The 60 Tidbits III entries below appear with the most recent entries first. To see them displayed in the order they were written, please click here.

 January 20, 2009
Farewell, Mr. President

I've been relatively silent on my blog lately. Not because of lack of something to say, but rather, simply lack of time. I have a couple of big deliverables this week, so I may finally have some breathing room this coming weekend.

In the meantime, though, I find it necessary to comment on an event that happened earlier this day. While I still have many thoughts I want to share about our new President, and the politics surrounding his election, and so on, the transition of power today bears particular attention.

I have commented many times before on this blog, and elsewhere, that I have had differences of opinion with the previous administration. And while I have been less obvious about it on this blog, I must also take exception to the notion that our previous President is the "worst ever." Not even by a long shot. (That's a very rich topic for another day.) Most people who make such a claim have obviously not studied their American history all that closely.

But I find it remarkable that, on his way out of office, President George W. Bush left with grace and dignity. No last minute flurry of questionable pardons. No last minute theatrics or grandstanding. Granted, there were a couple last minute Presidential Executive Orders worthy of reconsideration. But, all in all, George W. Bush left the White House today with an important distinction.

George W. Bush turned over the reigns of governmental power in a peaceful, orderly fashion. Our constitutional government, for all of its many, many flaws, remains in tact and, despite a change in leadership, stable and predictable. "Distinction?" You ask. "It's been done 42 times before."

Yes, it's been done 42 times before. Well, actually, more like 41 times before, since Buchanan did an awful job of turning over the government to Lincoln. Truly awful. But, that notwithstanding, each successive transition of executive power is for the record books. Our republic persists, which is more than can be said of so many other governments throughout the world and throughout history. And, for all it's flaws, there remains the very real hope that *many* of our nation's problems can and will be eventually corrected... without undue damage to the republic as a whole. We have managed, against so many odds, to perpetuate a system of government that is not only somewhat reasonable and fair, but also nominally self-correcting and self-healing. It's truly amazing. The proverbial "machine that would go of itself" still works.

I have no reason, yet, to laud our new President. Nor have I reason, yet, to censure him. But I am nonetheless glad that we have a new President. For all that, nothing so became George W. Bush's Presidency as the leaving of it.

Posted by at 02:01 PM in the following Department(s): Tidbits III | Comments (4)
 December 03, 2008
Obama Humor That Tastes Bad

Well, we have a new President-Elect. And yes, I'll continue my earlier promised (serious) political discussion soon. In the meantime, it's time to recognize that humor will never be the same now that we have Barack Obama as our newly elected President-to-be.

In the spirit of getting the ball rolling, I present to you my list of...

Top Ten "How Many President-elect Obamas Does it Take to Change a Lightbulb?" Jokes As Told By...

  • Barack Obama: "One. And I'll set up the committee to look into that change on Day One."
  • John McCain: "One. That One."
  • Hillary Clinton: "None. He's not experienced enough to change a lightbulb."
  • Joe Biden: "One. But he'll need my help."
  • Sarah Palin: "All of them!"
  • George W. Bush: "It's too early to talk about numbers for lightbulbification."
  • The Cast of Saturday Night Live: "Shhh! We can't make jokes about the Chosen One!"
  • Bill Clinton: "I did not screw in that light bulb. Or anywhere else, for that matter."
  • Rush Limbaugh: "You see? Barney Frank *broke* that light bulb in the first place!"
  • Gloria Steinem: "THAT'S STILL NOT FUNNY!"
Now it's your turn. Got any to add?

MORE...
Posted by at 06:02 PM in the following Department(s): Humor , Tidbits III | Comments (1)
 November 11, 2008
Into the Breech, Part II: That's What She Said

This post follows a thread that began with my musing about checks and balances, continued with a follow-up comment posted by my friend Amy (click here to see both), and continued further with my response to Amy's response (and my friend Allen's response to that). It was the note below that made me decide to keep this conversation public, because it touches some very interesting points (and I loves me some good conversation. Join in the fun, you other readers of mine!).

It is her question at the end that I intend to make the subject of an upcoming post. And, while you wait for baited breath for my answer, think about how you might respond. (And, as always, feel free to post your response by using the "comment" link below.)


Hey Allan,

Thanks for the e-mail. You're definitely right about one thing in particular -- I've been getting myself good and riled up about this election too. ;-)

Hmm, where to begin? Well, I'm not as pessimistic as you about Obama as a candidate, but at the moment I'm incredibly pessimistic about this country, even if I get the result I want today. I think econonically the next decade is going to suck. I have two friends who've lost their jobs in the last month. My bank failed. (Wamu -- by the way, I deliberately didn't withdraw my money when I knew they were in trouble, because I didn't want to be part of the cause of the failure!) I think if Obama wins, and even if there's a filibuster-proof House, that the Republicans will spend the next four years inventing new and creative ways to sabotage him, at the expense of ordinary people. I think there will be more than the usual number of attempts on his life and that greatly concerns me in terms of racial tension and overall country morale.

Oh, and I hate hate hate speeches, so I've not listened to his speeches -- I've been getting it all by reading (and I'm heartily sick of it all, too). So at least I'm not just swayed by the cult of personality.

I think the reason I reacted so strongly to your post (overreacted, it's fair to say) is because I thought you were implying that no matter how bad the Republicans screw up, it's the voter's duty to say "oh well, they done wrong, but it's my responsibility to count the seats and make sure there's the right level of checks and balances. Guess they get a free pass this year." My feeling is that if the Republicans are so worried about checks and balances, they should have tried not to alienate so much of their base for the past eight years, and they should try to keep their hands out of the cookie jar, or at least not get caught. Your post said (IIRC) that what Stevens did was wrong, and he'll be punished, but don't let that tank the country's future = vote for McCain. But it seems illogical to suggest that some undecided voters out there were going to say "Oh, Stevens was bad! Now I'll vote for Obama -- that'll show 'em!" And anyone already decided either way, on McCain or Obama, should not have to take Stevens' conviction into account.

I don't think I'm explaining this well, but I guess it's a pet peeve of mine when people imply that the average voter is required to not only weigh policies and character, but to try to analyze to the nth degree the effect of their vote far beyond the race in question. Months ago, I had a discussion with a friend who was seriously pissed off at people who voted for Hillary Clinton in the primary in California, because he felt that Hillary absolutely couldn't win the general election, and therefore those people were deliberate traitors to the Democratic party.  Even though I was already supporting Obama at that point, I maintained that they may have been voting for Hillary because they genuinely agreed with her policies more, and they certainly have the right to do so. I also believe people have the right to vote for Nader if they want to. I cringe at the result, but they still should be allowed to take a stand for a candidate that they want.

And if we ARE going to take "effects outside the actual candidate" into account..... that's an argument for Obama, in my opinion. There's how the world views us. We elect McCain, and the rest of the world thinks (and rightly so, in my opinion), "Nice, America. Same old shit for another 4-8 years." We elect Obama, and they realize that we finally realize we're way off course. There's also the effect of how our own citizens view us. I work at a community college that's 98% African American. I think it will do this country a world of good to see a non-rich-white-old-man in the White House. These aren't the reasons I voted for Obama, but still, there it is.

Regarding going further into a police state, I do still think the Republicans will be worse for that. How long do you think it will be before McPalin (yes, that was intentional) seats another Supreme Court justice and rushes a challenge to Roe v. Wade up the line? That's a police state. And Palin is just stubbornly, willfully ignorant enough that I wouldn't put it past her to try getting a little more creation taught in the schools -- hey, they'll have time since sex education isn't necessary. Also, McCain has already shown that he will compromise his principles, which to me means that once he's in a tough White House, he'll probably compromise them a lot more, because he's already started down that road. Obama, having kind of taken the high road during the election (admittedly, he could afford to -- I don't know what he would have done if he'd been trailing all along), may be able to maintain standards for longer than McCain.

Anyhow, I'll end by saying I don't think Obama is the second coming or anything. But I am still hard pressed to find virtues in post-February McCain.

By the way, did you catch that bit on the Daily Show several weeks or months ago, probably shortly after McCain picked Palin, where Stewart played clips of Karl Rove, Bill O'Reilly, and Palin herself contradicting the hell out of themselves? It was priceless, and telling.

No hard feelings. Thanks for taking the time to explain some of your feelings. Say hi to Paulette for me!

Oh wait, not ending yet.... I hope you don't mind if I throw this question out there for you, but it's something I've wondered about for a while. Hmmm, there's not going to be any good way to put this. OK -- I have a conservative librarian friend, who constantly bemoans the fact that almost all librarians she knows are Democrat. Unsurprisingly, she's from Texas and she's at least religious enough to go to church. I have often wondered if it doesn't make her pause to realize that the group she has proudly self-identified with -- as a librarian, she's very into Freedom on Information, privacy, etc. -- on the whole completely disagrees with her. I'm definitely not suggesting that anyone should bow to peer pressure in such matters! But I think if the group of people I admire, respect, and self-identify with completely disagreed with me on such fundamental things, it would make me wonder. Now, the same thing goes for science fiction. I know two people in the field who are leaning towards McCain: you and [Someone Else, who is a member of a controversial organization that may or may not employ inappropriate means to influence the views of its members]. So what I'm wondering is, doesn't it make you wonder that the group of people that you admire and to whom you want to belong, almost all disagree with you? I hope I managed to say that in a way that isn't offensive -- I'm just really, really curious about this, andI know you like discussion and will always give thoughtful answers. Although if your head is going to explode if you think about the election any more, don't feel compelled to respond to this!

OK, I'm really done now. ;-)

-- Amy

Posted by at 11:36 PM in the following Department(s): Tidbits III | Comments (0)
 November 10, 2008
Quick thoughts on Lieberman

In a previous post, I mentioned an on-going conversation between a friend of mine and me regarding the recent Presidential election. I will post a follow-up or two on that shortly. However, I need to spend my writing time right now on a novel-in-progress, so my blogging time is short.

That said, I wanted to share my thoughts on an interesting little story that is playing out, even though I realize I'm not the only blogger out there to hold these particular opinions:

Connecticut Senator Joe Lieberman found himself in an interesting situation when his party leadership pulled their support for him during his most recent election cycle, even though he clearly had some strength behind his candidacy for re-election. He had annoyed party leadership by supporting the war in Iraq, and when he and his Democratic challenger split the primary and caucus phase of the campaign, party leadership backed his challenger. Lieberman left the party, campaigned as an "Independent Democrat" (or some such designation) on the positions to which he had stayed true, and won the seat.

Interestingly, the D's found themselves needing him, even though he clearly owed them no favors. With Lieberman, the D's would claim a Senate majority. Without him, The R's would hold on. Lieberman had always identified himself as a Democrat, so the choice was easy for him to make: he'd caucus with the Dems in exchange for chairmanship of an important Senate committee.

This past Presidential election cycle, Lieberman endorsed and campaigned for Senator McCain, with whom he shared many of the positions he himself had run and won on. Because the Democrat leadership had worked against him in his bid for re-election, Lieberman was not feeling particularly bound to support a Democrat candidate with whom he had little in common.

Okay, that's enough of the re-cap. What I find interesting about the events playing out now is that the Democrats have a larger majority in the Senate, and therefore no longer need Lieberman to hold onto their control. So, what do they do? Apparently, the majority leader wants to punish Lieberman by taking away his committee chairmanship.

This should come as no surprise, and I'm actually kinda glad that Lieberman is facing this possibility; Lieberman took a calculated risk, and he should be prepared to pay the consequences. Lieberman, like McCain (I assert), is a man of principle, and both honoring and violating those principles must necessarily entail consequences. (I suspect McCain might be paying consequences for violating his own principles, but that's an essay for another day.)

Lieberman wants to continue caucusing with the Democrats, but he has also said that he will not do so if they decide to strip him of his committee chairmanship. I'm glad he is taking this stand. I'm glad he continues to stand for what is important to him, even to the extent that it may harm his political career. (The committee in question is Homeland Security, which deals with issues of particular interest to the Senator.)

But here is where standing firm may provide a win-win or a lose-lose proposition for all of the parties involved.

I have read that President-Elect Obama has let it be known that he wants Lieberman to continue caucusing with the Democrats. Had I written this essay a couple of days ago, as I'd intended, I'd have suggested that the President-elect do just that, for reasons that should be obvious.

If you run on a campaign of "change" and "hope" and getting away from "partisan politics as usual", then your bluff is being called when a situation like this arises. Many so-called Progressives of the Democratic Party want to see Lieberman punished for breaking from the party leadership -- never mind who ditched whom at the big dance. But if our leaders are to move forward in a spirit of hope, change, cooperation, working together, etc., etc., this is where they start to reveal their true colors. Be vindictive, or welcome into the fold and move on.

If the Democrats ultimately decide to punish Lieberman, and Lieberman stops caucusing with them, both Lieberman and his party are impoverished. Lieberman, because he loses some political clout (at least, for the time being), and the party, because they lose credibility and the active participation of one of their more thoughtful voices.

On the other hand, if the D's welcome Lieberman back into the fold without vindictiveness, Lieberman and his former party are both enriched. Lieberman's stature grows, and the party is strengthened both in number and in quality of voice.

If it's true that President-elect Obama has, in fact, weighed in on the side of reconciliation (keep in mind that Obama can claim "injured party" status because of Lieberman's participation in McCain's campaign), and is willing to use some of his influence to help make that happen (the ball already having been set in motion toward punishment and vindictiveness), then I say... good.

I disagree with much of the President-elect's politics (just as, quite frankly, I disagree with much of the politics of his challenger). But if he's willing to call "bygones" and be all the stronger for it, then maybe, just maybe, there is hope for the notion that standing on principles actually matters.

There's more I want to say on the subject, but my novel-in-progress (as well as my bed) awaits.

Posted by at 10:40 PM in the following Department(s): Tidbits III | Comments (0)
 November 04, 2008
Into the Breech, Part I: Both Candidates Are Flawed

If you've read my most recent post, you know that I've been conflicted about getting into an in depth discussion about the current national elections happening today. Late last night, I worked on a private e-mail response to one of the commenters on my blog regarding my "checks and balances" missive. I sent it off, worried that it would not be well received, but I still felt I had to respond.

Well, this morning, I woke up with the realization that, as an extrovert and a writer, I'm only hurting myself by adding yet one more topic to the list of things I'm not discussing on my blog. I decided that it was both okay and, perhaps, an imperative to keep the conversation going. Then, when I checked my e-mail, I found a response from my friend that was exactly what I needed: an excellent continuation of the dialog. I'm going to ask her permission to post her response here (which she, in turn, ends with an excellent question, that begs another response from moi). In the meantime, here's the "brief" note I sent last night. Again, this is a follow-up to my post, and her comment, on checks and balances.

Hi, Amy.

This is just a quick note regarding the points you brought up in your comment on my blog.

In my e-mail late last night, I tongue-in-cheekly mentioned my intention to persuade you (regarding preferences for the Oval Office), but the fact of the matter is, it doesn't matter. Both candidates are reprehensible. Both are intent upon dismantling various sections of the Bill of Rights -- they only differ as to which sections they want to dismantle first. Both have stated very clearly, both on their web sites and in public speeches, their intention to steer us further into a police state, going beyond the excesses of the Patriot Act, et al.

Like you, I am disgusted by McCain's choice of a running mate. Like you, I am appalled by his switcheroo in his stance on abortion. I disagree with some of the other things you said, and I did, in fact, type up a detailed explanation as to why, but it doesn't matter. I don't want to be in the business of defending McCain, because I don't like him as a choice for President. (I did, eight years ago. In fact, I did, up until he started kissing neo-conservative tuckus in February.)

I meant what I said about checks and balances, though, because let's face it: a Democrat-dominated Congress would never allow McCain (or, if it came to it, Palin) to steer our government any further to the right with regard to domestic policy. Such a Congress might also end up working *against* the notion of becoming more of a police state. The same is not true with Obama as President. If he actually follows through with his promise to create a national police force that is as well funded, trained, and equipped as our military, I don't think we can count on the Democratic congress to stand against him -- just as we couldn't count on the Republican congress early in Bush's administration to stand against Bush, despite the fact that almost everything he has done as been as un-Republican as you can get.

Ergh. Every time I get on this subject, I get riled up, and I don't want to get riled up. McCain may be as bad as you appear to feel, but I think it's for different reasons. I do think that his foreign policy would be better than Obama's, but there's no way to tell, since Obama is a cypher in that regard.

When you get right down to it, all Presidents-to-be are cyphers. None of them end up performing quite as we expect. When was the last time a President lived up to (or down to) our expectations of him? Nixon?

McCain was a good man, up until a year ago, so I confess to being a little defensive about him, even though he has clearly lost his way. That said, Obama has the charisma and cult of personality that I find simultaneously fascinating and disturbing. I don't trust cult of personality. I was a history major; how could I? His speeches are vacuous. Read them in their text form some time. (I wrote about this in more detail in an earlier blog post.)

So, this is why I've "saved in draft form" a couple of e-mails to you and a couple of posts to my web site (and taken down to previous posts): I don't want to be the cranky old man who sounds all paranoid and bitter, and I don't want to alienate my good friends, many of whom are nonetheless getting wound up, themselves, about this election.

Most of my friends seem to be taking as obvious the flaws of one candidate and the virtues of the other -- and I mean, they take these as *way* obvious -- to the point where they can't acknowledge that their candidate of choice has just as serious flaws and the opponent has just as substantial virtues.

And yes, I must concede that both Obama and McCain have tremendous virtues, just as I worry over their tremendous flaws. Which one will be or would be the better choice? When all is said and done, we'll only be able to speculate, because only one *will* be president.

I hope that before too long, we'll have a chance to chat over these and other fun topics. But, as you and I agree, the stakes are high, and as we near the finish line of this stage of this particular race (please, oh please, don't let lawsuits drag this out for months like they did in 2000), tensions are a little high.

I share your pessimism about McCain. I suspect you don't share my pessimism about Obama. My blog entry was kinda tongue-in-cheek, but kinda not. I have concerns. As you pointed out, our current administration (and, I would argue, the last sixteen years) have done an amazing amount of damage to the American system of government. The next president could continue that pathetic tradition. Or not.

On a lighter note, the day after the results of the election are known, I'm thinking that our company will start offering "Don't blame me! I voted for (the losing candidate)!" bumper stickers. I think there will be good money to be made there.

Vote early and vote often!

--Allan

Posted by at 12:36 PM in the following Department(s): Tidbits III | Comments (4)
 November 03, 2008
Nothing to See Here... Move Along...

Twice tonight, I've assembled exquisitely argued posts regarding the choices we face in this year's election cycle. Twice, I've decided to save my essays in "draft mode", likely never to make it to the site's front page.

Why?

Because no matter what I type, it will inevitably be divisive. I love a good debate, especially with the fine, intelligent folks who might spare a few moments to visit my little corner of the world wide web; but now that we are down to the wire, it's becoming increasingly obvious that there's little room for reasoned debate. I happen to think that both major party candidates pose the very real possibility of making things much, much worse than the Bush 43 or Clinton administrations . . . and they (Obama and McCain) also have the potential to make things much, much better.

The odds, it seem to me, point more toward the notion that whichever candidate we choose, we as a nation have embarked upon a pendulum swing toward severe political unpleasantness that could take decades to correct -- if it's ever corrected. And for all that, history suggests that all *will* get better, but it will, indeed, take a long time. That's another topic for another day.

I may get into these topics after the dust settles from this election. Again, I love to get into a good, well reasoned debate. In the meantime, vote early and vote often. If your candidate wins, whichever one he be, I hope that whatever good you see in him turns out to bear fruit.

Posted by at 03:41 AM in the following Department(s): Tidbits III | Comments (0)
 October 31, 2008
Have a Creepy Halloween!

No matter what your political stripe, you have to admit that the people who put this thing together are CREEPY. This is the unedited version (the original post on YouTube has since been labeled "Private", but there are many copies out that that have been edited, editorialized, etc. I had to dig around before I could find an unedited copy.):

Boo!

Posted by at 10:47 AM in the following Department(s): Tidbits III | Comments (0)
 October 27, 2008
Your Voters Guide, 2008

A jury of his peers found Senator Ted Stevens of Alaska guilty of "conduct unbecoming" -- essentially, of receiving big favors and then lying about it. "I did not . . . have renovations . . . from that contractor . . . Mr. Allen."

The Senator has been found guilty in a court of law, and I very much favor the impartial rule of law. The court will, at some future date, determine a sentence. This is all as it should be.

In the meantime, the Senator is running for re-election, and his conviction certainly jeopardizes his bid to retain the seat. I know that *I* would have a difficult time voting to elect a convicted felon to represent my best interests in Washington, DC.

But the way the various Senatorial races are shaping up throughout the country, it is entirely possible that by losing Stevens' seat, the Republicans may end up not only the minority party, but in an ultra-minority. Unable to even filibuster, which itself is often the dying gasp of a last resort of a lame defense from a pack of otherwise ineffectual minority parties.

Checks and balances are good for the government; good for the country. When the same party controls the White House and Congress, it's bad enough. (Witness the last several times it has happened. See G. W. Bush, W. J. Clinton, et al.) When the same party controls both branches and doesn't even have to pretend to listen to the loyal opposition, a lot of bad juju can go down. And has. And, if circumstances allow, will again.

Senator Stevens broke the law, and it will cost him. This is good.

But don't let that tank the future of our country. That would be bad.

A vote for McCain in 2008 is a vote for healthy checks and balances that our government sorely needs.

Viva la Cheques and Balances! Viva la McCain!

Posted by at 03:49 PM in the following Department(s): Tidbits III | Comments (2)
 March 28, 2008
True Words

As a general rule, it's unwise to quote someone out of context, lest their original, true meaning be completely distorted. Nonetheless, this quote that I read today is extraordinary in its truth and beauty both within and beyond its original context, and independently of she who spoke.

That said, our current Secretary of State, Condoleezza Rice, was interviewed this week regarding her thoughts on Senator Obama's recent speech about race in America. As a follow-up question, she was asked today "what Americans had learned about race since the civil rights movement." (I'm quoting from the Associated Press article written by Sue Pleming.) Her response is astoundingly true, far beyond the scope of the question posed:

"You have to work hard every day to make the extraordinary, moving and inspirational words of our founding documents a reality for all Americans."
--Condoleezza Rice

Of all the things that have been said so far during this campaign season, that one sentiment (uttered by a non-contestant, no less) rings the truest of all.

Posted by at 01:24 PM in the following Department(s): Tidbits III | Comments (0)
 February 06, 2008
Some Thoughts on the 2008 Presidential Race

Here are a few random thoughts that have been on my mind of late regarding the national presidential primary season for 2008:

***

I have been maintaining for some time now that this presidential election is the Democrats' to lose, and they are doing everything they can to do just that. This isn't about policy or principles or character -- these races rarely ever are, no matter how much we might like to think otherwise. There are several reasons that the Republicans face a disadvantage this election cycle:

First and foremost, the outgoing incumbent remains very unpopular, so his party will take a little bit of a hit for that.

Second, when the economy slows down, the incumbent's party takes a hit for that, as well.

