Author Archive

The Expert

Tuesday, March 11th, 2008

I have a teenager who knows everything. You can ask her yourself, and she will tell you straight out that she knows everything. She gets A’s in all of her classes, and this reinforces her strong belief that she knows everything. She can tell you with great certainty everything that you need to know. Of course, there are those things that she has never heard of before, but they really aren’t that important - they are way too boring. So, for the most part she knows everything that she needs to know.

At first glance one might suggest that we have it made. We don’t need to worry about her doing poorly in school, because she knows everything. We don’t need to tell her what she should be doing, because she knows everything. When we tell her about the dangers of having unprotected sex she replies, “Duh!.” When we tell her about the dangers of drinking alcohol or taking drugs she will give us the same reply. What else can I say, she knows everything.

Imagine for a moment my brilliant daughter and her sister sitting in front of the computer one evening. As her sister begins a new game my brilliant daughter responds, “Don’t do that you idiot! Use this key and do this instead. You are so stupid, how are you going to even get out of level one like this?” Of course, my response to this is to tell my daughter that she is being nasty and she shouldn’t belittle her sister like that. And, she quickly retorts, “Well, she deserves it. She is being so stupid. Come here and watch what a moron she is being.”

Obviously the previous scene is a slight exaggeration of reality. However, I am exaggerating to make a point. My brilliant daughter knows quite a bit, and even in her mind she believes that she knows everything. The truth is that she is lacking in one important aspect of life, and that pertains to social skills. She can tell you how you ought to do a number of things, and she will if she sees you doing something wrong. After all, with thirteen years of experience she is currently and expert at life. But, when it comes to dealing with her sister she uses poor judgement. She was completely correct in the fact that she knew how to play the computer game that her sister was just learning. But she did little in the way of teaching her how she should play.

My point here is that being an expert isn’t everything. Many people have become experts by that fact that they perform the same job every day. They certainly have an expertise in that area. But, we all know people who are experts, but they don’t know how they should exercise their expertise. In fact, expertise is a very important attribute that we should strive for, but there are at least two additional attributes that are also important. Judgement and creativity are also quite important.

In recent years it has become fashionable to judge our politicians based on the issues. In most cases however it becomes impossible to choose a politicians that matches squarely with your own personal political agenda. As candidates get weeded out through a series of campaigns the resulting candidates are less likely to match our own personal political agenda. And, we are left with a choice to vote for a candidate that we don’t completely agree with, or not to vote at all.

If we choose to vote, then we must invent new criteria in order to judge the candidates that we don’t completely agree with. One popular method was to pick the candidate that we disliked the least. Each candidate commonly contributed to this by issuing advertising telling us how horrid the other guy was. This type of campaign results in negative attack advertising that wearies the public and pushing the majority into hating politicians in general. A second method to pick between two similar candidates is to base your choice on personality. Of course the personality put forward by the politicians is likely to be created and marketed by people who sell soda pop and potato chips by implying that they are good for you.

The final way to choose a candidate is to look at their personal history and determine whether they exercised good judgement had expertise and used creative ways to solve problems in the past. And this method is most likely the most reliable way to choose a candidate. Of course this is the most difficult and time-consuming way to select a candidate. And, even when you go through all this trouble it is likely that those who choose to use the first two methods will overwhelm your vote. However, in a close election your informed vote just might be the difference needed to put that one guy over the top.
Just think, if people in 2000 had used this method to choose between Al Gore and George W Bush we would have had a completely different history over the last seven years. Al Gore’s “cardboard” personality lost to George W Bush’s “guy you’d like to have a beer with” personality. And we ended up with a guy with no expertise in any function of government. We ended up with a guy who exercised poor judgement in picking his cabinet and advisors. He then continued to exercise poor judgement continually there after. Finally, we ended up with a guy who had absolutely no creative thought in his head. He opted to choose between the ideas submitted by his poorly chosen staff without a thought to modify them in any way. Al Gore may have lacked the personality, but he exercised terrific judgement in his activity to rally people around environmental issues even after he lost the presidential election. Could anyone even imagine George W Bush doing anything after he leaves the White House?

Now I need to go ask my daughter who she thinks is going to be President next year, because she knows everything.

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Don’t forget what Stephen Colbert said, “Reality has a well-known liberal bias.”

Cross Posted @ Bring It On, tblog, Blogger and BlogSpirit

Reflection

Total Control

Thursday, February 28th, 2008

Twenty-five years ago I was sitting in a political science class listening to the professor explain how the extreme right and the extreme left end up in the same place - Totalitarianism. At the time I was taken by surprise. How could the extremists goals of two completely opposite ideas result in the exact same result?

From time to time that same circular diagram that that professor drew on the black board pops into my head. The diagram continues to remind me that moderation may be the best action with the most reasonable results. But, the diagram also has its subtleties. For example, are government interventions always bad? How much government intervention is too much? Can one side of the political aisle claim to be the party of less government? Isn’t it true that extreme conservatives will eventually demand the government to take control - like the Fascists of World War II?

Unless one is a true libertarian, which is a very small portion of the American electorate, Americans actually want our government to take some control. The argument isn’t really about more government and less government as the Reagan Conservatives claim. The argument is about which things the government should have a hand in. Religious conservatives want the government to control the culture. Fiscal conservatives want the government to control the working class. Environmentalists want the government to control those who feel they have a right to rape the heartland. Whoever believes in the law wants laws enforced by the government.

So, if most people want the government to intervene in some way, the question should become “What do we want our government to do?”

When we finally stop arguing over the false dichotomy of whether we want more or less government we need to begin to construct an honest idea of what we want a functional government to do. Then we can begin to move in a direction toward a solution that the majority can agree to.

