Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Our Word is Our Weapon

A book suggestion. If you've never heard of the Zapatista Movement, or never heard of Subcomandate Marcos, who is the unofficial herald of the Zapatista Movement, take a few hours and pore over Our Word is Our Weapon, a selection of writings from the charismatic and enigmatic figure in the fight for indigenous rights in Mexico.
Subcomandate Marcos has become a wildly popular figurehead for the indigenous peoples of rural Mexico, whose message has resounded broadly throughout the world with all peoples that feel they are being exploited and unheard by their governments. The sentiments of the Zapatista are not that dissimilar from the movements of the "Arab Spring" or Occupy Wall Street, or even the Tea Party. The message is apolitical, but it's implications could and should be at least a wakeup call for corrupt politicans around the world, if not a call to movement for the rest of us.
While the tactics of the Zapatista have been called into question by authorities as disruptive and violent, the response is that they're simply doing whatever they must to gain the right to be heard. As with Marx's assertion that revolution, violent if necessary, will be required to bring about change because those in power will be unwilling to give it up without a fight. We in this country have taken to sitting back as armchair politicans, while our elected officials undermine our economy, our security and our very freedoms, while all we do is complain. The Zapatista have chosen to stop complaining about why their situation is the way it is and change it. And because the government was so used to dismissing its citizens, especially its indigenous citizens, it patronizingly dismissed the indigenous people of Mexico to its detriment.
We as a world need to heed the signs of the times. Hopefully the governments of the first world can and will improve, because if they don't, not only are they going to come undone themselves, but they're going to drive down the country's that they represent as a whole. We'll see chaos as the so-called military and economic superpowers are swallowed in a sea of worldwide economic collapse and general discontent. The military will mean nothing, because their no longer will be a specific "enemy" to target our weapons at, because WE will have become the rogue, the enemy, the failed state.
Our leaders need to head the warning signs, or we need to head them for them and toss them out, otherwise we're going to be looking at a world where economies, militaries, corporations and governments don't matter; it will be a Hobbesian struggle of every man [person] for themselves. Seems dark, and not plausible in the near future. But just how much can the rest of the world take; and just how much can we as citizens under these quasi-fascist, plutocratic, oligarchic, society stand, until we've reached our breaking point?
"I know not with what weapons WWIII will be fought, but WWIV will be fought with sticks and stones." ~ Albert Einstein

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Get rich quick gimmick...

I'm not the biggest sports fan on the planet. And up until a couple of years ago, I'd been on a self-inflicted sports diet for about 7 years. However, I've slowly started watching most sports again over the past couple of years, and I have to say that my casual interest, coupled with using the games as an excuse to hang out with friends and drink beer, has made my spectating experience a much happier one.
However, even during this self-imposed sports blackout, I remained committedly interested in college football. College football is so much fun to watch, because the teams are forever changing, and a team that is good one year/multiple years/decade, will flounder in ensuing years, due to poor recruiting, sanctions, etc. The action is slower and less polished than pro football; but because they're playing for either the simple love of the game, or because they're trying desperately to get onto a pro roster, the players are much more invested than the pro athletes seem to be.
So why it is that we as a college football watching crowd, or really as a society in general, have allowed the Bowl Championship Series to manipulate college football, and take advantage of the free talent at their disposal, is beyond me. It all started back in the late 90s. College teams had been complaining that simply having bowl games which pitted specific conferences against one another both unfairly putting good teams into unwatched bowls, but also did nothing to demonstrate who the best team in the country was*. Therefore, the BCS was created to give college football a National Championship game. However, what has happened is that we have now a huge money-making business for the BCS, that has almost nothing to do with college football or the universities, but instead has as its sole purpose to sell ad revenue and make huge profits off the NCAA and the free labor that comes out of it.
The names of the bowl games is a clear indicator of where the priorities lie. The games used to be called the Rose Bowl, the Orange Bowl, the Fiesta Bowl and the Sugar Bowl. Now, with the advent of the BCS, the games are now called the FedEx Orange Bowl, the Allstate Sugar Bowl, the Tostitos Fiesta Bowl, and the Rose Bowl Game presented by Vizio. These names are stupid. It's the same as the stadium names in professional sports, but at least the athletes are being paid in the Pro's.
But names are really the least of our worries; the larger issue with the BCS is that it's decidedly unfair. The ranking is unfair, the choice of which team goes to which bowl is unfair, the amount of money that teams spend and receive is unfair, and the fact the college students are being exploited is unfair.
College football rankings; Harris, Coaches and BCS polls all are unfairly bias toward bigger schools in either the midwest or the south, most specifically teams in the Big 12 and the SEC. For some reason the "power rankings" always reflect these conferences as being the toughest, regardless of how good the teams in that conference are. This year, the SEC happens to have some very good teams, four teams in the BCS top 10 in fact (a little suspicious...), but it's a little odd that the same teams and conferences happen to be in the top 25, regardless of how their seasons actually turn out. The Pac 12 gets a little respect, simply because their teams are so dominant, but still will lose out in power rankings to and SEC or Big 12 team, who supposedly have tougher schedules.
Make no mistake, LSU is the best team in the country. They're undefeated, and they've had a very tough season, with many tough games on the road. However, after that, it's difficult to figure out exactly how and why they ranked the teams the way they did.

Let me know what you think of the BCS.

Friday, December 2, 2011

Eye of Newt...

Blowhard. Newt Gingrich is a bloviating, pedantic, annoying asshole that just won't seem to leave the national political stage. The guy has been around in politics for the last 30 years, flirting with presidential runs several times - and actually succumbing in a couple of instances - and basically just disrupting the political process wherever he can.
So how is it that this jackass is now leading the Republican primary field? Simple. The guy talks straight, I'll give him that, and these conservative voters like that, regardless of what he's actually saying. Herman Cain had overwhelming positive numbers, and his star was on the rise, until Republican primary voters actually started paying attention to the substance of his 9-9-9 plan, and the implications of his policies (there were a few, I think, but few and far between) - not to mention the sexual harassment and infidelity issues.
The problem with Newt Gingrich, is that he has so much personal and political baggage that he'll have a tough time winning against the equally vacillating Mitt Romney. Also, if Newt is to stay strong, he'll have to get the religious conservatives to look past his spotty (to say the least) past of moral indiscretions (which they're alway wont to do with Democrats, but always seem to be able to do with Republicans). Maybe Newt can salvage his relationship with these right-wing Christians by telling them that he has repented for his past sins, and that he'll need their help and guidance to stay on the straight and narrow moving forward.
All of that being said, I don't see Newt having any staying power. His baggage and his haughty attitude are too much for any electorate to overcome, even one as desperate for alternatives as Republican primary voters are for an alternative to Mitt Romney. Look for all of his old moral shortcomings to come up again, as well as his sometimes more moderate political positions. He's the "flavor of the week", as so many pundits have been using for the literal plethora of Republican primary frontrunners - some running and some deciding against running; Michelle Bachmann, Rick Perry, Sarah Palin, Chris Christie, Ron Paul (unfortunately John Huntsman, the only rational Republican in the race, cannot seem to get any traction) - and his parabolic rise will eventually slide back down the other side.

Thursday, December 1, 2011

What's on Television...

Alright, below is another top 10 list. These are what I believe to be the top 10 best television shows/series of all time. This is quite a difficult feat to accomplish,considering that I've liked so many different shows at different times in my life, and the fact that I haven't had cable television for the last 10 years has made it difficult to keep up shows regularly. However, I think this list is comprehensive, spans decades, and still includes some truly great contemporary classics. While I'd like to put G.I. Joe and He-Man on the list, I've also omitted any children's shows - though I will admit that some of them are wonderful.

Here we go; and, as always, this is in no particular order.

