Tuesday, February 28, 2006

Ports Deal Shows We Still Can't Agree Who We're Fighting or How We Should Fight

Up until now I have not written about the Dubai Ports World deal because, frankly, I know next to nothing about port operations. This is a topic that is easy to mouth-off about but difficult to fully understand.

My initial gut reaction was that the DPW takeover wasn’t a big deal what with the United Arab Emirates being a good ally and port operations being separate from port security. But I quickly realized many if not most other people had the exact opposite reaction. So I stopped, studied and have concluded: the take over is not that big of a deal.

In many ways, I think the uproar is a product of anti-Arab bigotry. I also think a lot of people are just mouthing-off and don’t know what they’re talking about. But at least the whole experience has been educational and has hopefully opened a lot of eyes to how our ports are managed and secured. I know I’ve learned a lot.

I’ve also learned (or rather had confirmed) that we still have a very tenuous grasp on this conflict/war in which we’re engaged. I blame some of this on the Bush administration which has tended to whip up amorphous fears for political gain. I blame some of this on certain members of the left who have wrongfully minimized and mischaracterized the threat. And I blame some of this on the very nature of our enemy, its stateless, religiously charged ideology being so unlike any enemy we’ve faced before.

Until we come to a better understanding of who we’re facing and how we confront them, we will continue to have the kinds of conflagrations surrounding the DPW deal. But we do need to work on understanding that our enemy is not Arab peoples or Muslim peoples. It is not one nation, or a collection of nations or a whole religion. It’s an ideology that has metastasized throughout the world, that is stateless even as it has the ability to infiltrate and rule states (see: Iran and the Palestinian Authority).

The enemy is not the United Arab Emirates. If we want to debate whether any foreign nation should run our ports, that is a debate worth having. But this fear of Dubai is misplaced.

Life After Roe Would Not Be Simple

Looks like South Dakota is going to all but ban abortion and thus force the Supreme Court to either uphold or overturn Roe.

And if Roe is overturned? Then what? Read my thoughts at Donklephant.

Monday, February 27, 2006

Innocence and The Swimsuit Issue

A few weeks ago, Sports Illustrated’s annual Swimsuit Issue was delivered to my door. This weekend, I finally got around to flipping through the high-gloss photos of high-gloss women who all seem to suffer from a rare genetic condition that causes all body fat to be stored in the lips and breasts. As a good American male, I find such proportioning to be rather appealing.

Of course, as a good Christian boy, I also felt a little shame ogling these women. It’s that sort of thrill-meets-fear guttural feeling I first experienced many years ago when I got a hold of my first Swimsuit Issue. Back then, in the pre-Internet era, the Swimsuit Issue was as good as it got for most of us thirteen year-old boys. Oh sure, a few guys could steal Playboys from their fathers, but most of us just had to wait for late Winter when the bathing suits came out.

Looking back, I realize that the late 1980s might as well have been the 1950s for all the innocence I and many other boys had. Access to so-called adult material was still highly restricted and our parents didn’t really have to do much work to keep pornography out of our hands and away from our eyes.

That just isn’t the case now. Anyone who has the savvy to find this blog has almost certainly accidentally (or purposefully) come across pornography on the Internet. Heck, just possessing an e-mail account practically guarantees you’ll see images so perverted that it’s hard to imagine anyone would find such junk appealing.

I won’t debate what negative effects viewing pornography does or does not have on youthful minds. But I do believe parents should be able to limit their children’s exposure to such images. As a father of a two-year old boy, I’m already fretting about how to keep him from diving into the huge pool of porn festering at the bottom of the Internet.

My sincere hope is that filtering technology will be bundled standard into all PCs and that the technology will be nearly fool proof. But I probably should face the fact that, for my son and his friends, the Swimsuit Issue will never hold the kind of joy and excitement that it did for my generation. Who ever thought that the Swimsuit Issue would become a symbol of innocence?

Wednesday, February 22, 2006

Out on Business

I'll be away on a business trip for the rest of this week, but I'll be back on Monday. Y'all take care.

Could You Kill a Man?

In California yesterday, the execution of convicted murderer and rapist Michael Morales was indefinitely postponed on the very day Morales was to die. A February 14th court order seeking to ensure there is no cruel and unusual punishment required that two anesthesiologists be present to administer the lethal injection. But the doctors scheduled to be present refused to perform the injection, saying that it would be unethical.

The American Medical Association code of ethics clearly states as the first principle: A physician shall be dedicated to providing competent medical care, with compassion and respect for human dignity and rights. That doesn’t mean a physician can’t administer a lethal injection but I suspect most anesthesiologists would feel quite uncomfortable performing an execution.

Besides, I don’t think the doctors even need to site medical ethics. Most religious and ethical systems condemn the act of killing (i.e the Sixth Commandment). Which brings up an interesting question:

How many of us could be an executioner?

Of course, we already are executioners. When our government (state or federal) executes a criminal, they are doing so in our name. When we elect representative who support the death penalty, we are made complicit in the killings.

From afar, it’s pretty easy to be comfortable with that fact. It feels like justice. But could we each personally inject the chemicals? If it is really justice (and not, say, revenge or rage) shouldn’t we all be comfortable with being the executioner?

I’m willing to bet a lot of supporters of the death penalty would reconsider their stance if placed in the position the two California anesthesiologists found themselves in. And I wish more people would think about that when they embrace the death penalty.

Tuesday, February 21, 2006

The Right to Be a Repulsive Idiot

Yesterday in Austria, pseudo-historian David Irving was sentenced to jail for denying the Holocaust. Really makes you think about free speech, doesn’t it? And thinking is exactly what many are doing.

Michael Reynolds concludes that Irving is a creep but Austria is wrong.

While neo-neocon examines similar laws throughout Europe and debates why these laws are understandable and perhaps even useful.

And Joe Gandelman rounds-up the coverage and offers some poignant remarks of his own.

As for me, Holocaust-deniers make my blood boil. The “work” of men like Irving play right into the demented and destructive worldview of men like Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. As such, I won’t stay up nights worrying whether or not Irving is comfortable in his cell.

But that doesn’t change the fact that the Austrian law is bad. In the immediate aftermath of World War II, I can see a reason to have such a law to ensure the crimes of the Nazis were fully exposed and their ideology thoroughly washed from the land. But now the law seems out-of-place, particularly as many in the West argue for the right to offend and even demean Muslims (in cartoons or otherwise).

The only way to ensure truly free speech is to give all speech a wide berth. Even speech that we find repulsively ignorant.

The Modern Left: Stuck in the 1970s

Writing for The Nation Jonathon Schell believes America is at mortal risk. He sees the nation sinking into the same crises that spawned Watergate.

Then as now, the presidency became "imperial." Then as now, a misconceived and misbegotten war led to presidential law-breaking at home. Then as now, a quixotic crusade for freedom abroad really menaced freedom at home. Then as now, the law-breaking President was re-elected to a second term. Then as now, the systemic rot went so deep that only a drastic cure could be effectual…Then it was the war in Vietnam; now it is the war in Iraq and the wider and more lasting "war on terror."

He lists a few more “then as now” comparisons, but you get the gist. What’s old is new again and the serpent eats his tail. At some point, the American left stopped looking forward and started reaching backwards, desperately wanting the present to conform to the past. Eagerly inflating the good deeds of yesteryear into grand, immutable truths of today.

