Friday, April 29, 2005

Take My Poll ... Please!

     Much ado has been made out of the Washington Post-ABCNews poll, especially on the question of judicial nominees. Right wing scream-o-crats are whining that the wording is unfair and biased towards Democrats. Take a look at the actual wording:
34. The Senate has confirmed 35 federal appeals court judges nominated by Bush, while Senate Democrats have blocked 10 others. Do you think the Senate Democrats are right or wrong to block these nominations? Do you feel that way strongly or somewhat?

------Right------------Wrong------Right in some cases,No
NETStrg.Smwt.NETStrg.Smwtwrong in others (vol.)op.

36. Would you support or oppose changing Senate rules to make it easier for the Republicans to confirm Bush's judicial nominees?

SupportOpposeNo opin.
4/24/052666      8

     Is this really so controversial? Question 34 says the Democrats blocked Bush's nominees. 47% of all respondees agreed with the Dems and of the people who had an opinion, 55% said Democrats were right. Keep in mind that only 35% of respondents identified with Democrats and only 20% said they were liberal. Question 35 is even more lopsided. I agree that the question doesn't mention the word "filibuster", but I would argue that a large proportion of the country (liberal and conservative alike) don't know exactly what a filibuster is. And while the wording about Republicans and Bush may have skewed the results to a more partisan crown, 66% of respondents disagreed! That means that at least a decent number of Republicans polled voted against the words "Republican" and "Bush" in this question. As a Democrat, yes I see how I'd be inclined to give an automatic no before thinking too deepy about the question. But on the flip side, Republicans would be just as inclined to give an automatic yes. Is it poorly worded, maybe. Biased towards the left? Just another pipe dream invented by the whining class.

Thursday, April 28, 2005

Ethical Ethics

     I wrote this on my phone on the way to lunch because I really am addicted and can't stay away. Plus, apparently writing about how Morning People are out to get me isn't controversial enough to generate comments. This is about Tom DeLay's ethical trip ups and his current adventures in the Ethics Committee.
     I heard this comment on Neal Boortz: "How concerned are the Democrats about ethics really?" My thought: "Who cares?" The issue is whether or not DeLay had serious breaches of ethics. It is not the Dem's motivations for pursuing them. For the record, I am concerned about ethics. I don't want Democrats beholden to crooked lobbyists any more than the Republicans. I fully support ethics investigations on anyone suspected of violations. (And no, extra-marital sex is not an ethical problem, as far as I'm concerned. It's a moral problem.) Can we just agree that Tom DeLay is a crooked Congressman who uses his position of power for personal gain, but that he excels at his job of Majority Leader?
     And speaking on moral problems because I know this will come up - getting an independant prosecutor for Clinton on the Whitewater deal was appropriate (partisan, but appropriate) because the people involved were crooked and lots of money changed hands. But when it got to be about extramarital affairs, it stopped being ethical and started being moral. And you don't get fired for being immoral in your personal life. He did lie under oath, which is an ethical problem, but since it was about a moral problem unrelated to the investigation here's how I look at it. I feel it's like the seat belt law. It's a secondary violation, meaning that you can't get pulled over for not wearing your seat belt. But if you do get pulled over for say, speeding, you can be ticketed for not wearing your belt. If Clinton had lied to cover up his involvement in a crime, I would have supported punitive measures. But since there was no crime (Clinton was never found guilty of any crime, even by the "independant" prosecutor, Ken Starr), there was no coverup and the lie about having sex with Lewinsky should have been dropped. His lie about Lewinsky was the definition of entrapment - in which the police or prosecution were the ones inducing the crime. Had Starr not asked about the girl, there would have been no oath-breaking. Again, see my previous argument - had there been a real crime committed, I would not have been so forgiving.

