Sunday, May 31, 2009

Sunday rules!

Rule #108: An Unfortunate Truth
Al Gore is no longer an argument against environmental protections. Cast aside the dumb argument that he is the Pied Piper of manufactured ecological outrage (as if man-made pollution isn't obvious all over the place); the profit motive is also a weak accusation, because the Gores were wealthy before the Internet was even a twinkle in Al Jr.'s eye. If Gore wants to invest and possibly profit in something that he's been fighting for his whole life, something that helps the world survive, then more power to him. Does that make his campaign any less correct? No, it does not. And it's certainly a better use of his riches than most of the people who criticize him would ever risk. It also doesn't help that Gore's critics have been pronouncing his name derisively for years. Apparently, it's all they've got.

Rule #109: Exit Stage, Right
The Republican National Committee does not get to criticize Barack and Michelle Obama's date night on Broadway. Not only is that excruciatingly petty of a major political group, but they seem to have forgotten all the trips that their boy George W. Bush took to Crawford to clear brush. And anyone who dared suggest that Bushes or the Reagans were putting on airs in a time of economic crisis was branded as promoting "class warfare." Now, however, we're supposed to be outraged that the President of the United States and his wife, who have millions of their own money and work untold hours every week trying to save this country from Republican economic policies, went out one night in New York. Yeah, God forbid the Obamas take a break from work for one night and spend some time together as a married couple. Man, that family values thing sure is selective! And so is that socialist outrage: apparently, Obama isn't allowed to spend money in a weak economy either. No wonder he wants to bring down capitalism. Such false outrage from the Republicans is rapidly ceasing to be outrageous. Apparently, this is all they've got.

Rule #110: Con Descension
The more likely you present something as gospel, the less likely I am to trust it. This classic street-preacher tactic relies on two assumptions: 1) the recipient is uninformed and misguided and 2) that, simply by reading something, they will magically come around. Lately I've seen a lot of this from several avenues, by otherwise smart and engaging people. I appreciate informed debate, even if it gets heated at times, but there's a certain paternalistic condescension to some of it. Nobody knows all the answers, so it's always a bad idea to start the debate on the premise that you do. Conversely, it's also a bad idea to suggest that someone is ignorant just because they don't agree with you. Awareness is not always the same thing as approval; to suggest that it is actually makes me less inclined to consider your idea.

It's disingenuous to deride someone for being a clean slate, only to base your pitch on the hope that they actually are a clean slate. It's not something you do when the evidence speaks for itself. Engage on an intellectual level, not an evangelical one. Maybe then I won't think, "Is this all they've got?"

Rules archive

Friday, May 29, 2009

Someone explain this one to me. Maybe I'm too manly to understand.

On my way home from work late last night, I was waiting to turn left from a three-lane one-way street onto a divided highway. Some yahoo in a giant Ford pickup was in the center lane. When the light turned green, he cut me off by turning left (he had his turn signal on at least, which is why I'm not dead). I honked, prompting the driver's shit-kicking friends and a blonde girl too cute to be with them to turn around and make faces. True to form, the truck slowed to a crawl as soon as it turned. As I passed, the driver and I made eye contact, and he looked douche-pissed (a new word I just made up to mean angry but too wrong and pathetic to do anything about it). For the record, he looked like a cross between Kid Rock and DJ Qualls. Git-R-Drunk!

I think it's all over. Suddenly, I see a frighteningly huge set of headlights suddenly shoot toward my rear-view mirror. I shift to the right lane, and so does he. I shift back into the left lane, and so does he. I shift halfway into the right lane and then back into the left, and he follows my exact movements. For 45 mph, this seems to be unfolding in awfully slow motion.

He's trying to run me off the road. I'm petrified. It was all I could do not to tap on my brakes and see just how Ford pickups stack up on the crash-test scale. But the last time I did that, many years ago, some soccer dad in a big black Suburban actually tried to pull me over. What, to compare bumper trims? I don't want to personally confront these bad-driving bastards; I just want them out of my danger zone.

Back to the present. This would be a lame way to die. I could only hope my friends would fudge the cause of death into something more dignified, like autoerotic asphyxiation.

And by the way, where is the police? No cops anywhere! Figures the one night I need them they aren't there. Thanks a lot.

Fortunately for myself and my car, this idiot had to turn right, while I was headed left. Otherwise, this game of hemorrhoid might have continued. As we split, I peered into the truck's cab. They appeared to be laughing and whooping, as if what they just did to me was the highlight of their week.

A similar event happened earlier in the day, when a Mexican contracting crew in a very similar vehicle also turned from the wrong lane at a different intersection. To their credit, they weren't trying to butt me; they were just in the wrong lane. And they sought permission, at least. Still annoying, but that counts for something at least. Weird day.

