Thursday, December 23, 2010

Are You Christian Enough for Christmas?

Thank God Matthew Yglesias reads Ross Douthat so I don't have to. Douthat whines that those that celebrate Xmas without being sufficiently religious are ruining it for the real Christians. He laments that real Christians have to share Christams Eve pews with those once-a-year Xmas bandwagon Christians. Wow. I know that Yglesias rarely does outright mockery, but I at least expected a condescending pseudo-intellectual smack down. Instead, Yglesias sympathizes with Douthat to the extent that he even suggests that the ideal solution would be a separate, secular holiday preceding Xmas. Jesus Christ.

Remember that study from a couple months back that showed that atheists in America know more about Christianity than professed Christians? Case in point. Here's a little history. Long before God spewed his immaculate ejaculate, people were celebrating the winter solstice in mid-late December. In an attempt to steal the stage, and maybe convert some heathens, Christians decided to celebrate the birth of Jesus on December 25th. That's right, they decided his birth date. There is no evidence, not even in the all-mighty Bible, that Jesus was born on December 25th. If either of my readers can prove otherwise, please share. I'm looking for real proof, like a birth certificate. A legitimate birth certificate, not one issued by some shady shire of Bethlehem, but by a loyal red American state, perhaps Texas. Otherwise, how do we know who Jesus really is? How can we accept him as The One?

Seriously, Christians complaining that secular Xmas celebrations are distracting from the true meaning of Xmas is like the host of a Super Bowl party complaining that the football game is distracting from the true party. If Douthat and his family want to spend Xmas day bleeding over their homemade nativity scene while wearing their biannual crown of thorns, it won't distract me one bit from my customary celebration of slamming eggnog while watching the Lions lose to the Cowboys. What's the problem here?

The fact that real Christians are distracted by the celebrations of the sunny-day Christians suggests to me that perhaps their faith isn't so real afterall. Given how God likes to work in mysterious ways and such, maybe these distractions are an intentional test of their true faith. If so, they're failing miserably.

If the real Christians can muster this much outrage about their religion being hijacked by nonbelievers as an excuse to get together and exchange gifts, could they get just a little bit upset about their religion being hijacked as a marketing tool for launching wars and implementing policies that reward the rich at the expense of the poor? Yeah, I didn't think so.

Oh well. Merry Christmas to all my readers regardless of your score on Douthat's Christometer. I wish you both health and happiness in the new year.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Laugh, and the world laughs at Kentucky

I first heard about Kentucky's proposed Noah's Ark theme park on the radio in New Zealand. Of course, it's typical for Americans to make fun of Kentucky. Hell, I do it myself. However, I was surprised to hear people on the other side of the world making fun of Kentucky. Fortunately for me, I have a Kentucky contact that sent me the full scoop.

Go ahead and click the link. There is nothing I can write that will be nearly as entertaining. Seriously, you'd think the article was from The Onion. I don't know what's funnier--the alleged 10,000-page market research paper with a 200-page executive summary, which neither the Kentucky government or the media is allowed to see, or this quote from the researcher:

"You have to realize the Ark cuts across almost all faiths, whether you're Christian or Jewish"

Wow, that's quite the religious spectrum--all the way from Christianity to Judaism! I wonder if he's including Mormons?

Monday, December 20, 2010

This is winning?

I was thrilled that the Senate was finally able to repeal Don't Ask Don't Tell. At last, a long overdue victory for liberals. At least, that was my first impression. My second impression is that it's pretty sad that this is what counts as a liberal victory these days. After all, despite Democratic control of The White House and both Chambers of Congress, and the facts that the repeal was supported by 70%+ of Americans, the Republican Secretary of Defense, and the Joint Chiefs of Staff, it still took two years and overcoming multiple filibusters to get it repealed. That does not bode well for gay marriage. I thought for sure that I'd see gay marriage legalized in America during my lifetime. Now, I'm not so sure. I think I'm going to be very old.

