Monday, December 21, 2009

Full Steam Ahead on U.S.S. Irresponsibility

We have no rudder, we're almost out of fuel, springing leaks everywhere. Let's take this baby out to sea!

The congress has been busy spending money these past few weeks. Your money. Well, not actually your money, per se, it's either China's money that you are responsible to repay, or they are stealing it from you via inflation by firing up the printing presses. Either way, they have shown that they have no more concept of reality than the Wall Street Fat Cats that they would have you believe are our only problem. Only Wall Street tycoons are in a position to steal from you, right? Regardless, I hope you have your $39,000, because that's your share, and they'll end up getting it one way of another.

It began with the new $1.1T spending bill that made its way through the House and the Senate about a week ago. According to the facts as provided to me by Evan Bayh (D - IN), there is an 8% increase in the budget across the board. Not many corporations are fortunate enough to get that kind of increase in spending in their 2010 budget. Not many workers are getting a cost of living raise of four times the rate of inflation, either. Bayh, to his credit, voted 'No' on the bill, only one of three Democrats to do so, but he has been guilty of plenty of reckless spending otherwise (cash for clunkers, TARP, Stimulus, Healthcare).

We can also thank our friends in Congress for over $4B in earmark spending hidden in the bill. Over 400 earmarks were submitted by Chuck Grassley (R - IA), though he claims not to know how many actually made it into the final bill. I subsequently saw him on television defending himself, saying that while he submitted the earmarks, he did not vote for the bill. Apparently that leaves him, in his mind, entirely faultless in the fiasco. It's all justifiable in politician-logic. The way Grassley sees it, everyone wins: He gets his earmarks to mollify those who pay for his elections, because the bill passed without him, yet can still feign outrage, citing his 'No' vote on the Senate floor. He's in luck, because the bill has been signed. What was that I remember about going line by line to eliminate earmarks (2, 3, 4, 5)?

They tried to sell us that the budget would be better next time around when they passed the $410B 'Omnibus' budget bill at the beginning of the year. They tried to sell that it was 'last year's business, leftovers of the reckless spending of the dreadful Bush era (even though all budgets are constructed by congress, controlled not by George W. Bush, or even republicans over the past two years).

Without a hitch, they moved straight to healthcare. Not that anyone has read or knows what is actually in the bill. We do know a few things, however. Chris Dodd (D - CT) was able to get $100,000,000 packed into the bill for a medical center in Connecticut. What, exactly, does that have to do with providing health insurance for those who can't afford it? Ben Nelson (D - NE), was paid off, outright purchased, by getting the federal government to pick up the state's ENTIRE Medicaid tab, FOREVER. He had been holding out on 'moral grounds,' regarding federal funding for abortions. The people in his state made it clear that they didn't support federal funding for it, and it was looking like he would not be re-elected in 2010 if he voted for the bill. So did he change his vote based on a compromise in the provisions that he (and his constituents) found objectionable? No. He supplied his vote in exchange for CASH, just like Mary Landrieu.

Such fortitude! Way to stand your ground for your 'beliefs,' good sir.

For those of you living in the 49 other states, realize that he is voting 'Yes' on the healthcare bill in exchange for YOUR paying Nebraska's Medicare bill for the remainder of the existence of our republic. Enjoy!

Don't get me wrong, we need healthcare reform. There are a great many things within the system that are broken. And who broke it? State and federal government, of course. They were lobbied by insurance companies to put up walls to competition and falsely inflate their profits. We would not be here without the complete and utter complicity of those who are entrusted with the authority to 'fix' it.

Yes, something needs to change. But we don't need secrecy and back-room pay-offs to get it. Is their cause really so noble that they need to pass it behind closed doors and the cover of darkness? We need to know what is in the bill BEFORE it is passed. And, I know that this might sound crazy, the bill should ONLY INCLUDE PROVISIONS WHICH ACTUALLY ARE RELATED TO THE ISSUE TO BE ADDRESSED. No pork. But Harry Reid (D - NV) said himself, if Senators aren't trying to get something for themselves, they're not doing their jobs.

Why are these bills so ridiculously massive? Why do they keep getting bigger? Well, Harry just said it. Everyone has to have a little something in it for them. And each time, they feel like they need just a little more. And a little more. Have we had enough of politicians using taxpayer money to pay off their campaign contributors? Have we had enough of their pandering to corporate interests? Have we had enough of them using tax dollars to ensure their own continuing power? It would seem not. Apparently it's only the bankers and Wall Street fat cats and insurance company executives that we need to worry about. That's what the politicians keep saying, at least.

Wake up and smell the debt. Feel the water we're taking on. Realize that it won't be the Captains who go down with the ship, it will be the passengers.

Pelosi, you'll be back at the helm soon enough. Steer us well.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Movie Perspective: Invictus

Is it a Nelson Mandela movie? Is it a rugby movie? No. It's a human movie.

