Thursday, December 22, 2005

Wisdom from a coffee cup...

“Everywhere, unthinking mobs of ‘independent thinkers’ wield tired clichés like cudgels, pummeling those who dare questioning ‘enlightened’ dogma. If ‘violence never solved anything,’ cops wouldn’t have gun and slaves may never have been freed. If it’s better that 10 guilty men go free to spare one innocent, why not free 100 or 1,000,000? Cliches begin arguments, they don’t settle them.”
-- Jonah Goldberg, Editor-at-large of the National Review Online

It is true, there is nothing I detest more than lame clichés carted out to convey an argument that is so weakly constructed that it needs said cliché to add force. By far my favorite cliché of the last several years is: “There's an old saying in Tennessee — I know it's in Texas, probably in Tennessee — that says, fool me once, shame on — shame on you. Fool me — you can't get fooled again.” Say what you want about George W. Bush, but a wordsmith, he is not. People said they wanted a "common man" President, and they sure got what they asked for. I am not sure whether President Clinton was one of the most eloquent Presidents of the modern era, or he just looks great when compared to Dubya. I don’t want this blog posting to get into a spit of the President rant. I do that enough, and it really isn’t the point.

What Mr. Goldberg has laid out so eloquently is the collapse of oratorical and written debate skills. The ability of persuasion is dead in America. It may well be dead worldwide, but I will focus on the United States. We blame the press for their failures to play their historical role in the debate of policy and current events in this country, but I do not think they are alone in this failure. Lets face it, Congressional debate is a joke. Judicial debate is a joke too. Our failure is not in one segment of our society and it is not systemic, but a vast majority of people in the United States have simply never learned to critically analyze anything. I blame that on standardized curriculum. We are creating a generation of swine. I am reminded of the image of kids on a conveyor belt dropping one by one into a meat grinder in Pink Floyd's The Wall. Do not be shocked to learn that we are living in a second Dark Age!

Anyways, I slipped off my point (as I tend to do).

You might be very surprised if I told you that the biggest failure in persuasion is not the President of the United States failing to lay out and valid, let alone sound, argument for military (and now continued military) action in the Middle East. Unfortunately that failure pales when compared to the inept failure of the liberal portion of our society (to which I belong) to convince the people of this country that military action was not just a bad idea, but a colossally stupid idea!

The United States kicked a hornet’s nest and unfortunately it is a case of, as Secretary Powell put it, you broke it, you bought it. We have no choice but to (and you have no idea how painful this is for me to say…) “stay the course”. What are our alternatives? Honestly, can anyone layout a scenario where we pull out of Iraq and it doesn’t collapse into sectarian violence? Does anyone really think that Shi’ites won’t begin killing Sunnis and vice versa?

It is the perfect Catch 22 that we have got ourselves in. We are obviously that cause of a lot of the disdain and anger. Our presence is contributing the spark that ignites the anger into violence. But I don’t believe that simply removing the U.S. troops would extinguish the fire. That is like removing the spark that ignites the bonfire and expecting the flames to be instantly quenched. It ain’t going to happen.

Like in Korea, where U.S. troops and one million landmines stand between the North Korean Army and Seoul fifty plus years after the end of the Korean War, there is no clear way to eliminate our presence in Iraq before the government can support itself and it will never be able to eliminate threats, internal or external, until the U.S. and our allies leave. It’s quite a pickle.

So, the question begs. If Iraq is bound to fall, why not get it over with? To which I reply. That would be fine with me except that a failed Iraq will send shockwaves all over the Middle East, which will impact the price of crude oil the world over. Are we ready to pay $4-5 per gallon for gasoline?

I won’t answer that question but leave you with this to think about. Did you know that if every car in the United States got 4 miles per gallon better fuel economy we could eliminate our entire reliance on Middle East fuel sources?

Monday, December 19, 2005

Swing and a miss, strike TWO!

Boy, the hits just keep on coming for Turkey. 2005 was supposed to be the year that Turkey finally proved that they belonged in the economic brotherhood of states called the European Union. All we hear is about how progressive this country, Turkey, is. They are, I guess, if you compare them with Iran!

Many of you will remember my articles chastising both the Turkish government and the Danish newspaper over some caricatures of the Prophet Muhammad that were published in the Jyllands Posten. Well, it seems that Turkey’s year is now in total unravel mode. There are recent reports that Turkey is going to move ahead with trying Orhan Pamuk. Pamuk faces up to three years in prison for criticizing Turkey’s role in the Armenian genocide (namely killing thousands of Armenians).

Once again the Turks have displayed that they clearly share no cultural link with Europe. I truly feel bad for the liberals in Turkey. They are held back by the backwards think troglodytes who can only see their nation through the rose colored lenses of nationalism. Turkey is guilty, like most countries (including the U.S.), of having parts of its history that are shameful. The mark of progress away from those attitudes is the ability to review what they did and take responsibility for their actions.

Unfortunately Turkey is not beyond this. Their systematic mistreatment of the Kurdish minority living in the eastern portion of the country clearly indicates that there is a level of racism that is endemic to Turkish culture. It has permeated the halls of power in Ankara and become institutionalized. Clearly that cannot be condoned, and a country like that must never be handed an economic reward like EU membership.
I hope Turkey makes the progress it need to. I believe that the dream of a secular Islamic country being an EU member is a goal that everyone should hope and strive for. But we can not put our heads in the sand and ignore blatant problems to speed the issue to fruition. That end can only be justified by following the appropriate means. No other course will ensure that liberty and freedom are truly cherished and realized by all of Turkey’s people, Turk and Kurd alike!

Friday, December 16, 2005

Goodbye Leo McGarry

Rest In Peace John Spencer. Thank you for the privilege of watching you on television for so many years. Your brilliance will be missed.

Thursday, December 08, 2005

The Carrot vs. The Sledgehammer

A friend from Germany recently wrote me an e-mail soliciting my opinion on the Montreal Conference and climate change issues in general. It struck me that I have not written an environmental piece for my blog in some time. It seems that now, as we reflect on the many messages of John Lennon, 25 years removed from his assassination, that one of the lasting lessons was the importance of mindfulness. Lennon urged us to be constantly thinking about how to make the world a better place. I try to embody that spirit with somewhat limited success. As such, I dedicate this blog piece to his memory.

A lot of Americans feel that the goals and intent of the Kyoto Conference on Climate Change and the subsequent protocol pursue an end that is right and prudent, but would have an extremely negative impact on the U.S. (and indeed the wider world) economy. Many Americans feel that Europe and other developed nations agreed to extremely drastic cuts, as called for by Kyoto, with the knowledge and understanding that the U.S. would never sign on. This creates a perception that the United States is far less environmental than Europe (which I would generally acknowledge as true when discussing politicians, but not when discussing individual citizens).

It should be pointed out that many developed countries, which agreed to serious and real cuts in emissions, are nowhere near fulfilling their obligations to comply with emissions reductions. A particularly poignant example would be Tony Blair's United Kingdom. It could be argued that these countries signed on for reductions when their economies were strong and now that they are in a tenable position they find compliance to be a more difficult proposition. To comply when the United States did not would put them at an economic disadvantage, which is what the U.S. has argued all along.

So, the Europe Union ccountries signed off on Kyoto and the United States did not. Does this mean that Europeans are tree-huggers and Americans are lumberjacks? There is the belief in the EU that because the United States government is not in favor of the Kyoto Protocol that therefore the U.S. is hostile to the environmental movement. If you look more closely, the problem is a matter of perception. Upon scrutiny you will find that many politicians, even Republicans, hold quite "green" views (insert John McCain and Tom Harkin’s names in this category). Though, admittedly, many are akin to Neanderthals when it comes to environmental issues (insert Tom Delay and Daniel Inouye’s names in this category). Despite this perception, quite clearly the concept of sustainable development is gaining much traction in the United States.

The difference is in how you effect change. Europe believes in a central model with forced change through government mandates. It is a "network model, where government, private firms, and civil society interact in spaces in between their formal roles" (to quote a friend of mine). This is simply not how the U.S. works on any public policy issue. There are many in this country who think the European model is a better approach, including myself, but it is not an attainable goal when you consider the American economic culture of laissez-faire capitalism and the concept of Manifest Destiny. We do not undo what we have done, we learn and move on.

I am not a Green in the political sense because I vehemently oppose environmental policy that neglects all other aspects of society and economics. The Green Party movement in Europe and the United States has been one dimensional since its inception. Their Party platform is pretty heavily skewed towards the belief that any type of growth and development is bad. I could not disagree more strongly! I am a avid believer in the, Al Gore espoused, philosophy of sustainable development. No, Al Gore didn’t invent the concept of sustainable development any more than he invented the internet. But our former Vice President did give wings to the concept which was first formalized at the United Nations by the Brundtland Commission in 1987. Al Gore believed that you could create an entire economy around environmental stewardship. I agree completely.
Three people that I know well are working in the environmental sector, but each comes at the problem from a different angle. I have a friend working in Oregon on tradable pollution credits. I have a brother-in-law working on building turbines which maximize the productivity of the windmills. I have another friend at the National Renewable Energy Lab in Colorado who works with businesses who are trying to maximize their energy efficiency to help reduce costs. All these efforts are good examples of how the environmental movement will move forward in the United States.

