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National Self-Examination Day?

Wednesday, April 2nd, 2008

The NY Times posted this intriguing story about why we human beings inflict pranks, humiliation, and degradation on each other, the varied motives we have ranging from malice to a fond spirit of fun, and the different ways we react to being on the receiving end running the gamut from rage to sincerely enjoying a laugh.  The story emphasizes that self-examination, one way or another, is a typical response.

It’s interesting to think about - self-examination does not seem to play a big part in mainstream American culture today, if it ever has. And yet the theme of practical jokes is, collectively, one of our favorites. We see it in TV shows from Candid Camera to Punk’d, in subcultural initiations from fraternities and sororities to military boot camp, in workplace rituals like those Monster posts as a side topic on its job-search board, in rites of passage from bachelor parties to those who-thought-of-this birthday songs that so many restaurants inflict on their staffs and customers. We see it not only in April Fool’s Day but in Halloween.

Sometimes the level of pain seems to match the level of learning and growth available from the experience, if we choose to use it as a spotlight to illuminate parts of ourselves and our lives we may not have been giving enough consideration. You could make a case for that being the case in the cliche of an alcoholic or addict needing to hit bottom to find the insight and motivation to get sober, in the day in an abusive relationship we finally mutter “Enough!” through gritted teeth and start packing, or whatever prompted Johnny Paycheck to write the song “Take This Job and Shove It.”

Just after I spotted this NY Times story, I read Jet’s post about growing hunger in America and the looming threat of another Great Depression, and seeing the two items so close together sparks the question: what will it take for us, the American people or the human race, to look at a whole range of things about the way we’re acting now and say, “Enough”? We’re living beyond our means.  We have the greatest imbalance in the distribution of wealth in terms of standards of living the world has ever seen - depending on which satellite TV channel I watch on our big-screen LCD hi-definition TV, I can see an ad in which some over-made-up woman is smirking about how she has a Cadillac SUV and I don’t, or I can see kids who remind me way too much of my own grandchildren who would just like to have enough to eat, clean drinking water, and a home better than a plastic tent in a refugee camp. We’re idly watching the icecaps melt and sea levels rise while we haggle about to what extent it’s our fault rather than what we might be able to do about it. There are ever-higher levels of poisonous plastic and heavy metal molecules getting into our tissues from our air, water, soil, and food, and the consensus of the most informed biologists is that 50% of the species now living will be extinct by the end of this century because of human activity.

Meanwhile, the tools that humanity has used to lift ourselves from hunting and gathering to exploring space, i.e. science, education, the study of history, and the scientific method (not to mention the needed accompaniments of ethics, psychology, and all it takes to live the examined life), are under siege and losing ground to the forces of religion, cultural chauvinism, and sheer mental laziness. There are tens of millions of people in America who simply refuse to believe facts, scientific and otherwise, that are uncomfortable, and too many politicians who are perfectly willing to prevent research and action needed to save lives because it serves their own short-term interests (if there is a God and God has a mean sense of humor, all the fundamentalist preachers and politicians will end up dying of diseases that could have been cured with stem cell research.) What resources we do have, we spend way too much of on weapons, stupid luxuries, and conspicuous consumption. For a fraction of what we spend on stealth fighters, nuclear submarines, and tanks - i.e. weapon systems that are marginally relevant in today’s world and will remain so for the foreseeable future (see The Utility of Force by retired British General Rupert Smith) - we could provide safe drinking water and immunizations against several common diseases for every human being on the planet.  But we do have our priorities.

After millennia of progress in human rights, huge parts of the human race are working tirelessly to dehumanize, discriminate against, and sometimes persecute and kill anyone different from them.  People are now campaigning for an anti-gay-marriage Constitutional amendment, which would be a bizarre reversal.  Except for Prohibition, which was repealed, every amendment to the Constitution has expanded people’s rights, never foreclosed them.  In future generations, I believe people will consider this movement as ignorant and barbaric as we now consider laws against interracial marriage, or marriage between people of different faiths.