Vietnam was a bad war so therefore all wars-of-choice are bad. Nixon abused civil rights in the name of security, therefore all efforts to increase security are an abuse of civil rights. Power was corrupt then, therefore power is always corrupt. Nixon was brought down by his misdeeds, therefore Bush will fall too.

Forget for a moment the validity or invalidity of the modern left’s criticisms and ask, wouldn’t it be far wiser to frame opposition within the realities of 2006 rather than the dusty remnants of 1974? The world has changed dramatically over the last 30 years, shouldn’t our points of reference have evolved as well?

The modern left is correct to criticize the president on torture, on warrantless wiretapping, on the overly broad interpretation of executive powers, on the Iraq War’s failings of execution, on the often unchecked deference shown big business, on the billowing deficit, on the divisive rhetoric.

The left has many well-placed critiques. But their frame of reference is all wrong. When you read someone like Schell, you get the sense that he believes there is no real “war on terror” that the threat is overblown, that we need not take any substantive or transformative measures to ensure the short and long-term security of our nation and Western democracy as a whole. This blind spot is most clearly revealed in Schell’s closing remarks:

After all, the cold war, which seemed at the time to be the seedbed of the Watergate crisis, ended sixteen years ago, in the greatest upheaval of the international system since the end of World War II. How is it, then, that the United States has returned to a systemic crisis so profoundly similar to the one in the early 1970s? By looking at external foes, are we looking in the wrong place for the origins of the illness? Is this transformation what a more "conservative" public now wants? Or is there instead something in the dominant institutions of American life that push the country in this direction?

To Schell, the modern struggle against radical Islam is a bogeyman, an illusion manufactured by our institutions. He sees us returning to the crises of the 1970s because he can’t escape the thinking of the 1970s. But the truth is, the struggles and threats of today are radically different than they were 30 years ago. Keeping this nation balanced and on course will take approaches different from those employed when Nixon reigned.

It is my sincere hope that the modern left soon leaves the paradigms of the 1970s and reinvents liberal ideology for the modern era. Many great critiques come from the left. But such criticisms will continue to have little use or effect until they are framed within the realities of today.

Monday, February 20, 2006

A New Texas Blog Speaking from the Center

Just wanted to give a nod to some guys a few miles up I-35 from me. Austin Centrist is a new group blog of Austin, Texas centrists discussing both local and national politics.

Check 'em out.

Why Kicking the Bums Out is Not that Easy

George Will, one of the few pundits who’s maintained his senses in these partisan times, takes a look at why it’s so hard to beat incumbents in Congress. He says the system has been rigged with breakwaters to hold incumbents in power.

The breakwater has three components—gerrymandering, campaign-finance "reforms" and the particular form of profligacy known as earmarks. In state after state, redistricting after the 2000 Census proved that bipartisanship—ritually praised, rarely practiced—is often overrated. Democrats and Republicans collaborated in drawing congressional districts that would protect incumbents of both parties. Campaign-finance "reforms," which make raising money more difficult, are written by incumbents and work to the advantage of... well, take a wild guess. Here is a hint: In the last two election cycles, 98 percent of incumbents seeking re-election won. The explosive and utterly bipartisan growth of earmarks—federal spending directed by individual legislators to specific projects—is yet another advantage incumbents have as they toil to get rid of that offensive 2 percent.

I often hear people say they want to “kick the bums out,” but what I think they really mean is they want you to kick your bum out. Their bum is bringing home the pork and, besides, he’s running against an even bigger bum.

The bum-protection program has been one of the only truly bipartisan achievements of the last decade or so. Both parties have agreed they really like power and should be allowed to hold onto it with a minimal amount of hassle. Thus, most congressmen and women are in safe districts so overwhelmingly Democrat or Republican that only a political tsunami could break apart the status-quo.

Even then, challengers must overcome strict fund-raising regulations that make it inordinately difficult to raise a competitive level of funds. These regulations have often been born of good intentions but the effect has been to choke off the money from challengers who do not have the same resources or networks that are available to incumbents.

Don’t get me wrong. There’s nothing inherently wrong with incumbency. But there is something wrong with a lack of choice. And that’s what we have. Too many of us live in districts where a reasonable alternative is not available. Incumbents like it that way, but we don’t have to accept it. We can and should demand reform. Kicking the bums out shouldn't be so difficult.

Top 5 Favorite Presidents

On President’s Day, a lot of people create lists of who they think were the best presidents. I don’t claim to be enough of a presidential scholar to offer a meaningful ranking of presidents. But I will list my favorites as I think everyone who’s interested in American politics is, to a certain degree, influenced and motivated by admiration for past presidents. So, without further ado,

1) Theodore Roosevelt. Spirited and driven, TR was always more concerned with what was right than what was popular. Tough when strength was needed and compassionate when goodwill was needed, Roosevelt embodied my own personal view of what it is to be American. The progressive movement he helped start was rooted in a deep belief that the common man should have every opportunity for advancement, so long as he (or she) was willing to work hard. I sincerely believe the spirit of Teddy is what’s most needed in our modern times.

2) Thomas Jefferson. Has there ever been a wiser man as president? Jefferson embodied the clear vision and noble intentions of our founders and led with a combination of passion and intellect not often seen in our presidents. He was a man of science who nevertheless believed in the immeasurable, unquantifiable rights of mankind. He was a president who questioned the power of the presidency. He was truly a man of The Enlightenment. Not only a great president but a great American.

3) Abraham Lincoln. This man made more difficult choices during his presidency than most world leaders ever make in their entire career. Looking back, the righteousness of Lincoln’s actions seem so clear, but they must have seemed so cloudy, so covered in grey during his day. Hundreds if thousands of American lives could have been spared battlefield death had Lincoln let the South succeed in peace. But he understood that the greater good sometimes requires painful sacrifice. Such clarity of vision is rare, not only now, but throughout history.

4) Franklin Roosevelt. This was a man who never hemmed and hawed over the proper role of government. He understood, at his very core, that government is of the people and for the people and when the people are hurting and are desperate for help, the government has the obligation to step in. Roosevelt’s New Deal policies were right not because they are universally right (many of them would be misplaced or even disastrous today) but because they were right for the time. He marshaled the resources of government in a bold and virtuous attempt to save the people. And then he did it again as he took the nation to war and quite literally helped save the world.

5) Bill Clinton. Seems out of place, doesn’t he? Well, I said this wasn’t a list of the “best” presidents and it’s not. But I can’t leave off my list of favorites the only president I voted for twice. With personal failings no less severe than the other men on this list, Clinton put us on the right course both economically and socially. His welfare reform, his balancing of the budget, his decision to stop genocide in Bosnia were just a few of his good and proper decisions. He has been much maligned by many people, but Clinton led this nation well and I refuse to believe it was merely good luck that gave us such peace and prosperity. Sadly, I don’t see enough people seeking to revive Clinton’s tough but fair approach to governing. We have tough and unfair. We have fair and weak. But why have the convictions of the New Democrats fallen so far out of favor? That’s a shame.

Sunday, February 19, 2006

Is Dick Cheney a Joke Now?

Justin Gardner at Donklephant thinks Cheney's shooting accident could be as politically devastating as Howard Dean's scream. He has a point. The one thing Cheney always had going for him was his gravitas. But after a week of being the punch line of every late-night joke, can Cheney recover his stature?

Does it matter? The man isn't running for president and doesn't require the love of the public to do his job. Personally, I've generally found the man to be overly secretive and needlessly divisive. The shooting doesn't change my opinion because my opinion was already on the negative side.

