Since British scientists don’t have to noodle over things like how to keep their space shuttles from exploding, they have time to work on the really valuable stuff.
Archive for April, 2004
Anyone who thinks the U.N. is an ineffective organization is obviously ignorant of all the really important work they do.
Wow… 11 days and no blogging. Sorry. I’ve been really busy, and there’s so much political fodder right now between Fallujah and the 9/11 Commission, it seems a shame to waste it. Then again, it’s getting pretty well worn by the media.
So I might as well take a shot at the Boy Scouts instead. My eldest son just graduated from Cub Scouts, and we went to the first Boy Scout Troop meeting the following week. Now I’ve had issues with the scouts for years. I think the fact that they categorically discriminate against gays and atheists is unconscionable. However, this seemed to be more an issue with the national organization, and I could rationalize my kids’ participation at the local level on a “don’t ask, don’t tell” basis. However, on the first night of Boy Scouts I was confronted by their policies with no room to hide.
The very application form requires the scout to agree to the Scouts’ Declaration of Religious Principle. Further, any adult even volunteering to help out, needs to sign a similar statement. I can’t. And I’m not sure my son can either.
But here’s the rub. I can live with the Scouts declaring themselves a private religious organization and reserving the right to exclude whomever they want. (It’s interesting to note that the founder of scouting was a man in England who wanted an organization which wasn’t associated with the church and was open to all boys. European Scouts is still that. But the BSA has sought to “improve” on the formula. But that’s an aside.) The BSA can’t seem to decide whether they are private or not or even religious or not. They recruit at schools, they get free access to public lands and government facilities. They can’t be a religious organization and do that. Yet they have made statements in court that they are a “religious organization”. It seems they are whatever it is convenient to be. As if I didn’t have enough against them, they’re hypocrites too.
In fact, their hypocrisy even extends into the application of their own Declaration of Religious Principle. The principle clearly states that the requirement is a belief in a monotheistic deity. This should include Christians, Jews, and Muslims (and interestingly, Satanists). But it should exclude Buddhists, Hindus, and most eastern faiths. It should exclude American Indian faiths, Pagans, Druids, Wicken, and other polytheistic and pantheistic faiths. But the BSA has openly admitted Buddhists and Hindus, and told a Seattle teen that they would let him stay if he could conjure up a solid belief in Mother Nature. The only ones they are dead set against are atheists and agnostics – and they are adamant about that. They have gone to court to defend their right to exclude us.
So to summarize, the BSA is a bunch of ignorant hypocritical homophobes with a fear of the godless. And I want my kid in this organization why?
Waxing non-political for a bit I have to recount an adorable tale.
Yesterday the family celebrated my nephew’s 2nd birthday. Grandma rolled out the requisite cake replete with two candles to the lucky boy. In addition to twin pillars of fire, the cake had one of those realistic pictures of a firetruck on it, the irony of which was lost on the little boy. Nonetheless, this was perfect as this particular little boy is positively obsessed with trucks of any kind. He made a number of dips into the cake with a probing finger and gleefully licked off the icing.
Then his mom starting cutting up the cake and passing pieces around the table until they found a hungry face. He watched, fascinated, as the pieces were removed. As the last plate arrived under a poised fork, he turns to his mom, points to the cake, and says, “Back together. Put truck back together.”
Mom says, “Oh honey, this truck doesn’t go back together.” He scans the table, looking at the rest of us joyfully stuffing our faces with bits of his firetruck. He looks back at the cake and eyes up the mutilated vehicle. The horror dawns on his face and the tears begin to roll. He was inconsolable for several minutes during which most of us were trying desperately not to laugh. Then Grandma saves the day by telling him there were presents.
“Presents? I got presents! Go get boxes!” And down he goes from the table, frosting still on his chin, tears drying on a smiling face. Suddenly we couldn’t eat his firetruck fast enough.
I must be happier than I thought…
So Dr. Rice’s testimony before the 9/11 commission (curious that all of a sudden everyone refers to her as “Dr.”) reasserts what many have been saying for quite a while. Namely, that prior to 9/11, no one was adequately responding to acts of terror committed against Americans. Sure, there was the occasional bombing run or missile strike in retaliation for some acts. But no consistent or comprehensive response.
Assuming that there were no covert retaliations which the public wasn’t privy to, the above facts remain unquestioned. But the more important question, which no one seems to be asking, is what is the precedent for a response solving the problem?
