Friday, December 11, 2009

Muscular Moral Relativism

President Obama's Nobel Peace Prize acceptance speech appears to have been well received in this country, both among the left and the right.  That's nice.  It's an interesting speech:
But the world must remember that it was not simply international institutions -- not just treaties and declarations -- that brought stability to a post-World War II world.  Whatever mistakes we have made, the plain fact is this:  The United States of America has helped underwrite global security for more than six decades with the blood of our citizens and the strength of our arms.  The service and sacrifice of our men and women in uniform has promoted peace and prosperity from Germany to Korea, and enabled democracy to take hold in places like the Balkans.  We have borne this burden not because we seek to impose our will.  We have done so out of enlightened self-interest -- because we seek a better future for our children and grandchildren, and we believe that their lives will be better if others' children and grandchildren can live in freedom and prosperity.

So yes, the instruments of war do have a role to play in preserving the peace.  And yet this truth must coexist with another -- that no matter how justified, war promises human tragedy.  The soldier's courage and sacrifice is full of glory, expressing devotion to country, to cause, to comrades in arms.  But war itself is never glorious, and we must never trumpet it as such.

So part of our challenge is reconciling these two seemingly inreconcilable truths -- that war is sometimes necessary, and war at some level is an expression of human folly.  Concretely, we must direct our effort to the task that President Kennedy called for long ago.  "Let us focus," he said, "on a more practical, more attainable peace, based not on a sudden revolution in human nature but on a gradual evolution in human institutions."  A gradual evolution of human institutions.
Yes. War is sometimes necessary when other avenues fail. America's power has helped ensure peace for the last sixty years.  Etc.  Hardly something a liberal peacenik would say.  Those that fearfully predicted that this President would be a knee-jerk anti-war President willfully ignored early hints that his outlook might be more realist than idealist, more Nixon than Wilson.  Andrew Sullivan talked up the realist aspect of Candidate Obama's foreign policy views a long time ago.  In fact, there were always more indications that Obama would disappoint his anti-war backers well before he would the more hawkish ones.

But, even as conservatives praised his speech, some couldn't resist a few jabs:
His decision to push for a surge also garnered Obama comparisons to Bush, who had done much the same thing in Iraq three years earlier. The Oslo speech, too, reminded some of Obama’s predecessor – with a twist.

“The irony is that George W. Bush could have delivered the very same speech. It was a truly an American president's message to the world,” said Bradley A. Blakeman, a Republican strategist and CEO of Kent Strategies LLC who worked in the Bush White House.

Added Walter Russell Mead, Henry A. Kissinger senior fellow for U.S. foreign policy at the Council on Foreign Relations: “If Bush had said these things the world would be filled with violent denunciations,” said “When Obama says them, people purr. That is fine by me.”
What bizarre logic.  Dear Mr. Mead: George W. Bush had the world's support to go to war against Afghanistan after 9/11.  That was a just war, if there ever was one, and was globally perceived as one.  Bush could have delivered a speech such as this one on September 12th, 2001 and would have faced few "violent denunciations".  But, Bush went on and invaded Iraq over the deep objections of the rest of the world.  That unpopular war, one that most certainly did not meet the traditional definition of a just war, led to widespread suspicion that Bush simply believed that any war America undertook was just.  The Bush doctrine was an affront to traditional just war theory.  That is why "the world" began reflexively denouncing any military effort Bush advocated, regardless of its merit.  So, yes, if Bush said these things today, the world would boo and hiss.  When Obama says these things right now, people purr.  But, if Obama decides to invade, say, Jamaica, under the guise of the war on terror, you can bet that people will most certainly not purr when he says these same things subsequently.

Saturday, October 10, 2009

Peace: What is it Good For?

Yes, I've heard.  President Obama won the Nobel Peace Prize.  Seems to me that the only five people in the whole world who thought this was a smashing idea were...the five folks on the Nobel Committee.  Really?  A unanimous decision?  Maybe they'll decide to revoke the prize if the Prez does things they don't like, for example, if he deploys additional troops to Afghanistan.  Or, if the U.S. or Israel attack Iran's nuclear facilities.  This could be some kind of record for shortest Nobel prize tenure.

This Norwegian silliness aside, the really important news from today is that Turkey and Armenia will sign a pact on Saturday establishing diplomatic ties, nearly 20 years after Armenia became independent from the Soviet Union.  Turkish-Armenian bitterness goes back over a hundred years, to the decades prior to World War I when Armenians began resisting their Ottoman rulers and were systematically persecuted.  After a series of smaller massacres (I know, an oxymoron), between 500,000 and 1.5 million Armenians died during 1915-1917 as the Turks systematically deported and killed large portions of their Armenian population in order to prevent them from siding with the Russian enemy, as they feared they would.  The Armenian Genocide has been a major source of friction between the two countries, with Turkey claiming the casualties were greatly exaggerated and Armenia pushing for world condemnation of Turkey for this horrific past.

Given the dismal state of relations between these two neighbors, kudos are in order for both governments for negotiating what amounts to a truce, especially because their respective populations are not necessarily in favor of any concessions to the other.  While it may be true that Turkey and Armenia probably agreed to this pact because of what they have to gain economically and internationally, they deserve our applause for looking past their mutual contempt even while their citizens are not yet ready.  That is true political bravery.  If you think political bravery comes easily when there are many economic benefits to be gained from cooperation, consider how many neighboring countries are unable to come to peace despite all they could gain from it: India and Pakistan, Israel and Syria, the Koreas, much of Africa, and so on and so forth.

Now, if only there were a prestigious international prize we could award to the Swiss Foreign Ministry for mediating these negotiations and accomplishing peace between Turkey and Armenia.

Monday, October 05, 2009

Beef, Ground on a Bias

Conservatives like to complain about the "liberal mainstream media."  A lot.  They blame the "MSM" for a laundry list of evils, for everything from fawning coverage of Democrats at the expense of Republicans to ignoring "real news" to gibberish about them advocating the indoctrination of kids.  Prime targets: New York Times, MSNBC, National Public Radio, ABC, CNN, and so forth.  (Always mysterious to me why Faux Noise with all its ratings dominance is excluded from the MSM category.)

This nonsense aside, there are much better grounds for pointing out liberal bias than whining about unfairness.  Case in point, today's New York Times article about the dangers posed by ground beef.  Starting with the horrific story of a young woman, Stephanie Smith, who became paralyzed after eating a hamburger tainted by E. coli, the writer goes on to describe "why eating ground beef is still a gamble":
The frozen hamburgers that the Smiths ate, which were made by the food giant Cargill, were labeled “American Chef’s Selection Angus Beef Patties.” Yet confidential grinding logs and other Cargill records show that the hamburgers were made from a mix of slaughterhouse trimmings and a mash-like product derived from scraps that were ground together at a plant in Wisconsin. The ingredients came from slaughterhouses in Nebraska, Texas and Uruguay, and from a South Dakota company that processes fatty trimmings and treats them with ammonia to kill bacteria.

Using a combination of sources — a practice followed by most large producers of fresh and packaged hamburger — allowed Cargill to spend about 25 percent less than it would have for cuts of whole meat.

Those low-grade ingredients are cut from areas of the cow that are more likely to have had contact with feces, which carries E. coli, industry research shows.
Yuck.  E. coli is an ever-present danger, and apparently, my beloved hamburger is the biggest vector of this bacteria.  Who knew you could become paralyzed from E. coli???

