Wednesday, June 29, 2005

Are People Smarter in Cold Weather?

     Two Canada stories are hitting the news today. Both indicate that our neighbors in the Great White North are sending a big "Screw You" to the people of the United States. I'd think it were really funny, if I weren't one of those people. Anyway...
     Story #1: Canada Approves Same-Sex Marriage. I'm not really obsessed with gay stories or gay rights. I feel strongly about it, but it doesn't usually enter my mind on a daily basis. Mostly I've been reporting and commenting on the news of the day, and thanks to 2004's GOP "Get Out the Vote" effort, it's been in the news a lot. Anystuff, in a story that should sound familiar to Americans (and by that I mean United States of Americans), Canadian courts ruled that the Canadian constitution would not allow barring gays from marrying. But instead of going all reactionary and passing constitutional amendments banning them from marrying or entering into contracts with each other "conferred upon unmarried couples", Canada's legislature decided to pass a law allowing and regulating gay marriage. It's a ballsy move, and I'm sure the wannabe theocrats there won't stop fighting. However, it's a popular initiative in Canada, despite what the so-called liberal CNN says about "fierce opposition". It's pretty clear that despite the widespread support, the timing is somewhat of a reaction to the US's fear campaign against gay marriage. Since the start of the Iraq war, Canada has been looking for ways to be morally superior to the US, and now latched on to one.
     Story #2: Canada to consider export ban on drugs. This whole prescription drug thing has been like a bad conspiracy against Americans. The Bush administration and Republican congressmen try to ban it with a wide range of excuses, including "the drugs from Canada aren't safe". So now the Canadian government is tired of taking abuse and is saying, "You know what? Screw you. I'm taking my drugs and going home." Their reason? Because Canada might run out of medicine. Riiight. Canadians get a discount because their government is buying drugs in bulk, yet they're worried about a shortage? More likely they're worried about the drug companies refusing to sell to them, emboldened by the Bush Administration's willingness to protect them. So we all suffer, and pay more for drugs in the US, subsidizing the rest of the world because our politicians are so busy being in bed with drug reps that they didn't notice they pissed off the people supplying us with cheap pharmaceuticals.
     So the land of ice, beer, and beaver skins is growing a national identity, and, surprise!, it's being defined by being the anti-US. Good for them. Canada's acting more American than us lately anyway. They're acting more like the prototypical pioneers - people who lived and let live and minded their own business - instead of mountain men of the Appalachians - squabbling, starting feuds, and drinking. Maybe the cold makes them smarter. Maybe it just means they don't have the patience to sit around wasting time on stupid stuff. At least they never lost a governor to the debate about whether a treasonous flag was "heritage" or "racist".

Monday, June 27, 2005

Monopoly Money

     Some businesses take more money and have to overcome more barriers to entry to start than others. For example, if you wanted to build cat condos for a living, you could put a $35 ad in the local paper and wait for an order before building one. Eventually, with good word of mouth, you might hire some help, rent out manufacturing space, and produce a catalog. However, say you wanted to build a computer operating system for a living. Not only would you have to build a top-notch system on your first try, you would have to try to convince computer manufacturers to use your system instead of Windows, even though 97% of PCs use Windows and most of those users have no desire to learn something new. If you really wanted to break into the mainstream market, you would probably have to buy or buy off most of the major computer manufacturers. That would cost a lot of cash, especially considering that Microsoft could probably outspend you no matter who you are.
     That's the power of monopoly. Brief economics refresher: There are two types of monopolies. There are legal monopolies and De facto monopolies. Microsoft Windows is a De facto monopoly. Even though anyone is free to compete, the hurdles they have to face are virtually insurmountable, at least until there is a major technological shakeup in the industry. De facto monopolies are legal, contrary to popular opinion. They cannot, however, abuse their position. They cannot, for example, threaten to deny Windows from one manufacturer unless they promise not to install Netscape, a product that competes with another Microsoft product, Internet Explorer. Because the two products are distinct, Microsoft can't abuse their Windows position to punish IE's competitors.
     The other type of monopoly is a De Jure monopoly, or one specified by law. AT&T used to be a De Jure monopoly. In most places, cable television still is. In my neighborhood, we can't choose which cable company to use. It's Comcast or nothing. Rates are way too high, but they're being held down because they're facing competition from the satellite providers. They did, however, find another way to abuse their monopoly status. There are 3 basic ways for the average consumer to get internet service: Dial-up, DSL, or Cable. (There are other ways, but they are extraordinarily expensive, and thus are usually reserved for large apartment buildings, schools, or businesses) DSL, which runs through your phone line, and Cable are the only two ways to get high-speed internet. The FCC ruled that even though the cable companies and phone comanies had a monopoly on TV and telephone service, they could not use it to unfairly compete against internet providers. That is, anyone trynig to provide high-speed internet would have to install their own wires, while Comcast could piggyback on the cable wires that were paid for by their TV monopoly. Therefore, the cable companies and the telephone companies were forced to rent out their lines at market price to any internet provider, including their own. (Comcast cable would have to pay Comcast TV rent, just like AOL or Mindspring would) That would level the playing field.
     To make a short story long, in another in what is sure to be a long string of poor decisions, the Supreme Court ruled today that cable internet was an "information service", not a "telecommunications service" and that therefore they could not be regulated by the FCC. That means they don't have to rent out their lines. Now, I'm not a Supreme Court justice. I'm not even a lawyer. But I'm reasonable sure that internet is a lot closer to being telecommunications than information. Given that the whole point of the internet is to communicate, and that internet service has information flowing both ways, and that my telephone service, Vonage, is carried over the internet, I'm pretty sure I'm right. According to the article, telephone companies are now looking to get reclassified so that they are not subject to FCC regulation either. In all honesty, that's fair. Why should the telephone companies have an unfair advantage to the cable companies?
     But then again, why should Comcast have an unfair advantage against Earthlink? Business is about risk. Products are priced with risk taken as a factor. If you're selling milk, your prices will have a little extra added in to compensate for the risk of not selling it fast enough before it spoils. If you're buying bonds, you get a better rate of return for the ones given by shakier companies to compensate for the risk of default. When Comcast and BellSouth can have internet service with 0 risk, how can anyone compete? Comcast did not invest in cable lines because they hoped it would payoff someday when internet took off. They invested in the lines with the guarantee from the government that they would make a profit from telephone service.
     So what's next? Will Comcast tell me I can't use Vonage through their service? Will they force me to use their VOIP service? Will they raise their prices to the point where I have to choose between internet and a car payment? So far, I have to admit, they've been very good to me. But that was when they faced competition. Will they be so quick to help me on their 800 line when they know I can't jump to a competitor? (Because I have VOIP, I can't use DSL) Read the Supreme Court decision for yourself. It's interesting to see who dissented. Scalia wrote the main dissent. Thomas wrote the opinion of the court. Scalia's dissent was actually very interesting to read and full of sarcasm and disbelief in how his peers ruled on this case. It's a strange day when I agree with Scalia.