Can somebody explain to me what exactly the allure is of putting someone else's life in danger? What is it about reckless driving that gets people off? What sort of pent-up desires does trying to bump someone off the road satisfy? Hell, I'm still trying to figure out why people find peeling out sexy: "Ooh, that dude can push a rubber pedal faster than than his wheels can gain torque, thus wearing down his tires too fast in clouds of air-polluting dust! Hot!"

Apparently that works for some people. What a world.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Can he nominate four more as well?

Obama nominates Sonia Sotomayor for Supreme Court

If approved by the Senate, Sotomayor will be the first Hispanic to sit on the SCOTUS (maybe - definitely the first in a long while). She is considered a liberal judge, though she has had the support of presidents from both parties as well as easy bipartisan support from Congress in the past.

Republicans have expressed a desire to confirm her, but Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) promises it won't be a "rubber stamp." That's fair. However, there are a couple of subtexts that suggest the GOP is going to fight dirty. For one thing, Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas) is quoted by the Washington Post as saying this about Sotomayor:

"She must prove her commitment to impartially deciding cases based on the law, rather than based on her own personal politics, feelings, and preferences."

And that, too, seems fair. Except that, according to the BBC:

Conservative activists have already challenged comments she made a few years ago that a judge should not dismiss their own gender or ethnicity in deciding cases, our correspondent says.

So it sounds as if they're setting up a partisan challenge predicated on the notion that someone's life experience should not influence decisions - wrapped up in a 'gee, shucks' veneer. Kinda fishy.

Also, GOP leaders have expressed concern that they won't have time to thoroughly vet her in time for her to take her seat by October, as Obama has requested. Never mind that this announcement is actually earlier than most, and that most others have made it in plenty of time. Prepare for stonewalling by the minority party. And that's exactly what it would be, because it doesn't take five months to learn about someone from scratch, much less someone who has been part of the judicial system for decades.

I just hope any criticism of her is based on reality and judicial matters rather than her last name. "Sotomayor? That sounds like Soetoro! Where's her birth certificate? And where's Obama's?!!"

Wouldn't surprise me in the slightest.

Sunday, May 24, 2009

A Memorial Day thought

When describing American military might, people often say:

"If it weren't for us, the world would be speaking German!"

I'm not suggesting that the sentiment behind it is misguided. But why single out "speaking German?" As if that's the worst thing that could have happened! This trivializes the accomplishments of all the Allied troops in World War II. The real saying should go something like,

"Were it not for our troops, we'd be living under Nazi tyranny"

or, "Were it not for our troops, we'd be incinerating our Jews, gays, blacks and all other minorities"

or, "Were it not for our troops, we'd be a world occupied by the most extremist forces this world has ever known."

The threat of the Axis powers was very real and very perilous. German is a high school elective. What I'm saying is, give veterans the real credit they deserve.

Happy Memorial Day.

New rules

Rule #105: Queasy rider
Stop decrying motorcycle-helmet laws as affronts to "personal freedom." There is a reason motorists are required to wear seat belts, be sober, drive safe vehicles and follow traffic laws, and it's got nothing to do with infringing upon "personal freedom." See, the thing about public highways is that we all use them, and thus everyone has a shared responsibility to ensure that no one gets hurt. Motorcycle crashes have an astonishingly high mortality rate as it is, and riders have less protection than mandated in cars simply by design. It seems in every biker's best interest to wear helmets.

I know, I know, there's that whole thing about the wind through your hair. I know the feeling just from riding a bicycle, so I can only imagine the intense rush it must be at high speeds. But there's something else I know as well: concussions. I suffered one from ice skating that nearly caused permanent brain damage, and that was probably a 2 mph impact at most. Since then, I've had no problem wearing a helmet on my bike. I don't even need a law for that.

But we do need laws mandating motorcycle helmets. Not because it's a nanny-state thing, but because bikers, like all drivers, affect the actions of everyone else on the road. Accidents don't take their toll only on those who crash. It's not an attack on "personal freedom" to reduce the risk that the wind doesn't go through your scalp as it lies on some startled driver's windshield.

Years ago, I had a friend who was killed on a motorcycle. He was wearing a helmet and driving responsibly, but someone in a van failed to yield on a left turn. He hit it broadside, flew into two other cars and died at the scene. His passenger, also wearing a helmet, was left in a coma and required a long stretch of physical therapy to recover. The biker's helmet split in half, but his head supposedly remained intact. With such high risks involved all around, it's everyone's responsibility on the road to take the most protective measures and actions. Then we can all be free to get wherever we're going.