I support Wikileaks

And so should the New York Times. And so should all the other for-profit newspapers that are benefiting from the work of this non-profit organization. Since our government has intimidated Paypal, Mastercard, and Visa into shutting down their avenues of donating to Wikileaks, the only way to donate is to wire money to Wikileaks' Icelandic bank account. Not convenient or cheap.

Neither Wikileaks or it's founder, Julian Assange, have been charged with, let alone convicted of, violating any laws. But, given our government's demonization of both, it's not surprising that people would be afraid to donate. Therefore, the New York Times should step up and create a fund to enable anonymous donations. Since they don't seem interested in doing any real journalism on their own, it really is the least they could do.

Update 12/24/2010:
Just days after I posted this, The New York times broke a story on American plans to begin military operations in Pakistan. I'm always happy to admit when I'm wrong, and I'm especially happy to be wrong here. Maybe Wikileaks is reminding the old media how journalism is done. More please.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

No Russ for the weary

I should probably say something about the election. In general, the results weren't too surprising. The Republican gains were predictable and enabled by Bush's dismal approval ratings. Back in 2006 and 2008, many conservative districts voted for Dems simply as anti-Bush backlash. It is only normal that they would revert to their prior conservative leanings once the wind started blowing the other way. Yawn.

The real surprise to me was Russ Feingold's defeat. That one hurt. Just two years ago, I was talking politics with an ex-pat American coworker. I was touting Feingold as America's best senator, and expressing hope that he might someday become president.

Dylan Matthews, filling in for Ezra Klein, doesn't share my opinion. He joins some others in painting a picture of Feingold as an ineffective showboat who may only be remembered for McCain-Feingold campaign finance reform. Dylan links to Neil Sinhababu's criticism of Feingold for joining the Republican filibuster of the financial reform bill. Unlike the Republicans, Feingold opposed the bill because he didn't think it was tough enough on the banks. I think both Dylan and I agree with Feingold on this point. In fact, I think Dylan agrees with Feingold on a lot of points, given his post was titled Being right isn't enough. However, the end effect on financial reform was that Scott Brown broke the filibuster threat by voting with the Dems in exchange for $18B directed largely toward banks in Massachusetts.

In Sinhababu's view, Feingold failed because the bill passed anyway, and it cost his party an extra $18B to buy a Republican vote. My view is that Feingold might have reasonably expected his party to be more eager to negotiate with him rather than the opposition. Maybe strengthening the bill or sending $18B to Wisconsin would have brought Feingold on board. My finger points at the finance-industry-friendly Democrats in the senate, not Feingold.

In any case, when I think of Feingold, I don't think about campaign reform or finance reform. What I think about are his votes on the Iraq war and especially the Patriot Act. He was joined by 22 other senators who voted against the Iraq war. Despite the poplular beat of war drums, that small minority got it right. They should be commended for that. However, not one of them joined Feingold in opposing the Patriot Act. The Patriot Act passed the senate 98-1. Think about that. 98-1. In this era of terror hysteria, one senator was willing to stand up for civil rights and vote against something called "The Patriot Act". 98-1. I'd like to call it leadership, but no one else followed, so I guess I'll call it courage.

Maybe his defeat is the price to be paid for not compromising his ideals and refusing to follow the herd. If so, I still think it was worth it. I doubt that I'll ever see Feingold in the White House, but I hope to see him back in the senate, or dare I dream, as Obama's new attorney general in 2012. Even better, how about the next justice on the Supreme Court? Would the senate filibuster one of their own?

Monday, November 1, 2010

Don't act don't tell

I see that Obama hinted that he's coming around on the issue of gay marriage. At first, it seemed like great news, and like Dylan, I wondered why it didn't get more media coverage. Thinking about it a bit more, this may be a rare case where I actually agree with the media. Who cares what Obama says about gay marriage?