Liberals and Conservatives already have many positions on many issues, and these positions suggest what the total function of government might be. The majority of Americans will agree that government needs to create laws the majority can agree to except to live by. But, what should the purpose of these laws actually be? Should laws be created to restrict the general population, because the general population can not be trusted. Or, should laws be created to restrict those who have power, because those with power can not be trusted? Or, should laws be created to empower the weak because they are at a disadvantage? Should laws be created to protect the weak? Should laws be created to protect property so that the wealthy will not be able to lose their property, even if they are careless with it? Should the government encourage or discourage risk and investment? In the simplified view, should the government control, encourage, discourage or ignore what we do as citizens in order to protect us?

I think that it is interesting to study the two paths in which extremists on the left and on the right eventually come to the conclusion that totalitarianism is the solution. Totalitarianism is type of government that controls all aspects of our lives.

Extremists on the political right are Fascists. Even though many conservatives of today claim that they want less government, they certainly do not want to do away with laws and law enforcement. If these conservatives truly believed in the idea of more freedom and less government they would be happy to be placed in the middle of some failed state like Somalia. In Somalia people are at the will of he War Lords that maintain control by force without law. In reality laws do exist, because the War Lords create their own personal laws to suite themselves. The power of force - be it military, monetary or religious is placed over those forced to obey. Many conservatives view the world based on an extension of this view. Leaders are strong and powerful and they enforce their will by creating rules enforced by power. Since this is the nature of the world the only problem with it is the way in which the rules and laws are created and enforced. If the laws could be created and enforced more fairly everyone could live in peace. Conservatives can see that the main problem is that many different leaders created many different rules and laws. If there were a way in which one universal system of rules could be created then our problems could be solved. Religious conservatives already understand that the problem is solved, because God has given us the universal guide to law. Not all conservatives agree to this. In fact fiscal conservatives believe that business should be free of law and workers should be made to conform to society’s needs. Fascists take the conservative idea of laws to an extreme where every possible law is created in order to make society run a smooth as possible. Whenever a problem is encountered, then a new law is created to fix the problem. If people don’t comply with the rule or law, then the penalty is increased until society conforms and becomes efficient. The government ends up taking control of every aspect of life.

On the other hand the left begins with the idea that workers should be able to live a reasonable life with very little constraint. Workers should be able to have the jobs that they chose to do and be paid a reasonable amount for the work that they do. Immediately we realize that there is a problem here. How can workers demand to be paid for doing a job that society does not need or want? If every person decided to run his or her own company we end up with all chiefs and no Indians to use a politically incorrect metaphor. One way to fix the problem is to demand that people are allowed to do this work and be paid to do it by law. Extremists on the left quickly find that the utopia must be created and fueled by the government. And, the people quickly find that they are forced to do work that the government needs to be done and they are paid what the government decides to pay. The leaders will continually explain that this totalitarian government is only temporary until people realize that what the government is forcing them to do is what they wanted all the time anyway. However, the future never comes and the government wouldn’t know what to do if it did come anyway. The goal ends up becoming creating rules and laws until society conforms and becomes efficient. Which means that the government ends up taking control of every aspect of our life.

So, in America we praise freedom and liberty as a check on either type of extremist. Freedom of speech allows us to question the extremists before they build up enough momentum to make all of the rules and laws that end up controlling our lives. Under the Republican controlled congress and the Bush administration our liberties and freedom were beginning to be stripped away. This is the first step in the direction of either extremist movement. Fortunately the election of 2006 was able to wrest away the congress from the extremists. Similarly, if the left were to begin to make laws restricting our freedoms and liberties another election would give some check to the right. And, once again we would see that the checks and balances of American democracy really does work.

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Don’t forget what Stephen Colbert said, “Reality has a well-known liberal bias.”

Cross Posted @ Bring It On, tblog, Blogger and BlogSpirit

Reflection

Risk

Thursday, February 14th, 2008

I have written before that in general conservatives operate on fear while liberals operate out of necessity.

Let me briefly review this idea. In general conservatives are the successful wealthy business people who fear losing what they have - money. Or, conservatives are the morally upright religious zealots who fear that society could go down the toilet at any moment. These two groups represent the majority of conservatives. Progressives however, feel that the world has already caved in all around them. Progress is anything that can help them dig out of this mess. Progressives are willing to try almost anything to fix the problems in society, while conservatives fear that anything new will lead to the downfall of everything they have come to love.

Since the people who are happy with the way things currently are is usually a smaller number than those who believe that they are up to their necks in shit conservatives needed to craft a way to convince those in need to vote to change things to the way they have been. The idea that change back to the “old ways” was a progressive change was championed by the Reagan revolution. Fear and progressive change have been the guiding principles of American politics for a long time.

Well, it actually turns out that the majority of people actually reside somewhere in the middle. These moderates fear change that is too rapid, but they want some change to help them out of the doldrums. For these people “fear” and “change” are words that can move them to support a candidate. Reagan used “change” to move these people to his side. George W Bush used “fear” to keep them there in 2004.

The truth of the matter is that we should worry a bit about change. But, we should also recognize that change can happen for the better.

It is easy for people to become fearful of terrorism. Obviously seeing 3000 people killed in one day in an orchestrated terrorist effort is scary. I don’t need to say this, but we all know that death is a bad thing. But, death does not only come from terrorist attacks. Death comes in many preventable ways. And, progress happens when we can reduce unnecessary death no matter where it comes from.