The only things Clint Eastwood's latest has in common with his other recent movies (Gran Torino, Changeling, Letters from Iwo Jima / Flags of Our Fathers, Million Dollar Baby, Mystic River) is quality.

The movie, based on the novel Playing the Enemy: Nelson Mandela and the Game That Made a Nation by John Carlin, paints a portrait of the cultural upheaval in South Africa in the early 1990s. It begins with a startlingly well conceived scene contrasting the two populations sharing the country. As Mandela is driven through his country, just released from prison, the black children play soccer in rags on one side of the street, while the whites practice rugby in uniform on the other. "Remember this is your country went to the dogs," the white coach tells his players.

I remember these events to a degree, from my youth. Taking place when I was ten or eleven, apartheid was explained to me, and my young mind couldn't wrap itself around the idea. What sort of people could allow such a system to take place? Yes, the U.S. has slavery in its past, but to me, at that age, it all seemed so long ago. I was shocked that this sort of thinking still existed in the world that I lived in.

Eastwood uses rugby as an effective storytelling device, demonstrating the tightrope that Mandela was forced to walk after he became president. Morgan Freeman's performance, per usual, is top notch as Mandela, who must persuade his people, to embrace the country's rugby team, Springbok, which they all hold as a symbol, down to the mere colors the team wears, of their oppression. In order to save his country, Freeman's Mandela must help his people to balance on a razors edge between justice and revenge.

Mandela works with Springbok coach/player Francois Pienaar, deftly played by Matt Damon, to find a way to overcome odds to win the 1995 rugby World Cup. A victory in the tournament, which was held in South Africa, could unite black and white in a way that few other accomplishments could. Mandela must inspire Pienaar to rally and overcome not only the cultural mores of the mostly white team, but their seeming lack of skill.

Other ideas explored were Mandela's own difficulty dealing with his estrangement from his family. The dichotomy of his ability to overcome the obstacles of integrating two people so untrusting of each other, with his inability to unite is family provides an interesting back drop. Furthermore, the integration, and later friendship, among the black and white presidential security detail is an entertaining underscore.

If I allowed myself one complaint, I suppose that I could have done without a few of the slow-motion-men-grunting-in-the-scrum scenes that portrayed the World Cup finals, but that would be nitpicking at the harshest. Invictus was a movie that informs while entertaining, keeping this viewer, with very little understanding of rugby fully engaged throughout. It has inspired me to learn more about the events as they took place, and is an moving tale of the unifying power of sport.

Rated 4, Recommended

Scale: 1 - Awful, 2 - Substandard, 3 - Average, 4 - Recommended, 5 - Must See

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Enlisting in the War on Christmas

When I woke up this morning, there were ships as far as the eye could see. The fleet had sailed in overnight. I watched as they loaded into their Higgins boats and amphibious landing craft, and now they are nearly to shore. But we will all fight to our last breath. We will take our beliefs to the grave. We will never be defeated in spirit.

Yes, the time of year is upon us again. The time when we are placed in the middle of a never-ending battle to the death: The War on Christmas. Fox News is on the television, droning on about their latest findings about which companies do and do not allow their employees to say "Merry Christmas." The ACLU has legions of lawyers at the battlements, prepared to fight off any perceived assault on what they believe to be the world view of the defenseless. Everyone has battened the hatches and armed themselves to the teeth. Careful liberals, Fox is watching you for war crimes. Don't get too cocky, Fox, Keith Olbermann has you in his sights. Gotcha!

But when did we transition from the tried and true cornerstone of democracy, "While I may disagree with what you say, I will defend to the death your right to say it," to "While I may disagree with what you say, I will defend to the point of offense to my delicate sensibilities to say it?" Have our skin really grown so thin?

I have a hard time believing that a Christian wishing someone of another faith, or no faith at all, a Merry Christmas in the television department of Best Buy is really going to alter their system of beliefs. Nor do I fear that one person's decision to be an atheist should play any role whatsoever in another's choice of faith. Yet, faithful and faithless alike still take to the streets and do battle every year. Both sides love nothing more than to evangelize their point of view.

But what if, just what if, an atheist said "Thank You," when someone tells them Merry Christmas? What if a Christian said "And to you, too!" when a Jew wishes them a Happy Hanukkah? If all are comfortable in their beliefs, they should not feel the need to belittle the other for a greeting that is really only meant to convey good will. Should stores, businesses or government bureaucracies require their employees to convey such a greeting? Of course not. But is it the end of the world if they do?

Here's hoping for a day where liberals and conservatives alike can find a way to avoid taking offense to things that have no real effect on them or the people they are wont to protect. Until then, I look forward to many more meaningless arguments about whether it must be called "Winter" or "Christmas" break. Enjoy the season.

