Tuesday, May 31, 2011

The Perfect Politician

All too soon, another important election year will be upon us. I’m afraid that once again I will be searching in vain for my ideal candidate. It is a shame, because it would take so little to be my ideal candidate. First, you would have to promise me that you would work hard. Next, you would have to promise me that you would do research (or have others do research) into the issues. Third, and this is where it begins to get problematic, you would have to promise me that you would be open to reconsidering your positions should new evidence arise or should conditions change. Some politicians do change their positions for less than noble reasons, but some people actually change their mind once or twice over the course of their lives. I’m more than OK with that, I demand it. I want my elected representatives to keep using their brains for at least the whole time they are representing me. Lastly, and most problematic of all, you would have to be committed to doing what is right for the country. I wrap up a lot into the notion of doing what is right. It includes, for example, taking long term considerations into account along with short term considerations. So, I want my elected representatives to consider how our military campaigns impact the way others perceive us for years into the future. I also want him or her to think about what it means for our government to sanction torture or wiretapping. It’s fine to be against abortion, no one is really for it, but what happens after you outlaw it. Every action has implications, and I want my elected representatives to think about it. I don’t want them to appeal to fear or anger or hate. I want them to motivate followers with their ideas. I don’t want them to trade insults or talk in platitudes. That isn’t right. Calling someone a socialist or a liberal never solved a single problem. Neither did going on about big government. Talk about efficient or inefficient government and you’ve got my attention, talk about size and you lose me. Who cares how big it is if it does its job, and don’t tell me it doesn’t have a job. The financial crisis, or the oil rig explosion, or even the looting in the wake of the recent tornados should reaffirm that people are people and they created governments for a reason. The bottom line is if you are working hard, spending time to get to know the issues and their history, and are interested in solutions … I’ll be hard pressed not to vote for you. It’s so simple, and yet for some reason really really hard.

Monday, May 30, 2011

The United States Flag Code

The United States Flag Code is a silly bit of needless formality. It lays out rules for how the flag should be flown and treated in general. First of all, it is essentially ineffective. There are no penalties for violating these rules. The Supreme Court has struck down State and Federal laws forbidding desecration of the flag, so it is not at all clear that penalties could be enforced if they had been written into the code. Second, it is an attempt to show reverence to a piece of cloth. It’s a piece of cloth … or polyester or nylon or whatever it is they make it out of these days. It’s not the soul of the country. It’s not the foundation of our democracy. It’s a rather garish piece of fabric. That’s it. It’s a symbol … it’s not the thing it symbolizes. No one ever died for a flag. Third, it’s needless rules. If you want to lay down some guidelines to allow for some order and homogenization, fine … issue a memo. Talk about big government! Fourth, it seems a little too uniform if you ask me. Do we all really have to display symbols of our country in the same way? Do we all experience our country in the same way? Are we the same? Fifth, it seems like a bit of a violation of the freedom of speech, among others, something the Supreme Court seems to agree with me on. Sixth, it really seems like there are more important things to worry about. Which is why I’ll leave it at that.

Sunday, May 29, 2011

A Wish

If I got the big end of the wishbone, and was selfless with my wish, I might ask for a run up to the 2012 election characterized by campaigns based on issues. I might ask for a year and a half of political discussions that feature conclusions based upon logical premises rather than peer pressure, insults, envy, anger, fear, or even too much wishful thinking. I might ask for this, but I probably wouldn’t get it. I can’t imagine a debate about marriage rights that didn’t involve scare tactics (homosexuality will infect your children!). I can’t imagine a national discussion of abortion that didn’t involve too much talk of baby killers and proponents of abortion (who is in favor of abortion?) and not enough of a focus on what happens to women and children if we outlaw abortions and what common ground we could find in the limiting of abortion through an attempt to target the factors that lead women to have abortions. I can’t imagine a discussion of Palestine that didn’t involve accusations of anti-Semitism. I can’t imagine an America without ignorant bumper stickers that refer to the President as an Ass or fellow Americans as un-American. I can’t imagine a political discussion of any kind that didn’t have someone calling someone else a radical, a liberal, an elitist, a socialist, a wacko, a … maybe I don’t have much of an imagination, although I once dreamed that I was marrying Rhea Perlman. Maybe my wish has no chance of coming true, but I don’t see the point of making wishes that have a good chance of coming true … why waste a wish on the possible? Besides, it’s my wishbone and my wish … so step off you right wing, socialist, fascist, nincompoop who is going to take jobs from real Americans and give them to Mexican Muslims who are seeking to burn flags and thoughtlessly destroy the ozone layer.

