Friday, March 30, 2007


A few complaints because I’m feeling grumpy … even though it’s Friday

• I thoroughly hate that Southwest Airlines doesn’t have assigned seats. Instead, if you want a decent seat, you have to remember to go online and print off a boarding pass 24-hours in advance. That gets you into the A group but your work is hardly done. Once at the gate, you have to line up well before boarding. If perchance you are busy and unable to go online for a boarding pass, you get stuck in B or C group and will most likely end up in a middle seat.

With Southwest, we’re free to move about the country. But we ain’t free to travel in comfort.

• I will never fly through Houston Hobby again. To transfer flights I had to exit back into the main concourse and then go through security again. Stripping down for the second time that day was bad enough. But the terminal I ended up in looked like it’d been built in 1967 and then abandoned after some apocalyptic calamity. It was like some forgotten set piece from a Planet of the Apes movie. In-and-of-itself, this would have been moderately bearable … had not the bar closed five minutes after I got there.

• Final complaint of the day (and a shallow one at that): Sanjaya on American Idol is the worst contestant in the series’ history … which is saying a lot considering the show is an ongoing parade of terminally off-key wannabe singers. But this bizarre little fellow is extra-special bad. He performs like some seventh-grader playing dress-up and singing the blandest song on the Karaoke machine. Remember the old Tonto, Tarzan and Frankenstein singing skit on Saturday Night Live? Sanjaya would be kicked out of that group. He is either completely delusional or Andy Kaufmann has returned to us in the form of a 17 year-old Indian boy.

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Monday, March 26, 2007

Business Calls

I will be away until Friday on business. Usually I'd leave links to great reads but I've been ambushed by a stack of rush jobs. Such is the way of the business world.


Sunday, March 25, 2007

The Mighty Fall and We Can't Turn Away

The criticism of Attorney General Alberto Gonzales continues to increase. Four years ago, the Bush administration would have escaped such a situation unscathed. In fact, they would have turned the whole thing against their opponents and counted the matter a victory.

Now they can't even get the dang thing out of the news. Even their most ardent supporters are left with no better defense than feeble cries of "Clinton did it too!" Things aren't good in Bushland when you have to hide behind Clinton.

And all of this is exactly why us politics-junkies stay hooked. The storylines are classic, the characters are fantastically flawed and the gamesmanship stunning to watch. It's like Greek drama played for keeps. It's like Shakespearean football. And, best of all, it's Important (capital I).

The underlying drama is what makes the Gonzales case fascinating. How has one of the most effective and cut-throat political operations in history become so impotent? It has a little to do with the war. It has a little to do with the Democratic majority. But it has a lot to do with the nature of power and folly and the inevitable declines written into the meta-narrative of our political system.

We watch because it matters. But we're entranced because it's good drama.

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Friday, March 23, 2007

In Support of Edwards

Elizabeth Edwards’ cancer has returned but the John Edwards presidential campaign will continue. There is already debate about whether or not this is a good decision by the Edwards, but I have no problem with their choice.

First of all, my natural instinct is to support the personal decisions made by families in matters of sickness and health. Who are we to say what’s right or wrong when it comes to coping with an illness? Some people want to stop their lives and focus on healing. Others want to keep going at full-speed and miss nothing of their life. The choice is up to the people involved.

Secondly, given the nature of Ms. Edwards’ diagnosis and prognosis, why would the campaign need to halt? Yes, the cancer is incurable but it is treatable. And Ms. Edwards can have that treatment as an outpatient with minimal disruption to her life and wellbeing. She could live with this cancer for many, many years.

So, the Edwards can either go on with their life as planned or stop and do what? Wait for Ms. Edwards to get sick? Sit around wondering if she’s going to die soon? By all accounts, the stresses of the campaign will not weaken Ms. Edwards or cause the cancer to spread. So why not keep going?

I find the Edwards’ willingness to fight the disease without sacrificing their dreams a very appealing quality. Good for them.

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Thursday, March 22, 2007

Don't Punish Parents for Overweight Kids

Well, that didn’t take long. Less than a month ago I predicted that we’d soon see an American case similar to the British decision to remove an overweight boy from his mother’s care (British authorities later decided to leave the child with the mother). Now, in Spartanburg, North Carolina, authorities are threatening to take a grossly overweight seven-year old away from his mother (CNN video link) if the boy doesn’t show some weight loss in the next two weeks.