Anyway, point well taken.  I will now never buy ground beef unless I know that it was ground at the grocery store from a good (single) cut of meat, or maybe if I'm buying from a local, reputable rancher.  I'm definitely never buying anything from Cargill.  I even applaud the Times for their fantastic exposé of meat grinding practices.  Good journalism.

But, then, they have to go and say this (emphasis mine):
Ground beef is usually not simply a chunk of meat run through a grinder. Instead, records and interviews show, a single portion of hamburger meat is often an amalgam of various grades of meat from different parts of cows and even from different slaughterhouses. These cuts of meat are particularly vulnerable to E. coli contamination, food experts and officials say. Despite this, there is no federal requirement for grinders to test their ingredients for the pathogen. 
WTF?  How do you make the leap from exposing unsanitary meat production practices to fingering the federal government for not sufficiently regulating meat grinding?  I don't need more federal laws, I just need more investigative pieces like these that uncover the unsavory side of food production so that I, as a consumer, can be informed and make appropriate choices.  This, dare I say, would be an old school conservative point of view.  Their liberal bias is what leads the Times to blame the federal government for not preventing all hazards out there.

Saturday, September 19, 2009

Conservatism We Can Listen To

Unlike the shrill Beckian Hannityoff gibberish that passes for conservatism these days, is a place one can go to and actually listen to various streams of conservative thought without cringing.  This is David Frum's attempt at leading conservatism out of the wilderness with some kind of coherent ideology.  I applaud him for this effort because the country needs a vibrant right that presents a reasonable counterpoint to the left.  Reasonable because so long as it isn't, it is too easy to simply dismiss the right as a bunch of crackpots, and therefore dismiss their good ideas as well.

Case in point:  Frum's ongoing argument with David Horowitz about the man of the moment, Glenn Beck himself.  Basically, Frumpsky dissed the Beckster for falsely attacking someone, to which Horowitz (who admires the Beckmeister) said this:
Our country is under assault by a determined, deceitful and powerful left which will stop at nothing to realize its goals. Facing them, I would rather have Glenn Beck out there fighting for our side than 10,000 David Frums who think that appeasing leftists will make them think well of us. No it won’t. It will only whet their appetite for our heads.
Frum hit back:
Horowitz agrees that Beck’s attack on Sunstein was false. Yet that falsehood does not worry Horowitz. The country is “under assault.” (As the broadcaster Mark Levin has said, President Obama is “literally at war” with the American people.) In a war, truth must yield to the imperatives of victory. Any conservative qualms about the untruth of Beck’s defamation of Sunstein amounts to “appeasement” – an appeasement that will end with the left decapitating the right. This is the language and logic of Leninism. There is no truth or falsehood comrades, there is only service to the revolution or betrayal of the revolution.
Ouch.  It is nice to see someone on the right be able to call out falsehoods without having to abandon their core principles.  Those like Horowitz who see this as a war between the right and the left have preemptively justified all tactics--good and bad--as necessary for defeating those evil liberals.  And here I was, thinking that the right stood for defending American values, especially morality.

To be sure, there is still some looniness at; but IMHO, no more so than at huffiingtonpost or any other talk site.  It's just nice to have an alternative for a change.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Guilty Until Proven Guilty

The Connecticut medical examiner's office confirmed today what was apparent from the beginning of this tragic case, that Yale student Annie Le was indeed murdered.  For some time now, the media has been reporting titillating details about one of the police's "persons of interest," Raymond Clark, who worked as a lab technician on campus.  We know that the police detained him yesterday in order to take DNA samples and also searched his home and car.  We also know, thanks to the breathless journalists on the chase, where Mr. Clark lives, what kind of vehicle he drives, the name of his fiancee, his criminal record, and for all we know, his brand of toothpaste.

Now, this astonishing piece of investigative "journalism" from ABC News that all but condemns Mr. Clark as the murderer based on unnamed sources, scattered facts, innuendo, blog entries by his fiancee from last year, and "suspicions" voiced by a neighbor.  ABC News also ominously tells us that Mr. Clark's landlord served an eviction notice on him to kick him out of his apartment.

Have I mentioned the fact that Raymond Clark is not under arrest?  The police briefly detained and then released him because they do not have enough evidence to arrest him.  Here's what the New Haven Police Chief had to say:
At a press conference Wednesday evening New Haven Police Chief James Lewis said Clark has retained an attorney and therefore could not be questioned further.

Lewis refused to comment on whether there was a relationship between Clark and Le beyond working together in the same building. He would not speculate as to a potential motive.

The chief would not confirm whether Le had been a victim of sexual assault.

Clark is being monitored by the police. Authorities continue to question other people in the building but they have not served search warrants against anyone else.

"We're still in the process. We don't want to be accused of tunnel vision. We're still making sure who was in that building," said Lewis.

But, ABC Noise has no problem with tunnel vision, getting around the inconvenient fact that Raymond Clark was not actually arrested with this "journalistic" masterpiece of convoluted logic:
ABC News consultant and former FBI agent Brad Garrett said that though he had been investigated by authorities for days, it's likely police did not take Clark into custody sooner because he was not a threat to other students.

"If you do not believe they are a danger to anyone else, then you may let him go," Garrett said. "If this is a crime of passion, you're not concerned about anyone else."
Brilliant.  The fact that he was not arrested immediately is itself highly suggestive that he is guilty.  What the fug do they teach in journalistic ethics these days?

If the facts are so damn clear that Raymond Clark did it, then arrest him already.  Until then, the New Haven Police Chief should plug his leaky department and stop enabling the media that has already judged him guilty.

Monday, September 07, 2009

Citizen Hussein

In his beautifully titled post from June this year, Civis Americanus Sum, Daniel May criticized the Obama Administration's inaction towards the plight of the two American journalists imprisoned by North Korea after a sham conviction. He wrote:

In 1848, a mob ransacked the home of Don Pacifico, a British citizen living in Greece. Local police did not intervene to stop the mob, and the Greek government refused to compensate Pacifico for damage to his property after the attack. Though Pacifico had never even set foot in the British Isles (he was born in Gibraltar), Foreign Secretary Lord Palmerston sent a squadron of the Royal Navy to blockade the port of Athens and force the Greek government to repay Pacifico.
After the House of Lords moved to censure Palmerston for his rash use of military force, he delivered a powerful five-hour address defending his decisive action. “As the Roman, in days of old, held himself free from indignity, when he could say Civis Romanus sum; so also a British subject, in whatever land he may be, shall feel confident that the watchful eye and the strong arm of England, will protect him against injustice and wrong.”
Barack Obama could learn a thing or two from Lord Palmerston when it comes to protecting American citizens abroad. Palmerston certainly would not have allowed two of his country’s journalists to sit in a North Korean prison after a sham conviction on trumped-up charges. What is the Obama foreign policy team going to do about it?
We know how that story ended. In August, Bill Clinton, with the apparent blessing of the Obama Administration, was able to secure the release of Euna Lee and Laura Ling (who are Korean- and Chinese-American respectively. Their employer, Al Gore, thanked the State Department for its help:
"It speaks well of our country that when two American citizens are in harm's way, that so many people will just put things aside and just go to work to make sure that this has had a happy ending," he said.
Indeed. Stories like these of America rescuing its citizens from far-flung lands abound, filling us with pride that our citizenship means something. This is so important that one U.S. Army unit, the 82nd Airborne Division, regularly trains with this mission in mind. The U.S. Marines and Navy are also prepared for such an eventuality. Go to any U.S. Embassy website and you will find a plan for emergency evacuations.

