Archive for the ‘America’ Category.

Somebody Is Going To Get Hurt

Homeland Security snipers pointing their rifles at frightened residents during a drug bust in New York is just another in a string of incidents where police use military tactics against an American civilian population. The Economist has a story discussing the militarization of the police, and it couldn’t come at more important time. Sooner or later someone is going to get hurt.

Evidently that’s sooner. The Economist reports 50 innocent people have been killed in “no knock” raids by the police, including  92 year old Kathryn Johnston who in 2006 confronted police with a pistol in her house after they smashed the door down. The cops shot her five times  then planted marijuana in her house. It turns out they lied to get the no-knock warrant.

As a libertarian with a strong conservative streak I am very suspicious of the police yet supportive of their actions in general. I worry about their mindset that separates them from the general population to create an “us vs. them” attitude which can become self-fulfilling while at the same time recognize that bad guys often have access to the same firepower cops do. I worry about police taking away my rights and the rights of my teen age son, yet am thankful they are always just a phone call away. It’s a tough balance for me, so I can understand how it would be for a cop.

I don’t deny the police have a tough job. I wouldn’t want it. But if they are going to start viewing themselves as an occupying force they need to repaint their cars to blot out the “serve and protect” motto and replace it with a Judge Dredd quote, “I am The Law.” Each officer, each department needs to ask, do they want to create a police state for their children and grandchildren? Is this why they joined the police force in the first place?

 

A Republican Reflects On A Kennedy

I grew up a Democrat, and although my party affiliations have since changed (and may change back given the stupidity shown by the current GOP leadership) certain Democratic ideals and icons still resonate me with. Sure John F. Kennedy cheated on his wife and wasn’t very effective at getting his legislation passed in Congress, but he did inspire generations of people who came after him. He promised to go to the moon by the end of the 1960’s, “We choose to go to the moon. We choose to go to the moon in this decade and do the other things, not because they are easy, but because they are hard…” He stood at the erection of the Berlin Wall, saying “All free men, wherever they may live, are citizens of Berlin, and therefore, as a free man, I take pride in the words “Ich bin ein Berliner!”” just as Reagan would stand a generation later shortly before it’s destruction saying “President Gorbachev, tear down this wall.”

Growing up in our modest home that my Depression era parents purchased with 90% down (because they feared debt in a way later generations cannot yet fathom), I remember a heavy wrought iron plaque of JFK mixed in with paintings of the Blessed Virgin and Sacred Heart, emblazoned with the words “Ask not what your country can do for you; ask what you can do for your country.” It’s a statement that I know so well I didn’t need to look it up. It’s ingrained in my memory and the memories of many, which shouldn’t be surprising since Kennedy’s Inauguration Speech is considered one of the greatest speeches in American history. It’s not as memorable or brief as Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address, nor is it as important to our history as the vision laid out in Washington’s Farewell Address, but that single sentence alone catapults it into the pantheon of important and inspiring words for lovers of liberty to know by heart.

I think about Kennedy’s words a lot these days. They came to mind on Friday evening when the Wife was home late from the office after filling out paperwork for some of her Medicaid patients. She has a whole slew of patients who are grossly (in every sense of the word) obese, depressed and on public assistance. She being the liberal care-giver she is does her best to help these people, but she cannot say to them what they truly need to hear: that nearly all of their problems would be solved if they lost weight and got off the taxpayer’s dime.

We did not evolve to become the fat couple I saw at Wal-mart Saturday night: the 400+ lb wife in a scooter-cart being filled by her 300 lb husband. Now I am by no means a food nazi; if you want to drink a gallon of Pepsi flavored with high fructose corn syrup everyday until your toes fall off, then knock yourself out – that is, as long as you’re not on public assistance. If you are, then guess what? People like me have a right to what you shove into your pie hole.

If you weigh over 300 lbs and aren’t a Sumo wrestler, a linebacker or over 7 feet tall, you’ve got a problem. A weight problem. No amount of anti-depressants that doctors like my wife prescribe is going to make you happy; no windfall from the Federal Government will ever be enough to make you feel good about yourself. We evolved in the African savannah and prospered in Asia, Europe and the Americas because we could move and fend for ourselves. Spear a mammoth and running it down with your buddies provided immense personal satisfaction. Finding a hidden supply of food in the forest and giving it to your kids went a long way to chase away the blues. Our Pleistocene ancestors didn’t have paxil, klonopin, or xanax. They moved their bodies. They walked, ran, lifted, hefted, jumped,  threw, stooped, crawled, jogged, swam, and swung. They were highly motivated: If they didn’t something ate them.

When I watched the fat guy waddle down the aisle and knock a box of powdered donuts into his wife’s scooter-cart with a laugh and what appeared to me to be some type of satisfaction over his athletic prowess, I didn’t feel the pity that my wife feels for her obese patients. I felt anger. It’s not a secret that sugar soft drinks and sweets make it easy to pack on the pounds, and it’s not Wal-Mart’s job to keep the junk off the shelves. You can become as fat as you want, but don’t expect to be happy. Nothing my wife prescribes will do more than take the edge off your sadness and self-hatred. And here’s where Kennedy comes back into my screed.

Kennedy saw the wisdom of service. He didn’t say the reverse, “Ask not what you can do for your country, ask what your country can do for you.” This is exactly what the Democratic Party has evolved into and one of the reasons I left it. We as free human beings are not meant to be served, we are meant to serve.  It’s healthier to think about and fulfill the needs of others than it is to focus on one’s own self, a fact lost in today’s narcissistic culture. I still remember the day I truly became an adult. It was the day that I accepted I was going to become a father. Prior to that day my life had been about me; after it my life revolved around my child and the family that supported him. After that everything became different; I saw the world in a completely new way and was a better man for it. Thinking about others and doing for others won’t cure all of one’s ills, but it’s a start. Given studies have shown antidepressants to be only slightly better than placebos at best and sometimes make depression worse for some, building a life focused on service is a cheap way to fight depression and anxiety.

Notice how Kennedy did not use the word government either. He didn’t say, “Ask what you can do for your government.” Since taking over the White House the Democratic Party has worked overtime to equate the two in our minds, labeling Tea Party supporters and others opposed to the current regime as racist, extremist or unpatriotic. It’s not much different from what the Bush White House and the GOP did for those opposed to the war in Iraq, so both parties will wrap themselves in the mantle of “country” if we let them.

