right response to these images?

These types of violent protests have galvanized selected Western newspapers and groups to publish the images as a right to not be intimidated by threats. While they agree that the images were offensive, it should be debated in a civilized manner, not with violence. Why has it that when jokes and funny images are made out of the Pope and Jesus Christ, you do not get such a violent reaction?

Well, anyways, back to the topic... many newspapers in the US chose not to publish any of the Prophet cartoons. However, two high-ranking editors of the student newspaper at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign were suspended for two weeks after they decided to run some of the controversial cartoons of the prophet Muhammad. Acton Gorton, the editor-in-chief, and Chuck Prochasks, the opinions editor, stood by their decision to print the cartoons.

After their suspension, the newspaper's editorial board apologized to the Muslim community and its readers for the editors' actions. Even though they did not necessarily disagree with the decision to run the cartoons, it disagreed with the process of how the cartoons made it into the paper.

Shaz Kaiseruddin, president of the Muslim Students' Association stated, "When hate speech is propagated under the guise of free speech, it's just indicative of the fact that 'Islamaphobia' is rampant in our nation." So does this mean we should suspend editors for publishing a bad caricature of Jesus? Or how about we tell people to go and murder the creators of Southpark for making the short film of Jesus and Santa fighting each other?

Or what if instead of the cartoon images, the newspaper decided to explain the images in words? Would this result in the same reaction? Would both editors still get suspended for asking students and people to use their imaginations based on them? Would that be considered hate speech? Not all the images of the Prophet were derogatory. What if the editors chose to publish the nicer images?

I do not believe for the fact that the editors were racist or prejudiced against Muslims. I think they were trying to invoke a discussion because we may not know what is the problem with these images and why the Muslim world is so angry about them. There was no attempt by the newspaper to display the images and just say "down with the Muslims." Do you really think the objective of the newspaper was to create violence? In an American university, do you think it would have resorted to violence? That's why I think the suspensions was unwarranted.

Well, I have to wonder how many more student newspapers will try to follow U. Illinois' way and get the same reaction.

St Louis Dispatch Newspaper

Student paper criticized for running cartoons (02/10/2006)

Two editors suspended over cartoons (02/16/2006)

Continue reading "U. Illinois editors suspended over Prophet cartoons"

The Federal Budget Myth, and the National Debt

The US Treasury Department announced that there was a $20.99 billion surplus for the month of January. Some Republicans have indicated that this shows that the economy is strong and we should stick with the direction of Bush's administration. One fellow poster also thinks this means the economy is good.

Despite the good news, the announced surplus was expected. For those that work in the financial industry, the federal government typically runs a surplus in January when corporations and individuals make their quarterly tax payments. The Congressional Budget Office (CBO) actually expected $24 billion in the black. Receipts rose 13.7% year-over-year to $230 billion (a record in January), but overlays also rose 7.9% year-over-year to $209 billion (also a record in January).

A good number of conservatives are faulting the media and some doomsayers that the huge national debt will be the downfall of America's economy. They have tried to allay fears by saying that President Bush promises to cut the deficit in half by 2009, the year he will leave office. It would have been happier if he stated that he can cut the national debt by 2009, it would have actually freed up about $175 billion in interest payments for discretionary use! For a powerful and robust economy like the United States, we should not be having an issue with this. The tax cuts that President Bush pushed through Congress have helped the economy. Tax revenue has increased, but the problem is that government spending has also increased even more. Yes, people are saying that national security, the wars of Iraq and Afghanistan, and Gulf Coast reconstruction are to blame for the increased spending, but we cannot continually deficit spend hundreds of billions of dollars.

Ladies and gentleman, debt-to-GDP ratio is 64.8% (as of October 2005). Yes it's high, but you know it is obvious that Bush's Press Secretary would say, "well, that's lower than Japan's 164% and the Eurozone's 79%", but why are we comparing our problem to theirs? Some would say that we are doing fine. Past opinion polls have shown that the national debt is not a high priority about the populace. However, that has changed recently when it is known that when Bush took office in his first term, the national debt stood at $5.7 trillion. Today, we are hitting $8.2 trillion.

Know that when politicians start talking about the deficit figures, they do not include the emergency bills that were passed to finance the current military operations in Iraq and Afghanistan. They also love to include the figures from the Social Security Trust because it is currently running a surplus, but those years are numbered. It is better to listen to the Fed or the CBO than the President.

Air Travel Reviews

Skytrax is probably the best airline web site to find out the best and worst travel experiences. Read comments from all sorts of travellers talking about their worst or best experience. You may find a story about possible scams or things you should be aware of when flying. Also, it includes info on the airlines themselves, the planes, and their airport lounges.

http://www.airlinequality.com/

Do kids really know about sexual harassment?

It seems that sexual harassment should be a taught lesson for first graders. At Downey Elementary School in Brockton, Mass, a first grader was suspended for three days for harassing a girl in his class. What did he do? He allegedly put two fingers inside the girl's waistband while she sat on the floor in front of him.

Such a thing would warrant a scolding by the teacher, but an actual school suspension? Today, we are likely to see elementary and middle schools start calling in the police and using suspensions for incidents that would just require an afternoon detention or a good lecture by the teacher or assistant principal. It seems that we love escalating such incidents into the media spotlight. When school district administrators complain about setting aside money for legal matters, perhaps they should look at their disciplinary procedures and realize that these kids are just children, not potential troublemakers.

Breitbart.com - First Grader Suspended for Harassment

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Another Thought!

So was it right for Reverend Joseph Lowery and former President Carter to bash President Bush at Coretta Scott King's funderal? Perhaps it was the temptation of the funeral being nationally televised. Or some of the speakers just felt the need to criticize the President because there is no other opportunity to do so?