Third, when the Dems took over Congress in 2006, they were unable to do anything with their success. Voters who wanted to see "change" haven't seen it yet, so they may be more inclined to seek that change in the White House, which again hits the incumbent party.

Yet as circumstances would have it, the Democrats are doing the kinds of things that tend toward weakening their own cause. A bitter and divisive primary season is one obvious example. The cynicism of the candidates' campaigns is another: Sen. Clinton gets choked up just before Super Tuesday because, hey, it worked before in New Hampshire! (That's just one example.) I'm not sure what bothers me more, the obvious cynicism behind such ploys, or the fact that they seem to work (at least, in the short run). Both of the major candidates for the D's are doing this, and both of them are neck and neck in the delegate count.

The Democrats also have failed to learn from past mistakes. Sen. Ted Kennedy helped to split the party in 1980 by running against Carter in the primary, and that definitely hurt his party's cause that year in the general election. He likewise turned against the nominal front-runner this time, and a former strong supporter of his, when he chose to endorse Sen. Obama over Sen. Clinton last week. The former first lady still took Massachusetts in their primary, but did Kennedy's endorsement help to buoy Obama's challenge and further draw out the race? I'm inclined to think so.

History has shown us that the more divided the party as it goes deep into the nomination cycle, the harder it is to unite against their opponents in the general election. Think of what Kennedy's bid did to the Democrats in 1980, or what Reagan's did to Ford's campaign in 1976.

The fact that the Democrats will take longer to pick a decisive front runner than the Republicans is not a deal-breaker for this election. It is *still* theirs (the Democrats) to lose. The Republicans remain divided, themselves. The neo-cons and the religious right of the Republican party are still not sure that they trust Sen. McCain. Here, the Democrats have an advantage: either Democratic candidate is sure to be backed by the Progressive tail that wags the donkey, while the Republican candidate may not get the full support of the neo-conservative tail that wags the elephant.

Nonetheless, if the Republicans do end up choosing a moderate (and nothing would push McCain more firmly into the moderate camp than having the neo-cons abandon him), how well is the neo-liberal platform of the Progressives going to play in the general election? With Clinton and Obama trying to out-socialist each other with promises of entitlements (such as Clinton's promise of a $5,000 grant for every child born) and nationalizing medicine (at which Hillary failed during Bill Clinton's first year in office), they need to be careful not to promise bread and circuses to their base now that could alienate them to the larger public in November.

***

As I alluded above and in previous posts, I'm intensely interested in seeing if the neo-cons and the religious right are truly inclined to abandon their party-of-choice if their party-of-choice nominates someone with whom they are uneasy. Sen. McCain does seem to be headed for the nomination.

If the neo-cons decide to abandon him, and if he wins the general election anyway, he won't owe them any favors. It seems to me that the neo-cons turn their backs on the Republican party at their own peril.

***

Memo to Gov. Romney: Stop whining about "dirty tricks." These exact same dirty tricks were played by Bush's supporters on McCain in 2000 (for example, "push polls" in South Carolina that insinuated that McCain's Vietnamese daughter was actually his love child born out of wedlock, rather than his adopted child, as is actually the case), and they will be used again by supporters of the Democratic nominee in the general election.

For that matter, how confident are you that none of your supporters have used any dirty tricks against your own opponents?

I do not endorse dirty trickery. But whining about dirty tricks won't help your cause. Whining that your opponent tricked you in a debate is also not a prudent strategy. If you can't handle a little sneakiness during a debate with McCain, how are Republicans going to trust you to hold your own in a debate with Clinton or Obama?

C'mon, dude. Get a new debate coach and move on.

***

It seems lately that now, as much as ever, the campaign is more about the campaign than about anything else. Issues? Character? Bah. According to various polls, people are voting on the basis of how the campaigns are being conducted. In South Carolina, for example, many people said that Bill Clinton's campaigning on behalf of Hillary influenced their vote -- negatively, as a general rule. Solution? Ask Bill to tone it down, and voila! Problem goes away.

No change in message... but then again, the news isn't covering the message. They are covering whether Hillary teared up, or how McCain's campaign overcame setbacks from six months ago, or whether it was wise for a candidate to bank his entire strategy on winning Florida. Floridians didn't reject Mayor Giuliani's message. They rejected his campaign strategy.

To paraphrase a previously successful campaign, "It's the campaign strategy, stupid."

***

Why are Gov. Romney and Gov. Huckabee still in the race, even though they are improbable to win the Republican nomination? Here's a guess: it could be that Romney wants to set himself up for being a viable candidate in 2012 or 2016, or perhaps he hopes Huckabee will drop out and then he'll be able to leverage his support from the neo-cons to still have a shot at winning in 2008. As for Huckabee... by playing spoiler to Romney, he might not only be setting himself up as a potentially viable presidential candidate in the future, but may be trying to win a spot on the ticket as nominee for VP with McCain.

And if Huckabee does end up on a McCain ticket, what does that do to McCain's street cred with the neo-cons and religious right? Or, for that matter, with the moderates of both parties? A McCain-Huckabee ticket has the potential to unite the party better than any other pairing, but it also has the potential to alienate *everybody*. Hmmm.

***

I still think Sen. Clinton is the odds-on favorite to win the Dem's nomination. Then again, I still expected the Patriots to win the Super Bowl, even with only seconds left on the clock and the Pats down by three. So, what do I know?

***

My last thought for the day (and if you've read through all this so far... my proverbial hat is off to you):

It's not enough to vote. If you believe in your candidate, you need to donate money to their campaign. If the stakes are high enough that it matters to you who wins, your donation will make more of a difference than just your vote alone.

Make your checks out to "Friends of Allan Rousselle."

Posted by at 03:42 AM in the following Department(s): Tidbits III | Comments (0)
 January 31, 2008
My Mitt Romney Story

[Memory is fallible. I could have taken the time to look up the details below to be sure I had them right, but what the heck, the following is what I *remember*, whether it's a confabulation of disparate events or an accurate record of the election season(s) in question....]

I was recently asked for my thoughts about Presidential candidate Mitt Romney. My response was:

Mitt Romney was not governor when I lived there, but he did run for Senate (against Ted Kennedy) while I lived in Massachusetts. I was somewhat active in the Republican party leadership at the time, and he phoned me once to ask for my endorsement leading up to the highly contested Republican primary (which he won).

Here's what I remember in talking with him: very little. He asked for my endorsement, I asked what made him a better candidate than the other republicans, and he gave me the standard pat answers that made absolutely no impression whatsoever. If I ended up endorsing him for the primaries, as I seem to recall, it was because, well, he was the only one who asked.

But once he won the primary and went after Kennedy, then I got to see him in action. There were several televised debates between the two, and I watched. Romney was the first challenger in a very long time who had a shot of beating Kennedy, which made it an exciting race.

The debates were a bit unsettling, however. Romney's message was, ultimately, this: I'll do everything that Kennedy would do, the only difference is, I'm not a Kennedy.

Keep in mind that Kennedy's politics still play very well in Massachusetts, even though they voted several Republican governors in a row following Bill Weld's taking the seat away from Democrat Michael Dukakis (remember him?). Romney essentially said, hey, I can champion those Massachusetts-y politics just as well as Kennedy can, but at least I'm not a bloated drunken embarrassment. Nationalized medicine? Sure, why not! (But no one will die in my car, wink, wink.) Etc., etc.

Kennedy was suffering from an image problem even worse that year than usual; he was involved in a rape trial (the alleged rape having taken place in his beach house in Florida, I think, and allegedly being perpetrated by his nephew) and did not look so good; and his nose was glowing even redder than usual in his television appearances for much of that year. But, as he always does for his campaigns, he cleaned up quite well during the debates.

Kennedy's message that year was: well, if there's no difference between Romney and me in terms of politics, you have to vote for me because I'm a senior ranking democrat, and we own the Senate! If you re-elect me, I'll continue to chair important committees, etc. Romney won't be able to do that.

Romney lost (obviously), and deservedly so. There were a few funny ironies that came out of this, however. The biggest irony was that this was the year that Newt Gingrich led the charge for Republicans to (successfully) re-take the House and the Senate, so that Kennedy was no longer a senior-ranking majority party Senator. He was a senior-ranking *minority* party Senator, which means no chairmanships, and his entire campaign was based upon a false premise. Likewise, Romney thought that all he had to do to win was not be Kennedy in name. It turns out, he also needed to not be Kennedy in his politics. He learned this lesson.

As you know, Romney was eventually elected Governor of Massachusetts, and from what I've heard, he did an okay job. As it turns out, he's not as liberal as Kennedy -- his message to that effect when he ran against Kennedy didn't play well enough to win that race, so he modified his positions to be less liberal -- but he wasn't necessarily as neo-conservative as George W. Bush, either. In pursuing the national nomination, he has further moved toward the neo-conservative camp, but that was not how things played during his governorship.

My opinion, having seen his career develop, is that he is more interested in holding the office than he is interested in what he can do with it. In this respect, he reminds me of Bill Clinton. He is pragmatic, which is good, and a competent administrator once elected, but he does not appear to me to be a man of strong conviction, so what you see in him may change as the political winds shift. He's more likely to keep his pants zipped; but otherwise, he strikes me as rather Clintonian in his opportunism.

This may not necessarily be a bad thing, but I tend to want my candidates to at least stand for *something*. I think that if he is elected, he'll likely be a competent caretaker of the office, but that's about the best I could hope for from him.

...and THAT is my Mitt Romney story. Let the incendiary comments begin!

Posted by at 12:30 AM in the following Department(s): Tidbits III | Comments (1)
 January 06, 2008
Inter-change-able

I accidentally listened to the radio the other day. In the middle of the day, our local hard rock station airs a talk show (why? I have no idea), and one of my co-workers was listening to it. I think the show is called something along the lines of "The Church of Laslo", and I'm guessing it's a tongue-in-cheek political commentary deal, with the occasional hard rock tune thrown in just to keep it's FM street cred.

The day in question was the day or two after the Iowa caucus, wherein candidate Obama scored slightly higher among the democrat contenders than candidates Edwards and Clinton. (Why are the news outlets reporting this as a decisive victory for Obama? I recall reading in an AP article that he netted 15 electoral delegates, while Hilary Clinton netted 14 delegates, and John Edwards, 13. This is hardly a winner-take-all situation.)

So, this Laslo fellow was playing clips from Barack Obama's "victory" speech and positively gushing about it, and taking phone calls from listeners who were also gushing about it.

Barack Obama is very well spoken, and he clearly has poise, charm, and charisma. But, then again, so does former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee, who captured the most Republican delegates at the Iowa caucuses. Huckabee is an interesting case. The first time I encountered him, he was a guest on The Daily Show (during a two-week period where I was catching the show on iTunes), and I was very impressed with his poise and common sensical style. I liked him instantly. Even at the time, it was clear he was planning to run for office in 2008.

But for me, charm and poise are not enough. I liked Huckabee until I noticed that he was spouting nonsense about science -- essentially claiming that scientists are idiots who believe that humming birds can't fly, even though they obviously do, so why should anyone take them seriously about evolution? Such blatant, obnoxious, willful ignorance being worn as a badge of honor automatically discredits him as a viable candidate for higher office. In our increasingly science and technology-based society, willful ignorance of reality and scorn for evidence-based thinking is a dangerous character flaw.

So if it's not just how you say it, but also what you say that matters, then what are we to make of this Barack Obama speech that radio guy Laslo was so effusive about? Candidate Obama talked about how "they" said "we" couldn't do it, but "you" (the people of Iowa) made it happen, that "you" showed the triumph of unity and coming together over the divisiveness of the past, blah, blah, blah. That Iowans have sent a very clear message "for change".

Now, the cynic in me says: wait a minute. Candidate Obama, dude, you only got 37.6% of the democrat vote in Iowa. Let me repeat that: 37.6% of the vote of one party. His two strongest rivals, Clinton and Edwards, each took in just under thirty percent of the democrat vote. This is unity? This is coming together? This is a mandate for change?

Read the text of Obama's speech here. Go ahead; it's a quick read. It was, after all, written for the masses.

Now, imagine that Hillary Clinton read this speech. Now imagine Edwards delivering this speech. Now Huckabee. McCain. Heck, even Mitt Romney recently (like, yesterday) called himself the "candidate of conservative change." (Doesn't our current President call himself a conservative?) So go ahead, imagine Mitt Romney giving this speech.

Is there a single item in this speech that is specific to Obama? Does he, in fact, say anything at all that wouldn't be, couldn't be, or hasn't already been said by any other candidate for this office in 2008? And, truly, does any of it make sense?

[Note: yes, there is a brief mention of having improved health care in Illinois, and I'm not sure why or how he can make such a claim, but substitute the name of the state with the home state of your candidate of choice. Likewise, he thanks his wife, the "rock" of his family. I suppose Clinton might not necessarily specifically call out her husband. But, that's just a quibble. And yes, there is a specific reference to the Iraq war that would be said by any Democrat, but that Republican candidates would likely leave out.]

You said the time has come to move beyond the bitterness and pettiness and anger that's consumed Washington.
--Barack Obama

Really? How? By giving a slim lead in the vote to someone who has been using negative ad campaigns against his biggest rival?

While I mentioned being cynical about Obama's victory, I'm not being cynical at all about his speech. I have no complaints about his speech. It is as fine a speech-that-doesn't-say-anything as I've read or heard by any number of Presidential candidates. American history textbooks are packed with examples of this kind of rhetoric, of assuming victory when there isn't even a plurality; of lauding motherhood and apple pie even though "they" don't like motherhood and apple pie.

Rather, what concerns me is when people gobble up reheated french fries (or, if you're a neo-con, "freedom fries") and rave about it as if it were el Gaucho filet mignon. Pardon me for saying so, but where's the beef?

When all candidates claim to stand for "change", how are they not interchangeable?

Posted by at 07:59 AM in the following Department(s): Tidbits III | Comments (0)
 September 07, 2007
Picking Your President

What's the best way to pick your President? What criteria best serve you to make a decision during primary/caucus/election season?

Public Statements and Debates: There's an interesting site at http://www.myelectionchoices.com/ that lists a number of statements made by presidential candidates, with the statements grouped by category. The idea is that you check the boxes next to the comments you agree with, and then when you're done, the site tallies up which candidates' stated positions are most in line with your own.

It's a fascinating idea, but once you go through the process, you realize just how flawed the premise is. The notion that we are most moved by what a candidate claims to represent turns out to be pretty much bunk.

Problem 1: all statements are weighed equally when the site tallies hits, but in reality, some issues are more important to me than others. The same is true for you, dear reader.

Problem 2: there's no consideration of statements you disagree with. Sure, Candidate Z may have made the most statements I agree with, but Candidate Z also made statements in favor of eating babies, and that's a show stopper for me. All it takes is one show stopper to cancel out all the good will of previous sympathy.

Problem 3: This one is the real killer -- they may say it, and they may even mean it, but that doesn't mean that they're going to do it. George W. Bush, in the run-up to the 2000 election, stated quite firmly that he was opposed to foreign adventures for the sake of "regime change". Bill Clinton, in 1992, promised to "end welfare as we know it." Bush the elder, before being elected in 1988, had promised "no new taxes." And so on. You may agree with what they say, but even if they mean it when they say it, presidential candidates don't always follow through.

Record of past performance: In ads for mutual funds and stocks, we are reminded that "past performance does not necessarily indicate future performance." The same goes for presidential candidates. Reagan was a fiscal bulldog as governor of California, overseeing tight, balanced, lean budgets. As President, he oversaw budget deficits that made Carter's look like, well, just peanuts. (Recall that, until the Reagan administration, Carter was universally lambasted in the press for running record deficits.) Clinton, as governor of Arkansas, was notorious as a philanderer, but as President... okay, okay. Sometimes past performance *can* be an indicator of future performance.

There's also the problem that there are few (if any) positions that one can hold that would give any real insight into what a person would likely do upon becoming President. How much foreign policy experience is a governor likely to have? How "executive" is a legislator likely to be? How sensitive to the subtleties of politics and compromise is a war hero likely to be? For all that, former governors and war heroes do have a tendency to make better Presidents than former Congressmen and Senators, but even if you take this as the trend, how do you select among multiple candidates who are all governors or generals?

Character: How well can we really know the character of a presidential candidate, and how relevant is their character to their candidacy? On the surface, it would seem like it *should* matter. And yet... Reagan, a divorcee, was arguably a more effective President than Carter, a born-again Christian -- assuming, for the moment, that divorcees have a defect in character that born-again Christians do not, and I concede that to be a faulty premise. (For that matter, if Reagan was slightly above-average or even average in intelligence, Carter was arguably the most intelligent man to hold the position in the 20th Century... and yet, again, we are faced with the interesting fact of who was more effective in the office.)

A more stark contrast can be seen in comparing Carter, a paragon of integrity, with Clinton, his antithesis. And yet, who was the more effective President? By how much? I contend that superior integrity did not a superior Presidency make. FDR might be an even better example of a man whose personal integrity left a great deal to be desired, and yet was one of the most effective Presidents of the 20th Century.

That said, there are some character issues that do seem to make a bit of difference. Confidence matters, as does decisiveness. Personal conviction and charisma certainly can contribute to a President's effectiveness. Although, as our current administration reveals, conviction is not an adequate substitute for occasional thinking.

Quick: name a candidate this year in the top three or four of your party of choice who is wishy-washy and uncharismatic.

So, what criteria works better than these?

Skip the debates. Forget about trying to figure out who is "best". Instead, I remind you of a quote I've posted here once before. I am increasingly convinced that Robert A. Heinlein had it right:

"If you are able to vote, then do so. There may be no candidates or issues you want to vote for... but there will certainly be someone or something to vote against. In case of doubt, vote against. By this rule you will rarely go wrong." -- Robert A. Heinlein

Wouldn't primary/caucus/election season be so much more interesting if we periodically voted a candidate *out* of the race, instead of always having to choose only one to nudge forward in the race?

Posted by at 12:12 AM in the following Department(s): Tidbits III | Comments (1)
 August 09, 2007
Christmas to be held in November

Thanksgiving Considers Move to October

by ALLAN ROUSSELLE, Permanent Press Writer

NORTH POLE - Saint Nicholas and the Fraternal Union of Christmas and Kwanzaa Elf Machinists (FUCKEM) announced today that Christmas this year would be held on November 25th.

"The union is still considering what to do about Kwanzaa, but Christmas definitely had to move," said the jolly old elf. "It's bad enough with the ongoing War on Christmas, but now having to contend with the US Presidential primaries is just too much."

The world's most famous toy distributor referred to the cascading effect that the 2008 US Presidential elections are having on scheduling. When California moved their state primaries to February 5th, 2008 in an effort to increase their influence on the candidate selection process, the South Carolina GOP was compelled to move up their primary to January 19th. This led to New Hampshire setting their primary for early January in turn, and then Iowa, in accordance with state law, rescheduled its state caucuses to mid-December 2007.

"How can toy ads and good will toward men prevail against negative campaign ads and mudslinging political debates?" a flustered Saint Nick said. "Besides, nobody really knows when Jesus was born, anyway, so it's not like December 25 is set in stone."

Butterball and similar stocks have dropped precipitously on speculation that, in order to maintain its standing as the official start to the Christmas shopping season, Thanksgiving will likely have to move to the fourth Thursday of October. "There's no way we'll be able to meet the demand this year if the holiday season is pushed up," said company strategist Valerie Plame, who spoke only on condition of anonymity.

A spokesman for Halloween indicated that the popular October closer was taking a wait-and-see attitude. "It's too soon for us to pick a new date, although you can be sure Halloween won't come after Thanksgiving," he said. "But Nevada still hasn't weighed in on their plans, and California may choose to retaliate against South Carolina. Until the primaries are set, I don't think the fall and winter holidays can be locked down."

But while the shopping season is relatively short for Halloween, the nation's economy is heavily affected by the run-up to Christmas. "Wouldn't it be ironic," lamented Fox News commentator Bill O'Reilly, "if California's Republican governor and the South Carolina GOP were the ones who killed Christmas?"

Canadian pop star Alanis Morissette could not be reached for comment.

Posted by at 11:05 PM in the following Department(s): Humor , Tidbits III | Comments (0)
 May 22, 2007
Wag the Elephant

A few years ago, I posted an essay here about specific problems that arise when the highest elected officials of a political party abandon their espoused principles. Specifically, I called the current President a Bad Republican as well as a bad President.

I also acknowledged that, by saying as much, I was being a bad Republican, myself.

If you want to know why I consider the younger President Bush to be a bad Republican, check out the link above to that essay. The list, unfortunately, is too long to repeat here. As for why posting it made me a bad Republican, it all comes down to Ronald Reagan's so-called "11th Commandment": a Republican shall not speak ill of another Republican who is running for office.*

But a better explanation is found in Robert A. Heinlein's little treatise, Take Back Your Government. As I mentioned in my previous essay:

I'd never heard a compelling argument for voting for the party as opposed to the person until I'd read this book. Heinlein's point is simple: your party's choice of candidates represents a compromise. You and your fellow local party members agree on many things, but not everything, and it's your points of agreement that form the foundation of choosing one candidate over another. This means that you will occasionally choose candidates with whom you agree less than other candidates, but that's the nature of the game. Once you get to the general election, you are in a very real sense obligated to vote for your party's candidate, if only because he or she represents the best compromise that you and your like-minded fellows could arrive at -- even if he or she wasn't *your* first choice. To not follow through and vote for your candidate is to renege on your agreement with your fellow party members. It weakens your party, and the very structure of the political system within which you are working.

My blog is ready by literally tens of people. By publicly announcing my disappointment with our then candidate for President, I was, by the logic above, being a bad party member.

But if I'm a bad Republican, then the neo-conservatives who have hijacked my party are substantially worse. In an Associated Press story attributed to Liz Sidoti (and repeated, for the time being, at Yahoo News), a "prominent Christian leader said Thursday that 'my conscience and my moral convictions' prevent him from voting for Rudy Giuliani should he win the Republican nomination."

The "prominent Christian leader" in question is James Dobson, Founder of Focus on the Family, and his big beef with Giuliani is that the former New York City mayor does not believe that Roe v. Wade should be overturned by the US Supreme Court.

Dobson has a conservative radio show that, according to the AP article, enjoys a listenership number around seven million people. If I'm a bad Republican for voicing my discontent to tens of people, then Dobson is an outright traitor to his party. He is not just saying that the Republicans should nominate a candidate other than Giuliani (which is a perfectly acceptable thing to do during the nomination phase of the election); he is telling his listenership that it would be better to allow a Democrat to win than to support a Republican who differs with the Religious Right on this particular issue. He is not just advising a handful of readers; he is appealing to millions of his followers.

These are the very tactics that have allowed the neo-conservatives to hijack our party. They are dedicated, organized, and tenacious. They can get out the vote when they want to. And by golly, you'd better kiss their ideological ass if you want them to want to help you. McCain didn't kiss their ass in 2000, and they exerted their influence hard and fast to get his strongest opponent onto the top of the ticket. And if the rest of the Republican party doesn't kiss their collective ass this time around by selecting a candidate who drinks their particular brand of Kool-Aid(tm), then by golly, they'll abandon the Republican Party until it comes around and remembers what to kiss, and when.