But America is bigger than our government and Kennedy knew it. America is a country that doesn’t exclude anyone. It transcends any divide that we throw at it. Gays or Straights? Americans. Muslims or Jews? Americans. Tobacco-spitting Rednecks or Arugula Eating Vegans? Americans. He wasn’t asking for each of us to serve our government, or our particular social group. He was asking us to serve America, to act and make our country with all its diversity and differences better. Action. Movement. Doing these it’s hard to be fat, but doing nothing, sitting back and waiting for the government to give us “free s**t” will deaden our souls.

I truly believe our nation under the Democrats has lost its way. John F. Kennedy was a Democrat yet his message today transcends both parties. Asking what one can do for one’s country sounds positively subversive these days when we don’t equate “country” with “government”. Such statements are only found among Tea Partiers, and both parties loath them. After all the GOP has not tasked us to act to make America better; they’re just looking to switch out the Democrats in Washington DC and get the same perks the current administration has.

But we Americans can do better than that. We can serve one another with a spirit that Kennedy believed when he said those words and Americans of all political stripes can share. We just need to get off our butts and move. For years we’ve grown flabby; it’s time we acted.

 

The Entitlement Mindset

I normally ignore any headline with a number in it, but the following article is an exception. 6 Harsh Truths That Will Make You a Better Person should be required reading for everyone, especially those new to the workforce. Alec Baldwin is a world-class @sshat, and while I disagree with the article writer that it’s the greatest scene in movie history (better than Roy Batty’s speech in Blade Runner? The Wagnerian assault on the VietCong outpost in Apocalypse Now? Any scene from Casablanca?) it’s an amazing scene. Now I want to close some real estate…

Everyday my wife deals with extremely poor people on medicaid who feel entitled to everything. They’ve got thousands of dollars in tattoos covering their torsos but they can’t afford the $3 office visit copay. The local free clinic has gone bust, and the local non-profit hospital is circling the drain because people won’t pay their bills. Oh but they are poor, right?

I’ve seen poor. I’ve walked the streets of Dar es Salaam and seen beggar children missing limbs, victims of the civil war in Mozambique, who are moved around the city by their pimps. I’ve been in smoky mud huts that people have lived in their entire lives who scratch out just enough from the soil outside to survive. Medical care was a fantasy for them because they couldn’t make it to the towns where it was offered by the NGOs or government. Trust me on this: compared to what you’ll see in sub-Saharan African, there is no poverty in America.

When I came back to America from living abroad for 5 years I remember riding the train into Philadelphia through Chester PA and being shocked by the rubble that passed for the city. That’s not poverty, at least as defined by the lack of money. The citizens in Chester were rich compared to the street families in Dar, what they were suffering from was a poverty of ambition. They were stuck in a hell all right, but not the one that progressives and liberals believe. It’s one that money can’t solve – as proven by the trillions spent on the War on Poverty that has led only to a complete surrender. Money can’t fix attitude nor can it light a fire within that compels one to better one’s situation.

I currently live in one of the poorest areas of the country. We moved here at least partly due to a noble cause. We wanted to make a difference in the lives of the less fortunate, and I figured that we would do what we had done in Africa. Not only would the Wife treat the sick, but we’d plow our incomes back into the community. While conducting research in the Bush we expanded the research payroll with our personal funds, knowing that each person we hired would then be able to support their families. We hired anyone who could do anything. If you could wield a panga you could cut trails. If you could walk you could earn money simply by walking around the forest listening for the chimps. We paid young men to dig trenches around the research camp. For a year the people of the Kasiha village in the Mahale Mountains had some security in their lives, and they appreciated it. They were hard workers and protective of idiot Americans stumbling around in the Bush like myself. We left with $20 and no regrets.

Here in North Carolina I have had trouble finding people willing to cut my hay fields. I bought a hardwood stove but then had to take it back because I couldn’t find anyone willing to install it. After one of my dogs was killed along the road I asked a local carpenter to extend the fencing, a $3,000 job. He blew me off and never showed. Other property owners have the same trouble finding anyone willing to work. One said, “No one wants to work when the government pays them to sit at home.” Some have taken to hiring illegals, but I refuse to do that because I have a moral issue with it.

Yet these same people traipse into the Wife’s office and demand MRIs and expensive tests and procedures without knowing what they are asking for. When she refuses they question her judgment, as if they had gone through 4 years of undergraduate studies, 2 years of pre-med prep, 4 years of medical school, 3 years of residency and internship and 4 years of practicing as an attending. She brings 17 years of training into the exam room, yet these people disrespect her and her staff.

Disrespect. Dis as the verb. As the article above points out, respect is something earned by what you can do, not your intrinsic qualities. My Wife earns respect because she knows how to tell the difference between a harmless common cold and life-threatening pneumonia. 17 years of training has honed her clinical skills to the point where she now has instincts that have saved people’s lives. Seriously saved lives. I know of a handful of incidents including one where she had to battle an insurance company for a test that proved a cancer diagnosis. What have her patients made besides children, and it takes two of them to do that?

Anyone who demands respect doesn’t deserve it. If you are feeling dis’d it’s because you’ve done nothing worthy of respect. If you want to be respect, do something deserving of it.

Happy Thanksgiving 2013

A comedy classic from WKRP in Cincinnati.

Failure – The Obama Administration’s Foreign Policy Legacy

I’m fascinated by disaster and failure. I’m not talking natural disaster; although fascinating in themselves (who around back then does not recall when Mount St. Helens blew up in 1980?) natural disasters don’t provide teachable moments the way a man-made failure or disaster does. Soon the Discovery Channel and The Science Channel will simulcast a scripted movie about the Challenger disaster. The movie is based on Dr. Richard Feynman’s memoir “What Do You Care What Other People Think” and will invariably show how Science and the human analytical mind went from a cloud of smoke and debris at 50,000 feet to the reason for the disaster: an O-ring seal in a solid rocket booster. Such failure analysis is why travel on large aluminum jets is the safest method of transportation in human history, going from perhaps the deadliest form of transport to the safest in less than a century. Such success came about through hard detective work the scene of each disaster, followed by a long period of investigation and analysis where the failure was pinpointed and most importantly, having the lessons learned applied to the rest of the industry.