But the event could fuel more talk of replacing Dick Cheney in favor of someone likely to get the Republican nomination in '08 (George Allen perhaps?). Only time will tell if the accident cripples Cheney's career.

Saturday, February 18, 2006

A Welcome Message to New Readers

For those of you journeying to this site after my recent appearance on CNN, welcome. I am a writer whose views of the nation and world do not always mesh with either the Democrats or Republicans. If you read enough of what I have to say, you'll find me critical of both the left and right in America (and complimentary of both sides as well).

This is not your typical blog that is highly partisan with an interest in promoting one party over the other. I'm not interested in parties, but rather ideas. If you have some thoughts to share, feel free to post comments or e-mail me directly. I like debate and welcome all who engage in a civil exchange of ideas.

More News on Wiretaps

Jeremy Dibbell, writing for the Moderate Voice, reports on more developments in the ongoing debate over warrantless wiretaps. Seems a few more Republican Senators are deciding there really does need to be some sort of judicial review for the program. The details, however, still need to be worked out.

The Democrats would be wise to join with these Republicans in forming new legislation that allows for a robust enemy surveillance program that exists within the framework of judicial review.

Friday, February 17, 2006

Are the Media Missing the Story on Radical Islam?

While the American media spent this week trying to figure out the difference between buckshot and birdshot, the violence over the Mohammad cartoons continued in the Middle East and Pakistan. Most major news outlets have taken a position best described as “the violence is bad, the cartoons are bad.” Such a stance is incredibly misleading as it makes the radical Islamists and the cartoons seem equally egregious.

In reality, it’s the radical Muslims that are to blame and the Imams that fanned the flames by disseminating fake cartoons far worse than the real ones originally published in Denmark. Amba at Ambivablog has it right when she says:

This is not a "clash of civilizations," it's a calculated and scandalously successful offensive by radical Islamists in their war on the West. And the West has played right into their hands. The only fault of the Danish cartoonists was providing a weak pretext for this disinformation campaign, but if it hadn't been that it would have been something else. The campaign's success depends both on the West's desire to respect others' legitimate sensitivities (in itself not a bad thing, within reason), and on the "Arab street's" penchant to believe whatever emotion dictates.

These are clever, clever devils, these Islamists, and so very dangerous. They have no scruples about inciting mobs by any means necessary, and they are bent on seizing power and getting nukes.

This view is, by its nature, a lot more complex than the “violence bad, cartoons bad” message heard from much of the American media. Sometimes I think the media confuse balance with giving equal weight to both sides’ version of the truth. True, sometimes the truth is hard to uncover and I sympathize with the many good journalists who work hard to separate fact from spin. But this cartoon row is not one of those cases where the truth is all that hard to find.

The radical Islamists are very, very wrong. And it’s not being unbalanced to say so in a news report. The truth never compromises objectivity. That only happens when you believe there are somehow multiple and equally valid truths.

But maybe the problem is that some journalists simply don’t believe in universal truth. Such an instance is described and debated by Callimachus at Done With Mirrors where he summarizes one newswoman’s view of things as:

Don't criticize Muhammad. Don't criticize Islam. Don't criticize anyone except the President of the United States. Only Bushco is a fair target. Otherwise, it's not "free speech," it's "hate speech.

If this really is a prevalent attitude in American newsrooms, as Callimachus seems to suggest, we have a serious problem with the American media. Look, I don’t want to be one of those snarky bloggers always bashing the media. I’ve said before and I’ll say again that, on the whole, the American media does an excellent job. But there are failings. The impulse that led to hyperventilation over Cheney’s hunting accident is an annoying but generally harmless failing. But the inability to accurately depict the radical Islamist threat is a major failing.

We simply cannot pretend that the radical Islamists’ complaints are reasonable or that their violent reactions are in the least bit justified. And we cannot pretend our culture deserves equal or even a significant minority of the blame for the violence and hate spewing from the radical Islamists. We have to get a better grip on the situation and the media is going to have to help us do that.

Catch Me On CNN

You can see me this weekend on CNN's program "On The Story" airing Saturday night at 7:00pm (EDT) and Sunday afternoon at 1:00pm (EDT). I'll be talking about the media's coverage of the Dick Cheney story and how I think it's gone overboard.

Another Reason to Get Rid of Earmarks

Looks like Senator Arlen Specter, R-Pa, has been using earmarks to award lucrative contracts to the clients of a lobbyist married to one of Specter’s top aides. Specter claims he had no idea the recipients of the government contracts were the clients of Michael Herson, the husband of Vicki Siegel Herson, Specter’s legislative assistant for appropriations. Herson’s clients received $48.7 million in earmarked spending and Herson received $1.5 million in fees over the last three years.

I respect Specter and wouldn’t want to condemn him for improprieties before more details are made public, but boy does this sound fishy. At best this is evidence of the kinds of incestuous relationships between money and power that exist throughout Washington. At worst this is akin to nothing less than embezzlement on the part of the Herson’s with Specter playing the role of accomplice.

Right now, it’s impossible to say what if any ethical standards or laws were violated. But we can say this: earmarks simply must be eliminated. Earmarks are a corrupt currency used to influence and out-right buy congressional votes.

I have yet to hear a convincing argument as to how earmarking is a good thing. I’m sure it’s nice to be able to dole out money to loyal supporters or to those whom you would like to be supporters, but where’s the benefit for the nation as a whole? If anyone can explain why earmarks shouldn’t be banned, please share.

We might not be able to completely eliminate corruption from our government, but we surely can remove the tools of corruption.

Thursday, February 16, 2006

Freedom Fries Meet Their Match with Roses of the Prophet Muhammad

Iran has officially renamed Danishes "Roses of the Prophet Muhammad."

Makes me wonder what they call American cheese.

Proof of Saddam's WMD?

Neo-neocon takes a look at recently released Iraqi video that seems to prove Saddam had weapons of mass destruction and was actively hiding them from UN inspectors. Problem is the tape is from the '90s and it's hard to know if the tape is factual or not.

Interesting story.

Into the Deep...

I just love reading a brilliant writer come to a fascinating conclusion. Until the appearance of blogs, we really never got to see the minds of writers at work. But now we can. We can read their new ideas the day they think of them. And then we can engage them in the comments section. That, to me, is the best part of blogs. Watching the mind at work, those beats and sways that happen before a conclusion is reached.

One of my favorite writer/thinkers is Richard Lawrence Cohen and it was his post on deep-listening that reminded me of all that is good about blogging. Read the post and follow Cohen's mind as he goes from deep-listening to deep-reading and arrives at deep-writing which, he concludes, is what blogging is.

The Military, the Universities and the Polarization of America

Will Marshal, writing for the DLC publication Blueprint, points out that it’s not just our politicians who are polarized. It’s also two of our greatest institutions: the universities and the military.

According to 2004 exit polls, 34 percent of the voters in the presidential election were conservative, 45 percent moderate and 21 percent liberal. But an Annenberg School study in the same year found that, in the military, 40 percent of the officers say they are conservative, 40 percent moderate and just 7 percent liberal. Only 15 percent of the officers were Democrats, while 47 percent were Republicans and 31 percent independents.

If fighters tilt right, thinkers lean even further to the left. According to a national survey of college faculty, almost three-quarters professed left-of-center views, while only 15 percent identified themselves as conservatives. Only 11 percent owned up to being Republicans.