Wednesday, April 27, 2005

The Tyranny of the Morning People

     On the heels of the filibuster discussion, I wanted to talk about a widespread injustice in which a vocal minority imposes its will on the sleepy majority. I am referring of course to Morning People. Morning People, including Ben Franklin who said, "Early to Bed and Early to Rise Makes a Man Healthy, Wealthy, and Wise", have convinced the world that good people wake up early and bad people wake up late. Workplaces typically run from 8 or 9 am to 5 or 6 pm. Grade schools can start even earlier - 7 or 7:30. Why is this the case?
     This is the case where night people say, "I know!" and think of examples of injustice. Morning people (even ones who say they aren't) say with self-righteousness, "You're just lazy. If you went to sleep earlier, you would be a Morning Person too." OK - I am lazy. But that's absolutely irrelevant. The fact is, as much as I like to lie in bed in the morning, I absolutely hate to be in bed in the afternoon or evening. I once was on the night shift at work and had somewhat flexible hours. I had a 9pm meeting, and the operation ran from about 11pm to 3am. Otherwise, it didn't really matter when I was around. I did this job for a year, and during this time, I didn't use my alarm clock once. My typical day was to leave for work at 8pm, stay there until 5 or 6 (my girlfriend at the time hated it if I got home after she woke up at 6), watch a little History Channel or Discover Channel (because there were no Tivo's then and nothing else was on), go to sleep as the sun was rising, and wake up around noon. If you're doing the math, this worked out to about 6-7 hours of sleep. And I never used an alarm. My next work assignment was supposed to be a 9 to 5'er. But I supported operations running 24 hours and I found it hard to leave at a reasonable time. I typically stayed until 9ish to be able to talk to the night shifters when they came in. I abandoned my alarm clock once more and started rolling into the office at 11am and leaving at 9pm. Now I have a manager who (repeatedly) asks me to try to be in at 8:00 or earlier and I'm finding that to be excruciatingly impossible. I get no work done in the morning anyway and I tend to stay late to get things done. In fact, my department manager will frequently see me in the office at 7pm and demand that I leave. She insists that if I don't start going home earlier, I will end up divorced and unhappy. (That my wife typically works until 7 is apparently beside the point.)
     My point is, who decided that I couldn't work from noon to 8? Who decided that people had to eat dinner at 6:00 and be in bed after Jeopardy? And why on earth does every store close at 5pm on Sunday when they stay open until 9pm during the week? What's the freakin' difference between Sunday night and Tuesday night anyway? I took a Lark and Owl test, which tells you what type of sleep personality you have. I'm an "Extreme Owl", which means I can maintain alertness at 2am a lot easier than I can at 7am. Take the test and let me know what you are. There's considerable evidence that what makes someone a "Night Person" or a "Morning Person" is their Circadian Rhythm. This is a natural cycle in your body that tells you when to wake up and when to go to sleep. Your body temperature fluctuates throughout the day, based on your circadian rhythm. In the "typical" person, aka the Morning Person, body temperature peaks between 8am and 4pm, while a Night Person might peak between 6pm and 2am. You've noticed this at home, probably. I typically can't fall asleep at night because I'm too warm, but I keep the blankets close, because by the time the alarm goes off, I'm freezing. Curiously, my wife is the opposite, snuggling under as many blankets as possible at night, but sweating and kicking off blankets by morning. This obviously isn't a laziness thing or something I can change simply by heading to bed earlier. Despite that, there are any number of people willing to take your money to teach you to "change" into a Morning Person.
     Studies have shown that the best time to exercise may be when your internal temperature is higher, making the workout more effective. I spent the winter of 2003/2004 waking up at 5:30 to workout with a swim team, desperately wishing they practiced at night. There's a sleep disorder called Delayed Sleep Phase Syndrome or DSPS. Sufferers simply have their circadian rhythms shifted rightward. That is, they are Night People who peak in the afternoon and bottom out around dawn. The opposite, apparently, is ASPS, or Advanced Sleep Phase Syndrome. People with ASPS fall asleep *very* early and wake up around 1am. These tend to be the elderly or post-menopausal women. I was a little surprised to see that Night People were sufferers of a disorder. If that's the case, shouldn't accommodations be made for me at work? I think back to grade school where I suffered through morning classes. Would I have done better if my school were in the afternoon instead? (Note to Morning People who are about to tell me to get over it: Imagine being told you have to wake up at 2am every day of your life. Would going to sleep at 6pm make it easier for you? Could you even do it, not for a few weeks, but for 50 years?)
     There's a lot of literature on the internet about DSPS, but it's mostly on diagnosis or temporary treatment (there's no permanent fix). I couldn't find any statistics on how many people actually suffer from it. And this website is a typical resource for Night People with rants and tips. But what I found more helpful have been studies done on Morning People forced to work night shifts. (This is definitely discrimination - who's doing studies on Night People forced to work morning shifts?) They've found that the average person never gets used to working night hours, and tends to become depressed and unproductive if left on the night shift for long. This also applies to DSPS sufferers forced to wake up at the crack of dawn. But nobody cares? It seems everyone at my company has a military-like attitude towards work. They are at their desks early get to work immediately, and the parking deck is half-full by 7:30. Interestingly, it's 90% empty at 7:30pm, and I suspect a good number of the cars there in the evening are custodial workers or people who have left their cars while on business trips. Am I really in a tiny minority? Or is it the case that Night People can't make it in my company and have to become computer programmers or settle for lower-paying jobs on night shifts? Is there any place in the normal world for Night People to have a normal job? Maybe on the applications for engineering school and business school, they should say, "No Night People allowed". Push us into becoming doctors (how great would it be if your doctor or dentist's office was open after work?), artists, restauranteurs, or pirates. (Just kidding about the pirates. No I'm not.) Listen, when we're done with this whole gay discrimination thing in 25 years, maybe we can focus on this for a little while, OK?

Give Me Some Feedback!

     I've put a lot of effort into this blog lately and so far it looks like my work's paying off. We've got some good, intelligent discussion and we're bringing up a lot of issues. Please take a moment and answer 5 questions - even if this is your first time reading and you got here using the "Next Blog" button, or if you read all the time but never post. Please answer only once - I'm only looking at the results for my own use and to improve the blog for the future. Feel free to leave comments, too. Thanks for visiting!

Tuesday, April 26, 2005

Slowing Things Down

     Partially in response to my poll, and partially in response to my own thoughts alone, I've decided to slow the blog down a bit. When I, the author, am having a hard time keeping the dialogue straight, I can imagine it's not any easier for a reader. I'm pretty confident I can post topics regularly. In fact, you may have noticed my recent tendency to post multiple topics a day (which I've tried to stop doing). It's strange - 4 months ago I wrote nothing down. Now the ideas flow faster and faster and the thought of posting less frequently is distressing. I have to credit you - the 5-10 of you who comment and fuel the creative fires.
     So anyway, look for new posts on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays. It's a scary commitment to make, but I'm excited to try this experiment. Comments are welcome 7 days a week. Hopefully this new format will allow discussions to mature a little better. Thank you to those of you who responded to my poll. It's not too late - I really appreciate the feedback. You can poll Here.
P.S. I may succumb to temptation to post on odd days, but I'll keep those light and hopefully non-controversial.