Obama voiced support for repealing Don't Ask Don't Tell and the Defense Of Marriage Act. He has also voiced support for the public option, closing Guantanamo, and increasing transparency by limiting the state secret claim. What do we have to show for it? If I was a cynic--oh, that's right, I am--I would claim that his opposition to gay marriage during his campaign was targeted to woo independent voters, and this change of mind is just an effort to fire up the base for the midterm election. Lame.

It will be newsworthy if Obama's words are ever translated into action. In the meantime, I am proposing a new White House policy--no more talking about things you're not willing to back up. I call it Don't Act Don't Tell.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Emotional intelligence is over-rated

I'm talking about the book. I just completed my second attempt to finish it. Now, I remember why I stopped reading it back in 2002. How in the hell did this book get so popular?

Daniel Goleman's painful writing immediately hijacked my brain, making it difficult to focus on his message. My problem is not with his premise, but the way he makes his case. He employs all the usual pseudo-scientific methods. He starts each chapter with an anectdotal story as if it is data. He then proceeds to bury you with snippets of information from various official-sounding reports. Like a high school student, he seems to think the size of his bibliography gives him credibility. Worst of all are his blantant scare mongering tactics. In one case, he seems to be cherry picking data to further that cause.

In his over-the-top attempts to convince the reader that today's boys are dangerous thugs and today's girls are sluts, he cites data from the CDC showing a steady 5-year increase in the birth rate amongst 10-13 year old girls. It just so happened that as I was reading Goleman's book, I came across a blog citing CDC data on 15-17 year old pregnancies. It paints a completely different picture about teen pregnancy and sexual promiscuity. I have a hard time believing that Goleman wasn't aware of the contradictory data. I think he selectively chose "birth rate" and the 10-13 age group to bolster his point. Again, I discovered this by accident, so I'd be surprised if there aren't numerous instances like this.

Goleman also irritates me with his derisive attitude toward the shy, the withdrawn, and the pessimistic...traits that he says aren't associated with emotional intelligence. He claims that outgoing optimists have the emotionally intelligent trait of being able to quickly recover from life's setbacks, whereas the introverted pessimist would dwell on them.

As an introverted pessimist, I'd argue that a lot of life's setbacks, for both optimists and pessimists, are caused by over-zealous optimists. Because these optimists don't dwell on their failures, they don't learn from them, and they charge forward, only to fail again. I'm thinking specifically about our financial markets, but the dynamics are the same for the Iraq War or the gulf oil spill. In all cases, there were pessimists who weren't comfortable with the risks, but as usual, the optimists won out. Pity about the outcomes, but no use dwelling on them.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

You mosque be kidding me

When I first mentioned the mosque controversy, I had no idea this story would become so big and last so long. While the responses of most on the right and many on the left have been disappointing, it has been a useful event, since many of the idiots have been compelled to voluntarily identify themselves.

I think the mosque issue is like a pop quiz--an easy pop quiz. The big test of my lifetime was the Iraq war. That was an easy test, yet lots of our leaders failed. With Harry Reid coming out against the mosque, as long as the Democrats don't lose the senate, I would be happy with his defeat. There are too many Democratic senators who showed better judgment on these issues to have Reid in a leadership position. Ideally, the Dems would replace him even if he wins, but I don't hear anyone even mentioning that possibility.

Saturday, September 4, 2010

Yet another reason to hate smokers

I just finished installing a 12v socket in the van so that we can charge and run our laptop from the auxiliary battery without worrying about draining the main battery. While doing so, it occurred to me how stupid the standard 12v socket and plug are. Back in the day, car companies implemented in-dash cigarette lighters. Of course, they designed these to accommodate big fat stogies as well. Decades later, we all have to deal with phone chargers, computer chargers, battery chargers, air compressors, inverters, and other 12v accessories with ridiculously large plugs. Auto manufacturers are smartly adding more power points throughout their vehicles, yet they stick with this stupid legacy standard. Surely they know that junior is more likely to use the back seat power point to plug in his Wii than to light up with mom and dad in the front seat, so why not a new compact 12v standard for non-smoking applications? Is that too much to ask?

