seeking knowledge and laughter, putting a bullseye on inaccuracy

Politics & Religion

Thoughts on the two - frequently both.


Seriously, why is Obama not just running some of these spots from the Daily Show as commercials? He should license this response to Bush's speech in Israel.

It is hard to imagine having a worse President than Bush.

Middle East History

So long as the weather is beautiful for biking and folks are paying me to take photos of sports, I won't be doing any longer posts. If we get some rainy days, maybe I'll find the energy and motivation to create some written content.

Until then, expect less from me - and more photos.

For now, Russell sent me this link a few weeks ago and it is a great flash presentation showing the history of empires conquering the Middle East. Check it out - it takes just a few minutes and may teach you something.

McCain Musings

As I was biking the other day, I considered how annoyed I am with trying to figure out whether the real McCain is the one who constantly votes against women's rights while being a maverick on a few other issues or if is truly the one who constantly votes against women's rights while pandering to religious nuts and other right wing pet causes like battling science.

I hope to see Dems actually pointing out many of these inconsistencies in the fall. Glad to see this ad pointing out his ties to people I find far more horrifying that Reverend Wright.

At the same time, I was thinking how lucky we are to be dealing with McCain, who, at his worst, does not quite overlap with Guiliani at his best.

Drug War: Still Failing

The so-called War on Drugs continues to not just fail, but to be counter-productive to improving our lives. Treating drugs like marijuana as though they are heroine is a failed policy. Locking small-time users behind bars in record numbers has cost billions while not helping them get treatment to move past addiction and toward a productive life.

One would hope that as we progress, the drug war would at least stop being so overtly racist. But no. It hasn't.

MoJo has a piece looking at NYC's strategy of rapidly increasing marijuana busts by targeting minorities rather than the race responsible for most of the pot smoking.

Quote cited is actually from the Village Voice:

Drug surveys routinely indicate that a higher percentage of whites smoke pot than blacks or Latinos, but Levine found that African-Americans have consistently accounted for about 52 percent of these low-level marijuana arrests over the past decade, even though they're only about 26 percent of the city's population. Latinos, at 27 percent of the total population, account for 31 percent of the arrests. Whites are 36 percent of the population but account for only 15 percent of pot arrests.

That racial breakdown mirrors another set of data that the NYPD has been reluctant to make public: the stop-and-frisk numbers. From 2004 through 2007, police made 1,692,488 stops—ostensibly for suspicious activity. Of those stopped, 51 percent were black, 29 percent Latino, and 10 percent white. A staggering 1,496,100—or 88 percent—of those stopped were never charged.

It is high time we focus on stopping actual crimes and divert resources into addiction-recovery programs and a good drug education curriculum that does not merely try to scare kids away from drugs with the modern equivalent of reefer madness.

Too many kids try drugs because they want to prove they are grown up. Well, grown-ups have to be responsible for their actions that is the message we need to impart on kids. They need to make smart decisions - and to do that, they need to trust the information we give them.

Obama's Speech Sans Sound Bites

Jonathan Alter's "Adios, Sound Bites & Fat Cats" column in the 28 April 2008 Newsweek makes yet another case for why Obama deserves the reputation for bringing change to Washington. His famous speech on race - A More Perfect Union - was engineered to not have a sound bite.

Decades of formulating speeches around sound bites and Obama says "not this time."

It turns out the Obama campaign planned it that way. I learned recently that as chief strategist David Axelrod, communications director Robert Gibbs, speechwriter Jon Favreau and Obama himself finalized the speech, they took great care to make sure that no sound bites were included. In other words, they intentionally avoided any of the snappy lines that they know reporters and TV producers are trained to recognize as useful for representing the entire story. A few lines, like the one about Obama's grandmother, did get disproportionately quoted and aired. But the speech was constructed so that you simply couldn't understand it in 10 seconds. If this was making a virtue of necessity—Obama often lacks crispness even when he's speaking well—the speech nonetheless represented a turning point.

Alter makes a strong case for how this represents the way Obama is already changing the political landscape. For the better.

In other news, while on the long bike ride with Michelle, I was thinking about what I would be doing if I had any video productions skills and some spare time. I would love to see a video making fun of Hillary's claims to be better positioned to change Washington.

The 30 second spot (not all of us have moved beyond the sound bite yet) would feature Hillary claiming she is better positioned to change the way DC works. It would feature her famous quote that lobbyist represent real people and look at the 16 years she has spent in DC. It would end with this: "Hillary Clinton has spent 16 years defending the status quo in DC and working for moneyed interests - not because she was captured by Washington because she was becoming a SLEEPER CELL for CHANGE!!

When she becomes President, she will break out of that shell and shock everyone!!

I dunno, the irony is funny in my head. I hope this is the last I write about the stupid Democratic Party primary for awhile again. I've been enjoying trying to ignore it. Makes me less likely to wish ill on those rooting for a revolving door for dynasty families in this country.