Civis Americanus sum. I am an American citizen. This is not merely a descriptive statement, but an assertive one, claiming all the rights and duties imbued in that citizenship, an idea the Romans held in highest esteem. Two thousand years ago, when the apostle Paul was capriciously flogged and imprisoned at Philippi (in Greece) for preaching his new-fangled faith, he famously asserted his Roman citizenship, and his captors were "terrified" and let him go (Acts 16:35-40). Later, he was arrested in Jerusalem for "causing a stir" and held in Caesarea Maritima for two years without a trial until the new governor heard his case; Paul again asserted his Roman citizenship and appealed to Caesar for a trial under Roman law. That the trial ended badly for Paul should not obscure the fact that his assertion of civis Romanus sum was heard and upheld. Whether he was Jewish or, worse, Christian did not deprive him of his right to due process as a Roman citizen.

Caesarea Maritima is located on the Mediterranean coast of modern-day Israel, 40 km from Tel Aviv. The ruins are stunning; one can see Herod's palace, a hippodrome (stadium), and a restored amphitheater against a backdrop of the gorgeous blue-green Mediterranean waters. When I visited it a month ago, I was struck by the fact that if Paul were alive today and, say, an American citizen, he would assert civis Americanus sum! and get our government to pressure Israel on his behalf. And I would expect our government to do no less. But, if Paul were an Arab American, he would be sorely disappointed in our government's response.

I knew before I went there that Israel treats Palestinian Arabs differently than Jewish Israelis and foreign citizens. Unlike the latter groups, Palestinian Arabs are not allowed to travel outside the West Bank or Gaza. A lucky few can get permits to work in Israel, but these are limited in scope, must be renewed every four months, and can be revoked at any time. But then I learned that Israel also treats foreign citizens differently depending on their ethnic heritage. I heard stories about Arab Americans being subjected to the same restrictions as Palestinians, while non-Arab Americans can travel freely in Israel. At first, I naively refused to believe that our government would permit such discriminatory treatment of American citizens abroad. Then I saw this on the U.S. Consulate in Jerusalem's website:

Palestinian-Americans Must Enter Through Allenby. For some time, the government of Israel has not permitted Americans with Palestinian nationality (or even, in some cases, the claim to it) to enter Israel via Ben Gurion Airport. Many are sent back to the U.S. upon arrival, though some are permitted in, but told they cannot depart Israel via Ben Gurion without special permission (which is rarely granted). Families have had to travel separately back to the United States in some cases, and some travelers have had to forfeit expensive airline tickets. Please check with the government of Israel -- via their Embassy in Washington -- before you travel that you will be able to enter and depart through Ben Gurion.
Haaretz also reported last month that a Palestinian Canadian businessman was denied entry into Israel because of his heritage.

It's one thing for Israel to have such policies. That debate is outside the scope of this post. It's another thing for America to stand quietly by while some of her citizens face such treatment, based on nothing other than their ethnic heritage. I was heartened to see the State Department issue a press release last month taking Israel to task for this discrimination:
We have repeatedly told the Government of Israel that the United States expects that all American citizens to be treated equally, regardless of their national origin or other citizenship. We have let the Government of Israel know that these restrictions unfairly impact Palestinian and Arab American travelers and are not acceptable.
That's good, but not good enough. Condoleeza Rice also "told them" the same thing back in 2006. Last I checked, we still provide $3 billion in foreign aid to Israel (pdf link), funded in part by tax paying Arab Americans.

Civis Americanus sum means less than we think.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Our Health Care System is the Best I think what many of the commenters basically said in tearing apart my my post about Mark Steyn.

One back-and-forth in particular that I want to point out and respond to:

I said,
As for Anonymous' point that under a government-run system no one will be able to get a new hip even if they're willing to pay more, I'm not impressed. In the UK, you can still buy private insurance for better care if you don't want to go to the NHS. Wanna guess how many enterprising capitalists will line up to offer premium packages (pun intended)? And no, I have no problem with rich people getting better care. I'm more concerned that lower and middle class people get some level of care at all. See this article for a primer on the NHS:,8599,1916570,00.html

Anonymous responded,
Every factual analysis of data says otherwise. Here's a great place to start: You can also do some research on the 'life expectancy' canard, and here's a great place to start:

Unfortunately, I find those links less than stellar (we're depending on opinion polls now?). If we're spending far more of our GDP to get less than the very best in bottom line results (except for cancer where I agree with you), isn't there something wrong? You're answer is probably that we need less regulation to reduce costs. I'd like to see some data (not anecdotes) on that before I buy that. My point is that the right has based their objections on emotional anecdotes and the fear of government and by disparaging other systems where the govt is involved. So far, pretty shallow. The left has said (I agree), all you need is government. Not very convincing but not frightening to me. But let's knock one objection off the list...that about the crappy Euro systems. I prefer
Foreign Policy's take:


"Unfortunately, I find those links less than stellar" Well, of course you do - because they rebut your point factually, and you want to argue squishy 'moral' issues.
"we're depending on opinion polls now" Does it not shame you that you have to resort to lying? The '10 Surprising Facts' article points to real studies done by such publications as Lancet. The life-expectancy rebuttal uses real life-expectancy figures.
"If we're spending far more of our GDP" This is yet another canard. We spend more of our GDP _because_ of government involvement (Medicare alone used 3.2% of GDP in 2008!) and because we fund the innovation that drives the socialized medicine markets of the rest of the world.
"My point is that the right has based their objections on emotional anecdotes and the fear of government" Nonsense. I supplied you with two articles listing FACTUAL reasons why our health care system is equal- or superior-to socialized systems. And why is it that listing problems with
socialized systems - which are rampant - is 'emotional', but listing problems with our system is perfectly valid reasoning? 'Fear of government' is quite healthy and rational. It was the basis of the formation of this country, and any sane analysis of our health care system will show that government is the problem. More government is obviously not the solution.

OK, let's try this. Read these two articles on the ridiculous lies that have all-pervaded the conservative horror stories:

Economist: American health care. Keep it honest:

Foreign Policy:

Finally, If you want my idea of what a sensible, factual, non-squishy analysis looks like, see the Economist's (I know, that liberal commie rag) comparison of the US and UK systems:

Key excerpt:

Both health systems have their virtues and their faults. At its best, America offers extraordinarily good clinical care, but too many people lack insurance cover or fret about losing it. The NHS provides health care to all at a much lower total cost, but patients have less clout. Both countries are crying out for reforms to bring about better and cheaper care.
Now, that's a much more honest look at the issues. This idea that our system is better than anyone else's and we get the best health outcomes lacks all credibility to me (because, well, see above three links). A little more nuance might win conservatives more converts. Simply repeating over and over again that our system is the best strains the imagination and becomes some kind of weird substitution of patriotism for thought.