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Anti-Semites don't grow on trees

An anti-Semite is not someone who thinks Israel should go back to the 1967 borders. To bring that accusation into the debate on the future of Israel and Palestine is inaccurate, inappropriate, intellectually lazy, counter-productive, and just plain wrong. Let’s clear this up, people who have a different view of the future of the Middle East than you don’t necessarily hate Jewish people. The ‘if you disagree with me you must hate me’ approach is understandable in the Middle East where there is a long history of mistrust and hatred, understandable but still wrong. It’s less understandable when it comes up in the United States when Americans debate American policy, and it’s still wrong. If you disagree with someone’s approach to Plestinian/Israeli issues, just say why. If someone disagrees with you, try to understand why. Let's leave the hate speech out of it.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

The Hate Poem

Sometimes hate
Is like cheating at chutes and ladders
While playing with a four year old
Sometimes it’s like cheating
While playing chutes and ladders by yourself
Sometimes it’s like playing chutes and ladders without cheating but
While being a bad sport and
Wearing nothing but baggy basketball shorts and
A polka dot tie with a matching beanie
Always it’s possible and
Usually it’s legal but
At the very least
It’s four year old behavior
That most four year olds would be uncomfortable with

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

The End of the World is Coming

The world ended on Saturday, or at least it did for my neighbor Joe … and a lot of other people. The world ends for someone every second probably. It will end for all of us eventually. We don’t know the date or the time, but we know it will happen. To me, that’s a lot scarier than the rapture. Especially when you believe that with the end comes the same nothingness we were born out of. Joe got in an ambulance mid-week, and by the end of the week he was gone. He was 82, so he lived a full life, but he was still living it. Right up until the end, an end he had an idea wouldn’t be too far off, he was living his life. I didn’t know him that well, but I don’t think he sold everything to proclaim that he would die soon. I don’t think he abandoned his life and those around him. Just days before he died another neighbor saw him heading out to do something related to his involvement in tai chi. That is the logical approach … to enjoy life and keep doing good until you can’t do either any longer, regardless of why. The only logical reason to be concerned with the end of the world is if you can stop it … which is why we should spend more time worrying about deforestation and pollution and less time worrying about rapture. Some Saturday the world might end, but it hasn’t yet so I’m not going to be resigned to it.

Monday, May 23, 2011

Allies not identical twins

American interests and Israeli interests are not identical. This needs to be the starting point for any discussion of American policy towards the Middle East, and Palestine more specifically. This isn’t to say that the 1967 borders are the final answer. It isn’t to say that Israel isn’t an important ally. It isn’t saying anything more than what it says. What is good for Israel is not necessarily going to be good for the United States. We need to consider factors like the interests of other allies in the region, the progress of the so-called “Arab spring,” the perception of America in the Muslim world (which includes but is not limited to the Middle East), energy needs, the structural origins of terrorism, international human rights, and our long-term military strategy. Simply considering Israeli interests will never be enough.