Whether conservatives join the military or whether the military produces conservatives is impossible to say just as it’s hard to know whether liberals go to college or whether college produces liberals. But I have long noticed that conservatives tend to think they have a monopoly on virtue while liberals tend to think they have a monopoly on intelligence. It is quite possible that such false beliefs are not only buoyed but actively nurtured within the cultures of the military and university system respectively.

For two of our most important institutions to be so ideologically one-sided is not a good thing. As Marshal writes:

[U]nlike political parties, these institutions are supposed to transcend narrow, factional interests and instead advance our society’s common aspirations. It’s not good for America’s civic health when the formative institutions of democracy are commandeered by one side or the other in the baby boomers’ perennial culture wars.

Not too long ago, American society was more-or-less ordered on a worker versus wealthy basis with serious veins of racial and religious divisions coursing through all classes. But most Americans still shared a basic set of values. I’m not so sure that we share the same values anymore—or at least a good swath of us don’t.

On the one hand, the liberal infatuation with postmodern deconstruction has severed context from meaning and reduced such concepts as honor and duty into meaningless constructs. On the other hand, conservative infatuation with the duty and virtue of the individual has left their philosophy with very little patience for assisting those individuals who can’t help themselves. The result is that liberals often have little use for (or at least little understanding of) honor and duty while conservatives have little tolerance for unconditional compassion.

Those deficiencies are almost certainly not the product of the universities and the military, but that is clearly where they’ve gone home to roost.

To be clear, I’m speaking in broad terms. There are many liberals and conservatives who do not fit the descriptions above. But there are many more who do. And that’s a problem because our society is strongest when we combine the personal virtues of duty and honor with the greater societal obligation to lift up the weak and help the downtrodden. We need to believe fully that each person has a responsibility to society while society has a responsibility to each person. Once a nation starts tipping the responsibility toward the individual or toward the society (read: government) chasms will form within the populace.

Our nation has chasms because one ideology wants to minimize personal responsibility while maximizing government’s and the other ideology wants to maximize personal responsibility while minimizing society’s. We need a better balance in our ideologies. Perhaps one way to achieve that is to moderate the military and universities.

A draft or mandatory national service would possibly work. The military would be chock full of people of all beliefs and ideologies and many, many college students would enter after learning the virtues of honor and duty.

Unfortunately, a draft or mandatory national service is extremely unpopular. Hopefully such a drastic course of action will not be required. But I do believe those of us not on the hard right or hard left need to work to maintain the balance of this nation.

Wednesday, February 15, 2006

Islam and Tolerance Can Coexist

Senegal is a good example.

The MoveOn.org Purge

Over at Mighty Middle, Michael Reynolds takes aim at MoveOn.org and their planned strategy of trying to replace centrist Democrats with more solidly left Democrats.

Two of the biggest targets will likely be Senator Joe Lieberman of Connecticut and Representative Henry Cuellar of Texas whom I wrote about earlier this week. Here’s the thing: the Democrats are out of power, they could use every incumbent they have. So why try to unseat your own party’s members?

MoveOn.org and similar lefty groups would argue that Lieberman’s and Cuellar’s seats are safe Democratic seats and so why not try to get the most true-blue partisans you can to fill the seats. I understand their reasoning and they certainly have every right in the world to fight against candidates they don’t like, but I absolutely detest the political game they’re playing.

Since when are representatives and senators supposed to represent an ideology rather than constituents? Why in the world do a bunch of MoveOn activists from California and New York and wherever else think they are the ones who should be deciding what is best for Texas and Connecticut?

Representatives are not elected to be an unquestioning, unfailing party loyalist. They are elected to serve the needs and represent the wishes of their constituents. If they fail to do that satisfactorily, the people they represent can vote them out. It is condescending for MoveOn to think they better understand the needs of Texas and Connecticut than do the voters of those states. And it is just foolish to believe that progress can only be achieved once each and every Democrat marches in lock-step with the hard left agenda.

MoveOn should just be happy that Cuellar and Lieberman are Democrats. Both caucus with the Democrats and vote the party line a vast majority of the time. Instead of wasting time and energy on purges of their own party, MoveOn would do much better to find ways to unseat Republicans. After all, it doesn’t matter whether a “safe” Democratic seat is held by a centrist, lefty or socialist when the party itself is still out of power.

MoveOn should be reaching out to people like Lieberman and Cuellar (and those who vote for them) rather than branding them traitors and working to expel them from the party.

Great Posts From All Around

Over the last few days, there have been a lot of great posts from some of my favorite writers. These all are worth the read.

Rafique Tucker at Liberal War Journal discusses two actors and one former Vice President who have gone too far with their anti-Americanism.

Amba at Ambivablog notes the fun and not-so-fun lingo heard at the Winter Olympics.

Jeremy Dibbell at Charging RINO reports on bipartisan efforts to reduce America’s energy consumption.

Callimachus at Done With Mirrors looks at Hollywood’s self-deception about how their movies play in the heartland and how many Democrats share similar misconceptions.

Justin Gardner writing at the Moderate Voice argues that all remaining Abu Ghraib photos should be released now.

Tom Strong at Wheat Think ponders sexual identity and the need to provide more constructive context for people all along the sexual spectrum.

Cheney Story Reveals Worst Instincts of the Media

I am tired of the Cheney shooting story. So of course that means I'm writing about it again. Read my skewering of the media over at Donklephant. I take on both administration critics and administration boosters for their "coverage" of this story.

Tuesday, February 14, 2006

The Presidential Popularity Contest

Here’s some interesting figures on the popularity of leading presidential candidates as supplied by Dick Morris by way of Fox News.

The first number is a candidate’s favorable rating within his or her own party. The second is the favorable rating amongst Independents. The third number is the percentage gap between party members and Independents.

Hillary Clinton
Dems: 82%
Inds: 48%
Gap: 34

John Kerry
Dems: 73%
Inds: 40%
Gap: 33

Al Gore
Dems: 54%
Inds: 34%
Gap: 20

Condi Rice
Reps: 66%
Inds: 47%
Gap: 19

Rudy Giuliani
Reps: 81%
Inds: 63%
Gap: 18

John McCain
Reps: 64%
Inds: 57%
Gap: 7

A couple things jump out at me. The first is that Al Gore is a long way from getting another shot at the presidency. With only a 54% favorable rating in his own party, he is a serious long shot. Oddly, Kerry (who lost to Bush far worse than did Gore) has a healthy 73% rating among Dems. Perhaps that’s because Kerry, while labeled a flip-flopper, has been much more ideologically pure throughout his career than has Gore who has morphed from a New Democrat centrist into a rabble-rousing lefty.

Or maybe it’s just that Kerry is fresher on people’s minds.

On the Republican side, Giuliani’s numbers are surprisingly high. Do Republicans know he is solidly left-of-center on social issues? In fact, McCain is more firmly conservative on matters such as abortion, but he still suffers from less than robust Republican support. Nevertheless, with a favorable rating of 57% amongst independents, McCain is still highly electible. But so is Giuliani with a 63% rating from indies.

What’s all this mean. Probably little. Clinton’s favorability amongst Democrats is most likely buoyed by name-recognition and is likely to dip once the race really gets going. While Giuliani, for all his September 11th heroics, is still a rather unknown commodity to most Americans. I would expect his numbers to shift a lot as he becomes better known.

This is the most wide-open race in several generations with neither a sitting President nor a sitting Vice President running. Interest will be intense. Money will be flowing. And you got to think it helps to have good numbers even this early.