Saturday, August 7, 2010

Mark my Hurds

There has got to be more to the Mark Hurd story. I simply don't believe that he was fired over a several thousand dollar discrepancy on his expense reports. Let's go to the calculator!

If I remember correctly, Mark made about $20,000,000 per year. Let's assume 40 hours per week and 50 weeks per year to keep it simple:

$20,000,000/year / 50 weeks/year / 40 hours/week = $10,000/hour!!!

So, the HP board knowingly paid Mark $10,000 per hour, yet they're willing to make a big stink, and allow their stock to tank, over what amounts to a couple hours worth of Mark's time? After he had offered to pay it back? Hmmm...something doesn't add up here, and it's not my math.

I suppose I could be magnanimous and assume that the board is just so ethically principled that the amount of money involved was irrelevant in light of the violations of HP's Standards of Business Conduct. I know, I know. That is so absurd that I am embarrassed to have even written the words.

Whatever is going on here, I just hope the curtain doesn't get pulled back too soon. I want the California voters to be reminded of what great people ex-HP CEO's are, but not just yet.

360 with an Afghanikiwi tow truck driver

While we were holed up in a hotel waiting to deal with our troubled van, I happened to catch CNN's 360 with Anderson Cooper. He was interviewing Republican Rick Lazio, famous for losing to Hillary Clinton in the NY senate race, and currently running for governor of NY. The topic was the Cordoba Mosque that is planned to be built a couple blocks from the World Trade Center site.

Rick Lazio, like Sarah Palin, Newt Gingrich, Joe Lieberman, and many other idiots, is pretending to outraged for political gain. Lazio says the group's imam, Feisel Abdul Rauf, should be investigated to determine who is funding the project. Of course, investigating private citizens who aren't breaking any laws isn't something we normally do without probable cause. However, Lazio thinks we should make an exception because Rauf once said that America was an accessory to the crime of 9-11, a victim of foreign policy blowback.

Cooper weakly pushed back on Lazio, but I was yelling at him through the TV on the other side of the planet to bring up that Osama bin Laden was funded by the CIA to fight the Soviets in Afghanistan. Osama bin Laden was on the CIA payroll and later attacked the USA. That is a textbook example of blowback. Is Anderson Cooper ignorant about this? Is Rick Lazio, or does he just think that speaking a verifiable inconvenient truth is grounds for investigation?

The next day, we had our van towed to the mechanic. Guess where our tow truck driver was from...Kabul! His entire family fled to New Zealand 20 years ago in the aftermath of the war with the Soviet Union. As we were discussing the current state of affairs in Afghanistan, without prompting, he lamented all the trouble bin Laden brought to Afghanistan and mentioned that bin Laden was on the CIA payroll. Hey CNN, maybe you should get in touch with this guy. He's at Discount Towing in Auckland. Be warned though--he only takes cash.

The not so quaint politics of Australia

Not so long ago, I wrote about the quaint politics of Australia. It seems that I didn't know what I was talking about (yes, it's hard to believe). Kevin Rudd is no longer the Prime Minister. However, he was not ousted over the famed insulation scheme. That was just the warm up. The real issue was that he wanted to increase taxes on Australia's booming mining industry.

A mining billionaire launched a big anti-tax campaign claiming that the tax would cost Australians jobs, precious jobs. Isn't it great that these benevolent rich guys are never concerned with their own pocketbooks, just the employment prospects of those at the other end of the economic spectrum? I'm certainly glad that they can fund huge PR campaigns without having to go to the trouble of actually running for elected office too. I digress.

The new Prime Minister is Julia Gillard. She was Rudd's Deputy Prime Minister, so she shares most of his policy views. Therefore, I suspect I will soon be posting an update on the brief reign of Australia's first female Prime Minister. It's pretty clear who really runs the country.