East Texas Drivin'

On Thursday morning, I woke up early and headed out to the Dallas/Forth Worth car rental center at the airport. I quickly realized that once again, I did not sufficiently value the marginal few dollars between the more budget rental car places and the better-known national ones. I had a reservation with Advantage Rent a car. My bad. I will not make this mistake again.

I wanted a compact car. They tried to upsell me to a higher car (they all do this) and then ended up putting me in a full-size even after I refused because they had no compact or mid-size cars anyway. But it had no aux jack for my iPod, so I asked for a different car. They offered a 22 mpg SUV which I turned down. I figured if I could not get a proper stereo, I should get an economy car to save on gas.

So I jumped in my Aveo pregnant roller skate and headed back to the airport to check out and hit the road. Drove east toward Lafayette, some 400 miles to the southeast. No iPod - no CDs - no public radio after the first two hours. Lots of Christian radio stations (mostly on FM), a few conservative talk radio stations on AM, and a few radio stations playing the same shit you hear on the radio across the country.

As I drove, I thought it odd that I was heading into an area largely responsible for some of the best music this country has produced and yet could not find a decent thing worth listening to on the radio. (Note to federal regulators, you have DESTROYED radio in this country). As I drove, I wondered if maybe the Louisiana folks created so much great music because there was nothing on the radio.

I turned to "Christian" radio - it sounded more like Republican small-minded radio that included Biblical panders. One of the stations was carrying shows from the American Family Radio network - which was stunning. As I surveyed my radio choices in Western Lousiana and East Texas, I wondered how anyone growing up in this environment would find any alternative information to balance such a narrow minded world view.

One woman called in to comment that Jesus undoubtedly knew many women (hehehehe, knew!) but he chose 12 men to be the disciples. So, clearly, women are not meant to be in positions of leadership. From this the host commented that thought this was an important debate. Were women merely biblically barred from positions of authority in the church, or in wider society as well? Should women be prohibited from running for political office? CEO of companies? These people are still debating this? I guess they'll next start discussing why law should not ban slavery because the Bible is pretty supportive of it.

Another topic centered on the immorality of pornography and how it destroys marriages. As I listened, I could not help but wonder whether the self-loathing inspired by these everything-that-feels-good-must-be-a-sin types has destroyed 100x or 1000x as many marriages as pornography.

The woman caller had married her husband at 18 years old - having never slept with (or, according to her, even kissed) another. After four kids and many years of marriage, she has lost her love for him because he could not kick the porn habit. He (egads!) has visited strip clubs!

To be clear, if you are in a truly committed relationship with someone who is so opposed to porn and strip clubs that you agree not to use them, you should either abide by that or find someone more suited to your desires. This is the fundamental problem with marrying at 18 years old without having ever dated anyone. The absurdity of choosing who to spend the rest of your life before having any idea of the variety among different people is stunning.

In my mind, I was comparing this to playing Russian Roulette with yourself. Sure, it won't always end badly, but that does not make it a good idea!!

Ugh. Supremely depressing. Especially as I would again be stuck listening to some of these same discussions as I drove back from Lafayette to Houston to see Eric and Chanda.

Lafayette was really interesting - a beautiful downtown area surrounded with both students at the local college and run-down houses and businesses. All the lunch places close at 2:00, which meant we did not get to have a full Cajun-style lunch because we started too late. Did have a great sandwich - a Shrimp Poor-Boy Po'Boy - at a local favorite eat-em-up spot. Basically a fried-shrimp sub. Yumm!

Got to Eric and Chanda's around 10:00 PM after driving 700 miles that day. It was a good day - learned a lot and brainstormed on some really good ideas for projects at work to further our mission.

Gas Pandering

I can think of few James Fallows' articles I have regretted reading. He is an insightful writer and rarely uninteresting or wrong, from what I can tell. I greatly enjoyed his recent comments on the stupidity of Hillary and McCain's gas tax holiday bullshit.

Usually I see no reason to chime in on an issue that many other people have discussed. But, perhaps because I've just come back to China, I feel obliged to register a view for the record about destructive nuttiness in my homeland:

The pandering and ignorance-across-party-lines represented by the John McCain-Hillary Clinton united front for a temporary reduction in the gasoline tax should make Americans hold their heads in their hands and moan. No one who has thought about this issue thinks that it will actually reduce prices or -- more important -- help the the people disproportionately hurt by $100+/barrel oil and $4 gasoline. And to the extent it has any effect on America's long-term approach to energy policy, transportation, oil dependence, and climate change, the effect will be perverse.

I can imagine that John McCain, who boasts about his sketchy command of economics, might consider this a good idea. But the master of policy, Hillary Clinton??

Please. This is embarrassing. It makes me long for the good old days of debating about flag pins on the lapel.

Obama on Gas Prices

New ad by Obama in NC and IN

He nearly lost me at "price gouging" but I hung in for the good policy response. Funny how fast we forget the laws of supply and demand when it comes to gas and fall to bullshit calls of price gouging.

I'm disappointed to see Obama pander in his anti-pandering ad but his policy response is far better than any other choice we have currently.

American Idol? Try Idolatry...