But, how can we know which efforts to defeat unnecessary death should be taken on, and which efforts should not? We have limited resources and we can only do so much. This is known as risk. We can calculate risk by what we observe. For example, we can count the number of people killed by terrorist attacks and divide by the number of years that we examine. We can quickly see that even before the security measures taken on by the government we have had relatively few people die in terrorist attacks per year. We can compare this to automobile accidents and we quickly realize that driving our cars is much riskier than going back to our old level of security before 9/11/2001.

But, fear rules and conservatives are controlled by their fear. Our conservative government has told us to be afraid and to do whatever we can no matter what the cost in order to protect ourselves from terrorism. We have spent billions of dollars in Iraq fighting a war out of the fear that terrorist will attack us again. We have spent billions of dollars trying to prevent terrorist attacks that rarely happen. We could calculate how many lives have been saved by counting the number of deaths due to terrorism occurring in the seven years leading up to 9/11 and compare that to the number of lives lost in the prevention of terrorism since 9/11. We can include the amount of money spent and we will quickly come to the realization that we have lost more lives and spent more money based on irrational fear than before 9/11. The risk of terrorism was small and it is still small. We have lost more lives. It is almost as if we are paying terrorists to kill our soldiers. If we used a balance sheet that would be the conclusion.

But, the sad and frustrating part of this wasted effort is that the money could have gone to save lives instead. One example is our health care system. It turns out that roughly 18,000 people die each year because of lack of health care. That is equivalent to six 9/11s per year. Many of these people could have been saved if they had the health care that a civilized country like the United States has available to every citizen. With preventative care and regular checkups many lives could be saved or enhanced. The billions of dollars that we are wasting in Iraq to bring that country up to the twenty-first century could have been used to bring our poor and needy up to this century instead.

The foes of open borders continue to complain that immigrants too easily have access to services provided by our country. However, we freely give this same aid to Iraqis in an effort to appease them so that they will not join the insurgents. This may be working, but if we weren’t their in the first place it wouldn’t have even been an issue. And, if we had assessed to risks in a proper way we would never have gone into Iraq anyway.

Fear can be tempered by considering the risk involved. Fear of driving to and from work is almost zero for most commuters. The risk of this drive is far greater than to probability of being attacked by a terrorist. Roads could be made safer, but fear has persuaded the hand of government to spend more money on the terrorist “threat” and less on our roads.

The biggest problem that we face is not terrorism, or roads, or even health care. The biggest problem that we face is the education of our children. It turns out that we could make very good decisions based on the calculation of risk. However, our education system has cheated so many people in our society from having a useful education that politicians, if they actually can think, are able to persuade the public to fear risks that are as tiny as the threat of another terrorist attack. If we don’t educate our society to think, we will surely become a society where the wealthy and well-to-do minority will be able to control the rest of us through our ignorance. The erosion of our education system will ensure that any progress that we have made over the last 50-some years will erode as well.

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Don’t forget what Stephen Colbert said, “Reality has a well-known liberal bias.”

Cross Posted @ Bring It On, tblog, Blogger and BlogSpirit

Reflection

Witch Trials

Monday, February 11th, 2008

Many years ago the Catholic Church began to worry about evil. At the time the Catholic Church reasoned that Satan was an angel created by God. Satan had originally been called Lucifer, and he was a favorite of God’s many angels. One interesting thing was that the Catholic Church never questioned the idea that God might actually play favorites and actually have a favorite angel. The story tells us that Lucifer turned his back on God because of his personal pride and fought a war against the angels that chose to stick with God. In the end Lucifer was banished from Heaven.

Well, Lucifer was not happy being banished from Heaven so he decided that he would tempt God’s latest creation - man. Tempting man in the form of Eve was literally “child’s play.” And, God was upset with Lucifer’s triumph in the mortal realm. So, God told Lucifer that he could no longer influence man directly. This was somehow meant to reassure us that we didn’t need to fear Lucifer around every corner tempting us.

The Catholic Church, however, had a problem. They observed the fact that there was certainly evil in the world. And, they knew that Satan had been banned from directly tempting man, from this story. So, how was Lucifer tempting evil in this world? They finally realized that man was being tempted by witches. Witches were human beings that could get around God’s ban on Lucifer’s dealing in the mortal realm. Witches certainly must be tempting man as a proxy for Satan. And, the obvious conclusion is to put the witches to death and secure a world free from evil.

Suddenly this story seems very familiar to me. If it doesn’t sound familiar to you then I’ll offer a little more.

The Catholic Church became so worried about how the witches were operating in the mortal realm that they set out to round up the witches. They looked for people that appeared suspicious. They might be people that didn’t act like a “normal” person. They arrested those who were suspicious and took them to a detention center.

Obviously a witch was evil by the very definition. And an evil one would certainly attempt to cover up their affairs by lying. And therefore anyone who would deny that they were a witch would certainly fall into the category of what a typical witch might do. However, with a massive amount of pain a witch might finally be forced to admit that they were a witch in a moment of weakness. And once an inquisitor would have a confession they could put the witch to death and purify the world. Such a noble goal - Don’t you think?

The premise here is pretty straightforward. Good will triumph over evil! Those hunting witch were certainly good. And, witch by definition are those who spread evil and therefore must be evil. How could any problem arise out of such a black and white situation? Good purifies the world by eliminating evil.

There are a couple of things that the Catholic Church never considered. The first and most terrifying thought is that we are all evil. We have all committed evil and we are all capable of committing more evil. In fact, the very nature of the idea that killing off evil people would purify the world is an evil idea. Murder is an evil act in itself, and any one who believes that they are worthy to carry out the act is suffering from the addition evil of pride. Pride of course was the same evil that brought down Lucifer himself.