It’s easy for people to say that it’s always looked as if the world was going to hell in a handbasket and it always will. But there have never been six billion mouths to feed before. There has never been a world civilization as tightly laced together as this one is by jet-age travel and satellite communications, wrapped around as much heavily armed malicious ignorance as exists today, in this toxic an environment. Never before has there been as much potential for massive death, suffering, and loss of civilization as there is now; it would be unlikely that we would actually render ourselves totally extinct, but we could easily return to a pretechnological level and see 95% of humanity starve or die in other unpleasant ways in the process. One thing that is certain is that we’re headed for some kind of wall.  When we extrapolate recent history into the future - in population growth, energy, epidemiology, climate change - they collide in ways that make it impossible for us to continue business as usual. The only answers that seem to occur to those rowing in the wrong directions are that it doesn’t matter because the Millennium is coming (a lot of other cultures have expected that kind of rescue, but it’s never happened yet, and there is precisely zero evidence for it other than people reassuring each other that it must be so because they want it to) or that they don’t have to think about it because they, themselves, will escape via the end of their own lifespans, so they won’t think about it, and anyone who wants them to must be doing something sneaky, dishonest, or un-American.

Problems we choose not to try to solve tend to solve themselves eventually, usually in ways we regret. Maybe a lot of our problems just don’t have solutions, or none within our power to enact; but if we don’t look for them, maybe we, collectively, don’t deserve anything better than whatever the blind workings of fate hand us. But I think my grandkids, and those kids in the refugee camps, do deserve better, and they aren’t getting a vote. They aren’t April Fools, they’re innocents, and they don’t deserve to bear the brunt of our behavior whether based on malice, stupidity, laziness, or whatever.

Clinton Calls It Quits, Joins McCain Ticket for ‘08

Tuesday, April 1st, 2008

In a surprise move, campaign officials for democratic presidential hopeful Hillary Clinton are to announce April 1 that the New York Senator is withdrawing from the Democratic presidential primaries and is joining Republican presidential candidate John McCain’s ticket as his running mate. Political insiders and beltway pundits alike were surprised at the timing of the announcement  , but not altogether shocked by this latest development. Clinton has been running second place to Democratic rival Barack Obama for months now, her campaign war chest is running low on funds, contributors to her campaign are tapped out, and many long time political allies have been leaving the campaign in droves. 


According to an anonymous Clinton campaign official, Mrs. Clinton feels she has a better chance of realizing her lifelong dream to become president of the United States by switching parties now. Once the pre-ordained Democratic nominee, a string of primary losses to Obama have put the Clinton campaign into a downward spiral. 

“She sees the writing on the wall. Clearly, this isn’t her husband’s Democratic Party anymore,” said the campaign official. “If we’ve learned anything over the past few years, it’s that sometimes experienced politicians have to do courageous things in order to continue to help America. Joe Lieberman did it in 2006. Hillary is doing it now.”


Some Clinton supporters think the move is brilliant, and will continue to support Hillary no matter what ticket she’s on.  

“I think it’s brilliant, “ said Nancy Bigbee of Westchester, Vermont. “McCain’ s like, what, 75 years old or something? She’ll probably be president in no time this way.”

And that nugget may well hold some gold in it. McCain’s health hasn’t been much of an issue in this campaign, but he is 70 years old, and would be the oldest president ever sworn in to a first term if elected. A bitter Democratic primary season has battered Mrs. Clinton among her former party, making it a long shot for her to get the nomination at this point. This is likely her best shot now at getting back into the White House. Obam a supporters have mixed feelings about the announcement  , being somewhat happy that the bitter in-fighting will finally end, but mostly being indifferent, having stopped listening to Clinton months ago.  