1. It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia
Is it bold to call this show one of the best ever? Probably. I understand that the show's comedy is very esoteric (get the connection), and therefore not necessarily appealing to a broad audience; but I personally have always been much more attracted to a show's whose comedy is a bit more nuanced, than those stupid Everybody Loves Raymond, laugh-track type, bullshit shows.

2. The Wire
HBO does it right. I think their marketing over the last several years has been perfect, calling themselves a character-driven network. The characters on this show are incredibly complex and give the show a sense of realism that is lacking on so many other cop shows. Not to mention the pace of this show, due to it's one hour run time, giving a season somewhere around 12 - 13 hours of total runtime, as opposed to a network show that has a total season runtime of about 7 - 8 hours, allows the writers to create much more realistic timelines for drama to unfold, as opposed to the short episodic nature of the network cop shows that have to wrap everything up in half an hour.

3. Party Down
This show was lucky to ever get made, and still remains unknown or at least unwatched by most people. But this show truly brings it. The humor in this show is all about the character interactions; and the mix of actors that they brought together worked perfectly together.

4. Seinfeld
This is bar none my favorite show of all time. The great thing about this show is exactly the opposite of what makes The Wire a great show. They get in, get out, and the everything is wrapped up nicely in every episode. There are comedic themes and threads that run throughout several shows, or even the entire series, but overall the show is just a bunch of assholes who act rotten toward one and other, and the world writ large, and because of this sometimes find themselves in funny or awkward positions.

5. Curb Your Enthusiasm
I love this show for one of the reasons that I love Seinfeld. The fact that Larry is such an asshole to everyone, and because he is constantly messing things up, he often finds himself in hilarious (and what some people think are annoying or unbelievable) situations. The ways he manages to mess things up and piss people off can only come from autobiographically similar situations in the life of this brilliant jackass.

6. The Wonder Years
Going back a few years, but a true classic. It's funny that this show is such a hit with my generation, when it really seems as though it was more geared toward my parents' generations, who actually lived through the Vietnam War. But I think what I connected to as a young person watching the show was the sense of angst in a society that was focused on other things; and slowly trying to figure out what was really important in life, and how to bring my life growing up into the reality of the greater world.

7. Saved by the Bell
This show must be on the list. I've probably seen every episode of this show at least 10 times. I think I was still watching this show occasionally on syndication up until a couple of years ago (you can probably still find episodes on several stations, every now and then). I think the reason I liked this show so much is because the kids in the show were pretty much the exact same age as I was. Sure, the situations were ridiculous. Sure, the characters were stereotypes and completely unbelievable. But none of that mattered, it was funny, dramatic, sometimes witty, sometimes heartwarming, and always entertaining.

8. Fresh Prince of Bel-Air
I can say basically the same thing about the Fresh Prince that I can say about SBTB, except that instead of a bunch of kids in a school, it was just young Will Smith getting himself into a whole bunch of shenanigans.

9. Growing Pains
Mike Seaver was a badass (before all that Left Behind stuff). Forget the fact that he tormented Tracy Gold to the point that she actually developed an eating disorder. Or the fact that Kirk Cameron got a character kicked of the show because she had posed nude in Playboy, which went against his puritanical Christian moral beliefs. Just focus on the fact that it was a great family-oriented show, that attempted to focus its episodes on different characters on different nights, but always managed to bring everyone along for a great story, that sometimes even had a great message to boot.

10. The Cosby Show
Brilliant show from the mind of a truly brilliant man, and wonderful comedian. Bill Cosby led this show, and his comedy was muted, but always witty, but the other cast of characters, and the situations that the show confronted were what made it great. This show was REAL. It dealt with tough situations in a real way, and showed characters that had to deal with the consequences of their actions. The situations occasionally got wrapped up in a bow too nicely for reality, but I think that the show was interesting in showing an upper-middle to upper class family, living in Brooklyn Heights in the 80s, and the issues that they dealt with trying to raise their kids. Not to mention the fact that the show led to a great spinoff - A Different World.

Let me know what you think of mine, and tell me yours.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Funny math...

Something doesn't add up. Oh, right, it's the idea that we can make up a budget deficit of over a trillion dollars by cutting spending. Our total budget is just shy of 4 trillion, so the idea of cutting essentially one fourth of that seems ludicrous. This is the federal government we're talking about. Sure, there are several places where cuts are not only needed, but probably necessary, but that still does not mean that we can possibly make up the deficit simply by cutting out one fourth of all government expenditures.
And the - excuse me, but *bullshit* - idea that Republicans want to cut government for the good of the economy is just that - bullshit. If Republicans truly cared about the economy, they wouldn't call for cuts in only Democrat-supported programs, while supporting the continued massive tax cuts for the top 1% of income-earners in this country, that got us into this mess in the first place. Not to mention the fact that the "Bush years", where Republicans controlled both the presidency and all of congress, weren't exactly years of fiscal conservatism or austerity in the federal government. Republicans want smaller government...whenever the government is controlled by Democrats.
So where does that leave us? That leaves us the with politically unpopular (though not as unpopular as politicans would lead us to believe) decision to raise taxes. And I guess "raise" taxes is not really the proper term. We should simply let the unpaid-for tax cuts that the Bush administration put into place expire.
Two arguments Republicans make about this don't many any sense to me. The first is that letting the tax cuts expire on the richest 1% would hurt the "job-creators", and therefore would be detrimental to our efforts at stimulating the economy and creating jobs. My issue with this, as discussed in a previous post, is that this has proven to be demonstrably false. The so-called job-creators have NOT been creating jobs since these tax cuts have gone into affect, and have in fact been continually whining in an effort to get the rate even lower. The second argument is that we as a society should not continue to "feed" the government more and more money over time, because we're just creating a bloated system that doesn't actually use our money wisely. The problem with this argument is that operating costs increase over time; therefore it stands to reason that it would cost more money to run the government than it did twenty years ago - or even ten years ago. But somehow the Republicans believe that we can go back to some magical government expenditure amount that we had at some magical time when everything worked out perfectly. The problem is that there was never a time, and there is no magic number. Our government costs what our government costs. Should we eliminate or modify programs that dont' work...certainly. Should we try to eliminate waste wherever we can...of course (we could start by getting rid of congressional pensions and lifetime healthcare benefits). But overall, any business person has to admit that over time, the cost of operation goes up - that's a simple fact of life.

Monday, November 21, 2011


I can't say I'm terribly surprised that the debt-reducation "super-committee" did not accomplish their task. Congress, whether as a complete body, the house, the senate, committees, subcommittees, or super committees, have been completely unable to accomplish anything substantial in the past couple of years, especially with regard to the the debt and deficit, and tax policy.
Congressional Democrats and Republicans have diametrically opposed views with regard to debt-reduction and taxes, and therefore it is understandable that these discussions and coming to agreement would not be an easy thing to do. However, the job of congress, of our government in general, is to serve the people in this country. So it doesn't really matter whether they disagree or not, the very nature of politics, and their responsibility as politicians, is to compromise and come to agreements regardless of their differences.
Therefore, by the simple standard of serving the citizens of this nation, and compromising to pass legislation to take care of the debt and deficit, these men and women on this committee have failed us.
But let's not let us forget that the President (regardless of his actual ability to affect legislation, or not) has also been a failure. It's a failure of a different kind, but Republicans are correct in one critique of the president - his failure of leadership. There's been a lot of hand-wringing by Republicans and Democrats, blaming the other side for the failure to pass legislation, by saying the other side is not willing to give in on anything. This would indicate to me that both sides are acting childish and obstinate. But the failure of the president has been to push congress to act, regardless of whether Democrats or Republicans are getting exactly what they want. The president has wanted to remain above the fray, but the problem is that he's been characterized as uninterested (whether fair or unfair, if people are seeing him seemingly uninvolved, it looks bad as a leader). The president needs to push the congress, house, senate, subcommittee, super committee...whatever, to get their act together and pass legislation.
So now that the super committee has failed, we're left with these "trigger" cuts that will slash funds toward both military spending and heathcare and medicare. Falling back on "trigger" cuts is totally unacceptable; not to mention the fact that Democrats and Republicans are already trying to alter the trigger, indicating that cutting military spending is a no-go (Republicans), or cutting medicare and healthcare is a no-go (Democrats).
As a liberal, I have to admit that I see a large part of the problem being Republicans standing firm on the Grover Norquist strategy of never, under any circumstances, raising taxes. We're in a MAJOR debt/deficit crisis, which is not as dire as it's made out to be, but will become so if we fail to stimulate the economy. The problem with the current tax structure, is that it continues to give tax breaks to people who do not need it, and who are hoarding the money (NOT stimulating the economy). The real tax breaks that would help the economy, should go toward the middle class who will spend the money, get the economy moving again, and then those that have the means to start or build their businesses will do so, because it will be profitable, regardless of their tax rate.
A member of congress cannot be hard-lined; especially a member of a super committee whose sole purpose is to come to an agreement about debt and deficit reduction.