Friday, June 24, 2005


     The Supreme Court ruled yesterday that local governments can seize land if the purpose is to improve it. "Improve it" apparently also means the same as "increase the tax base". Legal watchers are predicting a retail bonanza, as businesses target run-down neighborhoods in otherwise expensive areas for seizure.
     This is really a tragedy on many levels. 1) One of the main pillars this country was founded on was property rights. The ability to own land without fear that it would be taken at the whim of the government was encoded into the Constitution (or so I thought). 2) The effects of gentrification, which have always been hard on the poor, will now be devastating. Until yesterday, poor residents may have had problems paying their rising property taxes, but at least when they sold, it was to the highest bidder in a hot market. Now they won't even get the choice to sell high. They'll be forced to sell at the appraised value.
3) The conservation movement may have just been shot in the back. Modern conservationists have begun purchasing land to protect it. Private citizens have been buying empty land so that it might stay empty, not relying on the cities and states to preserve wilderness. Today, said cities and states can simply take the land away, rendering any attempt to keep any pastoral beauty pointless.
     However, as much as I despise the implications of this ruling, I cannot say that I would have not done the same place in the justices' shoes. (robes?) The applicable clause in the 5th Amendment says, "nor shall private property be taken for public use, without just compensation." The argument, therefore, is over the term "public use". New London, Connecticut, argues that shoring up the tax base is in the public interest, especially when the blue-collar city has been depressed for some time. That is, New London is using the seized land for revenue. As odious as this is, it is a legitimate argument. The dissenting opinion from the Supreme Court makes 4 arguments, 1 legitimate, 2 stinking of judicial activism, and a 4th argument that's a little of both. Argument 1: Increasing the tax base is a public interest, not a public use. This is a legitimate argument. In this case, for some reason, it did not resonate with 5 of the justices. Argument 2: Now, "Nothing is to prevent the State from replacing any Motel 6 with a Ritz-Carlton, any home with a shopping mall, or any farm with a factory." While true, it does not address the Constitutional issue. It's rhetoric better suited for the legislative floor, not the courthouse. Argument 3: Thomas says that because past use of the Public Use clause has been mostly limited to public works like canals, highways, and utilities, it should stay that way. This reminds me of the Republican claim that although the Patriot Act allows the Feds to invade your privacy, please trust that the government never will. Bottom line - if the law says it can be done, rest assured that someday it will be done. There are 280 million people living in the country. Not everybody out there plays nice. Argument 4: "discrete and insular minorities" will suffer for the overall interests of everyone else. That is, we're robbing the poor to steal from the rich. This is a true concern, and actually has some legal standing. Unfortunately, it's not illegal for the government to shift resources from the poor to the rich. If that were the case, the Bush tax cuts would never have been. However, it is illegal to discriminate against Blacks. If it could be shown that allowing property seizures for economic development would disproportionately affect Blacks, you could say that it would be illegal (although not unconstitutional). Unfortunately, while that still remains a possibility, nobody can prove it. And there is no law against discriminating against poor people.
     Despite my misgivings towards amending the Constitution, this is clearly a loophole. The Supreme Court did their job, allowing a state the right to do what it is Constitutionally allowed to do. If we want to re-examine "Public Use" and redefine it to mean, "Public Works", we'll have to do that with legislature, not with the courts. A sad day for America, true, but not because justices did not do their jobs correctly.

Wednesday, June 22, 2005

I Say Desecration, You Say Speech

     I'm not going to go all knee-jerk liberal on you about the Flag Burning Amendment passed by the House today. Personally, I think it's a stupid waste of time. We'd get better use out of our taxpayers' money by renaming french fries, "freedom fries" and by trying to keep dead people hooked up to feeding tubes. I know this amendment, like aforementioned dead people, has been hanging on to life for a decade, but I find the timing rather amusing.
     How is it that when Muslims go nuts about American soldiers peeing on their Koran (purposely or accidentally, although, please - I've never peed on a Bible accidentally. Or purposefully, I guess I should say), conservatives whine that a) Who cares?, b) they would do it to us, c) serves them right for being terrorists, d) what's the big deal? It's just a book, not a life. To a good extent, they're actually right. It doesn't make us right for doing it. I mean, would you rip a lollypop out of a little girl's hands and laugh in her face, justifying that it was OK because the sugar would have rot her teeth? Even if taking away the lollypop was a good thing to do, there are right and wrong ways to do it.
     Whatever. The point is, conservatives just don't see the big-freakin' deal about desecrating a Koran. Which makes it all the more ironic that they are pushing the Flag Burning Amendment! Hey, Republicans, what's the big-freakin' deal? It "accidentally" caught on fire. Oh - I was peeing into an air vent and, oops, the flag got a little urine on it. I needed toilet paper and, well, the flag was just right there.
     The sad thing is that it's a known fact that conservatives don't get sarcasm. There are still studies underway to determine whether or not they have the capability of empathy, but it doesn't look good. So we can say for near certainty that they will never understand that they share the same views as the Muslims they disdain. They would have kittens if a Muslim government that we have relations with (say, Saudi Arabia or Malaysia) had soldiers that routinely desecrated the American flag while that government did absolutely nothing.
     If you tried to burn a flag in protest or (God forbid) wear a flag jacket, you would be arrested and sent to jail. That's the United States, folks. It says a lot about where we've come as a nation that it sounds so foreign to us. But that's how this country worked in the 1950's and 60's. That's the reality that the reactionaries in Congress and the White House are trying to bring us back to.