The mother in the Spartanburg case has seen numerous doctors about her son’s weight and claims to do everything she can to regulate his diet and make sure he’s exercising. If you’ve watched the video, you know the boy is massive in an almost unnatural way. The mother herself is by no means thin but it’s hard to believe, even in an unhealthy eating environment, that any seven-year old could get as huge as the one in this story.

Without knowing more than what’s reported by CNN, I have to say that this looks more like a medical problem than a case of parental neglect. But even if the mother is letting he child have too many candy bars, should she lose custody of her son? Is unhealthy eating to be treated with the same government interventions as purposeful malnutrition and physical abuse?

As I said when last I wrote on this topic, if the government is going to get involved in our national weight issue, turning parents into the enemy is not the way to go. I have no problem if municipalities and larger governmental organizations want to provide funds to help parents with overweight children. But to take those children away from a loving family is a terrible solution.

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Wednesday, March 21, 2007

Approaching the Radical Middle from the Right

In Mark Satin’s latest edition of the Radical Middle on-line newsletter, Stain asks the question: are the best conservative thinkers becoming radical middle?.

Satin notes that, up until recently, most radical middle writers and thinkers (I’ve called them dynamic centrists) have hailed from the left. This is because, in Satin’s view, Democratic big-government thinking burned out in the 90s. Now, as Republican small-government thinking appears to be running out of gas as well, a number of thinkers from the right are moving towards the radical middle.

And what does the radical middle from a right-leaning perspective look like? It eschews both small government and big government in favor of strong government – or, as I would put it, effective government.

Satin references David Brooks’ assertion that there has always been a third strain in American politics extending from Alexander Hamilton to Abraham Lincoln to Teddy Roosevelt. That “progressive conservatism” strain is now dormant but should be, in Brooks’ and Satin’s views, resurrected for our time.

To get a full flavor of what this progressive-conservative form of the radical middle looks like, read Satin’s whole article. In fact, read Satin’s enlightening book Radical Middle which offers many of the same policy suggestions now being expressed by the new breed of conservative centrists.

Without getting into the important details, the gist of this viewpoint is: to use the powers of government to promote the betterment of citizens by removing unfair barriers and creating opportunities rather than entitlements. That’s a broad description. Here’s an even broader one: it’s about promoting the responsibility of the individual to society AND promoting the responsibility of the government to the individual.

I find the radical middle extraordinarily compelling. Any politician who can capture this mode of thinking and not just give lip-service to it will win my vote.

That’s why I always like to read Mark Satin. He reminds me that there really are new ideas out there and not all of today’s writers and thinkers are trapped in the either/or form of liberal vs. conservative. I hope some of our better leaders are paying attention.

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Tuesday, March 20, 2007

Taking Tournament Brackets to the Next Level

I don’t follow college basketball. But that doesn’t matter. My brackets consistently hold up as well as the brackets of friends who obsess over the sport. That’s why the NCAA tournament is so much fun. It’s structured yet random. A lot of people get to play but only one wins.

Come to think of it, it’s a lot like presidential politics. And, really, wouldn’t the 2008 race be far less tedious if we made it a bracket system? Clinton and Obama as the one seeds on the left. Giuliani and McCain as the one seeds on the right. Then suddenly everybody’s brackets are busted when eight-seed Huckabee takes down two-seed Romney in the first round. Wouldn’t that be a hell of a lot more fun?

Get rid of the primaries and conventions. We do the whole thing every four years in November. Call it November N-sanity. We all go to the polls every weekend and vote the candidates down until one Democrat and one Republican remain. Then we throw a big party, get drunk and vote on who gets to cut the nets down on the White House basketball court.

Simple. Efficient. And, you know, pretty dang American.

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Monday, March 19, 2007

We're All Responsible for Failures in Iraq

So, it’s been four years. And things haven’t exactly gone well.

God knows there have been plenty of failures. The military was not remotely ready for post-invasion peace keeping. The Bush administration did an astoundingly poor job of preparing the American public for the long-term commitments of war. The pro-war forces created unforgivable divisiveness, going out of their way to demean and alienate those citizens who were not so gung-ho. The anti-war forces too-often confused their hatred of Bush with a desire to see the nation fail. The media – well, those failures are too numerous to document.