Shame on you, congress.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Anything new...? ...No? Okay...

Another Republican primary debate down, another night of uninteresting hackery. The more I pay attention to the Republican debates, the more I become convinced that President Obama is likely to run away with this election - even if the Republicans happen to do the smart thing and nominate Mitten at their candidate.
What strikes me most about the modern Republican party is that there is absolutely no vetting process for their primary process. Not to say that there necessarily should be, but at least in the past it seemed that the number of completely unelectable candidates was grossly outnumbered by the number of those that were (at least by experience). Admittedly, President Obama was not that credentialed when he entered the race, but the guy is a constitutional scholar and a brilliant campaigner and political mind (no Bill Clinton, but pretty good). The current crop of primary candidates are barely able to discern their own policy ideas within their own brain, let alone describe them clearly and succinctly in a nationally televised debate. Herman Cain is a wild card - I'll give him credit for that. The guy comes on the scene out of nowhere and sincerely excites a terribly unexcited Republican primary audience. His actual policy is a bit unclear (except, of course, for his 9-9-9 plan, which he promotes at every chance he gets), and his memory and ideas continue to shift in any direction he finds to be politically advantageous. Herman Cain has no possibility of winning the Republican nomination (even without the sexual harassment issue), but at least he's presenting himself as an outside candidate, and freely admits that he doesn't have much foreign policy knowledge. Several other candidates; Rick Santorum, Michelle Bachmann and Rick Perry are all running on essentially a platform of who is most conservative. None of them have the domestic or foreign policy credentials to be qualified as president, and their reliance upon one narrow topic show that they don't have the bonafides to be the leader of the strongest country in the world.

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Punctuation is important. Right...

I'm not sure where people learned typing and grammar (I'm not saying my punctuation and/or grammar is perfect; but at least I know the rules, even if I don't follow them), but there seems to be a misconception that two spaces are needed after a period. I'm not sure if this got started in grade school or middle school when we as students were struggling to write our five hundred word essay, but somehow the trend has continued for many into adulthood and professional life.
It baffles me. The two space after the period rule was created long ago in the age of typewriters, so that one could actually tell that there was a space between the period and the proceeding word. However, in this "new" digital age of computers, I think we've moved past the point of necessity; similar to the electoral college for presidential elections (I had to throw at least something about politics in there). The problem is that the majority of people, even working people, even professional working people, have simply not received the memo that the time of the two spaces after the period is over. I no longer have to count my words when turning in an assignment at the office, and I'm not trying my damnest to make my work assignment five pages by adding two spaces after a period and not only double spacing, but using the largest font I can find to expand the text to another page. If anything, our modern society, especially in professional settings, is about brevity* and keeping this tight and concise.
Get with the now - just ditch one of the spaces after the period.

*I'll freely admit that I am incredibly long-winded and therefore it is hypocritical of my to espouse brevity as a modus operandi. However, though I don't always follow my own advice, I think it's important to give it anyway.

"Do I contradict myself? Very well then, I contradict myself; I am large, I contain multitudes." ~ Walt Whitman

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

It's real, baby...

I was just listening to some songs on Youtube the other day, and I happened to think of a song I had not heard in a while, so I checked it out once again. R. Kelly's "Real Talk" is a VERY funny song.
Basically, the song is Kelly on the phone with his lady, asking him about some supposed dallying he was doing at the club with some other girls. Kelly goes off at one point during the song, telling the girl that her skanky friends aren't to be trusted, and that his girl should have just asked him about what happened, instead of accusing him based upon the word of her friends.
Kelly gets super serious in this song, and basically is just screaming at his lady the whole time. Check it out.

Monday, October 24, 2011

Of course we respect the right of religious freedom...

I had to comment on something that I heard in the Republican debate the other day (yeah, I know, discussing the debates is getting old, but this is touching upon another topic). In his closing argument, Texas Governor Rick Perry said that we in this country need to get back to religious freedom and moral values - meaning that he wants the country to stop embracing religous freedom of non-christian religions, and instead adopt strict Christian moral principles.
This seems to be a long-running, but seldom spoken, open hypocrisy within the conservative ideology, that reveals an intolerance on the part of many conservatives, even going into a presidential primary.
I'm not so naive to believe that we have a complete freedom of religion in this country. I'll even concede that there is a certain amount of religious speak within the formative documents of our country and that many of our founding fathers were representing some form of religious moral values in creating the laws from the outset and moving forward. However, the founding fathers, regardless of their personal religious perspectives, explicitly wanted to create a separation between church and state, and create a freedom of religion. A freedom of religion means the express right to practice freely whichever religion or lack thereof that one might choose; and separation between church and state being the unequivocal declaration that no specific religion should dictate the positions of our politicians or policies. The specific documents that these ideas were included in are moot, but the fact that the founding fathers had such foresight in creating them is not in dispute.
But over the past 30+ years, conservatives have begun to define religious freedom specifically as protecting Christians against the gross infringment of other religions and beliefs upon their precious moral values (too snarky?). While it's true that around 75% of Americans consider themselves Christians, we are still a country of laws, and not a theocracy. Therefore, while we decry Saudi Arabia and other countries around the world who have theocratic regimes, the moral majority, Christian conservative right, still push harder and harder to make Christian moral values the values of our whole country, even going as far as changing laws to comply with Christian morality.
Either conservative Christians don't understand or don't care that their denigration of minority religions in this country, along their religious laws, morals and customs, is simple hypocrisy, and specifically antithetical to the Christ-principled creation of their religion. But I suppose all of this is nothing new...

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Running out of ideas

I apologize for again bringing up another Republican Debate, but I find them fascinating. The difference in mindset between liberals and conservatives has become so stark, that I find myself baffled that we're actually able to co-exist in the same country - I suppose that is why the live in Texas and the midwest, and I live in Portland in the northwest.
Regardless, I couldn't help but be amazed at the fact that Republicans are still bringing up this Mexican border fence issue this election cycle. I certainly understand that illegal immigration is an issue that needs to be dealt with in this country; I think that both liberals and conservatives would agree, but our solutions to the problems are vastly different.
While almost every one of the Republican primary candidates support building a wall along the entire nearly 2,000 mile border between Mexico and the United States, at a cost of nearly $50 billion over 25 years, none of them seem to be bringing forth any real comprehensive immigration reform (short of calling them illegals and saying we should throw them out).
As I said before, illegal immigration is a problem. It is a problem, because it costs the country a lot of money, and greatly reduces the opportunities available to the immigrants themselves. However, simply trying to stop people from immigrating illegally into this country by building a wall is folly; it would be much more beneficial to face the reality of why so many people are immigrating to this country in the first place.