Saturday, June 26, 2010

Prediction: all roads lead to Fox

How long until General McCrystal shows up as a Fox News analyst to criticize Obama's conduct of the war in Afghanistan? Put me down for late September. While I'm looking into the future, I also see Evan Bayh joining the Fox team once he's officially out of the Senate. Joe Lieberman will also run to Fox rather than run and lose his seat. Fox will showcase both Bayh and Lieberman as evidence of their balanced coverage. Yes, I'm really going out on a limb.

Going native

Growing up in America, moving to Australia, and then New Zealand, the evils commited by colonial England against the indigenous peoples have become increasingly obvious and unavoidable. From the Native Americans of America, to the Aborigines of Australia, to the Maori of New Zealand, the story is always the same...brutality on a massive scale against the natives in order to rob them of their natural resources.

To their credit, the governments of both Australia and New Zealand have acknowledged the wrongs committed against their natives, and they are trying to make amends. They have made efforts to integrate the natives into the white man's society, and they have made visible efforts to celebrate native heritage. America could take some lessons here.

New Zealand sets aside seats in parliament for the Maori Party. That's an interesting idea. Perhaps the USA could set aside a seat or two in the Senate and a seat for each tribe or reservation in the House. It seems the very least we could do is replace the offensive and embarrassing Columbus Day with a day dedicated to celebrating Native American history and culture.

Friday, June 18, 2010

Is the Presidency weak, or just this one?

In the aftermath of the Senator Blanche Lincoln's (D) primary victory in Arkansas, there's been a lot of back and forth about presidential power. Some claim that the Presidency is weak--that Congress, especially the Senate holds the power. Others, like Glenn Greenwald, argue that Presidents have vast power and influence, but only use it for the things they actually care about.

In the latter scenario, we have Obama campaigning on closing Guatanamo, but then advocating holding those same prisoners without charges in Illinois. We have Obama campaigning on health care reform with a robust public option, but then deciding a public option isn't that important afterall. We have Obama campaigning on carbon reductions to address global warming, but a national speech on energy policy that doesn't even mention those words. The weak-President theorists would say this is just Obama facing the reality of dealing with Congress. I disagree. I think Obama doesn't exercise his powers for progressive values because he doesn't actually share those values.

Bush was able to convince 70% of Americans that Saddam Hussein was responsible for 911!!! Bush was able to convince Americans that two unfunded wars were more important than his ballooning federal deficit. Bush was able to convince Americans that massive tax cuts during an economic boom were a great idea (again, despite the deficit). Bush did all this despite facts that weren't on his side, because this is what he cared about. With the facts on his side, if Obama cared as much about civil rights, health care, global warming, financial regulation, immigration reform, etc. as Bush did about launching wars and cutting taxes, he could move public opinion too.

Mining for Terrorists

American forces have been in Afghanistan for 8 years. They can't find Bin Laden, but they can find the largest lithium reserves in the world! Amazing. Were they using mining equipment to burrow into Bin Laden's labyrinth of caves?

I understand that America has a responsibility to help rebuild Afghanistan. Helping them discover and tap into natural resources other than opium seems reasonable. Buy why the Department of Defense? Why not the Department of the Interior in concert with the State Department?

Germany's President was recently forced to resign for merely suggesting that their military might be justifiably used to protect their trade interests. A couple weeks later the American military reports that they've found the largest lithium reserves in the world, and all the debate is about whether this will be good or bad thing for Afghanistan's future?! No one seems to be questioning the DOD's role. I find that disturbing.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

I'll have what he's having

Does CAP allow Matthew Yglesias to drink while blogging? He explains his lack of commentary on the Supreme Court vacancy because:
I think conventional wisdom overrates the importance of the Supreme Court in American life
Really? So the 5-4 court decision that put Bush in the White House didn't affect American lives? I suspect the soldiers that were wounded or killed in Iraq and Afghanistan, as well as their friends and families, might disagree. I think spending over a trillion dollars on these wars, and another couple trillion dollars on Bush's tax cuts, has affected, and will continue to affect, American lives. If the Supreme Court had allowed the Florida recount in 2000, maybe we could have implemented health care reform by now (without the hyperbolic deficit talk).

