John Furie Zacharias
having a bad day in a strange place
Thunderstorms Anywhere

Thunderstorms in the Imajica

 The different ways I don't like you 
 in a list that may never become organized
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Thursday, August 24, 2006
NASA: Space Shuttle Atlantis Launch

The Space Shuttle Atlantis is scheduled to launch this upcoming Sunday at 4:30 pm EDT from pad 39B at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida.  The STS-115 crew consists of (front) Pilot Christopher J. Ferguson, Commander Brent W. Jett Jr. and (back) Mission Specialists Heidemarie M. Stefanyshyn-Piper, Joseph R. Tanner, Daniel C. Burbank and Steven G. MacLean, who represents the Canadian Space Agency.

Click on the STS-115 crew member's name (above) to read their pre-flight interviews.  There are some candid photos of the astronauts taken during their training.  The astronauts describe their motivation to become an astronaut, and their background, hometown, and early education.  They also explain their individual mission objectives and why they feel space exploration is important.

The previous shuttle mission, STS-121, launched on July 4th with Discovery and was dubbed "Return to Flight."  If I had to coin a phrase for STS-115, I would go with "Return to Construction" because this is the first mission since the Columbia accident 2 years ago that will resume the construction of the International Space Station.

The Atlantis shuttle payload includes the 17-ton P3/P4 truss segments with solar panel arrays that will double the power available for the ISS.  The 6 Atlantis crew members will meet up with the 3-man ISS crew during their 11-day mission.  The nine astronauts on ISS will represent Russia, Germany, and Canada in addition to the six Americans.

All nine astronauts will be extremely busy while on the ISS.  Three EVAs or space walks are scheduled, each with two astronauts each.  During these space walks, other astronauts will be operating the shuttle and station robotic arms in order to move the massive truss segments from the shuttle to their place on station.  Once the trusses are securely in place, a dramatic deployment of the solar arrays will occur, spreading outwards almost 240 feet.

The next two years will be a very busy and intense construction schedule for the International Space Station and every space agency around the world, in part making up for lost time.  People interested in space exploration, science and even international cooperation will have much to see and observe as the ISS moves toward completion.

Watch the Atlantis launch on the web via Nasa TV.  That's what I'm doing.

[Headphones] :: Space Station Soma [lo-fi] - SomaFM

Comics are where super heroes, like astronauts, are first created.


Tuesday, August 22, 2006
U.S. Islamophobia

"You shouldn't believe what I say is true. Nobody is going to pour truth into your brain. It's something you have to find out for yourself." -- Noam Chomsky

"I think we'd all be better off turning off the television once in a while, abstaining from the fast-food media propaganda being shovelled into our brains for a day or so, and taking that time to get to know someone better." -- John Furie Zacharias

Earlier this month, I got very riled up over the fear-mongering and paranoia being spread in the U.S. by the Bush administration.  There has been a clear and established pattern of using fear and propaganda for political purposes by this administration in the past.  With the upcoming elections drawing nearer every day, president Bush recently advised his fellow Republicons, "If I were facing an election, I would stress the economy and security."

While Frank Rich may think that our fellow citizens are finally wise to this Rovian game and won't have it any longer stating, "the era of Americans' fearing fear itself is over" I'm not entirely convinced this is true.  Furthermore, the trickle-down effect I complained about doesn't seem to be stopping by any means.

Local Police

Take the specific and recent example concerning the two Dearborn college students, Ali Houssaiky and Osama Abulhassan, being charged with terrorist-related felony crimes in Ohio.  I said, "The specific facts about these college students will likely be that they were trying to make some Summer cash," despite the widespread media fear-mongering and outright racist hate speech by Michelle Malkin and Debbie Schlussel on their well-funded uber-blogs.

The Detroit Free Press newspaper, aka The Freep, reported several days later that the charges had been dropped for lack of evidence and the two had been released to go home to their families.  I strongly encourage you to read this Freep article now, "Terror case has ended, but stigma remains," because older stories are taken offline and placed into a per-per-view archive.