*Interest side note: illegal immigration has slowed dramatically due to the global, but more specifically the United States', economic crisis. The opportunties that once abounded for illegal immigrants are no longer as plentiful. Coupled with the fact that there are so many legal citizens in this country who are now willing to do work that they before were unwilling to do, and therefore because jobs for illegal immigrants.

The issue with illegal immigration - the main issue - that no one wants to speak about is the fact that the Mexican government is corrupt and the mexican economy is terrible. The United States has consistently over the course of the last century taken advantage of this close neighbor, never allowing them full sovereignty to determine their destiny in the world. We've time and again coerced them into signing treaties that benefitted the United States and Canada, to the detriment of Mexico. Surely it doesn't make any sense that the United States and Canada have had such robust economies, while Mexico's economy has rotted in the gutter. Their currency has remained fairly stable, despite a few hiccups here and there.
The problem is that NAFTA allows Mexico, Canada and the United States to trade tariff-free, giving the United States and Canada the ability to import cheap goods from their southern neighbor, but giving Mexico none of the benefits that tariffs give to companies who trade worldwide. Overall, the United States has used Mexico specifically for the use and benefit of the United States - to the detriment of Mexico - and then complains when Mexican people want to flee illegally into the United States to try and create a better life.

Thursday, October 6, 2011

Voiceless in a "free" media world

I will admit from the get-go here, that I have very little knowledge of the "Occupy Wall Street" movement that has sprung up in recent weeks; however, my specific knowledge of the rally/protest/movement does not really have to do with my overall commentary here. I'm going to be discussing a more macro-level issue at work, when I think that this protest is a micro issue (a good one).
First of all, I will say for the record that I like this protest. I don't necessary agree with everything being said (I agree with most of it), but I like the fact that Democrats are finally standing up and letting their voice be heard, instead of simply standing by and waiting for the president react to their complaining. Now, for the record, I'm still a fan of Obama. I think that he's done his best in a terrible situation, and I think that once he's re-elected we'll see a whole different president in term two. But, I also think that Obama's "best" has been reactionary to an obstinate congress, who because they are divided, can basically get nothing of substance passed. The Republicans in congress have made clear that their main goal is to "make Obama a one-term president". So with that as your focus, it seems like getting any real governing done would be impossible, because those ideas are antithetical to one another. If Republicans allow the president and Democrats to pass some bills with a sprinkle of Republicans ideas and a sprinkle of Democratic ideas, the Republicans still lose being the president will be shown to be getting things done. And god forbid the bills actually do what they're intended to the do; the economy could actually improve, and then Republicans would really be screwed.
Sorry, back to the lecture at hand. There has been a lot of easily anticipated criticism of this protest; "there is no focus", "it's just a bunch of hippies", "a few people protesting Wall Street is not going to change anything"...
Most of criticism seems to be the status quo trying to derail the movement before it has started (which is standard). We saw the same thing with the tea party movement. While I certainly don't agree with barely anything the tea party says, and while their later iteration may have had bigger - even corporate funding, it started as a grassroots movement of people that were frustrated and decided to stop stammering about it, and instead decided to make their voice heard. That is what I'm hoping this movement becomes. It's not that change will occur overnight, but it may be an eye-opener for Democrats that, while we want a Democrat to win the White House over a Republican, we still have the right and the duty to question the policies of congress and the president that we don't like or agree with. We need the president to know that just as Republicans are unhappy with the way government is behaving, we too are unhappy with the way government is behaving, but we don't want government to go away, we want it to shape up.
I'm sincerely hoping that this will be a true movement that will pick up steam and spread. Ideally, people of all political stripes would support this movement, and we could truly create a mass movement. But the unfortunate reality is that the Democrats/liberals in this movement probably don't want the support of the tea party or Republicans, any more than the tea party or Republicans don't want to support the movement. The irony is that liberals are frustrated with corporations for corrupting the government, and conservatives are frustrated at the government for being corrupted by corporations, but they're really both just frustrated with the broken system. If we could only bridge that gap in the way we thought, we could truly make some large scale changes.

Monday, September 19, 2011

Dumbing it Down

I know that I've touched upon this topic in the past, but after reading a Maureen Dowd op-ed piece the other day, I felt that I could use this post in order to properly formulate and write down my views about the anti-intellectualism, anti-fact, and embracing of stupidity that has become the status quo in certain social and political spheres in our country.
The sad reality in contemporary American - and to a large extent global - society, is that everyone has a different view of how things actually are. Those views are not based (at least explicitly) on traditional historical perspective formulations like family, friends, culture, geography, race, gender, or any of the other myriad of factors that could contribute to determining how you view and interpret what you see and hear. So what are they based up? Where you get your news. It's as simple as that. I think that everything else; your perspective on politics, love, literature, beauty, culture, etc., is all just an extension of where you get your news.
The reason is that the "news media", if they should even be called that anymore, has gone through a terrible transition over the course of its history, that has brought it to be something of a cultural cancer that is slowly eating away at [what we have left of] our democracy. News media started as a medium to disseminate information. And while I'm sure early media pioneers didn't always printed everything about everyone, this bias was much less systemic. The news media, and I suppose media in general, then became so large that they began having an affect on what we thought. They would built up or tamp down news stories, dependent upon whether or not it was politically and economically advantageous to do so. We began to see our world filtered through the news media's prism, and what came out on the other end was not only not related to fact, but was simply a dumbed down ad for some company, product, or idea. However, the contemporary "news media" (again, I think quotes are necessary when describing the current media phantasmagoria) has become so vile, that they no longer have an effect on simply what we think, but they've had a deleterious effect on HOW we think.
How can they do this, you might ask? Well, we've become accustomed to short, fast news stories, that are meant to thrill, but not meant to last. This has become our perspective on the world, personified in our everyday lives by our relationships, our spending habits, and leisure activities. Americans no longer wish to spend years learning crafts, not for money or fame, but for the joy of making something; no, Americans prefer activities that benefit them financially or socially, but which are a low cost to them in time and money. And we don't like to build relationships over long periods of time, getting to know one another well, and learning to depend on each other for comfort and support; it's much easier to talk via a screen, and never have to leave your house. It's easier to have children raised by others, and to have the television educate children, while they eat their dinner in front of it, than to read to kids or take them out for a bike ride. And we don't build things to last anymore; it's easier just to continue buying the same cheaply built garbage over and over again, than to buy things that will stay with you for the long haul. In fact, our society goes so far as to call people who hold onto things for long periods of time "cheap" and "hoarders" (there are real hoarders, but I'm not referring to them), instead of valuing their appreciation for well made products. Houses, cars, crafts, wares, they're all made quickly and cheaper out of poor products these days.

So what does it all mean? I don't know. I'm just as susceptible and guilty as everyone else, but I've always heard that acceptance is the first step in overcoming. A long-time friend of mine and I have discussed this topic many times, and I think he has what might be the best solution in the short-term, and a building block for better solutions in the long-term. The reason we're so easily manipulated into being told how to think, is because there is a void. Parents, friends, relatives, schools, no longer teach kids how to think. They believe that a child should "be able to think for themselves". This is true, but it misses the point. The point is that kids first need to know HOW to think, before they can learn to think for themselves. The activity of teaching kids how to think is not explicit, but rather a slow process of helping children understand that everything they're taking in should not be interpreted as being true. This isn't to say a rejection of facts, but simply being able to interpret a specific type of information. What we need to develop, from the time kids start school until the time they are no longer in school, is a critical thinking curriculum. Critical thinking is the single most important skill to have in today's world, and it is among the least valued in our society. If we all learned how to think rationally, and be able to "separate the wheat from the chaff", we've all be much better suited to deal with the sensationalist news media and society that is going on around us, and attempting to pull in a million different directions at once.
A glut of information is not a bad thing. But too much information, and no way to interpret it is very scary. So to meld these two ideas, we can embrace the modern media phenomenon of a literal orgy of information, but also understand how to sift through the information to find out what is true, real and right.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

After a short hiatus...