Tuesday, June 21, 2005

Morning People II

The Return of the Morning People

     This may seem like a silly topic to you - along the lines of my Hebrew National Shortage article or my Disturbing Fiber Commentary or my rant on Kitchen Efficiency. Even my wife laughs when I bring it up. What a silly thing to worry about. If you're tired, just go to sleep earlier. Sure waking up at 5:30 is hard, but I do it, so why not you?
     In April, I explained Delayed Sleep Phase Syndrome, a recognized disorder that makes it as difficult for a "Night Person" to wake up at 6am as it would be for a "Morning Person" to wake up at 2am. Can you imagine going to sleep at 7pm and waking up at 2am every weekday of your life? It's one of those things you never get used to. I argued in April that it was a hidden discrimination in the workplace - that the vast majority of corporate dwellers are morning people simply because the Night People are either pushed out or not promoted for being lazy.
     Slate has an interesting article today that suggests that night people may not ever even make it to the corporate world, or even the top ten percent of college graduation. For years, we've been told to eat breakfast because we did better during the day. We were more alert, we were smarter, we worked harder. Studies (funded by Kellogg, but still valid) have repeatedly shown that people who regularly eat breakfast perform better during the day. Nobody knows exactly why that is, but people have put forth a lot of guesses. You know, like it gets your body's engine going, there's a blood sugar rush to the brain, it prevents hunger pang distractions, yada yada yada.
     Slate suggests that nobody has ever looked at that group that doesn't eat breakfast - the ones who can't seem to get out of bed in time to shower, get dressed, eat, and still make the school bus on time. I remember that if it came down to a choice between making the school bus and eating breakfast, I knew which side my mother preferred. Still, maybe the people who don't eat breakfast are the Night People, the people who are groggy and overtired to begin with. Schools start early. If you don't have kids, you might not remember. In my county, elementary schools begin at 8:15. High schools start at 7:30. When I was in high school in Florida, I had to be awake at 5:30 to make the bus to get to school before the bell so I was in my seat on time - otherwise I had detention. Not only that, my father certainly didn't want to drive me to school that was 20-30 minutes from both home and his work. 7:30!! Who among you gets to work at that time? And high school students are most affected by DSPS - due to their changing hormones, many experience some form of DSPS sometime during their teenage years. Slate references a Brown study that showed that the brain patterns of many teenagers look like that of narcoleptics. Narcolepsy can cause sufferers to fall asleep at the snap of a finger. Ever seen students sleeping in class? Sometimes they put their heads on the desk. Sometimes they're still sitting straight up, and occasionally still have their eyes open. Familiar with the "head nod"? Sometimes the first these kids know they're asleep is when their head droops and they jerk back upright, waking them up.
     I've had chalk erasers thrown at my head. I've come very close to throwing them back. The only thing that stopped me was extreme embarrassment at having fallen asleep to begin with. I also didn't get great grades, despite testing well. I don't know if I can correlate that with being sleepy. It would be interesting to pull out the old report cards and see if I did better in late morning or afternoon classes. Either way, Night Kids start out life with a serious disadvantage. In the best case scenario, lower grades only affects college choice, but in college students can sign up for later classes. In more likely scenarios, these kids never really learn what they could be learning in school, making them somewhat developmentally delayed. Some just figure they're stupid and never try too hard in the future. Some may give up entirely, as many developmentally delayed students do. Those kids drop out, join gangs, commit violence. Hmmm - maybe that's why gangs like to hang out at night?
     Slate reports that some schools are experimenting with later start times, and that's a good start. Parents, of course, are put out. Early school times fit in so neatly with their Morning People work schedule. I remember years ago there were some schools that ran on a split-shift to cut costs. I wouldn't have minded going to a school that started at noon. But there's hope on the professional front, as telecommuting becomes more prevalent. Take out 45 minutes of commute in the morning and 30 to 60 minutes of showering and getting dressed, and you're starting to talk about real sleep time. It's an idea whose time is overdue. And maybe those homeschoolers are on to something. In either case, however, you eliminate the social life. Making friends is easy when you're sitting next to them in misery for 8 hours, and that applies whether you're at work or school. Either way, being a Night Person means a lifetime of uphill climbs. All I can say is, "Fight the Man!" Night Power! (away!)

Monday, June 20, 2005

This is so gay...