Do you remember "Driving while Black?"  The real stigma about which the Freep insuates is being an Arab or Muslim in the U.S. and therefore, branded a terrorist.  One of the college students, Osama Abulhasan summed it up this way on the day of his release from the Ohio jail:

We were both born here in the United States. We are truly Americans in every sense and we are proud of our heritage.

I'm only asking that we be afforded the same rights and protections as our fellow Americans. There is no justification for treating us as second class citizens.

There seemed to be no presumption of innocence regarding the baseless charges that were brought forth. We were nowhere near being placed on trial, yet we were so readily associated with guilt and wrongdoing. Our reputations were tarnished, our names blackened and our families left to suffer without any justification.

I would hope that police, prosecutors and other law enforcement agencies exhibit a higher sense of responsibility in carrying out the crucial functions that they serve.

I would also hope that the media [would be] more responsible when reporting occurrences such as this one. Instead of sensationalizing these events and causing fear and mass hysteria, the media should be more vigilant and careful when reporting the news.

If you wish to understand some of the growing disappointment and anguish the Arab and Muslim populations are continuing to face, you need only imagine yourself in their place.  Pretend for a minute that you are one of the college students.  To add to the injury of being tossed into jail, you have to live with the hateful insults from the likes of Michelle Malkin and Debbie Schlussel.  Googling your own name places these two hateful bigots at the top of the search results.

Airport Security

Unfortunately, neither the U.S. media nor law enforcement has an exactly stellar record in responsibility lately.  From the very top of the federal government down to the state and local level, and even down to the private security personnel, an atmosphere of paranoia is pervasive.

Take the example of Raed Jarrar.  When I first blogged about Raed Jarrar, two years ago, he was trying to tell people what was going on in the war-torn streets of Baghdad when the media failed to do it.  He has since put his architecture studies on hold, moved to the United States, and is working as a peace activist as the Iraq Project Director for Global Exchange.

Yesterday, he gave an interview to Democracy Now describing how he was harassed and stopped from boarding his airline flight for simply wearing a T-shirt that said "We will not be silent" in English and Arabic.  Airport personnel told him that wearing a shirt with Arabic letters was like wearing a T-shirt that said, "I am a robber" into a bank.

Is this the kind of country we want to live in -- falling prey to fear and paranoia?

Read his blog entry, or watch the Democracy Now interview. [video/transcript]

[Headphones] :: They March and They Sing - Louisiana Red

You could always put your back-to-school troubles in a new bag.


Monday, August 21, 2006
Marcus Monday

Marcus Annius Verus, known to history as the Roman Emperor Marcus Aurelius, was born at Rome in the year 121 AD.  He wrote some of his own philosophical and personal thoughts about his life and his world in a private collection of his journals called, Meditations.  More than 1800 years later, I decided to turn his personal thoughts into a blog that I named Verissimus, meaning Most True.  I'm no expert in philosophy, ancient studies, or classical literature.  Yet, the act of transcribing his Meditations into a blog has created an interest, a fondness and some respect for him in me.  He is now long dead, but perhaps still speaks to us.

Generally speaking, Meditations - Book I, is where Marcus gives thanks to various people in his life and the reasons why he feels they helped him.  If you were to follow his example in your blog, who would you thank right now and why?

For example: In Meditations I-5, Marcus says:

From my governor, to be niether of the green nor of the blue party at the games in the Circus, nor a partizan either of the Parmularius or the Scutarius at the gladiators' fights; from him too I learned endurance of labour, and to want little, and to work with my own hands, and not to meddle with other people's affairs, and not to be ready to listen to slander.