When you buy an older home you’re buying decades of other people’s good and bad decisions, maintenance and neglect. No matter how nice the home, there’s always something rundown or curiously designed. For us and the house we bought last August, the odd spot is an area in the far back of our lot. It appears to have been built as a dog run and used occasionally as a trash dump. There is very little grass and absolutely no aesthetic appeal.

If it were left up to me, it would have stayed unkempt and unseen. But I am married to a woman who, had she not become a physician, would have done well as a landscape artist. And she has a vision of how to transform this wasted bit of land into something not just usable, but beautiful.

My task in all of this was to dig. First, I dug a long path that we filled with river stones. Then I dug a sandbox large enough to fit my son and his entire daycare class. It was hard, monotonous labor that left my white-collar hands raw. The earth here is difficult to move. A shallow layer of clay and endless chunks of limestone conspire to slow the shovel and strain the back. To make my task more arduous, someone had dumped hunks of cement all over the area.

I shouldn’t have enjoyed this dig. But I did.

Throughout the project, I kept thinking “this is my land” and it felt good to work it, change it. I’ve never owned dirt before. The first home we owned was a co-op unit, six-stories in the sky. We owned walls and floors but no dirt. No land.

And while I know that two days of digging up the back area of a suburban home in no way makes me connected with the Earth or even particularly “outdoorsy,” I did gain a greater appreciation for how an active participation in our environment is key to preserving our environment. After all, while it’s just fine to want to save something because it’s pretty, it’s much more motivating to save it because it’s useful.

This “save it because it’s useful” impulse is why hunters and fishermen tend to be very conservation minded. And it’s why I think cleaning up our air is much more pressing than preserving some Alaskan wilderness none of us will ever see. And it’s why I think national lands are most useful when they are made into parks where we all can not just look at but actually experience the land.

Raw beauty is useful in its own way. But our Earth gives us so much more than that. I sometimes think the environmental movement went astray when it began deifying the Earth. We shouldn’t be preserving the planet because it’s somehow more pure than us or because it’s more important than us but because it is us. Our active engagement with nature, not our landscape artist’s admiration of her is what makes us human.

I am glad my wife made me dig in our backyard. Before that, my backyard was just a piece of property. Now it’s a piece of me as well. Corny? Sure. But enlightening as well.

Monday, February 13, 2006

Surprising Fact: Hunters Are Not Supposed to Shoot at Each Other

According to an AP story that is actually headlining Yahoo News right now, Cheney broke a key hunting rule when he shot and injured a fellow hunter.

That key rule? Well, after speaking with experts, the AP has uncovered that a hunters are not really supposed to shoot one another. Turns out, Cheney shouldn’t have pulled the trigger. I wonder if anyone has informed the Vice President of his mistake?

Why this AP piece is a story, I have no idea. It’s not like Cheney maliciously spun around and shot the guy. It was an accident. Generally accidents are the result of someone screwing up. That’s pretty much the definition.

But the media aren’t happy calling a spade a spade. In addition to revealing that hunters aren’t supposed to shoot each other in the face, many news outlets are indignant that it took the White House almost 24 hours to announce the accident took place. While this White House does have a bad habit of obfuscating and spinning, I don’t see why it matters that Cheney’s accident wasn’t immediately made public. It’s not like they withheld the news for weeks or pretended like it didn’t happen.

In my estimation, these news organizations are making too much of this.

Is the Cheney Shooting a Big Story?

Justin Gardner at Donklephant points out that some on the right think Cheney's accidental shooting of a friend while hunting could be a liability for the Vice President.

I doubt that's true. We knew Cheney liked to hunt. We know hunting accidents can happen to even the best hunters. Without trying to minimize the seriousness of this story, it's really a lot like when Bush fell off his bike. Accidents are a part of life even for the most powerful among us.

I'm no fan of Cheney's, but I wouldn't dream of holding something like this against the man. Unless there's some part of the story we don't know, I suspect this will blow over without the White House having to do damage control.

Support Democrat Henry Cuellar

In today’s Wall Street Journal, John Fund profiles Texas Democratic Congressman Henry Cuellar who is facing a tough primary challenge from his left. Many liberals are upset that Cuellar, a first-term congressman has taken the Republican side on a few issues.

For the most part, Henry Cuellar has focused his first term on border issues. His district stretches from the south part of San Antonio all the way to the Rio Grande, so issues of cross-border crime and drug-trafficking are high on the minds of his constituents. But he was also one of only 15 House Democrats to vote in favor of CAFTA and has consistently backed Republican tax cuts and a robust national defense.

Is he a Democrat or just a Republican in Democratic clothing? That really depends on what “Democrat” means. If a Democrat cannot be pro-free trade and anti-taxes, then he’s not a Democrat. But if there is room in the party for dissent and differing opinions, then Cuellar’s support for such things as broadening government-funded healthcare and increasing corporate regulation and accountability makes him appear to be a pretty real Democrat. In fact, a review of where he stands on the issues leads me to peg him as just to the left of the center.

The sad fact is, if Cuellar were a Republican, there would be plenty of rightwing sites calling him a Democrat in Republican clothing and demanding he be purged from the party. In today’s partisan atmosphere, anything less that total party allegiance is regularly viewed as traitorous.

And Cuellar has definitely been branded as a traitor. Searching blog directories, I can find hundreds of posts slamming Cuellar and demanding his ouster from the party while I cannot find a single post supporting this accomplished, independent congressman. Is there no one who thinks Cuellar should be allowed to break with his party from time-to-time? Is there no one who thinks representatives should cast votes that they think are right and not simply mimic the desires of the party base? Is 85% allegiance not enough? It has to be 100% or else?

This kind of thinking is wrong and I strongly reject it. Henry Cuellar deserves support and he has mine. I may not agree with him 100% of the time, but he is what the Democratic party in Texas once was. Tough when strength is needed. Caring when compassion is called for. And, most of all, always independent of spirit and mind. I grew up a real Texas Democrat. Henry Cuellar is a real Texas Democrat.

Friday, February 10, 2006

Here We Go Again...

A former CIA official has accused Bush of cherry-picking intelligence in the lead-up to the Iraq War. Haven't we heard this tune before?

I may be wrong, but I expect there to be a blog-plosion over this. Leftist websites will say "Bush Lied!" while rightist websites will say "The CIA Guy Lied! And He's a Terrorist Sympathizer!" While those of us in the middle will say "you're all lying!"

So, let me go on record by saying I have not seen any evidence to convince me that Bush "cherry-picked" intelligence. I think it is clear that he didn't pay enough attention to opposing views, but that's a far cry from deliberately manipulating evidence. At the very worst, I think one can argue that Bush was incompetent. I don't go that far in my own assessment, but I fully understand how one can. But believing that Bush deviously manipulated evidence is unjustifiable by the facts. Why would he? Because he had some secret, nefarious agenda he wanted to keep hidden?

I don't buy it. And I wish we could keep our critiques of this war focused on what missteps we have made, why we made them and what solutions can we implement now.

PATRIOT Act Changed, Nears Renewal

I have long worried that the PATRIOT Act removes too many civil liberties without providing any real protection in return. But it appears that those of us with concerns have gotten several concessions. Republican hold-outs are ready to sign on for full renewal.

Jeremy Dibbell, posting at The Moderate Voice, has a report.

Radical Islam is an Inferior Culture

In my two-part series where I argued Western media should stop running the Mohammad cartoons (here and here), I made the assertion that radical Islam is an inferior culture. I would like to discuss further.