Rule #106: No slap on the terror wrist
Some perspective is needed regarding the closure of Guantanamo Bay. You really don't think U.S. prisons could hold these guys? Are they supermen? Ramzi Yousef spent a stint in custody at the U.S. Medical Center for Federal Prisoners, which is about three miles down the street from where I live. I've also driven past the Supermax in Florence, Colorado, where Yousef now shares cell space with the Unabomber and other scary people. The fortress looked pretty secure to me, though, to be fair, I was looking at it from the road. Maybe if I edged a few feet closer, I would have seen a foxhole or something.

But that's the rub with the Supermax; they put all of our worst terrorists together, and even let them mingle in common areas. Somehow, this doesn't result in anything, and our highly trained guards and state-of-the-art prison technology keeps them accounted for. I'm sure Coloradoans weren't thrilled to have Tim McVeigh, Ted Kaczynski and Ramzi Yousef enter their borders, but the Supermax has to be somewhere, right?

The home where I grew up was a few blocks away from the city jail. That might seem like a bad proposition, but to paraphrase George Carlin, anyone who escapes the jail is going to go as far away from there as they can. And I never knew any criminals to run amok there.

It seems to me the very best thing we could do is bring these inmates to the United States. Yes, I think they all deserve real trials and not tribunals. That would probably set a lot of them free, whether it's because they were rounded up by Afghan bounty hunters to beef up numbers or because our own actions undermined our cases. But for the guilty ones, the genuine threats, why not put them in our prison systems? After all, we're the best prison pros in the world, and we also have a certain je ne sais quoi that would probably keep any terrorist plots in check. It's that mythical quality called, pissed-off U.S. inmates. Oh, and supposedly the fairest justice system in the world. Here's our chance to finally prove it.

Rule #107: Jump in! The water's fine
If you think waterboarding's no big deal, then you have to have it done to you. To his credit, blowhard radio host Mancow Muller did a watered-down version of it (sorry), and in just a few seconds completely reversed his pro-waterboarding stance. Jesse Ventura went through it as part of SERE training when he was a Navy SEAL, and he can't hate it enough. Come to think of it, every single person who has ever experienced the situation seems to consider it torture. The only people who don't are such sideline soldiers as Sean Hannity, Rush Limbaugh, Dick Cheney, George W. Bush and their supporters. Hannity agreed to do it for charity, but has since scaled back that promise. Too bad, because the moneymaking potential of that event alone probably would've ended the recession.

I think the real reason they refuse to do it is exactly why people want it stopped: because it is torture. Period. This issue is as slam-dunk as they come, so where are the prosecutions? Somebody get on that right now! Stop torturing us.

The rest of the rules

Saturday, May 23, 2009

Friday, May 22, 2009

My dreams are jerks

I have this recurring nightmare.

No, not that.

The nightmare involves my middle and high school English teachers and my gifted classmates. The premise: it's the present day, and even though we now live all over the country, we regularly come together in this sort of hybrid between a classroom, coffee shop, locker room and treehouse. It's pretty awesome.

The reason we're there is because - not to give any idiot politician any ideas - we have to keep renewing our high school diplomas. The way we do that is to undergo a semester of projects, which are outlined in a syllabus given to us at the beginning of the session in a manila folder. It's a laundry list of big assignments, including dioramas, presentations and lengthy papers on such illustrious topics as literature as a lethal weapon and blogging as a cure for world hunger and whatnot. We're then let loose for an extended period of time as we work to meet each deadline.

My course of action in each dream follows the same trajectory: I put the folder in my locker, hyped about making each presentation the best in the history of history, visit with some friends and go on my way. Life goes on.

Next thing I know, it's the end of the semester. And while I'm happy to be back again, I become enveloped in a cloak of dread as I realize I haven't done any of the work! "OK," I think in my typically delusional state, "I have a few minutes. I can wing it." But I can't even cram, because I can't remember the combination to my locker. So I run through every locker combination I know. 16-22-0. 26-12-22. 38-28-8. And so on. Fuck you, brain.

Finally, one of them works. I identify it as the combination to my football locker. I pull out my folder and stare at its long list of completely unfinished contents. Just then, the teacher arrives. Depending on the particular dream, it could one of any of several real-life teachers I had. Usually, it's one of the more prim and demanding instructors, but not always. Regardless, I generally feel like the least-prepared and dumbest person in the room. And it's not because I actually am, but because the bar is so high to begin with, and to do all of the work perfectly would require a virtual suspension of every other aspect of my life.

