Friday, November 27, 2009

I Discover Above Top Secret

I found it while browsing for a good discussion site. Most of the chat rooms and other internet discussion forums I had encountered were either hopelessly stupid and inane, or so hostile toward those who dared to post in them that it was off-putting. I've always enjoyed a good debate, but name-calling and personal insults are no fun and at best just annoying. Any idiot can abuse people.

Above Top Secret was, surprisingly, one of the first hits I got on my search. The title alone conjured up images of spies, saboteurs and government intrigues. It turns out that impression was largely true. All three of those topics are to be found on its boards, and more -- much more. I was at first amused by the image of tin-foil-hat wearing lunatics and aliens from outer space and thought I was going to read them and get a good laugh. But my condescending and superior attitude soon changed.

The discussions of even the most far-out subjects are usually supplemented by evidence -- articles, experts, photographs, etc as well as personal experiences. There is almost always some form of documentation for each claim. I'm still not convinced that 9/11 was an inside job, for example, but after reading many of the zillion threads and posts on the subject, I have come to respect the amount of research that has gone into this claim and the sincerity of the people who write on it. I remain skeptical, but willing to keep my mind open now.

In order to be able to post replies on this site one has to join ATS, but this is possible and still retain one's anonymity. When one registers he or she just provides a screen name and an e-mail address to which your password is sent. No personal information beyond that is asked or required.

There are many forums on every kind of conspiracy from the medical (is H1N1 a government deception?) to the governmental (secret federal detention camps? Was the Warren Commission hiding something?) to the artistic (who really wrote the Diary of Anne Frank?) to the paranormal, to the predictions of Nostradamus, to the inner workings of secret societies and organizations. Some of these last ones border on old prejudices and persecutions and make me somewhat uncomfortable; the terms and conditions of the site, however, discourage the expression of out and out prejudice or xenophobia. But there is more -- much more.

There are forums on medicine, education, science, the media, and many other subjects which may or may not involve conspiracies.

Two of my favorites are the Breaking Alternative News forum and the Breaking Political News forum. Breaking Alternative News has a preference for non-main-stream media accounts, although provocative, unusual or suspicious items may be accepted from these sources. Threads are never more than a day or two old when they are posted. Breaking Political News covers a spectrum of recent political events and controversies.

I, myself, am an avowed political junkie, so I spend a lot of time on the numerous political forums, though I browse the others from time to time.

One of the features that makes this site so unique is the terms and conditions, which one must agree to when one becomes a member. There are prohibitions on profanity, name-calling, or any other kid of abuse. The T&C is strictly upheld; members who disregard the rules are issued warnings and after repeated offenses are banned. These rules create an atmosphere of civil debate very unlike most other internet discussion forums.

Since I joined two years ago, rarely a day goes by when I don't spend some time on ATS. There is always at least one thread that captures my attention. You get points for every post or thread you initiate. These can be used to "buy" things at the ATS store (like backgrounds for your avatar) or just accrue to one's prestige. Particularly outstanding posts, and accompanying points, are awarded by the forum moderators. Generally speaking, the longer one is a member the more accustomed one becomes to the protocols and expectations of the site, and the more solid one's posts are the higher one's status.

It seems silly to try to accrue so much status, but that's part of the fun.

I invite anyone who has an inquiring mind and a taste for civil discussion and debate to visit ATS. It's one of my favorite places on the internet.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

I've Been Double-Crossed By My Congressman

If the guy were a Republican I could understand it. He would be acting on his own deeply-held convictions and there would be no hypocrisy in his voting against the House bill on health care reform (or more accurately health insurance reform).

But the congressman from my district, Health Shuler, is supposed to be a Democrat. He has enjoyed the full support of the local Democratic party and raised a lot of money from us. We threw picnics and barbecues, went door to door, made calls and passed out leaflets. We all celebrated when he won the election against a popular Republican incumbent. I am sorry, now, to report that I voted for Shuler. Twice. I actually liked his Republican predecessor, but the guy was, well, not a Democrat. So we were all happy. For awhile.