     Spain is about to pass a bill legalizing gay marriage in that country. Catholic bishops led a 1/2 million person protest Saturday, but polls indicate that the bill is favored by a majority of Spaniards. Anyway, I'm sure this story was written by a AP staffer in favor of the bill, but these quotes from the protesters are priceless.
     "Marriage can only be between man and a woman," said Agustin Cruz, 41. "It's a divine and natural law. Marriage of homosexuals is a lie. You have to call things by their name. The first lie begins when you start calling queers 'gays.' They're queers, it's not an insult, it's the definition of that race of people."
(I like how calling them gays instead of queers is against natural law)
     Father Jose Ramon Velasco said, "And they shouldn't have the right to adopt because if those children turn out to be homosexual, who will be to blame, the government?" "Back then [1930's] the majority of people also backed Hitler just like the majority back this law"
(I don't know which part I like better, that we have to blame someone if kids are gay, or that voting to extend rights to gays is akin to voting for someone who promises to mass murder them)
     The article also said, The Bishops' Conference last week said the gay marriage bill was the biggest challenge to the church and its values in 2,000 years. I'm not an expert on Spanish government. But unless the church is part of the government, I don't see how this bill affects the church. And I feel like the church has dealt with bigger challenges in 2,000 years - persecution of Christians in Rome, the Reformation in the middle ages, the breakaway of the entire country of England, the Papal Schism of the 14th century, priests molesting little boys in the 20th. To call Spain's legalization of 2 men to share a bank account and own a house together the "biggest challenge to the church in 2,000 years" is to show a complete lack of knowledge and respect for the church's history, and a gross overstatement of the impact of this law.

Friday, June 17, 2005

Criminal Alimony

     A Georgia Supreme Court case was decided yesterday that made Delta Airlines executives breathe a sigh of relief. They ruled that airlines are not liable for traffic accidents caused by serving their passengers alcohol. The case in question involved a young man who was permanently disabled by a drunk driver. Jack Townsend was a 25 year old college grad who was getting certified to be a teacher. Today he still suffers from sever orthopedic injuries, has short-term memory loss, and works at a Chick-fil-A serving drinks. The driver was sentenced to probation, alcohol treatment, and 100 hours of community service, at the urging of Townsend's obviously very compassionate and forgiving family. But the thought struck me - Townsend will spend the rest of his life in crippling disability, probably never marry, never retire, never have kids or grandkids. After a few years having a blemished driving record, the driver will walk away free to forget that the incident ever occurred.
     Americans' attitudes towards justice have always fascinated me. Punishment has gone through many incarnations over the past few hundred years. (incarceration incarnation contemplation?) Lately, the buzzword has been "Victim's Rights". When it was a new concept in 1981, it referred to the right of crime victims to be informed, present, and heard at criminal proceedings. Today, there is a greater emphasis on the being heard part, implying (or sometimes just outright stating) that victims should have a say in a criminal's punishment. It certainly begs the question, "Why do we punish criminals?" IMNSHO, there are 3 reasons. 1) To deter the criminal from doing it again; 2) To discourage other potential criminals from trying the same thing; and 3) To satisfy a desire for revenge. #1 and #2 are certainly noble goals, although whatever we're doing isn't working very well. All we seem to be doing is creating smarter criminals. #3 is harder to justify. Not only should our government not be in the business of revenge, what good does it do either the victim or society as a whole?
     I read a very interesting paper on legal reparations today. If you get a chance, read it. It outlines reasons to move from a punitive criminal system to a reparative one. In the case of Townsend above, wouldn't it be more fair to have the driver subsidize him for the rest of his life? Certainly Townsend's earning potential is way down. The least the driver could do is send a portion of his paycheck each month to the victim to compensate for his loss of income....forever. Create an alimony of sorts to compensate him for losing his life. If it's appropriate for married people who have "become accustomed" to a lifestyle, shouldn't it be appropriate to a crippled victim? Since Townsend can't drive, maybe the driver should volunteer to chauffeur him around on the weekends (although, I'd personally be a little hesitant to drive with him). If you could enforce this type of penalty regularly, don't you think this would be a greater deterrent to drinking and driving than just losing your license? Appropriate, too. I remember hearing in some Social Studies class way back in the day (with no references to back myself up) that in some times of ancient history, when one man murdered another, instead of being locked up or executed, he was forced to work the fields of the murdered man's widow. Not only was he making some reparations, he was demonstrating good will and remorse. And even though nothing he can do will ever bring the murdered man back, he'll be able to reenter society at some point a lot easier than someone sitting for 15 years in jail. Besides, who can afford to house and feed and guard prisoners for years on end?
     You may remember a week or two ago that I mentioned that someone had knocked my mailbox down, along with those of at least 3 of my neighbors. While I was working at setting a new post the other day, one of my neighbors came over to talk to me. His own mailbox leaned at close to a 45° angle from a previous attack. "Don't you wish we could just kill them? That would teach them a lesson," he said, half in jest. Half. I sympathized with his desire for revenge. Every hour that I worked to pry up old concrete stuck in wet clay led to darker thoughts for the perpetrators. But to be honest, what I really wanted to do, if I caught the vandals, was to force them to not only pay for a new mailbox, but to install it themselves, maybe planting a few flowers under the mailbox, and perhaps mowing my lawn a few times, just to remind them how much work maintaining a house is without having to repair teenage damage. I really wouldn't physically hurt them (I think) and I wouldn't want to see them in jail. What good would that do? Of course the police are worthless. They tried to dissuade me from even filing a report.
     That's the real problem, I think. We ignore so many transgressions around us that some real percentage of the time, crimes go unpunished. How can we expect criminals to stop committing crimes if we aren't serious about reacting to them? I mean, Las Vegas makes billions of dollars by only paying out a tiny percentage of the time. If criminals have better odds on the streets of America, it will never cease. Maybe if we stopped simply filling jail cells and forced criminals (although I agree that violent criminals need to be sequestered from the rest of society) to make real restitution, we could afford to investigate small crimes. Make drunk drivers reimburse their victims for damages, not one time, but for as long as there are damages. Make doctors who commit malpractice correct whatever error they made and restore the patient's quality of life to what it was, instead of getting multi-million dollar settlements. Make shoplifters pay the cost, not only of the items stolen, but of the insurance, the alarm systems, the video cameras. Let's stop trying to punish people for the sake of revenge. It's not working for any of us. Let's try to make things right, instead.