Monday, November 30, 2009

Do You Believe in Global Warming?

The argument is starting to remind me of a time we all go through, as kids start to ask questions about Santa Claus. Do you believe? How could you possibly believe THAT?

The Santa argument was probably never as polarized and many times, hateful, as the global warming debate, even though children always behave as, well, children. But the way people react to differing beliefs tends to be much the same.

There are only two camps that so staunchly believe in their ideology that they will only consider evidence that supports their favored hypothesis. How could there be more? On top of that, only my side is right. Only my side has supporting scientific documentation to support our claims. On one side, you have your Al Gore-types and his followers who have all agreed that "the debate is over." On the other, Rush Limbaugh and many conservatives have decided that there is no such thing as global warming and never was.

How can two polar opposite views have so much "scientific evidence?"

The only scientifically viable answer is that neither of them are completely accurate. Those of you who are familiar with the scientific method know that it only takes one piece of contradictory evidence to debunk a theory. There are no exceptions. There are no circumstances, scientifically speaking, that allow contradictory evidence to a hypothesis to be ignored in order to keep hope alive. It's just an inconvenient truth.

Yet, the debate rages on. Why? Because people use the argument for purely political purposes. There has been no raging public debate about the nature of black holes. It is possible that the earth will be destroyed completely by one of them someday. Why no debate about how to combat the black hole problem? The answer seems fairly simple:

  1. The threat is too distant for people on this little blue rock to sufficiently fear, and
  2. There is no cuddly face (polar bears, penguins, etc) to attach to the issue to help sell the masses on the idea.

Thus, it is not an effective tool one can use to garner influence. There is a great deal of power to be had and money to be made on both sides of the climate change debate. It is doubtful we will see the end of it any time soon. Even with the release of emails documenting a group of scientists fudging the numbers, and revelations of unreliable computer models, one side seems to want to take the belief to the grave. There is no way that contradictory evidence could ever be as valid as supporting evidence. In fact, it's probably fake! True believers and scientists who are desperate for research grants unite!

Meanwhile, the other side will just as obstinately insist that humans have no effect whatsoever on the environment. They point to the lack of warming over the past decade, and how disingenuous the claims because of the semantic shift from "Global Warming" to "Climate Change." Climates have changed constantly over the course of this planet's evolution (Some may not use the word "evolution," as they feel it is an affront to God. For the sake of this conversation, we will assume that we are talking about the majority of people on this side of the debate that do not believe that the Earth was created 6,000 years ago). The fact that climates have continued to change must mean that humans cannot have an affect on that or future changes! There is no way that contradictory evidence could ever be as valid as supporting evidence. In fact, it's probably fake!

Wait. Isn't that the justification the other camp just used for their beliefs?

Chances that there is no effect are very slim. Every action has a reaction. Our emissions must have some bearing on the future of the planet.

One thing that we can be more certain about: Both sides will continue to hide their true intentions. Would Al Gore still eat meat, use a private jet and live in a house that uses 20 times the amount of energy as the average house does in a year if he were a true believer? Would Sean Hannity bother to drive a Hybrid Escalade if he were a true doubter?

The reality tends to be somewhere in the middle. We have all heard the old adage: "There are three sides to every story. Your side. My side. And the truth." Chances are good that there is plenty of dishonesty to go around.

Should we all conserve and keep our environment as clean as we can? Of course! Very few of us enjoy living in a filthy habitat, and I believe that most people understand that in the long run, what is good for the environment is good for us. Should the government regulate business and tax citizens to the point where they squash productivity? I have my doubts.

Something tells me that 50 years from now, children will still be calling each other names, we will all still be here waiting to see which side can blow harder, you'll still probably be better off eating a salad in a Hummer than a cheeseburger in a Prius, and Florida will still be where America goes to die. We will have developed cleaner technologies to produce more sustainable energy, the most effective being the ones that were allowed to develop rather that the ones that were forced into development.

Welcome to the new religion. Spread the gospel and destroy the opposition. I, on the other hand, will take my science without God or politics.

That being said, I have no real or non-conflicting scientific data to back my assertions.

I should fit in just fine.


Thursday, November 19, 2009

My Wife Likes Purdue, Is Just Like Hitler

Most of us can agree that nothing tarnishes a moustache style faster than being responsible for 17,000,000 deaths. But does that equate to effectively tarnishing the image of a person or people with which we disagree with by comparing them to a man who was responsible for 17,000,000 deaths? The thought makes me give my premise a second thought. Perhaps a minor disagreement with my wife regarding our respective alma mater's doesn't make her deserving of a Hitler comparison.

But how much disagreement do we need to have in order to merit a Hitler comparison? If I am a pacifist, is anyone who has lad a nation in war deserving of that comparison? Would Are James Madison, Lincoln, Wilson, Roosevelt, Kennedy, Johnson, Bush, Bush and Obama "just like" Hitler?