If that example is too speculative, consider the issue of abortion. Regardless of one's opinion on the issue of abortion itself, I doubt many people would argue that having a child doesn't affect one's life. In fact, I can't think of many life events that have a bigger impact. Since 1973 (Roe v. Wade), the CDC estimates that around 50 million abortions have been performed in the USA. That's 100 million people who were not forced by the Supreme Court to have children against their will. Sure, a small percentage of these women (and don't forget the men) had multiple abortions, and a small percentage of these would-be mothers and fathers have since died, but that's still nearly one-third of the US population alive today!

I felt a little bad about picking on Yglesias in my previous post--not so this time. Conventional wisdom is right. The Supreme Court very much affects American life. With over-lapping 2-year terms in the House, 4-year terms in the oval office, and 6-year terms in the Senate, bad legislation can be fixed relatively quickly. With lifetime Supreme Court appointments, and a reliance on precedent, bad judicial rulings can linger for lifetimes.

Sunday, April 25, 2010

Assassination and Crickets

Usually, your time would be better spent reading Matthew Yglesias or Ezra Klein than reading my blog. They usually provide great insight into complex political issues. However, if you are looking for their thoughts or opinions on Obama's assassination order of an American citizen, you will find nothing.

Unlike me, they have staff, they get paid to offer their opinions, and they do so prodigiously. In addition to covering most of the important stuff, Yglesias finds time to write about NBA basketball, and Klein finds time to write about his dinner recipes. Yet, somehow, neither of them has found time to write about Obama claiming the authority to assassinate an American citizen believed to be a terrorist.

We just went through eight years where the mainstream media dodged controversial issues so as not to upset the Bush administration. I certainly hope the left wing blogosphere doesn't adapt that same behavior toward the Obama administration.

It is not likely that Yglesias and Klein are unaware of Obama's claim of assassination authority (or execution capacity as Ezra might call it). It is also not likely that they don't have opinions on the subject. They have opinions on everything. It's their job. This leads me to conclude one of two things.
  1. They disagree with Obama, but they are afraid of alienating the Obama administration and the Obama-worshippers among their readers. This is cowardly.
  2. They agree with Obama, but are afraid to say so because they are afraid of Glenn Greenwald and alienating those readers, like me, who think the Constitution is not something to be abandoned whenever any president thinks they can get away with it. This is also cowardly.
I don't want to create a false dichotomy--maybe there are other options. Perhaps they think the role of the FISA court should be expanded to authorize assassinations in addition to wiretaps. Maybe they think a different secret court should be created specifically to deal with presidential assassination orders. It could be that they actually support an amendment to the Constitution that would give the President the authority he is claiming.

These are smart guys. Maybe they have some brilliant rationale that my feeble mind can't fathom. They should write about it! At best, they might be able to convince me that my view of the issue is wrong. At worst, I might disagree with them. Either way, at least I would respect them for not dodging the issue.

I hate to pick on Yglesias and Klein. They certainly aren't the only voices yielding to the crickets on this issue. They are just the most disappointing to me because I had come to hold them in such high regard.

UPDATED 9/29/2010: Credit where credit is due. Yglesias finally wrapped his head around this issue. It only took 5 months. Still waiting on Ezra.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Obama comes clean on death panels

As it turns out, Obama really is bringing death panels to America. However, it is not as part of health care reform. It is part of the war on terror. Obama is claiming the right to assassinate American citizens with no judicial oversight if they are deemed to be terrorists by his death panels--the intelligence agencies. The first victim is likely to be Anwar al-Awlaki, an American born Muslim cleric.