Monday, April 25, 2005

The Filibuster and the Republic

A Short Story

     I find it hard to explain why filibusters - arcane tools of Senate procedure which are more at home on C-Span than Headline News - have become a hot topic of discussion. Normally I'd yawn too. I can't watch C-Span any more than I can watch NASA TV (Ever flip by? All you see is a starfield and every few minutes someone comes on the radio to talk about air temperature.) I rely on Remember in November to get my C-Span news. Anyway, I do care today, probably because we're knee-deep into Pesach (Shout out to ORF for recognizin') and I'm not getting any fiber.
     Anyway, our story so far: the religious right has its panties all bunched up in a knot about gay marriage and the word "God" in (pick one: public school, money, Pledge, courthouses) and abortion and athiests and the general heresy and godless secularists that plague our great country under Jesus, America. I don't know what on earth stirred up this hornet's nest. Maybe it was Clinton, maybe it was Reagan, maybe it started earlier. I don't know. But they're pissed. And now they're coming after your judges. One opinion that I believe is almost universal: we are a polarized nation. There doesn't seem to be a middle ground these days. You either love Bush or you hate him. You can't love Bush and dislike his policies - it's not allowed. And sadly, it's becoming the same way on the other side of the aisle too. So in the spirit of hatin', Bush is busy nominating a large number of highly controversial people to judicial posts and other positions (UN Ambassador). And of course the Democrats are filibustering.
     What is the filibuster, exactly? According to Republicans, it's a threat to democracy. (Don't look up that phrase on the internet, though, as the results are extraordinarily embarrassing. Still, don't judge my argument by my "peers".) To the encylopedia, however, it is a legislative tactic to prevent polarizing legislation. It is not specifically mentioned in the Constitution, but its existence is owed to Constitutional rules which do not limit debate in Congress. (In fact, looking at it this way, anti-filibuster rules may not meet the strict constitutionalists' definitions for constitutionality. How ironic...) We have heard and read all kinds of verbage about how it's undemocratic or how it prevents tyranny from the majority, blah blah.
     It may be all of that. But I want to talk about how the filibuster protects our Republic. Despite the current mob-rule sentiment, there is something inherently unfair and unjust about a winner-take all system. We recognize this in our daily lives: when we go out to eat with friends, we split the bill, we don't make the person with the largest expenditure pay the whole thing; if we were to order 10 pizzas for a party of 30 guests and 6 of them are vegetarian, we might order 2 pizzas without pepperoni. We don't force those people to eat meat because the other 24 do. (Maybe you do. In that case, stop reading this and go back to beating your wife/dog/kids because you're just mean.) Sometimes winner take all is the only feasible way to operate. For example, if on a vacation I want to go on a cruise and my wife wants to go snow skiing, we'll have to pick only one. (For the record, we both love cruises and I'm too scared to ski in mountains any steeper than those in North Carolina.)
     Judicial nominations work this way too. There's no compromise - a judicial nominee is either approved or rejected. That's why filibusters are so great. In a majority-vote situation where the parties are extremely polarized (say, like now), the slightly majority party could push through any number of extremists into the judiciary. But since the Senate requires a 3/5 majority to break a filibuster, nominees must be acceptable to at least some of the opposition. Even if there is no filibuster, the threat of a filibuster usually causes Presidents to nominate, if not moderate, then close to moderate appointees. Laws and judges alike tend to be closer to compromise than to be partisan. Of course, the classic definition of a compromise is when nobody leaves happy, so you can imagine this has become very popular.
     Today, however, Bush has not been shy about pushing extreme laws and judicial nominees down the opposition's throats. And whether you agree with his position or not, you should be able to agree that they are "extreme" in the sense that they are supported only by one party and not at all by the other. I'm not pinning blame - obviously the Democrats are circling the wagons and are being generally disagreeable about bills they might otherwise like. But this is exactly why the filibuster works. Eventually, some sort of unhappy compromise must be made and it's business as usual in the capital. An inefficient government is the best government. Listen, I'm "liberal" and I want the government to interfere as little as possible. I can only imagine how much a conservative or libertarian might feel. Look, you may love the drooling, rabid pit bull when it attacks your annoying neighbor that keeps asknig to borrow your tools but never returns them. But someday that pit bull will turn around and realize that your leg looks just as tasty if not more so (since you shower and apparently your neighbor does not). My point is, the government is the pit bull and wouldn't you rather kneecap that sucker now before he turns around to attack you? Even if it means he won't get your neighbor? If an issue is important enough it will be resolved eventually. If America really is becoming more conservative, than the definition of a "moderate" judge will become more conservative and Republicans will soon have 3/5 of the Senate. Why the rush to change the way our government works? Is the filibuster just too old-fashioned for our "drive-thru" mentality? Does this push represent pent-up frustration or the fear that the Republican hold on power may not last forever?

Friday, April 22, 2005

Remember the Bullies

     I'll keep this short, since I rambled yesterday. One year ago, a bully victim in Clayton County, Georgia, was convicted and sentenced for fighting back against his tormenter with a pencil. The boy, Darryl Gray, left a scar on the bully's face. Darryl got 90 days probation, a $232 restitution fine (to the bully), and a permanent record. The bully got away with hitting Darryl, calling him gay, and urinating on him. But that was all in the past. Darryl's first response, the pencil attack, was caught and Darryl was punished. This all made national news, of course, and thousands of people were outraged at the injustice of it all. The question is, do you support Darryl's right to fight back, even if most of the bullying were done weeks or months earlier?
     Of course, what Darryl did was wrong. Even a pencil can blind a person or even kill them, especially if used towards the face. I still can't think of a better solution for Darryl and I'm not sure I would have done differently if I were in his shoes. Can you?
     The reason I ask is because people seem to think racism and old wounds have just disappeared into the past. The fairly recent Confederate Flag flaps in Georgia and South Carolina are good examples. Just because you may have forgotten the bullying and torment and terror the flag represented 50 years ago doesn't mean everyone has. Are we going to ask Southern Blacks to forget about what happened to them in their youth just because it's in the past? Or blackface. A recent comment here questioned what was so bad about a high school teacher wearing blackface to a school event. He commented that the movie "White Chicks" with the Wayans brother did not elicit such an outcry. Despite the fact that it was a lousy movie with a tasteless gimmick, there is no history of Blacks terrorizing Whites wearing "whiteface". There is a long history of White people terrorizing and lampooning Blacks with blackface. If you take these incidents at face value (despite the inanity of trying to compare behavior standards of movie stars vs high school teachers) and forget about the history, you're missing the real picture.
     We should never forget what bullies and terrorists and racists have done. Move on? Yes. Forgive? Perhaps. Forget? Never. The victim never forgets. The bully doesn't remember or care. Which one are you?

Thursday, April 21, 2005

Land of Opportunity?