It's true that our district is relatively conservative, and Shuler no doubt felt that he owed his victory in large part to his conservative support. Now we Democrats feel we were taken advantage of.

I hesitated, but continued to support Shuler, even after I learned that he is the whip of the Blue Dog coalition in the House. The Blue Dogs are a group of conservative Democrats and like Heath they also come from conservative districts and sometimes vote with the Republicans. That's okay, as long as he doesn't cross any major ideological divides, like health care reform.

The trouble is we Democrats were whole-heartedly in favor of the House bill. We made our voices heard through phone calls, letters, and petitions to Shuler's office. We also heard a lot from Shuler's other constituents and in many cases even the Republicans wanted at least some kind of reform. Shuler's office responded with the assurance that he was listening to us but never gave us specifics on his position. But I was optimistic that he would, when push came to shove, assert his loyalty to the people who got him elected and give him most of his financial support.

I was still hopeful on that fateful Saturday night when the House voted on the bill. I was glued to the coverage on C-Span (which I like because it is totally unbiased. It gives you only the actual proceedings with no commentary ). I was still hopeful as the Congressmen began voting electronically. When I didn't see how my congressman voted, I went on-line to the C-Span site and read the official vote tally. It said "Shuler - nay."

Nay? I couldn't believe it. He had stabbed me, and his party, in the back. He was a Benedict Arnold who did not honestly prepare us for his defection to the enemy. He takes money and votes from the Democrats but he might as well be a Republican. At least then he would be true to his voting record and what are, apparently, his real convictions.

The next day the phones were ringing at the county Democratic Party headquarters. An article was circulating that disclosed Shuler had taken more money from the insurance industry than any other congressman in our state, including the Republicans. Another was produced that brought up an old scandal that connected Shuler to a dishonest real estate deal with the TVA in the next state. I was prepared to listen to the buzz. I had been bamboozled and gone from shocked to mad.

As I said earlier, if my congressman was honest and forthcoming about his true convictions I would not be happy but I could accept it. As it was, however, he has taken a lot of us for a ride. Just wait until 2010.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

The President's Address at Fort Hood: What Does It Mean To The Muslim-American Community?

It's rather eerie that my last post was about fear of Muslim-Americans, particularly of interns on Capitol Hill. I had no idea, when I wrote it, of the events that would transpire at Fort Hood last week. I had no idea that it would have broader implications.

While President Obama stopped short of calling Dr. Hasan's murder spree a terrorist act, he didn't deny it either. The fact is, I think, we are all waiting for more evidence before jumping to conclusions that could have serious and even dangerous implications for the Muslim-American community in this country.

I am not familiar with the Muslim faith and have no close friends who are, so I can only speak from my own point of view. I agree with President Obama when he says:

"It may be hard to comprehend the twisted logic that led to this tragedy. But this much we do know -- no faith justifies these murderous and craven acts; no just and loving God looks upon them with favor. For what he has done, we know that the killer will be met with justice -- in this world, and the next."

I think people of all faiths can relate to that. But Dr. Hasan's violence is already being met with a violent response from the more volatile segments of society. They call for blood in return for the blood that was spilt. Mahatma Gandhi once said, "An eye for an eye makes the whole world blind." I believe that this is the conviction of the majority of sane people in this country, even atheists.

I only hope and pray that the acts of Dr. Hasan's tormented soul do not lead to the same violence from the non-Muslims among us. It is too easy to point to the continuing unrest in the middle east as proof that all Muslims are murderous and lawless. It is all too easy for some among us to form into mobs, mindless and destructive in their fury. It has happened in our history before, to other segments of our population, and these acts are remembered with shame. We must not let it happen again.

Muslim-Americans have lived peacefully among us for many years, long before the events of 9/11 caused Americans to react with such hatred. There is no reason to believe that the vast majority will not continue to be vital, productive and peace-loving citizens of the United States, or that they will not continue to try to control the extremists among them.

We must be careful not to punish the many for the sins of a few. Those guilty few who deserve punishment should surely receive it, but they should be recognized as the exception, not as the rule.