So it's been a while since my last post, and a lot has been going on both personally and politically.

On a personal note, I participated in the 30th Annual Hood to Coast Relay Race. For those of you not familiar with this race, there are approximately 1,200 teams that run approximately 200 miles from Timberline Lodge on Mt. Hood (the exterior of Timberline Lodge was actually used for the film "The Shining") through Portland, OR and onto Seaside on the Oregon Coast. Each team has 12 members, with six team members in each of two vans. I was recruited onto this team by a woman from work, who was in the other van, so I knew no one I was doing the race with. I'll tell you what, as a first experience, I couldn't have asked for a better group of people to do this race with. Everyone was so supportive, and made the running and the overall experience incredibly enjoyable. It's amazing how quickly you can bond with a group of people by spending nearly 36 hours in a van with them; especially since we're all sleep-deprived and exhausted from running anywhere between 15 - 20 miles. We saw each other at our highs (right before the runs) and lows (right after the runs) and I think it really contributed to the sense of team camaraderie. Our team did not come in first and I think our pre-race time actually disqualified us before we even began, but none of that really mattered, because the experience was more of a team/personal accomplishment than actually completing against the other teams (it's my philosophy of running, personified in a relay race). The finish was also quite wonderful, because not only did we get to meet up and hang out with the other van and the rest of our team members, but I also got to see some old New York co-workers who were also participating in the race on another team. I didn't stick around for the beach party, because the four hours of sleep in three days had definitely taken a toll on me. Overall, it was a great experience, and if you haven't done so before, you should consider forming or joining a team and applying for a spot (that's another thing, the race is VERY difficult to get into - nearly 10,000 team apply, and only 1,200 get spots).

In politics, it's been a pretty exciting month thus far. We had the president giving a much-anticipated jobs speech, with Republicans rebuking him days before it was even giving, and then following that up with another Republican primary debate where they threw the president's plan and reason out the window. And then there was the whole ten year remembrance of September 11, 2001, but I'll get to that later.
The president's speech was, as expected, a heavy-handed call on Republicans to work with Democrats on doing what needs to be done to create jobs. The plans and ideas, though vague, seemed to be a road map of how the president plans to blame Republicans if they fail to help him institute this nearly $500 billion plan. The problem is that Republicans have been unfazed before in the face of the president's threats (and the potential public outcry), and the most likely scenario is that their obstinate politicking will continue, despite the deleterious effect the high unemployment and low economic growth is having on our economy. While I think that the president's speech was more political posturing than anything else - the real proof will be in the bill itself - I think it was necessary posturing, considering the Republicans unwillingness to work with anything that might have even a small positive impact on the president.
The Republican debate was a bit more interesting with the inclusion of the newest person to jump into the fray, Texas Governor Rick Perry. I'm not a big fan of Perry, and I think he has no chance of winning the general election - though his chances of getting the Republican nomination are pretty high - but I think he adds a much needed Texas Governor (asshole) to the race, which had been sorely lacking. The funny thing about Perry getting into the race, is that he basically makes Michelle Bachmann irrelevant, and severely limits the possibility of Sarah Palin getting into the primary (unless of course she thinks she can beat him in a head-to-head fight for the fringe right - something she might very well be able to do). All Bachmann could do during the debate was continue to bring up "Obamacare" over and over, trying to tie it to every question asked, regardless of relevance. What Perry does for this Republican primary that none of the other candidates are able to do is bridge the gap between the party establishment and the far right (including the tea party). Rick Perry will stand up and talk like a well-seasoned politician, but then in the next sentence will call social security, probably the greatest social program the government offers, and serves what are probably the most important (politically speaking) constituents to winning an election, a ponzi scheme. His brand of Texas talk is the standard "in your face, if you don't like it we're doing it anyway", kind of politics that those on the far right adore; while his actual politics (policy-wise) puts him much more in line with standard Republican ideas and ideals. It's still anyone's game, with the first primary a little less than four months away, but I think we're seeing some standouts as the debates weed out those unqualified for the office (although none of them seem to be getting the notice, because we haven't seen anyone else drop out since Tim Pawlenty).

Finally, I think that I should address the remembrance of September 11, 2011. The horror of the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center will certainly be something that I will never forgot. However, not at the time, nor at any time after, have I lived with the illusion that we all of the sudden became some hyperbolized haven for liberty and tranquility, and that our subsequent military interventions were benevolent conquests to spread freedom to people that were wallowing under the manacles of violent despots, just waiting to be released.
However, I'm don't want to get into the manipulation and sickening use of the attack for political purposes; instead I think it's important to remember that there were nearly 3,000 people that were killed, and that those people were innocently murdered for the sake of a radical religio-political ideology whose aim it was to strike fear into our hearts, and disrupt our way of living. The people who were killed were fathers and mother, sisters and brothers, sons and daughters, grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins, friends. Many thousands of people that were nowhere near the World Trade Center, The Pentagon, or the field outside of Shanksville, PA, were affected by losing someone they loved. The ability to deal with and move on from this tragedy has been different for everyone, and some people grieve best by getting revenge. Some people grieve by withdrawing, and closing themselves off to the outside world until they've had time to figure things out for themselves. Some people go on with their lives as if nothing has changed, constantly trying to not remember the horrific events they've witnessed, or the loved ones they've lost. Others simply weep at the unimaginable destruction that was wrought, both to the planes and the buildings that were crashed into, but also in the hearts of people who cannot comprehend what would compel someone to do something so awful to others. The truth is that there is no comprehension of how people can come up with, plan and execute such a ghastly endeavor; but I guess our goal should not be to comprehend, but to feel sympathy not only for ourselves, but also for those that harbor so much hatred and anger within themselves.

Thursday, August 18, 2011

"When are you going to unleash us..."

In case you missed it this week, my favorite California Congresswoman, Maxine Waters, was in the news this week after pleading with the black community to allow the Congressional Black Caucus to challenge the policies of the president and rejoin the political fighting in Washington.
“When you tell us it’s alright and you unleash us and you tell us you’re ready for us to have this conversation, we’re ready to have the conversation." She went on to say, “We’re elected officials. We are trying to do the right thing and the best thing. When you let us know it is time to let go, we’ll let go.” Maxine Waters was finally uttering a feeling that I think a lot of Democrats have been having about President Obama, but have as yet felt unable to speak about. I personally don't think the Obama presidency has been a failure of leadership, but as a liberal, I would say that I am frustrated with the policies that have come out Washington during his tenure.
Maxine Waters, as one of the leading voices of the liberal wing of the Democratic Party in the House of Representatives, should be able to press the president day after day on every policy to try and push the legislation - and the country - in a more progressive direction. But what congressional members are seeing, and especially Democratic - and especially especially very liberal Democratic - members are seeing, is the president continually extending the olive branch to Republicans, watching them spit in his face, and then watching him wipe the spit off and extend the olive branch again. They're feeling as though he's continually trying to work across the aisle, but by doing so has forgotten about the people who supported him and elected him in the first place.
I think this is especially true of the Congressional Black Caucus, who as Mrs. Waters so vociferously pointed out, has felt "leashed" and unable to confront the president, because they worried about a backlash from the black community. While obviously the black community, and no other group as well, vote as a bloc, I think congressional Democrats - and especially the Congressional Black Caucus - have been walking on egg shells with regard to criticizing the president, because they don't want to scare people away from voting in 2012, and they don't want to anger a constituency that will get them personally re-elected. Waters stated this point in her meeting in Detroit, “We don’t put pressure on the president. Let me tell you why. We don’t put pressure on the president because ya’ll love the president. You love the president. You’re very proud to have a black man — first time in the history of the United States of America. If we go after the president too hard, you’re going after us.”
So why is it that people are so protective of the president? Why do Democratic members of congress, and especially members of the Congressional Black Caucus, feel unable to speak freely about the president and his policies? I think that part of it might have to do with the fact that president Obama, both as a great orator, as well as the first black presidential nominee from a major party, excited a group of voters that has up til now [then, 2008] felt left out of the political process and felt like they had no one that cared about them or was representing them. And while President Obama may have seemed to be this shining knight, for congressional members he's proven to be just a politician, and not a voice for the voiceless. So what congressional Democrats - and again, especially the Congressional Black Caucus - want to do is to give voice to dissent against the president in an effort to create better policy, and stop letting Republicans be the only alternative voice to the president's, without upsetting this very group of people whose political involvement is tenuous, and who because they are either blinded by his professorial manner and oratory skill, or because they don't necessarily follow politics, still see the president as the knight that is going to be the champion of the downtrodden.