Whatever comfort that brings me, however, is immediately dashed by the teacher calling on me first to share my work. Stared down by so many faces with whom I grew up, as well as teachers who seemed to look down on me for not being ambitious enough, I completely wing it. I steer the presentation towards blogging and politics because, aside from awesomeness, that's what I know best. It has almost nothing to do with the actual topic, but I make enough of a tenuous connection to at least get through the thing (still a tactic of mine, come to think of it). Right when the teacher begins to roll her eyes, I wake up, more tired then when I went to bed in the first place.

Still, I always feel this enormous rush of relief when I open my eyes and realize that it was all in my head, that I am not in fact in any trouble. I think these nightmares are my mind's way of reminding me that things could always be worse. Pain before pleasure. Mental S&M.

Does anyone know the safe word?

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

An important distinction

The United States does not have a capitalist government; it has a capitalist economy. The democratic-republic government is about running the country; the economy is about moving goods and services and making a profit.

Both have much to learn from each other. The government can learn lessons about being lean and mean from successful businesses. Businesses - and consumers - benefit from sensible public regulation that ensures everything is safe and on the level.

At the same time, however, government should not be a private, for-profit entity, and neither should the business sector run the country. Not everything that society needs can or should be a profit spigot, such as schools or social-service agencies. People should not be allowed to suffer out of some free-market, "survival of the fittest" logic. The United States is a not a giant game of Monopoly, and whoever has the most cards wins. Everyone deserves at least a basic footing of education, housing and resources to help them succeed.

Capitalism has its purpose, one that serves Americans well for the most part. But it is not an affront to the system to suggest that government not have profit as its prime (and/or sole) motivator for its actions.

The difference between our government and our economy is one I think a lot of people have completely forgotten. Here's your reminder.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Note to Blogger

Thanks to my browser (one I don't typically use) garbling up my site, I accidentally flagged my own blog. You can disregard that, unless of course you agree. But I hope you don't. Thank you.

One map that isn't red enough

Visited 16 states (32%)
Create your own visited map of The United States

When I last did this map a few years ago, I had been to 11 states, basically a flat stripe across part of the bottom of the country. I've taken lots of trips in my life, but looking at that map made me feel inadequate. Three of the states were the result of a single trip, so I'd mostly been a Louisiana, Texas and Arkansas boy. Still am, much of the time.

But I do love to travel, and never miss an opportunity. Below are the first years I set foot in a particular state. I like the trend that emerges:

Louisiana: 1980
Texas: 1981
Arkansas: 1982
Mississippi: 1982
Tennessee: 1982
Alabama: 1985
Florida: 1985
California: 1999
Arizona: 1999
New Mexico: 1999
Oklahoma: 2002
Colorado: 2006
Utah: 2006
Georgia: 2007
Missouri: 2007
Kansas: 2009

I've added nine of these 16 states in the past 10 years, and five in the last three. I hope to add many more (and maybe some countries too) in the coming decade. Not bad for someone who, at least on a bank statement, should never leave his neighborhood.

Monday, May 18, 2009

Rush Limbaugh: Material Girl

There is a disease sweeping America, and it is epitomized by Rush Limbaugh. No, not obesity, though that's a problem as well. Smoking is also a good guess. Swine flu? Getting ever warmer.

Rather, it's the idea that success equals money, and money equals success. That's the American Dream, right? If you work hard, you will make it. Period. And not only make it, but make it big, and you will deserve every penny you earn. Furthermore, you will get to lord it over others without the slightest twinge of guilt or conscience, because it's a function of your working harder than everyone else. And because everyone wants to be rich, people will only be motivated, not disgusted, by your show of excess.

That's the only possible reason I can come up with for the idea that millions of Americans think this guy epitomizes what our nation should be. It can't be because he's making a difference in the community, because if he is, it certainly isn't apparent. It isn't because he has a loving attitude toward his fellow citizens. It can't be because of his commitment to diversity because, well, everything.

What sets Rush apart isn't even his voice, both the cadence and the substance alike echoed by millions of obnoxious boors on couches across America. He's rich. And, thus, good.

On the other hand, maybe the boor factor matters as well. The Simpsons has Birch Barlow, who "really speaks to Homer, and people like Homer" (forgetting for a moment that Homer at least tried to vote for Obama). Americans like other Americans who remind them of ordinary Americans. Rush is a shlub, or a "fuzzball" as he puts it, at least when stripped of his immense riches and fame. He's proof to his followers that if they, too, keep whining about welfare, stay obnoxious and keep tithing to the GOP, they too can become just like Rush! And who wouldn't want that?

After all, success reigns in America. And if that success means enough money to be able to live in a gated community far away from the hippie menace and rap lyrics, all the better!

Left: Successful American entertainer enjoying the fruits of his labor. Right: Successful American entertainer not only smoking drugs and not thinking of the children, but who has his HAND OUT.