Thursday, June 16, 2005

Culture of Reality

     Sometimes the fact are stranger than fiction. Sometimes the facts are just the way things are. Luckily today we have another option - where opinion carries more weight than facts. We've seen this dynamic time and time again.
Cocaine was prohibited in the first part of the 20th century. Newspapers used terms like "Negro Cocaine Fiends" and "Cocainized Niggers" to drive up sales, causing a nationwide panic about the rape of white women by black men, high on cocaine. Many police forces changed from a .32 caliber to a .38 caliber pistol because the smaller gun was supposedly unable to kill black men when they were high on cocaine. src: Wikipedia
1937 saw the passage of the Marijuana Tax Act. Harry J. Anslinger (Bureau of Narcotics Commissioner) testified in hearings on the subject that the hemp plant needed to be banned because it had a violent "effect on the degenerate races". This specifically referred to Mexican immigrants

The Christianist argument that Evolution is only a theory with no more to back it up than the bible does is a third case, as is the 17th century church argument that Earth is the center of the Universe (not to mention that "geometry is the devil").
     However, the one thing that these cases of moral panic have in common is that they all rested near the boundaries of scientific knowledge. At the very least, these things are not readily observable. Evolution usually takes place over thousands and millions of years, and if you've never met a Mexican, who's to say marijuana doesn't have a violent effect? Of course, in all this anti-intellectual fervor, Bob & Mary Schindler, Terri Schiavo's parents have decided to get in on the action.
     I honestly did not expect to write about the results of Terri's autopsy. Even though the autopsy revealed that Terri was, in fact, brain dead by any definition of the word, even though her remaining bran mass weighed less than half of what a normal brain weighs, even though the part of her brain that sees was totally atrophied, I would have abstained. Even though Jeb did not apologize for creating such a huge furor, even though Bill Frist hasn't been impeached for his "expert testimony" that Terri responded to visual stimulation, even though nobody has recanted the slander against Michael Schiavo that he abused his wife, I was going to drop the issue. But now the headlines scream, "Schiavo's parents not swayed by autopsy results"! Of course, that's the AP title. On, the link to the story from the homepage reads, "Schiavo Kin: Autopsy Wrong". So now there is a conspiracy to kill Terri, not just from her widowed husband who wanted to marry another woman and make money from suing doctors, not just from the judges who happened to be assigned the case, not just Terri's doctors themselves, but the medical examiner is in on the conspiracy too?
     Look, I get that Terri's parents cracked a long time ago. They're babbling nonsense to whoever will listen. That's fine - they need help. But Fox News (sic) should not validate their crazy, wild-eyed ideas that despite the fact that the part of her brain that operated her eyes no longer existed, the Schindlers insist that Terri interacted with them and followed balloons around the room with her eyes. Why this hatred of science and facts and knowledge? The findings that Terri was, indeed, dead doesn't piss off the church. It just pisses off the people who wanted to make Terri into a political statement. And of course her parents, who have been divorced from reality since the early 90's. If you were to put Terri through any series of tests to determine A) if she were totally brain dead and B) if her husband had more right to speak for her than her parents, you would come to the same conclusion. Why? Because this woman has been overanalyzed more than anyone in the history of overanalysis, with the possible future exceptions of Jennifer Wilbanks and Natalee Holloway. (Amazing that these women have their own encyclopedia entries already) Every medical and legal test has been conducted, and except for the ones purchased for the sole purpose of disseminating false information, all have come back with the same conclusion. Stop attacking people who know what they're talking about. Is this what America has come to? In the age of Law and Order and CSI, everybody thinks they are qualified lawyers and judges and doctors and medical examiners. People, TV is great and all, but back in reality, these people know what they're talking about.

Wednesday, June 15, 2005

Gay-Eye Joe

     What?? You come up with a better title.

     MSNBC (a combination I've never really understood) is reporting today that due to recruiting problems in the military, a new push is on to allow openly gay soldiers to serve. This tells us two things. 1) June 15 is a sloooow news day. 2) the military as a Republican bastion may be under attack.
     It was pretty painful to watch, 12 years ago, as the Clinton administration tried to get the US military to stop the gay witch hunt it had been conducting for 50 years. Bowing to Republican pressure, he adopted the "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" rule. It must have been a good compromise, because it made everybody pretty unhappy. In truth, it was a huge step ahead of where gays had been in the past, when the military would conduct investigations to actively find homosexual men, even if they were keeping it hidden.
     I'm sure you're going to guess which side of the fence I fall on. And you're correct. But I do empathize with the argument that adding sexual tension to a unit could be disruptive. Historically, the armed forces have been pretty asexual. That is, except for the occasional hooker, there was no sex in the military. Adding openly homosexual soldiers to the mix would change that dynamic. But that's where my empathy ends. I know that change is hard (no pun intended). But you shouldn't exclude 55% percent of Americans because you are scared to change. That's right - 55%. 5% gay people, and 50% women. Why else would women not be allowed to serve? Because Congress can't afford tampons in the desert?
     Newsweek magazine had a story very recently about the compartmentalization of our military in society. In World War II, 6% of Americans were in uniform at one time or another. I don't think there were Americans who didn't know someone involved. Today, I don't know a single person who has been to Iraq and only one person who has even a chance of going. Recruitment is way down. Enlistment bonuses now can exceed $100,000 (although a good portion of that is in benefits, such as free tuition, not cash). But re-enlistment is up. The people who are serving are more likely than ever before to have parents and other family members who serve or served. In other words, our military is becoming more removed from society at large. There are 2 main trends that can change this. The first is the tendency of immigrants to sign up. Minorities make up the majority of the military (say that five times fast), but the vast minority of its leadership. When that starts to change, so will our military. The second is the emergence of women and gays, two otherwise forbidden classes of people who are breaking in to the system inch by inch. (Still, no pun intended) This will change the military even faster, because once these people start getting into uniform, they can't be bought off with schooling or citizenship. They will want to reach the top.
     It's difficult to understand why in a world where we are desperate to find talented linguists and analysts and fighting men and women, we're rejecting people whose crime is not being attracted to the opposite sex. A return to the asexual military won't happen - can't happen. It may have been somewhat true in WWII, but by Vietnam, sex was everywhere - with the nurses, with the South Vietnamese. If having babies with the local population isn't distracting to your military mission, I don't know what is. My prediction is that tomorrow's military will be like that in Starship Troopers, only hopefully without the bugs.

