Wednesday, February 28, 2007

"Liberal vs. Conservative" Misstates the Conflict

In response to Dennis Sander’s call for a conservative Euston Manifesto, Callimachus declares that there cannot be such a manifesto because there are no conservatives. We are all liberals now.

I completely agree that liberalism is the vastly dominant ideology of America and the rest of the West. George Bush, for all the spite he generates from the left, is a liberal. After all, only a liberal would believe so completely in mankind’s inalienable right to freedom. Only a liberal would try so forcefully to change the world.

Liberalism is the American philosophy. We yearn for change. Yes, there is and has always been an element of “let’s keep it the way it’s always been,” but from the loyalists to the segregationists, those people have continually ended up on the losing side of history. So, yes, Callimachus is right, we’re all pretty much liberals in the grand definition of liberalism.

But I think Callimachus is mistaken when he says the dichotomy has collapsed and, to paraphrase, we’re all just factions of the same philosophy fighting it out in the mud pits. The dichotomy is not and hasn’t for a long time been liberal vs. conservative. The dichotomy is collectivist vs. individualist. And that conflict is alive and well.

Why is there an odd convergence of rhetoric between many Western liberals and radical Islamists? Well, for one, both ideologies are fundamentally collectivist, believing in the community as superior to the individual. How about the American Right and Evangelical Christians? Both are fundamentally individualistic, whether it’s focusing on one’s personal relationship with God over community ritual or focusing on the free market over government control.

As with all labeling attempts, it’s impossible to put any one person 100% into any one category. But I think we are very much in a period where those who primarily desire a collectivist culture (whether that culture is based on Islam or socialist-tinged democracy) are facing off with those who primarily desire an individualistic culture.

One could easily argue that multi-culturalism is a modern addition to collectivist theory, a natural extension of the belief that we’re all better off the more we shun hierarchy and incorporate our whole community into one equal group. And one could also argue that much of the War on Terror is a product of the individualistic desire to place the protection of one’s own interests and livelihood above all other concerns.

Sure, you could pick this viewpoint apart, but there is truth at the bottom. I could go on and on with examples of collectivism on the left versus individualism on the right. But this is a blog post and brevity must be served.

I will conclude with the thought that there need not be such intense conflict in this dichotomy. Both collectivism and individualism have much to offer. Perhaps the struggle of our times is to find a way to balance the two without, in the process, sacrificing our greater liberal principles.

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Tuesday, February 27, 2007

Should Childhood Obesity be Considered Neglect?

A mother in Great Britain might lose custody of her son because the boy is significantly overweight. Officials are treating the case as one of possible child neglect.

Despite this story coming from the other side of the Atlantic, it certainly raises an interesting question. Should parents be held liable for childhood obesity? Here in the United States, the NIH has already declared the problem an epidemic as one in five American children are considered obese.

No one argues whether or not obesity in children is a serious health problem. It is. And parents simply have to be on the frontline in preventing the problem. But considering obesity as a sign of neglect seems more than just a little bit shortsighted.

Hopefully such a case won’t happen in the U.S. But with local governments already banning trans fat and some even considering a fat tax on junk foods, some municipality somewhere is bound to go after parents of overweight children.

But if the government is going to get involved in our national weight problem, reactive measures are not the way to go. Giving parents more tools (better/safer local parks, information campaigns, etc.) and providing children with more physical education in schools is far better than turning parents into the enemy.

The thing we have to remember about obesity is that it’s not cut-and-dry. What constitutes “fat” and which children actually suffer health risks are not matters of scientific certainty. Therefore, public policy cannot be rigid either.

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Monday, February 26, 2007

New TSA Scanner OK By Me

I’m a pretty big advocate of privacy rights. But, I have to admit, I’m not at all concerned with the new airport security scanner being rolled out at U.S. airports.

Called the backscatter, the new technology can see through clothing to uncover objects metal detectors would miss, such as ceramic knives and plastic explosives. The concern is that the machine can actually produce a fairly accurate nude picture of you – except that the machines being used by the TSA are programmed to show mere outlines, no private parts exposed.

First of all, as far as I’m concerned, the right to privacy exists to shield our thoughts, movements, purchases and personal foibles from government scrutiny. I can think of a lot of private information I deem a hell of a lot more important than what I look like naked. What’s the government going to do with a fuzzy naked pic of me? Mail me a gym membership?

