America Rising

I received a forwarded email the other night that was in itself a forwarded message many times over.  The message included a link to the video below, and a rather innocent sounding but decidedly loaded statement that appeared to be written by Ann, who is a somewhat distant relation.  She said:

Once again I mean no offence (sic) to anyone. Please, watch this video and tell me where you disagree and why. I really am trying to see both points off view and to get at the truth. I love America as I am sure you do. If we are losing our precious freedom bit by bit, I want to know about it and maybe we can work together as AMERICANS to stop it!

The statement is dipping with Tea Party code words.   Truth, I love America, precious freedom, work together as Americans…phrases that make you want to stand up and salute.  The subtext is that Ann is really trying to get at the real truth, and this video is so compelling and is motivating her to action in a way that only my specific and detailed (and likely un-American) rebuttal of its content might stop her.  She needs my help.

In honesty, and with no intended disrespect to Ann, it is so cleverly worded, I strongly suspect it was written by some political spin doctor rather than by her.  But perhaps her motivation in copy/pasting was sincere, and with that belief, I’ll actually bother to address her request about the video.  Instead, if she did write it herself, then it’s highly likely this will fall on deaf ears, if any ears at all.  She has already made up her mind and this is just propaganda.

To begin, I find the whole premise of the video faulty.  It is positioned as a plea/warning from people who voted for Obama and the Democrats in Congress that they are failing to deliver on what they promised, and if this continues, they will be voted out.  It then goes on to make very generalized accusations about taxes, health care, the economy, bail-outs, and other topics.  Should you go back and look at what the Obama (and by extension, the Democrats’) 2008 campaign platform was, you’ll find that in many ways the video is correct.  We were promised health care with a public option, a cap & trade policy, the closing of Guantanamo, the end of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell, the abolition of No Child Left Behind, and other things that have not been delivered on.  However, the reality of Obama and the Dems is not that they’ve been way more liberal than they advertised, but that they’ve been way more centrist.

Yet, the video clearly inserts the Socialism label and ends with a call to take back the country from the liberals.  This is not the work of a disenfranchised far left constituency.  So am I being asked to believe that the video was created by people duped into voting for Democrats because they thought they would be pushing a Conservative political agenda?  If they were so naive as to think that, then they deserve what they got.  But I think it way more likely that this video is a creation of people who never voted for any of the people it is complaining about.  Rather, it is sour grapes for being forced to endure a government their minority didn’t elect.  Welcome to the realities of representative democracies.  Like it or not, this is working just as the Founding Fathers intended.

As to the specific content of the video… well, there really isn’t any.  It touches on some major tea party themes, most of which I’ve written about before.   There is the myth of the tax increases we’re all suffered under; the unyielding creep of the scope of government; the horrendous and destructive government bail-out packages; the scourge of Socialism; the pain of healthcare; and even the obscene behavior of the corporately owned Democrats in government.  These themes don’t whether well in the face of facts, but they play well to those seeking emotional resonance and a healthy spleen venting.

I get that there is anger with the government.  I feel that too.  Both parties have ample dysfunction to go around.  No one should be happy with the way the government is functioning.  But positioning the current government as a threat to our safety, our health care, our economy, and our individual liberties is unfounded.  Disagree, debate, and vote with your convictions.  But do so out of a considered and analytical assessment of the facts and the implications of different proposals and platforms.  Minimally, try back tracking your positions into history and assessing the implications on your life today.

For example, if you oppose all forms of social welfare programs, would you be happier today knowing that there was no Social Security and Medicare waiting for you when you retire?  Are you prepared to refuse medical treatment, food, shelter, and education to children whose parents can’t afford it?  If you oppose government regulation on business, are you prepared to assess the safety of your own food and drug supply?  Are you willing to trust that your employer has provided all the safety measures necessary to keep you from being injured at work?

Most people who bother to genuinely think through the implications of their all-or-nothing points of view quickly realize their world is a lot grayer than they imagined.  That clearly doesn’t mean Democrats are right and Republicans are wrong.  It also doesn’t mean whatever government is in power should rule unchecked.  But it does mean that if we can cut through the emotional rhetoric, we will often find there is quite a bit of common ground to work with.  Videos like this one add nothing to the conversation, and shed no light on the common ground we need to find to make progress on anything.

Ann, if by chance your mind is truly open, I urge you to study both sides as you claim to want to do.  But do so through a multi-sourced study of the facts and the most dispassionate analysis you can find.  Ignore Sean Hannity, Keith Olbermann and other voices at the edge. And don’t try to decide what side you’re on.  Rather, try to identify the common ground.  It’s easy to divide a group and get them to stand on either side of a fence and hurl rocks and insults at each other.  It makes for a great news story, but it accomplishes little.  Getting the group to work together to achieve small collective gains is damnably difficult.  And it rarely makes the front page, but it is the path of real progress.

Legal Isn’t the Same as Right

Listening this week to the Senate go after Goldman Sachs on the financial meltdown was disheartening, but not surprising.  CEO Lloyd Blankfein and his cronies were adamant they had done nothing wrong and felt no remorse.  Senators were hypocritically apoplectic. (Say that five times fast…)

For most of us, our ethics are not the same as the laws that govern us.  Granted, for the most part people find illegal things to be unethical.  But most of us also have many things our ethics prevent us from doing that don’t get us in trouble with the police.  What the executives demonstrated was that they have no such distinction.  If it’s legal, it’s ethical.  They will feel no shame or remorse unless and until they are in jail.