Rumors of a possible Clinton party switch have been circling Washington recently following Sen. Clinton’s media appearances with Rush Limbaugh, Fox News, and Richard Mellon Scaife, a vociferously staunch opponent of Mrs. Clinton and her husband, former president Bill Clinton, for years. Even Ann Coulter loves her. Democrats have been not so quietly rumbling about what they saw as her attempts to cozy up to the “vast right wing conspiracy she once railed against. Senator Clinton’s own recent comments also seem to have been quietly laying the groundwork for just such a tactic. Earlier last month she repeated on several talk shows that both she and Senator McCain had the lifetime of dedicated experience needed to run this country, something her former Democratic opponent Barack Obama didn’t have. In fact, up until today’s announcement  , Senator Clinton had been Senator McCain’s best campaigner, with her repeated attempts to derail the Obama campaign.  

“All of the dirty tricks of the last few weeks, from the NAFTA frame-up against Obama in Ohio to the subtly drawn out race issues and Reverend Wright associations to the sublimation of the primary rules in Florida and Michigan- all these things and more have been part of the Clinton campaign’s efforts to divide the Democratic party and bring some votes over to a McCain-Clint on ticket,” said the unnamed Clinton campaign official.

When asked about the timing of the announcement  , coming on the heels of Senator Clinton’s steadfast refusal to leave the Democratic race before the end of the primary season, this same official noted that, “April is clearly the time to strike. We know what we’re doing here. We’re not a bunch of fools.” 


But what does a McCain-Clint on ticket hold for Republicans?   For starters, Hillary Clinton began her political life as a Barry Goldwater disciple, the former Arizona Republican and presidential candidate in 1964. Long embraced by the more conservative Republicans, Hillary’s early associations with Goldwater’ s brand of politics probably runs deep in her own political psyche, proving her to be a Republican at heart. It’s not just coincidence that McCain also hails from Arizona.

But more than just her conservative underpinning s, Clinton brings to the GOP ticket that tough, but feminine touch that’s been missing all these years- like Margaret Thatcher did for Britain’s Conservative party in the 1980’s. Conventional wisdom holds that Republicans, especially women, wouldn’t vote for Clinton come hell or high water, but that truth probably won’t hold at the ballot box. During her husband’s Oval Office infidelities  , Mrs. Clinton stood by her man to the end. While derided at the time for by many women’s groups, then First-Lady Clinton unknowingly started a trend that has been seen all too often these last seven years during GOP prominence. For every Congressman convicted of taking bribes there’s been a wife by their side. For every GOP sex scandal (from cruising for page boys to soliciting in the airport bathroom) there’s been a tightly smiling GOP wife by her man. These women credit Hillary for their strength almost as much as they do their faith. Clearly Clinton can hold her own with this demographic at the polls. And that’s one area McCain clearly needs help with. Hilla ry also shows promise that she is willing to carry on with some of the more popular Bush policies like the War in Iraq, by giving life to the falsehood that she had to dodge sniper fire on a trip to Bosnia while serving as First Lady.  Such inspired untruth telling shows she’s not only ready, but also willing to say anything to get her point across. This is the kind of trait Republicans love in there politicians- the power to change reality to fit the situation at hand.  Both Clinton and McCain bill themselves as Bi-Partisan leaders and they’ve proven this much. Both reached across the aisle to support the Iraq War. Both supported the Illegal Alien Amnesty bill brought forth by Senator McCain and Senator Ted Kennedy (D-MA) before they opposed it. Both supported Bush’s No Child Left Behind program too, and still support it generally despite its high costs to states, narrowed curriculum geared towards testing, and less than stellar results. In these and many other issues, Hillary Clinton and John McCain seem to make the perfect political couplet in generations.  


But the bottom line is that Hillary Clinton has had her sights set on the presidency for decades. It is her life long dream and from her point of view, this year was supposed to be “her” year. She’d hoped to take the prize under the Democrats banner, if only to tie the double-shot secured by the Bush clan. But with Barack Obama clearly the popular choice among registered Democratic voters, and among many Independents too, Mrs. Clinton is realist enough to know that her only ride back to Pennsylvania Avenue is in the back seat of John McCain’s limo- and faced with the prospect of losing it all, a short stint as VP looks pretty good to her now.