The thought that purifying the world of evil is worth the lives of the innocents that might be caught up in this action is an additional evil that plagues the very proposal. But, pride overwhelms the people who have this idea repeatedly throughout history. Genocide is another fruit of this horrible mindset. People who are different are accused of being evil and torture is used to prove the validity of the claim. If a small amount of pain won’t bring the confession, then more pain will surely provide it. The cycle can only be stopped if the pride in knowing the truth can be broken. And, the truth is that this rarely happens. The Holocaust of six million Jews, The Spanish Inquisition, Rwanda and even the torture of suspected 9/11 terrorists are all examples of pride gone wrong. And today, February 11, 2008 our government announced that there will be still more witch trials. Pride has no limit - especially in this administration.

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Don’t forget what Stephen Colbert said, “Reality has a well-known liberal bias.”

Cross Posted @ Bring It On, tblog, Blogger and BlogSpirit

Reflection

Super Tuesday

Monday, February 4th, 2008

Tomorrow I get to vote. I actually get to vote in an election that actually may effect the outcome of the American political process.

Twenty-some years ago I was in college when Harold Washington won the Democrat mayoral primary to become mayor of Chicago. Well, at least that’s what I was told as many exuberant Chicagoans ran through the dorms announcing that the first African-American had become mayor of Chicago.

I began to think about this recently as we are on the brink of such a similar historic event. I lived in a Cleveland, Ohio suburb when people like Dennis Kucinich and Carl Stokes were mayors of that town. At the time Harold Washington’s coronation as King of Chicago didn’t seem like such a big deal to me, an outsider to the windy city. When I finally read the news and discovered that his winning of the primary was only the first step - he had to win the general election I continued to be confused about this thing they called Chicago politics.

Politics is a funny thing. People think that they understand the way politics works until it doesn’t work like that any more. Hillary Clinton was able to pull off a surprising victory over Barack Obama in the New Hampshire primary by simply shedding a tear. On the other hand four years ago Howard Dean won the New Hampshire primary and lost that nomination on the same night with his historic scream of exuberance. Confidence is a good thing but overconfidence soon becomes arrogance. And excitement soon becomes perceived as lunacy.

Perception influences more votes than any other aspect of a candidate. Perception is a powerful tool that can be used to lead a nation. In a perfect world there is a correlation between perception and reality. However, we don’t live in a perfect world. George W Bush and Karl Rove taught us that, if we didn’t know it before.

Harold Washington was an inspiration to many people who admired the struggle against adversity to achieve political power. However, Harold Washington also died of a heart attack that was most likely induced by the cocaine that was found in his bloodstream at the time of his death. People can be both an inspiration and a poor role model. Thomas Jefferson and George Washington advocated freedom and liberty while they were both slave owners. Being perfect is a very high ideal.

When we look for our next leader, and as I said I must cast my vote tomorrow, we can only know what we perceive a candidate to be. We are always short of the total picture of any candidate. The Chicagoans that voted for Harold Washington never knew that he had a cocaine habit. Instead, the perception that elected Mayor Washington was the perception that he understood the voters and he would fix the problems that the voters needed to be fixed. Because he was an African-American it was assumed that he had lived a life that a typical African American had lived, whether that was true or not. And, some people who where not African American feared that anyone who had experienced these inequalities in society was bound to take advantage of the power of the office of mayor to take retribution. Obviously this is a sad state of affairs when one group believes that there was a group of people that had been mistreated and a representative of that group might use power to seek retribution. Both the knowledge of mistreatment and the assumption of retribution are sad commentaries on our society.

Slowly our society is learning that people don’t necessarily take retribution when they win power. And, we are also learning that people we once thought that we could trust not to abuse political power surprising do abuse their power, like the current administration. How can we protect ourselves from people that would abuse their power? After all, this is the aspect that most of us fear the most about our government. We look for hints when we see these politicians up close and in person. We suspect politicians when they manipulate the facts on the campaign trail, because this type of manipulation makes us wonder what else they might manipulate.

So, I have determined that I will cast my vote for Barack Obama tomorrow. When I see Hillary shedding a tear the day before a vote and miraculously winning the New Hampshire primary it seems a bit too manipulative. When I see her do the same thing this weekend right before the big Super Tuesday primary it seems just a bit too unlikely to not be planned. But, this is not the sole incidence of Hillary’s continued perception of manipulation. I saw her take the easy way out when she voted to attack Iraq back in 2003. I saw her craft her presentation in such a way that she carefully doesn’t commit to anything in an effort not to lose any potential voters. She mirrors the same manipulative behaviour that I have despised in the Bush administration from the beginning. She may be on the left side of the political aisle, but she seems to be on the same side of the obfuscation partition. I really don’t want to have another deceptive presidency. I don’t think that any of us do.

Of course it really is hard to know if Barack is just better at hiding his manipulation. After all, many people still believe that George W Bush is as honest as the day is long. Currently that number of people might be down to 17% of the population. But, 17% of 300 million is still a lot of people - 51 million. And 51 million people can still influence a lot of power in this country, especially if there are dollars attached to those people. So, regardless of whether Barack is able to manipulate me as a voter I am willing to cast my vote his way and hope. I hope that we will finally have a president that believes what he says and will bring America together to create a more perfect union and move us forward.

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Don’t forget what Stephen Colbert said, “Reality has a well-known liberal bias.”

Cross Posted @ Bring It On, tblog, Blogger and BlogSpirit

Reflection

Four Years Later

Friday, January 4th, 2008

Four years ago it was clear to me that I needed change. I was fat and out of shape. I wasn’t doing what I always thought that I wanted to do. We had an idiot as a president. And, it seemed like America was going in the wrong direction in every possible way that it could.

Could Americans really be this stupid? Could I be this stupid?

As I saw it four years ago, I was part of the problem - and not part of the solution. If I wasn’t taking the time to take care of myself, then why should I expect the typical American to care about our country?