The bible for those interested in the study of failure is German professor Dietrich Dorner’s 1996 book, The Logic of Failure. The book is based on a set of cognitive experiments done with software simulating a small town’s society in the US, and a fictional area in the Sahel. The studies found that while participants came from varied walks of life and backgrounds, “People court failure in predictable ways.” It then ties the experiments to real life failures such as the nuclear catastrophe at Chernobyl. As a systems analyst involved with complex multi-million dollar software development programs, I consider the book “must reading” for everyone in IT. Feel free to pass along a copy to those behind the Obamacare rollout.

Five years ago the people of Iraq had, thanks to the blood of thousands of American and allied soldiers, achieved a level of freedom unparalleled in their history. The national sport of kite flying was legal again and girls headed to school in Afghanistan. al Qaeda and its affiliates were on the run and confined to lawless patches in northern Pakistan, northern Nigeria and Somalia. Iran was boxed in between biting sanctions that undermined the regime internally, successful American military operations on either side of it, and an Israel ready, willing and backed by American leadership to attack Iran to stop it from acquiring nuclear weapons. China was busy flooding the world with cheap crap, content to use North Korea as its proxy to stir up trouble in favor of the regime in Beijing. Our relationship with Russia had begun drifting away from engagement towards confrontation over its aggression towards Georgia, but Russia was clearly a state in decline both internally and internationally. Even Syria was seen as a player, with Democrats having genuflected at Bashir Assad’s feet, Nancy Pelosi having claimed “the road to peace begins in Damascus” in 2007, four years before Vogue’s schmaltzy interview with the Assad family, “A Rose In the Desert.”

Today Iraq is a client state of Iran, its skies filled with Iranian cargo planes resupplying the Assad regime in Syria and Hezballah in Lebanon, its social fabric once again ripped by car bombs as the Sunni/Shi’a war rages on the ground. The Obama administration, convinced of its failure before it took office walked away from American success in Iraq by its refusal to negotiate a status of forces agreement with Baghdad. Historians will one day ask “Who lost Iraq?” and the answer will be Barack Obama. Immediately after setting up their base in Afghanistan in 2001, the Marines buried a piece of steel taken from the World Trade Center rubble on the site. Soon the Taliban and their al Qaeda allies will reclaim this as a war trophy as the kites and girls disappear from the streets, and the music that has filled the air in Kabul since 2001 will be replaced once again with silence punctuated by gunfire and explosions. Again historians will ask “Who condemned these people to savagery? Who lost Afghanistan?” Again the answer will be President Obama, a man who once called Afghanistan “the good war.”

After taking power President Obama fluttered around the world on what critics like me called his “Apology tour,” apologizing for American misdeeds both real and imagined, in the belief that the new-found humility would please our friends and sway our enemies. The Obama Administration has accomplished exactly the opposite. Today Iran is expanding its “Shi’a Crescent” throughout the Middle East, and the only ones standing in the way is Israel in an unlikely (and unspoken) alliance with Saudi Arabia and the Gulf States. This after a popular rebellion took the streets in 2009 that could have changed the course of History, but it received no hint of support or backing from the Obama administration and it was ruthlessly crushed. It will be decades before the people rise up against the theocracy, if they ever do.

Today from Morocco across northern Africa to the Sinai, and from Nigeria across the continent to Somalia Africa burns with Muslim extremists allied with al Qaeda. Obama’s support of the rebellion to replace Mohammar Khaddafi in Libya has opened a Pandora’s Box of weaponry built over decades by Libya’s Great Loon, handing AK-47s, RPGs, and anti-aircraft missiles to everyone with an axe to grind and a Koran burning a hole in their hearts. Where there had been one failed state 5 years ago, Somalia, there are now at least 3 (Somalia, Mali, Libya) with numerous others (Algeria, Chad, Mauritania, Nigeria, Niger, Western Sahara) circling the drain. After Khaddafi’s fall al Qaeda training camps sprouted like mushrooms across North Africa and the Sub-Sahara, breathing the lawlessness that the Libyan Debacle created, and repaying the Obama administration for its “lead from behind” strategy by killing an American ambassador and his three bodyguards in the first such incident in 30 years.

Although the administration’s failure vis-a-vis China is not as bad as the disaster it has created in the Middle East, the Obama Doctrine of placating our foes while dissing our friends has been noticed in Asian capitals. South Korea is developing closer ties with China at the same time Japan rearms and prepares to ditch its anti-war constitution ghost written by Gen. Douglas MacArthur. Nations like Pakistan who haven’t really decided whether they are American allies or its enemies see no downside to throwing their lots in with the Chinese or Iranians. Pakistan even provides China the tail-section of a top-secret stealth helicopter used in the operation to kill Osama Bin Laden, America’s enemy number 1 watching porn in air conditioned comfort on Pakistani soil. There is no blow-back, no consequences suffered for entertaining the man responsible for the deaths of 3,000 Americans, and none for handing over the tail rotor section to America’s greatest military adversary. And to top it off, the true hero of the event, a local doctor who had the guts to help the Americans confirm Bin Laden’s identity, sits in jail as a traitor to his people. If anything playing up to America’s adversaries almost wins respect from the Obama administration itself. China understands this best, waging a cyber war against the US government and private industry without retribution.

Then there’s Europe. When the Obama Administration hasn’t sacrificed its allies to appease its enemies in Teheran and Moscow, it bugged their phones, proving yet again this administration’s inability to differentiate friend from foe. “Everyone does it,” is not an acceptable excuse for a superpower. There is absolutely no reason the US should be bugging Angela Merkel’s phone just as there is no reason it should be spying on 10 Downing Street. Perhaps the mushy-headedness that comes with moral relativism has blinded the administration to the differences of say, between Angela Merkel and Vladimir Putin, or David Cameron and Ayatollah Khamenei.  The “Special Relationship” with the UK is special for a reason, one that is much older than the inhabitants of the West Wing and much more sublime than the political wonks can comprehend. Ditto the German Chancellor. Frau Merkel was born in East Germany and has first hand experience with illegal and unjustified surveillance. Unlike some of her predecessors, she has not risen to power on an anti-American platform, and has done an exemplary job of aligning the interests of Germany with the broader interests of Europe and the United States. Spying on her was a stupid idea that should never have been approved, and once approved, it should have been cancelled, and if not cancelled it should never have been revealed. Yet a contract DBA waltzed off with the keys to the entire American Intelligence in the worst espionage failure since Klaus Fuchs handed the Soviets the Bomb. Again, no consequences. No one fired let alone jailed.