No one has YET addressed my main point of that post, which is, what is someone to do when they can't get insurance? There is no money to be made from covering sick people, only from covering the healthy. That's capitalism. Unfortunately, even people that have played by the rules and are decently well off can still be bankrupted by a prolonged illness if they lose their insurance coverage through no fault of their own. And they can't simply buy insurance because no one will cover pre-existing conditions.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Thank you, Mark Steyn

In my last post I attacked something that Mark Steyn said in (on? at?) The Corner, to which TdotTim commented:
"I think Mark Steyn, by opposing any change to our currently perfect system, is essentially saying..."
And I think Mark Steyn hardly needs an obscure blogger to tell anyone what he is essentially saying...we just read his actual words. But as blatant and shameless an attempt at being linked as his "reader of the day" as I've yet seen...and for that (and for at least having good taste in football teams), I congratulate you.
Now, as TdotTim correctly points out, I am indeed an obscure blogger. So obscure, in fact, that I had no idea who Mark Steyn was when I read what he said on a prominent conservative website. I simply read something I didn't like and talked about it. I still don't know (or care about) Mark Steyn's importance in this universe, but I do know that he selected me as his "reader of the day" today on his website and posted nothing more than my unflattering description of him and a link to my post:

For that and for the simple fact that Mark Steyn did not stoop to respond to my vicious attacks in an equally base tone, I admire and applaud him.

@TdotTim: Above all, I am honored that a fellow Cowboys fan visited my site. You are always welcome here.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Let Them Eat Insurance

Over at The Corner (Conservatism is dead; long live conservatism), this illuminating piece from Mark Steyn on the subject of these so-called "death panels":
What matters is the concept of a government "panel." Right now, if I want a hip replacement, it's between me and my doctor; the government does not have a seat at the table. The minute it does, my hip's needs are subordinate to national hip policy, which in turn is subordinate to macro budgetary considerations.
Mark Steyn, have you always been a moron, or did you have to work at it?

Right now, if you want a hip replacement, it's between you, your doctor, and your insurance company. 1) The insurance company must first approve of your need to get a hip replacement (presumably to stop you from wistfully eyeing that new designer, rocket-propelled Nike hip even when you don't need a new one). If they don't approve it after examining your medical records and talking to your doctor, you're out of luck buddy. Pony up the $40,000 you'll need to pay for it yourself. 2) If they did approve it (because, you know, they're compassionate and all), you and your family must think about your insurance deductible and whether you can afford the $3,000 copay at this time--i.e., your insurance company indirectly has a seat at your kitchen table because they wrote the rules for your policy. 3)Perhaps you could only afford a catastrophic health coverage would be exploring the possibility of "falling down the stairs" so that you could be rushed to the ER and get some treatment there. Again, the insurance company is a factor.

Nothing is "just" between you and your doctor. Health care is rationed to those that can afford the insurance premiums. Even when you have a policy, someone else reviews your major health treatment decisions with you and your doctor and your family. Whether that's my insurance company or the government, I'm not sure which is worse, but I certainly don't think of one as better than another. Besides, I already trust my government to secure my liberty, so if they want to secure my toothless gums, I don't give a crap.

All that is assuming you have insurance to begin with! If you're too poor to afford it, and/or you work for a company that can no longer afford to pay for your coverage because of crazily escalating premium costs, you're out of luck. Now, maybe Mark Steyn can afford to simply write a check for his brand new Nike hip. Maybe he doesn't even need insurance. In that case, I'm thrilled for him. Most everyone else depends on having health insurance, thank you very much.

None of this means that I'm anti-insurance companies. They aren't the devil incarnate, they're just looking to make sure they stay profitable. They're just businesses, which is why it's weird to me that folks like Steyn would waste time talking about how the current system is more compassionate! What's compassionate about a system where you can't be covered for a pre-existing condition? What's compassionate about a system where if you lost your coverage for a few months because your company went bankrupt and you couldn't afford the astronomical COBRA payments to keep your policy active, any new policy would automatically exclude any disease you had been getting treatment on until then?

I think Mark Steyn, by opposing any change to our currently perfect system, is essentially saying that those who can't afford health insurance need to...wait for insurance!!! If that isn't the pinnacle of elitism, I don't know what is.

The Madness of King Huck - Part II

In my last post, I slammed Mike Huckabee for saying America shouldn't tell Israelis where they can live. I mistakenly assumed he hadn't thought through what this would mean for the prospects of a free Palestinian homeland. I was wrong. Huckabee went off the deep end. In the same trip he also said this:
Former U.S. presidential hopeful Mike Huckabee said Tuesday while on a visit to Israel that establishing a Palestinian state in "the middle of the Jewish homeland" would be "unrealistic."


What precisely does he want to do with the Palestinians already living there? Make them Israeli citizens? (FYI, they're not citizens. They're not citizens of any country.) Israel will never give citizenship to Arabs in the West Bank and Gaza because then Arabs would go from being 20% of the population to well in the majority. How do you like that?

Or, perhaps Huck thinks Israel should kick them all out. That would be the definition of ethnic cleansing.

If you have some time, please read around Haaretz and you'll see a vibrant debate and more balanced views within Israel. Huck has now planted himself in the far right of Israel! Is it sad that he's not seen as an extremist here in the U.S.?

One editorial note: in case you're wondering about my sudden focus on the Israeli-Palestinian issue, I just returned from a two week trip stay in Jerusalem. It was an eye-opening trip, mainly because I saw and heard a much larger variety of views among Israeli Jews than among Americans back home. Especially, among the evangelican Christian folks who, like Huckabee, have based their foreign policy on the Old Testament. If you think that Bible-talk about God giving Palestine to the Jews is archaic stuff, think again. It is current foreign policy for much of America. I wonder what they and Huck think of the fact that Palestinian Arabs also include lots of Christians. Do they even know? Did the Huckster go to a local Arab Christian service while he was there? I suggest he go to one the next time he's there and tell them what he thinks of their plight.

Monday, August 17, 2009

The Madness of King Huck

From The Atlantic:
Mike Huckabee is in east Jerusalem today, and he had some critical things to say about President Obama's posture toward Israel. The U.S. should not "be telling Jewish people in Israel where they should and should not live," Huckabee said according to The Jerusalem Post; his traveling partner, a New York state assemblyman, called U.S. Israel policy a "horror."

The key (unstated) point, of course, is that Israeli settlements are popping up in occupied lands. Now, if you want to argue that you don't consider the West Bank, Gaza, and East Jerusalem to be occupied lands, you'd be consistent. Loony, but consistent. To cloak that explosive viewpoint in language about not meddling in another country's affairs is bullshit.

That said, if Israel were to invade the Sinai peninsula tomorrow and start settling it, would we condone that? Israel did that starting in 1967 and only a peace settlement with Egypt led them to withdraw in 1979. What if Israel were to re-invade Lebanon and settle there? Jordan? Egypt itself? Any of these scenarios (well, ok, maybe not Egypt) are plausible, all in the name of security. Where might King Huck draw the line at interfering?

Lastly...the truly grotesque problem with the occupation is that Israel is now in the immoral position of having different legal regimes for Jews and Arabs. If things continue in this vein, Israel will have no choice but to either expel all non-Jews or give full citizenship to them, thus irrevocably discarding the "Jewish" character of the country.

This is why this is a struggle for Israel's soul.

[edit] Yes, I realize Sinai is part of Egypt. Substitute some other country name and my point remains, unsullied by your taunts.

Saturday, August 15, 2009


In what passes for conservatism these days, criticism of Obama's health-care plan has seemed to mainly be, "We don't want someone else, least of all, one of them Washington bureaucrats, making our life-or-death decisions for us." As if private insurance bureaucrats were somehow more compassionate than their lowly government counterparts. The "death panels" hysteria is comical given that insurance companies lay out in advance exactly what procedures they will or, more likely, won't, cover and at what price limits. Nevertheless, this ought to be entirely beside the point.