Friday, May 20, 2011

Armageddon or not, you only turn five once

The earth is ending this Saturday, which is a bummer because we have out a lot of work in to planning our daughter’s birthday on Sunday. I wonder how many people will come despite the earthquakes. If you ask me, an RSVP is an RSVP. If you said yes, you’d better come. I suppose we could have cancelled it, but I am a firm believer … that you always try to make a go. Besides, it’s supposed to take a few months to really finish us all off, so we shouldn’t have any trouble getting a party in. I’m really not sure why anyone should get worked up about the rapture. I mean, we’re all going to die … right? Last I checked that could happen at any time. Do you cancel things because you might die? Should you not plan at all? If you just live your life the doing the best you can, trying to help out others and do what you think is the right thing, and there is a Just God, then you’ll be OK. If there’s not a Just God or there’s Just no God, what does it really matter? I know it doesn’t make sense to apply logic to the end of the world, or to some Christians, but I can’t help myself. I also can’t help but go ahead with the birthday. I’m far more afraid of the wrath of my four year old daughter than of God, whoever she or he might be.

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Si, se puede

I didn’t give much thought to all this talk about the end of the world until I found out that the Navy had decided to name a ship after Cesar Chavez. The end of the world is definitely upon us. The Navy is going to give this great honor to a union activist, a Mexican-American union activist at that. What is the world coming to? Did you know the Navy has also named a similar vessel after a woman? And it wasn’t just any woman, but a woman who didn’t even finish what she started. Amelia Earhart isn’t the end of it either. They also named one after Medgar Evers, who was not only a Black man but a Civil Rights Activist. The Navy has a destroyer named after an Englishman named Winston. The whole thing is ridiculous. Duncan Hunter, a representative from California has tried to avert the apocalypse by suggesting that the do nothing Chavez be replaced by someone with far greater accomplishments, Marine Corps Sgt. Rafael Peralta. Peralta isn’t white, but at least he accomplished something real. He led a team of Marines into a house in Fallujah. How can spending a lifetime fighting for the rights of oppressed people possibly compare? I wouldn’t have thought that such injustice was possible … really, I am quite surprised. Maybe the world is about to end. Maybe we really can make it happen. Sí, se puede

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

I can't deal with the blathering either

A member of the Secret Service twittered the following: "Had to monitor Fox for a story. Can't. Deal. With. The. Blathering." I don't understand twitter. I don't understand why this is a "tweet" and not a "twitter." I don't understand why anyone would twitter anything related to their work ... it just seems to get folks in trouble. I'm not sure why anyone spends time following people's tweets. I don't understand where all the periods in this quote come from. There is a lot I don't understand about this, but I have no trouble at all understanding why someone would say that they can't deal with Fox's blathering. Fox News is lots of things, and very few of them have much to do with news. Fox News has a position and advocates it. Fox is conservative blathering ... there is plenty of evidence to back that claim up. I'm not sure what the problem is with speaking the truth. I think we have gotten the wrong idea about debate. We seem to think that any time there is a debate both sides have to be given equal treatment, equal air time, and equal respect ... we seem to have forgotten that sometimes when people open their mouth what comes out is wrong. We also seem to have forgotten that news was once presented in an impartial way. Impartiality now is a slant in itself, which is why NPR is under so much fire. The bottom line is that Fox News is an advocacy organization. They have positions on the issues and they advocate those positions. There shouldn’t be any problem if someone gives their opinion of an advocacy organization, even if they use the official Secret Service twitter account. Which leaves me with yet another question ... why does the Secret Service have a twitter account?

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Graduating from Michael Vick

Michael Vick will speak at the graduation ceremonies of an alternative high school in Philadelphia. The students, all classified as ‘at risk,’ chose Michael Vick from a short list of Philadelphia ‘celebrities.’ The date of the graduation ceremony was not disclosed out of a desire to discourage protesters. This move is admirable, but it won’t keep these folks away. They certainly should stay away, though. The use of logic and reason should keep them away. Their inability to come up with convincing answers to the following questions should keep them away.

First of all, Michael Vick did something wrong and was punished for it. He went to prison and served his time. He’s been released. What gives these people the right to try to add on their own punishment? Why isn’t it enough for them to boo him in their living room … or simply not watch the Philadelphia Eagles?

Second, even if some protesting was understandable … how long does it continue? For two seasons? For the rest of his playing career? For the rest of his life?