Damon Linker's "The Idolatry of America" in the 23 April, 2008 The New Republic stunned me with a revelation I never considered. The rest of the article is interesting, but I have to first emphasize this:

Marsh makes his point with alarming ease, noting in one of his later chapters that although polls in early 2003 showed that an astonishing 87 percent of white evangelical Christians in the United States supported Bush's invasion of Iraq, "Christian leaders around the world--evangelical, orthodox, and liberal" expressed "dismay over the administration's case [for war]." Marsh quotes, to great effect, twenty-five of these critical statements, written by the leaders of Christian organizations from every corner of the globe, most of which the majority of American evangelicals have undoubtedly never seen or read. Regardless of one's position on the war, these pages of Marsh's book make a powerful and important point about the American evangelical difference: either the United States contains the only Christians capable of recognizing the fundamental compatibility between the moral message of Christianity and George W. Bush's foreign policy--or else evangelicalism in America has transformed itself into Republican Party propaganda.

The article is a review of Charles Marsh's Wayward Christian Soldiers: Freeing the Gospel from the Political Captivity. It raises many points I have considered and occasionally ranted about - one of which is whether the "conservative Christians" are capable of loving the Constitution and placing it first in their lives. Their very religion tells them not to.

Reinhold Niebuhr, for example, warned often against "the idolatry of America"--teach Christians that however much they may love their terrestrial homes, their families as well as their political communities, their true home lies elsewhere, in the next life, in eternal unity with Jesus Christ. They must always remember, in other words, that love for God comes first, conditioning, ordering, and limiting the scope and intensity of their other loves. For a devout Christian, then, patriotism can never be uncomplicated, never wholehearted.

I had never considered using the term "idolatry" though. I think it fits - especially when you consider the way these supposedly Christians prostrate themselves upon patriotic themes. Consider who Robertson was serving when he called for killing Chavez, Venezuela's President. Was he serving his God, or the geopolitical interests of his country? He might claim they coincide nicely, but let's ask some non-U.S. Christians to evaluate that argument.

End of Autocracy? Hardly!

I find reading Robert Kagan to be like trying to come up with an analogy - you never know what you are going to get. However, he recently wrote "The End of the End of History" for The New Republic and I found it to be incredibly insightful. It has really changed the way I look at the international landscape - and a large part of me hopes to see someone strongly refute it. But I don't think anyone will.

Kagan challenges the commonly-held notion that the world is moving (inevitably) toward liberal democracy (or at least a recognition that these values are best in theory if not in practice). While we have been cheering democracy's victory over communism (major caveats aside), totalitarians have been figuring out how to build a strong economy without opening political freedoms. China is the obvious first example, and Russia the second.

I have been quietly expecting them to move closer to liberal democracy in the long term, but Kagan points out that there is no reason to expect this. In fact, we may well see many of the third world democracies turn toward that model rather than trying to deal with political freedoms while trying to modernize their economies and deal with crushing debt to the West.

In many ways, I feel that Kagan's article correct's Huntington's bullshit "Clash of Civilizations" thesis. Huntington is too focused on the West v. Islam and it always felt phony to me. In thinking about a clash between the West and the new face of market-friendly totalitarianism, a clash of civilizations seem the appropriate term.

Kagan doesn't think the terrorists can win, and I agree. The only way the terrorists would win is if we "choose to lose" by forfeitting our freedoms and waging stupid macho wars around the world. And we probably won't do that for more than a few decades...

As a historical phenomenon, the struggle between modernization and Islamic radicalism may ultimately have less impact on international affairs than the struggle among the great powers and between the forces of democracy and autocracy. After all, Islamic resistance to westernization is not a new phenomenon, though it has taken on a new and potentially cataclysmic dimension. In the past, when old and less technologically advanced peoples confronted more advanced cultures, their inadequate weapons reflected their backwardness. Today the more radical proponents of Islamic traditionalism, though they abhor the modern world, are using against it not only the ancient methods of assassination and suicidal attacks, but also modern weapons. The forces of modernization and globalization have inflamed the radical Islamist rebellion and also armed them for the fight.

But it is a lonely and ultimately desperate fight, for in the struggle between traditionalism and modernity, tradition cannot win--even though traditional forces armed with modern weapons, technologies, and ideologies can do horrendous damage.

I am not afraid of Islamic terrorists. In the grand scheme of threats to myself and those I love, threats closer to home are considerably more dangerous than the rare terrorist attack. More generally, I'm not afraid of Islamic terrorists threatening our way of life. Politicans and cowards (venn diagram shows they overlap hugely) are a much greater threat to our way of life as they overreact to terrorists.

This leads me to another criticism of Bush. Borrowing from China and our future to fight a worthless war gives the forces of autocracy another giant advantage in this struggle. As we bankrupt ourselves to the benefit of autocracies sitting atop the world's fossil fuels, I cannot help but wonder what developing country would want to follow our example. One of the problems of being an imperial power is that you alienate your way of life from everyone else.

I'm fine with alienating the world from rapacious consumerism, but I hope political rights don't get tossed out with that bathwater.

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