Yet, in moments like this, we are prone to place the vast majority of the blame on our elected leadership. So this war is, in many people’s minds, Bush’s great blunder. But such analysis is misleading. For all their power, Bush and our others leaders are just representatives of the people. They are us. Yes, blame should fall in heavy heaps around Bush and his administration, but if we fail in Iraq, we are all to blame – those who supported this war and those who didn’t.

Why? Because we forgot one of the most important lessons of American history: divided we fall. Our greatest failures as a nation have come when we let ourselves believe we are two peoples with irreconcilable differences. When we treat our fellow countrymen as enemies, what hope do we have of combating the real threats of the world?

I firmly believe that, regardless of the decisions made by our elected leaders, we’d be in a much better situation right now if, once we went to war, we committed ourselves as a nation to winning that war. That means allowing vociferous dissent and not labeling such disagreements as unpatriotic. That means supporting not just the wellbeing of the troops but actually supporting the mission we’ve sent the troops to do. That means unity of purpose even as we welcome differences on strategy.

If I sound like a scold, I don’t mean to be. I’m just tired of the blame being focused completely on the government or, conversely, the leftwing. We can’t shrug of our own culpability in our nation’s failures.

We stop living in a democracy the exact moment we stop believing in our own civic responsibilities.

We have not lost in Iraq yet. There is still a chance to secure some form of victory, even if that victory is not the robust democracy of neo-con dreams. Instead of trying to guarantee failure with an arbitrary timeline for withdrawal, can’t we at least attempt to save the Iraqis from the chaos we unleashed? Can’t those who think the war was a disaster of an idea and those who think the war was a noble and essential undertaking come together and agree that, whatever our other differences, we Americans don’t just start a fire and leave it to burn uncontrollably?

I probably hope for too much. But I have to hope for something.

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Saturday, March 17, 2007

There's More to St. Patty's Day than Green Beer

Here’s an interesting factoid: drawings of leprechauns like the one above were originally racist sketches of the Irish, not unlike Little Black Sambo. In fact, Notre Dame’s mascot is a living example of Irish stereotyping: short, hairy and prone to fighting rather than thinking.

Nowadays, no one considers such caricatures as remotely offensive, even in the kind of over-sensitive climate that recently pushed The University of Illinois to retire their mascot, Chief Illiniwek. Fighting Irish: good fun. Fighting Illini: unacceptably insensitive.

One could call this a double-standard where European cultures are not afforded the same considerations as non-European cultures. But really, this is just a sign of how far the Irish have come. Not only have they (somewhere between a quarter and a half of me can say “we”) overcome the obstacles of prejudice but they’ve escaped the status of second-class citizenship all together.

No doubt, white skin made a huge difference in how easily the Irish were able to assimilate. That’s why it would be patently unfair to compare Irish integration with that of non-whites. But Irish do have reasons to be proud. After all, they successfully became fully accepted Americans while keeping many aspects of their heritage alive. The fact that all of America now celebrates the feast day of Ireland’s patron saint is just one example how the Irish changed America as much as America changed them.

So drink your green beer or pint of Guinness, but remember that a lot a Irish fought through a lot of turmoil before the rest of America was ready to raise a glass to the Emerald Isle.

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Friday, March 16, 2007

A Snoozer of a Scandal

Maybe I’m a bit of an idiot, but I’m having trouble following the scandal over fired U.S. attorneys. As best as I can tell, a lot of people have fallen all over their feet but no one has broken any laws. Is this a case of clumsy politics or is there more to it?

I’m not the least bit surprised that the Bush administration would use its power to play petty political games. Nor am I surprised that Attorney General Gonzales would execute a political strategy hatched while he was White House counsel. The whole matter is distasteful. But can Congress do anything more than thwack Rove and Gonzales on the knuckles?

Perhaps Gonzales perjured himself by answering questions on the matter during is AG confirmation hearing? Is that even provable? Much of this story is being played out through the modern scandal-enhancement system we all call e-mail. But do any of those emails prove wrongdoing or are they just another example of political callousness?

I don’t know. I feel like I need to read 30 articles to sort it all out. This is just not a very gripping scandal. But maybe, as I said, I’m a bit of an idiot.

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Thursday, March 15, 2007

The Challenge of YouTube

I’ve been wondering when some big media company was going to sue YouTube. Now, Viacom is seeking $1 billion for what it considers YouTube’s willful copyright infringement of everything from The Daily Show with Jon Stewart to Sponge Bob Square Pants.