In Oregon there is a state and local effort to control pollution going forward through these tradable pollution credits. This will help regulate pollution while allowing flexibility. Those companies in the forefront of environmental responsibility will be able to further profit by selling their pollution credits to those companies which need to catch up. Likewise there is a financial penalty for the practice of polluting. The incentive exists to promote sustainable business practices.

My brother-in-law, who admittedly lives in Europe, but his company sells windmills in the United States, works for a private corporation that makes a profit off environmental sources of energy. If the government was in charge of technological innovation windmills would look like the old mills you find in Holland. Private innovation in developing new and ever more efficient technology will be the central component in reducing our footprint.

The last component towards change is the role of the government. NRELs approach is to educate as opposed to mandate, working with businesses that want to reduce waste. Once you educate businesses that an initial investment will yield vast savings in the long run and be environmental then you will find businesses willing to take those steps. Who cares that the motive was profit as opposed to environmental responsibility.

In addition to these three efforts there is a new “green” industry growing. That industry runs the gambit from recycled paper to recycled building supplies. More and more products are offering a recycled alternative. Everything from reclaimed wood and cement that uses recycled glass to engines that burn used vegetable oil. I believe that very soon it will be not only financially possible, but fiscally responsible to build homes that not only blend into their environment but are in fact built entirely out of recycled materials and in such a way as to have a minimal impact on its surroundings.

In discussing this piece a friend pointed out that the United States needs to realize that Kyoto is a WHEN, not an IF. Climate change is a reality and there is little to no dissent in the scientific community to the hypothesis that it is a man made (or man accelerated) problem.

The U.S. approach is, and always will be, a free market approach. I am not a believer in pure laissez-faire capitalism. It is simply too hard to quantify the environment into dollars and cents to make the benefit-cost analysis of environmental protection appear profitable. As such, some regulation is necessary. Environmentalists in the United States are getting hip to this market driven approach. Many have abandoned the “beat you over the head with regulations” approach.

The sooner Europeans catch on, the less frustrating the efforts will be for them. There must be cultural sensitivity from Europe to the fact that America works significantly differently. The central government, in its current context, does not hand down decrees. You watch! This patch-work of state and municipal efforts, combined with the economic might of the American shopper will have a very real and powerful effect. It requires educating the American people, and that is where the federal government and nonprofit environmental groups can play a key role.

How about this for an ad campaign: "If every car in America was a hybrid, not one American soldier would have to die building 'democracy' in Iraq!"

Sunday, December 04, 2005

Vengeance is mine sayeth the Lord!

As my regular readers know, I am not a religious man. But as we sit and reflect on the 1000th execution since the United States reinstated the death penalty in the 1976, one cannot help but become reflective over state sanctioned vengeance. Make no mistake, when the state executes people they are doing nothing less than usurping God’s divine right to exact vengeance and, in so doing, tacitly committing murder.

No matter whether you are religious or not there is no way to legitimize executing prisoners who have committed heinous crimes. First, allow me to take the Judeo-Christian approach to this argument. I will be on somewhat tenuous ground so I urge my readers of faith to post comments and corrections as necessary.

As I see it, there are many passages in Holy Scripture which denounce the practice of state sanctioned executions. The following passage is from the New American Standard Bible. There can be no ambiguity over the intent.

Romans 12:14-21 - [Verse 19 in Original Greek]
14 Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse. 15 Rejoice with those who rejoice, and weep with those who weep. 16 Be of the same mind toward one another; do not be haughty in mind, but associate with the lowly. Do not be wise in your own estimation. 17 Never pay back evil for evil to anyone. Respect what is right in the sight of all men. 18 If possible, so far as it depends on you, be at peace with all men. 19 Never take your own revenge, beloved, but leave room for the wrath {of God,} for it is written, "VENGEANCE IS MINE, I WILL REPAY," says the Lord. 20 "BUT IF YOUR ENEMY IS HUNGRY, FEED HIM, AND IF HE IS THIRSTY, GIVE HIM A DRINK; FOR IN SO DOING YOU WILL HEAP BURNING COALS ON HIS HEAD." 21 Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.

Clearly, vengeance is a divine right, not to be usurped by Man. The death penalty sends the wrong message to society. It says that murder is okay if it can be justified. Murder can never be justified. Many people of faith have actively opposed capital punishment. Great men like Pope John Paul II and the Dalai Lama.

Many of us who are not believers, however, the idea of basing our system of punishment on religious doctrine is very troubling, so I will expound a bit on the policy arguments against capital punishment.

  • The death penalty is a violation of human rights primarily Article 3 and Article 5 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Some assert that it violates the "natural rights" laid out by 17th-century English philosopher John Locke who set out many of the foundations of American law. The American Declaration of Independence also includes the "right to life" as the first listed of the natural rights. While those against capital punishment might claim this as an irrevocable right, proponents may claim that, as protection from abuse is the basis of such rights, that the right was forfeit by the seriousness of the crimes.
  • Many mistakes are made in our criminal justice system. Many people are tried and convicted by a jury of their peers only to later be exonerated by due to error, new evidence and/or evidence police malfeasance. Since 1973, 119 people in 25 US states have been released from death row with evidence of their innocence. This is made even more troublesome by the advent of DNA evidence and linking people to crimes via their DNA.
  • Over 95% of defendants cannot afford legal representation. These people’s fate ends up the responsibility of public defenders that are often impossibly over-worked. The defendants often end up receiving mediocre counsel.
  • Despite all claims otherwise it has NEVER been proven that the death penalty is a deterrent.
  • It denies the possibility of rehabilitation. Some hold that a judicial system should have the role of educating and reforming those found guilty of crimes. If one is executed he will never have been educated and made a better person.
I can end only by quoting one of the wisest men to ever walk this Earth, who said simply: “An eye for an eye makes the whole world blind.” What did Mahatma Gandhi understand that our Congress does not?

Wednesday, November 23, 2005

Just because it is a right, doesn't make it right...

As I mentioned in my last blog piece, the Danish newspaper; Jyllands Posten got into a bit of hot water recently for printing twelve caricatures of the prophet Mohammed. As I mentioned, this is seen as a sacrilege by Muslims. Criticism and condemnation poured in to Denmark from around the Islamic world as well as from the Islamic community in Denmark urging the Danish government to punish the newspaper. The Prime Minister, Anders Fogh-Rasmussen said flatly that he would not act because Denmark has a free and independent press (unlike many of the nations where the outcry came from).

It is totally understandable that the Prime Minister of Denmark took this stance. He should not and could not have taken action for this. As such, the Danish government is in the clear. Jyllands Posten, on the other hand, is not. Just because you can print whatever you choose to deem news worthy, does not mean that you should. These caricatures were an insult to Muslims, many of whom are Danish citizens.

Certainly the cornerstone of an enlightened and free society is free press and the ability to express opposing view points on many issues. From a purely legal stand point, Jyllands Posten did nothing wrong. From an ethical perspective, what Jyllands Posten did was reprehensible. It is not okay to insult a people of a particular religious faith simply because it is legal. The editorial board at the newspaper needs to use better judgment in the future. Hurt feelings are not easily repaired and discretion must be used. Faith is the single defining characteristic of many people’s personalities. That may be a strange and foreign concept to many Danes and people in the wider (readers will know I hate this term, but for lack of something better) “western world” but that does not excuse the affront.

As our societies continue to liberalize and become more accepting of people with alternatives lifestyles we must make sure that we continue to be equally respectful of those who wish to live traditional lifestyles as well.

Hold the Turkey, pass the mashed potatoes!

Nobody thinks that Turkish membership in the European Union would send a more positive message to the Islamic world then I. To have an Islamic nation join the greatest multi-national achievement of mutual respect for liberal democratic principles in the history of the world would send a clear message that Islam and the principles of a free and enlightened society are not incompatible.

That is all really good sentiment. I just have to point out one little wrinkle in this grand plan; Turkey does not embrace the values espoused by the European Union. There is clearly a cultural difference between Europe and Turkey, but that should not be a barrier. There are cultural differences between Portugal and Finland too, but both Finland and Portugal embrace the fundamental belief that people are endowed with basic human rights.

I offer as evidence the recent events that occurred in Denmark when Turkish Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan stormed out of a joint press conference with Danish Prime Minister Anders Fogh-Rasmussen when he spotted a Kurdish journalist from the RojTV network. The Turks maintain that RojTV has ties Kurdish separatist groups that employ terrorist techniques in their struggle.

I can certainly understand the Turkish government’s desire to stamp out terrorism, but many human rights groups are alarmed with the repressive circumstances that Kurds in Turkey exist under.