     Immigration is a funny issue. Not really "haha" funny, unless you count Yakov Smirnoff, which I don't. The United States was built on it, yet Americans have very mixed feelings about it. A recent mini-post about the Minuteman Project brought up a small discussion about immigration and its effects.
     It's hard to know where to begin on such a complex topic. I should first note that we need immigration like we need air or water. The United States is one of only a few first-world countries that is growing and not declining. The only reason for that is immigration, since so many natural-born Americans are having less than 2 children. The replacement fertility rate is 2.1 children per family (above 2.0 to account for early deaths). The US fertility rate is 2.08, and to be honest, most of that is among our immigrant population. Our entire economy depends on growth. If our population does not grow, our economy stagnates. You may dislike the fact that the country is looking less and less like you (or you may love it, I don't know), but the reality is that we don't have enough children to sustain our way of life. We're trading our national future for private school and nannies.
     That being said, I think most people understand how fragile our national infrastructure is. I commented previously how amazing our government is that no matter how bitter the political fight, the loser still turns out the lights and leaves the keys on the desk. We follow the rule of law, for the most part. Our military stays out of politics - we don't have to worry about the 53rd infantry marching on Washington. All of these institutions exist because we say they exist. They exist because there is a national conscious that keeps these things in place. It doesn't take a nattering nabob of negativism to imagine doomsday scenarios. I think most of us were at least a little afraid in 2000 that the election would never be resolved and we'd have competing Presidents with supporters on both sides. If we let immigration run unchecked and unregulated, how secure will these institutions be? We can debate whether we're a melting pot or a mosaic, but we're really a little of both. Immigrants get the American experience and we train them in the American way of life (SUV's, malls, American Idol). To this extent, Ben's comments on assimilation have a bit of validity.
     One major complaint about illegal immigrants is that they work for peanuts. Because they're undocumented, employers don't always bother paying them minimum wage. Labor unions and workers in low-skill jobs understandably complain that they can't compete. In addition, as Ben pointed out, their earnings aren't taxed. (However, at such a low wage rate, even if they were legal, they probably wouldn't have incurred taxes anyway. Ironically, this is an argument both for and against minimum wage. For: MW helps protect workers from being exploited. In America, we believe the punishment should fit the crime. Should the proper punishment for sneaking across the border be slavery or deportation? Against: It seems the jobs that immigrants take aren't even worth $5.15 an hour. Why should be push for more? But this is also an issue that goes away with increased legal immigration, since if they're legal, they'll take legal jobs.
     Another complaint - they send their money back to their home country. But think about this - they spend some of that money here, on rent, on food, on gasoline (OK, that money goes straight to Saudi Arabia), on entertainment. Any money they send home is still their money. Two things will happen to that dollar that goes to papa in Mexico City: it will come back to the US to buy goods or services, or it will stay in Mexico propping up the value of the dollar. The US Mint makes hundreds of thousands of dollars by making money that goes to collectors. By staying out of circulation, the treasury never has to buy it back. That's what's happening to the expatriate money in this case. Plus, think of the alternative. If a business relocates to Guadalajara, 100% of the salaries it pays (plus 100% of the overhead) goes to Mexico. If the business is in Arizona and hires immigrants, 100% of the overhead stays in the US along with maybe 30%-50% of the salaries. Which is a better situation?
     The last complaint I want to talk about is their use of services. Certainly illegals can be a drain on a local government's resources. But maybe we forgot why we set up these services in the first place. Free schools, available healthcare, transit... we didn't create these out of the goodness of our hearts. These institutions benefit our society more than it benefits the people using them. We have schools, for example, because we have decided we want an educated workforce. If you have ever been in a hiring position, you know how crucial it is to get someone who has been properly educated. Imagine if only private schools were available and anyone who couldn't afford it would get no schooling. Our economy would wither for lack of a workforce. For all the talk about lowering unemployment, when we run out of qualified applicants, businesses suffer just as much. Ask someone working in Orlando in the late 90's, when unemployment there dipped to 0.5%. Try staffing a McDonalds when the Publix across the street was paying $0.30 more per hour. We provide emergency healthcare to the poor because we don't want plagues and epidemics sweeping the streets from time to time. (see above about staffing businesses) These aren't gimmee programs no matter how generous they look. There's something in it for us too.
     We need to protect our borders - there's no question about that. But maybe it would be easier to spot the terrorists trying to cross if there were a trickle of illegals trying to come over instead of a flood. Maybe we should increase legal immigration and make these people legitimate citizens. In a time of trade deficits, maybe our greatest product is American citizenship. Maybe we can parley that into a new period of growth for our country. If you think you can do better, see about asking your friends to all have 4 or 5 children each. Good luck!

Wednesday, April 20, 2005

Political InCivility

The Backlash Against Equality

     For about 15 years, right-wingers have gleefully paraded the words, "Politically Correct" around as another in a line of derogatory words aimed at their political opponents. Why has PC gotten such a bad rap and what is PC?
     Conservatives decry "political correctness". They say that it's censorship, that it's the liberals removing moral clarity from our speech. The truth is that Democrats, liberals, and progressives don't use the words, "politically correct" except when quoting or refuting Rush, Neal, or some other right-wing idealogue. The fundamental misunderstanding here, in my opinion, is how the right wing sees PC (blurring the truth to make things feels better; removing value judgements) compared to how the left wing sees PC (removing exclusionary and often antiquated language from our lexicon). Some examples are using "firefighter" instead of "fireman", "police officer" instead of "policeman", "anchor" instead of "anchorman". While nobody would have an issue with calling a male cop a policeman, why would you call a female that? And if you did (as it's your American right to say what you want, even if it makes you sound like an ass), why would you not think it wouldn't be as insulting as if she called your father a "little girl"? At least English has gender-neutral words to use. Some other languages require the use of a slash (as in son/daughter).
     Maybe conservatives don't like giving up racial slurs? Some in the so-called "PC crowd" would ask people to stop using the word "gypped", as it refers to how a Gypsy might renege on a deal. Or "jewed", as it refers to how a Jewish person would bargain for a lower price. Or that ubiquitous middle school phrase, "that's so gay!" Is it really a hardship to stop insulting people (purposefully or not)? What on earth could be more awkward than this conversation: "The guy that bought my house really jewed me down" "I'm Jewish" It's awkward because the first speaker knows it's insulting.
     Of course people go overboard. In 1999, a mayoral aide in Washington DC had to resign because he used the word "niggardly", which has absolutely no connection to any racial term. But how is that any reason to treat people with anything less than respect? Is it really such a hard thing to learn - not insulting people you don't know? Is it really so hard to make sure that the words that come out of your mouth aren't racial or ethnic slurs? Can you really not resist telling your secretary that her boobs look fantastic today? What is so bad about human dignity that any attempt to be inclusive is immediately derided as "politically correct" and that being "politically incorrect" is such a badge of honor?

Tuesday, April 19, 2005

Tidbits and Bits and Bits and Bits

Pope Benedict XVI Elected
     Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger of Germany was elected to be the 465th Pope (but only the 463rd man to hold the job) today, the first German Pope in almost 1000 years. Benedict is said to be one of the most conservative cardinals, responsible for recent crackdowns on dissent within the Catholic Church as relates to womens' rights, abortion, sex, and so on. He was a former Hitler Youth as a child, but reports say he didn't enjoy it. It will be interesting to see what he does as Pope. He should probably have a good 10-15 years, as long as he stays healthy. People can surprise you, and sometimes it's the most unlikely people who can make the needed reforms. In 1865, who would have guessed it would have been the Democrats championing Civil Rights? In 1975, who would have guessed George W. Bush would be telling you to stay off drugs?

Jim Gilchrist is "Bored"
     Jim Gilchrist, the founder of the "Minuteman" project to line the Mexico-Arizona border with volunteers to prevent illegal immigrants, has announced plans to leave Arizona early, probably tomorrow. Why? In his words, "We're bored to death." Sorry you find National Security so boring, Jim. I guess maybe the Border Patrol was doing something right, after all? I mean, anyone can come out for 2 weeks with tons of manpower and enthusiasm, but keeping an eye on the border for 81 years is a little tougher. Not all is lost, though. He's been invited to talk to Congress next week about immigration reform. Look for him to have a promising political career in the near future.
     The odd thing he said is that he claimed to have accomplished in 10 days (how long Minutemen lasted) what lobbyists couldn't do in 10 years. Someone enlighten me what role lobbyists have in securing our border, first of all. Second, guarding the border is like holding back a proverbial dam. You never "finish" the job. You can't pull your finger out of the hole and walk away claiming "Mission Accomplished" as water pours out behind you. The second you walk away from that dam, you've failed, no matter how good of a job you did while you were there.