Many on the right have concluded that this is all by plan, that the Obama administration and his Democratic party supporters have been intent on taking the ship of state and intentionally running it aground because they are socialists or communists. In the Irving Kristol Lecture to the American Enterprise Institute on February 10, 2004 Charles Krauthammer suggests it is more complex and subtle than that:

“What I do know is that today it is a mistake to see liberal foreign policy as deriving from anti-Americanism or lack of patriotism or a late efflorescence of 1960s radicalism.

On the contrary. The liberal aversion to national interest stems from an idealism, a larger vision of country, a vision of some ambition and nobility – the ideal of a true international community. And that is: To transform the international system from the Hobbesian universe into a Lockean universe. To turn the state of nature into a norm-driven community. To turn the law of the jungle into the rule of law – of treaties and contracts and UN resolutions. In short, to remake the international system in the image of domestic civil society…

And to create such a true international community, you have to temper, transcend and, in the end, abolish the very idea of state power and national interest. Hence the antipathy to American hegemony and American power. If you are going to break the international arena to the mold of domestic society, you have to domesticate its single most powerful actor. You have to abolish American dominance, not only as an affront to fairness but also as the greatest obstacle on the whole planet to democratized international system where all live under self-governing international institutions and self-enforcing international norms.” – Things That Matter: Three Decades of Passion, Pastimes and Politics

Seen in this light, Obama’s foreign policy has not been a failure at all. It has accomplished exactly what it was intended to do. It has weakened America’s foreign policy hand across the board. America’s military is weakened through political purges of its officer corps, lack of direction and budget cuts. Its diplomatic corps is undermined by the lack of protection of its staff, as proven in Benghazi, by the White House’s high-handedness shown towards America’s closest friends the UK and Israel, and the spying program targeting American allies as well as its enemies that State Department personnel are forced to explain in their host countries. Its adversaries Syria, Iran and North Korea are all in better positions than they were five years ago. Ditto China and Russia. As the US weakens its enemies strengthen, and its allies are then forced to either band together (EU standing up to Russia and encouraging Ukraine to join, ASEAN nations co-coordinating efforts to balance China) or leave its sphere of influence entirely (Saudi Arabia, Egypt and perhaps Israel in the Middle East, South Korea in East Asia).

Obama has domesticated America on the international stage, to use Krauthammer’s term: so now what? Where is the Golden Age promised by Locke and the internationalists? If they are correct, a humbled America should encourage its enemies to stop their own military buildups (they don’t need offensive military capability with America’s gone). North Korea and Iran no longer need nukes now that American nukes are rusting away awaiting destruction as Obama unilaterally disarms. Without American backing Israel should engage its enemies diplomatically in a desperate bid to secure peace with the Palestinians. The world should be much better today than it was five years ago.

Is it? I suppose that depends on your perspective. Five years ago Americans could have traveled safely throughout Africa except for one nation Somalia. Today I’d hesitate to walk through the narrow streets of Zanzibar as I once did freely nearly two decades ago, and have struck Valley of the Kings in Egypt off my bucket list until further notice. Northern Kenya, Mali, Eritrea, Mauritania, Nigeria, Chad, Niger, Western Sahara, and Libya are now no-go areas for Westerners. I suppose that’s great if you can’t help but shout Allahu Akhbar every time you touch an AK-47, but for the rest of us things have gotten worse not better under the new regime.

Dietrich Doerner writes, “For them (people who failed most often at complex analytical tests) to propose a hypothesis was to understand reality; testing that hypothesis was unnecessary. Instead of generating hypotheses, they generated ‘truths’.” The Obama administration came to power proposing a hypothesis, that the world would be a better place with the United States weakened. It treated this hypothesis as a truth, steadfastly refusing to let go of it, sacrificing ambassadors, diplomatic relationships built over generations, and American influence in the process. When Doerner’s study participants failed, they invariably blamed others for their failures just as the Administration has focused the blame on the GOP.

When the Obama administration took power I and many others had hoped it would govern from the center, that things wouldn’t be as dire as we had feared. We hoped that it would try its crazy ideas, learn they didn’t work, then try something else. But they didn’t learn. They stuck to their “truths.” Five years on our foreign policy is a shambles, America weaker and friendless as it has been at no other time in its history. The disaster is worse than we expected, and we still have 3 full years left in this president’s term.

Will America be able to survive this epic failure? Thirty-two years ago Ronald Reagan took power and turned around foreign policy debacles of the previous Carter administration pretty quickly. Will a Republican president be able to do the same after eight years of disaster? And what if the GOP selects the wrong candidate and Hillary Clinton wins in 2016? How much failure can this country accept and still survive?

PBS Frontline: League of Denial Seals The Deal For This NFL Fan

I love American football. As a kid I loved playing pick-up games of it in our suburban backyards and touch versions in the street. Our city was cursed with the St. Louis Football Cardinals who eventually took their stinking-on-ice team to Arizona where they still suck, and most of my friends were from outside the area so I took to supporting their teams. My friend Ron H. was from Philadelphia, so I started rooting for the Eagles. But this was the era of the Steel Curtain, so I found myself cheering for the Pittsburgh Steelers as well. In fact I liked almost all the football teams except for my hometown disappointments.

After my bohemian period during which I thought American football was jejune and bourgeois, I had fallen in love with a woman who rekindled my interest in the Philadelphia Eagles after we moved into the area. I’ve rarely written about the sport because I have nothing to say beyond the usual “Go Birds” and the attendant “Cowboys Suck!” that comes with being a Philly fan. After moving south of the Mason Dixon, I have paid hundreds of dollars to watch the Eagles and other NFL teams play on DirecTV every season.

