Sunday, March 02, 2014

The Science of Sleep - Putin's Crimean Gamble & Other Political Tidbits

Russian President Vladimir Putin gets his gun on-(Photo-Reuters)
Did you know dolphins, walruses, whales and other aquatic creatures have the ability to sleep with one half of their brains awake while the other side snoozes?

That and many other fascinating insights are the subject of this weekend's edition of NPR's Radiolab, which explores the science behind sleep. Check out the link and give it a listen.

The cute photo of a young lamb sleeping or the strange story of the man who "Ho-Ho-Ho's" in his sleep like Santa alone are worth the click.

Speaking of sleep, looking at the troubling events unfolding in the Ukraine sometimes I wonder if half the world is sleeping as the dogs of war begin to stir in a region of the world that has known so much devastation and conflict over the past century. Russian President Valdimir Putin didn't waste much time deploying troops to "defend" the Crimean peninsula, the long-time home and warm-water port of the Russian navy's Black Sea Fleet; one of the largest flotillas of surface warships in the world.

I found Putin's purely symbolic gesture of appearing before the Russian parliament to "ask" their permission to deploy troops to Crimea to be somewhat theatrical. As if he needed their permission, or any of them would dare to say no to him. Given his rather authoritarian track record as a politician and the fact that he's outlawed opposition political groups in Russia, the appearance before parliament was likely more intended as media propaganda for the Russian people, the Ukrainians and the West.

Not everyone is asleep though.

Did you catch Bill Maher giving it to conservative talking head Bill Kristol on HBO last Friday night? Link over to and watch the clip. As Maher began discussing the Tea Party on its 5th anniversary (I won't be sending a card) Kristol condescendingly asked Maher about the origins of the Tea Party and Maher shot back that it was because the country overwhelmingly elected a "black president". Priceless. Maher is almost unmatched when it comes to speaking truth to conservatives and calling them out on their insanity.

The city of Trenton, New Jersey seems poised to awaken at long last after the scandal-ridden tenure of ex-mayor Tony Mack was finally ended by a superior court judge's ruling last Wednesday.

 After being convicted back on February 7th for extortion, bribery and wire fraud for taking cash in exchange for selling a city-owned parking garage to a developer for a fraction of it's actual worth, Mack desperately clung on to power by using an obscure state law and in a monumental display of childish denial, refusing to resign his office.

Mack's response? His lawyer files an appeal for a new trial to seek the disgraced mayor's acquittal and Mack goes on Facebook to thank "the residents of Trenton and Mercer County for allowing me to serve you for over 16 years," before asking people to pray for him. Oh Lawd...Mack is scheduled to be sentenced on May 14th.

Unbelievable. This (former) emperor is butt-ass naked and he doesn't know it. So long Tony.  

And what's going on with the mass stabbing attack that took place in a railway station in Kunming in the Yunnan province of China? According to state media, the ten attackers randomly began stabbing people with knives, killing 29 and wounding 143 others. The horrific attack took place ahead of this Wednesday's influential National People's Congress and the Chinese government blames "Muslim separatists" - but who really knows?

This is the same government that sanitizes the nation's Websites from ANY mention of the pro-Democracy Tiananmen Square protests back in 1989 and makes it illegal to even talk about them; for all we know, the stabbing attacks could well have been a move by violent pro-Democracy forces.

But there's no need to go all the way to China to find examples of the government suppressing Democracy; Republicans do that right here in America too. The Ohio Secretary of State Jon Husted was back in the news last week after eliminating Sunday and early evening voting hours; times that have statistically been shown to be favored times for African-Americans to cast their votes in elections.

Pay attention here folks, the GOP and their right-wing policy wonks over at the American Legislative Exchange Council know they have zero chance of winning back the White House in 2016 without winning Ohio's 18 electoral votes.

As we all (should) know you need 270 electoral votes to win, and since California's 55 electoral votes are all but certain to go Democratic, any 2016 Republican strategy to win the White House that's going to be based on the party's current extremist platform that openly embraces racial intolerance, denial of science, hostility to immigrant populations and misogyny means Republicans have to win Florida and Ohio.

Just take a quick look at the electoral map from the 2012 presidential race when Romney got his clock cleaned. The "Red" states with lower populations that skew Republican simply don't have enough electoral votes to overtake the more densely-populated northeast where Democrats typically claim the advantage in states like New York, Pennsylvania, New Jersey and Massachusetts. 

That's why men like Jon Husted in Ohio, or the North Carolina governor Pat McCrory are hard at work enacting bizarre "voter integrity" laws to make it as difficult as possible for folks who tend to pull the Democratic lever in the election booth to cast a vote.

The sad truth is the American politicians who will be talking tough in the news this week really have no right to point their indignant fingers at Putin in Russia, or the Chinese government (or any other nation for that matter) for suppressing Democracy in their own nations, it going on right here, right now in the "Land of the Free".

At least it is for those American voters that Republicans consider to be just a little bit less deserving of the Constitutional right to exercise the right to vote than others.

The situational ethics of today's Republican party expose a transparent deep-seated hypocrisy that puts it at odds with the basic fundamentals of the Constitution they're so fond of fawning over; and cast the party as increasingly irrelevant in a nation who's demographics are rapidly shifting towards a place that people like the Bill Kristols, Michelle Bachmanns and their Koch Brothers patrons simply cannot fathom.      

Maybe Tony Mack should ask people to pray for people in the Ukraine, or voters who's right to participate in the electoral process are being stripped away by the GOP; they're arguably more deserving of divine intervention than Mack's sorry career as a mayor.

Anyway gotta run. Going to get a quick workout in before I get ready for the Oscars. I'm pulling for Steve McQueen and "Twelve Years a Slave" for best director and picture and Lupita Nyong'o for best supporting actress. While I think Chiwetel Ejiofor did amazing work in the lead role, I'm actually pulling for Matthew McConaughey for best actor for "Dallas Buyer's Club".

McConaughey's work in the HBO series "True Detective" is simply stunning and I thought his work in the film "Reign of Fire" was exceptional too. Ejiofor is an amazing actor (he was really strong in "Salt" alongside excellent performances by Angelina Jolie and Liev Schreiber) and he's going to get some choice film or television roles after his work in "Twelve Years a Slave" and his Oscar nomination; but his time will come.

Right now I think McConaughey deserves Oscar recognition for the body of his work; but we'll see, the Oscars have a way of offering up unexpected surprises - like Robert Redford not getting a best actor nomination for "All is Lost" for a role with almost no dialog. The Oscar committee was definitely sleeping on that one.

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