By culture I mean not just a belief-system or a religion but an entire way of life that supersedes all other influences and systems. Thus, a radical Muslim might live in Denmark but is not part of the democratic culture because the radical Islamic culture eclipses every or nearly every aspect of the Danish democratic culture.

A moderate Muslim, on the other hand, does not place his or her religion over all other cultures or systems. The very nature of moderation is a willingness to accept and tolerate influences and ideas outside of one’s own personal beliefs. By these definitions we can say that, for moderate Muslims, Islam is their religion and only one part of their culture. For radical Muslims, Islam is their culture.

And, as a culture, radical Islam is inferior. Just as inferior as is Nazism or Communism. Just because radical Islam was born of religion does not mean it deserves any less scorn than do the inferior cultures born of more secular origins. And, just as we eradicated Nazism in World Ward II and all but eradicated Communism in the Cold War, we must eradicate radical Islam in our current war.

We can certainly do this without attacking Islam itself. Germans and Japanese moved away from fascism and embraced the democratic culture. Russians moved away from Communism and have moved far closer to the democratic culture. Can we not then put our effort into moving Muslims away from radical Islam and closer to democratic culture? Isn’t that really the only hope?

We have to stop viewing radical Islam as a religion and start calling it what it is: an inferior culture the threatens the entire world.

Fascism. Communism. Radical Islam. Those are the three great enemies to freedom that we’ve faced in the last century. I do not know how we defeat this new enemy, but I do know we cannot afford to appease or to ignore. We may, from time-to-time, have to make strategic choices for temporary calm, but we can no longer afford to believe radical Islam can be contained. It must be eradicated or so thoroughly weakened as to pose no real threat.

Finally, we cannot afford to forget that moderate Muslims are our allies in this. Just as it took the East German people to tear down the Berlin Wall, so it will take moderate Muslims to tear down the theocracies, expel the radical Imams and embrace the culture of democracy.

This is not a war on terror. This is a war on radical Islam.

Debating the Mohammad Cartoons

Over at Done With Mirrors, Callimachus has a very intelligent post discussing whether or not it's time to stop running the Mohammad Cartoons. He brings a lot to the debate, particularly in his discussion of tolerance. Very much worth the read.

Thursday, February 09, 2006

Japanese Suicide and the Value of Life

Apparently, a growing number of Japanese have been using the Internet to find people with whom to commit suicide. These so-called group suicides are popular with those who want to commit suicide but do not want to die alone.

Turns out, Japan has the second highest suicide rate amongst industrialized nations with 24.1 per 100,000 people opting to kill themselves annually (it’s 10.4 per 100k in the U.S.). Why is this so? One reason is that Japan has no religious prohibition against suicide. It was an common part of Samurai culture and is still viewed as an acceptable way out of trouble, particularly financial trouble.

That's not the case for our culture, where suicide is deplored. In fact, from a socio-religious standpoint, we in the West consider any and all taking of life, whether by your own hand or another's, to be immoral. But we too have exceptions. In cases of the death penalty, abortion and the assisted suicide of the terminally ill, various groups within our culture believe the taking of life to be acceptable.

This all flows back into what is called “the culture of life.” Those that promote this culture claim that if we don’t draw clear and immutable lines we’ll slip into a moral grey area where the value of life is variable. And when the value of life is variable, the very moral fabric of the nation is at risk. After all, have not all the notoriously evil regimes (the Nazis, the Stalinists, the Maoists, the Taliban) shared a profound disregard for the sanctity of life? If we devalue one life, do we risk devaluing all lives?

I don’t like to believe that we have to live encased in such absolutes. I do not think assisted suicide or abortion or the death penalty threaten to push us into the abyss. It’s true that I disapprove of all three. But that disapproval is personal and I do not consider those who disagree with me to be immoral.

In the end, we have to acknowledge that the value of life is always variable. The grey areas are all around. The key is to keep away from the dark, away from death delivered with malice. For I believe it is through malice that life is unforgivably devalued. All the rest, all those grey areas where malice plays no part—we can survive with them, even as we seek a purer path.

In the News...

The White House has agreed to provide Congress with more information on domestic spying. The Moderate Voice has the scoop.

While Congress may be making progress on reforming or ending the use of earmarks. Charging RINO has some great commentary.

Time to Stop Running the Mohammad Cartoons -- PART TWO

Yesterday I wrote that publications should stop running the Mohammad cartoons. This was met with a lot of disagreement, most notably from two bloggers I greatly respect, Shay at Booker Rising and Michael Reynolds at Mighty Middle. Many people in the comments also opposed my post. It was enough to make me question the wisdom of my position. But, after more thought, I simply can’t change my mind. Although I clearly need to clarify:

Many have misinterpreted my call to stop publishing the Mohammad cartoons as a call for appeasement. That’s not what I’m suggesting, although I can see how it would appear that way. What I’m actually saying is that these cartoons have run their course and no longer serve any useful purpose. We can have the civility to say “enough is enough” without committing an act of appeasement.

Yet I do believe these cartoons have served an important purpose and were right to publish. First, they proved without question that Europe’s growing Muslim population is going to be a very real problem unless radical elements are dealt with. Secondly, they demonstrated that the radical Islamic culture does not hate us solely for our military actions and support of Israel. They hate us because, simply, we’re not radical Muslims. Anyone who has argued that we’d be ok if we just left the Middle East alone needs to stop and take a good hard look at the violence spawned by these cartoons.

The mass republishing of the cartoons also served a good purpose as it showed the radical Muslims that our culture of free speech cannot be subdued—that we as Westerners are united in our commitment to freedom and condemnation of radical Islam.

I am glad for the original publication of these cartoons and glad they were republished all over Europe, America and elsewhere.

But the usefulness of these cartoons has ended. We’ve proved how incompatible much of Islam is with Western values. We’ve proved our commitment to free speech. Now we’re just poking a rabid dog with a sharp stick. There’s no sense to that.

Many have argued that if we stop running the cartoons the radical Muslim leaders will claim victory and resort to rioting even quicker the next time they perceive an offense. And that next offense could be something worse, like the fact that our women don’t wear head scarves or that we permit the practice of other religions besides Islam. The argument being, if we don’t draw the line now, things will only get worse. This is a good argument on its face, but falls apart under analysis.

Eventually, the cartoons will stop running. When they do, we all know that radical Imams will claim victory. Let them. It doesn’t mean they’ve actually won. In fact, they’ve already lost. We’ve once again clearly glimpsed the dark aims of this dark culture. Their deplorable, uncivilized reactions do nothing but remind us that we must continue to forcibly and ceaselessly confront them. The line has already been drawn. We know their aims and we won’t bow down.

But making this confrontation about cartoons is pointless. This war will not be won with doodles. We aren’t going to break their will through cartoons. And there are much stronger ways to stand up for our freedoms than by merely insulting our enemy.

Let’s begin by more clearly calling radical Islam what it is: an inferior culture whose abuses to women, oppression of freedom and hatred of others is incompatible with the modern world and should not be tolerated. How we wage this fight is up for debate. Whether we fight is no longer the question. They clearly want to supplant our culture with theirs. But ours is the superior way of life and we should not hesitate to make that point again and again.

But these cartoons don’t make that point. Their usefulness has run its course. We are the civilized ones. Let’s be civil and stop needlessly provoking violence. Leave the cartoons on the Internet so those who haven’t seen them may take a look, but stop publishing them day-in and day-out in newspapers. The time has come to move on and come up with truly effective ways to combat radical Islam.