Anytime I visit YouTube, I’m amazed at the breadth of content available from the site. Ostensibly, YouTube is for sharing homemade videos. But much of the site is comprised of clips extracted from professionally produced material. And that’s the problem.

As thrilling as it is to see an obscure recording of a 40s musician playing live, that clip is owned by a company and the artist is possibly owed royalties for any re-airing. But YouTube allows users to circumvent commerce – even subverts it. This may be liberating for the user but is it fair or sustainable?

Our system of entertainment is profit-oriented. If content producers cannot profit from their work, there will be no work. I don’t know about y’all, but I’d like more choices than the conspiracy theory documentaries and college-students-being-stupid video clips that make-up much of the user-generated content on YouTube. I like my network television and studio movies and I’m not ashamed to say so.

That said, I’m not convinced YouTube is significantly affecting entertainment profits—not currently at least. Their success has much more to do with the streaming-video innovations they’ve made than it does with all the Jon Stewart uploads. Viacom has a lot to prove if they want to win their case.

Most likely, the lawsuit will serve as a kind of warning shot, a notice to YouTube that they’re being monitored closely. As music downloads have proven, once a technology exists, it’s impossible to stop people from using it. Networks and studios will have to wage a two-front war: one against the sites illegally posting their content and one inside their own companies where these new technologies must be harnessed and used to create an advantage.

Many networks have already made agreements with YouTube to carry free content. But this is just the beginning. Creating a workable profit stream is the next challenge. And I’m sure YouTube will play along – after all, if there wasn’t lots of money to be made, why did Google buy the company?

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Wednesday, March 14, 2007

Democrat's Plan Won't Bring Stability to Iraq

Senate Democrats are looking for citizens to sign a petition in support of their Iraq plan. The petition says this:

Become a Citizen Copsonsor of the Joint Resolution introduced by Senators Reid, Durbin, Schumer, Murray, Levin, Bayh and Feingold calling for the President to bring stability to Iraq by beginning a phased redeployment of U.S. forces in 120 days with the goal of redeploying most combat forces by the end of March 2008.

I can understand those who believe our presence will never stabilize Iraq so it is better to remove our armed forces from harm’s way. I can even understand the morally vacant argument that the Iraqis are not worth any more of our time, money or blood. But I simply cannot understand how anyone of intelligence can believe the rationale put forth in this Democratic petition.

We are going to withdrawal to bring stability to Iraq? As if the only thing causing the bloodshed is our presence? Democrats, who embrace the notion that Iraq is in a civil war, know damn well that the sectarian conflicts engulfing that nation will not stop the moment American troops leave. In fact, those conflicts will most likely escalate into a true civil war.

Stability might occur after our withdrawal – but only when one side has brutalized the other sides into submission. By positioning support for redeployment as an attempt to stabilize Iraq, Senate Democrats are being patently dishonest. If these Democrats are truly interested in Iraq’s stability, they should propose a plan that might have a chance of achieving such a goal.

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Friday, March 09, 2007

A Little Reading While I'm Away

I will be out of town visiting family until next Wednesday. So, as I always try to do, here are some great posts by other writers from my blogroll.

Amba brings us the interesting story of plummeting sales of magnetic yellow ribbons.

Aubrey J. explains the theory that if we hadn’t invaded Iraq we’d be fighting a far bloodier war in Afghanistan.

Centrisity gives us a hilarious political cartoon.

Callimachus discusses the moral shame of the ALA. That’s The American Library Association – and, yeah, it really is shameful. Read it.

I also enjoyed this Callimachus post about Bush’s failure to ask enough of the civilian citizenry – a point I’ve harped on more than once.

Just about anything Ali Eteraz writes is worth reading, particularly for anyone serious about understanding Islam. This post is fascinating and so wonderfully written it makes me want to hang up my quill.

Fed Locally praises the political wisdom and skill of Tony Blair.

Gruntled Center gives us this astute Biblical analysis linking Barack Obama with a great figure from the Old Testament.

As I have recently said, the whole controversy over Al Gore’s power bill is off-topic. NeoMugwump agrees and has this excellent commentary.

Richard Lawrence Cohen is a master of words. But, in this post he shares with us some hilarious words invented by others.

That’s hardly all that’s worth reading. There’s much more. I’ve just run out of time to link. So, until Wednesday, take care y’all.


To Our Esteemed Federal Government...

Thanks for changing daylight savings time. I'm going to enjoy waking up in pitch blackness. Really. Super job.