But every season the game seems to lose some of its appeal. Maybe there are too many penalties in an attempt to make the game safe. Maybe it’s because I’m growing older and have seen some pretty bad things happen to people. Maybe it’s because I’m just turning into a big pussy. But there’s only so many times I can see a player get hit and lay motionless on the ground while holding my breath before I begin to think something is wrong both with the sport and my enjoyment of it.

I love the sheer athleticism on display. I revel in the impossible plays just like any other fan. And yes these men are paid millions to destroy their bodies, but does the lucre they are paid free us fans from guilt? We are being entertained by men damaging their bodies in ways we would not do ourselves, or allow our children to do. I didn’t let my son play football even when he expressed interest in the sport. At the time I was more worried about a broken neck or ruined knees. That was before CTE, Chronic traumatic encephalopathy, a disease that destroys the brain and is specific to the sports boxing and football. Soccer players don’t exhibit it, nor do baseball players or lacrosse players. CTE does not wait until players are in their 70s or 80s to exhibit signs; it has been found in the brain of an 18 year old football player.

I am no nanny. If you want to kill yourself with drugs or whatever, fine – do so just not in front of me because I have a conscience and I will intervene to stop you. That is the way I was raised. For the past few years my conscience has been stirring when I watch American football, and seeing this program on PBS pretty much seals the deal. The NFL has denied the existence of CTE the exact same way the tobacco companies denied cancer caused by smoking. Recently the league has pushed the problem into the future by calling for “more study” just as the cigarette companies called for further research on lung cancer when the Science behind the causative link between smoking and lung cancer was unequivocal. What they’ve done is criminal but not surprising given the amount of money league owners have invested in the game.

Many of my friends have turned to European football known as soccer here in the States, and while watching the game seems about as exciting as watching a cat lick itself, at least I can watch it without my conscience stirring.

Perhaps technology can someday come to the rescue. Imagine: no penalties, no guilt, and as violent as we can make it. We could watch a true Steel Curtain descend on the opposing robot team and pulverize them, sending bits of plastic, steel and oil flying. Then, and only then will I be ready for some football.

Memento Mori – The Art of Abandonment

In South Philadelphia row upon row of abandoned naval ships are moored together, stripped of their fittings and rusting silently. A short way down the Delaware River sits the rusting hulk of the cruise ship SS United States, a once majestic liner, completely gutted of anything of worth leaving only a hollow shell, whose memory of better days fade as one by one those who sailed on her pass on. Anyone who has ever worked in Philadelphia and driven past these silent sentinels regularly during his commute must appreciate their presence. These abandoned ships inspired me whenever I passed them. What battles did they see? What great men served on them? What ports did they call at?

Photographer Walter Arnold specializes in what he calls the “art of abandonment,” photographing scenes of collapsing buildings and rusting machinery, finding beauty and meaning in places and things that have been ignored or forgotten. These scenes are at once sad yet beautiful, like mournful poems or the contemplative serenity one might find in an old cemetery. He briefly describes the genre below.

I discovered Arnold while roving through the art galleries in Asheville North Carolina. When you’ve seen thousands of photographs and paintings of mountains and rivers a photograph of a barber chair in an abandoned prison catches and holds your eye.

Arnold emphasizes the ephemeral nature of his subject matter by using a technique called high dynamic range imaging in which several photographs of different exposures are combined to increase the level of detail and to increase the difference between light and dark regions of a photograph. He also prints his photographs on sheet metal, which brings out the highlights while breaking down the formal barriers between viewer and subject matter created by frame and matte.

He also captures the abstract geometry of a scene. A cubist fantasy in “The Matrix“, a photograph taken at a derelict lace factory in Scranton. Conch-like circles in “Beneath the UFO“, an image of a play structure beneath an empty school in St. Bernard Parish Louisiana. Parallel lines and intersections in “The Ruin of Harlot’s Hall“, a photo of an abandoned brothel in Hot Springs, Arkansas. A diving board looms like an abstract sculpture above an empty pool in “I’m Still Here,” a folded piece of origami among lines racing away into the distance.

Time and Nature are critical players in his photographs, and the photos remind the viewer like a Roman general’s slave whispering in his ear that regardless of our successes in life, we eventually fall to both. The motorcycle in “From the Earth” seems to burst out of the photograph while at the same time fights being swallowed by the earth. As the viewer we know which will ultimately win. In “Encroachment,” a photograph taken at the Majestic Hotel, a modern-looking and clean hotel room is under siege with the first tendrils of vines writhing across the carpet and up the walls. It’s only a matter of time before the straight lines of the room and bright white walls are softened and sullied by Time and Nature. Perhaps the finest example of this is arguably his most famous photograph, “The Final View,” an image of a plane’s cockpit taken in an airplane graveyard in Florida and the inspiration for a short film by Ron Howard, “When You Find Me.

As a photographer who is somewhat new to the medium, having picked up a camera in 2006, Arnold is still exploring other subjects such as nature and portraiture. He even shoots weddings. These are technically very good and appealing in their own ways, but the images of abandonment are what haunt me, whether imagining the last song played on a broken piano, the final ride of a Ferris wheel or the last joy ride taken in an old car.

What Effect Do You Think Barack Obama’s Presidency Has Had On Race Relations? Why?

The following originally appeared here

Race relations are far worse today than they were 5 years ago. In fact I would go so far as to say they are worse than they’ve been since the 1970’s but I lack the proof to back up the statement beyond my gut telling me. Obama has squandered an opportunity brought about by his skin color to heal the wound of racism on the American body politic, and instead has chosen to use race to further divide Americans for his own political gain in the pursuit of goals held by a small elite cadre of white liberals.

I’m not surprised. Although a product of an African and an American, Barack Obama has never been an African-American. Instead of being raised in the African-American experience from birth, he grew up in an unusual, sheltered environment abroad and living with his white grandmother in Hawaii. Instead of growing up in a black culture shared by many white Americans, he grew up in the white subculture of ultra-leftist academics, an elite which believes it understands blacks better than the blacks themselves. This culture sees African-Americans as a group that is completely devoid of responsibility for its condition and as a result incapable of governing itself, needing the intelligent white elite to do so. This elite also sees white people who do not belong to this subculture as evil, racists responsible for the legacy of slavery and for all the attendant problems of race in America. For example the administration has been silent on Black on black violence, except to use it to attack whites and their culture of “god and guns.”

