Easily the most stressful part of my day. Twice daily I am angered and frustrated by the number of people who are driving with their head up their ass, or driving with their phone glued to their ear, which amounts to the same thing.
From a behaviorist perspective, people need immediate feedback that this behavior is unacceptable. George Carlin once proposed everyone have a gun that shoots those suction cup darts. Whenever someone drives ignorantly, you shoot them with a dart. Police would know that someone driving around with multiple darts on their car needs to be pulled over and ticketed for driving while stupid.
My fantasy is the ability to teleport them to the top of a large building or put them in a big tree. This would accomplish two things. First, it would immediately remove them from the milieu and allow the rest of us to get home without further hassle. Two: It would horribly inconvenience them and introduce immediate, severe financial penalties for not paying attention while on the road. The other part of the fantasy is they wouldn't be able to just teleport themselves down. They'd have to hire a crane to retrieve their vehicle. OK, three: I would feel a whole lot better.
You want to see the photos? Really?
People demanding that photos of the deceased bin Laden be released are up to one of two things.
Either—They are either questioning the integrity of the Obama administration. I must admit that was my first thought, mostly because after 10 years it seemed such an outrageous claim. It only took about two seconds of reflection to realize that would a pretty untennable lie to perpetrate. All it would take would be one video of Osama doing the jihadist version of "neener neener," and there wouldn't be enough Comet on the planet to get the egg off of Obama's face.
Or—It's some sort of obsession with the macabre; some way of personally gloating over the corpse of an enemy.
Either way, Obama is absolutely correct to not release the photos. He's absolutely correct that this is a somber time for reflection and not a time for gloating or celebration. I realize that's contrary to Christian principles of turning the other...oh, wait. It's time for his critics to STFU and get back to the economic mess we're in.
Captain Whackadoodle strikes again.
Yesterday on the radio Orrin Hatch was talking about some statistic that says around 50% of American's paid no taxes or even got a refund last year. I can only assume with a refund on the table, we're talking about whether or not you had to write a check on April 15th. Hatch was blithering on about more people needing to pull their weight. Was he talking about the wealthy? Of course not. Was he talking about the poor? Oh, no. Even Hatch is smart enough to know that talk of raising taxes on the poor is political suicide. He was talking about the middle class.
Let's just set aside for a moment any kind of demographic sanity check on the income levels of these supposed slackers and take a moment to give Hatch a lesson on how taxes work. Obviouly Hatch has never had any experience actually doing his own taxes and/or lives in a fantasy world that has no bearing on reality.
As a citizen of the United States, you have two options: either you are self-employed or you are W-2. People who are self-employed are required to make quarterly tax payments. The rest of us working sods have taxes automatically withdrawn from every paycheck. So no matter what, we are paying taxes. If we get a refund, it's a return on an overpayment of taxes. No one ever gets a check from the government if they haven't paid taxes in the first place. And no one gets interest on the money the government borrowed from us for that year either.
There's no charity here you idiot.
That phrase always struck me as odd when I was a kid. Seems rather contradictory on the surface of it. It wasn't until I was older and saw the phrase acted out in a movie that I understood what it meant. In the movie a crowd learns their king has died in battle. His successor, who had delivered the news, is immediately proclaimed king with this statement.
This statement demonstrates two things to my mind. First, it's not about the individual who is the king, who is ultimately expendable. It's about the office of king. Second, it demonstrates the fickle nature of those who are accustomed to being led. The successor turned out to be a despot and a tyrant, but no one was asking for character references or a job history before pronouncing him king.
Some of you may already see where this is going. Osama bin Laden is dead. I thought I would feel more about this news than I do. I mean, hasn't that been the goal all along? How many times has a sentence been ended with, "...but we still haven't caught bin Laden?" So we caught him, and what, exactly, has changed? Not one damn thing. In fact, some whackadoodle is likely to feel honor bound to avenge this death, and so the cycle starts all over again.