The answer seems fairly obvious to me, and that answer is: No. Yet, I feel like I am a part of a dying breed, because comparing leaders, and the people who support certain contentious positions seems to have really taken off over the past decade. And before all of the Obama zombies out there get too excited, it isn't just conservatives that use this tact. Remember George W. Bush?

But that was different, right? Bush is much more like Hitler than Obama could ever be. He started not one war, but two, remember? Those wars are responsible for not only several thousand deaths within the ranks of the U.S. military, but also thousands of civilian deaths. Was not that war perpetrated under false pretenses?

Give me a break. Bush and Obama are more like each other than either is like Hitler. And the qualities that they do share with Hitler, they would appear to share with each other, and most other politicians. Belief that they are the only people that have the one, true and clear vision that will take this country to prosperity and equality? Check. Wildly out-sized Ego? Check. Willing to lie to the American people? Check.

While neither they, nor their supporters are likely to admit the above, they are true. And true of most politicians. One of the unwritten rules of Washington is that they will lie to the American public, but not each other. I would venture to guess that they don't even follow that rule very closely.

The Hitler comparison does, however, accomplish two things:

  1. It makes the people holding these signs, and professing the similarities look like fools.
  2. It drives a wedge between citizens that only helps to further the real agenda of both political parties.

But what is the real agenda of the parties? To gain and hold power, of course! Watch these people for any extended period of time, and it becomes obvious that the only thing that these people truly believe in is their own indispensability. Regardless of political philosophy, the people who run this country have shown, not with their words, but with their actions, that the populace exists only to provide them means to sustain their status and position. Perhaps someday, if they can consolidate enough power, they will bestow upon us the utopia that only they are fit to build.

In order to gain and hold power, the parties need to be able to break people down into homogeneous demographic groups. Crossover within these groups only makes it difficult to analyze the "coalition" needed to achieve victory. The focus is always placed upon what makes people different, rather than what makes them similar. Ask yourself: Why does it seem like the most utilized ideological arguments within the parties tend to boil things down to abortion? Could it be because it is an extremely emotional issue, with sides between which wedges are easily driven? But is it the issue that affects the most people?

Once they the two parties have people divided into two camps based upon this issue, they can begin to sort, and assert ideological control over them. The first step is to encourage demonization of the other side. What monster could ever support killing babies? What horrible person would ever deny a woman her choice? Could the answer be... Someone just like Hitler? This wedge has been used for a nearly a century to help "consolidate a base." It has been pushed to the point where each camp can hardly see how they could possibly have anything in common with the other. The politicians hardly need to stoke the fire anymore, we're exactly where they want us. We're so busy turning on each other that nobody has the tome to keep an eye on what they are doing. They thrive on misinformation and confusion.

I was watching a program last night where Peal Jam front-man Eddie Vedder (who has a liberal viewpoint) was asked how he felt about some of his fans having different ideologies than he and his band-mates. He responded by saying that he felt that it incumbent upon him to have strong convictions, and encouraged everyone to do their own research, and not wear blinders. And I think that it intimated something very powerful, but perhaps not exactly what he wished to convey. He has blinders of his own. He obviously feels that any logical person who does research would come to the same opinion as him. In a perfect world, that might be true. However, I am sure that he tends toward research that tends toward the conclusions in the direction of his internal compass. Unfortunately, we all do, and I will discuss this more in a later blog. The point is that while there are always vast areas of agreement, where everyone's moral compass will overlap, it is not part of the human condition to form societies of homogeneous opinion.

Does that mean that some people are "good" and some people are "bad?" Maybe. Are there people out there who the the capability to become as bad as Hitler was? Probably. Does that make people who disagree with you on points of policy "Just Like Hitler?" Probably not.

So until Obama starts to blame the country's economic woes on Jews, and starts professing that we need to invade Canada and Mexico so that our people can have "lebensraum," until our military kills every single person in Iraq on Bush's order, the only person that these comparisons will reflect on will be the people who make them. But at least they did get one thing right: It always seems to be same shit, different asshole.

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Targeted Messaging

It is time that we step back, and take a look at the messages that we are targeted with, and start analyzing their content... their meaning... their directive.

For example, when is someone most likely to be telling us the truth?

A) When they are delivering a scripted address at a live press conference, or or some sort of recorded message (commercial, internet advertisment, etc.) in which they have carefully selected the language based on in-depth market research and / or polling data.


B) When they are in a room with like-minded individuals, and believe that the interaction is not being recorded, and will not be seen or heard at any point by anyone outside of said group of individuals.

It has long since been time to look into the processes behind the many messages that we are bombarded with each and every day. Maybe we should be a little bit more discriminatory about who we recieve information from, and what ends they are trying to accomplish.

Difficult? Maybe.

Vital? Probably.