This elitists viewpoint held by Obama and the white elite backing him is blind to the common experiences of whites and blacks today. African-Americans and Caucasians live together at levels unprecedented in our history. They share common goals such as decent schools for their kids and well-paying jobs for themselves. Their cultures intermix with white teenagers listening to black rap and cheering on black sports players, while African-Americans listen to country music stars and enjoy comic book hero movies with characters rooted in the white culture of the 1940s and 1950s. These commonalities are completely invisible to Obama and his backers; all they see is what they want to see: any black-white conflict that fits their pre-existing beliefs. When that conflict turns out to be a poor fit, like the Trayvon Martin murder case, they are forced to make up such racist idiocies as “white Hispanic” to squeeze the event into their belief system.

The irony is that the views held by Obama and his white elite backers are now more racist than the society they are trying to impose them on. Americans don’t want to be hyphenated and divided anymore: they want to be united in hope, and working together to build a better future. But the white elite rules, and America continues down the path towards ruin creating a mess that will take decades to clean up. What a wasted opportunity.

Black Man Who Gunned Down White Teen Acquitted – No One Noticed

4 years ago a jury acquitted black man who acted in self defense, shooting a white teen.

There were no protests, no Springsteen songs dedicated to Christopher Cervini, no multi-city marches.

Because it didn’t fit The Narrative.

In Praise of the Local Hardware Store

It was a simple need,  eight Philips head inch-long wood screws with a quarter inch diameter, but it proved beyond the capability of a $50 billion hardware store.

The Wife had purchased a Boos Block table with a metal base online. The purchase came in separate shipments with no instructions, templates or fasteners to put the two together. I thought this was a mistake and called the Boos Block company. They directed me to the online merchant who explained since they sold tables and bases that could be mixed and matched, they couldn’t provide hardware or templates to cover all possibilities. That seemed a bit of a stretch for your average homeowner willing to spend $600 on a 36 inch round of wood, but the customer service rep explained that the people buying these tables knew how and had the hardware to install them.

I laid the table top upside down on the floor and within an hour had measured and drawn a template that centered the cross-legged base with an X-shaped spider onto the wooden bottom. I then took measurements of the wood and spider’s thickness, and determined that I needed inch long wooden screws. The spider used up a quarter inch of that length and the table was 1.5 inches thick so the screws would embed half-way through the top. I checked my inventory and of course had no screws matching the need, so I stopped at the big box “home” store to find the screws while running errands in the area.

The older I get the less of a fan I become of these large stores. They are geared towards meeting the needs of the average home owner, selling low quality low priced items sourced from China. The moment you stray from the this formula you’re out of luck. Evidently as I age I’m becoming less average because I find myself either walking out of the stores without finding what I need or making compromises and buying what I don’t want with increasing frequency. Yesterday was no different.

The average store size of this retailer is 116,000 square feet. Of that they devote approximately 40 linear feet to screws. This may seem a lot until you realize how many types of screws there are. Wood screws. Sheet metal screws. Philips head, flat. Carriage bolts. Metric and imperial.  Because I had carefully measured the table and its base I knew exactly what I needed, but the amount of space devoted to wood screws was just a fraction of that 40 linear feet so it quickly became clear that I wasn’t going to find what I was looking for. A store associate saw my dismay and tried to help, but all he could offer was inch long wood screws with bolt heads. I hadn’t measured for the clearance a bolt head requires, but I bought the screws anyway hoping they’d work. It was another compromise purchase and like so may others I’ve made at the store it failed; none of the ratchets that fit the bolt would fit into the base’s holes. So I chucked the screws into a screw drawer and cursed my stupidity for compromising again.

This morning before work I stopped by the local hardware store, a family run operation with only a fraction of the big box’s square footage. The proprietor greeted me as soon as I walked through the door and I told him what I wanted. He walked me over to the screw section which took up a large portion of the center of the store, and found exactly what I needed. I was in and out within two minutes and $1.20 poorer but wealthier with the right screw for the job. Oh, and the screws were cheaper than the compromise ones I bought from the big box retailer.

For years I have been seduced by the size and supposed selection of the big box stores but no more. Every time a project has ground to a halt over a missing part or a broken Chinese-made tool the local hardware stores have been there for me, somehow managing to have exactly what I need in their tiny, crammed-to-the-rafters spaces. I’ll admit I’m somewhat embarrassed to admit this now at such a late age; I should have known better years ago. But as the Wife says, there’s no time like the present to stop being stupid, and like most of what she says, she’s right.

 

Zimmerman Verdict Is Proof…

That sometimes “white Hispanic” men don’t murder black teenagers just as the OJ Simpson verdict proved that sometimes black men don’t murder white women (and their friends).

Why a Supporter of Gay Marriage Isn’t Happy with the Supreme Court Decision on Gay Marriage

I should be pleased with today’s Supreme Court rulings supporting Gay Marriage since I support gay marriage. So why am I not happy with today’s rulings?

Part of it is the fact that today’s rulings do not end the government’s involvement in marriage. I believe that marriage is a purely religious institution and a secular government has no role in it. The traditional role of government in marriage is due to two reasons. First it provides a legal basis for the treatment of property particularly in regards to inheritance. This has been stretched to include the division of property in the case of divorce, but it should be remembered that until relatively recently divorce was uncommon and in many cases all but illegal. Secondly government involvement in marriage is to insure the nurturing and growth of future citizens – children. In the past marriage provided the economic means necessary to keep children out of poverty, and even today poor children are more likely to live in single parent homes than in homes with two married people. One of the best arguments I have heard against poverty is “If you don’t want to be poor, stay married.” It is a truism I have seen firsthand, and one that I take to heart whenever the Road of Marriage becomes bumpy.

But this traditional involvement for the “sake of the children” has been corrupted by Leftists who have seen the success of other institutions like the Catholic Church in successfully inculcating its values in the young under its tutelage. All Communist  and Socialist political parties have “youth wings” whereby the State or (or state-wannabees if the socialists have yet to take power) indoctrinate children in party ideology. In the United States and Europe Leftists have been successful at turning public education into youth indoctrination camps which is why children fear global warming more than car crashes even though they are more likely to die or suffer serious injury in a car wreck than the consequences of rising global temperatures. Libertarians have traditionally opposed state sponsored education, and this indoctrination is one reason why, so that chops at that leg of support for government involvement in marriage.