Now, if only Rush would stop espousing policies that devastate his listeners and keep them from stable, much less comfortable, lives, then maybe the whole thing wouldn't smack of pitiful smugness.

Saturday, May 16, 2009

Just one more thing Back to the Future II got wrong

They just keep piling up, don't they? Flying cars. Hoverboards. Hydrators. Home fusion reactors. Slamball. Extremely colorful clothes. Rejuvenation clinics. Alpha-rhythm sleep-inducing generators (well, maybe that last one won't be missed). And did I mention hoverboards?

And let's not forget the things that died out long before 2015. Record players. Pay phones. Pontiac. Clunky Walkmans. Queen Diana. And, perhaps saddest of all, the newspaper.

Despite the naysayers, I think there will be newspapers in 2015. Hell, it's only six years from now. But I doubt USA Today will have 3 billion readers, as this paper brags (of course, that could be a subtle satirical point on both overpopulation and the increasingly monopolistic nature of the media). And you'd think there'd be at least one Web site address on there someplace, like there already has been for years, instead of "Via Compu-Fax Satellite." Still, they nailed the emphasis on local content. Maybe too much so.

In any case, there's still at least one more thing I hope winds up wrong. In the newspaper's sidebar, the president is referred to as "she." That could only mean Sarah Palin is president in 2015. Which means this movie is actually "Idiocracy." NOOOOOOOOOOOOO!!!

Thursday, May 14, 2009

If Lil Jon drove a Chrysler, he'd be gettin' clunk

Analysts wonder why American car companies are in such bad shape. I have a few theories:

1) Jellybeans taste good, but they don't give you much street cred.

2) When you drive a classic or otherwise old car, it can be fun to tinker with the guts and rebuild it from the inside out. But you shouldn't have to do that with a new car.

3) If American-built fuel systems could vote, Dick Cheney would be president.

4) The golden age of American cars died with federal emissions standards. Instead of taking that as a sign that the next wave of innovation would have to not destroy the environment, they just gave up and blamed the hippies.

5) I owned a 1993 Chevy S-10, built in Shreveport, from 1999 to 2005. I loved it. But I took it to the shop no fewer than 1,546 times. I lost the ability to use my brights when pulling the lever caused a giant chunk of plastic to fall out of the steering column. I was told fixing it would entail removing the entire steering wheel, and that the cost would probably not be worth being able to see in the country at night. Also - and, granted, Toyota does this as well - other S-10 keys could open and start my truck. I noticed this when a mechanic drove my truck up while I had my keys in my hand. By the time the truck died on me on a deserted highway 44 miles from home at 3:30 a.m. right after a caravan of six tow trucks passed me, I had replaced pretty much every part. It was like losing an old friend. An insanely high-maintenance old friend.

6) Chryslers, Buicks and Cadillacs all look like cars you'd take to the prom. GMCs, Hummers and Chevy Silverados scream, "I hate gas and I hate liberals even worse!" The truly exciting models coming out of Detroit tend to be murdered quickly amid the utmost apologies for ever inflicting such a good idea on the public.

7) Every time I like an American car (or, hell, any car), whether it's innovative or otherwise, car companies discontinue or bastardize it. And the press says something to the effect of, "The automaker is finally growing out of its bland/geeky phase to make a car America actually wants." Thanks, guys! Personal taste aside, though, aren't Cars That Americans Want exactly what America doesn't need?

Come on, Detroit. Make some wheels worth kicking again.

Sunday, May 10, 2009

Something I've never been able to say before

I've been to Kansas.

Yes, it was a wrong turn in a Kansas City neighborhood, but that's how I find most things. I probably would have struggled to find the state line on purpose.

In any case, I now know how Real Americans live.

Saturday, May 09, 2009

Go Chiefs! No, not really

- I'm in Kansas City today, on my first-ever outing here. When I got here yesterday afternoon, something about the city struck me - whereas most cities I've seen are surrounded by a cluster of hotels and fast-food restaurants, K.C. is not, at least along U.S. 71. I actually passed up my targeted hotel on purpose, because it seemed like it wasn't as close to the city proper as I wanted. But before long, I was literally out of the city. And it took me almost an hour to backtrack and find the hotel.

Once I found the place, I realized it was in a major shopping/college district. Anyone trying to peg it through demographics or economic factors would be frustrated. It's almost like a Midwest French Quarter and River Walk combined, but with less urine-vapor smell. And that was the reason I couldn't find my hotel: because I'm so used to strip-mall sameness that I unconsciously balked when I didn't see a massive, horizon-polluting sign advertising it. This area of K.C. (Country Club Plaza) is very un-mall-like, or at least in the sense in which I'm used to that sort of thing. And that's a huge improvement, I think. So I don't really mind that it had me lost for an hour. At least it stands out.