This incident occurred shortly after Erdogan chastised the Danish Prime Minister for not punishing the Danish newspaper Jyllands Posten which had published caricatures of the prophet Mohammed. For those that don’t know, caricaturizing the prophet is considered sacrilegious by Muslims. Fogh-Rasmussen responded simply by saying that if the Turkish government thought that it was within his power to punish the newspaper that had misunderstood the free press principles that Danes (and more over, Europeans) cherish.

There was a paid advertising insert in the newest issue of Foreign Policy magazine obviously promoting all of the progress that Turkey has made in an effort to join the economic big boys club that is the European Union. I applaud them for all their progress, but they are not there yet. They have not, as a society, grasped that freedom, liberty, and justice are more than just marketing ploys.

Some may point out that minorities in Europe subsist under some pretty harsh circumstances as well, to which I reply; yes, absolutely they do, but there is simply no comparison. Turkey may one day be ready to join the European Union, but that day has not yet come. When they show the respect for all voices, even voices of dissent, then the dialogue towards their integration into Europe can begin. Not before.

Monday, October 31, 2005

It is "put up" or "shut up" time for liberals!

Today my father forwarded me an e-mail with a letter written by Professor Walter Murphy of Princeton University. Prof. Murphy has written an open letter on the nomination of Sam Alito to the Supreme Court. It seems that Prof. Murphy taught Judge Alito when he was an undergraduate at Princeton. First off, let me say that I would hate to be judged for a job by one of my undergraduate professors. Anyways, the letter reads as follows (please note the bolded parts in particular):

“As I recall, during 1970-72, I had Sam in two courses in at least one of which he was in a precept (seminar of about 10) I conducted and, in 1971-72, supervised his senior thesis on the Italian Constitutional Court. We have stayed in intermittent touch since.

”Sam was probably the most judicious student I ever had. He had (and still has) a keen intelligence and a fine sense of justice. When he voiced a judgment, he typically began by fairly stating the arguments on either side then offering his own conclusion, with a clear explanationof his reasoning. One might disagree with him but always respect his reasoning and intellectual integrity.

”Sam had a close friend who was equally as bright when we worked together at Princeton. I predicted that his friend would become a famous prosecutor and Sam would become a famous judge. I was happy to see that at least half of that prediction came true.

”I should be clear that my pleasure at his nomination is not ideologically based. Over the years, our views on some important matters of constitutional interpretation have differed. He is much more an Anti-federalist where state and national authority clash, more libertarian on issues such as gun control, and much tighter on some matters as the rights of the criminally accused than I. We, however, agree on other important issues, such as finding no constitutional barrier to bans on late term abortions and requiring spousal and parental notification of impending abortions.

”Our fundamental difference concerns reliance on what is euphemistically (and foolishly) called ‘original understanding.’ We don't know and, more crucially, can't know how white American males "understood" the Constitution in 1787-88 beyond what the text itself says in its Preamble. Moreover, it would be difficult to justify those understandings, even if we knew what they were, of such a restricted group as now controlling a country that abhors slavery, accepts religious and ethnic diversity as well as racial and sexual equality, and has become a sprawling industrial empire, part of an electronically linked world. As Charles Curtis put it almost 60 years ago, what the founding generation said, they said; the rest they left to us.

”Back more specifically to Sam: He has been a fine judge, a person of deep integrity as well as intelligence. Assuming he is confirmed, as I hope -- despite our serious differences -- he will be, he will bring those characteristics to the Supreme Court. I do not think that Bush will nominate a more qualified or fairer minded person. Indeed, I confess surprise that a man so dreadfully intellectually and morally challenged as George W. Bush would want a person as intellectuallygifted, independent, and morally principled as Sam Alito on the bench.


Great, so Sam Alito feels that a 12 year old girl that has been raped by her father must ask his permission for an abortion. Look, I'm not pro-abortion. I think there is nothing that is a more clear sign of "lack of character" then having gotten yourself into the situation where that is an option. But there are specific statistical outliers that need to be addressed. Until Congress steps up and defends a woman's right to choose and protects rape victims, mothers with pregnancy complications, and others that I can't think of off the top of my head, then I want NO part of Sam Alito or his fascist cabal.

Perhaps we need to stop looking at it as pro-choice and pro-life and look at it at pro-mothers-life! I love pro-lifers who have absolutely no problem potentially (and I mean only potentially) ruining a mothers life to protect a child. Many of these new families end up in poverty. They often result in single parent families, and while that can be a success, the odds are not in their favor. Many new mothers are forced to drop out of school, develop psychological issues if trauma occurred in the conception (i.e. rape/date-rape), or are cast out by family and friends, to name a few. They are left poor and alone and need help. Some end up resenting their children.

These are the same conservatives that are against social programs designed to help not only the mothers, but the children. Perhaps if they felt so strongly about the children conservatives would not abandon them after birth to no health care, poor schools and little to no future prospects. I love how Bush jumped out of the frying pan. Let’s hope the left is tough enough to ensure that he lands in the fire. Somehow, I doubt it!

The second point that I would like to make regards “original understanding”. This phrase should absolutely not slip by anyone without notice. Original understanding refers to the a particular view of some constitutional legal scholars who claim that the constitution is an all encompassing document that was written infallibly. These people view the constitution similarly to the way Muslims view the Qu’ran; as a document that cannot be questioned or second guessed. And while Muslims have a rationale for this (i.e. the Qu’ran is the word of God), strict interpretationalists’ cannot possibly expect us to believe that a slave owning Virginian named James Madison from the Tidewater was omnibenevolent, omniscient, and omnipotent. I don’t think so. Not even David Ortiz is infallible (as great as “Papi” is).

There are already two strict interpretationalists on the Supreme Court; Antonin Scalia and Clarence Thomas. When a legal scholar brings up original understanding, let us be clear what we are talking about. That is, every liberal and progressive person’s worst nightmare. It is time to saddle up the ponies and ride to the OK Corral; I think it’s time for the metaphorical “shoot-out” over judges who hold a stone aged legal philosophy. I thought the purpose of each generation was to make progress both technologically and intellectually.

Abby is full of crap!

This appeared in a weekend edition of Dear Abby. I generally think that Abigail Van Buren provides crap advice, but this column was particularly bad!

“DEAR ABBY: When I was a student, I was encouraged to further my education. I hold two bachelor of arts degrees plus extensive training in emergency services. To my dismay, however, having an education has been a problem, not a plus, for me in my employment.

“People tell me I am "overeducated" for the job I so dearly love. It didn't bother me until I took a new job that required both my college degree and my technical training. One co-worker complained that my education "intimidated her" so much she "felt she couldn't do her job." Our supervisor said it was my fault that she was lashing out at me.

“Since then I have moved away from that city. I have asked several friends about the "intimidating education factor" and was told it's also the reason I'm still single. I know that having an education is important, and I don't understand why it's having a crippling effect on my life. (I'm not pompous about my education. People have asked and I've told them.) What I don't tell them is I have a "genius" IQ, but it apparently shows when I talk. How do I cope with this? Is it me, or the society we live in? -- OVEREDUCATED IN THE SOUTH”

“DEAR OVEREDUCATED: Although I have never met you face-to-face, I can tell you with some certainty that it isn't the society we live in. So, that leaves "you." The problem isn't that you are "overeducated." It may be something to do with your personality -- the way you present yourself and the way others perceive you. I have met "brilliant" people whom I would describe as intellectual super-athletes. Some of them are socially adept and make those around them feel comfortable, regardless of their level of education. However, some of them are not. You may fall into the latter category.

“I would recommend that you now invest in a different kind of "education" -- the "University of You." In other words, find a psychologist who can help you figure out why, with so much to offer, you are not able to fit in. It will be money well spent.”

Dear Abby,
I am writing in response to you advice to OVEREDUCATED IN THE SOUTH. I have to say that your advice was not necessarily “spot on.” Abby, you made assumptions about the writer that are not supported by the evidence you provided to your readers. Too often intelligent people are made to feel bad for their knowledge and skills.

It comes from a society that increasingly lowers expectations on everything. We teach kids that competing with each other is bad. Excelling is not rewarded any more than mediocrity. This is a prevalent problem in our society and you should not have brushed it aside. Intelligence is not seen as a strength by a majority of our society and is certainly valued less that athletic ability or celebrity in our society.

It is possible that she may have social problems. If anything it sounds like she is the victim of low expectations. Having two Bachelors degrees isn’t “overeducated,” that is just good ol’ educated. Perhaps the problem is that the writer has been surrounded by people less intelligent and that has made her feel that drive, intelligence and determination are not “normal” traits. It sounds like they have been programmed to believe that they are weird for wanting to excel. Nothing could be more venomous for a person with intelligence and purpose.

My advice to this reader is it is time to surround yourself with people smarter than you. Nothing will fuel your drive more then that. Find people who push you. Find people who appeal to your intellectual side. Once you are surrounded by these types of people you will no longer feel like a “duck out of water,” but among peers. You will not intimidate others because your “peers” will be secure enough in their intelligence to see you as an EQUAL. Chin up!