Third, why haven’t people had this reaction when professional athletes kill people? Why is that apparently a more forgivable crime? Why do some people have to take their love of animals to ridiculous extremes?

Fourth, is it appropriate to make your point at the expense of someone’s graduation memories?

Fifth why picket this particular graduation? Most of the young people that are going to be graduating have made a few mistakes of their own. What is the message that picketing sends to them? That they will be punished for the mistakes they have made forever? That there is no real opportunity to leave their mistakes behind them?

Sixth, and perhaps most important, isn’t there something more constructive they could be doing with their time … something more likely to really help animals? This is the problem many people have when they become fixated on a particular issue. Abortion advocates lose sight of what happens to the lives they save after they save them. They lose sight of all that they could be doing with the time spent trying to render abortions illegal to discourage abortions and help solve the underlying roblems that cause women to seek abortions in the first place. The same is true here. The goal becomes to harras Michael Vick, and not stop cruelty to animals.

The bottom line is that it is time to move on. Hopefully, I am wrong and everyone will realize that this is the case.

Monday, May 16, 2011

Coming Out and Making Excuses.

The President and Chief Executive of the Phoenix Suns has come out. He has told the world that he is gay. The response of many in the sports world has been to say that it is great that he has come out, that he is a great guy, and that no athlete could ever risk doing this. They may go on to bemoan the fact that no active professional male athlete has publicly declared that he is homosexual, but then they move on to other topics. The thesis seems to be that athletes aren't the brightest bulbs and exist in a world where they have to live up to decades old ideas of what a man is and there just isn't much to be done about it. I find this to be an unsatisfactory response. It reminds me of the argument my Grandparents always made about interracial romances. It was the wrong thing to do because the world wasn't ready for it and would make it tough on any couple that pursued such a path. There seem to be enough people in the sports world bemoaning the unfortunate reality that if they stopped bemoaning and started doing something that unfortunate reality might change. If someone makes ignorant comments, like Kobe Bryant or even better the idiot hockey agent who criticized a hockey player for shooting a pro marriage ad, then people need to speak up about it. If someone comes out and is blackballed, we all need to denounce it and reverse it. It is simply not acceptable to say that homosexuals can't come out in sports because athletes are Neanderthals, and leave it at that. Leaving it at that is has as much to do with the attitude towards homosexuality in professional sports as the Neanderthals do. We can't leave it at that anymore.

Sunday, May 8, 2011


My wife has friends who travel to Africa to spread Jesus’ message and
protect embattled Christians. I ’m not that comfortable with the
mission and motivation, but while they are there they provide
invaluable assistance to the people. It is hard to take issue with
people putting their own lives on hold to help others. Help is help.
I would, however, be more comfortable if they simply offered help
without challenging long held, and in my eyes legitimate, beliefs and
values. I am also more than a little skeptical of the goal of helping
Christians who are being oppressed. Are Christians oppressed in
majority Muslim countries? Absolutely. Is every Christian in a
majority Muslim country oppressed? Is the solution to challenge
Islam’s legitimacy? Is the perilous position of religious minorities
just a phenomenon to be found in the Muslim world? I’ll leave the
other questions for you to ponder yourself, but I’ll answer that last
question with this story. This last Friday, two imams on their way
to a conference on prejudice against Muslims were kicked off of a
plane because the other passengers were uncomfortable. They were put
through several rounds of additional security scans, and ultimately
the pilot refused to fly them. I could give countless other examples,
such as a Congressional investigation into the threat posed by
American Muslims to … er … America(?), but this example is plenty
illustrative. It makes me think of my grandfather, who always
responded to my stories of international events by saying we needed to
help ourselves before we help others. I still don’t buy that
argument, but there is something to be said for helping others too.
There is something to be said for offering help without strings or
agendas. There is something to be said for not vilifying an entire
religion. There is something to be said for fighting religious
discrimination and oppression everywhere you find it, even at home
(and the same of course could be said of poverty, injustice writ
large, etc.). Ultimately, there is something to be said for
supporting and commending anyone who gives help to people in need
wherever they may be without necessarily accepting or leaving
unchallenged all of their goals, values, motivations, or assertions.