Monday, June 13, 2005

Mawwiage is What Bwings us Togever Today

     I was pleased and a little surprised by the responses to the previous post. I'm excited to get a few people out of the shadows (Rusty, Amber, and Alisa - welcome!) and intrigued by the complete differences of opinion on the subject of marriage. I'd still like to hear from other people, especially more of the wedded ones. It would be fascinating to hear from Sylvana to contrast it to Sideshow Bob's comment. We had a couple of cheaters. SSB came dangerously close to veering off topic and Canis Lupus was totally off topic (but welcome back from Japan anyhow, CL, I'm looking forward to reading your blog again)
     It's usually pretty interesting to see who's getting married to whom. Rob & Amber, Paris & Paris, Tom & Katie?? Even among my friends it's interesting to see who ends up together. It's almost never a surprise in that arena. No Brittney and Kevin stories. But in retrospect, who ever thought certain people would be good at marriage? Not that there's any guarantee. I have to admit that at at least one wedding my wife and I went to, we were betting on how long it would last. We feel bad, and I'm not telling whose it was, but the reality is that not every marriage will last. My sister's sister-in-law met her husband (if you're reading - welcome back from your honeymoon!) on I find that site fascinating. Apparently it completely rejects like 20% of its applicants. Some people I talk to find this unfathomable. What right do they have? But E-Harmony is in the business of making marriages, not finding dates. And I think the sad Truth is that there is no good match for a good number of people out there. You can say, "there's someone for everyone," but what kind of marriage would two selfish, immature, pleasure-seeking people have? C'mon - they wouldn't last 3 weeks! I know people who should never get married. As much as I like them as people and friends, I couldn't wish that kind of life on a spouse.
     But I don't know if I expected to read about the indentured prostitution or the female submission. I think it's sad that people might do things they don't want to do to get what they want. I mean, I've certainly mowed the lawn or unclogged the toilet when I didn't want to, but I would have had to do those things regardless. I feel like there's nothing I gave up to be married. I do think it's funny that in the "traditional" marriages, both the men and the women feel like they're the ones in charge. In reality, they probably compromise and sacrifice as much as anyone, except that in the posturing they're doing, they probably withhold some of the openness they could otherwise have. I think to Fiddler on the roof, where Tevye's pounding his chest and bragging about his role as the Papa, while his wife is inside, quietly fierce, also pretending to be in charge as the Mama. Meanwhile, they reveal that after 25 years they did not even know if the other loved them.
     I never commented on my own post - I wanted to do it today. (Sorry if it gives me a bigger forum, but I have my own blog, so tough titties) What is my definition of marriage? I agree with Mainline Mom in one sense, that marriage is truly a union of two people into one. My wife and I are so co-dependent that we can't stand to be apart for even a few hours. When we went on our cruise a few weeks ago, we both still had the feeling that it still wasn't enough "together time". I digress. Marriage is liberating in a way, even as it's constricting. We never wonder who's going to pick up the check, never question each other's motives, never play the "game". Still, I miss the "game" sometimes, but one thing I've enjoyed about marriage is that there are no doubts.
     When we got married, it didn't seem real. People would ask us if we felt different. And the answer was, of course, no. Nothing had changed from one day to the next, except on the previous day we were still planning the stupid thing and on the day after we had a huge charge on the credit card. But we wouldn't have been happy not married, because the marriage provided a sense of security and a sense of family. Marriage is a partnership, but it's not 50-50. It's 100-100. It's two people completely devoting their lives to each other to the extent that nothing else is important at all. I agree with Alisa there, although maybe with a different connotation: marriage is a state where all is done for the good of the community and not the individual. But I love my new "community". It's nice not having to worry about using my wife's dental insurance or her using my medical insurance. It's nice that we have one bank account. Nice that my wife can make travel arrangements and that I have the authority to modify them if she's busy, or if she just doesn't want to deal with it at the moment.
     I really wanted people to examine what marriage meant to them. We've had such a weird national dialogue about gay marriage and traditional marriage and the ruination of families, that I figured maybe I didn't know what people thought marriage was in the first place. I was right. Maybe marriage is like a snowflake - no two are alike. Still, with all the differences, I hope it bolsters tolerance of marriages that are different from their own. From the (very) few responses, Mike's in the minority. But then, so am I. So is Sideshow Bob. So is Amber. I think we should be glad that I can't dictate to anyone else what marriage is or should be. I think we're all glad that Rusty can't dictate to anyone else what marriage is. :) Just something to think about.

Friday, June 10, 2005

Weekend Homework

     No rant from me today. This weekend, I want to know what your definition of marriage is. (apologies and thanks to Leonard Pitts) There are only a few ground rules:
1) You may only post once. Delete it and start over if you must, but only one post per person.
2) Do not respond to another commenter. I will delete those.
3) Do not stray from the topic. There are plenty of other places, even on my blog, where you can talk about whatever you want. Here, all I want is your definition of marriage.

     That's it! Have fun. Everybody comment - I am looking forward to seeing what everybody thinks. No cheating! Big Brother Scott is watching.