Don't get me wrong: I don't know that Giuliani is the best this party can do. Truth be told, I have yet to see a candidate for either party who really appeals to me. (McCain, my candidate of choice in 2000, is grimacing a lot these days as he puckers up for the neo-conservatives.) But to preemptively announce that you'll abandon your party (and, by strong implication, take your millions of listeners with you) if the party doesn't follow your dictates on a particular issue, well, that's hardly bargaining in good faith now, is it?

Here is what Dobson is saying to me and all of the other Republicans:

"Selecting a candidate means compromise. No candidate will ever completely satisfy any one of us. If, by means of caucuses and primaries, we select a candidate that you agree with on some issues and not others, well... you should still vote for them, because that's the compromise we reached. But if you select a candidate of whom I don't approve, well, then fuck you, buddy, you'll just have to go along without any help from me."

The Republicans are not the only party to have ideologues on the tail trying to wag the whole dog (or, in this case, elephant). The Libertarian Party has been completely bereft of any hopes of ever having any kind of real representation in the government because the "big L" libertarians refuse to compromise with any "little L" libertarians who acknowledge that dismantling the entire government might be impractical. And as for the Democrats, they've got the self-styled "Progressives" whipping their party apart in exactly the same way as the neo-conservatives are with the Republicans.

Here is my question for Dr. Dobson: if you are not duty-bound to actively support, in good faith, the candidate chosen by your party, then why should I, as an active member of that same party, bargain in good faith with you to select a candidate at all?

MORE...
Posted by at 11:58 PM in the following Department(s): Tidbits III | Comments (3)
 November 14, 2006
Though imperfect, the system...

...the system yet works.

I wholeheartedly agree with the sentiment that the American system of government is the worst system around, except for all of the other ones out there.

Last week, voters in America turned up at the polls and turned out the majority party from the legislature, just as they did twelve years ago. Some good people who were working hard for their constituents found themselves without a seat when the music stopped playing, as happens every year at election time, but the national trend toward cleaning political house this year was both necessary and, on balance, good for us all.

As I've commented elsewhere, I'm very much a fan of the system of checks and balances built into our government. Last week, some checking and balancing was brought into play. Good for the Democrats. And good for the Republicans. Good for America.

I am under no illusion that the Democrats will prove any more far-sighted, beneficent, or prudent this time around than they did during their last legislative majority. But so what? It seems to me that both of the major parties in America have done their best work when they have had to negotiate the checks and balances posed by a healthy and well-matched adversary -- both within the legislature and in the other branches of government. Their victory reminds the Democrats that they are not the marginalized victims they've been despairing themselves of late to be; and their public spanking at the polls, I hope, will take the arrogant edge off the neo-con tail that has been wagging the Republican elephant these past several years.

On Election Eve this year, the future Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi said, "The American people voted to restore integrity and honesty in Washington, D.C., and the Democrats intend to lead the most honest, most open and most ethical Congress in history."

Good words. I like them. They remind me of what the Bush administration promised to do when they aimed to take the White House. Quoth Dick Cheney in August of 2000: "On the first hour of the first day, we will restore decency and integrity to the Oval Office."

We all know where that led, and we all know that Pelosi has already endorsed a fellow for House Majority Leader who has a cloud hanging over his own reputation for ethics (Rep. Murtha, who has a decades-long trail of dubious ethics when it comes to awarding military contracts. Quoth the Associate Press: "Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, a Democratic-leaning watchdog group, accused Pelosi of compromising her ethical standards by endorsing Murtha.")

So yes, I suspect it's politics as usual. And please do not misunderstand me: I abhor unethical behavior. But if the Democrats fail to live up to their lofty rhetoric on this occasion, as they and the Republicans have done so often in the past, we are at least left with this consolation:

Though imperfect, the system still works. Our nation may not be living up to its best potential, but we're still trying. We're still striving to move forward, to get closer to our ideal. The fact that our nation's checks and balances keep working bodes well for us all.

Posted by at 08:47 PM in the following Department(s): Tidbits III | Comments (0)
 November 01, 2006
My other beef with the trailer...

Thanks to Brian Harriss who posted a count of how often the country went as Ohio went. (See the comments for my entry ...So Goes the Documentary.) As went Ohio, so went the nation all but twice in the twentieth century (and seven times in the 19th century). Yowsa.

See, now *that* is an interesting angle to use as the launching point for a documentary.

My other beef with the trailer for the documentary "...So Goes the Nation" is the fact that the various clips that were presumably taken from the movie show the Republicans as being all about strategy -- what is the best way to campaign so as to win -- while the Democrats were all about getting the right man in office. The impression this creates is not only false, it is unfair to both sides.

I say that the implication is false because in both my observation as an historian (and a former radio station news director) and as a participant in the political process (having attended rallies for both parties, and doorbelled for the party of my choice), *both* parties are *equally* attentive to the strategy of winning and are also equally believers that their own particular slate of candidates and planks (party platforms) are the better choice.

And the implication is unfair because it denies the Republicans any sense that they care about what they are doing (and believe me, they do care) and it makes the Democrats look like naiveniks (which, believe me, they are not).

The Democrats completely dominated both houses of the Congress for most of the modern political era (say, World War II and beyond), this past decade or so notwithstanding. To paint them as naive idealists whose heart is in the right place but, gee whiz, they just can't hold their own against those tough, smart, and heartless Republicans is, itself, a naive position to take. The Democrat Party Machine has been notorious for pulling strings, making and crushing careers, and even stealing a Presidential election.

This is my main beef with the trailer for this movie. It paints a picture of how the two parties approached the Presidential election in 2004 differently where, I believe, the two parties were rather the same. The movie may be more balanced than the trailer. I don't know.

Here's a thought that just occurred to me: Rush Limbaugh, after years of struggling, led a vanguard of conservative radio entertainers (infotainers?) that has continued to dominate the airwaves on the AM dial, despite several attempts by liberals to challenge. Liberals have found an equally compelling outlet in the form of movie documentaries, where conservative documentarians have likewise failed to successfully challenge.

With conservatives holding the older technology, and liberals holding the not-as-old technology, the battle for the moderates is being waged where? Newer technologies like the internet (in the form of blogs and viral videos)? Not-as-new technologies like cable news outlets? Way-old-school technologies like, well, the schools?

As goes hyperreality, so goes the nation.

Posted by at 11:39 PM in the following Department(s): Tidbits III | Comments (3)
 October 16, 2006
...so goes the documentary

Both sides of the aisle in our national political arena have many, many legitimate issues to bring up regarding the conduct on the other side. So, it bothers me when one side finds it necessary to make stuff up about the other.

I happened to see a trailer for a movie called "...So Goes the Nation", which alleges to be a documentary following the campaigns of the two major candidates for President as they were conducted in the state of Ohio in 2004. ("As goes Ohio, so goes the nation," was a quip that was often repeated while votes were being counted in that year's election.)

While the blurb describing the documentary makes it sound like a (presumably balanced) assessment of both sides, the trailer makes it very clear where the movie stands with the bold white-text-on-black-background graphic proclaiming:

"IN THE LAST 42 YEARS, ONLY TWO DEMOCRATS HAVE WON THE PRESIDENTIAL ELECTION."

And then, in bigger type, we see:

"WHY?"

Sounds pretty ominous, doesn't it? Sounds like something's afoot, eh?

Except, the assertion is wrong *and* grossly misleading.

Forty-two years ago was 1964. Here are the Presidents who have won elections during the last 42 years:

Lyndon Johnson (D)
Richard Nixon (R)
Jimmy Carter (D)
Ronald Reagan (R)
George Bush (R)
Bill Clinton (D)
George W. Bush (R)

I count three D's elected, and four R's elected.

So the answer to the movie trailer's ominous pronouncement is, quite simply:

BECAUSE FILMMAKERS CAN'T COUNT

Nothing more ominous than that.

Posted by at 01:00 AM in the following Department(s): Tidbits III | Comments (3)
 October 14, 2006
Quote of the month

I absolutely love this line. Raymund Eich, on the advantage of having an Independent candidate to vote for:

"It's great. I get to throw my vote away without having to waste it on the Libertarian."

I'm laughing just thinking about it.

Posted by at 01:03 AM in the following Department(s): Humor , Tidbits III | Comments (0)
 October 10, 2006
On being a good winner

For decades during the Cold War, the Democrats held dominion over the US federal legislature. They abused their power from time to time, bullied their adversaries from time to time, but the loyal opposition nonetheless had a few tools to help them balance the fight. They used certain little tricks in the bag that historians refer to as the “checks and balances” built into our Constitution (some put there intentionally, some accidentally). They could filibuster here, or pocket veto there (when a Republican held the White House). Famously, when a Republican abused his power in the White House in the early 1970’s, the Democrats themselves used some checks and balances to mitigate the problem.

I love checks and balances. They have helped to make this country great.

The Republicans became expert at using what leverage they could to keep from being overwhelmed by their adversaries. Alas, when the loyal opposition Republicans came to dominate the legislature themselves, their membership likewise abused their power from time to time, and bullied their adversaries from time to time.

And when the Democrats, who were not accustomed to being on the short end of the power balance, grasped clumsily at these checks and balances that the Republicans had used so well over the preceding decades, the Republicans got a little testy and started to dismantle some of those checks and balances. They threatened to take away the filibuster (even at the time, this was referred to as “the nuclear option”, and I agree with that term), they endorsed and ratified into law Presidential powers that had previously been held in check by the Congress.

I suppose that this is a decent strategy if you believe that the system is fundamentally flawed, and/or that your side is unfailingly right (so that checks and balances are no long beneficial to the system), and/or that you believe you will hold onto control of both the White House and the Congress for the foreseeable future.

I maintained at the time these events were taking place (but I’m not sure I published these thoughts to my public blog) that this was not a well-advised strategy. I felt that passing into law a bill that allowed the President to forgo the modicum of Congressional oversight that was previously required for wiretaps, and threatening to eliminate the filibuster as a tool, and similar such measures were wrong on four grounds.

First, these actions were unbecoming. The Republicans had earned control of the Congress and of the White House, and to try to further strip the Democrats of any modicum of influence in the government was unnecessary, undesirable, and untoward. We (for I count myself as a Republican) earned our seat at the head of the table, so let’s act like we belong there. Let’s act like grown-ups.

Second, these actions were aimed at dismantling a system of checks and balances that had served our country well for over two centuries. Our political system can always use some improvement, but this is the one feature that has done more good for the system than any other. Tinker with the checks and balances as need be, but be very careful with wholesale changes.

Third, these actions reflected the sheer height of arrogance. They assumed unerring and infallible leadership on the part of the party in power, and ignored the value of the loyal opposition to the shaping of national policy. I’m aware of only a few experiments in single-party governance in world history, and those did not turn out well.

Forth, it was the height of folly to assume that the Republican Party would retain control over both the legislature and the administration indefinitely. Here, I think (and I thought, even as these events were transpiring), is (was) the biggest flaw in Republican thinking: even if you trust your Republican President to never err in his role as Commander-in-Chief (a trust that I did not share, my party affiliation notwithstanding), what happens when the Democrats take over the White House? As, inevitably, they must. Even if you view the filibuster as an annoying impediment to the victorious majority of Congress asserting its will, what happens when the Democrats once again assume leadership of the legislature? As, again, they inevitably must.

Leadership involves taking responsibility, taking charge, and moving forward. Only the pettiest among the custodians of power would squander their advantage by spending their efforts on holding down others rather than moving themselves and the nation forward as a whole.

While I was disappointed to see my party behave so poorly on a national level, I figured that the books might not be balanced for many years to come. I worried (and still worry) about whether the Democrats would/will behave with equal obnoxiousness when they resume power in either the executive or legislative branches. But I nonetheless have always felt that the Democrats coming back to power is inevitable. The evidence now suggests that this may happen sooner, rather than later, in the Congress.

It is unfortunate, both for the Republican party and for the nation as a whole, that the current leadership wasn’t a better group of winners.

All is not lost, however. The pendulum continues to swing, and it is foolish to think that if it swings one way today that it will not swing the other way again tomorrow. It is my hope that the Republicans will be better winners next time around. (Who knows? If we are very, very lucky, perhaps the Democrats will be better winners the next time *they* sit at the head of the table, be that this year or down the road.)

Posted by at 10:46 PM in the following Department(s): Tidbits III | Comments (3)
 July 04, 2006
Here's some good writing...

Here is an excerpt from a document written on July 2nd, 1776 by Thomas Jefferson and then slightly revised and endorsed by a collection of radical Americans at a clandestine meeting two days later. Mr. Jefferson was far from a perfect man or even a perfect leader, but the guy sure knew how to write:

We hold these Truths to be self-evident, that all Men are created equal, that they are endowed, by their Creator, with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness.

That to secure these Rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just Powers from the Consent of the Governed, that whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these Ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its Foundation on such Principles, and organizing its Powers in such Form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness.

Prudence indeed, will dictate, that Governments long established, should not be changed for light and transient Causes; and accordingly all Experience hath shewn, that Mankind are more disposed to suffer, while Evils are sufferable, than to right themselves by abolishing the Forms to which they are accustomed. But when a long Train of Abuses and Usurpations, pursuing invariably the same Object, evinces a Design to reduce them under absolute Despotism, it is their Right, it is their Duty, to throw off such Government, and to provide new Guards for their future Security.

Still resonates, does it not?

Posted by at 12:01 AM in the following Department(s): Tidbits III , Writing | Comments (0)
 May 27, 2006
Oh, *Those* Civil Rights...


So, this dude in the US House of Representatives (allegedly) has been caught taking money in exchange for political favors -- that's a crime, by the way -- and the FBI gathered evidence not only from his homes in his district and in Washington DC, but also from his office in the Capitol.

Because taking records from the Representative's office could be construed as interfering with his work as a legislator -- a no-no according to the Constitution -- members of the House on both sides of the party dividing line are now in an uproar over the Executive Branch's apparent disregard of the Constitution.

Speaking as a private citizen who is trying to figure out what the hell happened to his political party, let alone the government:

Where were you short-bussers while the writ of habeas corpus was being shredded in Guantanamo? What were you NFL-referees-in-training thinking when you decided to give the administration a pass on the domestic spying program, rather than censuring those involved for not following protocols that were already in place for just such situations? And what the intercourse did you think the Patriot Act was all about?

"Oh, you mean *those* civil rights!"

It's a little late to be whining about separation of powers, don't you think? Give me back my Constitutional government, you hypocrisy mollycoddlers.

Posted by at 01:18 AM in the following Department(s): Tidbits III | Comments (0)
 March 18, 2006
Problematic Victories

When it comes to politics, at least, there is an odd sense of "win at all costs" that seems to be coming from the White House these days. A recent instance that leaps to mind (but merely one from a wide variety of available examples): the issue with wiretapping conversations between persons in the US and persons overseas who may have ties to terrorist organizations. The White House had the ability to execute such a program as long as it received the blessing of a secret court managed by the judicial branch of the government. Instead, the White House allegedly chose to circumvent this check / balance, and initiated the wiretapping without seeking this consent.

When confronted about this, the White House and/or its supporters appear to have put pressure on Republican members of Congress to pass a new law that codifies this new behavior as legal -- effectively short circuiting any possibility that the White House acted illegally.

Now, this is a rather over-simplified summation of events, and the story is far from over. However, this kind of scenario keeps playing itself out, and it poses a question that I find problematic:

Do these Republicans not realize that the checks and balances that they remove today because they are inconvenient will continue to be absent tomorrow when the Democrats eventually take back the White House and/or the legislature?

Not too long ago, when the Republicans were concerned that the Democrats might successfully filibuster the President's nominee(s) to the Supreme Court, some members of the ruling party suggested that they might exercise "the nuclear option" of removing the ability to filibuster. Did they not realize that, had they done so, the filibuster would no longer be available to *them* when it is once again the Republicans' turn to serve as the loyal opposition?

If one wants to enjoy the maximum benefit of winning the game for the longest amount of time possible, one must occasionally allow for strategic losses. It would be better to fight a filibuster today than to lose that potential tool forever in the future -- a tool that the Republicans have used quite effectively when they have been the minority party in Congress.

The Republicans may well continue to hold majority power in both houses of the legislature for another two to four decades. They may also lose it later this year. As long as the US remains a democracy, the Republicans can rest assured that someday they will be unseated in the White House, someday they will lose the majority in Congress, and someday they will not hold as much sway in the Supreme Court as they currently enjoy. In order to enjoy their current position of power, they are well advised to employ all political tools at their disposal to accomplish their goals -- but not at the expense of dismantling the checks and balances that keep our democracy robust.

Sure, those pesky checks and balances may seem inconvenient when you want to push through your legislative agenda, but you'll miss them later when you need them. If the Republicans felt the Democrats were ruthless during their forty years of political dominance in the latter half of the twentieth century, how much less ruth will the Democrats show during their next period of dominance, unfettered by those same checks and balances that the Republicans currently seem to be dismantling?

Posted by at 01:01 AM in the following Department(s): Tidbits III | Comments (1)
 November 08, 2005
Have the Terrorists Won?

In the summer of 1988, I studied Russian language and linguistics as part of a study abroad program at the Institut Stal y Splava in Moscow. I don't think any of us -- neither the visiting Americans nor the resident Soviet students at our dormitory -- would have predicted at the time that the Berlin Wall would fall a mere two years later, but Perestroika was in full swing and change was in the air. It was an unprecedented opportunity for Western students to glimpse at life behind the Iron Curtain... shortly before that curtain fell away.

I learned a great deal during my three months in Soviet Russia, but one of the most amazing things was to observe how passively the Soviet citizenry accepted state intrusion into their lives. The Soviet students I dormed with, for example, needed passports to travel within their own country. Imagine that!

As a child, I had grown up along the border between the US and Canada; I had frequently split my summers and weekends between Fort Erie, Ontario and Erie County, New York. My family would cross the Peace Bridge that straddled the border with almost as little fanfare as crossing the Grand Island Bridge nearby. Some spare change to pay for tolls, and a Hi, Howdy-Do to the customs agents on whichever side we were entering. We did not bring passports. Our car was our passport.

"Citizenship?"

"U.S."

"Cleared to go."

I don't want to get to far down the road of romanticizing the past. But by 1988, I'd flown all up and down the East Coast, I'd driven interstate, and I'd bussed interstate, and I'd driven and bussed internationally. If I was driving, I needed my driver's license. I'm pretty sure I didn't need it for the bus. Or the plane. Perhaps I'm misremembering that.

But to fly to Europe, I needed a passport, and to enter Russia, I needed eleven passport photos for the various visas and such that the Soviet Union required of me. This was all understandable -- I was, after all, to be a foreigner abroad, and that's what passports and visas were all about.

But the very idea that one needed a passport to travel *within one's own country* was as foreign to me as, well, as any other consequence of living in a police state. The Soviet Union had a constitution that purported to establish a democratic government, but just try peaceably assembling in Red Square to petition your government for grievances.

From what I observed during those three months, life in the Soviet Union was obviously hard. Crime was low -- one of the benefits of a police state, I suppose -- but morale was lower. The people were genuinely warm and friendly, and very curious about foreigners. They also carried a burden of weary, wary fear. "If I had met you six months ago," a Soviet student named Max once said to me (in Russian), "we wouldn't be talking now. There'd be two men in grey coats following you everywhere you went. It wouldn't do for me to be seen talking with you."

With the advent of September 11, crossing the border between the US and Canada is no longer as casual as it once was. Okay, I understand that. But the federal government is now saying that my state's drivers' licenses (along with ten other states) are not "secure enough", and that the federales won't allow me to take a commercial flight using my drivers license as my ID. By this time next year, it's a near certainty that I'll have to use a passport to fly anywhere within the United States.

Hellooo? Mcfly?!

This is but one little development that nags at the back of my mind. One clue in an orgy of evidence that we are sliding toward more of a police state than I would ever have thought possible within the US.

But while we're more of a police state than would have been imaginable seventeen years ago, are we likely to take this trip to its logical conclusion? Are the liberties we have sacrificed irrevocably lost? As the saying goes: have the terrorists won?

I don't think so. Certainly, we have lost a great deal of our liberties -- liberties we have, as a society, handed over just a little bit more eagerly, in exchange for some phantom sense of security, than I think wise. But this isn't the first time the US citizenry has headed down this road -- starting with the Alien & Sedition Acts during the administration of our second president, John Adams, and seen as recently as the Nixon administration's attempts at making it easier for federal law enforcement to share information with each other.

Those attempts were ultimately repealed, and the current Patriot Act is likely to suffer the same fate. Eventually.

More to the point, however, I see reminders every day that our society has not been *completely* cowed by the threats against our liberty from within and without: every day, I drive by groups protesting the war (or whatever it is) in Iraq. And people protesting the protesters. Every day, I read major newspapers opining against or in favor of various policies and actions by the current administration. Every day, television news shows us both attacks upon and support for our troops and our politicians and our way of life.

Friends of mine who support the current administration view the protesters and the "liberal media" as undermining our society. Friends of mine on the other side of the political spectrum view supporters of the current administration and the "vast right wing conspiracy" in the media as likewise undermining our society.

I disagree on both counts.

The very fact that protesters protest and supporters support and occasionally members from opposing camps swap sides is all to the good. It's annoying, certainly, to see your own position assailed by others. It's annoying to watch the tide ebb, even when you know intellectually that it will once again flow. But as long as the voice of dissent can be heard -- is *allowed* to be heard -- we're doing a far cry better than any system our enemies would seek to impose.

As I drive down the road and find a group protesting their cause of choice, whether I share their views or not, I am glad we still have loyal opposition. As long as those voices can be heard, the terrorists have not won.

Posted by at 01:47 AM in the following Department(s): Tidbits III | Comments (3)
 October 03, 2005
Why are we even "debating" this?

[Please excuse the massive repetition I'm about to employ, but I have a point I'm trying to make...]

So, there was this dude named Galileo Galilei. Being influenced by his mathematician father, Galileo took measurements and systematic observations and used them to develop and support (or refute) theories of natural observed phenomena. He is thus considered by many to be the (or, at least, "a") father of the modern scientific method. He was also, in his day, prosecuted by the Catholic church because his observations and evidence challenged the beliefs held by some highly-placed members of the Inquisition.

Here's the thing about science: it is all about the understanding of the causal relationships between and among natural phenomena.

For example, if I lob an object into the air, it traces the shape of an arc known as a parabola. It decelerates as it heads upward, and accelerates downward, by an order of "squares". This is observable. Testable. Reproducible. Predictable. And it has very practical implications in the real world. It has implications for the basketball player attempting a jump shot. It has implications for our troops in the heat of battle preparing to launch mortar shells. Etc., etc.

The same kind of practical implications hold true for any number of scientific principles, and this includes the principle of evolution. While this principle is often referred to as the "theory of evolution", it has long since moved from theory to accepted scientific fact. Charles Darwin observed the principles of evolution in his landmark book, The Origin of Species By Means of Natural Selection. The concept of natural selection is observable, testable, reproducible, predictable. It informs not only the scientific fields of biology and medicine, but also zoology and botany and all of the other life sciences.