The senators haven’t made such public assertions about their lack of shame, but their role in deregulation also places some responsibility on them.  While they are willing to appear on TV looking like they are gonna pop a vein or two while excoriating the banks, I haven’t seen any mea culpas from them either.  To President Clinton’s credit, he did recently step up and claim his role in deregulation was a bad decision and he regretted it.  But in fairness, he’s retired now, and has less to lose.  Nonetheless, I though it was admirable that he took some responsibility.

I admit that it’s unrealistic to expect Congress or the banking execs to admit any fault here.  And in the end, I don’t care.  We’re here.  Let’s focus on how to get out.  But the lessons from the Senate hearings this past week could not be more clear.

Capitalism in general and businesses in specific have yet again demonstrated they will push whatever envelope contains them.  Perhaps a particular CEO or two might be constrained by personal ethics, but their lunch will quickly be eaten by some other company whose leader has no such compunction.  If ever there was a poster child for why strong regulation is required it is Lloyd Blankfein.  He basically said that left to his own devices Goldman Sachs will repeat the shady financial practices that are pretty universally agreed to have caused the financial meltdown.  Since they’re not illegal, they must be okay.

We have the power to fix that.  And shame on us if we don’t, because there certainly won’t be any shame on him.

In Peril

Star DestroyerI had the pleasure of attending my 8-year old nephew’s birthday party this past weekend.  Much like my own boys at that age, he couldn’t wait to explain to me in excruciating detail all the Lego sets he owned, the ones he still wanted, and the play-by-play descriptions of all the online videos showing these play sets in action.  His parents were happy to let me indulge him as I think their own ears were weary by that point.

I listened patiently, in full knowledge that my attention meant a great deal to him and that my alternative was to join the adults who were recounting all the sports news from the week.  Like any geek worth his salt, even a boy’s ramblings about Star Wars Legos held more appeal than another rerun of the NBA playoffs.

To his credit, young Brian had an impressive command of the Star Wars canon.  This despite a curious refusal to watch the movies.  Unlike my own boys who started with the movies and then collected the toys and played the video games, he started the other way around.  He knows the plots of the video games and the Lego toy trailers, and seems to think that the movies might somehow spoil his view of this world rather than enhance it.  Whatever.  He’ll come around eventually.  I hear he’s recently consented to watch a few of the Clone Wars cartoons, so he’s bound to work his way to Carrie, Mark, and Harrison at some point.

I was also impressed with the Padawan‘s reading ability.  While taking me through the Lego Star Wars encyclopedia (page by agonizing page), he accurately pronounced the names of ships, characters, species, and planets as if Galactic was his native tongue.  But then the English tripped him up.

As we got to the section with all the evil empire paraphernalia,  I noticed he kept referring to things as “In Peril”.  For example, he would say the “In Peril Star Destroyer” or “In Peril Stormtroopers”.  Without correcting him outright I emphasized the pronunciation as “Imperial” while we were chatting…  whereupon, he corrected me.  “No Uncle Tim, it’s In Peril.”

I gently asserted that the word was actually “Imperial”, but undeterred, he then informed me that this was not the way he pronounced it.  Apparently I could go on being wrong if I wanted, but he knew what he knew.

As I think about it now, I do know something he doesn’t.  I’ve seen the films.  Specifically, I’ve seen Return of the Jedi, and I know that by the end of the story the Empire is pretty much in peril… so in retrospect, maybe the lad knows more than I’m giving him credit for.  I wonder, has anyone checked his Midi-chlorian count?

Chicken to be Gay?

Gay ChickenThis is another installment in what is apparently becoming my ongoing series about why politicians should avoid making scientific pronouncements.  Evo Morales, President of Bolivia, a place formerly only famous as the spot where Butch and Sundance were shot, announced that eating chicken can turn you gay.

It seems his concern is only about chicken infused with female hormones.  Although as the president of the Argentina Homosexual Community, Cesar Cigliutti, pointed out, “By following that reasoning, if we put male hormones in a chicken and we make a homosexual eat it he will transform into a heterosexual.”  Let’s hope no one in Uganda reads this or they will be injecting all their poultry with testosterone until giant mutant chickens result.  I’m thinking they will look a bit like Pro Wrestlers with wings.  And the last thing Uganda needs is muscle bound rage infused chickens running around the country bashing gays over the head with folding chairs.

It turns out that the practice of hormone lacing chicken, while still done in some countries, is no longer practiced in the US or Europe.  Pfeewww.  That’s a relief, because unless Buffalo sauce cuts the effect I’d be dancing in feather boas and assless chaps while  singing Carmen by now.

Oh yeah, and not content to stop there, Morales went on to proclaim that Chicken also makes you bald.  This man clearly has some deeply rooted poultry issues.

The Back-end of Science

Norris TPIt seems that unless you are Chuck Norris (who’s toilet paper is shown to the right), you may be in for a rough ride.  The paperless office is finally arriving, and its impact is being felt in bathrooms around the world.

Maybe it’s just me, but I’ve always thought of toilet paper as almost a kind of scrap paper, certainly not something at the top of the paper food chain.  But it turns out that to get that silky smooth texture we all depend on, requires the use of long cellulose fibers with intact cell walls.  And this is the stuff of freshly harvested young trees or recycled high quality paper.

The eco-movement has made it less attractive to chop down baby trees just so you can have it baby soft on your butt.  And the decline of paper use for printing has resulted in lower amounts of recycled long fiber paper, which means they can’t Charmanize the blue bucket either.

The end result may be that you wind up paying more for quilted comfort in your nether region.  Or you opt to live with scratchier paper.  Not to fear though, science is on the job.  Chemical companies are working to develop new coatings and other additives that can improve the softness, strength, and performance of shorter fiber products.  Alternatively, maybe someone will figure out the three seashells.