10-Year Anniversary of Oklahoma City Bombing
     I just wanted to comment on something a coworker said today on the way to lunch (I work with the most inappropriate coworkers - they spew the most political and religious things at work - things that you'd think twice about before saying in front of friends and things that look more at home on a blog). Vice President Dick Cheney and former President Bill Clinton were in Oklahoma City to speak at the ceremonies. One coworker says, "I can't believe [Clinton] would dare show his face in Oklahoma since he didn't even try to find those responsible when he was President." What?? OK - I get it, you don't like Clinton. In fact, during the 2004 election, I would have sworn it was Clinton v. Bush by the way you talked. But wasn't the bomber Timothy McVeigh caught and executed? And Terry Nichols sentenced to life?

Church Expels Members for Disagreeing
     In a little bit of local flavor, I thought I'd share this story - the Atlanta Unity Church in Dunwoody, GA revoked the membership of 8 congregants because they opposed church plans to demolish a 1920's era building. Their crime? They belong to a preservation group called "Save the Mansion". I generally favor conservation efforts - too much of our history is paved over to become shopping malls and subdivisions. And of course the church has the right to control its own membership without outside interference. But my opinion of this (as an outsider) is that the church is overreacting and is acting inappropriately (there's that word again). People join churches and synagogues for a place to pray, for a sense of community. They don't join, as far as I know, so someone else can tell them who to associate with. Thankfully the people in question aren't cowed by the church's act. They're saddened, but they're sticking to their guns. I guess this is just another story of "You're either with us or against us".

Monday, April 18, 2005

Pharmacist, Restrain Thyself

     One of the most disturbing pieces of news to come out of the new religious-right renaissance is the trend of pharmacists denying drugs to customers. Most of us don't think of pharmacists as well-educated specialists anymore. Maybe that's the problem - they're feeling underappreciated. I think the trend of seeing pharmacists work alongside 16-year olds in Eckerd and CVS has helped, along with new drug marketing that has encouraged us to treat our doctors' offices like drive-thru McDrugstores. In reality, they're highly-paid, highly-trained walking encyclopedias of pharmaceutical information and they exist to protect us from phony doctors, inadvertent drug interactions, and ourselves. It's a credit to their profession, really, that we've forgotten so much of what they do.
     Until now. Now they are on the front lines of a religious war. A war which has long since consumed our school boards and our televisions. Now pharmacists are exercising their "religious freedom" to deny their customers access to birth control pills and morning-after pills. Forget the fact that abortion is not murder. Forget the fact that taking the morning-after pill is not even abortion (it prevents fertilization). Think about pharmacists not filling birth-control prescriptions unless the customer brings in a marriage certificate. Even the Pope (may he rest in peace) never equated birth control to murder in any way. He only disallowed it for religious reasons.
     And this is why this trend is so scary. If this debate were limited to abortion, I understand that many people think it is murder. But when you allow pharmacists to not only refuse to fill a prescription but refuse to give it back on the grounds of religious belief alone, you open the door to nightmare scenarios. Imagine you are involved in a car accident in the middle of the night and the only emergency room doctor is a Jehovah's Witness who doesn't believe in blood transfusions. Imagine this doctor decides it would be against his or her religion to give you one and you die in the hospital, the blood that could have saved your life only inches away? Or imagine that your father suffers a heart attack, but the ambulance driver is a Christian Scientist who decides not to drive you to the hospital because taking you to receive medical treatment is against his religion.
     I'm not vilifying Jehovah's Witnesses or Christian Scientists (except Christian Scientists who, because of their beliefs, allow their children to die without medical treatment). But what makes you think that if we allow one wacko pharmacist to deny emergency contraception to a customer because of his religion, we won't allow other people to do the same? One freakshow columnist in Tucson, AZ compares a pharmacy to a bookstore in that nobody disputes the right of a bookstore to not sell certain books. That might be the case if I ever had an emergency need for a book (Harry Potter notwithstanding). Pharmacists have no "right to choose" any more than a doctor can choose to not treat a patient, any more than the DMV can decide they don't want to renew your license, any more than the volunteer at the polling station can decide not to let you vote. If you don't want to dispense birth control, don't be a pharmacist. Thankfully, despite the fact that 11 states are considering "conscience clauses" allowing pharmacists to deny service, there are some brave politicians willing to stand up to the religious intifada. Democratic governors Janet Napolitano of Arizona and Rod Blagojevich of Illinois have (temporarily) stopped this practice in their states and Congress is considering a law to prevent it. Don't let the religious wing take over America. Seeing less of Janet Jackson isn't worth the loss of our fundamental freedoms.

Friday, April 15, 2005

Stupid People Stories

     In honor of Tax Day (US) and the fact that I got to work really, really late because the air conditioning guy was really, really late this morning (ever live in the south without A/C? You can't.), here are some interesting news stories.

Geezer Loses Control of Car
     Shocked? An 81-year old woman buying a car in Fort Myers, Florida (otherwise known as the nursing home of the world), forgot which pedal did what in the car and ran over 1) her 88-year old husband (he probably deserved it for bringing her), 2) the car salesman (he probably deserved it for being a car salesman), 3) a parked Honda (it probably deserved it for not being as good as a Nissan), 4) a tree (this one was innocent), and 5) a wall (a martyr, for protecting innocent old people on the other side). The state of Florida, which so recently has delved into intruding on peoples' lives by trying to take custody of peoples' brain-dead wives, needs to take away this woman's driver's license immediately. See The Automotive Geriatric for more on my thoughts about old people driving.
P.S. If you were going to rank the things that were going to send me to hell, this would probably be up there.

Pay Your Taxes
     If you haven't noticed, today is Tax Day in the US. Tip: stay away from the Post Offices. The title is a link to a list of common deductions people forget about. On the list is Charitable Donations and Natural Disasters. OK - first of all, if you're extraordinarily charitable, you might forget about one or two specific instances of giving. I mean, what's $10 you gave to Bobby's walk-a-thon when you're giving $2000 to tsunami relief, you know? But how can you forget to deduct your charitable donations at all? That's like, the most common deduction, after your mortgage. I mean, all the charities advertise it. If you forget this, you're just not paying attention. And natural disasters? I know it's been a busy year so far, but would you really forget that last year your house was hit by an earthquake, caught on fire, and was then looted?