As 2004 began I knew that I had to start to make a difference by first changing myself. I needed to learn about the situation that I was in. I needed to learn about the situation that Americans were in. And, perhaps if I could learn something I could begin to be a part of the solution and no longer a part of the problem.

Those first few months of 2004 I made some changes. I began to exercise a little bit. I began to read everything I could on the Internet on all sides of the issue. I began to listen to talk radio. I began to watch news shows. I began to read the newspapers religiously. I knew that I couldn’t be a part of the solution until I educated myself. I knew that I could speak from a perspective of authority unless I understood what the experts were saying. I knew that I couldn’t tell people to live like me, unless I liked the way that I lived. This was a total remake of myself that I did by myself without being told what to do. I played the skeptical scientist, where I didn’t believe anything that I read unless I totally understood as much about the issue that I possibly could.

This was a process of trial and error. I made a lot of errors along the way. At first I thought that I could walk around the block once in a while and hope that I could lose some weight. I thought that I could spout crazy ideas and spark discussions online. I thought that everyone would give advice and be helpful when I asked questions. Well, actually I was quite experienced in the flame wars of Usenet in the early days of the 1980s. But, I thought that it wouldn’t really matter if I disliked a politician and I asked why I should like them. I figured that I would get some well thought out answers to my curious questions. Instead these questions seemed to produce flame wars quicker than answers on every side of the political aisle.

As I realized my failures I recalculated and continued to seek solutions. I joined a Health Club and committed myself to 1 hour of exercise everyday come rain or shine. I started a blog and committed to writing at least one piece everyday come rain or shine. I opened myself up for criticism on all fronts. I believed that I could listen or read anything and everything about what I did or said. I continued to believe that sparking a community discussion among those who cared was the key to turning our country around. I learned that many people were already having this discussion, but they all seemed to be on one side of the political aisle. How could America have fair political discussion if half of the citizens didn’t even come in the door?

When I started my journey I was registered as a Libertarian. When I registered I believed that the government was making too many laws on issues that it shouldn’t be concerned about. For me Libertarian was about Freedom and Liberty. When I registered I got some strange phone calls from other registered Libertarians in the area. Their main concern was taxes. They almost sounded like Anarchists from their hatred of the government. I didn’t worry about how I was registered to vote for a while, because I thought that it didn’t matter. But, at the beginning of 2004 the primaries were approaching and I began to be more interested in the process of government. I knew that George W Bush was predetermined to be the Republican nominee regardless of how dysfunctional his government was performing. Republicans are too conservative to change horses midstream no matter how bad a job their leaders are doing. The 2004 election season proved that point. So, I became convinced that I couldn’t effect change unless I changed party registration so that I could vote in the Democrat primary.

Well, I learned a lot when I went through the process of learning about my new political party. Democrats, like Republicans, don’t like you to question their established ideas. Democrats might be better before their ideas have been determined, but once they are determined disagreements can get ugly. And, currently we have two determined party views of the world that we live in. The party views have been predetermined, and unfortunately that means that the party solutions have been predetermined based on these party views. This means that new ideas are very rare to come by. It takes a superior person to be able to see through the predetermined party ideas and understand their weaknesses. It takes a superior person to not only propose new ideas, but to be able to reform the predetermined political vision and create a new one. And, this is the case on both sides of the political aisle.

Social experimentation is not an option. People’s lives can not be treated like the lives of lab rats. So, trying new ideas without evidence is a poor method for fixing problems. Instead, measuring the situations that present themselves in reality must be the way social experimentation is done. This means that every variable can be changed when we compare one situation to another. Any fifth grader can tell you that science experiments should be done by changing one variable at a time and measuring the results. However, since we can not have the data that we want we must make arguments based on the data that we have. So, this allows each political party to find data that supports their predetermined political vision.

Sometimes the data gets refined and improved. This might be the result of passing laws based on faulty data. It also might be improved methods for measuring the data. In any case, this data often results in altering the political vision of a party. But, the curious thing is that sometimes the predetermined political vision is so entrenched that reality will not alter the vision. When this happens some followers will leave the party with the obviously flawed vision in an attempt to find the correct political vision. The reality is that both political parties in the USA today have flawed political visions in different ways. People general determine which party has the fewest flaws in their personal opinions, and then they will join that group. The opposition will always point to the opposing party’s flaws while they try to cover their own flaws.

If one stands back and looks objectively at a political party the reality begins to shine through. Lots of people buy into the party political vision. Most party members at many levels never question the vision. Everyone focuses on the political task at hand, which is to gain power or remain in power. The political vision becomes a method instead of a reason to obtain or retain power. However, when that rare individual comes forward and is able to reshape that vision the party actually becomes more powerful. There is hope that the new vision has lost its flaws that everyone secretly worries about, but are to frightened to mention. In reality there will be new flaws, but the party still has hope that these new flaws are even smaller than the old flaws.

The interesting thing with the Bush administration is how rare it is that an individual can maintain adherence to a vision that is so flawed and still pretend that the flaws are not part of the vision. It is almost the complete opposite of a person that has a new vision and brings forth a new hope. Instead, the Bush administration continued to believe their own lie that it would be possible to have a flaw in their old vision. They pushed forward and proved that the government really did have a role to play in disaster relief. They pushed forward and proved that taxes to pay for infrastructure really does matter. They proved that it takes more than just test scores to make schools better. They pushed on and proved the most important fact. They proved that Democracy doesn’t just happen when you remove an evil dictator. They proved that people need to care about Democracy or it just won’t work. The Bush administration did this in a social experiment that killed many people, which is sad in itself.