Wednesday, October 26, 2005

The Welfare State explained…

This is a great article that is among the best defenses of the Welfare State economic model that I have ever read.

"When people can fulfill their potential they become innovators," Dr. Himanen argues. "The innovative economy is competitive and makes it possible to finance the welfare state, which is not just a cost, but a sustainable basis for the economy, producing new innovators with social protection."

Trains powered by the entrails of a cow…

Would this be a violation of your vegetarianism?

It may sound to some like making the best use of a cow that was already being slaughtered. Hence, ethically mandated rather than just ethically permissible. On the other hand, it affirms the moral position that cows and other animals are simply here to be utilized by man for whatever economic value can be made of them. Now, there is another economic argument for continuing this position if not strengthening it, even while there is less economic, and nutritional, argument for the industrialized slaughter of animals for human use.

Short answer, though, is I would ride the train.

With the methane gas that cows release, it could be argued that it is not only economic manipulation but environmental protection to slaughter them. I don't buy that argument. I enjoy meat though prefer free range cattle to the "veal stalled" industrial cows.

Have you ever seen The Meatrix website?

It doesn't inspire you to go out and have a burger...

The huge population of cows exists solely because we propogate them for our use. In the wild, what are their chances?

The fundamental point is whether, morally, humans can look at animals principally for economic value and then exploit them within an industrialized system of production. If those answers are yes, then ethically we are obligated at least to do the best we can to make good use of them, subject presumably to some reasonably humane treatment from birth to death.

If the question then is one of humane treatment, there is a problem. Industrialization is a word that I think sums up the mentality of the majority today, in the production and consumption cycle. Those who participate in that production & consumption cycle do so wittingly and are accountable for it: The "I didn't know" or "My consumption doesn't matter" defenses don't exist, because to not know is willful indifference if not disdain for life. So if you are going to participate in any process -- liking eating cows -- doing so outside of the industrial production/consumption cycle is the best way, yes?! This is part of taking ourselves outside of economic determinism and respecting life and the mutual interdependency of all beings and species. Killing itself is not what is necessarily immoral, but does easily become immoral. This, I would contend, was part of Jesus’ message and was a complete rejection of the old testament Judaism. It was certainly Buddha's message.

I have no problem with people humanely raising their own animals, or cooperatively raising animals, for food. The point I think is important is that if you eat animals, please cultivate as direct a connection to life's processes as you can. From this, I believe that, more often than not, respect for life and its wonders/miracles grow (as does vegetarianism). And a deep appreciation for the sacrifices necessary for life. And that is very much part of a good life.

Being part of any process based upon slipping cows/pigs/chickens onto an assembly line, into a mechanized slaughter house, with cubes coming to people in styrofoam containers is not part of any path to a good life that I am aware of. And I mean "good" in its fullest sense.


I think your utopian model is valid, but it is not sound in the current context. We can't all raise livestock, grow crops, make barrels, be smithies, or provide services to these people like doctors, lawyers and teachers. This model became obsolete with the Industrial Revolution. I would argue that this was a bad development and many societal woes are a result of the collapse of the community "structure". Certainly, many problems predate this paradigm change, but I think we can agree that problems become larger in a "larger world". Humans are better equipped to deal with issues on a tribal/community level. This is why I am a huge proponent of municipal control of most issues. Certainly some issues require a more global approach. Many environmental challenges in the gloablized world cannot be solved by the City and County of Honolulu (I would argue that most problems cannot be solved by that group). Climate change is a good example. The actions of people in Indiana and Ohio have a direct and very real effect on farmers in New England.

To wish to go back to this old style, as I once did, is not completely realistic, but holding on to the principles and applying them when appropriate is a way to stay true to these ideals. Slaughtering a cow is not something that I could do. In your model, I should then either be a vegetarian or grow some wheat to trade with my neighbor that raises cattle. I could certainly live with this, though it I might have a legitimate complaint if Apartment #905 had a cow in his apartment, or on the roof (reference Blade Runner: Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep, the book that inspired the movie).

I do not have a moral dilema with using cattle for food. Just like a shark doesn't have a moral dilema over using humans for food in the ocean. We are all products of our genetic dispositions. And, I could not agree more that humans need to treat animals humanely and give them a "good life" for the time that they are here. I think the mistreatment of livestock should be a crime, but I won't gain much traction in the Senate where the farm belt delegation would laugh me out the door.

"Killing itself is not what is necessarily immoral, but does easily become immoral." That is a great line and a great summary of Jesus' views, but I must say could only have been typed out by the fingers of a lawyer. Very nice! I will not go further into the common misinterpretation of Christian, Judaic, Islamic, Hindu, and Buddhist teachings because I could write a PhD on it. One need only look at our administration to see all the examples of people who are "illiterate" trying to interpret the word of God. What a mess!

Friends always get the final word:
Final words? Nah. Anyway, as Andy Dick so eloquently says in his Bushvideo sendup, "What speaks louder than words? No words!"If you have not yet seen that, you have to. It is sidesplitting.

For those of you who have not seen the speech bit yet, you can find it at:


Tuesday, October 25, 2005

You want me to pay what?

Let’s face it, Judith Miller sucks! There is no kind or professional way to say it. She is a hack, she has a history of being a hack and I think her future prospects for being a hack look rather grim. Maureen Dowd wrote her recent column entitled “Woman of Mass Destruction” on her personal experiences with and impressions of Judith Miller. She does not paint a kind picture, though she rarely does.

I don’t necessarily have a problem with the people that write for the New York Times, but if Miller’s editor told her that she was barred from writing any more pieces on Weapons of Mass Destruction, then how on Earth was she able to weasel her way back onto that beat? Say what you want about Miller and all the recent brouhaha over the leak of Valerie Plame’s identity, in my opinion she made to two inexcusable mistakes.

The first mistake was the way she cozied up to some of the worst of the worst political operatives (not that they are not policy staff) in the Bush administration to get inside information during the lead up to the Iraq War. She wrote many, and I do mean many, articles about the case for WMD in Iraq based on the opinions of I. Lewis Libby, Vice President Cheney’s Chief of Staff and Ahmed Chalabi the former Iraqi exile with a score to settle with Saddam Hussein. All of the information was printed as fact without corroboration of other evidentiary sources. She basically swallowed the Bush gang’s line and then vomited it back onto the pages of the New York Times. This was partially her fault, for being a total hack, and partially the editors fault, for not bothering to do their jobs (like EDITING!).

Miller’s second mistake was her handling of confidential sources. At one point during the leak of Valerie Plame’s identity, Miller agreed to attribute information leaked to her by Scooter Libby as having come from a “former Hill staffer”. While this is technically true, Scoots was a Hill staffer, it is disingenuous because he is, in fact, now a White House insider. This mistake was totally Miller’s fault and should get her fired by the New York Times for gross incompetence. She should not be given the opportunity to resign; she should be fired for cause.

The New York Times has had a rough go of it in the last several years. First Jayson Blair, now Judith Miller. The common theme is a lazy editorial staff that failed to scrutinize the news that they are publishing. If it is not possible to thoroughly research and confirm information by press time, perhaps they should publish less news. I am of the belief that less, more accurate news is better then unconfirmed, regurgitated press releases.

The most galling aspect of this whole charade is the new Times Select scheme which the New York Times has come up with for their online news portal. They expect me to pay $49/year to read the Times online. For $49/year I expect the news to be right damn it! Get your heads out of your collective asses!

Recipe For Bad News!

There is a good Timeline from the New York Times on the Valerie Plame Leak to be found at this website. Educate yourselves on this as I will be teeing off on this subject and using Judith Miller’s head as the ball!

Thursday, October 20, 2005

Say Cheese!

It would be rather unsporting of me to not share "The Hammer's" mug shots. So, here you go!

"How Sweet It Is!!!" - Jackie Gleason

Wednesday, October 19, 2005

Vice President Rice?

This little blurb was to be found on the U.S. News and World Report website this afternoon. I will publish it, in its entirety and then I will comment at the end.

“Sparked by today's Washington Post story that suggests Vice President Cheney's office is involved in the Plame-CIA spy link investigation, government officials and advisers passed around rumors that the vice president might step aside and that President Bush would elevate Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice.

“‘It's certainly an interesting but I still think highly doubtful scenario,’ said a Bush insider. ‘And if that should happen,’ added the official, ‘there will undoubtedly be those who believe the whole thing was orchestrated – another brilliant Machiavellian move by the VP.’

“Said another Bush associate of the rumor, ‘Yes. This is not good.’ The rumor spread so fast that some Republicans by late morning were already drawing up reasons why Rice couldn't get the job or run for president in 2008.

“‘Isn't she pro-choice?’ asked a key Senate Republican aide. Many White House insiders, however, said the Post story and reports that the investigation was coming to a close had officials instead more focused on who would be dragged into the affair and if top aides would be indicted and forced to resign.