Yes, Virginia, Georgia is a Backwards State
     In local news, the state of Georgia today passed a law allowing the community of Sandy Springs in North Metro Atlanta to become a city, if it wants. Some background: if you don't live in Georgia, you might think that government was tiered. You have your federal government, then your state, then your county, then your city, then maybe a neighborhood association (which is a government, make no mistake). Each defers to the one above and each has its own specific rights that supersede those below. In Georgia, that's not the case. We have more counties than any other state in the union. And most counties have only 1 or 2 incorporated cities. The vast majority of land is unincorporated. So the counties act as if they were cities. And in places where you have both, they compete against each other like little bratty children. Anyway, now that I realize Sandy Springs deserves its own post, I just want to say that it's about time they become incorporated. They've been trying for 30 years and the only reason they haven't yet is because Fulton County is taking their sales tax dollars and spending it elsewhere. Opponents of cityhood are saying things like, "this will cause Fulton to lose millions of dollars." No it won't - the sales taxes will just be going to another part of Fulton - the part called Sandy Springs. Stop competing with the cities and start acting like a county. And while you're at it, incorporate the rest of the county. Damn.

Thursday, April 14, 2005

The Bruiseless Society

     I talked earlier about generational conflicts, especially how Baby Boomers don't exactly have our best interests at heart. Mike reviewed a book called Generations at Work that dealt with the differences between generations and interaction between generations. He commented that the Millenials (born after 1980) will have a tough time with rejection, since their Late Boomer/Early Gen-X parents spoil the crap out of them and protect them from every real or perceived harm.
     On Friday, had an article on Public schools trying to woo back homeschoolers. Basically, budget cuts and decreasing population in some rural areas have public schools short of cash so they're trying to reach out to home-schooled kids. It's tastefully done, even if it smacks of desperation. Some are offering to teach creation and read the bible in English class to get the religious homeschoolers. Others go the intelligent route and offer unique classes like forestry or music. Now, I'm not against home-schooling. If you feel you're capable of doing a better job of teaching your kids then by all means go ahead. Unfortunately, some also use homeschooling to isolate their children. One parent said, "There would be the moral issues that our children would have to face with all the others who aren't taught the way they are." Is she planning on keeping her kids locked up in her house the rest of their lives? Parents have roughly 18 years of direct influence over their children to steer them in the right direction. Once they move out, it's up to them how much they interact with their parents. If you don't let your kids learn right from wrong in real situations while you can still interact with them every day, they're going to be in for some rude surprises when they enter the real world.
     Speaking of college, more and more schools are taking over fraternities and sororities. Colgate University is buying all of the Greek houses and is disallowing any student organization that meets in a non-University owned property. The college will ban alcohol, enforce behavior, etc etc. I know a lot of fraternities have a bad reputation, but they're not the Delta house from Animal House (even though most would like to be). I did a lot of growing up in my fraternity. I learned to take responsibility for myself and for an organization. I was off the campus meal plan, I was out of campus housing. I paid rent, I called BellSouth to get my own phone line hooked up, and I learned that if you make a mess, you'd better clean it up yourself. My brothers and I ran budgets, made repairs to the house, managed a cook, and ran a full-time organization of 40-60 men.
     Across town, at Emory University, the school already owned the Gerek system. Sororities were not allowed to have houses - they had lodges which were glorified meeting houses with maybe 5 bedrooms. Fraternities were spotless and ornate buildings. One fraternity was suspended for having a food fight. You think these students learned the kind of responsibility we did? When they graduated, most moved back to Mommy and Daddy and left Atlanta (it didn't help that they had $120,000 of education to get a $30,000/year teaching job). Not all Emory students were irresponsible, but if they had control of their lives after college, it was because they were independent before college.
     Are we raising a generation of spoiled brats? I don't want my kids to get hurt, either, but I'm certainly going to make sure they learn the lessons of life. Am I just thinking this because I don't have children yet? Are we just too rich to retain the ability to let our children become grown-ups?

Wednesday, April 13, 2005

Smoke This, Republicans

     For the first time in I don't know how long, I read an article today describing how some Democrats made a politically smart move. For years, Republicans have been experts at dividing Democrats along their fault lines, separating the social liberals from the economic liberals, tugging at the Blacks, the Jews, the Hispanics. Democrats have been silent. Worse than silent - they have become petulant whiners complaining how Republicans don't play fair and acting incredibly nerdy, pushing up their wire-rimmed glasses and saying how sure, GW Bush is cool, but he doesn't really understand budget deficits like they do.
     Finally, Democrats in one of the reddest of red states, Georgia, found an issue that would divide the Republicans along their fault lines. Democrats and pundits have for years prattled on about how fragile the Grand Old Party was, a mix and muddle of various special interests masterfully glued together by political genius. Some of the biggest questions were asked after the 2004 election, like Why do the lower middle class vote against their own economic interests? The answer is, of course, that the Democrats were divided and never provided a compelling alternative. "Sure you want to protect Social Security, money that I won't see for 20 years, but I don't even save for my kids' college or pay down my credit card debt. What makes you think I'm going to start giving a rat's ass about my future now? Besides, GW says he'll keep them gays from marrying and that's a good thing."
     Anyway, the news here is the new Georgia Anti-Smoking Bill (free, but login required). Text of bill For those of you wondering (Ben, I'm sure you've hazarded a guess), I'm for the bill. But that's not the focus of this post. The focus here is the fact that for the first time, the moral wing and the libertarian/business wings of the Republican party are clashing. See, businesses don't care if you ban gay marriage. Hey, it actually would save them money, seeing as they wouldn't have to provide spousal benefits and all. Businesses love the idea of banning drugs, for obvious productivity reasons, and abortion isn't even on their radar. But smoking? For years, the hospitality industry has hung its hat on smoking and drinking - the two largest profit centers.
     The moralists, of course, don't love smoking, although many don't really mind it. However, they've opened the door to government intervention with their bans on sex toys (for novelty only), alcohol on Sunday, sodomy and premarital sex, and other such intrusions. The sponsor of this bill is Republican State Senator Don Thomas of Dalton. He's a doctor - a family practitioner and a smoking ban has become somewhat of a crusade for him.
     I'm pretty sure the ban will pass. If not now, soon. If not in its current form, in some similar fashion. And Democrats, which have been slow to learn anything, should learn something from this. Maybe it's not as important as universal health care or the Alaska National Wildlife Refuge, but you have to choose your battles wisely. And take one step at a time.

Tuesday, April 12, 2005

Your Homework for Today

     I'm just not pissed about something today. Well, that's not completely true, but the unsettling news has just blended together in a black noise. It's much more comfortable sitting here now than it was in 2000 when the bad things were a shock to the system. It's like I just got the ol' electric chair padded so my back won't hurt.
     Anyway, I found this letter in Slate's Fray called "Kill a Judge!". It has a very well-stated rant about the current anti-judicial jihad. (I stole that term from Fat In Spanish)

Monday, April 11, 2005

I Support Our Troops (do you?)