The announcement  , scheduled for release on April 1, 2008, also noted that both Senators McCain and Clinton would be unreachable for comment for most of the day, as they will be coordinating their campaign strategies for the next phase of the campaign.


(Cross posted at Common Sense)

Tags: , , , , , 2000 Presidential Campaign, April Fools Day, Clinton McCain 08, democratic primary, hillary clinton, John McCain, Republican

A Conservative Republican’s Problem With Dick Cheney

Monday, March 31st, 2008

Mickey Edwards is the author of “Reclaiming Conservatism” and served as a Republican Congressman from 1977 to 1993.  He was a long-time ally and supporter of Vice President Cheney, but as he notes in this piece in the Washington Post, cannot reconcile his respect for the office and the man with Cheney’s attitude about who runs what as expressed in a recent interview.

As Mr. Edwards notes: “It is Cheney’s all-too-revealing conversation this week with ABC News correspondent Martha Raddatz.  On Wednesday, reminded of the public’s disapproval of the war in Iraq, now five years old, the vice president shrugged off that fact (and thus, the people themselves) with a one-word answer: “So?”

Edwards continues to explain that the most difficult decision he had to make while serving in Congress was whether or not to send young Americans to war by authorizing the first President Bush’s actions in Desert Shield and Desert Storm.  He makes the point that the Founders had seen, in the actions of the crowned heads of Europe, too many wars launched and continued without regard to the concerns of the peoples of the nations involved, and hence they wanted to ensure that any war conducted by the U.S. was declared and continued only with the approval of the American people.

As he eloquently concludes, “If Dick Cheney believes, as he obviously does, that the war in Iraq is vital to American interests, it is his job, and that of President Bush, to make the case with sufficient proof to win the necessary public support.

That is the difference between a strong president (one who leads) and a strong presidency (one in which ultimate power resides in the hands of a single person). Bush is officially America’s “head of state,” but he is not the head of government; he is the head of one branch of our government, and it’s not the branch that decides on war and peace.

When the vice president dismisses public opposition to war with a simple “So?” he violates the single most important element in the American system of government: Here, the people rule.”

Hear, hear.

“Return On Success?”

Saturday, March 29th, 2008

So, when people who disagree with the President’s Iraq agenda suggest we pull out some troops, it’s bad and “a win for the terrorists.” But when George suggests that drawing down troops, it’s a good thing because the process is going to be called “return on success?” Sounds rather spurious to me. Have a look:

Q Paul Bongiorno, Mr. President. As you noted, Australia will begin withdrawing 500 combat troops from southern Iraq. And I heard that you accept this decision, which did, as you say, play out in our election. But how does it fit with your view, expressed quite strongly again yesterday, that to withdraw troops at this time would be to retreat? And you’ve described our former Prime Minister as a “man of steel.” I’m wondering how you’d describe Mr. Rudd.

PRESIDENT BUSH: Fine lad, fine lad. First of all, I didn’t exactly say that. And by the way, we are withdrawing troops. It’s called “return on success.” And our intention is to have pulled down five battalions by July. Troops are coming out — five brigades, excuse me — troops are coming out, because we’re successful. And so I would view the Australia decision as “return on success,” returning home on success.

Does it really matter what the President calls a troop withdrawal? I wait patiently for the troops to return, but I think he should not berate those who advocate withdrawal and then claim that he’s the saint for doing it,particula rly given the nasty situation he has caused in Iraq and has yet to fix.

That’s fundamentall y different from saying, well, it’s just too hard, pull them all out. That sends a different signal. This is a signal in which we’re working collaborativ ely with the Iraqi government. They know our intentions, and they know we’re not going to leave them.

In the very same speech, I talked about developing a long-term strategic relationship with Iraq, as well. And for those who didn’t listen to the full speech, I will remind you that it’s in our interests that we enter into such an arrangement. But a long-term strategic arrangement does not commit any future President to any troop level, nor does it talk about permanent bases. But it does talk about a joint strategic relationship to make sure that the Iraqi people know, and the Iraqi government knows that we’re not going to leave them in the lurch.