Friday, May 6, 2011

Trying to understand Rick Santorum

"America was born great. The President of the United States doesn't understand who we are." It’s a great line. It’s ignorant on so many levels that it makes the head spin. Rick Santorum spoke this out of outrage, so maybe it is understandable. The President had the gall to say that Social Security and Medicare have helped to make America great. How dare he say that we are a great country because we seek to look after all of our citizens? The nerve!

Santorum should be able to recognize nerve. In the wake of the most recent bout of birther ignorance, he manages to set the first Black President in this country’s history apart from the rest of America. It’s an appeal to fear and ignorance, an appeal to racism, and an attempt to discredit a political opponent by calling them un-American. At least he left the possibility open that Obama is part of Western Civilization, something he has questioned before (“The American Left hates Christendom. They hate Western civilization.”)

Asserting that America was born great is also something that has been done before, unfortunately. This idea that we are and have always been the greatest thing since sliced bread is harmful and false. When the United States of America became a reality, slavery was alive and well here. It was recognized in the Constitution. Women couldn’t vote until the twentieth century. Japanese Americans were put in internment camps during World War II. We were involved in the assassination of the President of Congo, the bankrolling of rebels in Nicauragua and Zimbabwe among many other places, and recently sanctioned the torture of suspected terrorists in violation of international law. We rank 33rd in infant mortality behind Slovenia, Brunei, New Caledonia, and Cuba. This is a great country, but we aint perfect and we weren’t born great, whatever that even means. The assertion that we were is either ignorance, an attempt to distract from real issues, or an appeal to fear and ignorance.

Appealing to fear and ignorance is something Rick Santorum does quite well. As a senator he practically staked his career on attacking homosexuals. He has made comments like this throughout his career: The idea that the Crusades and the fight of Christendom against Islam is somehow an aggression on our part is absolutely anti-historical. He is an impediment to serious problem solving, a man who has made a career relying on the fact that we the people won’t ever understand who he really is. Hopefully that faith will no longer be rewarded.

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

I think, therefore I am Libertarian

I think, therefore I recognize that reasonable and intelligent people can hold very different opinions on a great range of important issues. It doesn’t lend itself to a bumper sticker in the same way as I think, therefore I am Libertarian does. It has the greater virtue, however, of being true. I have a profound and fundamental disdain for people who claim that their position is the only possible one that a smart person could have. The disdain increases when those people proclaim the wisdom of absolutes (taxes are bad, government is bad), advocate disbanding the Department of Education, and rail against the bogeymen like big government. Just make your argument and see if it holds up to scrutiny. I know I am unreasonable, but what I want is evidence. I have no use for insults, snide remarks, and ego boosting. I think and I listen to what others are thinking about, and I’m unreasonable enough to expect someone else to do the same.

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Mr. Mendenhall, how dare you have your own opinion!

It is not treason to express ambivalence over the death of Osama Bin Laden, question the American response to terrorism generally and the 9/11 attacks specifically, or even to question the orthodox view of the destruction of the World Trade Center Towers. It isn’t any more treasonous than expressing doubt over the birthplace of the President. It is best, in both cases to have real proof and be utilizing logic and reason, but in no event is it treasonous nor is it an affront to the troops. The troops are defending our right to have our own opinions, among other things, and fighting for others to have those rights as well.

Rashard Mendenhall, the starting running back for the Pittsburgh Steelers, made a number of tweets regarding Bin Laden and 9/11. Among them are the following … “What kind of person celebrates death? It's amazing how people can HATE a man they have never even heard speak. We've only heard one side..." "We'll never know what really happened. I just have a hard time believing a plane could take a skyscraper down demolition style." "I believe in God. I believe we're ALL his children. And I believe HE is the ONE and ONLY judge." "Those who judge others, will also be judged themselves." ”For those of you who said you want to see Bin Laden burn ... I ask how would God feel about your heart?" "There is not an ignorant bone in my body. I just encourage you to think."