When he was a candidate, Obama was against even eavesdropping on American citizens without a warrant. Now, as the President, he thinks it is OK to execute American citizens without a warrant, without charges, and without a trial. This is absurd.

I voted for Obama. At the Democratic primary, I stood up on a chair and emphatically expressed the importance of nominating Obama over Clinton. I thought it was crucial for America not to end up with two presidential candidates who voted for the biggest foreign policy disaster of my lifetime (that would be the not so pre-emptive Iraq War).

I appreciate Obama's efforts on reducing nuclear weapons. I appreciate his efforts on health care reform (though I think he could have done more). On the issue of civil rights, however, he has been a complete disaster.

First, he reversed his position on telecom immunity for warrantless wire-tapping. Then, he proposed closing Guantanamo without eliminating the fundamentally unjust concept of indefinite detention without charges. Now, he is claiming the power to order assassinations of American citizens believed to be terrorists.

Believed by who? Well, the same agencies who were wrong about Iraq's WMD's. The same agencies who thought that Chalabi was credible. The same agencies who were wrong about Canadian resident Maher Arar, wrong about the Chinese Uighurs, wrong about Afghan teenager Mohamed Jawad, wrong about Beaverton's Brandon Mayfield, etc.

People may believe that Obama should have the power to order assassinations of suspected terrorists. What people cannot believe, at least those that have read it, is that our Constitution provides this type of unchecked power. In the Hamdi decision, the Supreme Court ruled that American citizens deemed to be enemy combatants are entitled to due process.

The sad part of this, and there are lot of sad parts (like Obama being a Constitutional lawyer), is that a Supreme Court decision on Obama's assassination policy cannot be made until after someone is assassinated. This provides Obama with a convenient excuse--he did not know at the time that assassinating American citizens was unconstitutional. After all, who knew that assassination was a denial of due process?

For now, the Democrats in congress are silent (even the ones who pretended to be outraged over Bush's civil rights abuses). The Republicans support Obama's assassination policy. Of course they do. It validates the Bush/Cheney approach to fighting terrorism. However, I would not be the least bit surprised to see the Republicans reverse course and attempt to impeach Obama if Anwar al-Awlaki is actually assassinated. If so, I will support them. I am pretty sure that executing an American citizen without charges and without a trial rises to the level of high crimes and misdemeanors.

One thing is for sure, when al-Awlaki is assassinated, you can bet that the Obama administration, intelligence agencies, and the media will not portray it as an outright assassination. Instead, they will tell us that American authorities tried to capture him, but that he resisted, so they had no choice but to kill him in self defense. Another thing is for sure--most Americans will believe them.

Thursday, April 1, 2010

The quaint politics of Australia

For the past month, the dominant topic in Australian politics has been the government's failure to deliver on the home insulation scheme. That's right. We're talking about insulation--the itchy, pink fiberglass stuff you have in your attic.

The Australian government is not trying to figure out how to extricate itself from wars of aggression, because it did not start any. It is not trying to figure out how to provide health care for all its citizens, because it figured that out in 1975. It is not trying to figure out how to regulate its financial system to prevent another meltdown, because their financial system was regulated such that it did not have a meltdown. As a result, Australia gets to deal with boring stuff like home insulation.

Here is my understanding of the situation. As an energy efficiency initiative, the goverment of Australia launched a massive program to subsidize home insulation. Not surprisingly, many inexperienced, greedy, and/or fraudulent companies entered into the insulation installation market. To date, 4 installers have died, and around 100 houses have caught fire. The public is outraged. Actually, I think the media is outraged, causing the public to get outraged, but that is another story. In any case, the government was forced to pull the plug on the program.