Today, since you can get as much care as you can afford, we don't think of it as rationing, but from a societal standpoint, it absolutely is. Health-care is rationed according to one's ability to pay. Basic economics. So long as resources are limited, no one can get everything. Things get costs assigned to them based on how much people need/want them. The left is being entirely consistent, and noble, in arguing that it is immoral to deny anyone care just because they can't afford it. I fully stand behind that sentiment. However, we still won't be able to afford unlimited care for everybody. We never will as long as resources are finite. The real question is which system best rations health-care while covering as many people as possible, not whether we need to ration. We already do. The fact that the right is babbling about the greater compassion of private insurance companies is mind-boggling.

Thursday, August 06, 2009

America's "solidarity" with Israel

Israel has been roundly condemned for recently evicting nine Palestinian families in East Jerusalem in order to let in Jewish settlers into an historically Arab neighborhood. The most important thing to note from this Israeli decision is not that Israel is exercising its (illegal) claim of sovereignty in Jerusalem by enforcing Israeli laws there, but that this is stark proof that Israel's laws are racist, with separate legal systems for Jews and Arabs. Not my words, but those of an Israeli Jew commenting in Haaretz:
Somewhere, perhaps in a refugee camp in terrible poverty, lives the family of the farmer who plowed the land where my house now stands. According to the Israeli judicial system, they have the right to get their land back immediately, destroy my house, return and grow Jaffa oranges for export on its ruins, and remove me by force if necessary. The Jerusalem District Court, which recently ruled that representatives of the Sephardi community committee had the right to take back the Hanun and Gawi families' apartments in East Jerusalem's Sheikh Jarrah neighborhood, has opened the 1948 file. That is, if Israel had an egalitarian system of law and justice, if the legal system were fair, because then millions of Palestinians would be able to applaud the court and demonstrate their joy in the streets at the ruling.

Of course, that is not how this issue as a whole is seen in some parts of America:
A U.S. delegation of Republican congressmen visiting Israel on Thursday said that the Obama administration's policy on Israel is misguided, puts too much emphasis on the issue of settlements and ignores the bigger threat of a nuclear-armed Iran.

And, the best part of all:
Cantor and others supported Israel's handling of the eviction of two Arab
families from a house in east Jerusalem earlier this week, a move criticized by the European Union and U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.

"I don't think we, in America, would want another country telling us how to implement and execute our laws," Cantor said.

My question: does the American public even know what Israeli laws and policies we're supporting?

That commenter, Gideon Levy, has been dismissed as a self-hating Jew. Perhaps we ought to consider for a moment whether he is actually right. If he is, how do we justify solidarity with such policies?

Saturday, March 28, 2009

Leadership Lessons - Jerry Sloan Edition

This snippet from Peter Vecsey's profile of Cleveland Cavaliers' Mo Williams (who began his NBA career with the Utah Jazz) caught my eye:
Five and a half years removed from the episode, there's still alarm in Mo Williams' voice when describing his introduction to Jerry Sloan's methods of coaching and communication.

It was the first drill of the first day of Jazz training camp in 2003-04.

... On day one of practice, Sloan directed the Jazz to stretch and then called for a three-man weave. Fresh from re-signing (six years, $84 million) with the team, Andrei Kirilenko jogged through the drill while everyone else sprinted. Next time it was his turn, the same thing happened, at least at the outset.

"I'll never forget Sloan's reaction," Williams said with a shudder. "He came storming onto the court screaming, 'Damn you, Kirilenko, you think just because you've got an $84 million contract you can do whatever the bleep you want to do out here! Well, I've bleepin' news for you . . .' "

Williams said Sloan's earthy message was the best thing that could've happened to him . . . and the team, a consensus pick to go nowhere fast, yet finished 41-41.

"Man, if Sloan was gonna get on Kirilenko like that, I knew damn well what I had to do," Williams said. "I was like Speedy Gonzalez. I did exactly as told and then some. The funny thing is, everything I'd heard about Jerry turned out the opposite."

Well, almost, anyway. Sloan pushed and got on players, no doubt, Williams accented.

"A lot of bad words come out of his mouth. But, if you do it right the next time, in his next breath, he'll praise you just as heatedly. A lot of coaches don't understand; they beat you down without picking you back up," Williams said.

For me, the most sobering aspect of leadership is realizing that your words and actions are influential, as much due to what is said and done as what is not. From my own experience and from observing others', those in leadership positions often do not take the time to recognize the good among the bad, being more conscious of deficiencies as opposed to accomplishments. Which is not to say that one should carefully spend a certain percentage of their time criticizing and the other praising their minions; formulaic management reeks of insincerity and worse, is obvious in its amateurishness. Dale Carnegie in all his books of wisdom, almost always based his advice on something straightforward and sincere such as...if you want to earn people's respect, you need to truly care for their interests. That said, we have all at some point enjoyed working for tough leaders who criticized a lot and praised little, probably because we perceived some internal consistency in their method. Which I think is the crux of the matter: we want our leaders to be fair above all else. Whether they are effusive or overly critical, we want them to be consistent in how they treat us and our colleagues, treating each according to their performance measured by a clear standard. So, even though Jerry Sloan was a hard-ass, by praising his players if they did it right he displayed that internal consistency in his leadership, showing that he cared about good performance above all. More importantly, he held all his players to the same standard, even the star players.

Saturday, March 14, 2009

As I Was Saying About Iran...

It's good to see that the powers that be are finally reading this blog. Two months ago, I pointed out that Iran is the key to easier access to Afghanistan, and that the road India built in Western Afghanistan to link up to an Iranian route to the coast could be useful to the U.S. as a better supply route in the future. We currently depend on a tortuous Central Asian route that is notable for how many unstable countries it traverses, not to mention how it depends on Russian magnanimity to let us play in their backyard...for now. Which is why it is good to see the Pentagon at least considering a future route through Iran and by way of the Indian-built road.
...Pentagon and NATO planners, as part of an effort to consider every contingency, have studied Iranian routes from the port of Chabahar, on the Arabian Sea, that link with a new road recently completed by India in western Afghanistan. The route is considered shorter and safer than going through Pakistan.

“In the course of prudent planning, our military planners have looked at virtually every conceivable avenue of supplying our forces in Afghanistan,” said Geoff Morrell, the Pentagon press secretary. “However, as you would expect, they have done so with an eye on logistical feasibility rather than political reality.”
Indeed. The political reality is something else. But if necessity is the mother of invention as everyone says, we could add logistical feasibility to the bucket of common interests between the U.S. and Iran. Also, little matters such as reestablishing diplomatic relations might be required before we can even discuss this in seriousness. Not to forget that whole Iranian-pursuit-of-nuclear-weapons fly in the ointment.

Just one little step at a time...

Sunday, February 15, 2009

How Languages Bind Us Together

I love languages, in an armchair sort of way. I have no formal training in languages, but I am often struck by how the evolution of language is simply a superficial marker of the deeper evolution of culture. People move and take with them a piece of their ancestral culture in the form of certain rituals, yes, but more importantly, they take their language with them. This 'snapshot' of their past doesn't remain still either; it incorporates influences from the new homeland, and the evolution continues. But the ancestral links remain. I remember my own wonder when I first learned in school about the Romance languages and how they were all derived from Latin. I further remember my amazement at learning about this so-called Indo-European language family, and the fact that Latin and Sanskrit were sister languages! Common knowledge for us now, but still a powerful symbol of how cultures have traveled over millenia. For example, India and China are neighbors, but, separated by the Himalayas and some mighty rivers, their cultures have had little contact and hence, their languages--Indo-European/Dravidian and Sino-Tibetan language families respectively--have little in common. The ties between the Dravidian (South India) and Austro-Asiatic (South East Asia) languages are more complex: close connections in script, but little in terms of vocabulary.