I'm sure those who lost family and friends on 9/11 and those living in New York may feel some sort of recompense at the news, but the celebrations I've been hearing about seem wrong somehow. One man was killed, but his office, his ideas, his ideology lives on. I'm just having a hard time getting worked up about this.
Here are a few more random thoughts on the subject.
- It doesn't surprise me that he was discovered in a multi-million dollar compound and not holed up in some mountain cave. Asceticism is reserved for monks, prophets (who are usually reviled) and the mentally deranged. Men who stand at the head of religious movements rarely see asceticism as a requirement of their office. In fact they usually point to their vast fortunes as signs of God's favor. Convenient that. While some my try and draw the distinction that it is not their personal fortune, it certainly doesn't stop them from rivaling the ridiculously wealthy in their way of life. Can you say Prada? I'd be surprised if Thomas Monson (or any one else in the upper echelons of the LDS church) goes to Mr. Mac for his suits.
- On the news they said Osama was buried at sea to avoid the creation of a shrine for his followers. Probably not a bad idea, but 1. you don't need a shrine to have a martyr and 2. the devout will find a way to honor his resting place regardless. Watch for vigils on ocean shores the world over.
- Osama wasn't an idiot, nor was he a spring chicken. He had to know his days were numbered, whether it was the US or Father Time who eventually brought the curtains down. It's very likely he had already primed his organization to accept a successor in the event of his demise.
- If you think this means we're pulling out of Afghanistan, think again.
So the Republican won in MA. Sad. I'm really starting to lose faith in the people of this country. If I had a dime for every politician who decried "business as usual" on the campaign trail, I'd have a lot more money to my name than is currently the case. Why aren't the American people saying, "Yeah. Yeah. Heard that before. What else ya got?"
Everyone's talking about The Nebraska Health Care Deal. Business as usual, blah, blah, blah. Folks, that is the business of politics. It's never going to change. If you think congressmen are there to do what's "right," think again. They are there to broker influence and votes to get money for themselves and their campaign contributors.* The "good" politicians are actually working for their constituency, you know, like getting them a sweet deal on something that really matters to them. It is the favored tactic of the minority party—regardless of which one it is—to cry foul when "business as usual" doesn't work in their favor. Just wait until the shoe is on the other foot.
Mitt "I don't have anything meaningful to say" Romney is crowing about the repudiation of liberal arrogance. Who is he kidding? Anyone remember the Bridge To Nowhere? You going to tell me Coburn's little stunt and subsequent fall wasn't hubris? Get real. Eight years of Republican non-leadership got us into the mess we're in. One of the primary planks of the Republican party is "Leave big business alone to do whatever it feels like and let the market decide." Well the market has decided and is correcting itself. Everyone happy now?
From the day Obama took office Republicans have done nothing but whine "we need to keep doing what we've been doing." And apparently the American people are buying it. They are freaking out about spending money on health care, but have no problem shoveling cash into the money pit that is the Middle East. We have spent billions in the middle east since 9/11. We are no safer than we ever were. The Middle East is no more stable than it ever was. I don't know if being shredded by a car bomb is better than torture at the hands of a despot. You'd have to ask an Iraqi about that. Even if we somehow manage to off Bin Laden, do you really think Al-Qaeda will just shrivel up and die? Puhleeze. But we keep shoveling. Isn't that what's called a bad investment?
Business as usual indeed.
*I like Jay Leno's suggestion that congressmen should have to wear their sponsors on their suits just like Nascar drivers.
I've said it before and I'll say it again: Democrats are not better than Republicans, they are merely the lesser of two evils. Now that Obama has cinched the nomination he sounding more and more like a run-of-the-mill politician.
The current FISA mess is a no-brainer. If the rule of law doesn't apply to the president, what's the point? Isn't that what we call a king? Everyone got their panties all in a knot because Bill Clinton got a blow job in the Oval Office, but people seem much less incensed that Bush actually broke the law. Nixon was kicked out of office for exactly the same thing. The only difference is the respective targets and that Nixon didn't have a war to hide behind. Spying on fellow politicians? Good God Almighty! We can't have that!. Spying on American citizens who we think might possibly have ties to terrorist organizations, but can't be bothered to present our proof to a court? Oh, well that's okay then. Asinine.