Important Note: I think I've stated this before, and I think it's worth noting again; I support the president, and I think that he's accomplished quite a lot in such a rough political climate. Has he fully represented the liberal perspective like I would like to see - not at all. But then again, he ran on a platform of change, and his idea of change was post-partisanship, not necessarily progression and reform. But look for the president to change after November 2012. I think that during the president's second term, he will be the leader that we've been waiting for, and the champion of the downtrodden that we hoped he would be. With no political ramifications to hold him back, the president will be able to push ahead with his progressive agenda unfettered. He will become what we've always wanted him to be; or maybe I'm just blinded by his professorial manner and oratory skill.

Where did it go...

I've been uber-focused on politics as of late, so I'm going to take a break for a second, and tell you what's going on in my life.
A couple of weeks ago, I drove to a party at a friends house, partied through the night, and got a ride home when the party was over; leaving my car at my friends house overnight. I got up the next day, and remembered that my car was not outside, and decided to ride my bike over to my friends house to pick up my bike. I get to my friends house, hang out for a while, and then leave my bike behind and drove the car home.
Now let me give you a little background on my friends house. This is a house in which four girls live; they never lock their garage, they never lock their back door, and they have a lot of lawn furniture and two bicycles that sit unlocked in their unfenced back yard. Not to jink them, but these girls have never had their house broken into, and have never had anything stolen from their back yard or garage. So, I'm figuring it's a safe bet to leave my bike in their backyard, so much so that I don't even lock up my bike (my fault) for a night.
Well, I get a call from my friend the next day, and she asks me if I had come that morning to get my bike. I tell her that I had not, but why was she asking. She said that the bike was no longer there. I really didn't think much of the comment, and figured she just wasn't paying attention, or that one of the other ladies in the house had moved it.
I went for a run later and ran over to the ladies' house. I arrived, not really thinking about my bicycle, but more just hanging out. I hung out for a couple of hours, and then when I was ready to head home, I went to the back yard to search for my bike. Well, lo and behold, it was gone. I searched the garage, searched every corner of the yard, looked in the basement, and checked in with all of the housemates; no dice. I was baffled. No fence, garage unlocked, lawn furniture, other unlocked bikes, and none of them were touched; my bike was the only thing stolen.
I'm not hugely upset about the actual bike, it wasn't terribly expensive or nice, but what frustrates me is that a) a free, energy-efficient, exercise-inducing, (almost) carbon footprint-free mode of transportation was taken from me, and b) the fact nothing else was taken (I'm glad nobody else lost anything, but I don't understand it), so it felt like a conspiracy.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Did he just say that...?

After having missed the August 11 Republican debate, I finally had the opportunity to check it out in full yesterday. As a liberal, watching these debates are always rather frustrating and scary, but I feel that as somewhat of a political wonk, it's important to hear and understand (if possible) the perspectives of those on the other side.
While most of the questions thrown to the candidates are the standard softballs, occasionally they get hit with a tough policy question that the serious politicians and politicos like Newt Gingrich, Ron Paul and Mitt Romney have no trouble with, but the less astute candidates such as Michele Bachmann and Herman Cain find to be a little more difficult to answer.
What I think is interesting is how these candidates are trying so hard to pander to the right (most of them, anyway), that they'll probably going to end up crippling themselves in the general election. I was reading an article yesterday about how this primary is much different from that between Obama and Hillary, because in that fight they were attacking each other, but fighting for political moderacy, while in this Republican primary fight they're aiming all of their arrows at the president, but fighting for the fringe. I've got news for these candidates, the Tea Party, while it may be a vocal and vociferous movement, simply does not have the votes to give you the primary victory, or especially a victory in the general election. Winning the presidency in this country has to do with a) getting the majority of registered members of your party to actually show up to the polls, and b) getting a lot of independent voters (by registration - no voter is truly independent on the issues) to vote for you. It's that simple.
What the republicans are banking on is that they can excite their base enough so that ALL of them show up, and then the Republican establishment-types will vote Republican no matter what, because that's what they do. Then, they're hoping that Independents will be disenchanted enough with the economy (remember, stupid...) that they're turn their back on the President and his efforts to revive it. The problem with this philosophy is that it only works if Republicans sent one of their warriors to the general, and not one of their establishment candidates. Michele Bachmann will excite the base, but she has literally no chance of winning the general. Same goes for Herman Cain and Ron Paul. Mitt Romney and John Huntsman are on the opposite end of the spectrum; they can make a lot of money by appealing to the party elites, and could both possibly win a general election, but would most likely not do so because the party base would stay at home, and opt to mourn the state of the country, instead of handing the presidency over to a more mainstream, establishment Republican (to be fair, I give them credit for being principled, even if they are misguided).
Basically, I think the point I'm making is that Republicans are in a catch-22, and are probably going to lose the election. I don't know much about Rick Perry, but I find it hard to imagine that even if the guy is a great campaigner, and can play moderate for the Independent's sake, that the country would be willing to throw out the current intelligent, moderate, professorial president we now have for another governor from Texas.

Two asides--
First, I find Herman Cain's obsession with Islam and making sure that Shari'ah law is not practiced within United States courts very odd. The guy has tried to clarify his statements over and over again, but he continues to make his hole deeper. Cain has basically said that Christian values must be respected, because those are protected by the Constitution, but that Islamic values are essentially an infringement upon Christian values, and are therefore not protected by the same Constitution. When will Republicans give up their jingoist, pro-Christian agenda, and just respectfully let everyone believe what they want to believe (including Christians). Despite popular Republican opinion, respect for other religions does not infringe upon your rights.
Second, I think Sarah Palin's trailing of the Republican primary campaign trail to be kind of creepy. It seems obvious that all she wants is attention, which is probably why she will end up joining the Republican primary fight. However, with her credentials known (or lack thereof) and her name recognition already greater, than any of the other Republican primary candidates; to involve herself in the debates would probably do more harm than good. With almost 7 months before the Republican primaries are set to begin, Sarah Palin has no real incentive to join the fray, when she'll only be running as a celebrity candidate anyway, and everyone just expects her do so. She'll try and keep herself in the news, while desperately trying to bulk up her foreign and domestic policy knowledge. Look for Palin's primary campaign to be short-lived. She'll be in and out.