Because of my interest in the general subject of languages, I was fascinated to see this footage of British actor, Eddie Izzard, going to Friesland in Northern Holland where some of the Anglo-Saxon tribes originally came from. Eddie knows that the local language, Frisian, is a Germanic language that is very similar to Old English. So, naturally, he attempts to buy a cow from a local farmer, by speaking in old English and seeing if he's understood. (Hat tip to Tall Blog.)

Saturday, February 14, 2009

Change is here; now go change the details--habeas corpus edition

Now for some real news that, naturally, is consigned to oblivion thanks to the bailout and Valentine's Day newsthink. Yesterday, a federal judge ruled against the Obama Administration on a key aspect of the current habeas corpus mess: Define what an "enemy combatant" is before we decide whether to keep holding them.
In the first federal court ruling rejecting a position of the Obama Administration on detention of terrorism suspects, a federal judge in Washington on Wednesday turned aside an Administration plea to go forward with detainees’ challenges without first defining who may be held as an “enemy combatant.” U.S. District Judge John D. Bates decided that no habeas cases can be decided without settling who may be treated as an enemy in the “war on terrorism.” However, he did give the Administration some added time — until March 13 — to come up with an alternative definition to one that he will be using temporarily. The judge’s order, though written in moderate terms, conveyed some impatience with the government’s initial response.
Emphasis mine. If you don't know or care about habeas corpus...sigh. Obama is, as we've been reminded once or twice, a constitutional law professor, and once memorably talked during the campaign about the need to protect one of our most important rights:
But, the former constitutional law professor argued, "What I have also said is this: that when you suspend habeas corpus -- which has been a principle, dating before even our country, it’s the foundation of Anglo-American law -- which says, very simply, if the government grabs you, then you have the right to at least ask, 'Why was I grabbed?' and say, 'Maybe you’ve got the wrong person.'

"The reason you have that safeguard," he said, "is because we don't always have the right person. We don’t always catch the right person. We may think this is Mohammed the terrorist, it might be Mohammed the cab driver. You may think it’s Barack the bomb thrower, but it might be Barack the guy running for president.
Myes, "why was I grabbed?" If you don't care to remember what h/c is, please burn that phrase in your brain, and know that you have a constitutional right to ask that in court. Not just in America, either. As George Will points out:
No state power is more fearsome than the power to imprison. Hence the habeas right has been at the heart of the centuries-long struggle to constrain governments, a struggle in which the greatest event was the writing of America's Constitution, which limits Congress's power to revoke habeas corpus to periods of rebellion or invasion.
Now, back to Judge Bates' decision. Without a properly focused definition of "enemy combatant," this Administration can hold almost anyone indefinitely, and the burden of proof shifts inordinately to the defense--and hinges on the capability of their lawyers. Candidate Obama railed against such sloppy uses/abuses of government power. Now, President Obama needs to go change how that power is used. The devil was always in the details.

Friday, February 13, 2009

Today's Procrastination Utility

Stick Cricket is one of my favorite flash games of all time. They've done a great job of improving the graphics over the years and have come a long way from the initial, literally "stick" game graphics. Just press one of the arrow keys at the proper moment to score runs! The game comes in many flavors (I like the World Domination game) and there is also a nifty training mode.

If you like the cricket version, there is also a really cool Stick Baseball game!

The Utilitarian Ethic of Procrastination

Psychologists at Oxford University have discovered an intriguing phenomenon: playing Tetris may reduce flashbacks to traumatic events, a hallmark symptom of post-traumatic stress disorder:
The researchers report in PLoS ONE that for healthy volunteers, playing ‘Tetris’ soon after viewing traumatic material in the laboratory can reduce the number of flashbacks to those scenes in the following week. They believe that the computer game may disrupt the memories that are retained of the sights and sounds witnessed at the time, and which are later re-experienced through involuntary, distressing flashbacks of that moment.
It is not clear whether Tetris is unique among video or computer games in being able to disrupt memories. Even so, what is clear is that those parental admonishments against playing video games too much because they turn your brain into mush might, indeed, have some basis in fact.

Naturally, after all that inane talk, I quite understand if you have the overwhelming urge to go play some tetris:

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

The Utilitarian Ethic of Science

Scientists at Newcastle University have shown that by giving a cow a name and treating her as an individual, farmers can increase their annual milk yield significantly:
The study, published online in the academic journal Anthrozoos, found that on farms where each cow was called by her name the overall milk yield was higher than on farms where the cattle were herded as a group.

"Just as people respond better to the personal touch, cows also feel happier and more relaxed if they are given a bit more one-to-one attention," explains Dr Douglas, who works in the School of Agriculture, Food and Rural Development at Newcastle University.
The good doctor helpfully closes with this advice: "Placing more importance on knowing the individual animals and calling them by name can – at no extra cost to the farmer – also significantly increase milk production."

Something tells me that those farmers that aren't already predisposed to naming their livestock will find it difficult to incorporate his advice and suddenly begin sweet-talking Daisy and Bessie on their barnyard walks. What's more, I suspect that the cows themselves--intelligent beings that they are--might become suspicious if their owner goes from spitting or kicking at them to cooing sweet nothings on a moonlit night. If they don't become wary at this turn of events, evidenced by, say, a reduction in their milk production, said cows are likely not very bright after all.

It shouldn't be long now before we see numerous advertisements for seminars in cow-psychology, followed by early morning talk shows (Dr. Milk?), and a booming demand for cow-sitters (yes, I spelled that correctly). More likely, this will spawn the next great comic series--yes, Milkbert--where the bovine protagonist suffers through barnyard indignities and stupid HR policies. Hmmm, that gives me an idea for a hit TV show (you saw it here first)...The Barnyard.

No, Really, Truth is Stranger than Fiction

I love Will Ferrell and his political satire on Saturday Night Live. But, I couldn't decide whether to laugh or cry when I saw this old routine:

Thursday, January 29, 2009

I'm normally a cynic, but this is incredible!

This video warmed my heart, brought a lump to my throat, and generally blew me away. I must apologize to the folks in Britain because this is old news for them; America does occasionally find out about cool things like these, even if a bit late. Hat tip to Josie, and courtesy of Komando.

Turn the sound up!

More from Komando:
Paul Potts was an unassuming cell phone salesman from Wales. But he had a special hidden dream. He wanted to sing opera.

His big break came on the television show Britain’s Got Talent. It’s a variety show in the vein of American Idol. It even features the famous killjoy, Simon Cowell, as a judge.

In this video, you’ll see his first-round audition. Watch the judges’ faces. They don’t expect much from Potts. But that doesn’t last long. Potts went on to win that season of Britain’s Got Talent. And Sony released his first album in 2007.