Here is my attempt to put that advice into a modern-day perspective:

  • Don't be a partisan Democrat or a Republican. (I'm not a registered member of either party)
  • Don't be from a red state or blue state, in politics.  (I honestly feel more like a resident of the net than I do of any geographical location)
  • Work hard at your own tasks.  (I try)
  • Be happy with what you have.  (I try)
  • Mind your own business and forge ahead with your own future.  (I try, but some things get me riled up)
  • Don't listen to gossip and lies.  (I don't watch Faux News)

What do you think Marcus meant 1800 years ago?  How might this apply to you now?

[Headphones] :: Illinois Street Lounge [lo-fi] - SomaFM

Comics are where superheroes have real lives.


Sunday, August 20, 2006
Sunday Funnies

Check out more comics by Stuart Carlson

About two months ago, I blogged that the Bush administration's NSA Warrantless Wiretapping program was finally being challenged in a court of law by the ACLU.  It's not that most Americans don't want the federal government to do its national security job they just want the Bush administration to do it legally and not at the expense of shredding our U.S. Constitution in the process.

The federal judge, Anna Diggs Taylor, has ruled on the case, in part saying:

The Government appears to argue here that, pursuant to the penumbra of Constitutional language in Article II, and particularly because the President is designated Commander in Chief of the Army and Navy, he has been granted the inherent power to violate not only the laws of the Congress but the First and Fourth Amendments of the Constitution, itself.

We must first note that the Office of the Chief Executive has itself been created, with its powers, by the Constitution. There are no hereditary Kings in America and no powers not created by the Constitution. So all "inherent powers" must derive from that Constitution.

ThinkProgress noted that the three main U.S. broadcast TV networks spent about 30 seconds talking about the federal court ruling that affects your free speech and privacy.  ABC, NBC and CBS decided instead to spend whole segments of their news programs on the arrest of a child predator allegedly involved in the ten-year-old murder case of Jon Benet Ramsey.  To me, this just shows that the network news knows their audience demographic: old people.

Younger people do get their news from the internet.  They care about the future of the country.  If you want to watch a video stream, it's out there.  I saw this interview segment about this story on Democracy Now: [ video / transcript ]

Watch the interview.  The guest is a constitutional and civil rights attorney, Glenn Greenwald.  He's the author of the book, "How would a patriot act?" and also blogged about this story, here.

If you prefer to read about issues, Wired news spells it out quickly out for you.  Here's some commentary about it from David Corn of The Nation magazine and another scathing piece from New York Times columnist Frank Rich, reposted by SyteSurge.  You can also listen to this podcast from with Robert Levy.

The funniest video this week was by George Bush, himself, answering a question about the NSA program.  A reporter gave him a question he should have knocked out of the park, but he had just spent the whole day with economists at Camp David.  Man-oh-man, he could not string two Rovian slogans together to save his life -- and sensing media doom -- he bailed!

Watch the video here on C-Span (cued up by me), and here with Faux News trying to massage the message, afterwards.  Personally, I laughed so hard at these videos until I remembered Bush will be around until January 2009.

[Headphones] :: Democrusader [Download] [Lo-Fi Stream] by JfZ

Sometimes tech geeks think about politics, too.


Thursday, August 17, 2006
Politics: Talking Peace

While checking on a favorite podcast (Watch It Burn) to see if a new episode had been published, I found a new website has been put online by a relative of the podcaster, Kinser.  Watch It Burn is podcast from a military base in Iraq by Kinser.  I've found it to be insightful, thought-provoking, and always entertaining.  Seeing no new podcast that I hadn't already heard, I wandered over to his blog, then his wife's blog, then finally to their relative's new site, Elevate the Debate.


One of the articles on Elevate the Debate was written by Joe Parko, Georgia Peace and Justice Coalition, on July 25th.  After reading, "U.S. Weapons Are Being Used Illegally by Israel," I continued on to read some of the comments for the article on the Elevate the Debate blog because I was already familiar with the troubling issues of depleted uranium in war zones and cluster bombs in Lebanon.  At the end of the article, Parko concludes, "President Bush and Congress must tell Israel to stop using our weapons illegally and to start using negotiations as the way to bring peace to the region."