Thursday, August 11, 2011

A Bad Rap

There is a fairly common narrative going around the country today within Democratic and liberal political circles, that President Obama’s first term has been a failure. Not in terms of getting things done, per se, but in terms of living up to the hype of hope and end of partisanship that he so eloquently stated he would bring to Washington, DC and the country at large. I disagree.
I don’t disagree that there was a tremendous amount of hype surrounding the then first-term Senator, or that the Obama campaign took advantage of that hype to propel Mr. Obama into the White House. However, my disagreement stems from the idea that President Obama has failed to live up to this hype, or that he has failed to move beyond partisanship. You blanch?
The hope surrounding candidate Obama was that he was going to “change Washington”. While the specific understanding of this concept is rather muddled and ambiguous, and understood differently by almost every person in the country, the general idea was that the cronyism, corruption and extreme partisanship needed to end. So Mr. Obama swoops into Washington with a Democratically-controlled Congress, both House and Senate, and people start saying that what they always say when either chamber of Congress changes from one party to the other, that the President has a mandate. Just as a small digression, I will say that I hate this term mandate, as it undeservedly gives whoever is using an almost carte blanche authority to do whatever they want in the name of it. Tangent aside, Democrats eagerly got busy on their plan for overturning many of the more unpopular and unproductive policies of the Bush administration. President Obama welcomed Republicans, even though a large minority, to bring ideas to the table for shaping policy moving forward. The president tried to create transparency in government, and figure out what were some major policy matters that both sides wanted to deal with.
It was just about this time that the idea of reforming the healthcare system came to the forefront. For the next several months congress fought this issue back and forth, with the Republicans adding little to no actual policy suggestions, but instead repeating the message that the whole bill should be scrapped and the process started anew (euphemism for “kill the bill”). Republicans did not want healthcare reform; both because they thought jobs and the economy should be the number one focus of congress, and also because they – like Democrats in congress – had insurance and prescription drug lobbyists breathing down their necks, and stuffing money in their drawers. So the president did what he could to remain above the fray, while reasserting to both Democrats and Republicans alike, that this was going to be the most comprehensive healthcare reform in the last 50 years, and that they needed to figure out how to bolster care, provide options, and reduce costs. Republicans wanted nothing to do with this, so Democrats were left to fight this battle out themselves and suffered devastating scars from the battle.
Democrats not only got a bad healthcare reform bill, but suffered devastating losses in the 2010 midterm elections. The Republicans gained a few seats in the Senate, and won a huge number of seats in the House, thereby taking back one of the chambers. The president, though crestfallen over the demoralizing losses Democrats suffered in the elections, was nonetheless prepared to remain above the fray and work with Republicans on creating sound policy. What the president didn’t see coming was the influx of hard-lined tea party freshman that were not willing to work with moderate Republicans, Democrats, or especially the president on anything. Their view of government was that it was too big, and they saw their wins a sort of directive to begin the long, slow process of killing it from the inside.
Republicans, in typical “do anything to win” fashion, decided that they had to pander to the extreme tea party wing of their party, and as a result, the whole party shifted further to the right – both with regard to fiscal and social policy.
President Obama responded in his typical conciliatory fashion, welcoming the new members to congress and telling them that he was excited to work together. The new members were less than excited, however, to work with the president, or anyone else for that matter, and were hell bent on cutting government spending, taxes and any form of social “welfare” (i.e. any and all government programs) that they could. Their goal had nothing to do with creating jobs, but instead was simply pandering to their dogmatic ideology and the loud extremists that supported it.
Obama has since spent from then until now grinding out weak legislation after weak legislation, all in an effort to get something – anything – done, but continuously getting a stick in the eye from Republicans; both on the weak legislation itself, but also on his failure to lead. It’s a bizarre world. The president has made an effort to not only include Republicans in the discussion, but have given them more than ample representation in the bills he’s helped produce, even to the detriment of his own ideological principles. While some may see that as weakness, it’s actually showing a lot of strength and leadership, and the president is now taking flak from all sides for his neutrality.
I think the bottom line is that the fact that both Democrats and Republicans are unhappy with the president is a testament to what a good job he’s doing. Neither party really cares what party the president is a part of, as long as he’s willing to do whatever they want him to do. This president isn’t doing anything ideological for either party, and therefore neither of them can stand him for it. Although the American people might be frustrated by how ineffective government seems to be these days, it’s not the president that should take the blame, because he actually is doing what he said he was going to do, and he has brought change to Washington, it’s just that congress hasn’t yet received the memo.
To quote the Alfred from The Dark Knight, speaking of how Batman must be the bad guy for a while to do the right thing, “Endure, Master Wayne. Take it. They'll hate you for it, but that's the point of Batman, he can be the outcast. He can make the choice that no one else can make, the right choice.” This is what Obama is doing, and this is what he will continue to do. It might cost him the 2012 election (although I’m not really sure who to, as the Republicans have a very weak field), but he will continue to do what he has to do, and sign weak legislation, because that’s what he knows he has to do to get Republicans and Democrats to work together.

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

The long, slow decline

So Congress finally passed a bill, and the president signed it into law (at the very last moment - our heroes), raising the debt ceiling and taking aim at deficit reduction. The only problem with this bill is that it's completely absurd and useless. Okay, fine, if Congress and the president want to give themselves slaps on the back for averting a downgrading of the nation's credit rating, setting a pretty low bar, then I guess they did succeed (or at least they tell us they succeeded) in doing so.
However, the fact that it seems like every single important bill that gets passed a) at the last minute, and b) after contentious partisan debate that essentially guts the bill of anything substantial, tells me a couple of things. The first is that the Republican party has made a huge mistake caving into their far-right tea party element, and due to the fact that they're scared about losing elections, they're allowing a small, vocal minority run their show. The second is that our government, and I used government mostly as a euphemism for Congress and the president, are incredibly myopic in their legislation, and are pushing the United States further and further over the brink toward become another former empire.
Now don't get me wrong, I'm not saying the United States is going to disappear, or become a third world country; I'm simply saying that the days of the United States as the sole global economic, social and military superpower are waning. Not only are there other countries that are on the fast-track to superpower status (e.g. China), but our legislators are passing laws (or not passing laws) that are not only not taking care of the problems that they are intended to take care of, but in many - and probably most circumstances - are actually making them worse.
Okay, so where does that put us. Well, we could sit around and lament the slow decline of our once great (or at least said to be once great) empire, or we could embrace the fact that our government is the reason for the decline, and use that as an impetus for changing not only the people in government, but the actual structure itself - I'd say it's aptly proven to be a failure. This could have two different effects; the first potential effect is that this could turn around our decline, and we could actual recover, and remain one among many superpowers, and have respect for the rest of the world, and not always be throwing our weight around.
Or, we could continue on the downward trajectory toward the middle, but end up being much happier for it. I was having a discussion the other day about the decline of the United States, and a friend of mine brought up a great point - countries that were former empires are actually happier in the middle of the global power structure rather than at the top. At the top you have to think about how to stay on top; you have to constantly worry about how your economy is going to effect the rest of the world, you have to get involved in skirmishes throughout the world so that you can "spread democracy" and "freedom", you have to make sure to continue to put out great music, movies, television and other media (like Jersey Shore, Dancing with the Stars, Lady Gaga, Transformers 3 and the New York Post). It's all such a big chore. I think that with a country like ours, which according to Sarah Palin is represented best by those in the middle of the country (although they only account for less than 30 percent of the total population), we would be happy to settle into the middle of the global hierarchy. Let's ease the pressure that has been building in this country, and not only face our fate, but embrace it. Let's continue to pass senseless laws that have no chance of success, and blame one another for all of the ails of society. It's worked up to this point in bringing us down, and I think that if we continue with the same veracity, or even ramp it up a bit, we could fall dramatically in the next couple of decades.