Secondly, that naked picture won’t ever exist. Not only will the backscatter not produce a detailed image, the image it does produce will be deleted immediately. I guess some unruly TSA employee might be able to reconfigure the system to snap a nudie of me and then print it out somewhere, but I’d consider such a scenario highly unlikely. I mean, if any TSA employee has that kind of technical skill, what are they doing working for the TSA?

I’m glad privacy rights activists are monitoring the rollout of this new technology. I think the government should always be scrutinized by the public. But I’m not concerned. In fact, I’m glad we’re finally upping our security system in ways that may actually make us safer.

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Saturday, February 24, 2007

Richardson May Have Right Idea on Iran

While Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama spar over who gets more of Hollywood’s money, Bill Richardson is writing thoughtful editorials on real issues. Richardson, former ambassador to the UN, current governor of New Mexico and presidential hopeful, lays out how he would approach Iran’s nuclear program:

No nation has ever been forced to renounce nuclear weapons, but many have chosen to do so. The Iranians will not end their nuclear program because we threaten them and call them names. They will renounce nukes because we convince them that they will be safer and more prosperous if they do that than if they don't. This feat will take more than threats and insults. It will take skillful American diplomatic leadership.

… I have always believed in and worked to achieve tough, credible and direct negotiations with adversaries. To be tough, you need strong alliances and a strong military. And to be credible, you need a record of meaning what you say. By alienating our allies, overextending our military, making idle threats and antagonizing just about everyone, the Bush administration has undermined our diplomatic leverage.

Unquestionably, the Iraq War has put us in a difficult position in regards to Iran. We have neither the force of will at home nor the credibility abroad to meaningfully rattle our sabers. Yes, we could engage in air strikes but any greater military action would be politically impossible. And given our commitments in Iraq and Afghanistan, a ground war might be strategically impossible as well – at least under current conditions.

What that leaves us with is diplomacy. Many neo-cons believe that engaging in diplomatic relations with thug regimes gives those regimes undue legitimacy. In some regards, the neo-con philosophy is correct. We certainly don’t want to be hosting the leaders of The Sudan or Myanmar at White House dinners. But there’s a difference between small, strategically unimportant autocracies and regionally significant powers.

Like it or not, Iran is now a major player in the Middle East. We just eliminated their biggest foe in Saddam Hussein and now it behooves us to engage the beast we helped empower. As distasteful as it may be, we need a much more robust relationship with the Iranian government. That’s our best hope to prevent Iran from acquiring the bomb.

Yes, military action must always remain on the table, but we simply can’t play cute with our diplomatic actions. Pretending as if Iran is unworthy of bilateral talks is not only unhelpful but a bit ridiculous. The world has changed quite dramatically over the last six years. It’s time to move away from the philosophy the neo-cons enacted when Bush invited them into power. It’s time to try it another way.

Richardson’s ideas seem a good place to start.

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Friday, February 23, 2007

What's In a Candidate's Name?

So, former Iowa governor Tom Vilsack is dropping out of the 2008 race for the Democratic presidential nomination. He says the contest has already become all about money and he can't raise enough.

I wonder how much of Vilsack’s failure to gain traction has to do with his position as a small-state governor and how much has to do with his last name. There’s just something off-putting about “Vilsack.” Sounds like a German word for sheep innards.

I don’t mean to be shallow. I’m just suggesting that name-recognition is, in part, influenced by a name’s phonic connection with the voters. Vilsack is a harsh sounding word. Compare that to the lyricism of Obama, the strength of McCain or even the comfortably common Richardson.

Of course, a less-than-ideal name (think Giuliani) does not have to be a barrier to name recognition if the man or woman behind the name has done something to distinguish themselves. In the end, that may have been Tom Vilsack’s biggest problem. He is just another middle-aged white male politician with some success in a small state. With a name like Vilsack, he never really had a chance.

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Pop Friday 2/23

• After weeks of recorded shows, American Idol finally went live this week. And boy did the boys suck. Not a single one of them were memorable. Only two (Chris Sligh and Blake) even seem original. The girls are far better with at least four women good enough to win this thing.

As expected, America didn’t kick off the right people. Sundance and Sanjaya were by far the worst of the men and Antonella is nothing but a timid, mildly pleasing voice encased in plastic. All three deserved tickets home but they’ll all be back to bore us to death or make us cringe next week.