“‘Folks on the inside and near inside are holding their breath and wondering what's next,’ said a Bush adviser. But, he added, they aren't focused on the future of the vice president. ‘Not that, at least not seriously,’ he said.”

OK, god, where do I begin? First of all, is this woman even remotely qualified? She has never run in an election for anything before. For all we know, she could, quite literally be a tax-dodging, illegal immigrant hiring, lesbian, dwarf-lover. And while only the first, I believe, disqualifies one from being Vice President, the point is a good one. She has never been questioned thoroughly about her beliefs on any number of issues. Is that supposed to happen when the Republican Congress rubber-stamps her within a heartbeat of the Presidency.

Secondly, does anyone really believe that Dick Cheney is stupid enough to have implicated himself in this leak? Even if he did have knowledge of the leak, the information would have gone through so many intermediaries that getting to Cheney would be like trying to bust Tony Soprano.

Neo-Conservatives have pitched a fit about Harriet Mier being a Supreme Court Justice because not enough is known about her. Well, we know plenty about Condi Rice; she is, in fact, pro-choice as the “Republican staffer” asked. Rice is also pro-Affirmative Action. Those are two great big no-no’s with the neo-con set.

This rumor should be treated like the total rubbish that it is. While she has the perfect performance record of consistent mistakes and verbal gaffs to get a promotion from the President, this rumor is just something to fill a “slow” news day. It is something for the people in ridiculous pin-stripe suits in DC to talk about over their Ketel One Martinis at Happy Hour. Perhaps, instead of dealing in the hypothetical the lazy Fourth Pillar of our government could cover some real news, like Tom Delay getting fingerprinted. Now that is news!

Vats of Rat Poison and other nonsense…

Before I write this weeks blog entries, let me get a few point out of the way with brief commentary on several things that are going on or have gone down in the last week.

First and foremost, Bill O’Reilly appeared on the Daily Show last night to promote his book The O’Reilly Factor for kids. He was met with as cool as reception as anyone I have ever seen on the show. At one point, after continuous heckling, O’Reilly threatened to go up into the crowd. OK, I know he is tall, but he has “Total Pansy” written all over him. Does he intimidate any of you? Jon Stewart definitely got the better of O’Reilly proving my point once and for all that when O’Reilly doesn’t control the microphone feed of his guests and the commercial breaks he isn’t really all that overwhelming.

There were a number of zingers that are worth mentioning. In a discussion about O’Reilly’s ongoing boycott of all thing French, O’Reilly defended the boycott stating: “There's a lot of bad people out there and it's our job to go after them.” Without even missing a beat Stewart retorted by asking: “So when are you going to start?”

He continually got under O’Reilly’s skin until old Billy-boy called Stewart a “pin-head”. It was not O’Reilly’s finest hour, by any stretch.

In other news, a warrant was issued today in Austin, Texas for Representative Tom Delay on state conspiracy and money laundering charges. Delay is expected to surrender in his home county outside Houston and be transferred to Austin where he will be booked, fingerprinted and photographed. (On a side note, I will be forever indebted to the first person to post a comment with a link to Delay’s mug shots.) Delay’s lawyer, Dick DeGuerin, is hoping to avoid the fingerprinting and photographing but referred to the whole affair as “a matter of routine.” A matter of routine??? Maybe if you are John Gotti! I must admit to having a smug smile on my face as I type this. Any true conservative who feel that this is a huge loss for the conservative revolution of 1994 needs to read George Will’s column in last weeks Newsweek about K Street Conservatism, it is a great read.

It seems to me that the Tommy “Rat Trapper” Delay is feeling the shoe on the other foot. I wonder if he is enjoying getting “hammered” for a change. And no, I am not referring to drinking too many tequila shots in Juarez!

I read an article last week regarding an American effort, undertaken to correspond with the high level meeting between the Chinese and U.S. government officials taking place this week in Beijing, to convince the Chinese to save less and spend more of their discretionary income. All this is in response to reports that our trade surplus with China is set to exceed $200 billion. This is up from $162 billion just last year.

While Americans save on average less than 1% of our income, the Chinese, on average, save circa 40% of their income. This gap is flabbergasting. It continues to grow. The Chinese are earning more but spending the same amounts on goods and services.

A great quote from the article: “After viewing slabs of fatty pork and nibbling on a fried pastry, Mr. Snow extolled the virtues of the average Chinese buying ‘more stuff,’ be it Chinese-made sofas or new ovens. ‘We see the growth of consumerism ... as going directly to what is most on our mind, which is the global imbalance’ in trade, he said.”

I understand the economic argument that goes into this asinine scheme, but I question the logic. Lets see if I can break it down: 1. Americans save almost none of their income. 2. Americans buy a lot of good from China, creating a trade deficit. 3. The ‘powers that be’ think this is bad for the U.S. economy in the long run (duh!). 4. The U.S. starts an official campaign to get the Chinese people to save less and spend more, instilling America’s consumerist plague on them.

Wouldn’t it simply be easier to promote savings in the United States? No, because then all the corporations that support politicians and make all the useless crap wouldn’t be as rich.

What a joke!

Tuesday, October 11, 2005

R.I.N.O. Hunting Season!!!

Lincoln Chaffee, Olympia Snowe, Susan Collins, George Pataki, the list goes on and on. They are some of the many moderate Republicans that I like. I respect them greatly. I don’t agree with them on all issues, but I know that not only are they people of integrity, but their hearts are in the right place and they have the better interests of this country in mind when they approach an issue.

It is sometimes said by pundits, including this blogger, that we should not hope for the demise of these moderate Republicans. That if the moderates are forced out of the GOP the Party will be left with right-wing ideologues and other whack jobs. In that vein of thinking, we are supposed to hope that Senator Chaffee gets re-elected next year. Well, I don’t!

I have been thinking about this over the last several weeks. Exactly why is it so important to try and stop the Republican Party from sliding to the right and wallowing in ideological demagoguery? I for one am tired of feeling bad for moderates with weak-spines. The Democratic Party was swept from power through the loss of a historical base, southern Democrats/Dixiecrats. From around 1960, when the Catholic John Kennedy was elected President, the Democratic Party philosophy shifted towards one of inclusion and integration. This did not sit well with a large number of Democrats, overwhelmingly from the south. Over the years these Dixiecrats defected to the Republican Party. You didn’t see a bunch of Republicans rushing to stabilize the Democratic Party and keep it from sliding to the left. No, they welcomed these defectors.

This exodus reached its zenith in 2004 when Dixiecrat extraordinaire Zell Miller endorsed President Bush for re-election over his own party’s candidate. He even went so far as to speak at their convention. Talk about adding insult to injury.

So, now there are vulnerable Republicans north of the Mason-Dixon Line, I say get your hunting rifles boys and girls (big joke, you know many Democrats with rifles?), because it is R.I.N.O. hunting season. For those not in the know; R.I.N.O. is a name given to moderate Republicans by the extreme right-wing of the GOP. It stands for Republican In Name Only. In fact this isn’t a bad name for them. We defeat these R.I.N.O.s in the states where we are strong, like Rhode Island, Maine, Pennsylvania, New Mexico, Arizona, and soon a progressives and moderate coalition will have taken back the United States Congress from the right-wing “Zell”ots.

So, Senator Chaffee, if you are reading this and are wondering what you did to deserve this rallying call for your defeat I will say this; your only crime is serving as an enabler to people in “your party” that don’t represent your interests and do not have the interests of the people of Rhode Island at heart when they make policy decisions.

If you want to rectify the situation, defect from your party. Become an independent like Jim Jeffords of Vermont and ally yourself with the Democratic Caucus. Raise your kids and grandkids to think for themselves and not just join a party because it was Daddy’s party.

Until then, the message is clear: You’re going down!

Fantasy Government?

I was reading an interesting posting on someone else’s blog the other day about fantasy sports and how someone should put together a fantasy government league where people can build governments with certain politicians and other public figures. One would then track the success of these “fantasy governments” by the success of the various leaders.

This is, of course, absurd. You can’t measure the capabilities of a political leader in a hypothetical world. It is like saying that Al Gore would have handled the aftermath of 9/11 better than George W. Bush, or John Kerry would have handled the Hurricane relief efforts in the Gulf States better. You can say it, but only if you acknowledge how ludicrous you really sound.

One would like to believe that Al Gore would have been more level headed in the aftermath of 9/11, that he would not have gotten all Walker, Texas Ranger on us, but can anyone say that with certainty? I was pretty upset after 9/11. I was able to restrain my response after the terrorist attacks because I really have no power and no ability to do anything about anything. George W. Bush reacted, in part, in response to our great national blood thirst for revenge.

In addition, it seems logical that John Kerry would have had a more pragmatic and systematic approach to responding to natural disasters like the recent Hurricanes that struck the Southeastern United States, but are we sure of that? Would you bet your life on it? Is there anyone out there who knows for sure that John Kerry would have been his Navy Swift Boat self, charging up onto the beaches and chasing the Viet-Cong into the jungle, or would he have been Senator Kerry, voting for relief before voting against it? I believe the G.I. John would have showed up but have no evidence to support that hypothesis.