As for property there is nothing in existing law that couldn’t handle that separately from marriage. All that is required is that one must be of legal age to participate in a contract. If a New Zealander decides to marry his ewe, he must find a church willing to accept such an arrangement, but he won’t be able to leave his house to Bessie and the minute he touches her he will be subject to animal cruelty laws and existing laws against bestiality. But if a man decides to set up a household with his two wives from a Muslim marriage, so be it. He can enter into a property contract that specifies who gets what when the household is dissolved according to civil (not religious) law. As for spousal rights granted by marriage, we already have Power of Attorney, a contract that specifies who is responsible for someone in the event they are disabled or unconscious. If a lesbian wants her lover to decide whether to pull the plug on her in an ICU, then so be it, as long as there exists a power of attorney. The State has a traditional function as the enforcer of binding legal contracts that is separate from marriage, so removing itself from the “marriage business” will not impact that function.

So without these two supporting pillars the State has no reason to be involved in marriage. Expanding the definition of marriage to include gay people isn’t going to change that . Perhaps in the long run it will accelerate the disentangling of the State from the religious basis of marriage, but in the long run we are dead to quote Keynes.

The Supreme Court rulings also serve as a distraction from the scandals that are threatening the very foundations of our government, providing the Obama Administration breathing space with which it can build barriers to protect itself from further scrutiny. The domestic spy scandal, the IRS scandal, Benghazi – all become  yesterday’s news as the President and his minions bask in the media limelight of the ruling, portraying themselves as great protectors of gay rights (in the US only; the administration is silent over the oppression of homosexuality elsewhere) while continuing to undermine rights such as the right to bear arms, freedom of speech, religion and the implied privacy right granted by the 4th Amendment.

For some reason, likely a shared ideological worldview, the American press simply refuses to hold this administration accountable for anything. Under this administration Iraq has unraveled, the economy limps along in a zombie-like state neither dead and showing few signs of life, Afghanistan has been lost and it’s only a matter of time before the Taliban return to power and pull girls out of school. The intervention in Libya where America “lead from behind” has turned North Africa into a well-armed nest of insurgents. Dithering over Syria and a nuclear armed Iran has encouraged America’s enemies and demoralized our allies. Obama’s constant stream of nagging, threats and harping in speeches have proven American threats to be worthless to its adversaries. Threats are no longer backed with force and therefore are ignored. The only enemy the Obama administration seems willing to engage are the Republicans and journalists who defy to propagandize the Administration’s narratives, forcing Victor Davis Hanson to opine “if only our foreign enemies were Republicans.” Republican leaders are corrupted, spurned or out-maneuvered as they have been on “immigration reform” and journalists like Michael Hastings and Andrew Breitbart are found dead under suspicious circumstances. If only the same happened to the likes of Bashar al Assad,  Hassan Nasrallah, or the Ayatollah Khamenei. Instead this administration entertains one of their representatives in the White House.

Thank heaven for the British press which, while even more Socialist than most Democrats, is willing to “speak Truth to Power” to use one of those Bush-era slogans one no longer hears these days. After all it was the Guardian, an outfit that makes Pravda look as right wing as the Wall Street Journal, that broke the Snowden  Affair. It is also the Daily Telegraph and Daily Mail that continue to report on the scandals deviling the administration, making the UK a window for opponents of this administration by exposing the group-think politically correct atmosphere that has corrupted American journalism.

So hoorah gays can now get legally married! Meanwhile this country continues its slow descent into totalitarianism, it’s Fourth Estate castrated and sedated, and people who challenge it either are audited by the IRS or end up dead. Congratulations,  but forgive me if as a wedding present I send the Bill of Rights – even though by the time it arrives it will have been shredded.

“Multiculturalism turns out to be a disguised form of white supremacy.”

James Taranto writing in the online Wall Street Journal:

A more abstract form of this parochialism is the multiculturalists’ frequent insistence that “only white people can be racist.” In this view, racism is perhaps the greatest moral failing of which human beings are capable—but nonwhites are absolved of moral responsibility for their racial prejudices.

But moral responsibility is the essence of humanity. It is what sets Homo sapiens apart from other animals. Assigning moral responsibility to whites while denying it to nonwhites is therefore a way of dehumanizing the latter. Multiculturalism turns out to be a disguised form of white supremacy.

I’ve personally found multiculturalists to be incredibly intolerant while rural Southerners, pilloried by the media and intellectual elite, as much more laid back and accepting of all kinds of differences. I think it’s because the poorer rural people are forced by necessity to get along with those of different ethnic, religious and ideological backgrounds because they can’t afford to live in like-minded, monocultural enclaves like Cambridge MA where NPR reigns (Speaking of which: I would bet that NPR employs more minorities than actually listen to it. Ever catch the names during a public radio pledge drive? Not a Jackson, Patel or Dominguez among those donating cash for coffee mugs and tote bags.)

This reminds me of one of my favorite quotes from Ralph Waldo Emerson who said ““The wise man shows his wisdom in separation, in gradation, and his scale of creatures and of merits is as wide as nature. The foolish have no range in their scale, but suppose every man is as every other man,” except in this case, the multiculturalist prides him/herself as being more equal than others.

Guns Don’t Kill People – Baby Boomers Do

So the LA Times reports a Pew Study finds gun crime has plunged even while American perceptions of it assumes it has risen. Setting aside the obvious issue of what is driving Americans to one conclusion while the facts lead to another, the study raises some other, less obvious issues.

If guns are to blame for violent gun crimes, one would have to assume by the study that the number of guns in American hands have fallen. Yet the opposite appears to be the case, with the highest per capita gun ownership in the US, with roughly one gun for every American man, woman, and child. Over the past four years guns have flown off the shelves, and it is likely there are more guns in private hands today than there were four years ago, although the exact number is difficult to know since such records are not kept. But gun manufacturers are working overtime to fill order backlogs, and the most popular weapons such as AR-15 “assault rifles” are hard to come by. Gun prices have risen as demand has outstripped supply, yet fewer of these weapons are being put to criminal use.

Why?