I've also seen multiple free newspapers and magazines, all with surprisingly strong and in-depth content. I'm inspired. Maybe print is still on life support after all, at least in the major markets.

- Speaking of the media, I have a special spot on my ass for Rupert Murdoch to kiss for saying, "The current days of the Internet will soon be over." He's referring to his plan for News Corp. to start charging for online content. My immediate reaction was that Murdoch realizes how lucrative the fools-parting-with-their-money demographic can be. But his quote has a far more chilling effect, because a new, non-neutral Internet is clearly an exciting prospect for Murdoch. He, like a lot of people who view the media as just another business commodity, would love to see the entire Internet become a pay-to-play toll road.

Now, I'm as curious as anyone as to how print news sources are going to resuscitate their flagging business models. And I don't pretend to have the definitive answer. But I don't think this is it. Charging for online content is not an idea the public will embrace, especially now that corporate greed couldn't be any less popular. It's also impractical, because bloggers could simply crib the text, whether as an act of subversion or for comment under Fair Use, as bloggers do. And the only way to combat that is to employ a battalion of censors to troll for violators, as YouTube does. That could lead to a very scary crackdown on free speech, not to mention a very lame Internet.

And that's why I dislike this idea. Making journalism financially viable is one (necessary) thing, but information should not be limited to those who are willing or able to buy it. Murdoch is a businessman above all else - in Seth MacFarlane's words, "He's a capitalist first, a conservative second." His expertise is profit, his media holdings more of a testament to their financial value than of his commitment to informing the public. The person who sent me this story said he hoped Murdoch had the right solution for journalism. For all of the above reasons, I hope he's extremely wrong.

- CNN just defined "young voters" as 18-29. I just turned 29 yesterday. Thanks, CNN.

Thursday, May 07, 2009

The system isn't screwed

Lately I've been involved in some very heated conversations, here and elsewhere, about the state of the U.S. government. Some of these have gotten decidedly personal. I'm sorry this has occurred, because I consider many of these people good real-life friends and intelligent to boot. Perhaps part of it is that I may not have articulated my stance as well as I should have. So I'll try to do that now.

One notion I've always struggled with is that government is irrevocably screwed, and that the two major parties are one and the same corrupt mechanism. Anyone who thinks otherwise, we're told, is part of the problem. I support Barack Obama and his administration's efforts to clean up the mess left by the Bush regime. Ergo, I am not only part of the problem, but delusional as well.

When confronted with this allegation, I ask if they have a better solution. A new system that is not only viable and relatively incorruptible, but one that will bring the majority of Americans into the fold in the long run. If such a thing exists, it might very well be a positive development. It's never a bad idea to seek solutions to corruption.

But I have yet to hear one. Instead, I hear simplistic, almost cartoonish, comparisons between the Democrats and Republicans. They're alike, I'm told, because all they care about is getting elected and holding power. And they both have a lot of money. Obama is exactly the same as Bush. The people are screwed. End of story.

Under this convenient stance, those who support Obama are hypocrites if they did not also support Bush. Why? Because both were executives who had the nerve to use their power. Forget political leanings, appointments, actions, world relations, economic decisions, etc. - those are mere details unworthy of discussion. The real loyalty isn't with a political party, but with big government. If you support one powerful politician, you obviously must support them all. By definition, anyone seeking high office through the channels most likely to facilitate such a goal is an active participant in the destruction of the Constitution.

Frankly, it's not a convincing argument. Lumping all presidents and politicians in the same group both diminishes genuine accomplishments and trivializes real travesties. It does a disservice to dismiss any party - or any person - out of hand. I voted for Barack Obama and support his efforts, because he is our president and is taking what I feel are necessary steps to address our problems. I don't agree with all of his actions, but agree with enough to have confidence in him. Conversely, I liked almost nothing about Bush, but he did increase AIDS funding in Africa and protect more ocean habitats. No one is all perfect or all evil. All of these people who trash our government out of hand should exercise the same nuances; it would certainly lend weight to any specific arguments that they might have.

I believe that our political system, though not without many, many flaws, is worth salvaging. The best chance anyone has to improve government in the United States is to work within the system. That may give our leaders less street cred with the third-partyists and libertarians, but it's also more likely to matter. Until these self-proclaimed outsiders have a solution of their own, and/or make a serious run for office, their condemnations will ring with all the resonance of an armchair quarterback's rants.

I don't have all the answers. Neither does anyone else. But I do have hope, and too many people don't have enough of that.