Hindsight is always 20/20. There is never any ambiguity about what needed to be done after someone has shown us how not to handle a situation. They say that we learn more from our mistakes then we do from our successes. If that is the case, George W. Bush is going to be smarter than Einstein by the time he leaves office. He has almost turned “fucking up” into an art form. Perhaps he should apply for a grant from the National Endowment for the Arts before he has it eliminated to pay for bullets in Iraq.

All that being said, who would you want to run this country? I am asking for creative thinking here. I don’t want to hear: Joe Biden or Bill Frist. If you lived in a perfect world, who would be President of the United States? Also, I don’t want to hear Bill Clinton, no people term-limited out of office. The person has to be alive, but not necessarily an American citizen.

Post a comment, anonymously if you want, with your suggestion.

Wednesday, October 05, 2005

A warning to the conservative Christian movement…

A warning to the conservative Christian movement…

There is a growing number of Americans who believe that faith should dictate law. They believe that the Judeo-Christian ethic should be the guiding principle in the American legal system. Long has the argument existed that the Founding Fathers of the United States did not want church and state to overlap. These religious zealots claim that the framers had not intended to have a government devoid of religious influence, but rather a state that respected the rights of all to worship freely. These are the same people who take strict constructionist views on most other issues. Nothing could be more hypocritical. They can never cite specific writings that indicate this intention. The fact that this philosophy is omitted from the Constitution and Bill of Rights makes it glaringly obvious that the Framers did not intend to force their personal beliefs on anyone. In fact, many of the first settlers in the area that was to become America were fleeing religious persecution in their home countries. Does it not speak to reason that they would want to avoid a repeat of that failed European model that they fled?

At the same time as this religious movement grows in both numbers and power, there is another even larger movement of Americans who are really uncomfortable with the role of religion, especially other people’s religions, in the everyday affairs of Americans. The problem with this “great silent majority” as Richard Nixon used to call them, is that they are not very organized and not particularly politically motivated. But that could change quite rapidly if the religious crusaders continue to try to push the envelope ever further to the right.

This great silent majority is not made up of God hating atheists! It is made up of a wide variety of people, much like the religious right. There are people who don’t believe in God, as well as those who are spiritual without subscribing to any particular faith. Then there are those who are religious but do not regularly attend church services. The last group is the most perplexing to the religious fanatics; they are the people who worship on a regular basis. They are the people who sit next to the bible thumpers each week in church. The difference is these religious folks are uncomfortable with making their religious beliefs the norm in this country. They are people who believe unwaveringly in their particular God but do not feel it is their place to push their beliefs on others. They respect that there is diversity in belief. Not like the evangelical Christians in Philadelphia which actively try to convert Jews. That is despicable, as is most all missionary activity.

There was a letter to the editor in a recent edition of the Honolulu Star-Bulletin:

Atheists cannot take God out of our nation

In the beginning, something or someone created this universe and gave it existence. Whatever it was, we called it God. There were no people then, so there were no churches, no religion, only God. Then it is understood that God is not a member of any church or religion.

Our founding fathers believed in and recognized this creator when they formed our nation, a republic of "we the people," that there is a higher power and authority than our elected leaders. A spirituality that is uncorruptable and immutable on justice for our nation.

One would think, "what a wonderful concept." Our President Bush must be accountable to this higher authority. However, presently in our courts, a religious group of atheists is trying to remove God from our nation's pledge. While it might be possible to eliminate churches and religion (manmade), it is impossible to eliminate God (spiritual).

Atheists, whose religion denies God, cannot deny existence. Not only do they want to emasculate our nation, they want to take the heart out of it.

Our courts, ironically, acknowledge a higher authority. They should reject this attack on our pledge.

Ken Chang

Can you believe this caveman? I mean, I respect everyone’s right to worship in whatever way they see fit (as long as it doesn’t infringe on me), but this stooge hammered out an angry letter filled with fiction and figured no one would notice it. Well, I did. Let’s deconstruct, because this is a fairly good representation of a fanatically religious person’s argument.

In the first paragraph Mr. Chang attempts to explain the “Big Bang” Theory in religious terms. As an agnostic I must acknowledge that this theory is a possibility. I have not the proof to dis-prove it, so I will concede that. But Ken throws out a great big gigantic “WE”. Who is the “we” of which he speaks? Atheists would reject this theory. Granted they are a vast minority in this country, but should we force them to live in a country that embraces a theory contrary to theirs when it is not necessary to its basic functioning? Is that how we should treat theological minorities? What about the many religious sects that believe differently?

In the second paragraph Mr. Chang proves my initial point with the Founding Fathers argument. Hey Kenny, can we get a citation for your representation of their beliefs. I have read the Federalist Papers and see no evidence that Madison, Hamilton, and Co. had any intention of including a Judeo-Christian philosophy in the central legal underpinnings of this country.

In the rest of his letter, Kenny-Boy blithers about being held accountable to a higher power, etc. Fine, if Mr. Bush wants to view the world that way, that is great for him, but I do not. It is the stated policy in many school districts that all children stand and recite the Pledge. I would never force my child to recite it, ever. Not just because I don’t think they should have to bear false witness, but also because I deplore the “Hitler Youthesque” manner in which children must pledge allegiance to our nation. If my child wants to hate this country, that is their right. When we make the Pledge truly voluntary then I will be okay with whatever content. What if a stated Satanist’s child wanted to say “…one Nation, under Satan…” Would that be acceptable? I think so.

The religious right is on a crusade, not unlike the Crusades undertaken to control Jerusalem. These are to control America. I envision a country where their rights are respected and revered, but not at the expense of everyone else. Not in my country. Over my dead body! They can have my country when they “pry it out of my cold dead hands!”

Tuesday, October 04, 2005

A 1/3 Life Crisis?

In the midst of much ruminating on my job, and my dissatisfaction with the direction of my career, I turned today to a career profile test offered on The test is provided by some random website known as Tickle. It asks a series of questions and then gives you a brief summary of your style. The results are brief and offer you the opportunity to learn more by buying the full results. I did not do that, so I cannot vouch for the contents. My results were as follows.

The right jobs for you would allow you to be Strategic and Creative:

As a Strategic type, you want to be able to express yourself and your ideas through work. Sure there's a time and place for rules and procedures, but when a good thought strikes you, you don't want it to be boxed into one way of thinking. You're willing to go outside the rules if there's a chance that the risk will reap big rewards.

You are stronger than most when it comes to generating ideas. And because of this, it might sometimes feel easier to take on all aspects of a job yourself instead of wasting time explaining it to someone else who might not "get it" like you do. But because you have so many ideas and are willing to take on so much, you might find that you sometimes have trouble finishing every project you start. Your diplomacy and adaptability make you a valuable asset. But your need to feel invested in a company that allows you to express your original ways of thinking will ultimately impact how happy you are in the workplace.

That sounds pretty close to me. I guess I will need to start looking for a new job as soon as I can as my present employer certainly does not hit the criteria listed above.

Apologies for my long absense. It is hard to motivate to write blog pieces when one is in Europe! But I am back and I am working on a number of pieces to be posted shortly. If you have any topics you think are not being covered, add a comment here and I may address it.

Thursday, September 22, 2005

The maturity of "Old Europe" and real "Western Values"

You often hear people talk about “western values”. The phrase is usually used in relation to all those values that we in the western/European world have in common. We don’t give it much thought. It rolls in and we accept the concept without critically thinking about if there is any logic behind it. The idea being that western values includes Europeans and us and the connection being that our country was founded on European enlightenment principles. So therefore we must share some progressive European idea about how the world is and how humans should interact. European democracies and the United States share a value of freedom and liberties but clearly that is where those similarities end.

I would posit that the way Americans and Europeans view liberty and freedom are different. Americans prize above all else the individual liberties, the right of each person in the United States to self-determination. In Europe the emphasis of liberty and freedom is a societal belief that freedom isn’t truly achieved if it isn’t shared equally by all in society. There are subtle variations from country to country in Europe on how this is played out, but the common theme is the importance of the society. Europeans, conservative and progressive alike, take great pride in the social welfare of their people.

Some in American society value individual liberties more than others, libertarians being the extreme example, but all Americans prize individual opportunity. Our society holds entrepreneurial spirit above all else. Look at who we covet in our country; Bill Gates, Warren Buffet, Mark Cuban and others. Our nation reveres the entrepreneur, the self-made man who amasses great wealth and/or economic power.

The dollar is the singular driving force behind most all decisions. That is not to say that other things are not valued on an individual basis, but you would have a difficult time convincing me that anything is more important in our society then money. Look at the indicators that we use to measure the strength of our society. They are economic indicators; economic growth, new home sales, the purchase of durable goods, the performance of stocks and bonds. You rarely see headlines touting how many people have been lifted out of poverty or how many uninsured people have been transferred into the ranks of those with health insurance. Likewise the economic indicator of consumer confidence is not held as particularly important by our Federal Reserve Bank.