To quote one of my favorite movies (although not on my favorite movie list), Almost Famous.
Lester Bangs: What, are you like the star of your school?
William Miller: They hate me.
Lester Bangs: You'll meet them all again on their long journey to the middle.

We're 'them', and the rest of the world is William.

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

The mind of a sick individual

Another tragedy. What is it with the world these days? A man sets off a car bomb in Oslo outside the Norwegian Prime Minister's office, and then goes to a summer camp - where friends of the Prime Minister were in attendance - disguised as a police officer, and guns down 68 people.
This guy then turns around and says that he did these things to defend Norway against Marxists and Muslims. Wow! When are people going to let these two groups off the hook? Muslims have been persecuted (along with other groups) since the dark ages, and continue to be the target of stereotyping and discrimination because of a relatively small radicalized few who carry out terrorist attacks in name of Allah (the compassionate, the merciful). Marxists have been the target of right-wing vitriol worldwide, and very specifically in the United States, since the Communist Revolution in 1919, and throughout the 20th century as countries throughout the world tried their hands at communism or socialism (they get lumped in as the same ideology, despite their differences). Although, I must say that all countries that have been described as "communist", have not actually followed through with Marx's vision to the endpoint, and have instead all stagnated in the "dictatorship of the proletariat" stage, with the Communist Party becoming a de facto dictator, with the head of the party as the head of the state (e.g. Chairman Mao, Premier Stalin, President Castro). But I digress...
What is scary about a man like this, and I guess people with mental health issues in general, is that their perspective of the world is so warped, that basically any and all other perspectives are at risk for offending them. This man described himself as being "at war", implying that what he's doing is essentially a crusade of sorts, and therefore he's not only right, but morally obligated to do what he did.
We've heard this story time and time again from fanatics with mental health issues (do all fanatics not have some mental health issues?), but I can't help but wonder why their mental state seems to so often manifest itself in religious or social intolerance and violence. What is it about our society that causes crazy (I use this word for ease, but I don't like it, and don't think that it gives the complexity of mental health issues their proper dues) people to often be crazy in specific ways? Are these people genetically inclined to be terrorist religious fanatics? Bombing churches, mosques, Planned Parenthood centers, or military recruiting posts. It's all just very strange to me. I cannot understand what makes these people do what they do, and I probably never will, I just thought it was an interesting thing to think about why they do what they do - or more specifically why they are the way they are - instead of just calling them crazy or insane, or some other euphemistic word that doesn't really do justice to the range of mental health issues that they may be dealing with.

Thursday, July 21, 2011

A simple issue made complicated

I was reading an article in the NY Times today that was asking New York kids what they thought about the legalization of gay marriage, and it got me to thinking that I haven't talked about this issue once since starting my blog.
I guess the reason I haven't addressed the issue is because I don't see there being much of an argument, since it's a simple civil rights issue. However, the fact that there have been some major changes that have been made in the last few years is worth taking note of.
First off, I must say that after reading the article I'm incredibly heartened by the fact that [it seems] as we move forward generations, we're exposed to more and more, and therefore are more open to difference and change, and kids actually embrace said change. Although, I think I would be remiss if I did not mention that kids in New York City are obviously going to be exposed to a lot more, and be much more open than kids anywhere else in the United States. That being said, I think the trend is universal, even if it's to a lesser degree.
Alright, onto the actual discussion of gay marriage, gay marriage vs. civil unions, DOD, anti-gay marriage amendment to the constitution, etc.
For me - and I will state "for me" from the outset, because I suppose I have a different perspective than a lot of people, because I have so many gay friends - the issue of gay marriage is a simple one. Marriage began as a religious ceremony, where two people pledged their unity before whatever god it was that they worshiped. The ceremony was, at that time, not recognized by "the state", because there was no state to recognize it; and even if there was, there was nothing especially important to recognize. So, on through the ages, marriage continued to be defined as a religious institution. However, as soon as "the state" began to recognize marriage, and provide rights for people based therein, it ceased to be a purely religious ceremony, and became a civil ceremony, and a civil union. So, when people don't support "gay marriage", but support civil unions, they're actually supporting gay marriage, because marriage, outside of a religious context, is actually just a civil union with a different name. Now, that doesn't mean that I support civil unions over marriage, because there is an important distinction that cannot be overlooked, and that the obvious legal ramifications of upholding a law that is creating a "separate but equal" situation.
Why do you think the anti-gay marriage amendment has not had more traction in congress, even when President Bush supported it, and he had a Republican senate and Republican house? The reason is that politicians know that a law like this would never survive scrutiny before the Supreme Court, because even conservative justices like Scalia and Thomas could not overlook the fact that this is a blatantly discriminatory policy. And by bringing the argument before the court, and losing on discriminatory grounds, the anti-gay marriage side would essentially be codifying the national right for gay couples to marry. This, in fact, will most likely end up being how gay marriage will become legal nationally; and then there may be a law that will follow.
I try to understand the other side's perspective on this issue, as I think that a lot of people have fear about what they are not exposed to, but while individuals - or even religious institutions - may not support the right of gay couples to wed, there is really no legal basis for this argument, and therefore I'm still at a loss for how states continue to uphold open discrimination. The anti-gay marriage advocates should relish this time, however, because the days of discriminating against gay couples who wish to marry are numbered; CT, IA, NH, VT, NY and the District have set the tone, and the rest of the states will start falling in line.

Friday, July 15, 2011

Let's create some happiness

I was sitting at work today, and my gaze happened to drift up to one of the many pictures/quotes/speeches that I have hanging in my office, and for some reason a line in one of them really got me to thinking.

The movie speech in question was Charlie Chaplin’s famous speech from the end of The Great Dictator (The movie is pretty ridiculous – standard Charlie Chaplin shtick – but the speech is worth checking out on YouTube, it’s wonderful). Several paragraphs into the speech, Chaplin as The Jewish Barber (character name), pretending to be the dictator Hynkel, speaking to the Tomanian (representing Nazi) soldiers and people, says:

“You, the people, have the power – the power to create machines. The power to create happiness! You, the people, have the power to make this life free and beautiful – to make this life a wonderful adventure. Then in the name of democracy – let us use that power – let us all unite. Let us fight for a new world – a decent world that will give men the chance to work – that will give youth a future and old age a security.

What struck me about this passage is not the words themselves, but how odd it is that we spend so much energy combating hatred and evil, and such little time we spend trying to spread love and happiness (thanks Al). Honestly, it’s just as easy to make someone feel great as it is to make someone feel awful. You give them a compliment, you make someone feel better; you give them an insult, you make them feel awful. And yet, too often we break each other down, instead of build each other up.

And why is that?

I think that we as a world and as a people have become cynical. We think that life is simply a struggle; therefore, we’ve reverted to the Hobbesian world of every person for themselves, and putting people down is the only way we’ve learned to build ourselves up. The problem with this philosophy is that we thrive, but no one is happy, and because of that no one cares about one another.

It’s time we change the tide; stem the anger, aggression and meanness. I’m not suggesting we fight human nature, but I am suggesting we fight human nurture. We all as humans – or at least most of us – are rational; therefore, the decisions we make typically derive from a thought out position, even if that position was thought out previously and have become a learned reaction. What we need to train ourselves to do is stop and think before we act about how we’re treating others. Instead of making a job at someone expense, say something nice about them. Instead of lashing out at your significant other because they were late for dinner, tell them that you were really anxious to see them, and therefore it was difficult to you to wait for them. Next time your child make you seething angry, remember that creating life is an amazing gift, and tell them that you love them, despite the fact that they’ve done something to make you angry (especially since they probably didn’t even know they did something to make you angry).

The bottom line is that we just need to stop and think about how we treat others, and how our treatment affects them. Stop, think and change our behavior to the positive, instead of the negative.