I’m thinking here of Israel. They have a long history of “responding” to terror attacks. Sometimes with quite a bit of ferocity. But it’s not obvious to me that the situation is any more stable over there because of it. Granted, you can squelch terror with completely overwhelming and persistent control. If you turn the terrorist’s land into a tightly controlled police state, you can squelch dissension. Actually, you just squelch the public act of dissension. You probably breed even more dissension. But the distinction is moot. We cannot possibly control the vast portions of the world required to implement such a solution. Nor, is this what I think anyone (even the Bushies) are recommending. Rather, there is a presumption that we can intimidate the terrorists and potential terrorists into complacency by showing they will “pay for their crimes”. It is the fear of retribution which we are trying to use as the lever here. But I don’t think that works with terrorists any more than it works with ghetto drug runners.
Much like urban youth and the drug culture in our country, terrorists are disenfranchised. They feel they have nothing to lose. Moreover, the current wave of Islamic based terror ads the promise of redemption and reward in the afterlife for these acts of terror. These are not people to be intimidated. An enemy without fear is only defeated by overwhelming force – and as stated above, we can’t sustain that.
The only other reason for retaliation is that “it feels good”. There is an undeniable emotional satisfaction to revenge. But as we are all taught, revenge is short lived satisfaction. It ultimately can take a greater toll on the avenger than the impact on the original victim.
So should we give up “the war on terror”? As a holistic military action, I say yes. (Unfortunately we’re up to our eyeballs in Iraq right now and we can’t just stop cold turkey.) There are more effectual ways to make us safe, which is the ultimate goal here – not revenge. I propose there should be a strong anti-terror intelligence unit to infiltrate and break up emerging threats. I would even go so far as to grant the agents of this force a ’007′-like license to kill, provided there was some reasonable oversight and accountability for their actions. I contend this would be more effective, less expensive, and result in fewer casualties than the current military campaign. The trouble is, it would have to be almost entirely covert. There would be no news coverage, and no politicians could take public credit for success. So it probably won’t happen.
This is just plain interesting…
Richard Cohen has an excellent essay on accountability which is well worth a read. He draws some interesting analogies between the “Bushies” and other countries’ governments like Britain or Japan. His thesis is correct. If a Japanese official had been cornered by the blunders made by Rumsfeld or even Bush himself, the honorable thing to do would have been to resign. But no one in the Bush administration is even acting remotely contrite.
But I think we need to be fair to the Bushies. (Can you believe I wrote that?) It’s true that the Bushies (I think I like that term!) are smug and righteous even in the face of apparent failure. But culturally, that’s America. I don’t care if you look to regional governments, corporations, or the local PTA, the same behavior exists everywhere. “Failure is not an option.” In the face of failure, the average American will spin the truth, shift blame to someone else, or even lie outright to avoid the perception that he failed. There needs to be a way to “save face” in order to move on.
The trouble is, that saving face doesn’t really help to avoid future such failures. If you keep ducking bullets, you begin to think you’re bulletproof. This can actually encourage more reckless behavior. And speaking of death spirals, the blame game has the same end result. Blame is shifted until it lands on someone who can’t defend themselves, and they take the fall. This not only encourages the bulletproof, but it makes the innocent victims who keep getting shot cynical and resigned so that they ultimately disengage. None of this is healthy.
As a culture, we need to learn accountability, humility, and failure. Everyone fails. From time to time, you just blow it. Simple as that. Sometimes those things are minor, and sometimes they result in losses of life, money, or careers. But I suspect the same people who would never offer their resignation over a public screw-up, are the same ones who would never admit to their spouse they over reacted about her not having beer in the fridge. These are patterns of behavior.
And frankly, these are patterns we reinforce through media stereotypes and even teach our children. This is especially so for men. As a culture, we revere the old Clint Eastwood cliche`. The confident, no fear, indefatigable, never back down, ain’t gonna take crap from nobody tough guy. Not the sort of guy you’d expect to see begging forgiveness. In fact, we view those guys as weak, wimpy, milquetoast, and maybe even pathetic. Which role model would you aspire towards?
And women (you didn’t think you’d get off that easy, did you?) play right into this. As mothers or lovers, your fascination with strength, power, and confidence only serve to validate the attitude that men should never show weakness or failure. At least not men who expect the admiration and respect of a woman (which may well be more of a motivator for men than you realize). Ironically, it’s these same women who complain their men are emotionally distant and never compromise on anything.