I find it shameful to see people do this during a funeral. Do we start criticizing people at a memorial service? It is time to remember and reflect, not the time to jab and attack.

Continue reading "Do kids really know about sexual harassment?"

5-Second Delay: Bollux!

It has been declared that Sunday's Super Bowl will be on a five-second tape delay pregame, postgame, and halftime.

BOLLUX! It's stupid, it's childish, it goes to show that we are so scared of upsetting the tiny minority, everything is on a tape-delay so we can censor anything that could be considered offensive. Has network television become so scared sh*tless? Ohhh.. the mighty FCC is going to fine us a $1 million. Yea, they have nothing better to do then issuing multi-million dollar fines just to show to the American public that "hey we are doing something!" Rubbish.

Fox did not tape-delay the Super Bowl last year. The half-time performer was Paul McCartney. It's ABC's turn this year so they decided to play chicken and choose to implement the 5-second delay. Yes, so you won't see a streaker running across the field in the freezing weather or seeing on the sidelines a pair of NFL cheerleaders making out. Holy sh*t...that could actually increase ratings! If we are so busy censoring out "sh*t or fu*k," why not get rid of "bitch, bullsh*t, tosser, jerk" too? Oh, we are scared of the f-word...really, we hear it every day as we go to work, during work, and going home.

The Christian Coalition is busy complaining...oh no the Congress did not pass the bill increasing the indecency fines. Aww, boo hoo. Tough sh*t! If you can't take it, then go home. Honestly, if you think it's indecent to say a curse word on television, how about a group of guys fighting over the football? Wow a fight, that's indecent. How about that? Oh wait, it's a national sport, the symbol of America's football... damn hypocritical nonsense.

In the UK, the Brits are just laughing at us. After 9-10pm, you can see naked breasts! You can hear the shows say sh*t or fu*k. You can watch a baby giving birth or see an operation where the doctor install a woman's breast implants. You can even see cosmetic surgery where they show liposuction! Disgusting? Absolutely! But I can change the god damn channel! If you don't like it, change the channel or turn it off and go to sleep.

If you are that worried about what's could happen during Super Bowl, then turn it off, go to sleep, and ask one of your mates who won.

Take that indecency bill and shove it. Next year, let's watch Paris Hilton's sex video during half-time. Or better yet, let's watch the unrated version of GoDaddy.com's commerical.

So sit back and watch the game. Go Steelers!

Update

Ok, the Steelers won 21-10. the Bud Light "Magic Fridge" won best commerical.

The Rolling Stones' take on the censorship... RIDCULOUS!

CNN.com - Stones: NFL censorship 'ridiculous'

CNN.com - ABC stifles some Stones swagger

STUDENT LOAN CUTS!

If you have been taking out federal loans to help finance your more than $40,000 education at Case, you better take note!

Yesterday, the House of Representatives passed a budget-cutting bill, the Deficit Reduction Act, that would cut away $12.7 BILLION from the federal student-loan financing, the biggest decrease in the program's history. The result will be higher interest rates, cuts in federal subsidies to private lenders and mandatory borrower's fees.

The cuts are part of a larger $40 billion package of revenue-saving benefit reductions, including cuts to Medicare and Medicaid. The legislation passed mostly on a party-line vote, 216-214. It now heads to the Senate where it will meet opposition, enough to warrant Vice President Cheney to come back to Washington in case there is a tie. So far five Republican senators have indicated that they will oppose the legislation. Note that the student loan cuts make up 30 percent of the deficit reduction in the bill, but less than half of 1 percent of annual federal spending.

Perhaps politicians think that students won't make a fuss. Perhaps they would not have to worry because registered voting students do not vote in large numbers, and their turnout is low during an off-year election. It seems that in order for politicians to reduce the federal deficit, student programs are the best target. Yes, they are cutting Medicare and Medicaid by 0.4 and 0.3 percent over five years, but at least they are not cutting Social Security. The AARP was still upset, but then the impact for them is smaller than for the students.

So what's the result if the Senate passes it and Bush signs it? The Pell Grant will remain fixed at $4,050 for the fourth year in a row. The rate on Stafford loans will increase to a fixed rate of 6.8% starting on July 1. Currently, it is at a variable 4.7%. PLUS loans will go up to a fixed interest rate of 8.5 percent from 7.9 percent. Annual loan limits will go up, but who wants to take out more loans? Stafford loan limits will rise from $2,625 to $3,500 for freshmen and $3,500 to $4,500 for sophomores. Unsubsidized Stafford loans for graduate and professional students will increase from $10,000 to $20,000 a year.

The elimination of the origination fee over 5 years in favor of a mandatory insurance fee of one percent, which lenders pay to cover the loans against default sounds more of a gimmick solution for lenders.

But for consolidation rules that will take effect on July 1 if the legislation is signed into law, note this. You cannot consolidate with your spouse's, you cannot consolidate your loans while in school, and makes it more difficult for the student to re-consolidate.

I urge all students and graduates to consolidate now since you can get a consolidation loan as low as 2.75 percent with benefits applied. You can get a longer payment term, one monthly payment, and no prepayment penalties.

Yahoo Finance - Student Loan Consolidation Rates to Increase; Budget Reconciliation Passes

Kansas City Star - Students await vote on loan program

The Cavalier Daily - The student loan shakedown

Oklahoma Daily - Bill would increase student loan rates

Watts should check his info before saying the wrong thing
Media Matters - CNN's Watts falsely accused Gov. Kaine of misrepresenting student loan, Medicaid cuts

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