And yet Obama is waffling on this one.
Given the legitimate threats we face, providing effective intelligence collection tools with appropriate safeguards is too important to delay. So I support the compromise, but do so with a firm pledge that as president, I will carefully monitor the program," Obama said in a statement hours after the House approved the legislation 293-129.
This marks something of a reversal of Obama's position from an earlier version of the bill, which was approved by the Senate Feb. 12, when Obama was locked in a fight for the Democratic nomination with Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-N.Y.).
Obama missed the February vote on that FISA bill as he campaigned in the "Potomac Primaries," but issued a statement that day declaring "I am proud to stand with Senator Dodd, Senator Feingold and a grassroots movement of Americans who are refusing to let President Bush put protections for special interests ahead of our security and our liberty." ((Washington Post, 06-20-2008)
So much for the candidate of change.
Oh, I'll end up voting for him, only because McCain would be a catastrophic choice, not because I particularly like him or because I think he'll be the president I'd like to see in the Oval Office. And you know what? I think he knows that. His base is incensed, but what are they going to do to register their displeasure? Vote for McCain?
Remember when it was enough to say "Restricted Area. Authorized personnel only?" Does anyone have any doubts about what "security breach" implies? You'll be kissing the iron deck before you can say, "Jack Robinson." (Anyone know who Jack Robinson actually is?)
Every time I fly I am reminded what a joke airport security is these days. I bought two small snow-globes while in NY this trip. We neglected to put them in our checked bag because 1. we just didn't think about it and 2. they wouldn't have fit anyway. They were confiscated. Apparently they were worried they were special Batman snow-globes that would have filled the plane with acrid smoke had I thrown them down on the floor and shattered them. They were in D's backpack, who ended up in a different line than I, so I wasn't there for it. Probably just well. I think I would have had a hard time containing my contempt. I doubt there was even 3 oz. of liquid in each one. One of these days some damn fool is going to use his shoe laces to threaten a passenger or crew member with strangulation and no one will be allowed to wear lace up shoes on a plane anymore.
Is this really what we've come to? Does everyone feel safer now?
I occasionally joke with my Trekker friends about waiting for someone to invent the transporter. I can't imagine any one thing that would more radically alter our economy. Admittedly, I don't try very hard, but think about it. If you want to live in B.F.E. Montana and work in Los Angeles, New York or even Tokyo, what's to stop you? You could get up, shower, have breakfast, take a deep breath of fresh mountain air and beam in in time for your 10 o'clock meeting with your clients. Need to be in Tokyo to put out a fire? No problem. Be there in five minutes. (Scotty always did move those sliders very deliberately.)
Obviously the auto and airline industries would become obsolete. Ouch. But think about what it would do to real estate as well. The definition of prime real estate would be radically altered. Now, I'm not so naive as to think this would come into our world in a Trekish utopian fashion. I can't see government being able to build any kind of consensus on something that would tank and/or radically alter several major industries. It would end up being a private industry. I'm sure there would be a very long time when teleporting would be the province of the wealthy and corporate big wigs, and the masses would still end up on a 13 hour flight to Tokyo, not unlike today's private jets vs. cramming into coach on a commercial airline.
It's a fun idea to toy with, but that's about it. However, I read something today that made me wonder if we weren't closer to this future than we might think.
I guess I'm just weary of hearing that beating terrorism means doing what we've always done but a whole lot harder, with more firmly gritted teeth. That's what Iraq's about, it seems to me: fighting the Gulf War over again, but this time with feeling. It's like rebuilding the World Trade Center and calling it The Freedom Tower or whatever. Why not call it the Lack-of-Imagination Tower?