Pop Friday 3/9

• I always have to begin with American Idol: the top 12 are finally set and most of the fat has been cut. But not all. As I feared, Sanjaya is still in the competition but there’s only so long he can last. Of course, he might be better than Haley who, despite being from San Antonio, is not exactly my favorite. Like Sanjaya, she’s dull and has very little range. But she may be even worse because she picks more annoying songs. Sabrina should have made the top 12 instead of Haley, but every year of AI needs its cheesy female vocalist who will be voted out the first week of the finals. That’s Haley.

As for Sundance not making the finals. So what. He’s really nothing more than an average bar singer who managed to have a brilliant audition. His cover of “Jeremy” was emotionally dead. I won’t miss him, even if he was better than either Sanjaya or Phil Stacey.

• So, Marvel Comics is killing off Captain America. You’d think this would be a time when the shielded-one would be most needed. Odd, the character appeared in WWII and died during the War on Terror. Is there a political comment by Marvel in all of this? Of course, in the comic-book world, no one actually stays dead. Just look at Superman.

• Speaking of political comments, I couldn’t help but wonder if the torture-themed flashbacks in this week’s Lost weren’t a veiled comment on U.S. torture policies. The message: do not sink to the level of your enemy. Refuse to even come close.

Good message as far as I’m concerned. And that’s it for this week.


Thursday, March 08, 2007

Cries of Hypocrisy

I’ve noticed an interesting new line of attack against Democrats. Populist hypocrisy – the idea that it is disingenuous for politicians like Al Gore, John Edwards and Nancy Pelosi to ask for sacrifices from the rest of us while respectively running up huge electric bills, building massive mansions and requesting private jets. It doesn’t matter that all three cases are not nearly as cut-and-dry as the headlines make them seem. What matters is the perception of hypocrisy.

This is an interesting line of attack. After all, two of the Democrats greatest and most effective champions of the poor, Franklin Roosevelt and Robert Kennedy, were filthy rich. Were they hypocrites because they feasted while worrying about those going hungry?

Here’s where rightwing critics miss the point: Democrats hardly ever ask us to personally sacrifice. What they ask us to do is support government-based solutions. Yes, personal initiative is welcome (particularly in Gore’s cures for climate crisis) but, ultimately, all they’re asking is that we elect leaders who will marshal the power of government to address liberal concerns. Eventually we’ll have to pay higher taxes (particularly if we’re wealthy) but that’s a down-the-road matter.

The Republicans are the ones that generally demand personal initiative – whether it’s staying chaste before marriage or pulling ourselves up by the bootstraps without government assistance. A Republican politician who, for unfathomable reasons, was on welfare while cutting funds to that program would be a hypocrite. But a Democrat who lives in a mansion while increasing welfare spending is not.

The Democrats err not in failing to abandon privilege but in failing to look outside government power for solutions. John Edwards supports more government programs for the poor. But what if he instead supported living humbly and giving excess wealth to charity? Does not earnest sacrifice trump a willingness to pay higher taxes?

Morally, yes. But practically? Could we really be economically successful if we gave up the very-American desire to accumulate and then spend wealth? It’s vastly more realistic to just tax the hell out of ourselves than it is to expect each individual to willingly surrender wealth, however noble the cause. Unfortunately, most Democrats don’t even try to develop solutions based on individual initiative. They go right for the Big Government Spending Program.

But that’s another topic. In the case of Republicans labeling Democrats hypocrites, the tactic will fail simply because Republican politicians are just as ungodly rich and privileged as Democratic ones. As far as I’m concerned, what policies our leaders support matters much more than how they choose to live.

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Wednesday, March 07, 2007

“I guess it was a perfect profession for someone who was putting off being someone.”

The quote is from Amba in a post about her years of ghostwriting. She is talking about how ghostwriters imbed themselves in another person’s life to the detriment of the writer’s own self. But damn-it-all if that one line doesn’t hit me square in the gut.

Unlike Amba’s ghostwriting, my copywriting does not lead me to impersonate. Mine is the art of unsubtle persuasion, constantly the carnival barker shouting “here, buy this, it will improve your life.” Yet much like the ghostwriter, I do not own the words I write. There is no attribution. No assurance that what I write won’t be changed by others a hundred times over before appearing in print.