     I saw that bumper sticker today. Actually a few times. You know the one - it's a yellow ribbon with the words, "Support Our Troops" on it. There are other variations. They all piss me off. What exactly does it mean when you put this sticker or magnet on your car? Are you supporting the troops financially? Are you sending care packages and letters to Iraq and Afghanistan? (Remember Afghanistan? The place where there really are terrorists?) Are you volunteering to rehabilitate a veteran amputee or assist a military widow or orphan? Or does it just mean you sent $3.00 to MagnetAmerica.Com to prove to everyone you pass that .... what? To prove what, exactly? (Check out that website. It's a great business idea, but fairly sickening - they took the template for the troops ribbon and you can now get a "Tsunami Aid" ribbon, "In God We Trust" ribbon, "UNC Tarheels National Champs" ribbon... can you possibly cheapen the idea more?)
     Anyway, with Passover coming up, it finally came to me. The ribbon is the blood of the paschal lamb, which marked the houses of the Hebrews so that the Angel of Death would not slay their first born. (I can link these - bear with me)
     Remember after 9/11/01 when everyone was flying flags? Flag makers couldn't keep up with demand and every other car on the road had a flag magnet. It was a patriotic time. But some people weren't content. They went out looking for cars and houses not displaying flags and accused them of being anti-American, of being unpatriotic, or of being terrorists. The flag became a mark for the right-wing extremists. But it wasn't good enough. Any American could have a flag (if they could find one). It wasn't until the 2004 election when things really got out of control. The black "W" stickers (which, as much as I hate them, are really very clever and well done) started showing up on cars and now you knew who was an American and who was a stinkin' commie liberal. But once the election ended, how do you maintain this mark without looking like the sore winner you are? You shift gears and make it about the war. Cafe Press has a "Pro Bush and Pro GOP" bumper sticker page. They sell the Support Our Troops ribbon. Right next to the "Liberals Make Me Sick" stickers, the "Kerry for President of France" stickers, the "Give Em Zell" stickers, and my favorite, the classy "Foreigners" sticker, portraying the states that elected Bush as real Americans and the rest as belonging to a foreign land.
     Sure, some of those teenagers driving daddy's Lexus SUV might have given their allowance to help buy a soldier a candy bar. But most likely the sticker is there to let other right-wingers know that they are loyal to the emperor, and most importantly, that they dislike Democrats. The sticker means, "When you are coming to cut someone off or throw eggs at their car, pass me over, because I'm a Republican." The sad thing is that in this sorry sophomoric political atmosphere, the troops aren't really being supported. They're only now getting the body armor and HumVee armor they need to protect themselves from sniper attacks. They're still losing their jobs when they get back to the states. It's just too bad they have to be on the receiving end of a great political bullying tactic.

Friday, April 08, 2005

I'm a Slacker

If you want to see what I've been doing instead of posting today (no, it wasn't work), check out Caution: don't let it get you fired or divorced. See you on Monday!

Wednesday, April 06, 2005

Pietistic Republicanism, a Short History

     Why does the right wing seem to "own" religion and religious issues? People who said that their #1 issue was "moral values" voted overwhelmingly for Bush. So did evangelicals, people who went to church weekly, and protestants. This is no surprise to anyone who's been living on earth for the past few years. But why? In Judaism, when we talk about "moral issues", we usually talk about tzedakah (charity), human rights, treatment of animals, the golden rule (Lev. 19:18), lashon hara (the evil tongue, or speaking negative things about people), and ethics. I'm no expert on Christianity, but I'm pretty sure Jesus's teachings were about love, tolerance, community, the treatment of the poor, and the pitfalls of wealth. (I did find one website, though, where the author called God a 'father' and then modeled God after his own parenting skills. He didn't go quite so far as to say he was God, but I'm sure the message comes across loud and clear.)
     The point is, Republicans have owned the evangelicals long before gay marriage, Terri Schiavo, or even abortion. This history stretches back to before the official start of the GOP in 1854. The slavery issue was being pushed by churches, specifically pietistic ones like the Methodists, Baptists, or Quakers (as opposed to the liturgical churches, like the Catholics or Lutherans or Jews). These were the early Republicans. And these are the current Republicans. The "official" GOP history doesn't include Republican support for Temperance and Prohibition, but because the pietistic churches supported it, do did the party platform. Now the pietistic churches are railing against abortion, gays, euthanasia, Black people voting (jk?). Attend a Baptist church and you've pretty much gotten the GOP party platform.
     But here's why we don't hear from the other religious people who oppose these views: it's the fundamental difference between a pietistic church and a liturgical one. See, liturgical churches rely on the written word. They usually have sets of rules and laws and stay the same over hundreds (or thousands) of years, changing very slowly. There's not a lot of passion in these churches. Discussion over issues tends to be slow and deliberate and thoughtful. You might say that the US Congress was liturgical (until Terri Schiavo) if you wanted to draw an analogy. The law is the law is the law, but we interpret it differently over time.
     Pietistic churches, on the other hand, rely on the spoken word. They are the outspoken ones, the ones with passion. They rely on getting people riled up - if they're not listening, they're not supporting the church. (Heck, if they're not actually in the church, they're not supporting it financially.) In these churches, the law is the law is what the preacher tells you from the pulpit. And if the preacher wants his congregation to stick around, he'd better have some good issues to rile them up with. This isn't about rules - it's about passion! It's easy to see why members of these churches stick out - you know they're religious. It's harder to tell with a Catholic or Jew.
     This is why, when John Kerry said he was religious, the Republicans scoffed (he wasn't their kind of religious) and the Democrats yawned.
Sources: Democracy, Republicanism and Efficiency: The Values of American Politics, 1885-1930; From Temperance to Prohibition; The Politics of Prohibition: The 1920s

Tuesday, April 05, 2005

Why Engineers Should Rule the World (or at least the kitchen)

     I'm not a neat freak or an organizational nazi. I've never invented little household gadgets or gone nuts because I found some socks in the underwear drawer. I'm pretty much a chaotic, disorganized mess at home, and that's the way I like it. The thing is, I *really* like to be efficient. Maybe it's because I'm lazy in an odd sort of way. I'll climb over a brick wall to avoid using the door, if it means that I won't have to do either tomorrow or the next day. That's why so many things in my house drive me nuts.
     For example, I have these closet doors that slide back and forth. You can have the entire closet closed or you can have it half open. How worthless is that? If I'm looking at shirts in the middle, I have to keep moving the stupid doors back and forth to be able to see what I'm looking at!
     And how about buffets, especially at people's houses. Why do people always put the napkins and utensils at the beginning of the line? Do I look like I have a third hand to hold onto them while I'm serving myself some food? Put them at the end of the line where they'll do some good. Besides, you never know whether you'll need a spoon or a knife until the end when you know what you're eating anyway. How many times have you had to go back in line or cut in front of someone to grab a knife or an extra napkin after you already had your food?
     Today, I "borrowed" a co-worker's copy of IIE Magazine, the periodical of the Institute of Industrial Engineers. (Hey, I'm bored at work sometimes. I think we went over that already.) They pointed to a neat blog called Cooking for Engineers. Now, this site is actually not so great. It's really just one guy's way of recording the food that he's made for dinner, and he never meant for it to become public. The recipe selection is mediocre and the navigation is weak, but this guy, Michael Chu, has invented a new way to show recipes. He's even patenting the design.