Thursday, June 09, 2005

Never Forget

     I feel I have to explain why I don't feel like comparing the Bush administration to the Third Reich (although not necessarily Bush to Hitler himself) isn't as patently offensive and absurd as the Righties like to think.
I grew up with the mantra, "Never Forget". My grandparents reminded me that their parents and grandparents never thought that something like the Holocaust could possibly occur, either in their thoroughly modern urban Germany or their pastoral rural Poland or Russia. "Never Forget" taught us to never assume that everything was going to be all right - sometimes the very worst happens. And it may happen when you least expect it.
     Well, I've been hearing this long before Bush came to office. There's a certain paranoia to it. In 1996 when I went overseas for the first time and got my passport, my father decided it was time to get passports for the entire family too. You never know... Paranoid? Yes, but just because you're paranoid, it doesn't mean they're not out to get you. Or in other words, sometimes even paranoids have enemies. (In college, we termed one of our fraternity brothers, "pronoid" - he thought everyone liked him. He was wrong, by the way)
     Anyway, as I explained in "Who's Allowed to Talk About Hitler?", Hitler's life wasn't 100% dedicated to exterminating Jews and dominating Europe. He had a sophisticated plan to rule Germany - and he deftly turned Germany from one of the world's foremost democracies into its foremost evil dictatorship. It's not only useful and eye-opening to study how he did it, it's crucial to learn what he did so as to prevent it. A lot of his successes were directly or indirectly caused by well-meaning people looking to alleviate the strain on Germany from the First World War, reparations, and from the Great Depression. It behooves us not only to know what steps those well-meaning people did, but to look for similar patterns in our own government that would allow another Hitler to take advantage of the situation.
     No reasonable person seriously thinks Bush is Hitler II. But there are similarities in certain things going on in Bush's government that resemble things that allowed Hitler to come to power. And "Never Forget" calls for eternal vigilance - so that even though Bush most likely never intends or desires to exploit these things, there is most certainly someone out there who does.
     The Patriot Act allows the government to spy on U.S. citizens. It allows the government to secretly detain U.S. citizens suspected of terrorism. Suspected, not convicted. One argument I've heard over and over is that the current government won't abuse the power we've given it. But what about the next one?
     How is it so out of bounds to compare what this Bush administration and this Republican Congress are doing to what the Reichstag did in 1933 after a terrorist act in Germany. Thankfully, the Patriot Act is a kitten next to the Reichstag Fire Decree's lion. But what comes next? The American people seem to have agreed that security is more important than liberty, at least in some cases. Where's the line? Who draws the line?
     What I find interesting is that while every Right-wing voice declares that Hillary will be the next President (despite no Left-wing person seriously discussing that eventuality, as far as I know), I don't think they really believe it. They villainize Hillary to mobilize their base, but if they really thought she was going to be elected in 2008 or 2012, wouldn't they be putting more safeguards on our government and not less? Wouldn't they want to maintain the filibuster on judges? Wouldn't they want to restrict her ability to spy on the American people? Wouldn't they want to restrict her ability to make war with whomever she pleases? I really don't have an opinion on Hillary, believe it or not. But assume she's as bad as Rush Limbaugh claims she is (because who wouldn't believe everything Rush says) - don't you see her using these anti-terrorism tools that were created with the best of intentions to wreak havoc on the American way of life? We should never be closing our eyes to what is going on - we should never think that examining our own side is the same as giving a victory to the other side. If the Patriot Act and other acts like it are flawed, we need to know now so we can fix it - we can't shut down as soon as someone compares it to Germany. That's letting someone win, and that someone isn't America.

Tuesday, June 07, 2005

Retracting Newsweek's Retraction?

     Three weeks ago, in Who Started the Fire?, I asked (rhetorically) why the Bush administration attacks information rather than wrongdoing. Despite honestly thinking that Newsweek got it wrong when they reported Qu'ran abuses, I blasted the White House for being too defensive to take charges seriously. Now, as I'm sure you all well know, while the actual flushing of the Qu'ran was done by an inmate, American guards have been desecrating the Muslim holy book plenty, including urinating on one. Newsweek retracted the original story, not because it was fundamentally wrong, but because the government leak they relied upon came back and said, "Oops, my bad. I lied." Personally, I think protecting the identity of anonymous sources ends once they admit lying to you to discredit your organization. But maybe that's why I'm not a journalist and will never interview anyone more important than the cashier at Target when I'm ringing up my toilet paper and shampoo.
     The result of all this is that Newsweek still comes out looking both discredited and partisan, despite the fact that their article was well researched and had only a single sourcing problem that can probably be traced back to the government. Nobody takes the incidents seriously, because the administration defused the whole thing when everyone thought it was a hoax, and blamed worldwide unrest on it besides. Even now when newspapers report the truth, they are attacked because of that violence, which frankly looked orchestrated. I mean, I know you love your Qu'ran and all, but when you've got Iraqis hooked up to an electrical generator by their nuts and American soldiers desecrating mosques, this kind of outrage over an allegation of one Qu'ran in the toilet is not only overboard, it looks very suspicious.
     So when does Bush come out and say, "Oops - I was wrong when I said these allegations were absurd"? Probably never. The level of disinformation and smear jobs on the media is unprecedented. Nixon is probably smiling in his grave. It's ironic that at the same time we learn the identity of Deep Throat, the anonymous informant who helped expose White House corruption, the current President is making sure it can never happen again by peppering the news organizations with false leaks designed to discredit them. Don't forget that CBS relied on government leaks to support their report on Bush's National Guard records. Even though we don't know who the source was, CBS knows, and they decided that the source was well enough placed to know the truth. Too bad they didn't know just how well placed the source was...