I live in Montana, way out in the country, near towns that have been abandoned and depopulated and could use a few resources from the threatened cities that have made themselves sitting ducks for sabotage by building their infrastructures so dense and tall that a pellet gun could knock them over. There's a price for supersaturating small areas with people, wealth, and technology, and now we're paying it by trying to secure in thousands of ways targets that are inviting as they come.
Ideas, please, the kookier the better. Mine, as I've said, is scatter, reduce our profile, go to work in our homes as much as possible instead of converging every morning on Wall Street and Times Square, and let them try to hit a moving target. And don't build that foolish Freedom Tower thing.
I have also said from time to time if I could telecommute, I'd move farther out and get away from the city. There are two issues with telecommuting. Businesses did flirt with telecommuting for a little bit in the late 90s. However inviting from a monetary/flexibility standpoint telecommuting first appears, the fact still remains that people like face time with their colleagues. That is going to be a big issue to overcome. I kind of think we are hardwired for personal interaction. Perhaps as broadband and web cams become more ubiquitous, and bandwidth improves...so...that conver...sations...have a more...real...time feel to... ... ...them, we'll learn to adjust our need for personal interaction to video conferencing. Can't decide if that's a good thing or not. It's hard to predict how that would affect human development. On the other hand, I know people through the Internet I would call friends whom I have never met in person. So maybe we've already started redefining that paradigm.
The other issue is quality of life. You can take the boy out of the city, but you can't take the city out of the boy. I have a good friend who is definitely an urbanite. He grew up and lived most of his life in Manhattan, with some time spent in Tokyo. He recently moved to Palm Springs for his retirement years looking for a more relaxed lifestyle than he had. However, even more recently he rented an apartment in San Francisco so he could "escape" to the city. For some people, the breathtaking scenery and the fresh air of western Montana is all they need. Good friends, BBQs and a local watering hole is enough for their contentment and satisfaction. Other people need more diversity, more energy. There is no symphony in Palm Springs. No opera. There are good restaurants in Palm Springs, but no where near the choice San Francisco offers. Even less in western Montana, I would think. Given the choice, how many would really want to flee the cities? How many would jump at the chance to get out of the rat race and hellish commutes, only to end up missing other aspects of urban life and moving back? How long would it take Bozeman to morph from a rural college town to something a little more cosmopolitan? Do residents of Bozeman want that to happen in the first place? Then there are questions of resources and infrastructure, creating a time zone hell and so on and so on.
Telecommuting isn't the panacea it initially appears to be any more than scattering to the country is a very practical suggestion, nice as it is to ponder. Telecommuting does have the virtue of being a more realistic avenue of thought than waiting for Scotty to be able to beam you in and out of the city.
I have been trying for days to assemble my thoughts on this article on the greatest failing of Bush's foreign policy. Reading this article has had a profound affect on me and I am having a hard time articulating exactly how.
I tend to believe in the premise that democracy has a pacifying effect on a nation. However, I've always had reservations about that belief as policy. For one, it is such a long term endeavor what does one do in the mean time?
The war on terrorism is, at some level, a war of ideas: To the extent that we can substitute democracy and liberal values for autocracy and Islamic fundamentalism, we will probably improve our security--and we should therefore try to do so. But freedom--as Richard Haass, Bush's former director of policy planning at the State Department, has written--is not a doctrine. That is, the spread of freedom cannot be our guiding principle in the war on terrorism, because the spread of freedom cannot protect us from all terrorist threats, particularly the immediate ones.
Another shortcoming in this belief-cum-policy is it is based on a more traditional definition of war: two armies beating the hell out of each other in a conflict of attrition, the last man standing being the winner. Such wars require large commitment of resources, not the least of which is human life. While today's modern warfare requirements of tens of thousands of troops is an improvement over the days of WWII which required closer to millions, it is still a heavy investment of life and resources to which a nation must commit. But that is not the kind of war the enemy is waging. Have terrorists invested thousands of lives in their cause? I can't find actual numbers, but I suspect they're doing good to be pushing the hundreds. How many terrorists died on 9/11? A dozen?