And so we are taking troops out, just like the Australians are, because we’re being successful. And his question — Steven Lee’s question was, well, are you going to bring any further out? Not, are you going to bring any out; are you going to bring any further troops out — from that which we committed to do earlier. And the answer is, it depends on what our commanders say, and the folks in Washington say, and it depends upon conditions on the ground. His real question was, have the conditions changed such that you believe your commander is going to make a different recommendati on that he might have two days ago? And I can’t answer that question. I can only tell you what I’m going to do after we get back from NATO.

Thank you for coming. I’ve enjoyed it.


An Exclusive Cheney Interview

Saturday, March 29th, 2008
Bring it On brings you an exclusive interview with Vice President Dick Cheney.


Iraq Attack: Now You Can Relive It

Wednesday, March 26th, 2008

Frontline has a new documentary that highlights the events that comprised/co mprise “Bush’s War.” I caught it last night on the HD PBS channel.

If you would like to amplify your queasiness and heighten your belief that perhaps going to Iraq was the wrong thing to do, I suggest you watch it. The closing words, “Stalemate,” really makes the whole Iraq “WMD Hunt, Liberation, Freedom and Democracy spreading” debacle more despicable and reprehensibl e on our part. Unloading the fury we unleashed on Iraq over these low five years seems less and less justified and more and more like a quagmire that could have been avoided if George Bush and his Administrati on was not there.

Kids Spanking Kids Now A Sex Crime?

Friday, July 27th, 2007

This goes down in the “Zero Tolerance Run Amok” category. Two 7th grade boys at an Oregon school face 10 years in juvenile detention and a lifetime as registered sex offenders if a district attorney has his way. Their crime? Running down the hallway of their school slapping girls on the ass-a bit of horseplay that several students have said was a common form of greeting in that school. But even as the boys were suspended by the school district, and while the booys and their parents acknowledge that their behavior was inappropriat e, the DA is pressing forward, saying “These cases are devastating to children, they are life-alterin g cases.”

He’s got that right. Life altering for the boys that is. Especially since the girls in question have recanted their testimony, saying the were pressured by police to give false statements.

Two of the alleged victims spontaneousl y offered to testify on behalf of the boys. Under oath, they told the judge they were friends and did not feel threatened by them. The two girls also testified they felt compelled, during the initial interviews with Tillery and Roache, to say things that weren’t true.

“Well, when the (vice) principal asked me stuff, I kind of felt pressured to answer stuff that I was uncomfortabl e, and that it hurt, but it really didn’t,” the girl said, explaining that she didn’t think anything sexual went on.

Now look folks- unwanted sexual contact is never a good thing. But we need to rationally discern between what is sexual content and what is just bad behavior. The boys’ behavior was immature to be sure, but it isn’t certainly wasn’t rape, and definitely not worth the possibility of 10 years of confinement.

zero+toleran ce, sex+crime

Tags: , Sphere: Related Content

California Court Caught Outsourcing Motorist Info To Mexico

Friday, July 27th, 2007
It started with a call from a listener to the John & Ken Show, a popular radio talk show in LA. The caller, an employee with the Orange County Superior Court tipped off the show about the courts “cost saving” practice of having motorist traffic citations sent to a Nogales, Mexico company for processing. The [...]

GOP Shying away from CNN YouTube debate

Friday, July 27th, 2007

Color me unsurprised. I can’t think of much to be gained by taking questions from voters who give the current administrati on a 25% approval rating. There’s plenty of fodder for the question mill, and damn few of them are easy lobs that candidates can use to spring into canned talking point speeches. Paul and McCain accepted. The rest?  


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CA: Most Day Laborers Illegal Immigrants, Low Education

Thursday, July 26th, 2007
A new study based on information from the National Day Labor Survey (conducted in 2004) has determined that most day laborers in California make up less than 1% of the state’s workforce. And they are mostly under-educat ed illegal immigrants. The report seems to agree with the claims of anti-illegal immigration groups who say that [...]