Well, four years ago I started this process. I believe that I have become a better person in those four years. I have lost and kept off fifty pounds of ugly fat. I have been able to run 16 miles continuously. I have swum from Alcatraz to San Francisco - twice. I have clarified my thoughts on the American political process and continued to try to learn more. I have improved my writing by contributing to the American political process. And, whether its true or not, I believe that I have made the world a little bit better than it was four years ago with my contributions.

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Don’t forget what Stephen Colbert said, “Reality has a well-known liberal bias.”

Cross Posted @ Bring It On, tblog, Blogger and BlogSpirit

Reflection

Stonewalling

Thursday, December 20th, 2007

My personal experience with the our local Schools fluctuates from extremely good to extremely bad. We have lived in our town since 1998 and my four children have attended the public schools since we moved here. Over those nine years we have had the opportunity to work with some outstanding teachers and principals that have fostered enormous successes in my children’s education. Unfortunately we have also experienced some horribly negligent teachers and principals that seem to be going through the motions in order to pick up a paycheck each payday.

I could go into the details of each and every experience that we have had throughout the last nine years, but that would be of little use and foster little progress. In fact, two of the problems that we have dealt with over these years will never be corrected because the people have already died from diseases related to their alcohol problems. Unfortunately when we did confront these problems and bring them to the attention of those delegated with the responsibility our cries fell on deaf ears.

This time we have a new set of teachers and administrators and a new problem. We have seen this all before and it saddens me greatly. I personally don’t understand the resistance of the administration to effect change and fix these problems. But, as we have seen this all before we know exactly how this will play out. It is as if there is a script and every person plays their role and each time nothing is done the person lies about how they will be sure to look into the problem. Since the politics of the personal relationships is kept behind closed doors under the guise of protecting a alleged suspect I will not name names in this letter. I would surely provide further information to anyone who would talk to me, but all of the administrators involved already know the facts and the problems, they have just chosen to do nothing about it.

In an attempt to bring discussion and light onto this subject I would rather like to talk in generalities as a matter of furthering public discourse without pointing fingers and making accusations. The people who are guilty of stonewalling already know who they are. The teachers who choose to go through the motions without doing their jobs already know who they are. The solution to the problem is not to hide the fact that there are poor teachers and administrators in our schools, but instead to inform them that we are watching and they should do their jobs. Unfortunately most of these cases only involve a few people each year. The few people that are effected know that the school year will eventually end and the new school year is likely to provide them with one of the many very good teachers that we have in these schools. What the public needs is a way to bring attention to these problems and have them solved in a reasonable and effective way.

Now that I have explained the situation in generalities I will be a bit more specific. There is a teacher in a our local school that one of my children has for a class. The teacher has basically refused to teach in almost any definition of the term. Instead the teacher has the students attempt to teach themselves by reading their textbook to themselves and take notes. The teacher occasionally administers a test of the subject matter that she copies off of the Internet. The tests from the Internet do not correspond to the textbook material, because the tests from online actually come from another textbook that covers the same material with different details. My child has complained to counselors and the different levels of administration. The one time that an evaluator came into the classroom to evaluate the teacher the teacher conducted the class more closely to a traditional discussion style class. Obviously the teacher knows what she is doing would be frowned upon. However, the behavior continues and even with the complaints to the administration by approximately half of the students in the class. The students have signed a petition and presented it to the administration, but the administration requires each case to be dealt with individually and not en masse. The students continue to bring the issue to the administration with no results. Finally during the last meeting with the administrator the students were told the matter was already brought to their attention. When the students asked what was going to be done the administrator explained that nothing was needed to be done.

So, the sad situation that we have in the our local schools is portrayed in this example. The administration complains that they want the students to excel in academics. They publicly claim that they have hired the best teachers. And, they have hired some very good teachers. Unfortunately they have also hired some very poor teachers that should be removed from their responsibilities. We should not be paying teachers to shop online while the students outline the chapters in their textbooks during class time. The administration doesn’t want to know about the failures. Perhaps they want to claim ignorance. Perhaps they are too lazy to fix the problems in the schools. Perhaps the law ties their hands and they really can’t do anything about this. There are solutions to every one of these problems. We can fire the administrators that are too lazy or incompetent. And, if the laws are in the way, then we have an obligation to change the laws. The students deserve it and our future society is built on the education of these students.

Sincerely,

a concerned parent of a concerned student

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Don’t forget what Stephen Colbert said, “Reality has a well-known liberal bias.”

Cross Posted @ Bring It On, tblog, Blogger and BlogSpirit

Reflection

Regulation

Friday, December 14th, 2007

The enemy of Corporate Capitalists is regulation. The freedom to do whatever needs to be done to make a buck is the most efficient way to make that buck. Regulations, by the very nature, put a roadblock into that process. On the other hand, the goal of regulation is to protect the weak that do not have the strength to fight someone who chooses an efficient way of making money that also damages the society. Regulation is by its very nature a method to prevent efficiency.

My mother used to always say that moderation is the key to life. Obviously moderation does not rank high on the agenda of modern American society. People rush to embrace the latest fad, and then they drop it and rush on to the next fad a month later. There is no moderation in this behavior.

With regulations it is a similar love - hate relationship. People want to fix a problem and fix it “real good.” This results in regulations that don’t just fix a problem, they slam the problem real hard. Sometimes these slams can really hurt the efficiency of the process, and force capitalists to create new ways to make the process work. On the other hand, capitalists can permanently see the easiest solution is to remove the existing regulations to make the process work more easily. For the benefit of society lawmakers need to play the role of moderator of the regulations.

Unfortunately lawmakers are paid by campaign contributions from groups on both sides of the regulations divide. The result of this is that we never have a group of moderate lawmakers that realize the necessity of regulation as well as the danger of over regulation. The extremists populate the government and proudly push their agenda.