I tell myself “at least I’m a writer.” Writing has been my passion since I was scribbling stories in crayon. Shouldn’t I rejoice in knowing I’m one of the lucky few who can make a living as a writer? Why do I feel that this advertising profession of mine is just a fallback – a bland snack while others feast?

The answer is this: I am putting off being someone. Amba’s words are just right. It’s not about waste, for I believe I’ve wasted little and live a pretty nice life. It’s not about failure, because I have achieved many things. It is, at the heart of it, about leaving too much of my talent off the table. I have let myself be content with a gruel of mushy success, just filling enough to let me sleep but too plain to truly satisfy.

What I want is to be a writer of fiction. Yes I have written many stories and have even had a few short pieces published, but I’ve never made a strong push to be more than a hobbyist. Lately I’ve even toyed with the idea of relegating the whole notion of fiction writing to that same back shelf where I store the old dreams of being an actor or an astronaut. At least then, I figure, I could stop the gnawing sense that I am not being that someone I could be.

But I cannot hide away this particular passion. I can only follow it or pretend I’m living it. I’ve been pretending for awhile. And now the self-deception has ruptured – it’s been threatening to do so for a good while.

This all means nothing to Maverick Views. Blogging may take time but it has its purpose. There are many more habits I can cast aside if it’s time I need. But time appears when the will demands it. The will is what I need now. I’ll let you know the progress.

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Clinton and Libby Have Little in Common

The entire case reminded me of Ken Starr and Paula Jones. President Clinton got into trouble for failing to tell the truth under oath as you know, just as Libby has. Interesting to see how the left in both cases handled it. Right?

That’s Bill O’Reilly, commenting on the Scooter Libby guilty verdict. He goes on to say Libby got what he deserved, but I gotta call him out on the little spin job above.

Clinton lied under oath about a matter that was of no direct relevance to the case at hand, namely the Whitewater land deal. Libby lied under oath specifically about the case at hand. That is a significant difference. Clinton was stupid to lie but it’s not too hard to view the Monica Lewinsky questioning as a form of entrapment. Libby was entrapped only by his own attempts to weasel out of culpability.

So, no, it’s not interesting to see how the left handled both cases. The cases are not particularly similar and the left’s reactions are not a sign of hypocrisy. That’s not to say that the left hasn’t overplayed Libby’s trial and the whole Plame affair (they have). But let’s keep a little perspective.

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Sad News...

Tuesday, March 06, 2007

Another Case of Award Show Politics

I stopped taking most entertainment awards seriously years ago when I figured out that winners and losers are based more on industry politics than actual talent. Well, now it seems that “industry politics” includes national politics as the phenomenally talented Dixie Chicks did not receive a single nomination for this year’s Academy of Country Music awards.

We know why, right? Because the Dixie Chicks have the audacity to be liberal and even insulted the President when lead-singer Natalie Maines said the band is embarrassed that Bush is from Texas. As insults go, that’s hardly even a poke. But the country music world exploded with the kind of rabid anger best reserved for our enemies, not three women with twangs in their voices.

And yet, The Chicks are still being punished, proving that the ACM awards are illegitimate measures of talent.

Of course, that other Academy (the one of Motion Pictures and Sciences) is not exactly innocent of placing politics before talent. After all, does anyone really believe that a PowerPoint presentation about global warming was the year’s best documentary? However noble one thinks Al Gore’s crusade is, the ex-Vice President’s Oscar win is an insult to the hardworking documentary filmmakers who struggled to create gripping nonfiction features this year.

The liberal agenda of the Academy Awards voters even catapulted Melissa Etheridge’s clunky song from An Inconvenient Truth to an Oscar, thus denying any of the far-superior Dreamgirls’ songs a rightful place at the podium. Even Randy Newman's song from Cars would have been more deserving.

Not that any of this really matters. Entertainment awards are undeniably pointless. But I can’t help but see this as just another sign that we as a nation are losing the ability to rationally separate our politics from our personal opinions of one another. We would do better not to be so shallow.

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Monday, March 05, 2007

Coulter, Cheney-haters and the Mock Outrage

To get my take on Ann Coluter's latest stupidities as well as my view of leftists who think Cheney's death in Afghanistan would have been a good thing, read my post at Donklephant.

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Death and ...

Once again, I have taken part in the yearly tax ritual. You know, the one where you surround yourself with a bunch of documents and then answer a computer program’s questions that range from the easy (your name) to the indecipherable (what amortization method would you like to use for Alan’s Computer?) to the just-asking-for-a-fib (do you have written documentation to prove the expenses?).