I know this sounds a lot like America bashing, but tough luck. You’ll get no apology from me. You’ll have to sit there in the ring, like Sonny Liston and take the beating that Cassius is handing out. I am not apologizing. To me there is a difference between patriotism and nationalism. People who unquestioningly accept all facets of their country as inherently good are not patriotic, they are nationalistic. Not unlike the Germans who sat on their hands as the Jews in their neighborhoods were packed in freight trains and driven off. Patriotism is something less superficial. When one is a patriot, one loves their country. It does not preclude them from seeing inherent faults. In fact, patriotism drives one to make their country all that it can be, including addressing its weaknesses.

European societies also value liberty and freedom but the emphasis is not placed on the individual but on society. Obviously individual freedoms such as free speech and religious choice in Europe are important and valued as well, but there are limits to the lengths that Europeans will go to protect these freedoms. A case in point is the fact that hate speech is not protected in Germany and in fact, fascist parties are barred from participating in the Bundestag.

You can see that in how fiercely people in Europe protect their welfare states. Of course Europeans value resources and wealth. There is a great entrepreneurial drive in Europe, but it is different. There is a far smaller percentage of mega-rich, but there is also far fewer mega-poor. Societies in Europe have made a decision, conscious or otherwise, to care for all members of society.

I have this notion of societal maturity that is spinning around in my head. Perhaps Donald Rumsfeld hit on something when he referred to Old Europe and the United States’ closeness with the new nations in Eastern Europe. Europe is old, but with that age comes a maturity which America is not yet capable of. We are, in many ways, like the nations of Eastern Europe; immature and unsophisticated. Perhaps when we have been around the block as many times as “Old Europe” we will have matured to the point where we see the value in societal strength as opposed to individual strength. Until then we are doomed to suffer growing pains.

Saturday, September 17, 2005

The two party system sucks…

Close your eyes and imagine if you will (metaphorically, don’t really close them or you won’t be able to read my sage words) an America with more than two major political parties. I know there are many other Parties in the U.S., but none of them are significant enough to make a substantive difference. Many would argue that Ross Perot’s Reform Party enabled Bill Clinton to unseat George H.W. Bush in 1992 and then 8 years later the strong showing of Green Party candidate Ralph Nader in several key battleground states cost Al Gore the 2000 election. I concede that this is all true, but these are not viable opposition parties. The Greens do not have any nationally elected members of Congress and very few state elected officials. Likewise, the Reform Party is not viable as it has essentially imploded since the strong showings in 1992 and 1996. No credible liberal would argue that Ralph Nader was a viable candidate for the presidency of this country. I think we can all agree that his administration would be like Jimmy Carter to the eighth power.

I am sitting here on a chilly Danish afternoon reflecting from afar on the state of affairs of the country that I love so much. I find my musings on America are much more clear and enlightened when I am not actually in the States. Perhaps that is because it is easier to contrast the differences. Perhaps it is because when in Denmark I look back at America fondly and think about all the ways to make it better, make it the best it can be.

Let’s face it; the United States is not all that it can be to paraphrase the old U.S. Army slogan. Perhaps that is the magic of America, the always striving and never achieving. Ours is certainly an ambitious venture; Home of free and land of the brave, respecting all, valuing life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. These are all very worthy and honorable goals. So why can’t we achieve them? It is because our political system makes that all but impossible. I am not saying that our constitutional democracy and congressional model are flawed. In fact, I think that they are quite adequate considering the low intellectual level of many of the officials elected to run it.

The problem is that our system accepts only two different possibilities. I have denigrated George W. Bush on this Blog many times for his inability to see the shades of grey inherent in all public policies. It is always easiest to see things as black and white, but that just isn’t how things work sometimes. What if it isn’t just George W. Bush? What if it is our entire system? Look at the facts. Throughout our history, with few exceptions, we have only ever had two options. Initially there were the Federalists (those who favored the supremacy of the federal government) and the Anti-Federalists (those who favored the supremacy of the states). To Europeans looking on, our party system must seem painfully inadequate. Talk to an Englishman about the difficulty with getting all of the party on board with a particular policy objective, and they will be shocked at how difficult that is. The whips in the House of Commons are much more adept at actually whipping the backbenchers into line when an important vote is scheduled. In the United States that is nearly impossible.

Imagine if instead of two parties we had four or even five. As it stands now the Democratic Party is far too diverse to mount much of an oppositional challenge to Bush and Co. When party unity is required there is simply too much diversity of opinion to make much of a show of unity. This is evidenced when there are primaries for presidential elections, the Democrats always field at least a half dozen candidates who could be potential Presidents. When the GOP has open primaries there are usually only one or two candidates, though 2008 may be different.

What if the liberal wing of the Democratic Party, people like Barbara Boxer and Russ Feingold, split off and joined the Green Party. Then you would have middle of the road Democrats like John Kerry who would maintain the party. Those Democrats who are members of the infamously centrist Democratic Leadership Council, think Joe Lieberman or Hilary Clinton, could form a socially moderate, fiscally moderate party.

Likewise I think you would find the Republican Party would likely split. Though they make a good show of party unity, I think that is a much easier feat when you control both the Legislative and Executive branches of the government. You would have a religious conservative party on the right and a socially moderate, fiscally conservative party as well. Can you imagine if the long silent moderate Republicans awoke to the power that they actually hold but are convinced by neo-cons that they don’t? After shaving their long Rip Van Winkle beards, they would wield considerable power within our government. I talk to Democratic friends about the vulnerability of moderate Republicans like Lincoln Chafee of Rhode Island, and as a liberal I must say that the prospect of adding Democrats is attractive, but as a political scientist I believe that the elimination of moderates in the GOP is probably not a good long term goal. Chafee and his fellow moderate colleagues play an important role in keeping the religious conservatives who run the Republican Party in check. (But then again, are they really?)

The stated strength of a two party system is that they are far more stable than multi-party ones because government composed of coalitions tend to collapse much more easily, but I don’t buy that argument. Just because our government is not collapsing regularly does not mean that the U.S. government is more stable then the government in Japan, Israel or Germany.

The fact is that there aren’t just two ways to think about policy issues, and just because someone is liberal on education issues does not mean they are liberal on defense issues. Simply taking anyone who is liberal on any one issue and throwing them into one party means that they will inherently disagree on many other issues, thereby making it difficult to build consensus on any number of issues which need to be addressed as urgently as the issue they agree on. Until we have viable candidates that are willing to run on a third party platform we will never achieve the kind of voter turn out that is enjoyed in other parts of the world. The success of our very republic depends on it.

Tuesday, September 13, 2005

The Death Tax Returns…

This week was supposed to be the week that Congress voted on the permanent repeal of the Estate Tax (also know as the Inheritance Tax or "Death Tax"). When Congress first enacted the Estate Tax in 1916 they asserted that it would help reduce concentrations of power and wealth in the hands of the few and promote equality of economic opportunity. In essence it would "break up the swollen fortunes of the rich."

This sentiment is not an attractive one to Americans. We as a people are in principle against any kind of transfer of wealth and especially when it is the greedy hands of our government reaching in to transfer wealth from hard working rich people to lazy poor people. That’s how the argument goes, isn’t it?

According to the Center for Tax Justice the Estate Tax raises revenue from wealthiest 1.4% of Americans. In fact as much as two-thirds of it comes from the top 0.2% of Americans. Is there any credence to the assertion that we are punishing hard work and rewarding laziness? In fact, there is not. I agree, people who work hard and amass a fortune through toil and tribulation are what makes America special. I do not think that kids who inherit their parent’s fortunes are in any way, shape, or form special. Think Paris Hilton or Nicole Richie! In fact, it is not only poor liberals who feel this way. Over a century ago, steel tycoon Andrew Carnegie said: "The parent who leaves his son enormous wealth generally deadens the talents and energies of the son, and leads him to lead a less useful and less worthy life than he otherwise would."

Conservatives and Libertarians alike line up and chant the mantra that the Estate Tax punishes non-farm family business owners and family farmers and makes it difficult for family owned businesses to be passed on to the next generation. This should be seen for what it is; all smoke and mirrors. I would refer you back to the 1.4% and 0.2% data I listed above. But if that hasn’t got you convinced, consider this; only 1 out of every 20 family farmers leaves a taxable estate. Even those farmers that do inherit taxable estates only pay an average of $5000 in taxes on it. Of the total revenue raised by the Estate Tax, only 0.5% of is attributable to farm assets. Today AG Weekly, a news source for farmers, published an editorial saying that a permanent repeal of the Estate Tax would be bad for rural America.

Non-farm family businesses are also only a small part of the Estate Tax. They amount to less than 3% of total assets for estates worth less than $2.5 million. The fact is that the Estate Tax code offers many incentives to heirs that want to keep family businesses going, but they don't help wealthy heirs that want to sell the family business. And why should they? If anything, the Estate Tax actually encourages heirs to keep businesses in the family rather than selling.