To make matters worse, the enforcement of regulations is the key to making them work. Enforcement is the jurisdiction of the executive branch of government. For the most part the enforcement of regulations can easily be curtailed by funding cuts. If there are no people to inspect and enforce regulations, the result is a policy that is the same as if there were no regulations at all. If no one follows up on a report of violations, then the criminal gets away with the crime. If the people given the duty to enforce the laws are selected because of their incompetence, the result again will be little enforcement of the laws. The truth is that it is difficult to enforce these laws even when we have competent people trying to enforce the laws.

Regulations are meant to protect society.

Yesterday I was listening to a right wing radio station. A caller was complaining that China was poisoning our children. It is quite understandable that we should be concerned with lead or other toxins in our products. One way to fight this is to require regulations. But, even more importantly we need to enforce regulations that protect us. The right wing talk show host pointed out that the government should not be required to do this job. And, we shouldn’t have regulations placed on our corporations, because that would be too costly for our American companies who distribute goods that are manufactured in China. I began to wonder what this guy was going to suggest to protect our society.

I was not only surprised, but shocked when the right wing radio talk show host suggested that we should let market forces protect America. If people get injured or die from poorly made products manufactured in China, then Americans will vote with their wallets and stop buying the poison. I wish I knew who this guy was, but the radio began to fade out while I was listening. Of course, I thought to myself, the market will fix all of our problems, even if a few people need to die in the process.

I began to think about Europe. Europe has an enormously complex set of regulations. I know a few of these regulations because I have designed products to be sold in Europe. The reason that Europe came to the conclusion that it needed these regulations was because Europe wanted to expand its market. It wanted regulations in one country to match regulations in another country. Obviously if one country had lax regulations it could manufacture less safe products at a cheaper price, just like China is doing in today. But, the US does not have a uniform set of regulations in which a product is marked as compiling with. It isn’t until a harm is found before a product is forced to be taken off the market.

What is the difference between Europe and the USA that makes for the differences in this attitude toward regulation? Why is the US government so careless about the potential problems with new products, while the European governments care about potential harms? I would suggest that the main difference is that Europe actually has a broad health care system. So, if there are widespread health problems caused by a defective product, then the government will end up paying the cost. The government is thereby motivated to prevent harms to society. (This sounds a lot like letting the market solve the problem.) Therefore the governments are motivated to create regulations that protect the people. And, the government is also motivated to enforce those regulations. Isn’t it wonderful when problems are left to the market?

So, I would suggest that Universal Health Care would not only help get health care to those who can not afford it, but it actually motivates the government to protect the people from things like toxins in our toys, and food. It might cost a little more, but what is the cost of your health? Isn’t there an old saying that asks: “If you haven’t got your health, then you haven’t got anything.” Surely a corporate capitalist can understand that little saying.

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Don’t forget what Stephen Colbert said, “Reality has a well-known liberal bias.”

Cross Posted @ Bring It On, tblog, Blogger and BlogSpirit

Reflection

Obsession

Tuesday, December 11th, 2007

I was listening to a lecture yesterday by an expert on teenagers. He concentrated on the dangers that teenagers face as the mature. He was telling the audience about the dangers of drugs and alcohol when he took a moment to explain why some people become addicted to drugs and alcohol more easily than others. Obviously some drugs manifest in physical addictions, while other drugs manifest in psychological additions. At one time I recall being told that some people are more susceptible to psychological additions, and these people were said to have addictive personalities. Yesterday, the speaker went into a little bit more detail about this addictive personality.

The speaker yesterday spoke about obsessive behavior. He told us how a person with and obsessive personality has a higher probability of becoming addicted to drugs or alcohol. For example, an obsessive person might become obsessed with a multitude of different things before they even try alcohol. They might become obsessed with things that are overall very positive, or overall very negative. At some point along the way a person might realize that an obsession has taken over his or her life. And, because the obsession is an obsession the person is unable to make a break with the obsession. Obsession is a selfish behavior, because the obsession has a higher priority than any other issue or relationship in the person’s life. In many cases the inability to control obsession results in embarrassment in minor cases and self-hatred in the worst cases. At some point these feelings of self-loathing lead to self-medicating with drugs or alcohol in an attempt to “feel better.”

Once the person with the obsessive personality has self-medicated it isn’t long before self-medication itself becomes an obsession.

The speaker told us about obsession and insecurity and fear drive obsessions. Immediately I began to think about the authoritative personality that I wrote about on Friday. It seems that fear and insecurity also feed the authoritative personality. In fact, as I considered the authoritative personality and the obsessive personality I realized the authoritative personality might just be a form of the obsessive personality.

Think of the goal of the authoritarian. They tend to seek order and control. Obsessive personalities have very little control over their obsessions and they eventually seek to control them. An obsessive person will be tempted when he his trying to fight an obsession. An authoritarian personality makes rules and punishments in order to dissuade himself from the temptation. Ambiguity in rules lead to temptations. Ambiguity makes it more difficult to fight an obsession. A rigid framework with all the answers laid out for the obsessive person tries to take away the ambiguity, the free time and wishfully the temptation. But, the reality is that only the obsessive person can make the obsession go away by realizing that no obsession can be the answer.

Many groups tend to offer replacement obsessions as a solution. And, authoritarian frameworks offer a replacement obsession. An obsessive person will easily fit into a framework with a firm unambiguous set of rules and regulations. An obsessive person will seek comfort and security in continuously following these rules and regulations. An obsessive person would also find compulsion in making sure that every other member of the group is also following the rules and regulations. A large network of these obsessed people continuously following the rules and regulations and furthermore enforcing them results in a self-regulating structure provide comfort and security for its obsessive members. However, anyone from outside the structure is a threat to this security.