Wednesday, May 06, 2009

Too perfect

This graphic (created by a Republican, not sure who) encapsulates literally everything that is wrong with today's GOP, save perhaps for the lack of the words "tax" and "cut":


(Capitalism. Get it? Sure you do.)

I can't tell if the copyright date says 2008 or 2000, but does it really matter? Does subtle Republican bait-and-switch know any singular era? I can tell you that the GOP prefers one of those years over the other.

One thing is certainly correct on this: Rush Limbaugh's name is near Lincoln's ass. That's where it belongs.

Monday, May 04, 2009

New rules

Rule #101: Itchy Rich
The rich have sufficient clout in Washington without your constant coddling. The recent tea parties protested over-taxation, a curious development considering that President Obama has lowered taxes for everyone earning under $250,000 a year. Given the unlikely possibility that the protesters were anywhere near that income bracket, it can only mean one thing: ignorance.

OK, OK, it could also mean a second thing: that they're against higher taxes for the rich because they themselves hope to be that way someday. By that logic, shouldn't many rich people be advocating assistance to the poor, because they may have been there before? Well, most don't, because they don't care about you. They got theirs, so who cares? As much flack as Obama is getting for wanting to raise the top tax rate from 36 to 39 percent, that's still 11 fewer points than it was even under supply-side Reagan. Even in the era of Change, the rich are still doing fine. But they did appreciate your vote all these years.

Rule #102: Fair imbalance
"We report, you decide" is an unsuitable motto for Fox News, because it implies that the network is issuing facts from which decisions can be suitably obtained. It lets "you decide" in the same sense that a cult leader lets "you decide" between the compound and eternal hellfire. A news network's job is to inform without bias or, at the very least, not push a blatantly partisan agenda under the facade of cherry-picked "facts." And yes, I'm aware that MSNBC also does this to a degree, which brings me to:

Rule #103: Separate but equal time
Every example of conservative corruption does not need a liberal corollary to validate it. Especially when there isn't one. If, for example, I say Fox News is biased and lies about said bias, a conservative will ask me, "Well, what about MSNBC? Can't you admit they're biased too?" Well, yeah, but the point of this discussion is that Fox News presents hard-right perspectives as real news, and claims that they don't. MSNBC makes no such pretensions, so they don't belong in this particular discussion.

Another example was the lead-up to the Iraq War in 2003. Those favoring the invasion often asked critics, "Why can't you be as enraged over Saddam Hussein?" Well, because the protesters specifically opposed the U.S. invasion of a sovereign nation on shaky (and ever-changing) pretenses in a clearly oil-driven quest to "spread democracy." Saddam's tyrannical reign is an issue worthy of outrage as well, but it does not cancel out the other issue. Nice try at stifling debate, though.

It's simply impossible to address an issue if you're required to qualify it with every other issue that can be even weakly connected to it by some vague "liberal-conservative" dichotomy. In fact, it's a really good way not to address an issue. Perhaps that's the point.

Rule #104: Corrupt shun
The "both parties are corrupt" argument is played out. It's true that both the Democrats and the Republicans have skeletons in their closet, but to say they are exactly the same is essentially a cop-out, and one that suggests a lack of viable solutions on the speaker's part. The problems with our government deserve more nuanced discussion than, "We're all screwed." If you're going to argue this, have a solution. And no, it can't be something vague like, "A leader who respects the foundation on which America was built." I want to know how you will both revolutionize America's political system and get Suzy from Peoria on your side.

I'm not saying that to bait anyone. I'm genuinely curious.

Rules archive

Sunday, May 03, 2009

Too soon?

Who knew Bob Dole would outlive Jack Kemp?

Click on the audioblog below (from January 2006) to hear about my own personal (near) encounter with Jack Kemp in 1996:

Friday, May 01, 2009

Rule city

Rule #94: No jacket required
Barack Obama can wear whatever he wants in the White House. George W. Bush installed a restrictive dress code that even he didn't follow, which was supposed to be a statement of respect and dignity. Funny, I don't remember the Founding Fathers ever wearing jackets. But I do remember at least one really bad president being obsessed with artifice. Can you guess who?

And come's not like they're wearing tracksuits in the Oval Office. Just not a jacket. If they dressed like that at the park, people would tell them to lighten up. Perspective. It helps.

De facto conservative leader Rush Limbaugh likes to brag that he doesn't own a pair of blue jeans. I won't even make the big-and-tall joke, because what it says about his mentality is more relevant. Apparently, to him, dressing up a turd turns it into Godiva chocolate - which is exactly how the GOP presents its policies, come to think of it.