What then is the cost for "new democracies" such as Indonesia where jihad is part of popular culture? With an "army" of a few hundred they can wreak great havoc on the rest of the world and, with promises of eternal orgies to those who give their lives for the cause, recruits are not hard to find. And what about "old democracies" where terrorists find safe haven in an environment of tolerance and multiculturalism? It seems that a sound policy would adapt itself to new and changing definitions of conflict.
However, dogma, by definition, is not adaptable. The greatest weakness of the religiously fervent is their inability to adapt to changing ideas and definitions. The belief that God is unchanging, constant and eternal leaves no room for the concept that man's understanding of God will change over time. The idea that man learned in the first few hundred years all that there is to know about God and His relationship with Creation seems patently absurd to me. However, it is in just such an environment that ideas such as "an ideology of hope and compassion that will overwhelm their ideology of hate" become dangerous. Unable to see beyond narrow definitions of Truth, those inspired or motivated by religious belief leave themselves open to disaster by focusing on grandiose archetypes and broadly defined ideologies and refusing to acknowledge the untidy reality of the human condition, including the harsh reality that some people are going to hate you no matter how nice you are.
I grow more and more disturbed that this is exactly the kind of man we have leading our country. I have no issues with a man of faith leading this country. However, in my view, true faith imbues a man with a sense of humility, a sense of his own insignificance in the universe, as sense that, no matter how smart he may be, he does not and cannot know everything. Faith that imbues a man with an over developed sense of his own importance and superiority is, to my mind, counterfeit.
[Democrats] will need to learn something about telling stories to the American people. Only then will the public comprehend the danger that the Bush administration has left us in and do something about it.
Democrats need to transcend technocracy and articulate a worldview centered on our security. They need to describe America's immediate antagonist not as ideological, as the president has, but as technological. They must explain that nuclear weapons--not simply abstractions like tyranny or hate or evil--pose the greatest threat to the United States. And they must explain that, in contrast to Bush's fantasy, in which the earth is cleansed of evil, theirs is a story--all the more optimistic because of its realism--in which the concrete goal of securing and destroying fissile material can be accomplished through concrete steps. The themes are simple. The war on terrorism may be a war of ideas, but it is first a war of means. It is a war of intentions, but it is first a war of capabilities. It is a war against all terrorists, but it is first a war against nuclear terrorists. After all, the best stories are the ones in which the hero survives.
Hat tip: Frank Foer via AndrewSullivan.com
Incoming Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero pledged to withdraw Spain's 1,300 troops from Iraq by June 30. But even that wasn't good enough or fast enough to placate al Qaeda. The most recent threat to Spain's government, sent in a letter from an Ansar al Qaeda Europe group spokesman to Spain's newspaper ABC, now demands immediate withdrawal from Iraq. Further, it demands all Spanish forces removed from Afghanistan as well. Failure to do so immediately, the letter claims, will result in a "hell" where "blood will flow in rivers."
The letter, coupled with an unsuccessful bombing attempt on a Seville-bound rail line last week, was a stark reminder that terrorists won't relent when placated; success only serves to embolden those bent on destruction. Promises of appeasement from the newly elected Socialist government in Madrid, particularly the premature withdrawal of forces from Iraq, did nothing to stop the bloodlust. Terrorists won't go away, even if the Spanish government meets their increasing demands. Pulling troops from Iraq ahead of schedule, or an exit from Afghanistan, however, will not end the violence or the threats. New accommodations will bring only new demands, new violence and dangerous implications well beyond Spain's borders.
I got an email from a friend of mine, chiding me for my Amero-centric response to the events in Spain following the terrorist attacks. I was also given a lecture about the American imperialist actions in Iraq questioning our imposition of democracy on the Arab world.
First of all, I don't care what your opinons about the war in Iraq are. What the Spainiards did was f***ing stupid. No, the Spanish people didn't vote out the old goverment because it was pro-American. It voted out the government because it supported the Iraq war, which led to the attack. However, since America is currently in Iraq and since al'Queda don't want us (or Spain) in Iraq, and since the previous goverment supported the war and the new government won't support the war...it's ends up being about America doesn't it? Yes, it was also stupid of the Spanish goverment to try and pin the attack on the Basques before really having full information. I seriously doubt it would have changed anything if they had said it was the Arabs from the start.