Here's Paul's semi-final winning song:

And, the final (Nessun Dorma again):

The verdict:

Friday, January 23, 2009

News that should be more prominent

Afghanistan now has a road in the western part of the country that links to an Iranian route to the coast. India built the road at a cost of $85 million in order to be able to trade with Afghanistan by sea and through Iran, thus avoiding the need to go through Pakistan--to-date the only viable access route to Afghanistan. India has a major vested interest in a free, prosperous Afghanistan, much more so than the U.S., because of historic (and well-founded) worries that Afghan radicalism will quickly transfer to northwest India through Pakistan. On the other hand, Pakistan, being joined at the hip with Afghanistan thanks to the Durand Line monstrosity, cannot tolerate an independent Afghanistan or a close Indo-Afghan relationship for fear that India will seek to destabilize Pakistan from the west. Afghanistan for its part needs an alternate route to the coast to reduce its dependence on Pakistan. This is one of the reasons why India and Afghanistan have much to gain from a closer relationship with Iran, something the previous U.S. administration was loath to sanction because of their deep distaste for the Iranian regime. IMHO, Iran is the key to Afghanistan's future development. U.S. interests would be well-served if we recognize this. The Central Asian route being planned right now for U.S. military access is fine for the short- and medium-term, but this only connects you to the Caspian Sea and you also have to worry about numerous sources of instability, including the Russians and the Caucusus. A normalized relationship with Iran would be a Gordian Knot solution to Afghanistan--a country that one can safely say will persist as a concern for the long-term.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Yes I did

Tuesday, January 20, 2009: How I made it to Obama's Inaugural (and back).
7:15 a.m. Home: I had planned on getting on the metro at King Street Station by 7, but was still dilly-dallying at home trying to cram random supplies into my coat pocket when my wife turned on the TV and showed me the huge crowds that had already gathered on the mall. That was a necessary kick in the end to my feeble hopes that all those predictions of record crowds would prove to be wildly overstated and that I could simply saunter to the middle of the mall and find a good spot. I'm not sure why I thought this; maybe because over the last month many of my friends had decided against going, citing such novel reasons as the difficulty of getting to DC, uncertainty about the metro system's reliability, inadequate access to restrooms, large crowds, cold weather, etc., that I hoped most people would elect to stay home. I was channeling my inner Yogi Berra ("no one goes there any more; it's too crowded.").

7:30 a.m. King Street Station: Yawn, not much of a crowd. Bring it on! I mutter confidently, in the spirit of our outgoing President. Then, a train comes. It's a Blue line train and it's packed. Already! Just two stops into its journey. One person gets off, four squeeze into the spot she just vacated. My cheer is dulled a bit, but I hope my Yellow line train fares a little better. Optimistic chap, that's me. Enter Yellow line express, equally packed to the vents. I shuffle to the edge of the platform and assume a proper stance--wide with knees flexed in order to lower my center of gravity--to hold my position against the frantic mob behind me. Luckily, the train stops with a door exactly in front of me. Like a good NFL running back, I pick my slivers of daylight among the huddled bodies and soon disappear into the belly of the car.

7:30-8:15 a.m. Yellow line train: I became familiar with some strangers. Quite unintentional, really. But when one is pressed close against other people, you can't help but hope they don't think you're acting fresh. L'Enfant Plaza, our preferred destination to the south of the mall area is apparently ridiculously full, so much so that our train is hurried along to the next available stop: Gallery Place/Chinatown. Groans in the train. Cheers when we get off at GP/C. Groans when we see the crowds there, wondering what "ridiculously full" looks like. In an attempt to salvage some dignity, I sheepishly take out the water bottle from my coat pocket and show it to the dude whom I had been pressed up against on the train. He allows a small smile.

8:15-8:35 a.m. Gallery Place/Chinatown Station: This long to get out of the damn station.

8:35-9:45 a.m. Trying to get to the Mall: Crowds. OMG, crowds. Everywhere. Since we were unceremoniously dumped to the north of the mall, we were caught up in the masses trying to get through security and onto the parade route. Yes, the parade that's scheduled to happen in the afternoon! I'm walking on H Street, about five blocks north of the mall, but can't see any way of going south. Street after street is closed for the parade and I doggedly continue, hoping to see some daylight somewhere. Me and a hundred thousand of my closest friends. I am about to give up in despair and sit down and sob somewhere quietly, when I round the White House and make it to 19th Street. Hallelujah, I can see the Washington Monument, and more importantly, a clear path to it.

9:45-10 a.m. Washington Monument: I made it! I try to inch my way up the mall closer to the Capitol, but a patient security chap informs us that that part of the mall is full. So, I backtrack and find a spot of high ground right under the Monument with a clear view of the Capitol in the distance. By distance, of course, I mean a mile away. But, hey, I can see the Inaugural stage and little people dots. To my left and right nearby, two giant jumbotrons provide a great view of the proceedings. People of all colors and shapes litter the place. That's when I realize that I'm in the minority. Yep, I'm the only one in ski pants and snow hiking boots (God bless my time in Colorado). With my ACU hoodie sweatshirt and my grey wool dress coat on top of it all, I realize I'm cutting a strange figure, but at least I'm warm. Lots of dust everywhere.

10-11:45 a.m. The wait: Interminable wait for our new royal family. It's cold and a bit blustery. Families with unbelievably patient kids everywhere. Everyone taking pictures of the crowd with their cellphones. Few scattered couples keeping warm by periodically giving each other tongue massages. Some geospatially challenged individuals attempting to guide their lost friends to themselves by giving incomprehensible directions over the phone. Which is just as well, seeing that any empty spaces have rapidly filled in long ago. I myself have a spotty cellphone signal (damn you, AT&T), so I can't call anyone. I content myself with the occasional text update to my wife. Lots of chants: O-BA-MA; Yes We Did; O-BA-MA. The giant screens show us a live camera feed, but are not accompanied by any commentary. That's when I realize how much I miss Peter Jennings. I also realize how important the media narrative is in shaping our experiences. The PA announcer kindly keeps us company by periodically informing us that Grand Poobah so-and-so has just shown up. Muted applause for Jimmy Carter. Enthusiastic cheering on seeing a motorcade on screen; the crowd assumes that's Obama. Polite reception for H.W. Bush. Crazy cheers for Gore and Clinton (more so for Gore). Boos for Dubya. Lots of boos. More so for Dick Cheney. Wildest cheering reserved for Malia and Sasha. Rapture and relief on seeing Obama. General sense of relief that a new administration is coming in. I have an Onion-style headline in my head: "Black man gets crappy job." PA guy kindly requests everyone to sit down. Many laughs from the crowd. The crowd's really big by now. I thankfully munch on a granola bar, my only nourishment of the day. I have my bottle of water, but I dare not drink more than a sip, for fear that I would have to give up my hard-earned spot to relieve myself. Not to mention my fear of portable restrooms. I turn my head left to right and see nothing but a sea of heads and American flags. I grew up in India, in the land of a billion people, and I've never been in anything like this.