• While I don’t follow the travails of Britney Spears, I keep seeing the headlines. It’s always weird to watch a celebrity go crazy – the descent into madness is so public as to make it one-part tragedy and one-part theater. In-and-out-of-rehab. Shaved head. Attacking paparazzi. The girl’s got issues.

• Academy Awards are this weekend. I’m rooting for The Departed. That’s what a movie should be. Not the violence part but the thrust of plot, the contortion of character, the think-about-it-for-long-after conclusion. But the Academy often leaves the deeper, more intricate works by the wayside in favor of fluffier concoctions. Saving Private Ryan lost to Shakespeare in Love. L.A. Confidential lost to Titanic. Pulp Fiction lost to Forest Gump … the list goes on and on.

• I just found out they held the Grammy Awards recently. Who won? Wait, never mind. I can’t even elevate my emotions to the level of mild interest … let alone caring.

• Speaking of music, I used to listen to the newest of new music. But now I’ve become a musical fossil. In my CD changer right now I have Johnny Cash, Frank Sinatra, Pearl Jam, Counting Crows and U2’s Joshua Tree. Nothing recorded in the last decade. Sad.

That’s it for this week. Have a good weekend.


Thursday, February 22, 2007

Psst, Bud, Wanna News Story? Just $3.5 Million.

Ever since I started blogging, I’ve gotten some weird solicitations by email. Most of them are get-quick-rich-with-your-blog schemes. But the one I got yesterday is even more bizarre than usual. Some guy is selling a news story for $3.5 million.

I don’t know what’s stranger, the farcical price of $3.5 million for a news story or that someone thinks bloggers are a reasonable market for million-dollar solicitations. Weird stuff. Had to share.

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Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Even After Win, Purge Attempts Continue

The Washington Post has a very interesting article on how the leftwing of the Democrats are continuing to attack moderate party members in an effort to purify the party. The article focuses on the left’s campaign to take out California representative Ellen Tauscher, head of the centrist New Democrat Coalition.

Never mind that the New Democrats increased from 47 to 60 congressional members after last year’s election. The leftists in the party not only believe they are the future, they believe the future has no room for would-be allies who don’t march in lockstep.

As far as I’m concerned, the current appeal of the Democrats is their diversity of opinion. Too often the Republicans seem like some bizarre collective consciousness—groupthink masquerading as ideology. I’d hate to see Democrats go the same way. But, apparently, that’s exactly where the leftists are trying to take the party.

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Lent, Big Macs and Faith as Free Will

For the last six years, I’ve partaken in the rituals of Lent. For a few years, I gave up all meat—until I realized that a 40-day diet of pasta and cheese pizza is bad for the body. Since then, I’ve chosen other indulgences to forgo. Beer. Cookies. This year: all fast food.

But why? After all, the Bible makes no mention of Lent or the traditions surrounding this Christian holy season. The entire event was constructed by the Church, the 40 days chosen as a spiritual bond with the 40 days Jesus spent in the wilderness before beginning his missionary.

Like that period in Christ’s life, this is a time for reflection, for penance and, ultimately, for renewal. A renewal that comes in celebration of another moment in the life of Christ: the crucifixion and the resurrection. So, the faithful who choose to observe Lent are choosing to walk closer with Jesus, to prepare their spirits to embrace the resurrection.

That’s the point. But how does giving up Big Macs bring anyone closer to their God? Well, it’s all about the “why.” If you’re just giving up a pleasure out of tradition, I don’t believe there’s much point in the practice. But if you choose to abstain from a pleasure as an earnest test of your will, then a certain transcendence can be reached.

Our bodies are vessels of our souls. The link between the two is our mind. When we reject the cravings of the body, we’re placing mind over matter. The void left by the denial of the craving is filled by the spirit. In that very small yet meaningful way, we move closer to the Lord.

For those who are agnostic or atheist, such a description of the purpose of Lent’s rituals must seem odd or even a little unhinged. And yet, for me and many others, the struggle of Lent makes Easter more joyous and meaningful. Each year as I break my chosen fast, I reflect on the accomplishment and celebrate the gifts of God that allow me free will and offer me the hope that salvation is possible through the proper use of that free will.

I am no fundamentalist. I constantly question my own faith and I know my interpretations of Christianity are not supported by all or even most. But Lent is a period I deeply respect. So, this Ash Wednesday, I forgo fast food in an act of faithful will. Come Easter, I believe I’ll be better for the abstinence.