Wednesday, February 08, 2006

Evangelicals Oppose President on Environmental Bill

From time-to-time you hear about evangelical groups promoting environmentalism. The most well-known effort was the too-humorous-to-be-effective PR stunt known as What Would Jesus Drive?. Now, a group of 85 evangelical leaders have signed a petition supporting legislation that would lower carbon dioxide emissions. The President opposes the legislation.

The group has some true-blue (true-red?) evangelicals including Rick Warren, author of The Purpose Driven Life. But none of President Bush's most ardent evangelical supporters signed on--proving once again that a certain faction of evangelicals care more about political power than what is right or wrong.

Nevertheless, the Bible admittedly says very little about environmentalism. Not a surprise given that biblical times were rather devoid of factories, cars and strip mining. But, according to Genesis, God did give us dominion over the Earth and it is hard to believe he wanted us to trash His creation.

Many Christians and Jews have interpreted God's gift of dominion as requiring us to be good stewards of His Earth. What that means is we should preserve and conserve the environment . That doesn't mean elevating the environment to a position above our own. But it does mean caring for the Earth and making sure she continues to bear both beauty and fruit.

I firmly believe we can practice environmentalism without unduly harming our industries or our way of life. But too many politicians, President Bush included, keep claiming that industry should regulate itself and that the Government does not need to step in. Problem is, the business impulse is to use as many resources as possible before the competition gets to them. Conservation is just not a very profitable business model.

So government intervention becomes necessary to protect the environment. I am not overly familiar with the specific regulations in the legislation supported by this evangelical group. But I do support reducing carbon dioxide emissions and I don't believe the businesses involved will spontaneously reduce emissions without some serious government prodding.

I am fundamentally pro-business and pro free-markets. But too often the Republican party takes those convictions too far and forgets that government can play a positive role. I am glad to see such a large number of evangelical leaders acknowledging that our government should be playing a greater role in protecting the Earth.

Time to Stop Publishing the Mohammad Cartoons

Why do I think it's time to put down the cartoons? Read my post over at Donklephant.

Tuesday, February 07, 2006

Brokeback to the Future

Who knew there was a whole other side to Marty McFly and Dr. Brown?

Well, there is. And the movie trailer is here.

The funniest thing I've seen all day.

Republican Rift Over Warrantless Wiretapping?

Joe Gandelman has an excellent post on the issue of warrantless wiretapping and how it's causing some Republicans serious heartburn.

It should. When I took a stand against warrantless wiretapping, a few accused me of liberal bias. That's wrong. If bias is involved on my end, it's libertarian in nature--a leaning I shared with many Republicans until recently. But once they took control, most Republicans abandoned their mistrust of government power. That's unfortunate.

Now this warrantless wiretapping issue is testing the resolve of the few remaining libertarian-leaning Republicans. And it's testing the resolve of the few remaining traditional conservatives who have a profound respect for separation of powers. It'll be interesting to see where this leads.

Finally, I shouldn't have to say this, but I want to be crystal-clear that I completely support the wiretapping of any American communicating with terrorists. And, as far as I can tell, that's the position of just about everyone on this side. All I'm asking for is to pull the program out of the legal and Constitutional grey areas and make it possible to issue warrants for such wiretaps. The administration's reluctance to take such a course is truly worrisome.

One of the Good Guys in this Administration

As everyone knows, President Bush is not a particularly gifted extemporaneous speaker. But he can deliver some pretty powerful scripted speeches. Who’s responsible for transforming Bush’s natural inarticulateness into true eloquence? Michael Gerson, who has been writing speeches for Bush since he was Governor of Texas.

Now, The New Yorker has a fascinating profile on Gerson. Unabashedly evangelical, earnestly compassionate and a staunch believer in Bush’s righteousness, Gerson is known as the protector of compassionate conservatism within the White House and a man whose influence on Bush is far greater than many realize.

Read the whole profile as an excerpt would fail to capture the complexity of this man. I think you’ll find Gerson is the embodiment of much that is great about Bush. It’s almost as if he’s the anchor of compassion to Dick Cheney’s squalls of divisiveness—the good angle on the right shoulder.

Presidents often seem to be alone, regularly appearing on TV surrounded by nothing more than American flags. But we all know there are countless advisers and experts and speech writers whispering into their ear. Who’s doing the whispering can dramatically affect how the President will lead. Gerson’s whispers, it seems, have been positive for Bush and the nation.

Having learned much about this man I hardly knew existed, I think it’s clear that he deserves credit as one of the true good-guys in this administration.

Monday, February 06, 2006

When Recognition Really Counts

Apparently, a number of people are upset that neither the Super Bowl pre-game or halftime shows included a salute to our men and women in arms. That is rather odd given how military-friendly the NFL usually is. But I don’t think anyone needs to be upset.

While it’s nice to honor our troops in mass gatherings like the Super Bowl, it is no substitute for the small acts of honor we do through our families and communities. The care packages, the letters, the prayers, the tears—all of that is much more vital than a few moments of recognition squeezed in between beer runs and cheerleader routines.

These mass gatherings for sporting events may seem like the perfect occasions to pay tribute to heroes (as the Super Bowl did with Rosa Parks and Coretta Scott King) or remember tragedy (as the Super Bowl did with recognition of Hurricane Katrina). But sporting events are just sporting events and their consequence is minor. They are glorious diversions, but diversions nonetheless.

Whether recognition is paid or not paid at these events is ultimately inconsequential. What matters is whether recognition is paid in ways that are not merely symbolic. What do we do in our daily lives to honor the troops or ease the suffering of the Gulf Coast or keep the spirit of Parks and King alive? That's what I think really counts--not what happens at a sporting event, but what's happening the rest of the time.

Reviewing the Super Bowl Ads

As an advertising and marketing professional, I feel obliged to comment on yesterday’s Super Bowl of advertising. First of all, I’d like to congratulate my colleagues in the advertising industry for actually convincing people that a mass-release of new ads is something worth watching and discussing. Brilliant work. With this post, I continue the clever trick of making our industry seem far more important than it actually is.

For the most part, the ads (like the game) were rather mediocre. That’s not a big surprise—truly great advertising is practically non-existent. The best you can generally hope for as a viewer are ads that are amusing. And in that category, Budweiser, FedEx and Hummer all receive certificates of achievement. The FedEx caveman ad was the best of the evening—a delightfully absurd ad that still managed to clearly communicate the brand name and service being sold. The Hummer H3 "little monster" ad comes in a close second. But, then again, I'm a sucker for monster movies.

Of course, well-known brands have an advantage because they don’t need to spend a long time telling the audience what it is they’re selling. Less-established brands, on the other hand, simply have to tell us who the heck they are. A fact GoDaddy.com clearly forgot. What is GoDaddy.com? I dunno. Looked like a soft-core porn site, but I’m sure it’s something more respectable. I’ll never know because I’m not going.

A dot com company whose ads I did enjoy was CareerBuilder.com. Playing off their ads from last year, CareerBuilder.com’s ads tell the tale of a normal guy trapped in job where all his coworkers are monkeys. Literally monkeys. Most job searches are not unemployed, they’re just sick of their jobs. As such, CareerBuilder.com’s ads do a good job of connecting with the intended market and communicating their key selling point in a humorous, attention-getting way.

Finally, I have to give the worst-ad-of-the-night award to the drink known as Full Throttle. First of all, as far as I can tell, only yuppies, celebrities and college-student’s aspiring to be yuppies or celebrities drink energy drinks. Real men drink beer. So marketing an energy drink to “real men” is really missing the point as to why these types of drinks are popular. Plus the ad was just flat-out annoying.