Rush and others forget that a nice pair of jeans can look better than battered, wrinkly slacks. And that some people thrive when not bound by restrictive dress codes. It's good to know that the White House is once again putting brains over brownshirts.

Rule #95: Give piece a chance?
If the mere notion of putting "bitter" and "cling" in the same sentence still drives you to insane levels of steaming, tellingly defensive rage, then some theoretical repeal of the Second Amendment is the least of your worries. May I recommend Prozac? Maybe some Extenze?

A lot of firearm owners are quick to circle the wagons whenever someone utters the dreaded term, "gun nut." It doesn't matter that the utterer is referring to, say, someone picking off cops from his front porch because he thinks Obama's going to personally confiscate his stockpile - the term inevitably is twisted to mean literally everyone who owns a gun. But it seems to me that those who own firearms, are trained and responsible and who have no intention of ever using them in an illegal capacity, would be the very first to distance themselves from these extremists. But they don't. In fact, they're so eager to lump themselves in with the true nuts that you wonder if you should be worried about them as well. And then they accuse you of persecuting them, and suddenly you hate the Constitution.

Well, I don't, because it's my Constitution as well. I just hate that it's so hard to have an honest, candid conversation about gun rights. Defense is good, but defensiveness is dangerous.

Rule #96: Texas Roadshow
Texas can secede, but Ron Paul has to be its president. That way, we can see two much-hyped ideas go to hell at once.

Rule #97: A Grim Specter
Arlen Specter is not a traitor. A traitor is someone who undermines the safety of their country, for example, through the dissemination of secret information to enemies. Specter quit the Republican Party. That's a little different.

That Specter's being called a traitor says much about today's GOP. As the party becomes more extreme (and regional), it is increasingly less tolerant of any deviation from ideological purity. Sometime in the past eight years, the Republicans equated themselves not with a philosophy, but with America itself; consequently, anyone who opposes the GOP opposes the country. Is it any wonder, then, that they use such loaded terms as "traitor" so freely? The sad thing isn't that Specter left the party - it's that the ever-rightward party was so glad to see him go. And now they'll make sure he suffers for it.

That's what gangs and cults do, not major American political parties.

Rule #98: Ayn-guish
If the tea parties are any indicator, then "Going Galt" should be all kinds of awesome. The idea (as with all awesome things) comes from Ayn Rand's novel Atlas Shrugged. In the book, society's most productive/wealthy citizens have enough and stop working; this leads the economy to crumble and/or go, "Hey, it's bootstrap time!"

I, for one, can't wait for all of society's hardest-working citizens to take to the streets en masse in protest of all the poor people they have to coddle. Oh, wait, you mean that some of the most productive people in the country are the poorest? And that they can't take time off because their faraway CEO needs a bonus? And that some people might think it's a bad idea to be so selfish in such trying times? Must drown out such thoughts! SOCIALISM! SOCIALISM! SOCIALISM! SOCIALISM! SOCIALISM!

Oh yeah. This will be all kinds of awesome.

Rule #99: Without a paddle
Republicans must stop comparing something horrible to something slightly less horrible. When they compare waterboarding and other torture to "frat pranks" and "initiations," they're trying to downplay the severity of the practices. But since when did hazing itself become an OK thing? Don't pledges die from it on a disturbingly regular basis? If anything, the right should be selling waterboarding as less severe than frat pranks. But that might lead Greek recruitment to taper off, thus giving the Republicans one fewer farm system for narrowed minds.

Colleges everywhere are cracking down on even supposedly harmless "initiations." If they can do that, then the U.S. should at least be able to end the torturous practices that undermine our values as a nation and liken ourselves to the extremists we fight.

Otherwise, as the older frat boys say, one day it'll be your turn.

Rule #100: Rule of 100
Let's put a 100-day moratorium on the utterance, "Is that change we can believe in?" It was irritating enough when John McCain stumbled through it on the campaign trail, but it's downright obnoxious when spoken by smug conservatives and contrarian liberals.

These days, it's seemingly in vogue to point to Obama's term so far, compare it to some utopian ideal he never promised and conclude that he is a failure for not achieving it in his first 100 days. Which is like expecting Hayden Panettiere to show up on your doorstep and then becoming indignant when she doesn't. Either way, you have to separate reality from masturbatory fantasies.

The fact is, change doesn't happen overnight. Or over 100 nights, even. Obama himself has said repeatedly that times won't be easy. But he's confident he and the nation can do what is necessary and overcome the challenges, and is taking concrete steps to do so.

I think the real reason for the derision is that Obama is doing something that a lot of people don't want him to do: he's leveling with us. Unlike his predecessor, Obama is treating the recovery as a long-term team project. That is change worth giving a chance.

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