Interestingly, nobody talks about the companies responsible for the deaths or fires. The right wing opposition party's complaint seems to be about the execution of the program, not about the program itself. They suggest that more scrutiny and regulation of the private market were necessary. More scrutiny and regulation...from the right wing! It is almost like the right wing in Australia accepts that private companies are motivated solely by short term profit and must be regulated accordingly. Weird. Also, the right wing party in Australia is called...The Liberal Party! What the hell? Is there a Coriolis Effect in Australian politics?

Monday, March 29, 2010

Analogy du Jour: The government takeover of supermarkets and restaurants

Wait until the Tea Partiers find out about this. It turns out that our government not only regulates the quality of food available in the USA through the heavy handed tactics of the FDA and USDA, but they even offer subsidies to poor people to help them buy food using something commonly referred to as "food stamps"! The sneaky bastards haven't bothered to pass a mandate requiring us to buy food because they know that we will die if we don't eat. Don't be fooled. This is a de facto mandate! The food and beverage industry, including restaurants, is nearly 10% of our GDP and it has been taken fully taken over by our socialist government (circa 1962). No word on whether Republicans will support a repeal.

Sunday, March 28, 2010

Sydney: the city that hates bikes

That was a recent headline in the Sydney Morning Herald. It was sparked by the experience of Dr John Pucher, a transportation expert from Rutgers University, who said:
Whether I was a pedestrian or cyclist I found the level of the hostility of enough Sydney motorists worse than I had seen anywhere in the world.
In case you wonder what he means by “anywhere in the world”, he continues
In Texas or in the south-east of the US, it's aggressive, but there was an incredible level of aggression from Sydney motorists.
Wow. I thought it was just me.

For me, commuting back and forth to work was a death defying experience. It’s really not the way to start and end your day. Dr Pucher is impressed that Sydney is spending $76 million on 200km of dedicated bike lanes. I am not so impressed. I could have biked from my apartment to work almost entirely on one of those new bike lanes, but I avoided it whenever possible.

The problem was that the bike lane was adjacent to the highway. Biking is great for your health. Sucking down car exhaust is not. I opted for the residential surface streets. The downside was that many Sydney drivers simply think bikes do not belong on the road. Some even think it is illegal for bikes to be on the road. After all, isn't that what the dedicated bike lanes are for?

One morning, I t-boned a car that didn’t yield for me at a roundabout. The driver was irate with me! Another driver sacrificed her side mirror when she failed to yield the legal right of way at a 1-lane speed control section of a residential street. While I was happy that I avoided a head-on collision and only clipped her mirror, she chased me for 2km to express her outrage. A passing motorist, who was not a witness to the incident, expressed support for his fellow motorist by calling me an asshole. Obviously, the cyclist must be at fault.

Another problem with the bike lanes is that the cars have one set of traffic lights, but the adjacent bike lanes must use the push-button pedestrian lights. If the traffic light turns green before you get to the intersection to push the button, you're out of luck. You either have to wait 5 minutes for the next green pedestrian light, or break the law by biking across the intersection when it says "do not walk". This is absurd, and should be remedied by eliminating the whole push-button system. When the traffic light turns green, the pedestrian light should turn green. If there are no pedestrians waiting to cross, so be it. At least drivers will be trained to look for pedestrians before turning.

The editors at the Sydney Morning Herald try to split the difference by suggesting that conflicts between motorists and cyclists could be reduced if both sides just simmered down. That's easy to say, but hard to do given the assymetric risks. Cyclists are not the ones in a 2000+ pound steel box with air bags and seatbelts. Cyclists are on 20 pounds of aluminum with a styrofoam helmet. Motorists may be slightly inconvenienced by cyclists, but cyclists may be killed by motorists. Given that, I think cyclists are justified in expressing something less friendly than "no worries mate" when their lives are threatened.

Why blog?

I've put this off for a long time. It's not like my thoughts and opinions are unique in all the world. In the best case, maybe a few people will find something here that is interesting. In the worst case, I'll be able to look back when I'm old to see how or if I evolved. Or, I guess in the extreme worst case, maybe this will be my first and last post.