Last year, after I completed my taxes, I wrote about the inherent problems with the self-employment tax. This year, I thought I’d share some general thoughts about our ever-enthralling tax code.

• Want to talk tax-cuts-for-the-rich? Being able to deduct all the interest and property taxes paid on your primary residence is a serious tax break for those owning expensive homes. Not that a bunch of rich congressmen are ever going to change that rule…

• Why is it you get a deduction for dependent childcare costs but no tax break if either the mother or the father stays home to care for a child? I think a stay-at-home parent tax deduction would be a socially and economically valuable addition to the code

• Maybe I read this wrong, but it seems you can only deduct gambling losses if you also report gambling winnings. Winnings? You can win at gambling? Maybe I should be trying harder next time I’m in Vegas.

• Can you imagine going in to buy a car and the dealer throwing you a bunch of paperwork and saying “here, figure out how much your car will cost …and if you underestimate we will fine you.” That’s insane. And yet, that’s what the government does to us each year.

• If it weren’t for computer tax programs, some accountant would be getting paid to do my taxes. No way I could figure out my deductions and liabilities using the government forms. No way.

• For the first time in years, I didn’t have to figure out state income taxes. I love being back in Texas.

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Friday, March 02, 2007

Must-Read of the Day

Ali Eteraz writes about evolving Islamic jurisprudence. There's no way you can read this post and not learn something new about Islam, its diversity of thought and its ability to change with the times.

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Pop Friday 3/2

American Idol thoughts: Every year, pre-teen girls and half-deaf grandmas conspire to advance whichever boy is the most blandly unthreatening. I guess that’s why Sanjaya is still in the competition despite once-again putting us to sleep with a timid, charisma-less performance. On the ladies side, Antonella is also experiencing a stay far beyond her talents. If she survives one more week, she could be the least-talented singer in the final 12 since AI’s first season. She has neither range nor character. But she's very attractive and so she stays while the more-talented but odd-looking Leslie exits the show. On the guys side it was the swinging Nick getting the unfair boot so that Sanjaya can bore us again next week. Oh the unfairness of it all.

• Academy Awards thoughts: So, The Departed actually won. It’s nice to see the best film actually receive the best picture Oscar. I’ve read a lot of people saying that it was too long or too bloody. And a lot more saying it is nowhere near Scorcese’s best. It was a little long but the length didn’t ruin the film. As for the violence, it was shocking but it was also plot-perfect. The movie loses its impact without the ending sequences. And, sure, it’s not Scorcese’s best but it’s still one of the best films in the last few years – certainly better than Crash or Million Dollar Baby.

• This week’s Heroes was the most entertaining hour of television I’ve seen in years. Seriously. That show is a thrill-park ride.

• I actually spent a few minutes surfing through YouTube this week. That was boring. I never knew the average person could be so dully self-involved. I wonder if I’m that way. This post proves I probably am.

• The least-annoying show for preschoolers? Backyardigans. Most annoying? Dragontales. Someday I’m going to write a post about the world of preschool television and the bizarre attempts some of these shows make to educate children in cultural sensitivities.

That’s it for today. Later.

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Thursday, March 01, 2007

Purging the Islamaphobes

In the greater scheme of things, few would consider Dean Esmay a leading conservative voice. But he is the proprietor of Dean’s World, one of the most-read group blogs on the center-right. And he’s just tackled head-on an issue that may become a huge point of conflict within the conservative movement: Islamaphobia.

A few days ago, Dean drew a line in the virtual sand and purged all front-page writers and all commentors who refused to abide by these five points:

1) Islam does not represent the forces of Satan or the Anti-Christ bent on destruction of the Christian world.

2) There is no 1,400 year old "war with the West/Christianity" being waged by Muslims or anyone else.

3) Islam as a religion is no more inherently incompatible with modernity, minority rights, women's rights, or democratic pluralism than most religions.

4) Medieval, anachronistic, obscure terms like "dhimmitude" or "taqiyya" are suitable for polite intellectual discussion. They are not and never will be appropriate to slap in the face of everyday Muslims or their friends.

5) Muslims have no more need to prove that they can be good Americans, loyal citizens, decent people, or enemies of terrorism than anyone else does.

He’s right. He’s right on all five points whether or not he’s right to cast out those who disagree (I’m not one for purges but it’s his blog and there are far worse reasons to cast people out).