His comments have been fodder for sports radio everywhere. The Pittsburgh Steelers even felt the need to have an official public response to these tweets. Art Rooney II said: “I have not spoken with Rashard, so it is hard to explain or even comprehend what he meant with his recent Twitter comments. The entire Steelers organization is very proud of the job our military personnel have done and we can only hope this leads to our troops coming home soon."

My response is that Rashard Mendenhall’s comments are, for the most part, not that hard to explain or comprehend. The comments about the alternative Trade Center narrative is a little puzzling, but he is surely not alone in questioning whether killing Bin Laden was just and right. Certainly, none of the comments are insults to soldiers or somehow forbidden during a time of war. Just as clearly, Americans are entitled to question the actions of their government and the explanations given them by government. It may even be one of the more patriotic things one can do. So, I’m not sure why the Steeler’s needed to apologize for Mendenhall or say they were proud of the military.

People are entitled to their opinions. If their opinions aren’t logical and well reasoned, they should be, and most likely will be, challenged. Simply being critical of the government is not the same as being illogical or poorly reasoned. Art Rooney is entitled to his opinion too, but in this case I’m not sure it’s any more logical than Rashard Mendenhall’s.

Monday, May 2, 2011

Obama, Osama, and that uneasy feeling in the pit of my stomach.

The killing of Osama Bin Laden makes me uneasy. I recognize that it gives the administration more room to make decisions in Pakistan. It might increase the options available in places like Libya. It surely provides a boost to the president domestically that he was in need of. It may even force Pakistan to be more cooperative and even weaken Al Qaeda, although neither is inevitable. It certainly gave a lot of people an opportunity to feel good about themselves. All of this isn’t enough, however, to put me at ease.

First of all, it makes me uneasy when people get so excited about the death of another human being that they are driven to tears of joy and moved to song. I’m not saying that it wasn’t the best case scenario to have him killed, because I kind of think it was. It may even have been “justice,” although justice to me is never really as easy as putting a bullet in someone’s head. I would have preferred that Americans react in a more sedate and reflective way. This isn’t a football game. This is war.

Second, I think we are a little too focused on ourselves. There hasn’t been enough said about the impact Al Qaeda has had outside the United States. Hillary Clinton talked about it in her speech, but it has been absent from the popular reaction. In some places I have seen this described as all about finding justice for those who lost loved ones in 9/11. This can’t be all about seeking revenge for the World Trade Centers. It was a tragedy, but just one tragedy. In the scheme of things it was a rather small tragedy, and just a minor piece of the negative impact of Al Qaeda. I think the impact on the perception of Islam is more important, as is the impact of Al Qaeda in the Middle East. I also think we ought to act like what troubles us is the presence of this force for intolerance and violence in the world, and not just the fact that it impacted us.

Third, I get nervous at times like these that we lose sight of the importance of attacking the causes of terrorism rather than just attacking the terrorists. People do things for a reason. They didn’t fly planes into the World Trade Center for the hell of it. It also wasn’t all about virgins in the sky. There were real reasons. We really shouldn’t lose track of that. The democratic movement sweeping the Middle East provides a much more important opportunity to halt terrorism in the future than does Al Qaeda’s death. Terrorism flourishes in places where people do not enjoy democratic freedoms. It also flourishes in places where unemployment (particularly among young men) is high. The improvement of these political and economic realities is of critical importance, and should be our primary goal … along with living up to the ideals we encourage others to adopt (for example, trying terrorists in federal court or eliminating torture as a tool for our military). Just killing terrorists does nothing to eliminate terrorism in the long term.

Fourth, I have trouble not seeing this, at least to a small extent, as politics. It should help Obama in the polls, and the timing couldn’t be better coming on the heels of all this birther nonsense. Everything is politics, but it still makes me uneasy.

The whole thing makes me uneasy … I’m not sad he is dead, but I’m also not going to dance in the street and swear at the sky in a loud voice. This is just cosmetic work. The real job is yet to be done, and is going to take more than an hour.