     This is a recipe for Chicken Marsala. How easy is this to follow? This is 100x better than having to read out a paragraph of directions to try to figure out when you should cut or saute or mix. Bravo to him for actually doing something to make home life more efficient!

Monday, April 04, 2005

Terri ad Nauseum

     I don't want to talk about all the Terri Schiavo issues here. If you want to post about it and tell me what an asshole/idiot/insensitive jerk/hypocrite I am, do it in one of my previous posts where I talk about Terri. (I mean it - i'll delete comments on this post that are irrelevant {unless you're complimenting me. I like that})
     I just want to ask: why have there been more collective tears shed over this one woman who for all intents and purposes died 17 years ago (even if you believe Michael Schiavo and activist judges murdered her last week, at least admit she hasn't been part of society for 17 years) than over the 1500+ men and women who have died in Iraq? Don't they at the very LEAST each deserve the same amount of grief and attention Terri did/does?
     I mean holy shit, this guy murdered two teenage girls and injured 6 others and he gets a freakin' speeding ticket?? Michael Schiavo sits by his wife's bedside for years before making what has got to be the most difficult decision hopefully none of us will ever have to face, and he will receive death threats for the rest of his life. Where's the perspective?? Just answer me that!

Truth vs Rhetoric

     Probably the most painful thing for liberals suffering through the current administration is the feeling of a loss of reality. I read "Catch-22" in high school. Life feels like that today. The truth - the hard facts and objective reality - are no match for right-wing propagandizing. I wanted to bring attention to this column about Terri Schiavo's autopsy. It asks the question: what happens if the autopsy reveals beyond a shadow of a doubt that Terri had no higher brain function left? Does anyone really think that the legions of Terri fans out there will stop believing that they "know" Terri was conscious and aware?
     Not as political, but just as delusional: What will it take for the Michael Jackson fans to stop believing that their idol is not a saint? Do they have to physically be in the room to watch him fondle a little boy? Will even that suffice? Dayeinu?

Friday, April 01, 2005

To the Victor goes the Spoils

     In the shower this morning, I was thinking of writing an April Fool's post where I made up some junk about how common sense took over in Washington DC and in the nation's collective psyche. But once I got to work, I stopped really caring enough to put out that kind of effort. I don't feel like being creative. Being pissed off and introspective is so much easier.
     So to my delight, I came across a completely apolitical article on Slate about the juxtaposition of economics and dictatorship in Zimbabwe. I, of course, found a great political lesson in the story. Now, Zimbabwe is one of those countries that is so far outside of the average American's conscious that it may as well be on Mars. (Actually, Mars has been stirring up a lot of imagination lately - a lot more than Sub-Saharan Africa has since Henry Stanley asked, "Dr. Livingston, I presume?".)
     Zimbabwe is a virtual dictatorship, having an evil ruler-for-life, Robert Mugabe. Mugabe was the first leader in the country since the end of apartheid there in 1980, but his regime has been marked by violence and intimidation. Anyway, the point is he's a sucky leader and his people are starving. Why? Well, Zimbabwe isn't what you would call "developed". They can't seem to grow enough food to feed themselves and have in the past relied on food aid from other countries. Due to the shortages, the government has taken control of food distribution and has actually outlawed private sales of food. In theory this makes sense - there's not enough food to go around and since food happens to be essential to life, which most Americans agree everyone is entitled to (plus liberty and the pursuit of happiness, but that's another story). The government's role is to make sure that food does not enter the open market where it can potentially outprice the poorest people (of which there are many) thus causing great starvation and death.
     Preventing starvation and death of its citizens is a primary function of government, one that even the most hardened Libertarians might agree with (although the most hardened Objectivists probably won't). Unfortunately, Mugabe has royally screwed this ideal up. You see, in order to remain in power despite the fact that the country is a democracy, he rewards loyalty and punishes dissent. (Starting to sound familiar?) Citizens of Zimbabwe are scared to vote against him. The vote is anonymous, but Mugabe's party looks at the results from each district. The districts that give Mugabe an overwhelming landslide tend to get more food and more attention from the party. The districts that vote for the opposition, even a little bit, have a tendency to starve to death because of "bureaucratic errors" and maybe the schools or clinics run out of money.
     This is where the Slate story ends, and it's a sad story. Of course it's wrong for the government to withhold food from people simply for voting the way they want. One of the most wonderfully amazing things about the United States government is the orderly transfer of power. Losing incumbents might bitch and groan, but when inauguration day rolls around, the lights are turned off and the key is left in the lock for the next person. And we don't ask you to swear your allegiance to the flag, the president, or the city councilmember before you vote or get water service or pick up your Medicare check.
     Maybe you see where this is going. Bush's main doctrine is "Loyalty". You may recall in 2004, Bush refused to speak at the NAACP convention - the first President in 75 years not to do so. The NAACP is not exactly a Republic stronghold. Its leaders regularly criticize Bush's policies and appointments. And 80%+ of Black voters in the US vote Democrat. Bush supporters countered, "Why should Bush pay attention to them, if they didn't even vote for him?" Conservative pundits fueled the fire. Bill O'Reilly said in an interview, "...the blacks hate Bush, NAACP hates Bush. And I wouldn't take the chance if I'm the chief executive of this country." Trying to appear "fair and balanced", he later said, "I do think the Republicans should reach out to the African-American community, because now they have something to offer. The Republican Party has a lot to offer blacks, I believe, and they should try to sell it. They should try to come on in and, as you said, siphon off some votes..." In other words, the only legitimate reason to address an organization that represents up to 13% of the population is because you might be able to get votes??? You may not realize it, or you may be in denial, but this is a major shift in US policy. We are not Zimbabwe, but maybe you can see faint shadows of Mugabe's regime in our current political climate...