The fear of abandonment is high on the list of potentially destructive threats to the network. If members abandon the group the group shrinks and potentially withers. Those who abandon the group might prove that survival without the group is possible and perhaps even better. This image might lead to the unthinkable concept that the group is not the salvation of the members.

So, it seems reasonable to suggest that joining a authoritarian cult might be a response of an obsessive personality. Then again many of the things we do are responses to our natural tendency for obsession. I might even suggest that writing this very blog is an obsession of sorts. Waking up at 5:00 AM to go work out every morning is an obsession. Eating breakfast every morning and dinner every evening are equally obsessions. But, the point is that some obsessions are healthy and some obsessions are unhealthy and sometimes even dangerous. All of this goes back to free choice and freedom to choose “good” obsessions and avoid the unhealthy ones.

How do we determine which obsessions are healthy and which obsessions are unhealthy? I would suggest that the subject of the obsession would be one consideration. And, the intensity of the obsession is the other. For example, eating breakfast every day is a healthier obsession than drinking your lunch every day. However, eating 3,000 calories for breakfast every day isn’t healthy either. Similarly following rules and regulations are normally considered a wise practice. Even the occasional reminder to a passerby might help remind someone of the rules they may not be thinking about. However, demanding laws that take away a person’s freedom and liberty might be pushing the limits, like gun control or abortion rights. The obsession that some people have for controlling others is certainly an obsession that needs to be constrained.

The message here is simple. Obsessions in general are not horrid in themselves. Some people tend to have obsessive personalities that are prone to obsessive behavior. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing. If the obsessions that one chooses is a healthy moderated obsession it could be a good thing. However, if a person chooses unhealthy obsessions, it could harm the person, and perhaps it could harm our society.

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Don’t forget what Stephen Colbert said, “Reality has a well-known liberal bias.”

Cross Posted @ Bring It On, tblog, Blogger and BlogSpirit

Reflection

John Dean

Friday, December 7th, 2007

I was listening to a talk by John Dean the other day. John Dean is a Goldwater Republican and a member of the Nixon administration. He was also the person who helped to bring down the Nixon administration by his truthful testimony about the abuse of power in the Nixon administration. John Dean should be celebrated as an American hero at some future time. He continues to be a conservative, and he continues to find the abuse of power in government disgusting.

John Dean has now written several books criticizing the Bush administration. “Worse Than Watergate: The Secret Presidency of George W. Bush” makes the argument that the Bush administration has abused power in a more extreme manner than the Nixon administration, which was the gold standard in corruption up until the Bush administration took power.

In “Conservatives Without Conscience” John Dean tells us about the authoritarian personality. The authoritarian personality marks the type of person that is attracted to organizations like the Nazi Party. It turns out that the Republican Party is littered with people who fit this very same authoritarian personality type. These are people who not only go along with the flow and follow their leaders without question, they believe that it is the most efficient way to accomplish what they want to get out of the party. This attraction of authoritarian personality types to the Republican Party explains why the two major political parties operate in such different ways. The Republicans expect that they will receive commands from their leadership and carry out those orders, while Democrats continue to debate policy even after decisions have been made.

In his latest book, “Broken Government: How Republican Rule Destroyed the Legislative, Executive, and Judicial Branches” John Dean goes into the damage done by the Republicans so far. So much of the destruction has taken place off the radar screen in the back offices. If the media doesn’t report on this the public doesn’t know what is happening. And, if the public doesn’t know what is happening then the public will continue to re-elect these people. And, the worst thing that has happened is that every time any aspect of this destruction comes to light the response from the perpetrators and their supports mocks the evidence and the person who presents it as if they are crazy loonies wearing tin foil hats and claims the apocalypse is around the corner. This in itself is quite ironic when we consider who makes these claims and echoes them through the blogosphere.

John Dean lays out a frightening case for how two groups of extremists have hijacked the Republican Party and proceeded to hijack the US government. These people operate on authoritarian principles of control, that frighteningly enough many people actually desire. The leaders of the Republican Party desire the ease in which goals can be accomplished when everyone follows the orders of the leadership. This is why it was so easy for the President to get his legislation through congress without any debate. And, the president never felt impelled to use his veto much until the Democrats began to question his authority.

The pessimistic view of this is that the Republicans will not give up easily. If they manage to take control again they will continue to press for more and more authoritarian rule until they feel some push back. If the public remains oblivious and apathetic we will continue to lose our freedoms and liberty. And as we lose freedom and liberty it will become more difficult to win them back. If anyone doubts the resolve of these people just look at the case of Christine Comer, the former director of science in Texas. She was fired after she forwarded an e-mail message on a talk about evolution and creationism. Even the way is which her supervisors characterize the “firing” as a “resignation” is a re-writing of the facts. Ms. Comer had no intention of leaving her post, as I heard her interview on NPR.

When authoritarian personalities don’t get what they want they continue to push the envelope, game the system and eventually cheat the system. These people already know that there is only one correct solution and all the others are invalid. A mind set like this assures destruction of society as we know it. Either the authoritarians win and change society, or they lose and war breaks out with those who disagree with them.

We are currently in a hopeful moment where the Democrats have been able to put some breaks to the destruction the Republicans have begun. However, if these people win again the destruction will continue. John Dean offers some clues in his books as to how we should battle back against, not Republicans, but the personality of these authoritarians.

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Don’t forget what Stephen Colbert said, “Reality has a well-known liberal bias.”

Cross Posted @ Bring It On, tblog, Blogger and BlogSpirit

Reflection


Fish.Travel