Because as gun rights supporters have been saying for years, guns don’t kill people, people do. If the opposite was the case American streets should be awash in blood, but they aren’t as writer Barry Snell notes. As as the Pew Study shows, American streets are safer today than they were a generation ago.

So while the Pew Study punctures the liberal myth that guns cause violence, it also pokes a hole in the conservative myth that the breakdown of the traditional family is the root of violent crime. During the same period of the study, the number of out-of-wedlock births has risen. Non-traditional marriages such as those between homosexuals have become more accepted. There are record numbers of people cohabitating. If the breakdown of the family was supposed to lead to a more violent society, it hasn’t.

More likely it’s demographics. Crime spiked in the 1960-80 period as the Baby Boomer generation reached their teens and twenties, the peak time for criminality. As people age they become less impulsive and their criminal behavior is either held in check or condoned in jobs like Federal Reserve Chairman or Goldman Sachs executive. Of course the demographic news isn’t entirely good. While the Baby Boomer generation is less criminal, it is older and requires the smaller cohorts of younger generations to support it in its old age. So younger people might have less chance of being mugged in New York City than their grandparents did, but they’ll be mugged by the taxman. This could explain why suicide rates are spiking among middle aged Americans – proving that guns don’t kill people, aging hippies do.

The Lure of the Conspiracy Theory Revisited

Six years ago I wrote about how conspiracy theories were alluring, thereby attracting attention of some conspiracy theory believers in the comments section of the post. In the days since the bombing attacks in Boston I have watched the conspiracy theories blossom into full flower, something that two of my friends noted.

D starts off the conversation (WARNING: GRAPHIC CONTENT AT LINK BELOW):

I can’t help myself. The whole thing seemed off from the beginning. Tell me I’m losing it?
http://buelahman.wordpress.com/2013/04/20/are-you-just-a-believer-or-do-you-think/

My response:

We have an administration that lies to the people and tells them their lives have never been better. You have a media that repeats these lies over and over. Yet people look around them and ask themselves whether or not this is true and realize that their lives aren’t better and that they are being fed a constant stream of lies. This is made worse by the administration’s trumpeting of itself as the most transparent in History when the opposite is the case.

Is it any wonder that conspiracy theorists are going crazy over this event?

I founded my blog to counter the conspiracy that thrived after 9-11. Today we are witnessing a similar blossoming of such theories made more potent by the toxic political environment Obama and the Democrats have created during his tenure.

People such as the poster of the article aren’t crazy, D, not with this administration in place. I still believe Occam’s Razor and even Carl Sagan’s statement that “Extraordinary claims demand extraordinary proof” proves his/her argument is wrong, but he or she isn’t crazy and neither are you for considering such things in our poisonous political atmosphere.

My friend J chimes in:

The conspiracy theory is the perfect example of confirmation bias because if you’re looking for it you’ll find it. That being said, something still stinks about this whole thing. Did these guys shoot the MIT police or didn’t they? Did they rob that 7-11? If you just committed a terrorist attack why would you do either of those things, let alone stay in Boston? And what about the Saudi national that was in the hospital under armed guard that is suddenly being deported, especially since there are pictures of agents carrying a spool of det cord out of his apartment?

And another thing…Chechens? Since when do they give a shit about the US, they terrorize their own people (Beslan, opera house)..and its not like we’re Putin’s BFF.

These guys are some of the best analysts and managers I’ve worked with in the banking industry, and neither one of them is stupid by any stretch of the imagination. The three of us also read Zerohedge, and the comments over there remind me of the intellectual free-for-all that followed 9-11 when the attack became a giant Rorschach test. Anti-government libertarians and anarchists see the attack as a “false flag” operation with the Tsarnaev brothers puppets pulled by strings controlled by Obama (if you’re a Republican), the Koch Brothers (if you are a liberal), and the Jews (if you are an old-school asshat.) Some of these people are clearly nuts, but the vast majority of them don’t trust their government or the media.

It’s difficult to trust an administration that conducts “Operation Fast and Furious,” a program by which the federal government provides guns to Mexican drug cartels in exchange for dead border patrol agents and gun control in the USA. Or an administration that refuses to investigate the death of its own ambassador and three other Americans in Benghazi Libya or even allow the survivors of the attack to speak to Congress. Or an administration that demands more gun control laws while refusing to to prosecute gun crimes in Chicago, one of the country’s most violent American cities. Or the billionaire mayor of New York City who states after the Boston attacks, “(Y)ou’re going to have to have a level of security greater than you did back in the olden days, if you will. And our laws and our interpretation of the Constitution, I think, have to change.” As one commenter put it,

“We’re going to suspend your rights to protest, bear arms, privacy, and trial by jury.”
“Why?”
“To protect you from terrorists.”
“Why do we need to be protected from terrorists?”
“They hate you for your freedom.”

Evidently Bloomberg forgot Franklin’s quote “Those who desire to give up freedom in order to gain security will not have, nor do they deserve, either one.” Perhaps since liberals long ago stopped teaching about “dead white men” like Franklin, Bloomberg never learned that.

Are people being paranoid when they question the official narrative when the administration is full of people who use terms like “narrative” to describe factual events? As if there was no Truth, just a made up story that everyone agrees upon. How very relativist.

Henry Kissinger is credited for the saying “Even paranoids can have enemies,” and while I still personally believe the facts will prove the Tsarnaev brothers are guilty of the attacks in Boston, the behavior of this administration, its media handlers, and the Wall Street kleptocrats that keep it in power makes me at least somewhat sympathetic to the conspiracy theorists’ seemingly outrageous plots and cherry picked evidence. The Tsarnaev brothers may have committed this terrorist attack, but there are other crimes that are being committed today in the halls of power that are going unpunished and ignored, and that behavior becomes the fertile soil in which conspiracy theories will continue to germinate and thrive.

Update: Questions about the attack linger. For example, it turns out the surviving Tsarnaev was unarmed while he was hiding in the boat. If so, then how did he shoot himself in the neck? And how could there have been a firefight? He hid in a fiberglass boat, one that was shot to pieces by authorities using .223 caliber ammunition. I own a .223 rifle, and its round can perforate tree stumps 2 feet thick. The boat offered as much protection as a newspaper. Either the authorities can’t shoot worth a damn or the Truth has yet to be exposed. As my friend J says, something still stinks about this whole thing.