Somewhere in the middle is this ideal sort of man who is tender and tough all at once. But you have to understand, that’s a really hard line for most of us to walk. To the extent that any of us pull it off well, it is probably because a “tough guy” comes to realize that contrition, apology, and compromise are powerful situational tactics in some cases. And this is something which can be taught. We already do this to some degree. If you son has ever said, “I’m sorry,” after whacking his brother, you’ve probably pointed out that he didn’t sound too sincere. When he took another pass at the utterance, do you think he was really more contrite, or did he just learn to sound that way?
And somehow this leads us to Eastern philosophy. Eastern philosophy teaches us to be one with our environment. To gently bend the forces of nature or of a situation to our advantage. Think sailing as opposed to power boats. Think Karate instead of boxing. The Japanese official who resigns is not viewed as weak. He preserves his honor. And the honorable are viewed as strong, and live to play another day. There is power in contrition. Positioned that way, the manliest man among us can accept it. And through it, he will become more effective, and (perhaps counterintuitively) more powerful.
Regarding the upcoming testimony of Dr. Condolezza Rice before the 9/11 Commission, former Republican National chairman Rich Bond had this to say. “The woman oozes expertise and sincerity.” The implication being that in the absence of hard facts, she’ll still be more credible because she oozes well? Okay, that raises an eyebrow. But then he goes on to say, “I’m glad the White House came around to allow her to say publicly what she’s already told the commission privately. The old adage is, ‘Get it out, get it out, get it out.’ If the democrats want to slap around an African-American woman, let them try.”
Come again? This is a racial issue? If people refute Rice’s testimony they will be labeled bigots? Nice…
Not being a connoisseur of fine liquors, perhaps I’m missing something here. But what exactly is the flavor of Vodka? I always thought Vodka was what you added to stuff when you wanted to add a kick without altering the flavor.
Did you every wonder what life would be like if people just broke into song like in all those musicals, but did it in real life?
This should scare the hell out of you. If you have the courage, read the full report outlining the Bush Administration’s pattern of distorting and suppressing science to further their political agenda. I suppose it shouldn’t be too surprising that fundamentalist Christians are trying to invalidate science. And I had read about many of these things in microcosm before. But putting it all together like this makes it seem more than sad. It seems criminal. Further, you should note that this report is signed by 20 Nobel laureates and a number of Republican scientists, several of who have held science posts with previous Republican administrations.
But don’t reach a conclusion just yet. The water gets muddier. This is the government’s response to the accusations. Now to be fair, I haven’t done the research, nor have I read about anyone else who has independently investigated the point and counterpoint arguments of each side. It is interesting that the OSTP took the time to go through the UCS’s accusations point by point, and it is disconcerting that each rebuttal starts with a flat out assertion that the UCS position is false. It seems inconceivable that the UCS would publish a completely fictional document, and they make many references to publications, research, and speeches which are easily verifiable. For scientists, the barrier to publish is high. I can’t accept that this many scientists with international reputations would be duped into signing or would willfully publish a patently false document.
It is likely that there are lots of shades of grey in here. Undoubtedly everyone stresses the facts and data supporting their points. But this should have led to the OSTP producing a document which had much more of a flavor of concession and clarification. Saying more often that while “this” happened it was taken out of context or exaggerated, or citing additional data which takes the wind out of the argument. However, it doesn’t read that way. It sounds very defensive. Of course, Bush’s habit of attacking his detractors also makes this rebuttal suspicious.
This debate is clearly not over. It will be interesting to see how it plays out.
The March jobs numbers are in and it is encouraging news. It’s a little too early to declare victory, but it’s nice to see a little uptick. It’s done good things for the stock market, and perhaps there will be some Tinkerbell Effect which carries over to some other economy sectors. Carry over is important because most of the growth came in retail, restaurant, and construction. No offense intended, but those jobs don’t tend to garner the same wages as manufacturing and technology jobs which is where much of the erosion has occurred. This results in a general decline in living standards, which in turn curbs consumer spending, which is about all that’s buoying our economy right now. The upturn in healthcare and financial sectors are the lone bright spots in terms of growth in types of jobs. Yet certainly the picture is better than the last time we added jobs only to find out they were all government positions and either beats unemployment.
The double whammy of disgust award goes to both political parties who can’t seem to see past their own self interests. Bush is running about crying nana-nana-boo-boo and declaring his economic incentive plans successful and legislating that all is right with the world. Kerry is trying desperately to make this look like it’s not good news and going about sucking the joy out of it. Although in fairness, his dour expression would appear to be some sort of black hole of joy which sucks the fun out of anything within his event horizon. He’s the only person I’ve ever seen who can look bored while snowboarding. On the flip, George appears to get a huge giggle out of finding matching socks in his drawer. Lighten up John. We can’t afford to have you blow this.