I still don't get the characterization of the U.S. engaging in imperialist colonization. Afghanistan and Iraq where military targets. We are at war, people. Make no mistake. We are not at war with the Arab world, or with Islam, as many would like to paint it. We are at war with an extremist faction and the governments who support them and their terror. Even with all the mistakes that have been made in the esitmations of the costs, even with the misinformation, misinterpretation or outright lies about weapons of mass destruction—depending on your political leanings—the fact remains that al'Qaida is rapidly running out of governments willing to give them shelter and funding. Do you think they don't get that? Saddam was stupid and/or arrogant enough to believe he could win a war with the United States. bin Laden isn't either. His only hope is to drive a wedge between the United States and everyone else. So he blows up his own people while they are at prayer. He blows up innocent Spainiards on their way to work.
It is foolish to think that the war in Iraq has increased terrorist animosity. Desperation, maybe, but not animosity. We always have been the target of suicidal muslism extremists. 9/11 wasn't the first. Only the worst so far. Europe has borne a heavier burden of these attacks. Proximity has as much to do with that as anything else. I was in Europe in 1986. There were still soldiers with automatic weapons in the airports from the attacks in the early 80s. Now Spain has shown the terrorists they will cave to blackmail. France has already stated they will not retaliate against terrorist attacks. Europe seems to think that if they just ignore the terrorists they will leave them alone. Why is it so hard to understand that the nut jobs responsible hate the West? They blame the west for their poverty. They see the West as a threat to their backward, misogynistic, homophobic society. Constitutional democracies in Afghanistan and Iraq is their worst nightmare. They will stop at nothing to undermine those efforts. They will stop at nothing to destroy the West, even if they have to do it a bit at a time. They aren't just going to go away.
The U.S. has tried to play nice. We have tried the the rule of law to find and prosecute terrorists. Or we have at least pretended at it anyway. We've known all along it was bin Laden. Our allies have been telling us that for years. If Clinton had had the balls to slap some terrorist ass around after the first attempt on the Twin towers, or after the bombings of the embassys in Africa or the attack on the Cole in Yemen, they would not have dared 9/11. They would not have supposed that such a brutal attack would sway American public opinion to inaction. Whatever his other failings, Bush did the right thing in taking the war to them. I'm no international relations expert, but having been the target of bullies through my whole childhood, I did learn one thing. They are all cowards at heart. You stand up to them and they back down. You can't reason with them. You can't negotiate with them. You either cave to their demands or you fight back. Period.
The best possibility for curtailing the terrorists ability to wage war is to establish democratic rule in the Middle East. When people have control over their own destiny, when prosperity reigns, people are much less inclined to strap TNT to their bodies and detnonate. It is going to take a lot of hand holding for Democracy to have a chance in the Middle East. Democracy would come to the Middle East eventually. Take a quick look at Iran. As Iran is learning, when people become more educated, more capable of free thought, they quickly see through the lies that their current station is the result of oppression from the West, who sold its soul to Satan.
Arabs deserve the same freedom that we enjoy. Most of them want it, but they are hedging their bets. France refuses to engage the powers that have visted terror on them for decades. Spain rolls over and plays dead after a single attack. Not exactly encouraging signs for an oppressed people afraid of coming under the rule of another despot and afraid of repraisals if the United States doesn't stay its course. What have the United States and the world ever done to show that we care more about the people who live in the Middle East than we care about their oil? Not a damn thing. And we are surprised they don't trust us? We are surprised they don't like us?
What will the cost be for democracy in the Middle East? Will wars need to be fought as in America? Will there need to be a period of hellish anarchy as in France? If the United States is in a position to coach these countries through the growth process and avoid such bloodshed, shouldn't we at least try?