However, evolutionary biology as a scientifically observed and tested natural phenomenon poses some challenges to some beliefs of some currently accepted religious paradigms. Evolutionary biology has implications for the origin of mankind, for example, that may seem to challenge certain interpretations of the Christian (not to mention Jewish and Muslim and Hindu and Buddhist) creation stories.

As I mentioned above, however, science is all about the understanding of the causal relationships between and among natural phenomena. Religion is about the understanding of the supernatural. There is no conflict here. Science has nothing to say about the supernatural. If it's supernatural, it's outside the rules of science, eh wot? QED.

There are some people, however, who are so offended by the potential implications of scientific principles that they want to curtail how science is taught. Like the Inquisition's earlier edict to Galileo that he label his findings as "hypothesis" devoid of any "real" implications, so some in the religious community want science textbooks to label the principle of evolution "just a theory, and open to debate". Or, like the Inquisition later determined with regard to Galileo, want to ban the teaching of certain scientific principles altogether.

But now there's another kind of attack. Some want the teaching of science to include the teaching of a philosophical, neo-theological concept called "Intelligent design". There is nothing in the concept of Intelligent Design that is observable, testable, reproducible, or predictable -- ie, it is not scientific. It is an assertion about the supernatural.

[Intelligent design, if I understand correctly, is summed up by the idea that if you were walking along in a forest and stumbled upon a gold watch, you would not assume that the watch grew there with the trees and the mosquitos. Rather, you'd assume it was designed by some deliberate creator. We are to think likewise of mankind amidst the barrenness of space.]

What is so galling here is not the philosophical precept of an intelligent designer, so much as the notion that it should be taught within a science curriculum. It is the height of ignorant arrogance to insist that supernatural what-ifs be taught as a scientific theory that has any kind of legitimate standing against a truly scientific vetted principle such as evolutionary biology.

Teach intelligent design as theology, if you must teach it at all, or even philosophy (if you want to insist that this isn't about the Christian story of the origin of man). In fact, let's debate it there, as I'm certain there's much to debate even on those grounds. But don't insert this into the science classroom. It doesn't belong there.

Why doesn't it belong there? What could be so harmful about teaching it there?

First, intelligent design requires us to disregard so much that we have already demonstrated to be true about the life sciences, paleontology, geology, cosmology, astronomy, and physics. It is, in essence, anti-science. Without evidence, it nonetheless refutes that for which we do have evidence.

Second, it is not a valid scientific precept in any conceivable fashion. How do you measure it? Test it? Observe it? Reproduce it? Predict it?

Third, it pits legitimate science against religion and philosophy, where no such conflict should exist. Science is about the natural, religion is about the supernatural, and philosophy is about ideas. The only place these disciplines intersect is in the realm of ethics and morality (where what can be done must be weighed against what ought to be done and what is right to do).

Fourth, we do our children and ourselves a great disservice by muddling the distinctions between the natural and the supernatural. Yes, I want the doctor who treats me to "do the right thing", but I also want the doctor who treats me to do the thing right.

Posted by at 12:35 AM in the following Department(s): Tidbits III | Comments (0)
 September 18, 2005
Name calling, Context, and Disagreement

So, my wife and I bought the TV show "24 - Season Two" on DVD and spent a couple of weeks watching an episode or three each evening after the kids were put to bed. Having now seen the first two seasons this way, I must heartily recommend "24". Wonderful fun, with an emphasis on plot reversals:

In a "reversal", the plot or action suddenly veers off in another direction from what was expected. The reversal can be good *or* bad. It doesn't always have to be bad. A really good reversal changes the goals/questions for the characters involved.

If you are a writer or an aspiring writer, you could do worse than to take in how 24 approaches plot reversals (regardless of how you evaluate the plot holes).

As a friend of mine commented recently, watching a couple of seasons of 24 back-to-back can give one an acute attack of paranoia. These episodes are all about conspiracies within conspiracies, and they can make you a bit jumpy.

Inspired by the gleeful paranoia-euphoria of being fresh off of season two of "24", and thinking of a couple of very dear friends of mine who live their lives in such a state, I pounded out my little tidbit, "Choose Your Own Conspiracy". It was a lark, intending to mock how quickly and irrationally we can sometimes resort to blaming conspiracies when simpler, more credible forces are more likely at work.

One such friend (ie, one of my friends who sees conspiracies within conspiracies as being rather pervasive) posted a response chiding me for being naive. I'm going to repeat her comment here because it deserves some elucidation:

Much like a child who is completely unaware that he is, in fact, the reason why his parents got divorced, you are happily clueless.

You are blissfully unaware of what is going on around you and your own culpability therein.

You won't even acknowledge a conspiracy that was so clearly pointed at you!

It is arguably amusing, but very, very costly.

Now, this sounded to a couple of other faithful readers like an "insane" slam from "the angry left". At first blush, it certainly seems nasty.

It was none of these.

Like many shouting matches that pretend to be reasoned debate on the talking head news shows, the conversation here is falling apart due to lack of context. Let's back up a little bit and provide that context.

Jehan and I used to work together for a well known national brand that she occasionally refers to as "thatplace.com". She and I have spoken often and at great length about the different kinds of conspiracies that may or may not be plausible in the realms of politics, racial profiling, and the day-to-day grind on the job.

I've never been public about my reasons for leaving thatplace.com except in the vaguest of terms -- and I intend to keep it that way -- but it is not perhaps much of a secret that before I left, my successful team was reorganized out of existence, much to the dismay of my team and myself.

Jehan was a member of that team, and remains one of the most talented devs I've ever had the pleasure to work with. Like most of my former team (and myself), she eventually left thatplace for much the same reasons that the rest of us did. She and other members of my former team showed an amazing amount of loyalty to me and to each other, for which I will always be profoundly grateful.

Jehan's and my on-going conversation has included reflections upon things that happened to me during my last few months at thatplace. It has always seemed to me that those things were obviously part of the larger reorg (and aftermath) that engulfed our entire division of the company. There were, it seemed to me, sound business decisions behind the reorg, however much I may not have agreed with them.

My friend and former co-worker believes otherwise. She believes that the events that unfolded were designed not for business reasons, but for personal and political reasons. To be blunt, she believes that I and my team were not collateral damage, but deliberate targets.

Our (hers and mine) long-running conversation on the subject gets further complicated by two things: my position is reasonable and requires no evidence, whereas her position is less reasonable, requires evidence, and yet she nonetheless has enough evidence to make a compelling case.

Now, re-read her comment above. See how context changes everything? She's not raving about vast right-wing conspiracies (which is what I believe some readers have come to think). She is mocking me for mocking conspiracy theorists. Here, I was mocking those who would be so paranoid that they would see a conspiracy in the destruction following a hurricane. She counters that I would be so blind as to deny an obvious conspiracy that targeted me directly and personally... insofar as she believes this is exactly the case.

Did this clear anything up? I hope so. Now, let's get down to business.

One of my faithful readers is another friend whom I met in a completely different context, named Allen. Since very, very few readers of my blog could know the circumstances to which Jehan is alluding, it is only reasonable that her remarks should be misinterpreted by many of my readers. But Allen went so far as to label her response as being from "the angry left".

Allen, you're a good man and I love you like a brother. (You know, the brother who moved away to Canada like some commie-symp blue-stater, so we don't talk about him so much at the dinner table; that kind of brother.) But just as the "angry left" was being ridiculous to keep crying about some phantom "vast right-wing conspiracy", so too is it ridiculous to cry about some phantom "angry left".

Not all who oppose us are necessarily part of a unified enemy. Sometimes, we are opposed by our dearest allies. Not all who disagree with us oppose us. Intelligent people will disagree about the best way to accomplish common goals.

It's true that Jehan's remarks did read a little harsh, and I appreciate your standing up to defend me. But, well, your remarks were a little harsh, too.

Can't we all just get along?

Posted by at 02:35 AM in the following Department(s): Essays , Tidbits , Tidbits III | Comments (4)
 September 07, 2005
Choose Your Own Conspiracy

People! Aren't you paying attention?!

Hurricane Katrina is part of the conspiracy! After all that hullabaloo about Karl Rove, and then that mother who was protesting outside of the President's ranch, he needed a diversion. So they created Katrina! If the hurricane bumped off a few poor people along the Gulf Coast, it's just a political win-win, no? (Never mind that it was those very people in the so-called red states that got him elected in the first place.)

C'mon, people! My friend E--- says that if you want to know who's behind events, you just have to look at who benefited the most. Well? Who benefited from Katrina? Rich white people who could afford to leave, that's who. And what is President Bush? A rich white guy. You know who else benefited? Construction workers who want some job security for the foreseeable future.

Those wily construction workers.

But the most obvious beneficiary was the President himself. Because, hey, it looked like that mother of that soldier who died in that war who was protesting outside the President's ranch had him on the ropes, didn't it? But who's talking about her now, huh? NOBODY. And why is that? Katrina, that's why.

He'd have gotten away with it, too, if he hadn't had such a flaming IDIOT for a director of FEMA.

So, yeah, it's pretty clear that if GWB didn't start the hurricane, he at least allowed Karl Rove to make sure it happened.

Oh, "But wait!" I hear you protest. "The President is getting bad press for the hurricane!" Well, duh. THAT'S WHY HE HAD JUSTICE REHNQUIST KILLED! Deflects all the attention away from New Orleans and puts the attention right back smack dab in the middle of Roe v. Wade, which is where it belongs. It's so obvious! Look at who benefits!

"There's nothing to see here," says Karl Rove, trying to block your view of Katrina. "Maybe you should be looking over at Roe v. Wade over there." Bang! Rehnquist dies. Oh, sure. He died of "natural" causes. Like there's anything "natural" about death. It's all about pro-life, baby!

It's a win-win-win-win. No more angry mother protesting, no more poor people, no more binge drinking (Mardi Gras anyone?) to tempt the straight-and-narrow el Presidente, and no more abortion. It's effing BRILLIANT!

Whoever it is that pulls the strings for this administration, I salute you.

MORE...
Posted by at 01:20 AM in the following Department(s): Tidbits III | Comments (5)
 October 31, 2004
The Bad Republican

So, I've made every effort to speak rationally on the subjects I find interesting, even to the extent that I may either bore you to tears or offend you by not being as outspoken as perhaps I could be. Pulling punches, I think it's called.

In an effort to help make sure that my political missives are not disregarded out of hand, I tend to address the issues and avoid the labels. I have tended not to be vocal on this site about the fact that I have actually been quite active in my political party of choice. I don't want you to filter my arguments by assuming that because I am a member of party X, that means you automatically know my arguments in favor or against Y. It's not a question of being ashamed or squeamish; but rather, a question of avoiding labels and getting straight to the *issues* at hand.

But in order to comment on this year's election, I can not come even close to conveying the depth of my feelings without mentioning that for the past several years, I have been an active member of the Republican party. I first became a "Precinct Committee Officer" of the King County Republican Party five or six years ago, and even ended up becoming a Regional and later an Area Chair.

A quick explanation of what that all means: we all live in legislative districts, which are broken down into small voting precincts. In a typical suburban area, a precinct is maybe a few square blocks, and consists of roughly 200 to 400 voters. The precincts are drawn by the state legislatures. Most political parties are organized similarly: there's the county committees, the legislative district committees, and then those districts will have a few "area chairs", who in turn have a few "regional chairs", which in turn handle a few precincts each. Each precinct itself has one PCO -- precinct committee officer.

The job of a PCO is to help mobilize his or her neighbors to vote for his or her party's candidates and/or causes. The PCOs are often involved in fund raising, as well, but their primary task is to help get the word out. They doorbell, hand out literature, and maybe post signs or ask neighbors to post signs. Not glamorous, but that's the basic job of the local political party: to get out the word.

PCOs also vote on party business, including setting guidelines for the party platform and running caucuses (at least, in some states, including mine) where candidates are considered and possibly endorsed.

And so there is both a bottom up process (the locals discuss party platform ideas and candidates, which get forwarded to the legislative district level, and from there to the county, and from there to the state, and from there to the national level) and a top-down process (the agreed upon candidates and issues have fliers and talking points that get passed along to the states, counties, districts, and on to the PCOs to distribute). State-wide, leg. district-wide, and local candidates and issues work the same way, going up to and back down from the appropriate level of the organization.

Robert A. Heinlein wrote a brilliant (if perhaps a little bit dated, at this point) political primer called Take Back Your Government in which he makes a very compelling argument that 1) local politics matters, and 2) you should participate in, and vote for, the party, not the person, when it comes time for the general election.

I'd never heard a compelling argument for voting for the party as opposed to the person until I'd read this book. Heinlein's point is simple: your party's choice of candidates represents a compromise. You and your fellow local party members agree on many things, but not everything, and it's your points of agreement that form the foundation of choosing one candidate over another. This means that you will occasionally choose candidates with whom you agree less than other candidates, but that's the nature of the game. Once you get to the general election, you are in a very real sense obligated to vote for your party's candidate, if only because he or she represents the best compromise that you and your like-minded fellows could arrive at -- even if he or she wasn't *your* first choice. To not follow through and vote for your candidate is to reneg on your agreement with your fellow party members. It weakens your party, and the very structure of the political system within which you are working.

Of course, each major party has its mobilized ideologues and its less impassioned (and more moderate) majority. The majority of Americans tend to be moderate, with their few "hotbuttons" ultimately determining which party they will tend to favor. If you are particularly concerned with abortion rights or the right to life, or the death penalty, or the right to bear arms, or whatever have you, it's pretty obvious which party you'll end up falling in line with, even if that party does not tend to share your views on other issues where you are more moderate.

There are a number of reasons that I have thrown my lot in with the Republican party. Most have to do with personal, and therefore anecdotal, history. Hardly a sound foundation for choosing a party, especially when one prides oneself on choosing *causes* for more logical reasons. But ultimately, the cause that I find most dear is what ties me closest to the party. That cause is: foreign policy.

When it comes to social policy, both of the major parties in the US are hell-bent on dismantling the Bill of Rights. They simply disagree on which of the first ten amendments they want to abolish and which sectors of the population should be denied them. This is a topic for another essay... for the time being, take my word for it that I find both parties to be generally hypocritical with their views toward the Bill of Rights and the subsequently "implied" rights (like the right to privacy) that have been inferred by our Supreme Court.

Luckily for all of us, the system of checks and balances built into our Constitution has managed to protect each side from the desired proscriptions of the other.

But while neither party is perfect, I've tended to side with the Republicans on certain *practical* local-level issues (restricting taxation, fiscal conservatism, private property rights, small business rights). One quick local example: the Dems in Washington State recently pushed for legislation requiring car seats for children up to eight years old, even though there is no evidence that child safety seats have any statistically significant benefits for children over the age of four, and even though this imposes a harsh burden on "soccer moms" who would otherwise choose to car-pool their children and friends to various activities. The legislation was proposed by a single woman who has never had kids to solve a problem that doesn't exist. It's an example of governmenting for government's sake. On the local level, Republicans tend to refrain from this kind of government interference.

The key here, of course, is the phrase *tend to*, and I would never claim that the Republicans are averse to government intervention when their own causes are involved.

But that said, there is a larger national issue that also draws me into the Replubican party, and that is the matter of foreign affairs. This has been an area of passion for me; so much so that I endured grad school to get a Masters degree in Political Science from an Ivy League school (my concentration being in International Relations) after having majored in Russian and Soviet Studies (as well as History) during my undergrad years at another Ivy. Can you imagine how excruciating that all was? I did it because, for whatever reason, the subject is important to me.

American foreign policy is extremely important both to our nation and to the world. Our national security, let alone the balance of global power (both politically and economically) hang in the balance. Global telecommunications, the freedom to travel, negotiating "commons problems" like managing pollution and fishing rights and shipping lanes and human rights policies and so on, not to mention the very existence (let alone the conduct) of armed conflict among nations all hinge upon the competent execution of a sound foreign policy.

And when all your chips are on the table in this nuclear age, I have found that the best bet when it comes to foreign policy is to side with -- you guessed it -- the Republicans. This, too, is a subject I could write *volumes* about, but I don't want to get to far away from the point of this essay. Let me suffice it to say that when it comes to foreign policy, I'll take a Reagan or a Nixon administration over a Carter or a Johnson administration any day. Even Bush the Elder's administration stands head and shoulders above eight years under Clinton. I'll be happy to defend these statements on another occasion, if you desire an explanation.

Which takes us to the year 2000, and the opportunity for Republicans to choose a contender for the Oval office following Clinton's mandatory retirement. During the primary and caucus season of that year, I favored Senator John McCain for the job. I had seen him speak in person here in Seattle, and he struck me as an intelligent man who is truly dedicated to his country (rather than just looking out for himself) and who had the two necessary ingredients for anyone to manage foreign policy well: he was well informed, and capable of being decisive. These are necessary ingredients.

Let me repeat that. The two necessary ingredients for a successful foreign policy are being well informed (I'm talking knowledge of issues and "how things work", rather than simply knowing the names of nations' capital cities) and being decisive.

In 2000 on the Democrats side, Gore clearly was adequately informed but, alas, it seemed to me, unable to be decisive. Bradley struck me as being able to get informed and to be decisive, as need be, and I was hoping the Democrats would choose him.

But on the Republican side, McCain simply exuded the whole package. He knew what was going on with the world; knew it cold. And the guy was not afraid to make a decision. Let's be frank here. If 9/11 had happened on his watch (an extremely big if: unlike the current administration, I don't think a McCain administration would have ignored an intelligence brief entitled "Osama Bin Laden Plans to Use Airplanes in a Terrorist Attack") -- *IF* 9/11 had happened under McCain's watch, you can be damned certain that Osama Bin Laden and his entire network would have been found, thoroughly interrogated, and extremely killed by now. We would have had no foreign adventures like the kind we are currently undergoing in Iraq. Is there anyone in the world who could seriously believe that a McCain presidency would have led us into Iraq without sufficient evidence that it was necessary?

Then there was McCain's opponent, the honorable governor from Texas. Like most (but not all) previous Presidents who had previously served as a state governor, Bush lacked any coherent understanding of world affairs. I also found him to be lacking when it came to decisiveness -- his governorship of Texas was generally mediocre, and he didn't really seem to stand for much other than defending the Republican party platform (in and of itself not necessarily a bad thing, but certainly not *enough*). He didn't seem terribly ambitious; but, rather, he seemed like a good talker who could tow the line as need be. In that, he didn't strike me as good leadership material.

The caucus, unlike the primary, is not a closed vote. I ran my caucus true to the spirit of party participation, and I was honest with my vote even though it was obvious that the higher-ups in my district favored Bush. I voted for McCain, and quite possibly hurt my position in the district party organization as a result. Bush won our state handily, and he won the nomination eventually, and the rest, as Henry Ford would say, is bunk.

Taking Heinlein at his word, I supported my Republican candidates regardless of whether they were my choices during the primary/caucus season. This includes Bush's campaign.

Four years later. I remain convinced that Bush is not the right man for the job when it comes to my top issue, which is foreign policy. Here is a list of the principal issues I've noticed on his watch:

1) He announced the unilateral breaking of the ABM treaty with Russia, and has ignored Russia in pretty much every major foreign policy issue since. This has had the simultaneous result of alienating one of our principal negotiating partners in foreign affairs, while also announcing to the world that the US will not honor its treaty obligations.

2) He presided over the disintegration of our agreements with North Korea -- a process that was very preventable -- which has led to North Korea being well on the path toward acquiring / developing both nuclear weapons and the delivery systems necessary to threaten the United States.

3) In the wake of 9/11, he pursued the dismantling of Afghanistan's Taliban regime... this is clearly a desirable and necessary accomplishment. He developed an uneasy alliance with Pakistan -- also a positive accomplishment. But he has since disregarded Osama Bin Laden as a continued threat (he actually said as much) after a substantial chunk of Bin Laden's al Queda network was effectively dispersed. Osama Bin Laden is still out there, and his ability to reorganize his terrorist organization remains in tact. What the hell?

4) He precipitated the invasion and the current occupation of Iraq. One could argue whether this was a worthy or a necessary pursuit, although I found it nominally worthy and generally not necessary. Overthrowing Saddam Hussein's regime is arguably a good outcome. But doing so *in the manner we have* has made the world less safe, and we pursued our Iraq campaign with no viable exit strategy. The President has stretched our armed forces much too thin -- to the point that we could not effectively wage another campaign if one should be necessary, and we are not even effectively waging our current campaign to secure Iraq. We are currently doing more to help terrorist organizations keep the hate going than we are doing to protect our own borders.

Apologists for Bush will point out (correctly) that Clinton had allowed the US military to atrophy. But at what point does the current President take responsibility for the fact that he has done nothing to effectively beef our military back up? He has secured the money necessary to wage our current, poorly-handled campaign in Iraq, but he has not addressed the larger issue of stretching our forces far too thin for the sake of our nation's safety. At some point, you have to stop blaming the previous administration and take charge for your own watch.

5) Closer to home, the Bush administration has managed to alienate Canada in ways too numerous to mention here (although I'll be happy to do so, if you care), and this has proven to be unnecessary and may yet prove to be unwise. Snide remarks about Canada aside, this nation is actually quite an important partner for the US, both geographically, economically, and politically. While we're at it, our relations with Cuba remain stupidly stilted and yet we have inexplicably been bending over backwards to appease China in so many instances where, again, it was neither necessary nor well advised.

The current campaign for the oval office is centering on Iraq. This is a mistake. The next foreign policy crisis will not come from Iraq. It will come from elsewhere. Regardless of the source (my bet is North Korea), our resources to respond to such a crisis will be missing some key ingredients. Our military is stretched too thin, and will remain so for the foreseeable future under the current administration. We do not need to (nor should we) meet every foreign policy crisis with military force. But we are at a severe disadvantage if we don't even have this tool available as a possibility.

Okay, so I believe that the current administration has proven to be inept at foreign policy. There are still other things to consider: what about the administration's domestic policies, and what does the challenger offer instead?

As I mentioned above, I do not agree with either major political party one hundred percent. I do, however, tend to adhere to certain principals that could be considered "Republican": I favor fiscal conservatism (including the preference for a small, balanced federal budget) and reduced government intervention in our daily lives. In both cases, Bush has proven to be a bad Republican.

EVEN BEFORE 9/11, Bush's administration squandered our national budgetary surplus and turned it into a massive deficit. As a percentage of GNP, this administration's budget deficit is already as large as it was under Johnson. Grok that for a minute. While his deficit is not the largest ever run (as a percentage of GNP), it is larger than any administration since Johnson. Not even Carter or Reagan, who were famous in their day for the federal deficit, managed such an amazing feat.

And you can't blame this all on 9/11. The ball had already been set in motion by then.

As for governmental intrusion into our daily lives... well, let's just say that if much of the Patriot Act may be considered necessary or even useful to securing national security, there is also much of it that is needlessly intrusive and destructive to our constitutionally guaranteed protections without providing so much as a shred of increased security.