Tuesday, February 20, 2007

Yeah, I Did it Myself

Yesterday was a Big Project day. I don’t do a lot of Big Projects. I’m more of a Sunday afternoon handyman rather than a guy who takes on extended fixer-up jobs. But yesterday I returned to the task of making the nasty little back part of our yard useful—specifically, I worked on repairing an old gate and finishing the sandbox I began a full year ago.

The last Big Project I undertook and actually finished was the complete renovation of the kitchen in our DC condo. The result was quite nice but getting there did involve a small fire, a minor electrocution and the need for a tetanus shot. Not a bad accident tally for a month of unskilled labor.

My wife enjoys amusing guest with the laundry list of injuries I sustained. But, for me, the best part of that kitchen was telling visitors, “yeah, I did all this myself.”

Yesterday, I did a hack job fixing the gate. But the sandbox looks great. As I dug out all the earth that had collapsed back into the hole since I did the initial digging last year, my 3-year old helped with his little plastic shovel. He even managed to get a few clumps of dirt into the proper pile.

We finished the digging and then I finished the framing and the anti-weed tarp laying. My wife applauded the end result and was even kind enough not to mention it had taken me a year to build something most people could complete in a weekend. It was nice to see something useful appear in that section of the yard. But the best part came that evening.

As I was tucking the boy into bed, he looked at me and said “you make me a sandbox.” I said, “yep, and you helped.” To this he grinned and replied, “yeah, I did it myself.”

I could have hired some day laborers to build the sandbox. Heck, I pay people to mow my yard, I’m hardly adverse to spending money to save myself some labor. But there’s a solid satisfaction in do-it-yourself projects. I don’t think once-a-year Big Projects keep me real but they keep me at least a little more connected to my home.

That’s of value. And I’m glad I was able to share it with my son.


Monday, February 19, 2007

The Appeal of John Edwards

U.S. News and World Report has an interesting profile of John Edwards, former centrist Democrat and current Great Hope of the American left. Over the last several years I’ve watched Edwards evolve from mildly hawkish, free-trade supporting North Carolinian Senator to anti-war, protectionist hero – a change that actually appears more earnest than opportunistic.

In 2004, I supported Edwards over Kerry. Now, I disagree with many of the former Senator’s most staunchly held opinions. His “two Americas” theme has morphed from a message of hope to a message of populist insurgence. His stance on the war is practically neo-isolationist. And his policy solutions rely more on the heavy hand of government than the ingenuity of the people.

All that said, I actually prefer Edwards to Hillary Clinton. Yes, Clinton is more “centrist” and thus should be more appealing to my political leanings, but I just get the feeling that Clinton’s centrism is of the incremental, politically cautious variety – Bill Clinton’s worst instincts concentrated and magnified.

Edwards, on the other hand, is no mystery. The man is an unrepentant liberal willing to use boldness to tackle the big issues of poverty, healthcare, war and our economic future. I respect his force of vision … even as I disagree with many of his conclusions. I’d much prefer a president willing to stride forward to one who would crawl in circles. I don’t think I’m alone in that.

So while I seriously doubt I’d ever vote for Edwards in the general election, I refuse to discount his appeal or cast his opinions as generic leftism. There’s something there – something worth watching.

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Saturday, February 17, 2007

Murtha the Wrong Man to Lead Iraq Strategy

Today, both The New York Times and The Washington Post are criticizing Rep. John Murtha’s approach to stopping the Iraq surge. Marc Schulman at Donklephant has the synopses. Both newspapers conclude that Murtha, who has Speaker Pelosi’s support, is playing a cynical political game to achieve an end to the surge when he should be addressing the issue head-on.

I agree. And I am distraught by the power given the increasingly demagogic Murtha. I naively thought that when Steny Hoyer beat out Murtha for Majority Leader that the Democrats would minimize the Pennsylvania representative’s voice. Instead, Murtha is being permitted to develop the Democratic Iraq strategy.

I shouldn’t say strategy. It’s more of a game plan – as in he’s treating the situation like a game with trick maneuvers and purposeful obfuscation. As the Post notes:

[Murtha’s] aim . . . is not to improve readiness but to “stop the surge.” So why not straightforwardly strip the money out of the appropriations bill — an action Congress is clearly empowered to take — rather than try to micromanage the Army in a way that may be unconstitutional? Because, Mr. Murtha said, it will deflect accusations that he is trying to do what he is trying to do. “What we are saying will be very hard to find fault with,” he said.