And there you have my critique of the Super Bowl of advertising. It’s a bit like reviewing fast food restaurants, isn’t it?

Sunday, February 05, 2006

Blogger Ate My Mohammad Cartoon Post

Yesterday I posted on the Mohammad cartoons and resulting Muslim reaction. My conclusion was that while the publishing of the cartoons was hardly a noble act and condemnable for their purposeful provocation, that side of the story is impossible to focus on given the violent reactions by radical Muslims.

In a civilized society, we should respectfully listen to all grievances. But once a group turns to violence and threats, they lose the debate. In this case, radical Islam has seriously lost the debate because their violent reaction completely overshadows any wrong there may have been in the original publishing of the cartoons.

For some reason, blogger erased this post and it's irretrievable. I do not have the time to recreate it but wanted to still make the point. Sorry for a post sans links.

Friday, February 03, 2006

The Desire for Perfect Teeth

Fourteen years ago one of my front teeth was injured in a fight. Eventually the tooth died and I had to have a veneer placed over it to hide the discoloration. Last Tuesday, during a basketball game, a large piece of the veneer chipped off. The result was a rather unattractive smile.

My description: I looked like a hillbilly. I was so disturbed by the jagged tooth that I avoided going out in public as much as possible.

Of course, in many parts of the world, and even here in America, people walk around all the time with broken, missing, discolored and/or misshapen teeth. Dental care is expensive and cosmetic dental work is even worse. The only people with nice teeth are the young and the adults who can afford it.

We may say dental care is about health (and it is in many ways) but it’s also about class distinctions. Our smiles let people know to what social strata we belong. My reaction to my damaged tooth was not just vanity but also social embarrassment. I wasn’t worried about people thinking I was unattractive, I was worried that people would think I was poor or uneducated or uncleanly.

I would like to pretend I am above such feelings—that I don’t care what other people think. But I’m no more or less petty than any other human and so a broken tooth bothered me greatly. Which is why I got in to see the dentist as fast as I could and now sport a smile much more befitting my desired societal status.

It doesn’t seem to matter how civilized we become. We still seek adornments and physical modifications to distinguish class.

Thursday, February 02, 2006

Turns Out They DO Hate Our Freedoms

A number of European newspapers have printed a series of editorial cartoons depicting the Prophet Mohammad in unflattering ways. Because images of Mohammad are forbidden by Islam and because the cartoons depict Mohammad as a terrorist, Muslims around the world are extremely upset.

Palestinian gunmen surrounded the European Union building in the Gaza Strip and demanded an apology. The al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigades threatened to kidnap Europeans. Afghani school kids burned German and French flags. Saudi Arabia and Syria have recalled their ambassadors to Denmark, where the cartoons originated last fall.

Wow. I am ceaselessly amazed at the Muslim world’s propensity to become enraged over every perceived slight and insult. It’s as if a significant portion of the culture lives life in a constant state of agitation, just a jostle away from explosion. Democracy will be hard to grow in hearts this angry.

After all, freedom of expression is a cornerstone of democracy. You simply cannot have a free and open society if threats of kidnappings and worse ensue after every insulting word is spoken (or cartoon is drawn). Can you imagine if Christians in the US or Europe set fires every time they perceived their religion to have been insulted? Thank God all we generally do is boycott.

Michael from Might Middle says it well:

We have as much of a right to ridicule historical religious figures as we have to ridicule any other figure, alive, dead or resurrected. We must always respect a person's right to believe whatever they want to believe, to practice whatever religion they want to practice, but the right to free practice of religion does not include a right to be free of criticism or free of challenge or free of ridicule.

We have a right to disagree. We have a right to disrespect. We have a right to laugh. We have a right to sneer. And the day has not yet come when we take lessons in the etiquette of self-expression from countries that jail reporters and confiscate Bibles, and execute apostates, and run The Procols of the Elders of Zion in prime time, and treat the deliberate murders of children like a sacrament.

President Bush has been ridiculed for saying that radical Muslims hate us because they hate our freedom. But that is more correct than people give him credit for. They may not hate “our freedom” but they sure do have a problem with the expressions of our freedoms.

Democrats are Letting Themselves be Defined as Inert and Insane

There’s a basic rule in politics: don’t let your opponents define you. But it seems that’s what the Democrats keep doing—letting Republicans define them

Case in point are two essays today from two of the most rabidly pro-Republican columnists out there, Tony Blankley of the Washington Times and Peggy Noonan of The Wall Street Journal. Both take the occasion of President Bush’s State of the Union to comment on how the Democrats reacted during the speech. Not surprisingly, the Democrats were rather lacking in enthusiasm. But look how Noonan spins the Democrats lack of applause:

It seemed a metaphor for the Democratic Party: We don't know where to stand or what to stand for, and in fact we're not good at standing for anything anyway, but at least we know we can't stand Republicans.

Blankley hits even harder, using the Democrats applause over the failure of Bush’s Social Security plan to claim Democrats are:

…the party of reactionary inertia -- as the party that not only doesn't have any solutions to today's dangers and problems but denies that such problems exist.
Noonan and Blankley seem to think the Democrats should have been cheering the proposals of their opponents. That’s a ridiculous notion. And yet their attacks still hit the mark—because the “Democrats don’t have any ideas” theme is well-established and believed even by many in the Democratic party itself.

The Democrats have become defined by their opponents. Noonan and Blankley can write essays that are blatantly untrue on the service because they are still true (or at least still perceived to be true) in their essence.

The Democrats only way out is to strongly combat the idea that they have no new ideas. Some Democrats are doing that, but the party leadership isn’t. In fact, the Howard Dean/Nancy Pelosi/Harry Reid/John Kerry quartet have increasingly looked to the hard left base for support rather than trying to win new converts from the center.

The problem is, most of us see the hard left as, well, crazy. Noonan directly mentions the powerful hard left Democrat blog Daily Kos and writes:

Republicans have crazies. All parties do. But in the case of the Democrats--the leader of their party, after all, is the unhinged Howard Dean--the lunatics seem increasingly to be taking over the long-term health-care facility. Great parties die this way, or show that they are dying.

Blankley also takes the opportunity to tie the Democrats tight to their small but increasingly powerful hard left base:
Somehow the Democratic Party -- for 180 years the most electorally successful political party on the planet -- has now almost completely mutated into a party too loathsome to be seen in public, and too nihilistic to be trusted with control of even a single branch of government.

Again, Noonan and Blankley are wrong. The Daily Kos type liberals have not taken over the party and do not represent most or even many Democrats. But they are listened to and increasingly pandered to by top-ranking Democrats. But the more they are allowed in, the easier it is for Republicans to call the Democrats crazy. And if that sticks like the “Democrats have no new ideas” theme stuck, the Democrats are in serious trouble.

The Democrats are making it easy for the Republicans to define them. The elections this year and in 2008 will be a crucial period for the party. Can it climb from its slump with bold, positive leadership, or will it collapse completely under the combined weight of inertia and hard left lunacy? It’ll come down to how hard the traditional left and center left want to fight the hard left for control of the party.

Wednesday, February 01, 2006

No Posts Today

It looks like my job will be taking up all my time today and I won't have any spare moments to write a post or two.

To those who are surprised to learn that I actually work for a living, I can assure you I try not to make a habit of it. I certainly don't live for my work. I work so I can enjoy living.

Hmm, that was almost superficially philosophical enough to count as a real post...