Beyond what is and isn't useful in securing our safety, the Patriot Act makes it clear that as a *first* resort, and *not* as a last resort, this administration seeks to curtail civil liberties in an effort to pursue its stated goals. That troubles me more than anything else. Even Abraham Lincoln, in the direst of times during the civil war, was reticent to so much as put on hold our constitutional rights. And when he did so, it was with great deliberation and the stated necessity that our civil liberties be fully restored as quickly as possible. The current administration has never expressed any such qualms nor intentions.

(And lest 9/11 be blamed for everything the current administration has done to hinder our personal liberties, don't overlook the fact that EVEN BEFORE 9/11, this administration did more to restrict the right to bear arms than any previous President, Republican or Democrat. This is often overlooked by Republicans, who should be screaming the loudest about it.)

Okay, so George W. Bush does not, in my opinion, have the necessary skills in foreign policy nor does he represent what I consider to be true Republican ideals. What, then, of his challenger?

Would he be competent in foreign policy? I'm inclined to believe that he is more qualified than the previous Democratic candidate, Al Gore, in both knowledge and decisiveness. He not only has adequate knowledge of what's at work on the world scene, but he also has first hand experience regarding the use of military force as an extension of American foreign policy.

Does he have that other necessary quality, decisiveness? Both Kerry's and Bush's political campaigns have had to deal with this issue, and the Bush camp has convinced me that Kerry is unambitious -- albeit, not a flip-flopper. There is a big difference between unambitious and indecisive, just as there is no necessary correlation between hawkish and decisive. Kerry appreciates the subtlety of situations (what his camp called "nuanced"), and takes mitigating factors into account when casting his vote. Nothing sexy about that, but as long as it doesn't paralyze you (the way it did President Carter), nothing wrong with it, either.

From what we've seen of his political career, I'd expect Kerry to have the same kind of decisiveness as a George H. W. Bush: slow to act, generally non-aggressive and unambitious, but resolute when it becomes obvious that American action is necessary. (Note that I was not a fan of George Bush the Elder's foreign policy, but it was a far cry better than, say, Carter's or Clinton's.)

Ah, but what about those other concerns: Republican core values of fiscal conservatism and a less intrusive government. Well, Kerry is not a Republican, so we can't expect him to adhere to those values any moreso than Bush.

Or can we?

Clinton wasn't a Republican, yet he worked with the Republican Congress near the end of his tenure and accomplished what no President (Democrat *or* Republican) had managed in the modern era: a balanced budget. With a Republican Congress to keep him in check -- perhaps in some future essay, I'll go into why this wasn't possible with a Republican Congress during Bush the Younger's administration -- Kerry may well find himself moving back toward a balanced federal budget. And if not, how much worse than the current President could he be?

As for government intrusion into our daily lives, that's a bit harder. Kerry is a Democrat, and his voting record indicates that he's as inclined to have Government As Parent as any. But it's hard to imagine that his intrusions into our daily lives could be anywhere near as sweeping as the current President has already accomplished with the Patriot Act. I'd expect a net gain of personal liberties under Kerry (insofar as I expect the Patriot Act to finally die under a Kerry administration), even though I doubt we'll end up at pre-Patriot Act levels once everything is added up in a Kerry presidency. For that, look to McCain in 2008.

Not much of an endorsement for Bush's challenger, I know. And truth be told, there's a lot not to like about Kerry. What I am left with, ultimately, is that there is even less to like about Bush. So much less that I risk being a Bad Republican myself by crossing the party line for this one office, for this one election.

The stakes, however, are much too high for me to stay silent. The global balance of power, let alone the American Way of Life, are all at risk. A friend of mine has posted on his blog that he is not going to vote for Kerry. Truth be told, I don't want to vote for Kerry.

But I can not, in good conscience, vote for Bush. And while Heinlein made a strong case for voting the party line, he has also offered this advice:

"If you are able to vote, then do so. There may be no candidates or issues you want to vote for... but there will certainly be someone or something to vote against. In case of doubt, vote against. By this rule you will rarely go wrong." -- Robert A. Heinlein

I am active in the Republican party, and therefore have some obligation to stand by my party's nominee. But the Republican candidate for President has acted too much against true Republican values; has in fact blamed the Republican Congress for his own transgressions against those ideals. And he has clearly demonstrated through his mishandling of foreign policy these past four years that he does not share the strengths that his Republican predecessors have possessed. He is a bad Republican. He is a bad President. Both the party and the nation deserve and are capable of doing better.

Posted by at 11:37 PM in the following Department(s): Tidbits III | Comments (2)
 October 17, 2004
Let the Chips fall

There exists today a technology to implant a locator chip into a living body so that, if the subject should become lost, the subject can be located by the use of a special electronic tracker device.

These chips are currently used primarily for pets. In my own neighborhood, someone has posted a "Missing Cat" poster that mentions that the cat has an AVID chip installed. You might think that this is, in and of itself, an advertisement against locator chips because it obviously isn't working in this particular case. But, alas, there are two issues here: one, the cat was chipped in California, whereas the cops in our area don't use that technology, and two, the cat was run over by a car and crushed repeatedly by the continuing stream of traffic. Bad news for the chip. And the cat. And the owners, who weren't aware of the dangers of letting their cat roam the busy streets of crazy downtown Redmond. Etc.

As a science fiction writer and a political philosopher, I've given great thought to the implications of "chipping" people. As soon as I heard this technology was being made available for pets, I figured the next logical step was children (to protect against kidnapping), and then eventually to citizens and visitors of our fine emerging police state. ("Obviously, if you're not doing anything wrong, you have nothing to worry about by getting chipped....")

I was not a parent when I'd first heard about this technology, but now that I am, it takes on a different resonance. Would I sign up to chip my child if the technology had been proven useful in finding kidnapping victims and runaways?

I used to always believe that I'd never do such a thing, but now that I actually have a child of my own... I'm not so sure. The potential benefits (protecting one's child) may seem more immediate and more... personal than the potential long term problems. Things don't always turn out as bad as they could. The fact is that social security cards haven't quite become the Orwellian tool that many folks in the days of FDR had feared.

There's a great deal to be said against chipping children and citizens and foreign nationals, etc. The potential for abuse is HUGE. And yet, it's hard to resist the lure of at least one short-term benefit.

Want to put an end to all the hostage-taking and decapitations in Iraq? Very quietly begin a program of "chipping" any American who travels to Iraq. The chips should not be active all of the time -- that would be begging for trouble -- but have some mechanism whereby a person with a chip can easily activate it in case of emergency. Equip the local Military Police to be able to locate these tracking devices, and then rescue the hostages, capture the terrorists, and bring them to hard, hard justice.

How many of these terrorist cells would you have to capture and dismantle before the wave of kidnappings and decapitations come to an end? I don't think it would take very many. And yes, this solution would do nothing about the suicide bombers, but at least you'd remove one more tool from their bag of tricks, and maybe take a few terrorists out of the game, in the meantime.

Food for thought.

--Allan

Posted by at 03:42 PM in the following Department(s): Tidbits III | Comments (4)
 October 11, 2004
Bumper Sticker Shock

I was reminded of the current federal election -- and the one we had four years ago, and the one four years before that -- when I saw this quote from a bumper sticker from the Nixon/Kennedy presidential campaign, 1960:

"Be Thankful Only One of Them Can Win."

A wry message of optimism dealing with a dubious decision. But then I thought about it, and I realized...

Eventually, *both* of them won. It was a lie! It was all wrong! They *could* both win!

[sigh]

On that downer note, here's a trivia question for you: when's the last time the Republican party fielded a bid for the White House that did *not* feature either a Bush or a Dole on the ticket?

(Remember, ticket = President & Vice President)

Posted by at 11:14 PM in the following Department(s): Tidbits III | Comments (3)
 September 07, 2004
Ripping off a friend's joke

I am shamelessly ripping off a joke from a friend of mine, and re-writing it to suit my own sense of irony. Barry -- please forgive me!

Ripped from Today's Headlines: Florida has been ravaged by two (so far) hurricanes, wreaking havoc with electricity, cable, phone, and other infrastructure utilities. Fortunately, however, the computerized results from the upcoming election have already been backed-up.

Posted by at 09:58 PM in the following Department(s): Humor , Tidbits III | Comments (0)
 August 29, 2004
So which is it?

It annoys me when a political campaign tries to have it both ways. Of course, all political campaigns try to have it both ways, and this is nothing new. But it still annoys me.

Today I'm going to point out one particular annoying aspect of one of the presidential campaigns. There are many other examples to use, from any campaign you choose. But here I go:

When you think of Senator Ted Kennedy, what do you think of? Well, aside from the alcoholism, womanizing, intellectual bankruptcy, Chappaquidic, his many dead brothers and nephews, and the family fortune built upon bootleg liquor and other illegal connections, I mean. When you think of Senator Kennedy, what do you think of his politics?

If you're at all like me, you probably think of him as not merely a liberal, but a staunch liberal. Somewhat of a neo-socialist on certain matters (socialized medicine, various welfare programs, affirmative action, etc.). Staunch in that he holds the line firmly. He is unabashed about his position. You know where he stands, and he stands firmly on the left, and that's that -- non-negotiable.

Now, this may or may not be true, but it is, nonetheless, what many folks (including myself) think of first when they think of the politics of Ted Kennedy.

So, if somebody says that there's someone even more liberal than Kennedy, what would you think of that person? That they are even, er, stauncher? That they lean even further to the left? That their views are even more firm, even less negotiable, perhaps?

That's what I would think.

Now let's suppose that a campaign described a candidate as a flip-flopper. What would you think that means? That they are *not* staunch, perhaps? That they do not consistently lean either to the left or to the right? Rather, that they are sometimes left-leaning and sometimes right-leaning? That their views are hard to pin down, perhaps? In fact, that their views might be open to negotiation?

That's what I would think.

So, then. Let's connect the dots. When the Bush campaign refers to Senator John Kerry as even more liberal than Senator Kennedy and, at the same time, as a flip-flopper... which is it? Is he a neo-socialist? Or is he a moderate? Is he a hard-liner commie symp, or a wishy-washy middle-of-the-roader? Is it possible to be both at the same time?

I remember a poster from one of my grade school classrooms (from when I was a student, not from when I was a teacher) that featured a quote from Garfield. The cartoon cat, not the President.

Garfield said: "If you can't convince 'em, confuse 'em."

Posted by at 12:17 PM in the following Department(s): Tidbits III | Comments (0)
 March 05, 2004
What Janet Revealed

As many of my faithful readers know, I'm not very good at remembering names or dates -- which makes my choice of being a history major in college something of a mystery even to me.

So I can't remember if it was Attorney General Edwin Meese or Senator Jesse Helms, but *someone* up there in the federal government during the 1980's, when unable to actually define what constitutes pornography, uttered the famous words: "I know it when I see it."

The Supreme Court, equally decisive in condemning offensive material and vague in defining exactly what constitutes the same, favored the notion of relying upon "community standards" to determine what is, and what is not, offensive.

The FCC at the time was less vague. I worked in broadcast commercial radio at the time, and we had very clear guidelines on what was acceptable. The "seven dirty words" (as memorialized in George Carlin's comedy routine about an earlier Supreme Court decision banning seven specific words from the public airwaves) were never appropriate. Innuendo was fine any time of day, but any overt sexuality (such as the Dr. Ruth show) was to be saved for after 10pm.

For a couple of years, I ran a two-hour comedy show each week on Sunday nights at 11pm. We set and followed our own guidelines, whereby material we deemed to be risque would be held until after midnight.

Certainly, accidents happened, both at the station as a whole and during my comedy show in particular. These mistakes could take the form of a miscued bleep of one of the aforementioned dirty words, or somebody making an error and swearing while his or her microphone was accidentally left on. One idiot at our station referred to Aretha Franklin as "Urethra Franklin" on air by mistake because he'd gotten into the habit of doing so off the air.

There was a procedure for handling these kinds of situations. We'd log what happened in our daily FCC log, and we'd prepare to face the music if anyone ever complained to the FCC.

As it so happens, no one in Ithaca, New York ever complained about such mistakes, which were not common but not unheard of.

Flash forward fifteen years or so. Half-time acts during the Super Bowl regularly make a spectacle out of themselves by grabbing their crotches and undulating on stage, draping flags around themselves and singing about punching out cops and bonking their fuck-buddies. This has been going on for several years, and I guess the lines have been getting blurry. With an apparent lack of guidelines as to what is and is not appropriate for the public airwaves, the ambiguity of "community standards" when talking about a national audience, and the problem of who knows what when they see what, the lines have gotten so blurred that the notion of offensive material was almost forgotten by those waltzing along the lines.

Then, this year, Janet Jackson flashed a pasty (pastie?) covered boob in a choreographed routine that positively exuded sex with a hint of violence, and someone at the FCC jumped up and said, "That's it! I see it! I knew I'd know it when I saw it! That's offensive!"

I'm not making this up: I actually heard a sound clip of the FCC chariman refer to the Super Bowl halftime show as a "sacred moment", the enjoyment of which was permanently soured when his family was so unexpectedly exposed to this . . . this . . . boob.

So, like, Mr. FCC Man: what freaking planet are you living on? The Super Bowl is a popular sporting event. It is not sacred. Get over it.

And where were you during all the crotch grabbing?

Where were you when Kid Rock danced on the stage wearing an American flag that had been torn in the middle and turned into a poncho?

Where were you during the songs about punching out cops?

And why was any of the sexual suggestivity on the stage any more suggestive than the freaking *cheerleaders* who shake their groove thang in front of the cameras going into every single commercial break? Mr. FCC Guy: how did you explain cheerleaders to your young and impressionable progeny?

Why are you more afraid of a boob than you are of rows and rows of heavy thugs lining up time after time on opposite sides of a pig-skin with the singular purpose of pummeling each other into the ground?

Americans are more afraid of sex than of violence. I acknowledge this fact intellectually, even though I don't understand it. (As a history major, I can give you all kinds of reasons, stemming from our Puritan roots. It's still insane.)

Let me go on record as saying that I prefer sex to violence, and I'd rather see a shapely breast than a boxing match. (And, let me also concede that, having said this, I was watching the Super Bowl nonetheless with the expectation of seeing a football game rather than a peep show.)

Janet and her buddy Justin, though, combined sex with implied violence, which I guess makes it a little worse than even just sex.

So the American public was all atwitter about what happened during the Super Bowl, and the media couldn't stop talking about it for weeks. Nor could the rest of us. Often I'd go out to various meetings, only to have the issue come up. Some folks thought Janet's performance was obscene. Some thought the rest of the halftime show was obscene. Others thought football was obscene. Still others thought there wasn't a problem at all.

Janet revealed more than a little bit of skin that afternoon. She revealed that community standards are not. She revealed that while while all "know it when we see it," we all see it differently.

Obscenity is in the mind of the beholder.

I'm not the first to make this observation. Even in Genesis, Adam and Eve's reaction to nudity was all in their minds. Before they became "enlightened", nudity was no problem. But after eating from the tree of knowledge, boy did they become uptight. Get me a fig leaf, quick!

Okay. So obscenity is all in the mind, and we all have different minds, so we are all offended by different things. Are we all on the same page?

Janet has been forgotten. But the FCC has not. The FCC is on the prowl. It feels it has let the American public down (and, in many ways, it has), and it wants to atone. So it's going after that most dreaded den of obscenity: talk radio.

Congress has not adequately defined obscenity. The Supreme Court has dodged behind community standards. But the FCC sure knows it when they see it. Or hear it. So, they are fining stations that carry talk radio shows that say things that they (the FCC) find offensive. But they (the FCC) have not issued guidelines as to what counts as offensive and what doesn't.

It's an effective strategy. The government won't define it, but it *will* take violators of the unwritten rules to court. And the government *will* fine violators of these unwritten rules. The result? Terror. Radio stations are muzzling their talk show hosts, telling them to lay low for a while while they try to figure out what kind of policies they should follow in order to best avoid getting fined.

As a tactic for keeping broadcasters on their heels, it's brilliant. Of course, it doesn't produce better (or even, necessarily, less offensive) programming. But it *does* produce *nervous* broadcasting.

Long before we bestowed the term "terrorist" upon rogue elements who sought to earn sympathy for their political causes by murdering people (a stretch of logic I still don't quite understand), historians singled out a particular kind of government tactic as rule of terror. Here's how it works:

First, ban some behavior using vague terms.

Next, enforce this ban haphazardly, seemingly on a whim, and make the punishment excessively punitive.

The result? A scared, scared population.

This is exactly the road down which broadcast radio and television are currently heading.

There is a great deal to be said in favor of regulating standards of conduct among public broadcast frequencies. (Private broadcasting mechanisms, such as cable television, is another matter and one for another discussion.)

But what Janet revealed is that those standards need to be specific and well-defined. They must not be left up to the whim of whomever happens to be watching from the FCC that particular day. They must not be left up to the whim of what a given judge in a given court finds offensive on a given day.

This is partially a question of favoring rule of law over rule of terror . . . I, for one, prefer that the United States not slide down that slippery slope that has engulfed so many other democracies which have relied upon rule of terror instead of the rule of law.

But it's also a question of accomplishing your stated goals in the first place. The best way to make sure that standards are adhered to is to publicize exactly what those standards are and enforce them consistently. Don't leave it up to "you'll know it when you see it." The producers at MTV have different standards from the producers of PAX. (And quite frankly, I find both offensive, but for different reasons.)

If *I* set the standards, Beyonce Knowles would have had the center stage for the entire halftime show (she did an amazing rendition of the national anthem at the start of the game, don't you agree?), there would be none of those fireworks or laser light shows or any of that nonsense, and the cheerleaders would have been allowed to perform topless during the game. But only if they wanted to.

--Allan

PS: if you want to read a funny story from the point of view of a cheerleader, check out this story by my friend Joseph Paul Haines.

Posted by at 12:54 AM in the following Department(s): Essays , Tidbits III | Comments (4)
 February 26, 2004
Presidential Procedures

It's gotta be tough to be the President.

No matter where you go, no matter what you do, somebody is going to hate you. Our society has developed a culture that encourages vocal dissent -- and that's not necessarily a bad thing -- which means that no matter where the President is, you will find protesters (protestors?) near at hand, shouting their disapproval of one thing or the other.

It doesn't matter which political party the President claims as his own, and it doesn't matter how decorated or how dubious his record before or while in office. He's going to be protested everywhere he travels, and he's going to be protested right outside his domicile when he stays home.

And so, he must travel in isolation from the people. Secret Service agents must sweep the area long before the President can be allowed to arrive; he must travel in motorcades and private aircraft.

Much the same can be said for so many other elected officials. The more visible the position, the more the office holder must isolate him or herself from the protesters and, at the same time, *all* of their constituents.

I'm reminded of all of this right now because today I've been working in a building across the street from where the President came in to give a talk at a fund-raising lunch. Traffic -- human, car, and air -- had to be rerouted and local businesses saw huge swings (some up, some down) in their activity levels. I wasn't much affected, which is fine by me. But I noticed that even as the Secret Service began to make their presence known in the area last night, so, too, did the protesters this morning.

I'm not sure, since I couldn't read their signs from up here on the fifteenth floor of the office building where I'm working today, but I think the issue for these particular protesters had to do with employment. I'm sure the President traveled to other events today as well, where he may well have been greeting by protesters concerned about marriage rights or world trade or the Middle East.

Anyone who signs up for the job at the Oval Office is taking on the bad with the good, and that's just the way it goes. But these willy-nilly protests are a bother that have the unintended consequence of isolating the leaders from the general population.

What can we do about this?

We should streamline the haphazard means of expressing our discontent. The first and most obvious change that we simply must pursue is institutionalizing and formalizing our petitions for redress.

First: we must initiate impeachment proceedings the day after each new President is sworn into office. Make this a formal, standing arrangement. If the impeachment should fail, the next impeachment process should be initiated two weeks later, thereby allowing all parties to enjoy a brief vacation before work resumes. This should be codified in the Constitution.

Second: encourage the development of a permanent, professional protester corps. Disaffected Americans can register their complaints with the professional protesters, who will picket and shout on behalf of the population following established rules of protesting etiquette. This should help to reduce the impact of Presidential visits upon local businesses and residents, and free up ad hoc protesters to pursue their daily business with minimal discomfort.

And, while I propose these two actions with tongue firmly planted in cheek, don't be surprised when, fifty years from now, what I have proposed has come to pass.

Posted by at 02:00 PM in the following Department(s): Tidbits III | Comments (8)
 December 15, 2003
Lucky Once

I remember hearing the "Lucky Once" concept expressed in reference to the IRA, but the concept theoretically applies to terrorist organizations anywhere. The terrorist has an advantage -- up to a point -- with the idea that the government has to be lucky all the time in order to prevent terrorism, whereas the terrorist only has to be lucky once to be successful. True enough.

But once a terrorist organization is identified *and targetted*, that rule regarding luck gets flipped around. Now the fugitive has to stay lucky all the time, whereas the government forces only have to get lucky once.

The task forces set up by the US and its allies to capture "Iraq's Most Wanted" (remember the playing cards?) and al Queda have been working at it for a while. They expand their intelligence, they capture more members, which expands their intelligence, and the cycle continues. As long as the task forces remain focused on their task, they must, inevitably, succeed.

Saddam Hussein had to stay lucky forever. We only had to get lucky once. And luck always gets better the more you work at it. We've been working at it. Mr. Hussein's luck ran out when the US finally captured the guy who could point to where Hussein was hiding out.

There's all kinds of irony that abounds here. al Queda had to get lucky to bring down the twin towers; in fact, it has been reported that they weren't expecting quite that much luck. But now they and similar terrorist organizations might find themselves done in by their own initial success.* They finally got our attention.

Now that they do, in fact, have our full attention, can they stay lucky forever?

Unless the federal government loses its will, Osama Bin Laden and the remains of the al Queda network will be found. We only need to get lucky once.

* Note that the terrorists have succeeded, on a few occasions, in carrying out terrorist acts. They have not, by and large, succeeded in their supposed political goals. What was the point of striking the twin towers? To crush the US? To encourage us to pull out of the Middle East? To convince us to abandon Israel? This is the problem with the "lucky once" concept. It's not enough to be lucky in your means. The idea is to be lucky in attaining your goals. Terrorism can be a means to expelling an invading army. Sometimes. But as a foreign policy tool, it really isn't a terribly effective means for attaining your goals.

Posted by at 12:51 PM in the following Department(s): Tidbits III | Comments (1)
 July 11, 2003
Give War a Chance

Rodney King, witnessing the riots in LA that were touched off by the "not guilty" verdicts for the police officers who were charged with brutality against him, asked the profound question: "Can't we all just get along?"

It's becoming increasingly obvious to me that the answer is, "No."

I am one of the board members for my home owners' association, and I see how little, itty bitty, minor differences of opinion can lead people to do very hostile things toward each other. What starts off as an honest disagreement over who should be allowed to park where becomes a feud involving threats, intimidation, and "coalition building" of neighbors against neighbors. It's surreal to see. In the once case that is currently on my mind, both parties are generally reasonable folks who just want to live and let live. Until their desires clash, and then it's dog eat dog.