Simply put: Murtha doesn’t want to be accused on not supporting the troops … even though he thinks the mission is wrong and that the troops are doomed to failure.

This is no way to handle Iraq. We’ve just gone through years of the Republicans disguising intentions through complicated political maneuvers and misleading rhetoric. And now Pelosi is going to stand by and let Murtha feed us more of the same, albeit focused on different aims?

I’m tired of congressional disingenuousness. Very tired.

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Friday, February 16, 2007

Welcome to Pop Fridays

As part of my ongoing effort to write about more than just politics, I’m instituting Pop Friday. Why? Because I’m a bit of an entertainment junky. And I have opinions.

• Does Heroes know how to spin a yarn or what? Even when the show focuses on my less-than-favorite characters, it still manages to enthrall.

Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip should just stop trying to be profound and go for funny. The show is good when it’s funny. When it’s serious, it’s as plodding as the worst seasons of The West Wing.

• Having children means I don’t see a lot of movies. But I did see Little Miss Sunshine. Well-constructed movie. Great laugh payoff at the end. But I don’t get why it’s nominated for so many Oscars. It’s a trifle of a movie. But then so was Shakespeare in Love and that actually WON the Oscar.

American Idol is down to the final 24. I watch the show and enjoy the show every year but I’m wondering if they’re close to jumping the shark. Are they choosing the best voices or are they just plugging people into preconceived slots? The overweight black girl who can belt it out. The young sensitive white guy with a nice falsetto. The gorgeous girl with great pipes but no distinguishable personality. The somewhat alternative husky voiced girl who will get voted off early because there aren’t enough modern songs for husky voiced girls. I could go on. We’ll see how this season shapes out. Taylor Hicks, last years winner, is perhaps the least talented American Idol yet, despite coming out of the biggest field. Hopefully, this year, viewers won’t be so sucked in by a barroom voice and spastic dancing.

30 Rock is surprisingly funny. My Name is Earl is fading but still watchable. Scrubs is good for a few laughs. The Office is the most ingenious comedy on television. And, suddenly, NBC has the best comedy line-up in the last decade, if not longer.

• I finally finished reading Jonathon Strange and Mr. Norell. It took me 18 months to get through the nearly 1,000 pages. I put it down many, many times in order to read other things. It’s as dense and winding as a Victorian novel. It could be 400 pages shorter and still feel overly long. And yet, despite all that, it is one of the most satisfying books I’ve read in years. The ending is perfect in a way so very few novels are.

That’s it. See you next time.

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In Defense of Procrastination

When it comes to work, I’m just as likely to be reading as I am to be typing away at a brochure. I have a whole slew of procrastination techniques that begin with my obsessive following of the NFL and proceed through blogging, reading blogs, on-line word games and even taking long walks. Before the Internet, I was a compulsive computer solitaire player—so my habits are not Internet born, merely Internet enhanced.

However, when I do work, I’m a machine. I often have good ideas fast and can execute large projects in surprisingly little time. This may be just the way my brain works but I actually attribute it to my work habits.

Here’s my theory: we are the sum of our experiences. If all you ever do during the workday is focus on work, you’re going to be a drone trapped in the machinations of your job. But if you focus some attention elsewhere during the day, you’re letting the outside world into the work world. To sound all motivational-speaker-like: procrastination keeps the door of ideas open.

Good ideas don’t come from the inside, they come from finding something new on the outside, bringing it in and adapting it to a new purpose. For most companies working in the information economy, the bottom line is not measured in hours the employees are diligently working. It’s measured in the value of their ideas and services.

In a factory-economy, success is very much tied to the speed of production. But information-economy success is as much dependent on human ingenuity as it is on raw productivity. Companies understand this dynamic but I question how many know how to create environments of creativity. From my experiences and observations, too many modern businesses still rely on the “everyone working all the time” approach.

As our economy becomes more and more information based and our workforce becomes less manual and more intellectual, we’ll have to find ways to keep our businesses ahead of global competition. Could a tolerance of procrastination be a helpful step? That would be a development I could heartily endorse.

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Thursday, February 15, 2007

Happy Returns and New Normals

First, for those of you who don't know, two of the best bloggers have recently come out of hiatus and are back at the keyboard.

Fellow three-namer Richard Lawrence Cohen is back at his eponymous blog and back to sharing his musings on life, his flash fiction and his general mastery of words and imagery.