11:45 a.m.-1:15 p.m. The inauguration of Barack Obama: Biden says his oath, and many in the crowd instantly yell, "No More Cheney!" Chief Justice Roberts flubs Obama's oath. Dude, that was your only part all day, and you messed that up? First black President, a moment that will likely be replayed endlessly for future generations, and you couldn't say 39 words. Also, since Bush's term expired at 11:59 a.m., America had no President for ten minutes, or at least an oathless one. Constitutional crisis, anyone? Still, when Obama concludes his oath, there's a lump in my throat and I'm overwhelmed by the moment. I'm taken in by the magnitude of what just happened, thinking about the fact that a black man is about to take up residence in a building that used to have slave quarters. I'm overcome at the thought that Martin Luther King, Jr., spoke at the other end of this very mall, and I'm watching history happen in front of me. Many are freely crying, hands on their heads. I wonder if MLK would also consider this a fulfillment of his dream, like so many seem to imagine. I'm ecstatic that I am here, in this moment, in this place, on the freaking mall! The cheers are deafening; I can't help but sense a common feeling that we all need him to succeed. Obama's speech is good, not great. But, I'm grateful to have a President that I can listen to without cringing. I'm hopeful he will change our image in the world. I also notice how confident he is. Good, he'll need it. I also think: congratulations, it's your shit now, buddy. Don't let us down. Break a leg. (Note to Secret Service if you're reading this: that's just a saying.)

1:15-2:30 p.m. Home: Yes, I left without staying for the parade. I'm glad too, the thing didn't start till 5 and only those with tickets could be there anyway. I look toward the L'Enfant Plaza Station and alertly notice that there is no earthly way I can make it there in less than two hours through the crowd. I decide to hoof it to Arlington Cemetery Station, a mile behind me, over the bridge. I make it there in 30 minutes, notwithstanding the blisters on my feet (I ruefully realize that my hiking boots are meant for the snow, not for concrete). The station is less crowded than I expected and a Blue line train comes along in a minute. I sit down with a grateful sigh. I also realize that this is the first time I've sat down or leaned against anything all day. I'm weary, but thrilled to have experienced Obama's inauguration in person.

Saturday, January 17, 2009

Info Dump; Or, What I've Been Up To

2008 is thankfully behind us...undoubtedly, a global "annus horribilis." Although, because Queen Elizabeth II famously used the term in 1992 to refer to her family's soap opera travails the previous year, "annus freaking ridiculous" might be a better descriptor of this last year. Dave Barry's review of 2008 has to be one of the finest satirical works of modern times. Obama is about to take power as most noble purveyor of all that he sees--literally. And, he has the burden of having to craft an inaugural address that actually measures up to the moment of the times. I'll be there in the million person mob on the mall, listening to our new King attempt to do so.

In these incredible times, life brings joy for me in the little things, perhaps because I can actually understand them. Nationalized economy? I honestly still don't comprehend. Here are some of the mundane, personal activities that have been preoccupying me:

Watching HDTV on my computer: My wife and I have long used our pc as our primary TV. Just a Dell with Vista Home, 22" LCD monitor, and an ATI 250 Wonder tuner card. Windows Media Center is a very satisfactory DVR, so we can record our favorite shows for free, without paying for another box. It had long bothered me that we weren't making full use of the tuner card. It has two coaxial inputs (what you hook up your cable/antenna to, just like the one on the back of a regular TV): but, one input is for regular analog TV signals, while the other input is for digital signals. The question was how to get digital TV on our pc without paying our cable company for a high definition package. From all that I read online, I was told that I could just hook up a simple rabbit ears antenna to this input to watch HDTV because these antennas can also pick up HD signals "off the air." Well, for some unknown reason this didn't work for me when I tried it a while back. I thought that maybe the antenna wasn't oriented properly to pick up the signals, but unlike the old school analog signals, HD is On/Off only: there is no fuzzy picture if your antenna is facing the wrong way. This can be frustrating setting up HD because you're not sure if your setup/equipment is wrong or if the problem is with the antenna. There is either a crystal-clear picture or nothing. So, I decided to try one more time a couple of weeks ago, and, presto! We now have several digital TV channels from local Washington, DC stations. These broadcasts are all in DTV, with some shows in the higher definition HDTV--most sports games and shows like Lost. The difference in picture quality is simply staggering. Even plain DTV is so much clearer than analog. HD is over the top good. Next step: get a second tuner card so we can record a show while watching something else. We can do that now only if we're recording a cable TV channel while watching a DTV channel or vice-versa.

DVDs on my iPhone: Being cheap, I didn't want to pay for software to convert my DVDs and load them on to my awesome iPhone (3G, 16GB). Enter, Videora. This fantastic freeware comes in several versions, depending on what you're trying to convert movies for: iPod, iPhone 3G, or the old iPhone. Stark, but simple interface made converting my movies a snap. I used this before going on a flight, and I tell ya, 'twas a wonderful flight with my own personal movie selections at my fingertips.

Better Shaving: Yes, I can hear the chuckling from those that know me and my propensity to shave as infrequently as possible. But, hey, when I do shave twice a year, I want it to be worth my time. In November, I tired of my normal gillette/shaving gel setup and decided to bust out the ol' double edge safety razor and shaving brush that I had kept around for some reason. Took me twice as long to shave, but the results were astonishing. I had lost practice using the safety razor, so I had a couple of nicks, but the effort was truly worth ingrown hairs and a much more even and close shave. A little ironic, considering that this is how I began shaving as a teenager in India and that the only reason I ditched these medieval implements was because a friend made fun of me. On a whim I decided to research shaving, and I discovered this lovely article on "wetshaving":
The perfect shave is what all men strive for every morning when they bring their razor up their chin – an effortless shave that’s baby smooth, and without any of the usual skin irritation, redness, and that burning sensation most guys seem to feel is par for the course when it comes to shaving.

Why do so many guys find this so hard to achieve? Because proper shaving has become a lost art. Shaving is one of those glorious male traditions that used to be passed down from father to son, but somewhere along the line, when shaving became more about cheap, disposable razors than a nice, precision-made metal tool in your hand, it became a brainless routine to rush through in the morning without even thinking about it. A dull disposable razor dragged across a layer of foam or gel on your cheeks is a step backward from the past, not an improvement. Now that men of all ages are paying more attention to their appearance, it’s no wonder that the hottest trend right now in male grooming is a return to the traditional wet shave – and millions of men have been shocked to discover that the “old fashioned” method of shaving they thought went out with the Hula Hoop is actually the best quality shave you can get.
Lost art, indeed. Sniff. Glorious male tradition. Very moving. The article discusses shaving brushes at great length, and I learned that there are different kinds of brushes. Mine had synthetic bristles, but I saw that there were more advanced "throwback" options: natural hair brushes such as boars bristle and badger hair. Apparently, the progression in effectiveness (and cost) of shaving brushes is as follows, with a major leap between each:

Synthetic --> Boars Bristle --> Badger Hair

More research told me that badger hair brushes come in various grades, from "pure" (dark, stiffer hair, starting at $20) to the premium "silver tip" (softer, denser, and as much as $550!). Being the aforementioned cheap bugger that I am, and not wanting to spend $500 on a freaking shaving brush, I asked and got a basic "pure" badger hair shaving brush for Christmas. Yes, I'm weird, but I have a loving and understanding wife. No doubt she also has a vested interest in me having smooth cheeks, so she readily got one for me from Amazon for $30. Wow! I believe. The brush is dense, holds water beautifully--necessary for a great lather. The proof is in the second lather after the first brush shave (ha ha, so punny). Even against bare skin, the badger hair brush brings up a wonderful lather, unlike the old synthetic one that was pretty wimpy on the second run. Suffice it to say that shaving is now a semi-religious experience, lasting approximately 30 minutes, with my trusty iPhone's most awesome Pandora radio application playing my favorite tunes in the background. Have I mentioned that my loving wife is very sweet and understanding?

Happy 2009 and happy shaving. It's good to be a guy.