One comment to the article seemed to express a level of futility.  Indeed, I was tempted to comment, "There's no talking to this administration concerning Israel."  Instead however, I posted a longer and hopefully more thoughtful response.  Since I appreciate the comments from readers here at Thunderstorms, I thought I could post it here so you can tell me if it makes any sense, or not.

The domestic political situation in the U.S. obviously affects its foreign policy. The administration in power until January 2009 will try to maintain its hold on power until it is quite literally forced to compromise from its position on any issue. With moderate popular opinion for the Bush administration dwindling, they are hunkering down and speaking only with their core constituencies.

A troubling new development has surfaced in the social conservative side of Republican politics. Last month, a powerful Christian Zionist movement went from religious televangelism to meeting with White House officials, lobbying about foreign policy. Google "Christians United For Israel" and you should find a recent article written up in The Nation magazine that details this.

CUFI is led by a Pastor Hagee from Texas, who preaches a death cult message of Armageddon, for the sake of rapture, and the second coming of Christ. Unfortunately, CUFI is more than some wacky Christian evangelical sect. As a political lobbying group, it has the ear of the administration and wholeheartedly promotes a wider war in the Middle East. Kansas Senator Brownback and RNC Chairman Ken Melman spoke at their inaugural dinner.

CUFI is one very troubling example of the people the Bush administration considers "on its side" within the socially conservative Christians in the U.S. who previously focussed on domestic issues, like banning abortion and gay marriage. CUFI adds support to the neocon agenda.

The other core constituency into which the unpopular administration will hunker down is the neocon factions. While we know their basic agenda of global American supremacy, their current "projects" are not doing as well as they had hoped and support is dwindling for the war in Iraq, unconditional support for Israel, and the never-ending Global War on Terror.

Rather than be hopeful about this acknowledgement of the neocon agenda and its failing support by our citizenry, I'm concerned that the administration will simply use the "fear-creates-followers model" that has worked for them since 9/11. Any real or staged terrorist attack on the U.S. of any significant scope could send the average person back into a frenzy of patriotic retribution against "the evil-doers."

I look at my fellow citizens and I see their attitudes fall into thirds. A third want peace. A third want their wars. A third are apathetic to both. If the Bush administration wants a majority approval, it can (and does) get it by creating more fear.

The only way to win the peace is to win the battle against fear. This is a very tough battle. I've touched on the benefit of fear-mongering for our political establishment. In addition, multi-national media corporations whose own reporters and editors quip, "if it bleeds, it leads," make a profit from fear. Media touches everyone, no matter what their political affiliation or religion.

However, some very religious people are psychologically prone to be affected by fear, and being led by their pastors and political leaders. They feel safe following. They give problems up to God. Once in that mindset, they can become very defensive and even hostile, if you try to logically tear down their happy assumptive walls of safety. Only equally religious people who espouse peace can have any chance of breaking the follower mentality in the fear-stricken. That's probably the subject for several books in various fields of study by experts far more educated than I am. However, the main idea I have here is that only the religious left can talk effectively to the religious right, at this point.

The neocon bunker is a little easier to influence. While many espouse an almost religious zeal for their agenda, they are not followers. They tend to be strategic thinkers and leaders. Even political partisans of the current administration are being disallusioned by the failures and the domestic fascist outrageousness of Bush/Cheney.

The key to disuading these people from more war usually comes with a logical message. We don't have the ability to win with this plan. We need a new plan. While you probably won't persuade the neocon away from the global American supremacy ideology, you might try to offer a plan B for its achievement -- like peace and good relations is conducive to commerce and trade.

The apathetic third of our fellow citizens simply need to be told and encouraged to wake up, grow up, and register to vote. Give them examples of how one person can help make a change that is helpful to all of us.

[Headphones] :: Democrusader [Download] [Lo-Fi Stream] by JfZ

Sometimes tech geeks think about politics, too.


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