Here’s the crux of it: Islam is not the cause of terror anymore than Christianity was the cause of the Spanish Inquisition. Islam is a tool being used by evil men who desire total power at any price. Religion is problematic that way. Ancient texts are easily abused, meanings easily warped, taken out of context and applied wrongfully to the modern world.

Don’t agree? Let me ask you this: do you believe there are Muslims who have no bloodlust and no plan (secret of otherwise) to forcibly convert us all? If yes, then you have to accept that Islam is indeed compatible with modernity and can be practiced free of violence. If no, then you have to claim that every non-violent Muslim is not a real Muslim. And who are you to make that claim? It’s fallacious on every level.

Look, the problem with Nazism was the Nazis, not the German people. The problem with Soviet communism was the Soviet communists, not the Russian people. And the problem with radical Islam is the radical Islamists, not the Muslim believers. Yes all radical Islamists are Muslims but the equation doesn’t work in reverse. In many ways, the Muslim world is just as threatened by this death cult as are we in the West.

Combating the radical Islamists is already extremely difficult because they’ve wrapped their ideology in the trappings of religion. We do not need to make things any more difficult by accusing those not on the radical side of being incapable of coexisting with our values. Are we going to exterminate one of the world’s largest religions? Hell no. And there’s no sense even taking one step down any path that will result in such a profane conclusion.

Maybe Dean is wrong to effectively silence debate on the issue. But, then again, the end of this war can only come by forming alliances with and providing aide to moderate Muslims. Those who think otherwise really don’t leave much room for debate.

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Environmentalism as Earth Worship

Last week, my wife and I toured one of the few area preschools not associated with a church. We knew it was a bit hippy-dippy but we also knew it had a good reputation. Everything was going well until the school day began with all the children sitting around in a circle. They use this time to tell a multi-culturally approved story and sing a song, which was fine by me. But then, at the end, they placed a globe in the center of the circle and proceeded to worship it.

O.k., they didn’t worship it. They said some mumbo jumbo about loving and caring for Mother Earth and then began the school day. But I was left with the feeling of having just unwittingly prayed to someone else’s god – not something you expect from a secular school.

In one of those odd convergences, I have since read two references to Earth worship as the new secular religion. First, Amba mentioned the phenomenon in her post about the Oscars. Then today I read an article from American Thinker, also about the Oscars, that made the same point:

The belief in man-made catastrophic global warming, or what Gore kept dubbing the "climate crisis," (any bad weather will do, as in this year's extremely cold winter) is the new secular religion and Gore its preacher. And Hollywood has become the locus for its devotees.

Amba even jokingly called An Inconvenient Truth Hollywood’s answer to The Passion of the Christ. And I have to say, there’s some real truth there.

Science aside (and I do believe the science), it is primitively religious to believe that natural disasters are a punishment for man’s sins – in this case our wastefulness. And our penance? Acts of self-denial of course.

Where the religious man fasts, the environmentalist gives up his large car or green lawn or toilet that flushes properly. Where the religious man gives alms, the environmentalist plants a tree. Sunday communion at church vs. Sundays communing with nature.

It’s all right there, the parallels strikingly clear. And it’s not too much of a surprise. After all, there is nothing more taxing than being an atheist. We’re all keenly aware of our minuteness and inclined to find solace in that which is greater than us. For secularists, there is no higher power more worldly than the world itself.

And, instead of being supported by an ancient holy book, environmentalists can point to science and know they are grounded in reality. Expect the problem is, once you start seeing all actions and reactions as inextricably linked to a higher power, you’ve crossed over into faith. And faith meshes poorly with science.

The challenge for environmentalists is to keep their minds open to new science. Some things we consider environmentally unfriendly today may turn out to be not so bad. Some of our solutions may turn out to be worthless. If the environmentalist movement can roll with the punches, then their religious-esque rituals are harmless. If they become rutted in their beliefs, we’ll make little environmental progress.

The challenge for the rest of us is to not fall into the trap of conflating all environmentalism with some kind of Gaia worship (as this article from the American Policy Group does). I can easily see the braying nimrods of the right using this Earth Worship meme as a means to discredit all attempts at environmental protection and improvement. We can’t let such idiocy take hold.

As for me, looks like the boy is going to be attending a nice mainline Protestant preschool – where worship is called worship. And where the monthly tuition is actually affordable.

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