Opponents of the Death Tax will push forward with their attempts to ensure that large estates are not “double taxed”. In the end the perceptions will remain. Those in favor of the tax believe in the original rational as explained by Congress in 1916. They will continue to point out that the amassing of a majority of the wealth in this country into the hands of the few is bad for society. Those who oppose the Death Tax will assert that they should not have to subsidize society through the redistribution of resources from the mega-wealthy to the mega-poor. In fact, the resources aren’t even going to the poor; they are going to pay for a war in Iraq that will benefit the rich. The poor are already paying for the war with the blood of their children. It is time the rich paid their fair share too.

Jules from Pulp Fiction says...

Ezekiel 25:17.

The path of the righteous man is beset on all sides by the inequities of the selfish and the tyranny of evil men. Blessed is he who, in the name of charity and good will, shepherds the weak through the valley of the darkness. For he is truly his brother's keeper and the finder of lost children. And I will strike down upon thee with great vengeance and furious anger those who attempt to poison and destroy my brothers. And you will know I am the Lord when I lay my vengeance upon you.

Click this link for fun!

Dubya is a biblical scholar. Do you think he read this one? Seems to be all about him doesn't it? Is he the tyranny of evil men? Or is the those that attempt to poison and destroy my brothers?

What do you think?

Monday, September 12, 2005

Handout or Hand-up?

The Bush administration bristles at the very mention of race playing a factor in the slow response to the disaster on the Gulf Coast of the United States. They find it simply unfathomable that anyone would even mention it. The American people are deeply divided on this subject. Two thirds of African-Americans believe that had this occurred in a predominantly white neighborhood the response would have been faster. On the other side of the coin, two-thirds of white Americans believe that race was not a factor in the slow response. Why the disconnect?

I have to agree that the Bush administration didn’t fall asleep at the switch because a majority of the people stranded were black. I also agree with rapper Kanye West when he says that President Bush doesn’t care about black people. How, you may be asking, do I reconcile those two statements? Simple! Bush didn’t neglect the stranded people in Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama because they were black; he neglected them because they were poor (and black).

How do I know Bush doesn’t care about black people? How do I know the sun is going to rise tomorrow? I just know. If Bush cared about the African-American community he would recognize that a staggering percentage of the poor people in the south are black. If he cared about this he might consider rolling back his tax cut for the richest 1% of Americans (or as he calls them; his base) and using that extra money to launch a massive anti-poverty initiative, kind of like the one he is funding in Iraq.

This initiative would not have to be the government handouts that Republicans so often rail against (unless it is a handout designed to bail out one of their rich friends, think tax cuts here!). The effort could be designed instead as a “hand-up”. Invest in urban and rural poor communities to improve the educational systems and provide grants and interest free loans to people who want to focus on economic redevelopment in these communities.

Poverty and all of its side effects cannot be alleviated until we get serious about sharing the American Dream with all people in this country. Poverty is not a race issue. There are many, many poor people of all races, but we do need to stop and ask why so many of the people stuck in New Orleans were black. We do need to ask if the situation would have been bungled as badly if the people in New Orleans had been white. Would the genocide in Rwanda have been tolerated if the people had been white? Would the genocide in Bosnia have been tolerated if the people being executed and buried in mass graves had been Christian and not Muslim? These questions are important to reflect upon.

I believe the best way to eliminate poverty is to enable people. Everyone has heard the cliché about giving a man a fish and he eats for a day and teaching a man to fish and he eats for a lifetime. Community empowerment and redevelopment sends a compelling message to poor neighborhoods that we are committed to helping them help themselves. Give them pride of ownership and you will find that the crime, vandalism and gang violence that blight poor neighborhoods will decrease. But government investment in communities cannot simply be on beautifying neighborhoods and creating new jobs. We cannot continue to simply slap on a new coat of paint and pretend like the problems have gone off down the yellow brick road.

If there are no educated and skilled workers in these communities then the businesses will either fail or move away. This effort needs to be accompanied massive infusions of capital into education and worker training programs. We need to build more and better schools, and yes I agree with George Bush, we need to hold teachers accountable. But if they are to be held accountable, then we need to equip them with the tools they need to succeed. There is nothing worse then an unfunded mandate coming out of Washington, especially when states and local communities (particularly those that are struggling the most) have no hope of funding these programs themselves.

We need to pony up to the bar and pay the tab. If a couple of rich spoiled Laguna Beach brats have to pay double tax on their inheritance, so be it. More on that soon…

911 Is A Joke!

The Bush administration thinks that it is preposterous to assert that emergency services are slower in poor, predominantly black neighborhoods! It is not a new theory. The very sage, very wise philosophers Flavor Flav and Chuck D mentioned this hypothesis in the early 1990s. Let me refresh your memory.

Hit me
Going, going, gone
Now I dialed 911 a long time ago
Don’t you see how late they’re reactin’
They only come and they come when they wanna
So get the morgue truck and embalm the goner
They don’t care ’cause they stay paid anyway
They teach ya like an ace they can’t be betrayed
I know you stumble with no use people
If your life is on the line then you’re dead today
Late comings with the late comin’ stretcher
That’s a body bag in disguise y’all betcha
I call ’em body snatchers quick they come to fetch ya?
With an autopsy ambulance just to dissect ya
They are the kings ’cause they swing amputation
Lose your arms, your legs to them it’s compilation
I can prove it to you watch the rotation
It all adds up to a funky situation

So get up get, get get down
911 is a joke in yo town
Get up, get, get, get down
Late 911 wears the late crown

911 is a joke

Everyday they don’t never come correct
You can ask my man right here with the broken neck
He’s a witness to the job never bein’ done
He would’ve been in full in 8 9-11
Was a joke ’cause they always jokin’
They the token to your life when it’s croakin’
They need to be in a pawn shop on a
911 is a joke we don’t want ’em
I call a cab ’cause a cab will come quicker
The doctors huddle up and call a flea flicker
The reason that I say that ’cause they Flick you off like fleas
They be laughin’ at ya while you’re crawlin’ on your knees
And to the strength so go the length
Thinkin’ you are first when you really are tenth
You better wake up and smell the real flavor
Cause 911 is a fake life saver

So get up, get, get get down
911 is a joke in yo town
Get up, get, get, get down
Late 911 wears the late crown

Ow, ow 911 is a joke

Does this sound timely to anyone? I hope President Bush enjoys that lemonade on Trent Lott’s porch!

Showing Michael Brown the door…

So, its official, the Bush administration has officially set the horse judge out to pasture. It was revealed today that Federal Emergency Management Agency director Mike Brown has resigned for reasons that he described as "in the best interest of the agency and best interest of the president." This blogger wonders whether Karl Rove personally delivered the wakizashi. Three days after being yanked by the administration from his onsite command of the hurricane relief effort Brown told the Associated Press that "the focus has got to be on FEMA, what the people are trying to do down there."

My question is; how did this guy get this job in the first place? Before receiving his appointment as Executive Director of FEMA, Brown was the Judges and Stewards Commissioner for the International Arabian Horse Association, (IAHA), from 1989-2001. After numerous lawsuits were filed against the organization over disciplinary actions Brown was forced to resign. So it appears that our President has no trouble putting an ethical question mark in charge of disaster readiness and response. I guess that is not surprising since Dubya has failed at every venture that he has attempted with the possible exception of politics. I say politics and not being President because by any objective analysis George W. Bush has been a failure as a President as well, but he and his political team have been able to spin a perception of success.

This hurricane has brought to the fore an unspinnable situation which shows the cronism that exists in this administration. We were unprepared! We revamped FEMA and put it inside the Department of Homeland Security to increase inter-agency communications and improve readiness response. Nothing that anyone could have done would have stopped the levies from breaking, but one would expect competent and capable leadership from the administration. They would have you believe that this is a failure of local leadership. Don’t believe the hype!

I am not here to defend any local officials, but this was a multi-state disaster and none could be expect to mobilize the resources needed to respond adequately. This was and is a federal issue and a failure on their part to: A be adequately prepared, and B. respond appropriately to the scope of the disaster.

The failure of leadership was our President continuing his never-ending summer vacation while the hurricane gained strength over the Gulf of Mexico. Instead of rushing back to Washington to oversee efforts he flew to California to hype up his Medicare reforms. (political lesson, never miss a chance to hype up your policies, even when evacuation efforts are languishing)

In the end, the words you hear most out of the Bush administration is that they don’t want to play the “Blame Game”. It seems to me that the only people who consistantly don’t want to assign blame and learn from the failures are the people who are at fault. What is the Bush administration afraid of? They don’t have to run for re-election and they don’t care what naysayers think. They never have and they never will.

In the mean time, Brown is out the door. He insists this is his idea, for the good of the country and the President, so the focus stays on the relief and rebuilding efforts. I hope people will see that for what it is. Brown has been handed the sword, he is expected to fall on it and take one for the team. How long til he lands his next seven figures job that seem to float around for persistent neo-con failure half-wits?