Our home owners association has, oh, about one hundred forty units. Something like that. There's usually one (and only one) feud going on in our neighborhood at any given time (I've been on the board now for roughly four years). The feud always ends the same way: first, one party moves out, and then the other party moves out, too. Then, somebody else gets upset with some other somebody, and another feud is born.

I attended a science fiction writers convention recently, and author Stephen Barnes commented on the reason racism persists in science fiction in particular and throughout America in general. He gave one theory that I found particularly resonant. He speculated that nasty behavior in groups is often the result of ever-so-minor tendencies among individuals that aggregate into something larger. In other words, most people are actually quite tolerant folks. Left to their own devices, most people will behave well in most situations. However, there might be one area where any given person will *tend* to not be as tolerant. One area where there is a distinct "us versus them" feeling.

When you gather a large group of people, these small tendencies toward intolerance will tend to aggregate around some particular issue, cohere, and become more obvious. More pronounced. Quiet disagreement or dislike becomes overt resistance or animosity, which in turn becomes outright hostility and hatred as the group gets larger still.

(Keep in mind, this idea is my extrapolation of one part of what I heard Mr. Barnes say, and may not actually represent his views.)

This is not to say that all large groups must inevitably tend toward violence (although, now that I think about it, a case can be made for just that). But, rather, the idea is that the larger the group, the more likely some manner of intolerance will be expressed.

Mr. Barnes also made another observation, which is even more pertinent. Let us suppose that most people are basically good. Mr. Barnes asked us to consider that, say, nine out of ten people are good, but I'll go further: let's suppose that 99 out of every 100 people are basically good. What does that leave us with? It leaves us with the one out of a hundred who are inherently -- to borrow Mr. Barnes eloquent terminology -- assholes.

So. You have a hundred people. A microcosm of humanity. For the sake of argument, we'll say that 99 are decent folks. One is an asshole. Never mind that the substantial majority of these people will tend to be good, there's still going to be trouble in River City because that one guy is gonna stir up trouble. That one guy is going to cause problems. And he *will*, I assure you, even get some of his basically good neighbors to occasionally do basically bad things.

And this brings us to an item I saw in the news today which is proof positive that we will never, ever, see "world peace." NEVER. This news article I read on cnn.com talks about an online game called "The Sims Online." This game boasts a community of 100,000 players. The object of the game is to pilot your virtual character through simulated cites, acquire simulated jobs and simulated families, and make simulated friends. There are no guns in Simland. But, as the article explains, there are nonetheless malcontents within this simulated land who gang up and harass their simulated neighbors. It's like a Sim Mafia. They target players, raid their accounts, and/or use the rules of the game to bring the target's score down (through the use of "red links").

As the article goes on to describe, the Sim Thugs have done enough damage to enough people that now there's a Sim Vigilante group (they call themselves the "Sim Shadow Government" -- think of it!) that boasts around a thousand members. Even the nice, friendly environment like Sims Online has it's own Sim Department of Homeland Security, thanks to the Sim Terrorists.

And that's the point. If an online game where you've essentially got grownups playing with Barbie Houses -- where you only score points by making friends (simulated, of course) -- can't escape this kind of virtual violence, how can we expect in the real world to circumvent real violence?

World peace is a noble goal. But as long as kids still fight each other in school playgrounds, nations will keep going to war. It is as inevitable as a Sim Mafia in the Sims Online; as enduring as bickering neighbors in otherwise quiet housing developments.

Posted by at 01:50 PM in the following Department(s): Tidbits III | Comments (4)
 March 16, 2003
Whose Right to Free Speech?

Should the United States go to war with Iraq? Some say we should; others say we shouldn't.

Back when I was in the sixth grade, one of my teachers, Mr. Z, sat us all down and told us there was only one thing in the world that we ever *had* to do. "Nuh-uh," was the general response. He said he didn't think we even knew what that one thing was.

"I have to take out the garbage on Thursday nights."

"No you don't."

"I have to do my homework when I get home from school."

"No you don't."

And so on when the conversation, each child holding up his or her hand to volunteer the one thing he or she had to do. Mostly, we started with chores. Then there was the occasional, "I have to breathe," or, "I have to wear a coat in the winter."

But Mr. Z kept responding that we didn't have to do those things.

So what was the one thing we *had* to do? He let us in on it: we had to pay the consequences for everything we did or didn't do.

We didn't have to wear a coat in the middle of winter. But we had to pay the consequences for that choice. We didn't have to do our homework. But we had to pay the consequences for that choice. And so on and so on. You get the picture.

This was a very liberating and a very troubling idea for a sixth-grader to behold. It gave us -- those of us who chose to think about it, anyway -- an immense sense of... responsibility. We could make any decision we wanted. It was okay. But we had to pay the consequences. Responsibility, as I've learned in the years since then, is a very powerful thing. It can be used to shape your life in any number of ways. When you accept responsibility for your life, you own it all. Success and failure alike.

Taking this principle, it is a truism that we all have the right to say whatever we want. But we also have to pay the consequences. In Soviet Russia, you could criticize the government in public. Of course, the consequences were pretty severe... severe enough to probably prevent you from being physically able to do so a second time.

Should the United States go to war with Iraq? Some say we should. Others say we shouldn't.

Happily, I was born a citizen of a country where the law says that the government shall not interfere with my right to speak one way or the other on that, or any other, issue. My friends and I have discussed this issue in public and in private. We are sometimes agreed, and sometimes we disagree. Sometimes, we raise our voices. Or, in e-mail, we might TYPE IN ALL CAPS. If I wanted to, I could even broadcast my views on the possibility of a US war in Iraq right here on this web page, where literally *dozens* of people could read it.

The only thing I would have to do is pay the consequences.

As I said, my government is proscribed by law from interfering with me for expressing my views, even if said opinions should run counter to the current administration's views. But that doesn't mean there wouldn't be consequences.

Take Martin Sheen, for instance, who has a higher profile than I do (if only a little). He has stated publicly that he disagrees with our current administration's stance on war. His language has been more colorful than that, but you get the idea. He's been rather adamant in expressing his opinions.

Now, coincidentally, this actor happens to play the President in a popular television series. The network that carries that show has expressed some concerns about the publicity surrounding Sheen's comments. Visa has stopped airing commercials featuring Sheen. And now some Hollywood folks are expressing concerns that this could escalate into a rebirth of McCarthy-era blacklisting.

Visa denies that they pulled the commercials for political reasons. Let us suppose, however, that their decision may have been at least partially influenced by the controversy surrounding Sheen's remarks. If so, does this mean that they are resorting to McCarthy-era blacklisting? I argue that the answer is, "No."

If the *government* were to step in and say, "Sheen should not be allowed to work in this industry because of his stated opinions," then that would be McCarthyism. That would be a violation of the first amendment. If an individual advertiser says, "Hmm, do we want to continue to have a controversial critic of the government representing our product," that's different. Visa, in such a case, is defending its own freedom of speech.

Speech involves more than just the text of the words. Speech includes how they are said. When an organization picks a spokesperson -- be it a rock star, an actor, a sports celebrity, or a cartoon camel -- that spokesperson becomes a part of the message. It's all fine and well to say that Martin Sheen should be allowed to speak his mind. With that, I whole heartedly agree.

But it is also appropriate for Visa to exercise its own freedom of speech. When they present their message, it is appropriate for them to evaluate whether the message is diluted because it is presented in a controversial form or through a controversial medium -- or, in this case, by a controversial spokesperson. When Visa delivers their message ("our credit cards make your life easier"), they want you to think about their message rather than think about war, the government, actors who insert themselves into the political arena, or whether you admire or hate the spokesperson for his outspoken political views.

The Dixie Chicks, during a recent concert in England, reportedly announced to the crowd that they were ashamed of the current administration in the United States. The Dixie Chicks are from Texas and, according to the report, they said they were ashamed that the President came from their home state.

In Texas, some people who hold a differing view called up radio stations and asked them to stop playing the Dixie Chicks. Some radio stations have made the decision to remove the Chicks from their playlists. Are the Dixie Chicks losing their right to speak? No. They continue to enjoy the right to express their opinions. But it is also within the purview of the radio stations to choose what message *they* want to convey. If they don't want to be identified with the Chicks' opinions (or, for that matter, if they wish to give the message that they actively disagree with the Chicks), then it is entirely reasonable for them to decide to remove the Chicks from their playlist. It is even reasonable, as was the case with one station, for them to announce that they'd rather destroy Chicks CDs than play them and encourage others to do likewise. Should that station be allowed to say such things? Should the Chicks be allowed to say what they said? *MY* opinion, of course, is that yes, they should. In both cases. The right to free speech unhindered by government intervention applies to those on both sides of any given issue. Even if they be boneheads.

Martin Sheen, the Dixie Chicks, Visa, and Dallas radio stations have the right to speak their message. You and I have the right to agree or disagree with any of them, and to express our views publicly or privately, as we see fit. But there's one thing the Constitution of the United States simply can not address: while the state is not allowed to abridge your speech, it also is powerless to save you from the consequences of your speech.

When Sheen's chosen speech is at odds with Visa's chosen speech, the two will part ways. Both parties will suffer or enjoy consequences for their decisions, both leading up to and following these events. Perhaps Sheen's decisions will lead to world peace. Perhaps it will lead him to new acting roles that he will get simply on the basis of his principled action. Perhaps it will lead to loss of work because potential employers wish to avoid controversy. Perhaps Visa will gain or lose customers on the basis of their decision to drop the Sheen ad. Perhaps the consequences for either party will be trivial.

An advertiser's aversion to controversy is not the same as McCarthyism. And while Sheen's rights should not be abridged, nor should his responsibility.

Should the United States go to war with Iraq? Some say we should, and others say we shouldn't. Some say nothing at all. But regardless of what we say or don't say, the only thing for certain is that we will all have to face the consequences of our action or inaction.

What say *you* on the topic of freedom of speech? Feel free to enter your comments... or pay the consequences for your silence!

Posted by at 10:00 PM in the following Department(s): Essays , Tidbits III | Comments (8)
 February 07, 2003
All Your Bomb Are Belong to Us

A few days ago, some high ranking official (hmm... where to put the hyphen?) of the North Korean government said that North Korea could launch a preemptive strike against the United States by launching a nuclear bomb aimed at... Seattle.

Now, I hope that someone has pointed out to the North Korean powers-that-be that taking out Seattle will not, in and of itself, eliminate the nuclear arsenal of the United States government. A preemptive strike only works when your attack disarms your opponent. If you don't successfully disarm your opponent, then it isn't much of a preemptive strike. See: Japan v. U.S., 1941.

In the case of Pearl Harbor, the Japanese were at least *trying* to disarm the American government by crippling the nation's Pacific fleet. Why North Korea thinks that taking out Seattle will prevent the United States from fighting back, I do not know. I think that's why our current administration has stated that they don't take North Korea's sabre rattling seriously. And while I agree with this sentiment, I'm not sure that telling the North Korean government "you lie" is a particularly face-saving gesture. Maybe, someday, the administration of the United States government will ask for my advice concerning diplomacy.

But I digress. You see, I didn't want to comment on foreign policy so much as discuss personal ramifications if Seattle were to be hit by a nuclear bomb.

I currently live in a suburb of Seattle called Redmond. If downtown Seattle were to be hit by a reasonably-sized nuclear detonation, either in the air or at ground level, then my neighborhood would quickly become a radioactive fallout zone. Our buildings would probably remain standing, but the quality of life (short though it may be) would decrease dramatically. If I read the charts correctly, the radiation would likely kill the healthy adults in my neighborhood within an hour or two. Of course, this assumes that the bomb is on target, and doesn't accidentally hit Everett or Renton by mistake (in which case we might actually escape with our lives).

The point being, it's hard for me to conceive of a more lame, albeit newsworthy, way to end my concerns than to have a nuclear bomb detonated near my neighborhood. I mean, I've got a mortgage to pay off, a business I'm trying to get off the ground, a child to raise, and a marriage to tend, let alone a writing career I'm trying to develop... I've got issues I'm working on. With each passing year, I manage to make a little headway here, experience some setbacks there. I hope to reach the end of my life able to say that, all things told, I done okay.

Speaking purely from a personal point of view, I would be profoundly disappointed to have my life end in the middle of all this tension (I'm talking about my own personal struggles here, not international diplomatic tension) with simply some bolt from the blue. I mean, a random death would be annoying, but *this* kind of random death would be doubly annoying.

Can you imagine reading a big, thick novel with dozens and dozens of interesting characters, all with their own story arcs and intersecting in fascinating ways, with various plot reversals and complications and funny anecdotes, when halfway through the story -]BAM[- there's a nuclear explosion and nothing but blank pages for the rest of the book? *That's* what I'm talking about. No denouement, no nothing. If you read a novel like that, you'd say, "What was the point?"

And that's my point.

Nuking Seattle would be annoying. So, North Korea, if you're listening: please allow me to recommend bombing Paris, instead.

Posted by at 04:12 PM in the following Department(s): Tidbits , Tidbits III | Comments (1)
 March 16, 2002
The End of The End of History

I am disgusted.

The idea was that the US would, at its prime, establish institutions that could outlast US hegemony. That is to say, while the United States remained one of the most powerful (economically and militarily) nations on the planet, it would help to build international institutions (such as the UN, the IMF, the World Bank, et al) that would seek the betterment of populations throughout the world and help to foster the democratization of the world's nations. Because these institutions would be built with the cooperation of many other peoples, the result was to be that long after the United States' relative power waned, it's legacy of a balancing and democratizing world system would endure -- *without* requiring perpetual unilateral support by the American government.

A grand idea. Little did the architects of this dream realize -- at least, at the time -- that the biggest threat to America's legacy would be America itself.

Now, intelligent people may argue amongst each other whether the global system that was built by the US and like-minded world leaders in the 20th century has proven to be such a good idea. The UN has had its share of successes in defusing some pretty bad situations, but it has also had its share of embarrassing blunders and even costly non-action. The World Bank and the IMF may have helped to save a few nation-states from collapsing, but they have also, arguably, managed to destroy a number of economies along the way, and they've created more than a few economically dependent "client states" (for lack of a better term).

Intelligent people may even disagree on the absolute merits of democracy or capitalism versus various of other governmental and economic systems.

But for good or ill, the hope had been to create an enduring, stabilizing force that would help to preserve the peace and foster a cooperative, democratic world.

The first time this was attempted (Woodrow Wilson and the League of Nations), the whole scheme was undermined by the isolationist US Congress which felt, at the time, that the United States needed to mind its own business and the the rest of the world take care of itself. Soon thereafter, Hitler, Stalin, and Hirohito provided excellent arguments for why this was a bad way of looking at things.

The second attempt (FDR, Churchill, and the United Nations, et al) has enjoyed a little bit of a longer run. And once again, it is the United States that is pulling out and going it alone.

It's not so much that the US has stopped providing economic support (we haven't paid our UN dues since Reagan was President -- or was it Bush the elder?). And acting against the general will of the UN is not terribly new behavior, either... for the US or any other nation, for that matter.

No, the troublesome new trend is the overt, blatant, stand-offish, and unilateral withdrawal of the United States from its treaty obligations. The flagrant disavowal of any kind of rule of law (international law, in this case). It's bad enough that our bureaucracies routinely violate NAFTA and similar international agreements. It continues to be a disgrace that our government circumvents its treaties with the native American tribes. It gets much worse when the US unilaterally decides to freshly violate long-standing trade agreements by imposing stiff steel import tariffs that are tantamount to embargoes. But for the President of the United States to tell the world, essentially, "We just don't feel like honoring the ABM Treaty anymore, so go piss up a rope," is so obnoxious and dangerous as to be genuinely disgusting.

What good is the word of the American government when it tells the nuclear nations of the world that it just doesn't *feel* like continuing to honor it's promises regarding nuclear weapons? How can any nation take the US seriously when it comes time to negotiate new treaties regarding nuclear weapons? What is to keep any other nation from ignoring what it perceives to be its national interests when deciding whether to honor its own commitments regarding nuclear weapons?

Or the Geneva Convention?

The United States, because of its current power, cannot help but lead by example. Our government is now establishing a most terrifying precedent. Instead of leading by example toward cooperation, the US is showing that promises mean nothing and expediency is everything. (I will also note that the moves of the US government to violate these treaties began *before* having September 11 as an excuse.)

Now, some of you who have read this far may be saying, "Yeah, so? Machiavelli told us this is the way of the world. When has it ever been different?"

But it *has* been different. In times of cooperation, peace and prosperity were allowed to flourish. In times of stand-offishness and cavalier unilateralism, the results have always been destructive.

Speaking as an historian, I am particularly worried about the direction the political climate is heading. If the inactions of our nation's previous administration invited the tragedy of September 11th (perhaps an essay for another time), the actions of the current administration may well be taking us into darker territory, still.

Posted by at 03:40 AM in the following Department(s): Tidbits III | Comments (0)
 January 16, 2002
What I didn't learn at Campaign School

My Fellow Americans,

I should be working on my novel-in-progress right now, but I've been chastised for not updating my web journal often enough. Far be it from me to let down The Public, so let me tell you what I've been up to when I haven't been writing The Do Over.

Last weekend, I attended "Campaign Manager College", which was actually targeted at both political campaign managers and candidates/hopefuls. There were a lot of charts and graphs about what kinds of voters in this part of the country dwell upon what kinds of issues; there was some excellent advice on how to manage a campaign and how to develop one; and there were many dubious interpretations of the available data.

You'll recall that about a month ago I had posted a satiric note about how we (mis)interpret data... which ended up getting me in trouble with the very people I least wanted to offend. And, so, allow me to be direct rather than clever:

One of the points that came up during a poll was that residents of the area indicated that they don't like negative ad campaigns. WELL, DUH. Issue number one with this assertion is: what would *any* self-respecting American say if a poll asked them, "Does a negative ad campaign appeal to you?"

But, the problems of polling aside, there is also a misinterpretation of cause and effect. Most campaigns do not start out negative; in general, there is a perception that negative ad campaigns should be avoided. Thus, negative campaigns are only attempted as a last resort, WHEN A CANDIDATE IS ALREADY LIKELY TO LOSE. As a result, you can see a correlation between negative ad campaigns and losing elections. But which one is the cause and which one is the effect? My contention is that the negative ad campaign may not be the cause of the loss; but, rather, that a campaign that appears to be losing is more likely to attempt a negative approach. Once a campaign goes negative, it holds that label as if it had been so right from the beginning.

I spent my high school and undergraduate years in New York State, where a certain governor ran every single one of his campaigns as target practice against his opponent from Day One. (Jeff Bezos loves to say "Today is Day One", which is why I've taken to capitalizing it.) Governor Mario Cuomo never in his political life stood *for* anything; he always ran *against* someone else, or *against* a particular platform. I even remember how he cackled with glee to the press about how one of his opponents had finally had to break down and resort to negative campaigning after he (Cuomo) had successfully managed to derail every attempt by his opponent to actually bring *issues* into the race.

Yeah, yeah, we all hate negative political campaigns, but I'm not convinced that they don't work.

Amazon.com now puts up pop-up windows when you visit their site, advertising one special or another. Pop-up windows are as annoying as telemarketer calls during dinner, but they use this annoying tactic for one reason and one reason only: pop-up windows increase sales. It's true. It's a bona fide fact.

So, market research shows that customers hate pop-up windows. Serious analysis of the data also shows that pop-up windows increase sales. Do voters hate negative ads? You betcha. Surveys show it time and time again. But, as Mario Cuomo (and George H. W. Bush, et al) and others have proven, they can and do win elections.

I have no intention of setting up an e-commerce site that uses pop-up windows. I also have no intention of ever running or being party to a negative political campaign. But I remain unconvinced that neither of these is a viable tactic, when push comes to shove, for achieving one's ultimate goals.

It's a weird, weird world in which we live.

---

Next post, I'll keep you updated on how The Do Over is going....

Posted by at 01:22 AM in the following Department(s): Tidbits III | Comments (0)
 November 23, 2001
China to put a man on the moon?

The news these days is very weird, what with our nebulous war against the al Queda, spontaneous outbreaks of anthrax in New Jersey... and, of all places, Chile, and with Russia poised to obtain a veto in NATO operations.

But, what I find most interesting of all -- at this moment, anyway -- is a little ditty I saw on my instant messenger ticker about China's space program. The news reports say that China plans to put a man on the moon by the year 2005.

I firmly believe that we need to have a strong, productive space program. I very much believe that as a race, we can not afford *not* to spread our wings and start exploring our solar system and the stars beyond.

Perhaps with China getting into the fray in this fashion, Americans and others might once again look to our future beyond this planet and get excited again about the possibilities. Perhaps we will see renewed support for a robust space program.

I'm also particularly intrigued to see how well the Chinese are able to execute on their plans. China may yet become a player with the rest of the grown-ups at the table. Very interesting, indeed.

Posted by at 04:57 PM in the following Department(s): Tidbits III | Comments (0)
 November 06, 2001
Election day, 2001

This is what is known as an "off year election" -- a year during which there are no major federal elected positions up for grabs.

Alas, it is during the so-called off year elections where most of the real business gets done. Your city and county councils do more that directly affects your life on a day-to-day basis than anything any President or US Senator has ever done. Take it from a former news horse and one who still attends city council meetings from time to time: these are the folks that determine more about your quality of life than any other political officials.

Tuesday, November 6th, is Election Day. Time to get out there and determine who is going to make or break the rules that determine whether your neighborhood will get DSL, or competition among the cable companies, or which streets get torn up and rebuilt and which traffic lights will be installed or taken out.

...and, how much of your money is being spent on exactly what.

So, get out there and vote!

--Allan

Posted by at 12:57 AM in the following Department(s): Tidbits III | Comments (0)
 August 31, 2001
Overheard at WorldCon 2001...

Heard this at a panel on the future of the space program, and it got quite a laugh out of the audience. One of the folks on the panel is a Heinlein-style libertarian.

Q: How many libertarians does it take to stop a Nazi Panzer division?

A: None. The market will take care of it.

Posted by at 12:15 AM in the following Department(s): Humor , Tidbits III | Comments (1)
 June 12, 2001
Special Relativity in Politics

For various reasons -- mostly having to do with some short story ideas I'm kicking around and a general love of science -- I've been reviewing the famous theories of relativity. As is so often my wont, I'm always struck by the parallel between the so-called "hard sciences" and the "social sciences" when it comes to enduring principles.

For instance, in Einstein's Theory of Special Relativity, it has been established that two events that occur simultaneously in one frame of reference will occur *non* simultaneously in other frames of references. A description goes something like this:

Bob the Observer is sitting on a planet when two ludicrously speedy spaceships heading in opposite directions pass each directly above him. Both spaceships were made at the same factory to the same specifications. To Bob, they appear to be equal size and shape, are travelling at equal speeds, and they each are aligned so that the tip of the tail of Spaceship 1 passes the tip of the nose of Spaceship 2 at exactly the same instant as the tip of the tail of Spaceship 2 passes the tip of the nose of Spaceship 1.

No big deal, right? Since both ships are the same length and are heading in opposite directions, it stands to reason that their respective noses pass the others' tails at exactly the same instant.