And the pseudonymed but otherwise in-your-face M. Takhallus is back at Sideways Menken dispensing his signature brand of cutting political and social commentary.

The blogosphere is better for their return.

As for my creeping return to blogging … I have a little story. I was speaking to a friend a few weeks back and I commented that now that my daughter is approaching 3 months in age, I believed my family would get back to normal soon. This friend responded that, after you have a new child, there is no getting back to normal. You can, however, find a new normal.

So, that’s where I am. I’m finding a new normal. But this blog is actually going to be finding an old normal. When I started Maverick Views, my intention was to be more broad in scope than was my first blog, The Yellow Line. But somehow I fell back into the pattern of writing predominately about politics. What this means is that, if there’s nothing that politically interests me, I find no reason to blog. But a blog un-posted on is a blog that’s dying.

Since I’d like Maverick Views to live past one-year, I’m going to be more expansive in my writings. Exactly as I planned from the start. So, look for posts on sports, on religion, on culture, on entertainment, on food … whatever I find interesting. Hopefully you’ll find it interesting as well.

The old normal. Just as good as a new normal.


Support the Troops, Oppose the Mission? Democrats Need New Tactic.

The Wall Street Journal blasts Congress for the non-binding resolution opposing the Iraq troop surge. The Journal’s opinion is pretty straight-forward:

1) The resolution emboldens the enemy by signaling that the U.S. Congress expects defeat.

2) It’s a cowardly move to rhetorically oppose the mission but effectively do nothing to stop the surge.

The most convincing argument:

[I]f Congress feels so strongly about the troops, it arguably has the power to start removing them from harm's way by voting to cut off the funds they need to operate in Iraq. But that would make Congress responsible for what followed--whether those consequences are Americans killed in retreat, or ethnic cleansing in Baghdad, or the toppling of the elected Maliki government by radical Shiite or military forces. The one result Congress fears above all is being accountable.

We aren't prone to quoting the young John Kerry, but this week's vote reminds us of the comment the antiwar veteran told another cut-and-run Congress in the early 1970s: "How do you ask a man to be the last man to die for a mistake?" The difference this time is that Speaker Nancy Pelosi and John Murtha expect men and women to keep dying for something they say is a mistake but also don't have the political courage to help end.

This is where the Democrat’s “support the troops, not the war” position reveals its true emptiness. It’s always been impossible to support the troops without also supporting their mission. You may fervently pray for the troops’ safety and wish for their speedy return but that is not support. That is compassion. Support requires a commitment to the mission and an expectation of success.

It’s ok to be compassionate but not offer support, but Democrats won’t say as much because they’re afraid of being labeled weak on defense. So now, when the moment has come to make a real impact on this war, the Dems are paralyzed. Withdrawing funds certainly indicates a lack of support for the troops. But saying nothing about the surge indicates a lack of opposition to the mission.

The result is the impotent non-binding resolution … an official scolding that does nothing to deter Bush. Does it also embolden the enemy? That sounds to me like political posturing, a tired accusation pro-war sides always fling at the anti-war side. In reality, our failure to effectively combat the insurgents/terrorists/sectarian evildoers has done far more to embolden the enemy than will this resolution.

But that doesn’t make the resolution any less of a bad idea. If Democrats believe we are destined for failure, they need to pull the plug and take responsibility for the fallout. If they think we can still secure some form of victory, they need to allow the military and the Commander-in-Chief to do what they think is necessary to win – or, at the very least, if Democrats “support the troops,” they need to propose alternatives that don’t involve a total retreat and abandonment of all facets of the mission.

Personally, I think the surge is the wrong tactic. But I’m not resigned to defeat so I support this last attempt to secure some form of victory. I wish the President had chosen a different path but I am not yet prepared to move into the anti-war camp.

The question now is, when will the Democrats be ready to be anti-war? Their support the troops, oppose the mission philosophy is just an excuse for refusing to take responsibility. They’re trying to split the middle on an issue that has no middle. Now’s the time to either cut off funds or stop declaring American defeat.

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Wednesday, February 14, 2007

From On Air to On the Campaign Trail

Al Franken was once a funny man. Then he became a self-righteous blowhard. Now he’s completing the metamorphosis and becoming a full blown politician. That’s right, he’s running for Senate.