But, because of special relativity, if we observe the exact same event from Spaceship 1, it turns out that the tip of our spaceship passes by the tail of Spaceship 2 a split second *before* the nose of Spaceship 2 passes by our tail. This is because, relative to those of us in Spaceship 1, the second spaceship is travelling a most ludicrous speed and is therefore *compressed* in time and space relative to us. The second ship appears to be smaller, and hence not as long as our own spaceship. The simultaneous events witnessed by Bob are not simultaneous when witnessed from Spaceship 1.

Likewise, Spaceship 2 sees the rapidly approaching Spaceship1 as a smaller craft, and they, too, witness these events non-simultaneously. In fact, they view these events as happening in the reverse order from the observations made from Spaceship 1.

Okay, okay, I'm getting confusing here. The point is, events A and B appear to happen at exactly the same moment from one frame of reference, A precedes B from another, and B precedes A from yet another. All of these are correct, accurate, verifiable, reproducible. And they all follow a logic that is irrefutable.

No, I will not explain why. That's a lot of ground to cover, and I don't have that much time tonight. Just take my word for it: this is one of the consequences of special relativity.

As I was reminded of this juicy little tidbit, it reminded me of the cause of World War I. Don't stare at this screen blankly; just go with me on this one. It'll all make sense.

Observed from one frame of reference, Russia and Austria made their respective decisions to mobilize their forces, thereby triggering WWI, *simultaneously*. Observed from the Austrian point of reference, however, it was *they* who mobilized first. Likewise, the Russian point of reference would reveal that it was the Russians who mobilized first.

Historians have debated ever since over which events were *truly* the start of the War. Unlike their cousins in the hard sciences, the social scientists have failed to show the imagination necessary to accept the idea that all three positions can be correct at the same time; just not from the same point of reference.

This is a key point, one which I think would help political scientists and other social scientists to better understand the nature of the political and social world in which they live, and their motion through it.

Posted by at 02:42 AM in the following Department(s): Tidbits III | Comments (0)
 May 10, 2001
The Election of 2000

beginrant

So, people are still making snide comments in e-mails and web postings about "the stolen election" and how the Supreme Court "gave him the office". They do this apropos of nothing, discussing topics that are in no way otherwise related to politics or government. I see it repeatedly on any number of listserves I'm on and websites I track.

Now, I have to confess that our Fearless Leader is not impressing me thus far. Aside from his general ungoodspeakeness and his dubious handling of certain foreign affairs issues (the one area where his father particularly outshone the eight-year interim office holder), I'm most bothered by el Presidente's insistence upon making faith-based charity organizations into yet another government welfare baby. When some administration down the line chooses to cut this particularly dangerous cord -- and this will happen, someday -- these organizations will suffer the same withdrawal symptoms from the crack cocaine known as Federal Subsidies that so many other local- and state-based organizations have suffered when their own supply was cut. (Remember what happened when President Reagan finally pulled the plug on those ill-advised educational welfare programs in the mid-80's, anyone? Now, *that* was painful... and, totally avoidable had the crack not been handed out so gleefully by previous administrations.)

But, all that being said, the problem remains that whether y'all like the facts or not, our current President was selected by the very same system that has been in place (with a few tweaks from time to time) since the Constitution was adopted. You can bang your drums about how just one more recount might have changed the results, or how the Florida ballot unfairly penalized idiots who couldn't remember to read the bloody directions (the form, interestingly, was designed by a member of the losing political party and was approved by a bipartisan panel and had been used, in various incarnations, repeatedly both in certain Florida counties and other counties throughout the country for decades), but the facts remain these:

1) the vote was a statistical tie
2) supporters of the losing candidate were going to be bitter about the results, regardless of who eventually "won"
3) in the end, this country determined the results of a bitterly contested and pretty much evenly-divided election through legal institutions and not through more nefarious means.

So, please, for crying out loud: Get over it!.

We survived Bubba; we'll survive Dubya. Now, stop your whining.

And if it bothers you that much, get involved in your local elections later this year. The reality of the situation is that your local and state legislators have a much more dramatic impact on your daily quality of life than any yammerhead in Washington. If you don't believe me, spend some quality time in Buffalo, Boston, Seattle, and San Francisco all in one month. Same country, same Federal programs. Very different economic and cultural climates. Why? Local politics.

I know, I know. It's easier to whine about how things didn't go the way you think they shoulda down in some backwoods southern districts than it is for you to get off of your lazy butt and try to do something that might actually make a real difference in your life. Quite frankly, I was more bummed about the results of the national primaries last year than I was about the results of the general election. But I'm tired of hearing about it. It's over. Let it go. Please.

endrant

Posted by at 02:53 AM in the following Department(s): Essays , Tidbits III | Comments (0)
 March 27, 2001
Rewarding Idiocy

There's no shortage of news like this throughout the country these days, but I'm amazed at this news item, nonetheless. In Buffalo, NY, the Powers That Be (read: the idiot lawmakers) have decided to try an education experiment that will be funded with federal money.

They are going to pay students $5.00 per hour to attend summer school who require the summer session in order to advance from 8th to 9th grade. That's right: students who are not meeting the state minimum requirements to be admitted into high school are going to be paid to attend summer school.

What are these nitwits thinking? The are going to financially reward students for failing to meet statewide minimum standards. This is as perverse a system of educational incentives as any I've ever heard.

In school districts around the country (including the one in which I briefly taught eighth grade math), honors and "advanced" classes are being scrapped for fear that their very existence might hurt the self esteem of those students who are not selected. Being ahead of the intelligence curve (or, simply applying one's brain at all) is not being encouraged or fostered. That's already bad.

But rewarding sub-par performance? This is somehow going to improve the "outcome-based" results of public education?

I guess the theory behind the new program is that requiring students to attend summer school is not enough, and we should provide added incentives for them to attend. I, for one, am in favor of a more traditional incentive: let's *really* not let them into the high school until they have legitimately fulfilled the requirements of entry. (There are another few essays in me regarding why students are promoted without having met the minimum requirements, but those will have to wait for another day.)

There is an old -- and rather ironic -- Russian phrase that says "people will get the government that they deserve." While we may agree or disagree with this sentiment, the fact is that when the government engages in social engineering -- and any and every policy regarding the education of its citizenry or future citizenry is, by definition, a social engineering project -- the government does end up with the citizenry it deserves.

We have seen numerous examples of how, when the population is rewarded for bad behavior, the result is an increase in the undesirable results. The welfare system in New York State (and other states, as it so happens) that rewards pregnancy and punishes marriage has resulted in a disproportionate number of unwed mothers among the poor in New York State. This, in turn, has resulted in a number of societal ills: single-parent families in poverty are more likely to stay in poverty than two-parent families; children in single-parent families are more likely to be abused; children in single-parent families are more likely to engage in drug use, crime, and the like.

What, then, can we expect of a system that pays our society's children to perform poorly? What can we expect of any system that reinforces any behavior? We can expect to see an increase in that behavior over time, until it is endemic. In this case, we can expect to see a stellar increase in poor performance.

Let's not reinforce poor educational practices. Let us, instead, reward excellent performance. Let's recognize those who do well, and give children across the board unequivocal incentive to excel.

As for Buffalo; if they enact this policy as they are currently planning, the performance of its children will decline significantly in the coming years. And that is a crying shame.

Posted by at 12:25 AM in the following Department(s): Essays , Teaching , Tidbits III
 March 18, 2001
Quotable Presidents

Seems these days all I do is carp (karp?) about my job or politics. My plan today was to take a lighter subject write about "Quotable Underpants" (you'll see what I'm talking about when I get around to writing that essay), but a friend of mine called me twice this morning about what he saw on TV, and it brought me right back. I keep trying to get out, but they keep pulling me back in.

Seems that on this morning's "This Week with Sam Donaldson", Jeff Bezos came on and Sam grilled him about what it means to become "pro-forma profitable". My friend was incensed. "Where were theses guys last year? Why didn't they hold Jeff's feet to the fire last year instead of making him Time's Man of the Year?"

My reply: "Last year, the stock price was high and Amazon was still promising to *lose* money. As long as you promise to *lose* money, it's really not important which accounting method you use."

Anyway. I'll karp (carp?) more about work in another essay. My friend went back to watching TV, and then called me again a half an hour later. "George Will was just on. He says that Barlett's Familiar Quotations is coming out with a new edition, and it will contain only three quotes from Bill Clinton. Guess which three."

Now, this is a fun game. The first one was easy. "I did not have sexual relations with that woman. Miss Lewinski."

"Yup. Next?"

The second one was also easy. "That depends on what your definition of 'is' is."

"You're two for two. Next?"

I must confess that I had to think about it. It took me almost five seconds. But, I finally came up with, "I didn't inhale."

My friend told me that, indeed, those were the three Clinton quotes that made it into Bartlett's. He said that George Will then went on to compare these quotes to the many Kennedy quotes that appear in the book.

After our conversation, I thought about this. What are three memorable quotes from Bush? Reagan? Carter? Ford? Nixon? Let alone Kennedy and Johnson. I also realized that, truthfully, comparing Clinton to Kennedy is a little disingenuous... even though Clinton has long maintained that he wants to be considered the modern JFK. Observe:

The three quotes that come immediately to mind for George Bush are not all that wonderful.

"Read my lips: no new taxes." A broken promise.

"A thousand points of light." A vague campaign analogy.

"Voodoo economics." A slam against Reagan's proposed economic plan when the two man opposed each other for the Republican nomination in 1980.

(My copy of Barlett's does refer to all of these. It is a 1992 edition. Barlett's also reminded me of one that didn't make my initial three: "I want a kinder, gentler nation.")

If we grant Bush "kinder, gentler nation" and drop one of my other three, then I guess we get a mix of good intentions, but still not terribly strong stuff.

Well, I started having fun with this. Name the first three quotes that come to mind of a recent President, and see what Bartlett's recorded.

You may want to try this before you read what I came up with (and what my 1992 edition of Barlett's came up with). It's fun.

Reagan: I didn't have to think long at all to come up with three quotes from this man. First, there's "Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall." Interestingly, this doesn't appear in my copy of Bartlett's. I can only hope they add(ed) it in a later edition.

The second one that popped into my head was "I didn't leave the Democratic Party. They left me." This one also doesn't appear in my copy of Barlett's.

My third quote from Reagan (or, rather, the third one that came to my mind) was his reference to the Soviet Union as "the Evil Empire." This one did make it into Bartlett's.

After I perused Bartlett's (there's a good one about "Government is like a big baby -- an alimentary canal with a big appetite at one end and no responsibility at the other."), I was reminded of another one that didn't make my initial list of three but should have, and which also isn't in Barlett's but should be. It was a gaffe; Reagan was performing a microphone test prior to a radio address, and someone had recorded his joke test message and sent it to the media. It caused quite a stir.

"I am pleased to announce that we have just passed legislation outlawing Russia. The bombs will be flying in ten minutes."

So. The quotes that come immediately to mind about Reagan convey power of conviction, if nothing else. Bush's echo with unfulfilled good intentions. Clinton's are defensive nonsense designed to confuse, not to clarify.

What about Carter? I'm sorry to say that the only quote that came to mind was from an interview when he admitted to having lusted after other women in his heart. This was hardly strong stuff, but Carter was a born-again Christian, so I guess it made waves in that context. (According to Barlett's, he said "I've committed adultery in my heart many times. This is something that God recognizes I will do -- and I have done it -- and God forgives me for it.") There are other quotes attributed to Carter in Bartlett's, but none of them sound either familiar or important.

Ford? Again, I come up short. There's only one that sticks in my mind: "Our long national nightmare is over." (This was in his first address to the nation after Nixon resigned.)

Barlett's also includes "I'm a Ford, not a Lincoln" and a gaffe from a debate with Carter. It does not mention his "Whip Inflation Now" slogan. Okay, so that's two I came up with.

Nixon? Ha!

"I am not a crook." (in Bartlett's)
"Peace without dishonor." (not in Bartlett's -- I'm thinking that he said something along these lines with regard to pulling out of Vietnam)
"You won't have Nixon to kick around anymore..." (this one is in Bartlett's)

Nixon also coined the phrase "silent majority", which is a great term. I'd forgotten that was him. But, I *did* remember the famous Checkers speech, in which he successfully deflected accusations of an illicit slush fund by saying that the only potentially inappropriate contribution he'd received was a puppy named Checkers, and by golly, he and his family were going to keep that puppy.

I'm going to skip to Kennedy now. Each of the above mentioned Presidents only has a few quotations listed in Bartlett's. Kennedy has a couple dozen. I don't necessarily recognize each of these allegedly familiar quotations, and I don't think the man was any more quotable than Reagan, but I'll let that go for the moment. Kennedy certainly resonated for a generation in a manner that no President has since.

Here's my top three for Kennedy (all of which appear in Bartlett's):

"Ich bin ein Berliner." (Barlett's points out, correctly, that this translates literally to "I am a jelly donut." But, it also notes, correctly, that the Germans understood the point he was trying to make... even if it did raise a few chuckles at the same time.)

"Ask not what your country can do for you. Ask what you can do for your country." (Bartlett's also notes that this sentiment appears in speeches by three other prominent statesmen: Oliver Wendell Holmes in 1884, LeBaron Russell Briggs in 1904, and Warren G. Harding in 1916. Bartlett's further notes that Kennedy had been dwelling upon this idea for some time; a quote from Rousseau appears in his early private papers that expresses the same sentiment.)

"I believe this nation should commit itself to achieving the goal, before this decade is out, of landing a man on the moon and returning him safely to earth." (I needed Barlett's help in getting that one exactly right, but I've always linked this famous sentiment to Kennedy.)

Kennedy's familiar quotations are about goals; about getting off our collective butts and accomplishing something. Even if you disagree with his statist positions ("ask not what your country can do for you..." at first sounds like a repudiation of the welfare state, but then "but what you can do for your country" keeps the state firmly at the center of individuals' lives...), there is a motivational and unambiguous quality to Kennedy's familiar quotes. In this regard, I think that he and Reagan are particularly similar. Reagan vocally advocated a space-based defense initiative; he proclaimed that the United States would never yeild to terrorism; he stood up to the "evil empire" and then boldly negotiated nuclear arms reductions with the Soviet Union.

Most who admire one of these Presidents tend to find many faults with the other, but I think the case can be made that both were men of action who spoke of goals and of attaining those goals. Ford and Bush also spoke of goals, but were vague about how to attain them. Ultimately, they proved to be ineffective.

And, Clinton? If you look at his familiar quotations, he comes across as most similar to Nixon -- a man who also would have been impeached, had he not stepped down. Their most familiar quotes center upon the self: "I'm not a crook" and "I didn't inhale." Their most famous speeches concern defending themselves against accusations of impropriety.

Both men were obviously smart. Both men were obviously quite capable. But, both men also were blind to their own fallibilities, and they blamed the media and the public for the problems they brought upon themselves.

Clinton expressed many brilliant thoughts; he also expressed many terrible ideas. This is true of any man to hold the office of President. Nonetheless, when we look at *familiar quotations* of these men, we come to the inevitable conclusion that Kennedy (involuntarily) and Reagan left the office in such a way so as to allow us to remember the bright and powerful things they said. Clinton, like Nixon, managed to leave the office in such a way so as to only remind us of his terrible foibles and his wasted potential.

Posted by at 04:39 PM in the following Department(s): Essays , Tidbits III | Comments (1)
 March 08, 2001
Accountability, pt. 2

In the aftermath of the recent shooting at Santana High School in Santee, CA, four students have been prohibited from returning to school.

The four students were friends or acquantances of the alleged shooter and had not taken him seriously when he boasted that he would take a gun to school to shoot kids who had been taunting him. Because the alleged shooter was known to be a bit of a joker, these acquaintances apparently assumed this, too, was a joke, and didn't warn anybody.

These four students were initially barred from the school because "the investigation is still on-going." Later news reports say that they're barred from the school "for their own protection." In a recent town meeting, residents said they blamed these individuals for what happened, because they should have told somebody.

So, I would just like to set the record straight, here. We all make judgement calls on a daily basis; we all do the best we can. These four kids, recognizing a pattern of behavior, assumed that what they saw fit into the pattern they had come to know.

But, when it comes to assessing blame, we get back to the same problem as the Columbine shooting and so many others like it. Don't blame the neighbors. The Friends. The music the shooters listend to. The books they read. Their parents. The movies they watched. The video games they played. Images in the media. The bullies who taunted them. The girls (or boys) who turned them down for dates. The internet. The bomb-making materials. The pistols.

Accountability starts at home. It starts with the person who pulled the trigger.

Everyone who has ever been to high school -- anyone who has ever had a pulse -- has had to deal with bullshit. Has been taunted or teased or laughed at or disagreed with. Has had bad days. Has had things stolen. Has had problems with parents. Has been denied something. Has been surrounded by idiots with a different world view.

Shooting your fellow classmates (or co-workers, as in several other recent incidents) is not a legitimate form of expression. Accountability starts with the perp, first and foremost. If you must assess blame, blame the shooter.

Posted by at 05:59 PM in the following Department(s): Essays , Tidbits III
Accountability, pt. 1

So, I guess I should get mad here at ol' Rev. Jesse Jackson. He got caught with his hand in the cookie jar again; this time, for paying his mistress $120,000 as an employee of one of his non-profits and failing to declare her on the tax disclosure forms.

Whatever. Whether this "oversight" was intentional or unintentional is generally irrelevant... until Jesse spouts out with quotes like this:

"There is no evidence that there is any inconsistency or impropriety."

This kind of nonsense just pisses me off. The Rev. is not asserting innocence, but is claiming virtue by way of an alleged *lack* of evidence to the contrary. Not "I didn't do it," but "You can't prove I did it."

This is not a new tactic; Jesse did not invent the "There is no evidence, so there must be no crime" shtick. Everyone knows that Al Gore invented that (shortly after he invented the Internet).

I say that tongue-in-cheek, but let's acknowledge that when Al was caught taking bribes in Japan, he didn't protest that they weren't bribes. He said "there is no legal governing authority" that had jurisdiction in such a case. Ergo, no crime was committed, technically speaking.

President Clinton, likewise, used technicalities to obfuscate meaning when he claimed, "I did not have sexual relations with that woman." When challenged later, he argued the definition of every word, even going so far as to say, "That depends upon what your definition of 'is' is."

Now, I realize I'm going off on a rant here, and it's taking me toward a generally recurring theme that you've seen on these pages before: the use of language to communicate meaning versus the use of language to obfuscate meaning.

This generation did not invent the use of language to confuse. Neither liberals nor conservatives; Democrats nor Republicans nor Socialists nor Communists; politicians nor citizens nor corporations nor academics nor lawyers -- none of these can lay claim to inventing or cornering the use of language to confuse. (Well, Al Gore can claim he invented it, but he'd be exaggerating.)

And, quite frankly, I don't think it's getting worse. Or better. But, it nonetheless rankles me. Just like crime rankles people in Detroit who nonetheless refuse to move.

But, just as the folks in Detroit may have recourse, of sorts, to try to at least curb the problem of crime (even if they can't eliminate it), there must certainly be *some* recourse to curb this doublespeak that is so steeped into our culture.

The first step, I believe, is to call bullshit where bullshit needs to be called. I am only one man; but, I can at least refuse the bullshit on a microsocietal level. So, here's my tiny public message to the Rev. Jesse Jackson:

"If the glove don't fit, I don't give a shit. Pay your taxes and shut up."

Posted by at 05:31 PM in the following Department(s): Essays , Tidbits III
 February 27, 2001
Question Reality: America's Identity Crisis?

When Everett and I were at grad school together, we often tossed about the idea of working on a paper comparing the parallel evolution of American Science Fiction movies and the prevailing political attitudes of the day.

The argument was pretty obvious, but we hadn't seen anybody address it in the academic press, and we thought it might be fun. Here's the obvious:

Fear of nuclear bomb testing was obvious in such cheesy grade-B movies as They!, Godzilla, Attack of the 50 Foot Woman!, and so on.

Worried about communist perversion of the American ideal? There were scores of invasion flicks that highlighted that theme, but the best by far had to be Invasion of the Body Snatchers.

For fear of nuclear war, look no further than the parable in The Day the Earth Stood Still or the more literal Fail Safe and Kubrick's Dr. Strangelove.

We began to feel a little bit more optimistic at the power of our ingenuity in 2001: A Space Odessey, as well as the Star Wars and Star Trek sagas that came a decade later.

Concurrently in the 70's and 80's, the popular sci-fi movies presented growing concerns about technology getting us in over our heads in Alien, Logan's Run, and Mad Max -- and, later, Terminator and its many rip-offs.

My thesis stopped there; this was, after all, 1991 at the time I contemplated writing this scholarly work.

I've been reminded of this little idea, though, as I've been preparing to host a get together of some friends to watch a movie. This group gets together on a monthly basis with the members taking turns hosting. The host can assign homework that pertains to the movie that the host intends to show.

I decided, for various reasons (mostly pertaining to the fact that certain members of the group are big into conspiracy theories), to show The Parallax View. I assigned as homework for the members of the group to watch either The Conversation or Three Days of the Condor.

These three movies came out in 1974 and 1975, and each are about conspiracies and the use of very plausible, very real technology in carrying out those conspiracies. Having now seen all three quite recently, I have to confess that I don't think Parallax holds up as well as I remembered. It feels a little dated, and the conspiracy is simply too far fetched... but, then, that's quite possibly the point. Alas, all three films have their flaws. In the end, though, I think Conversation holds up the best. Francis Ford Coppola is expert at making every scene count.

The fact that all three films came out at the same time is no coincidence. The assassinations of JFK, King, and RFK had started to take their toll on the American psyche, and the revelations of Watergate fueled a national mood of distrust -- both of the government and of technology.

This distrust was echoed again and again in the mid-70's, in mainstream films like All the President's Men as well as in the science fiction of the day. Aside from Logan's Run and others, there was the remake of Invasion of the Body Snatchers. This one is particularly telling. In the original, 1956 version, the G-men save the day at the very last minute. In the 1978 version, the government has already been co-opted. Authority can not be trusted. In the end, no one can save us.

Getting back to my three conspiracy movies of 1974 and '75: it's been fun for the past week to watch these movies and pick apart their similarities and their differences. But, in the interrim, I happened to catch up on a movie I've been meaning to see for some time: The 13th Floor.

Interestingly, this movie came out at around the same time as three other movies with the exact same theme. If The Conversation, Three Days of the Condor, and The Parallax View are all representative of a culture that is increasingly paranoid about conspiracies, what should one make of the period of 1998 and 1999 producing four movies that focus on the idea that our reality is merely a construct by some outside power?

I maintain that The Truman Show, The Matrix, eXistenZ (written and directed by the same man who brought us the 1978 version of Body Snatchers), and The 13th Floor are representative of a new undercurrent in American political thought. As a nation, we are in the midst of an incredible identity crisis, completely uncertain about what is real -- what is true. In Truman and Matrix, the message seems to be that we are at least partly culpable for our part in confusing reality with make-believe... willingly participating in, if not actively encouraging, the deception.