Hey, my hat is off to him. It’s easy to sit behind a mic and act as if you have all the answers. It’s much harder to actually put yourself out there. If we could just get Limbaugh, O’Reilly, Dobbs, Olbermann and the rest of the nattering nabobs to shut-up and put-up we’d be better off.

Or, if not better off, at least better entertained. I have a feeling an Al Franken candidacy will be far more amusing than anything the former comic ever said on Air America.


Giuliani, Abortion and a Test of Character

Reason takes a quick look at Giuliani’s nuanced abortion stance. In a matter as complex as abortion, you’d expect most serious thinkers to have nuances of opinion. But in our cultural environment, politicians tend to be steadfastly for or against.

So, while it may be politically risky for Giuliani to offer an intricate stance, I find it refreshing to hear someone say, as the mayor has, that abortion should be legal but that Roe v. Wade was improperly decided. Some may call that an attempt to split the difference and appeal to both sides. But I think it’s more indicative of an all-too-rare ability to separate personal policy preferences from legal philosophy.

Yet, abortion and other social matters are a test for Giuliani. I support honestly nuanced opinions. I would not support nuance as a political scheme – a rhetorical trick that might allow the mayor to slowly slide to the right in an attempt to woo social conservatives.

What Giuliani lacks in national government experience he makes up for in character. Social issues will test that character. Would he rather lose the nomination than turn his back on his convictions? Or will he sacrifice his beliefs to win the support of the Republican’s religious base?

We’ll see.

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Saturday, February 10, 2007

Clinton's Iraq Problem

New York Sen. Hillary Clinton said yesterday her 2002 vote for a resolution authorizing the invasion of Iraq was "not a vote for a pre-emptive war," but instead a show of support for further United Nations weapons inspections.

-- as reported on

And so continues Senator Clinton’s slow tiptoe away from her vote authorizing the Iraq War. Rather than taking a page from John Edwards and just flat out admitting she was wrong to vote yea, Clinton has spent the early part of the 2008 campaign rationalizing why her vote was right. I guess it all depends on what the meaning of “was” is.

Part of me appreciates the fact that Clinton admits that the Iraq situation was and continues to be incredibly complicated. She has shown political maturity in her willingness to talk both about the grave mistakes made and the serious responsibilities that still remain. But, at the same time, she seems to be ever so slowly giving in to the Democrats’ left flank – only a few rhetorical steps away from denouncing any previous or continued involvement in Iraq.

How Clinton navigates these difficult waters will very likely determine whether she can sail cleanly to the nomination or whether she’ll be sunk by the less-equivocal voices to her left. It’s easy to be steadfastly pro-war or unwaveringly anti-war. It’s much harder to be pro-reality and acknowledge that a solution to Iraq rests neither in blind optimism or wholesale retreat.

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Friday, February 09, 2007

The Scripted End of Anna Nicole

From a purely narrative point-of-view, Anna Nicole Smith has suffered the perfect end. A tabloid death to punctuate a tabloid life. Cue the music for True Hollywood Stories, we have a great American tale here.

More so than any other modern celebrity, Anna Nicole epitomized the commoditization of fame. With no discernable talent, man-made D-cups and a moderately attractive face, Anna Nicole was famous simply because our culture demands more celebrity than the genuinely talented can provide. By being the right type at the right places and making the right choices (and the right mistakes), Anna Nicole became famous. An inflatable celebrity product.

What makes the Anna Nicole variety of celebrity so fascinating is their endless quest for attention. Unlike those who have talent and will continue to garner attention for that talent, Anna Nicole celebs catch the spotlight because of their fame and maintain their fame by staying in the spotlight. Only through ballsy acts of gold-digging matrimony, high-level court cases, humiliating reality television and bizarre paternity disputes could a woman of Anna Nicole’s limited appeal stay on the covers, or at least on the insets, of so many major magazines.

So, what better way to secure her endless celebrity than by meeting an untimely end? No fading into obscurity for Anna Nicole. No, she will now live on as a member of the died-too-young club that fittingly includes Jayne Mansfield and Marilyn Monroe, the two bombshells on which Anna Nicole’s handlers originally modeled her upon.

For those who knew the real Anna Nicole Smith and certainly for her newborn child, her death is a tragic loss. But for the rest of us, there is something entirely unsurprising, something bizarrely preordained about this event. Our celebrity culture lives for these moments of sudden death just as it feeds on turbulent lives of the world’s Anna Nicoles – an endless parade of unremarkable humans become shallow distractions become paper icons.