Do these movies resonate with the public because they ultimately forgive the pop culture for its lack of moral conviction? I'm inclined to think not. Rather, I'm inclined to believe that these movies have tapped into a growing ennui that must, eventually, lead to an awakening. We laugh at the conceit of The Truman Show even though we know the joke is on us. But as the nation contemplates, in its own politicorganic way, the nature of reality, I have a sneaking suspicion that the wake-up call is not too far behind.

Posted by at 03:59 AM in the following Department(s): Books/Movies/Music , Essays , Tidbits III
 February 19, 2001
Doublespeak

Maybe, as posited by the ubergovernment in George Orwell's 1984, changing how people speak really does change how they think and, in turn, changes the reality in which we live.

For example, we see doublespeak like this in the financial papers:

"According to First Call/Thomson Financial's research analyst Ken Perkins, of the 137 retailers monitored by First Call the sector overall is expected to show negative growth of about 5.4 percent year-over-year, which is down slightly from the 6.5 percent recorded in the third quarter."

Retail sales are expected to show negative growth? Negative growth? Hello? There used to be a term in economics that described "negative growth": recession.

Can you say "recession" boys and girls? I thought so.

While my employer has been right-sizing to optimize for our negative growth scenario -- which is double-plus ungood, if you happen to be on the unright side of the right-sizing -- I've become increasingly sensitive (a good, healthy American word if ever there was one) to the manipulations of meaning being broadcast by our decision makers.

I would say that my employers are, in fact, lying to my face, but I'm being constantly reminded by my peers that this is an unright way to look at it. They are not lying to us. They are not even telling us "untruths". They are simply assuaging the negative growth in our expecations with non-truths because that is completely appropriate in an environment such as this.

Language, in theory, is a tool for communicating meaning. Lately, however, it is increasingly being used as a tool for obfuscating meaning. From the former President ("That depends upon what your definition of 'is' is," and, more recently, "[sure she gave me lots of money, and sure I pardoned her husband, but] there was absolutely no quid pro quo."*) to the captains of industry to tell us "We all need to be in this for the long term" while they take $26 million out of the company as the stock price continues to plummet.

My favorite nontruth was recently uttered by a Vice President (my employer now has an organization that goes three Vice Presidents deep. Three! There are three VPs between me and the President of the company. How can we possibly need that many VPs?) when a fellow employee asked point blank "Are there plans for any more layoffs this year," and the VP said with a straight face, "No, there are no plans for any more layoffs this year."

Meanwhile, I'm being told to figure out how to manage my team with at least one fewer person on my staff by this summer. (BTW, in corporatespeak, people are not people. They are "headcount". In national security terms, layoff casualties are "collateral damage." Thus, I am not actually losing people... I'm decreasing headcount.)

My staff now has a better bead on the truth here than I do, because the rumors they hear are often more accurate than the official line I'm told by those higher up the food chain than I am. I think this is partly because the folks on the front lines don't bullshit each other the way upper management bullshits their staff.

Did I say bullshit? I meant to say "lie through their teeth."

Telling the truth doesn't make reality any more palatable, but it *does* make it more likely that you'll be able to negotiate reality's treacherous waters successfully. But, neither our news media nor our captains of industry seem to think we can handle the truth.

---

*note: the second quote above [with my paraphraseology in brackets] is attributed to Clinton by ABCNews' account of the incident in this online article. ABCNews claims to quote the former President's statement in an Op-Ed piece which appeared in the New York Times, but I have not seen the original article.

Posted by at 06:09 PM in the following Department(s): Essays , Tidbits II , Tidbits III
 February 09, 2001
Comedy and Context and Unfinished Essays

Lately, I've taken to writing the beginnings of these magnum opus essays on this site, which I have then never gotten around to finishing. I finally got called on it.

A long and thoughtful e-mail took me to task for the part of an argument I'd left unfinished. And so, allow me to continue my thoughts about comedy and context. I offer no promises that this completes my thoughts on the subject, but at least I can get into it more now that I know where the dialog is heading.

The reader's e-mail begins: "You seem to imply that 'The Homecoming Queen's Got a Gun' was only funny pre-Littleton."

My essay does imply this, but the implication comes from an omission on my part. Rather, the events at Littleton changed the context in which I (and others, I'm sure) receive the song, and *that* changes the nature of the humor with which it is received.

Pre-Littleton, the song is funny because it is an absurdist fantasy. High school punishes all who enters its doors -- students and faculty alike. But to the typical student, the Homecoming Queen (or Prom Queen, or Captain of the Cheerleading Squad, or whatever) appears to be the one little darling least affected. This song's humor lay in the fact that it tweaks our recognition both of the frustration that leads to such a seemingly unlikely event, and the casting-against-type of the actual perpetrator. We recognize and empathize with both the antagonist and the protagonists in the song. It's ludicrous. Impossible to imagine... and yet, it's perversely satisfying at the same time. A Homecoming Queen reigning destruction upon the previously celebratory event.

Post-Littleton, the scenario is not so absurd; not so foreign to the imagination. I agree with the reader that any reasonably intelligent person would have deduced when this song was first released in the '80's that a Littleton-style event was not only possible, but even *probable*, eventually. But, it was nonetheless outside the realm of our actual experience. The schoolyard shootings leading up to, including, and following Littleton banished that little false sense of "it can't happen here."

And, so, anyone who is familiar with the school shootings (and related events) that have taken place in the '90's receives "Homecoming Queen's Got a Gun" with a different context: the situation itself is no longer absurd; only the particular angel of vengence.

(I will remind the audience that back in the '80's, high schoolers who felt particularly frustrated with their situations tended to commit suicide rather than homicide. That, or they played Dungeons and Dragons. I'm not sure which was worse...)

I was picking apart the structure of the song to myself as I sat at the concert hall listening to it, and it really is an exellently constructed bit of humor. I won't bore you with my analysis (I'll bore you with my rant about context instead), but I agree with the reader's e-mail that the song is still funny. *However*, because the context has changed, so has the nature of the joke.

The reader goes on to state (and, I think this is the heart of the matter):

"All this being said, I probably wouldn't have bothered to write except I think the idea that context is everything is rather offensive if not mildly dangerous.

"I remember years ago I was telling you about an episode I liked of 'Homicide, Life on the Streets.' I actually agree with you about what you found offensive, but I still liked the writing and presentation. Anyway, the plot revolved around some clean cut kid who committed a murder. He got his hands on a gun, and once he held it he felt it had power over him and he had to shoot someone. That's really simplifying but it's the basic idea. You were very right in that it played to the anti-gun lobby's contention that it's guns that are bad, and the shooters aren't responsible.

"In a sense I see the same sort of danger in ideas like 'song's about molesters are only funny until you know someone who has been molested.' This implies an inability to reason from the abstract to the specific. It also gives creedence to the idea that only those who have suffered from a gun crime should be allowed to have an opinion on gun laws. Or, to speak to another of your recent essays, the idea that only those who have suffered from racism should be allowed to have an opinion on affirmative action or other laws."

[snip]

While I see the point, I believe there are two distinct issues here. The songs "Kinko the Clown" and "Homecoming Queen's Got a Gun" remain the same as they ever were, before and after the potential listener becomes involved in an outrageous event such as the ones that serve as the setting for these songs. The outrageous event in the song is absurd. The outrageous event in real life is tragic. (The same can be said for Olivia Newton-John's "Let's Get Physical," I suppose.)

But, the listener may well interpret the songs differently after having actually experienced an event such as those depicted in these songs.

Our tastes in humor necessarily change over time, and I contend that this is largely because of our expanding library of context. Many people I know find the old Warner Brothers cartoons much funnier once they're adults than they did when they were children, because they had more context in which to fit more of the jokes. Alas, just as context can enhance the meaning of a joke, it can also sometimes detract from a joke's effectiveness.

I, for one, have outgrown scatalogical humor, but I've found an increasing love of puns. Go figure.

But there's a different, underlying issue that the reader points to, and it is one of politics, not aesthetics. Here, we come back to my original title, "Censorship and Context".

We may agree or disagree as to whether it is appropriate to play a song for a wide public audience that attempts to be funny against a backdrop of violence (or some other potentially tragic setting). As I stated in my last essay, I agree with Dr. Demento's decision not to play "Homecoming Queen's Got a Gun" on his radio show, given the events at Littleton. And if I were still hosting a radio show of my own, I would make the same decision.

I neglected to say in my previous essay, however, that I nonetheless believe that this is and should be a matter of taste -- to be exercised by the host (or performer), and not to be imposed by the government appointed arbiters of the airwaves.

Dr. Demento willingly refrains from playing "Homecoming Queen", although I suspect he looks forward to the chance to play it again on the radio one day. No doubt, his decision is as much motivated by business concerns as it is by any sensitivity on his part. Nevertheless, I would find it particularly offensive to have the government dictate his playlist by banning this song... just as I am offended that the government does see fit to dictate that certain other songs are stricken from the airwaves.

One of the many ironies here is that Dr. D can play a funny song about an absurd school shooting, but chooses not to, while he is prohibited from playing a lovely little ditty called "Sit on My Face (and Tell Me That You Love Me)" -- set against a pleasant backdrop of mutually consentual gratification -- but you can be certain that he'd play it if he were allowed.

How long will it be before the FCC finally regulates the thoughts we choose to express on the Internet (either on the web or via e-mail)? I shudder at the idea.

Posted by at 02:37 AM in the following Department(s): Essays , Humor , Tidbits III | Comments (3)
 February 06, 2001
Censorship and Context, part 1

As many of you know, I used to host a radio comedy show called A Night at the Asylum at WVBR-FM in Ithaca, NY. The show was largely inspired by Dr. Demento, only we focused more on comedy and less on novelty records.

Recently, one of my fellow former producers of said comedy show discovered that someone she knew was wanted by the police for child molestation. The culprit was caught, and as the facts about his predatory practices were revealed, it became clear that this very sick individual had messed up a great many people's lives... including friends who were very near and dear to her.

As we discussed this traumatic chain of events, my fellow former comedy show producers and I came around to the question of a routine we used to play on the show: Kinko the Clown, by Ogden Edsl. None of us could remember ever really liking this particular song, and we all wondered why we'd every played it. It didn't have any particularly funny lines, and it's rather insenstive to a nasty subject.

But... I've been thinking about this more and more lately. I think that, in fact, we *did* find it funny at the time; we've simply forgotten why. Our context has changed.

The reason I believe this to be the case is because I happened to see Dr. Demento in a live performance this weekend. Focusing on "things [he] can't play on the radio", the syndicated radio show host played songs and videos of a number of bits that don't (currently) pass FCC muster. Some of these items would never, ever make it, but were very funny (including an extremely rude Mick Jagger tune that he recorded with the *intent* of being so bad that the record company would never release it, simply to fulfill a contract that he wanted out of). Others used to be playable on the radio, but have since elicited fines from the FCC. This collection surprised me, in particular, because it included a number of routines we used to play all the time: Monty Python's "Sit on my Face", for example.

Then, the good doctor showed us a music video and prefaced it by saying, "This song used to be one of the most requested on the Dr. Demento show, but I haven't played it in a couple of years, given the aftermath of the shootings at Columbine High School in Colorodo." The video was for Julie Brown's, "The Homecoming Queen's Got a Gun."

Wow. I was stunned. This song was frequently featured on our show. And, as the video unfolded, it was so patently clear why playing it now would be so beyond the bounds of acceptable taste. Given the events that transpired in Littleton, there was no way to interpret this song as anything other than a sick and depraved acting-out.

But, the thing is... this was recorded *years* before Littleton, and it was mocking high school homecoming pagentry; it was not advocating violence. The song and video were so clearly cartoonish; the humor so obviously a coy swipe at high school's culture of popularity. Yet, in the context of a post-Littleton world, it is both mean and savage; an indictment of a culture of violence.

Watching this video on Saturday, I completely agreed with Dr. D: even if the FCC had no reason to fine you for playing it, this was one routine worth dropping from the playlist. And, yet...

And yet the fact is that, in its day, this piece was actually quite funny. It still is, in it's own juvey way, if you can overlook Littleton.

But Littleton did happen.

And there really are maniacs who go around molesting little children.

And context is everything.

Posted by at 03:19 AM in the following Department(s): Essays , Humor , Tidbits III
 January 14, 2001
National Politics: Nothin' but Entertainment

National Politics is a sport, and popularity points are the tally by which we determine the winners. At least, that's the case presented by the national media, which continues to sink to depths even lower than those described in James Fallow's excellent book, Breaking the News.

Former President Ronald Reagan recently fell and broke his hip, requiring surgery. This 'news' article recounts the details of his hip replacement surgery in fairly straightforward mannger before it gives us the score update:

According to an ABCNEWS.com poll taken last year, 64 percent of Americans now approve of Reagan's performance while he was in office. That's eight points better than Reagan's average job approval rating while he was in office, 56 percent.

Reagan's career average lands him at the center of the pack of postwar presidents, behind John F. Kennedy, Dwight D. Eisenhower and George Bush, and tied with Lyndon Johnson and Bill Clinton. His ratings ranged from a low of 42 percent in early 1983, several months after unemployment soared to heights unseen since 1940, to a high of 73 in 1981, just after John Hinckley Jr. shot him.

Reads like a sports column, no? It's like they are talking about how a team fared over the years in the standings of its league.

What is up with that?

This is ABCNews! This is the Associated Press! These are the pinacle sources of 'news' in this country! And, they're reporting on national statesmen as if they were athletes vying for the record books with their accumulation and averages of popularity points!

So, here's the question to make you stay up at night: is the alleged 'news' media cynically reporting on politicians like this because they believe that Americans are that stupid, are they doing this because *they* (the reporters and editors themselves) are that stupid, or is the American public, in generally, really that stupid? Perhaps the national contest for the White House really is nothing more than a pageant and the results have no more meaning in our daily lives than who wins the Miss America contest. I don't know.

Either way, I'm very unhappy about this. Grrrr.

Posted by at 07:56 PM in the following Department(s): Tidbits , Tidbits III
 January 03, 2001
The Race Thing, part I

For a few weeks now, I've been intending to write an essay here called "The Race Thing". The upshot is this: I don't get it. I don't get the race thing. I don't understand racism and I have no tolerance for racism. At the same time, I haven't been exposed to the kinds of racism that many of my friends experience on a daily basis. I don't know to what extent racism pervades our society today; I've simply never seen it in the computer industry and I haven't been terribly active in those sectors of the population where it allegedly prevails.

Don't get me wrong; I *know* that it exists. A relative of mine who is a cop makes that obvious in the stories he tells. And, sadly, I do know several people who have expressed unflattering opinions about people based upon their skin color. I can only chalk this up to ignorance and frustration, and I've seen it happen with people of all different ethnic backgrounds.

Just because I haven't seen it in the computer industry doesn't mean it doesn't happen, of course. But, nonetheless, because I'm not reminded of *my* skin color every day, I guess that can make it difficult for me to imagine that *some* folks *are*. When I get into a conversation on the topic, I am therefore constrained to intellectual observations rather than any real first hand data.

(perhaps when I get around to writing this essay, I'll mention my experiences as a "minority" at Bennett High School, but I'm getting ahead of myself...)

Nonetheless, I find the recent news that a major employer in the computer industry is being sued for discrimination to be particularly hard to fathom.

The lawsuit alleges that the company in question maintains a "plantation mentality" when it comes to its African-American employees. When I read this, my first thought was: "Well, Duh, assholes! They have a plantation mentality toward ALL their employees!" I have known people to have to seek psychiatric help over their working situation with this particular employer. The suicide rate seemed rather fantastic while I was there: pretty much every other week, the corporate newsletter mentioned the passing of some co-worker from some undefined cause.

This wasn't a race thing. This was an everything thing. You either "drank the kool-aid" or you were an outsider. If you allowed the borg to assimilate you, then congratulations, you were eligible for promotion... and, you could do well. But, if you clung to a life that was outside of the corporate culture, you surely would not succeed there. I have many brilliant friends of all ethnic backgrounds who are doing well there; but, their lifestyle choices are more amenable to that style of working situation. The plantation life ain't so bad, I guess, if you like that kind of work.

It was clear that if you kissed The Man's ass, you got promoted, and if you didn't, you didn't. HOW IS THIS DIFFERENT FROM ANY OTHER CONTEMPORARY WORKING ENVIRONMENT? The folks filing this lawsuit are seeking a class action remedy because they (the seven plaintiffs) were "passed over" for promotions that were given to others (whites) who were "less qualified". I have some news that may shock some: LOTS OF PEOPLE GET PASSED-OVER FOR PROMOTION IN FAVOR OF TWITS WHO ARE LESS QUALIFIED.

Note to all y'all who feel oppressed because of your gender, race, religion, or whatever: the key to success in this corporate world is to learn what to kiss and when to kiss it. If you really want to be "equal" to the straight white male who got that promotion, learn to kiss ass like he does.

If you're above kissing ass, then you're above being promoted. Whoever thought that being promoted was glamorous missed a class somewhere.

Now that I've insulted all of my former colleagues who have ever gotten promoted, I think I'm going to take a breather. I'm getting worked up.

In my next installment, I'll insult several ethnic groups, deride America's educational system, and further expose my raw, naked bitterness (even more fully than I already have here) before I finally capitulate and admit that I really don't know what I'm talking about, apologize to my former overlords, and beg for mercy from my new masters.

Posted by at 11:37 AM in the following Department(s): Essays , Tidbits III | Comments (1)
 December 28, 2000
Person of the Year

Just a little observation today, as I have much else to do, but have you noticed that being picked as Time's "Person of the Year" is not usually a harbinger of good things to come?

Example: Ted Turner, President of Turner Communications and Ted Turner Industries, was Time Magazine's "Person of the Year" in 1991. You know what happened after that? His company got onto shaky ground and he had to be bought out. By whom? Time Warner. Ted Turner became an employee of Time Warner four years after being Person of the Year.

Last year's "Person of the Year" was Jeff Bezos, the founder and President of Amazon.com. Copies of that cover can be seen all along the hallways of Amazon's various corporate headquarter buildings. This creates a spooky "Jeff is Watching You" feeling reminiscent of a certain George Orwell novel. One year later, Amazon's stock is worth about one tenth what it was a year ago, and Jeff's not laughing as much as he used to. (For those of you who don't know, Mr. Bezos is famous for his laugh. Just like Bill Gates is famous for rocking back and forth on the edge of his seat like a nervous first-grader who has to go to the bathroom.)

Anyway, this year's "Person of the Year" is President Elect George W. Bush. I'm not quite sure why... I mean, what has he done this year that was so compelling? He won an election. Presidential elections happen every four years, and sooner or later, someone is declared the winner for each of them. This year, it was Bush. Would Vice President Gore be gracing the cover if *he* had won? I don't get it.

So, the President-elect graces the cover of Time Magazine with a very dubious honor. Let us hope that President Bush does better with his administration than President Bezos has done with Amazon. Or, for that matter, better than President Turner has done with his own organization. I'd hate for the US government to be taken over by the guys at Time Warner.

Posted by at 02:10 PM in the following Department(s): Tidbits , Tidbits III
 December 16, 2000
H*llary's new book deal

Remember when Vice President Gore accepted all that money from certain foreign parties in the form of campaign contributions while he was overseas and which were deemed by most observers as unethical (at the least) and illegal (had it happened on US soil or involved other US parties)? Rather than saying he didn't do anything wrong (because, one presumes, he *knew* it was wrong), he said "there is no legally governing body" to handle such situations. In other words, it may be a conflict of interest -- it may even be a flat out bribe -- but there's no explicit jurisdiction defined to address this particular situation. So, there. Can't touch me. Neener, neener.

Turns out, a certain Senator-elect, who will be representing New York State soon, continues to exhibit the very same kind of behavior that has typified the current-but-not-for-long administration's attitudes toward what's "okay" and what's "legal".

Check out any online news source, such as this article from ABCNews.com. The Senator-elect has taken a huge book advance despite the fact that this is frowned upon by ethics committees and is actually against the rules for other elected officials. Again, the message is loud and clear: if our political adversaries do it, it's outrageous. But, if we do it, it is not technically illegal, so it must be okay.

Depending upon what your definition of 'is' is, I guess.

Posted by at 02:13 PM in the following Department(s): Tidbits III
 November 16, 2000
The Greed Decade

Remember how the commie pinko liberals among us call or have called the '80's the Decade of Greed. Well, my friends, allow me to set the record straight.

The 90's will ultimately be remembered as the decade of greed. While philanthropy (both as an absolute dollar value and as a percentage of income) was up in the 80's, the 90's marked a particularly dark corner in the American psyche. This is nowhere more apparent than in the high tech sector, where young "players" in the stock market speculated wildly on the dot com stocks and college grads with comp. sci. degrees hopped from job to job based solely upon the salary and -- more importantly -- the all-important stock option grant.

When I write my book called "Dot Com", it will feature these catch-phrases that typify life in the high tech industry in the waning days of the 20th century:

"Yes, but how'd the stock do?"

"But, how'd the stock do?"

"They did what? How'd the stock do?"

As the market continues to correct itself, and the day traders are losing their shirts, it becomes all the more obvious just how much the "gimme" attitudes of the 90's are leading us (as a nation) into some hard times ahead.

And, more to the point, I didn't get to participate in any of that ephemeral success. Bummer.

Posted by at 06:07 PM in the following Department(s): Tidbits , Tidbits III
 November 08, 2000
Political Prediction

You heard it here, first.

No matter who ends up "winning" the current Presidential election, eventually both Al Gore and George W. Bush will serve in the Oval Office. This is certain. Odds are, the one who does not "win" this year's election will end up winning in '04 or '08. He'll win in '12 at the latest. Mark my words.

Because of the closeness of this election, I expect a lot more political participation and heated exchanges among even those who have been politically apathetic for the past decade. Passions will be ignited. Whoever claims victory this year will undoubtedly come under extremely heavy fire as a cheat and a fraud who is backed by some unscrupulous, unsavory characters. (nevermind that this is almost certainly true, regardless, of both candidates :).

In other exciting world news... has anyone tried that green ketchup from Heinz, yet?

Posted by at 02:48 PM in the following Department(s): Tidbits III
 November 07, 2000
Don't forget to not vote!

I've traditionally encouraged everyone I know to vote. I realize now, much to late, that this was a bad idea.

I mean... look at who we've elected? Clearly, someone out there has not only cancelled out my vote, but then someone else has gone and tipped the balance in the other (wrong) direction.

So, I have a new policy this year. I'm encouraging everyone not to vote. Please. You know you don't pay any attention anyway. You know that it won't make any difference which way you vote. So, stay at home. Don't bother. I'm only going to cancel out your dumb vote, anyway.

And, you *know* it's true. Especially if you've voted for people who ended up winning. Did they go on to do anything worthwhile? No.

Take it from me: democracy is a bad idea. If your state has referenda, vote "no" on all of them (if you vote at all). Better yet, just don't vote. You'll be glad you didn't -- and, so will I.

Thank you.

Posted by at 10:50 AM in the following Department(s): Tidbits III

Copyright (c)1998 - 2010 by Allan Rousselle. All rights reserved, all wrongs reversed, all reservations righted, all right, already.
Click here to send me mail.

The author. January, 2010.
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