Monday, June 06, 2005

Judicial Activists Hate America

     This time it's true. This time, the judges looking to make their own law aren't trying to remake America in their own image - they've declared war on America and hope to see it ended as we know it.
     I'm speaking, of course, about the recent Supreme Court case on medicinal marijuana (PDF). In Gonzales v. Raich, patients on prescribed medicinal marijuana were raided by the federal DEA. In a 6-3 decision, the Supremes ruled that the feds had the right to ban the marijuana use and seize the drugs. It's interesting to note how the justices voted. Justices Stevens, Kennedy, Souter, Ginsburg, Breyer, and Scalia voted in the majority to uphold the DEA's actions. Ultra-conservatives Rehnquist and Thomas and mostly conservative-except-for-womens'-issues O'Connor dissented, saying that the states could do whatever they wanted and that Congress had no right to pass a law banning marijuana.
     Now, as I'm sure Ben can tell you, I'm no fan of the wacky tobaccy. So maybe that influences my personal leanings towards the federal ban. But the War on Drugs is largely a conservative beast, not a liberal one. (Started by Nixon, championed by Nancy Reagan) And yet the conservative justices want to end it. Maybe we have another chink in the GOP armor. More likely is that this case is really about the power of America, and not drugs at all.
     The U.S. Congress passed a laws (laws) banning marijuana, with no exceptions for medical or emergency use. I don't know what the public perception is today, but in a 2003 survey, 59% of Americans favored the ban on marijuana, according to the legalization group, Drug Policy Alliance. We all know that statistics can be misleading, but it's pretty clear that if this group advertises these numbers, if anything they're fudging on their own side. And the majority opinion justices of the Supreme Court weren't just voting based on popular opinion. Their argument was that Congress has the right to control interstate commerce. Since the legalization of "medical" marijuana will inevitably find its way to the open market, interstate or not, it will affect the market price of marijuana (making it cheaper, thereby giving it a broader customer base). Thus, private medical use of marijuana can fall under the jurisdiction of Congress. (There's a lot more to the argument. read the decision yourself) Rehnquist, Thomas, and O'Connor dissented, basically saying, What's the harm in a few old ladies with terminal cancer smoking weed? C'mon!
     Their argument lacks a lot of the dissection of the commerce clause and leans heavily on previous rulings by the same crowd. Their goal is to limit the power of Washington. Dress it up as small government or whatever you like. Their aim is to cripple the power of our elected officials by reinterpreting the constitution. They hate America - at least the America we have today. They hate living in a world where Californians get as much of a say in what the rules are as someone from North Dakota. (Actually, they don't - but that's another story) They hate having to compromise with people who are different. That's why they isolate themselves in suburbs with cul-de-sacs that undesirables won't accidentally drive through. That's why they watch Fox News with its editorialized content. That's why they tag themselves with "I Support the Troops" magnetic ribbons.** If they could form their own country (called Idlewyld Country Clubia or Jonesville Baptistia) and exclude the people who don't agree with them, they would. Barring that, if they could move to South Carolina and be free of meddlesome federal oversight, they would.
     The problem for these people is that we all identify ourselves as Americans. All of us - straight and gay, Whites, Hispanics, Blacks, pot-smokers, draft-dodgers, and flag-burners. We're all American. And because we live in a (mostly) democracy, we all get a say. And we all deserve protection and equality under the law.
     Speaking personally, I view myself as an American. I don't think of myself as a Georgian first and then an American. I don't think of myself as a Norcrossite (?) first, then a Georgian, then an American. So the idea of empowering the states over the federal government is distasteful to me. If I wanted to be purely selfish, I would support it and move to a state that served my personal needs, even as the union crumbled around me. But I like being able to cross from state to state, not worrying what laws are different in this state compared to the last. (Radar detector and fireworks laws are complicated enough, thank you) In fact, I believe that's a large part of why America has done so well in the 20th century - a large country, free of encumbrances and local tribal squabbles. So look carefully at these Activist Judges who want to suppress the law to remold America in their image. They're not trying to shrink government, they're trying to castrate it.

** I am by no means suggesting that everybody who does these things is an anti-social America hater. People have many reasons for doing things, and the one I put out is just one.

Friday, June 03, 2005

A Discussion of Values

     A lot has been made of "values" politically for the past 20 years. Mostly by the Republican party, but that's obviously because Republicans own values. Democrats just wander through life wondering why they exist, no one thing more important than the next. I don't know if this all started with Dan Quayle's "Murphy Brown" speech, or earlier, but Republicans have taken the word "values" and run with it.
     Since we have participants who are in love with dictionary definitions, the definition of "value" is: "A principle, standard, or quality considered worthwhile or desirable". OK, so what do Republicans find worthwhile and desirable enough to spend time and energy on?
     They would like to say, Life, especially when discussing abortion or Terri Schiavo. Since that clashes with their positions on the death penalty and war, we'll have to dig deeper and see that the common denominator is their own religious beliefs. So Value #1 is Their own Religious Beliefs.
     They would also like to say, Family, with their stance on gays marrying and anti-sodomy laws. But despite a call for a constitutional amendment to ban gay marriage, they are silent on divorce. In addition, they also oppose gays in the military, gays in the library, gays in the classroom, and gays in Rhea County, Tennessee (not coincidentally the site of the infamous Scopes Monkey Trial). Also based on religion, Republicans obviously consider Value #2, Homophobia, worthwhile and desirable.
     Republicans would like to claim they value Individual Liberty. They point to school vouchers and tax cuts and claim that ending Social Security would free Americans to save for their own retirement. But on the other hand, they pass intrusive laws, like the Patriot Act, ostensibly in the name of security, which overreaches and steals liberty from Americans. They support tough drug laws banning the private consumption of mind-altering substances. They support sex laws banning the sale of sexual aids like vibrators and dildoes and inflatable dolls. (OK - I put those in there just for the Google searches) So complete liberty isn't exactly forefront on their minds. They use liberty when it relates to money. So Value #3 is Money.
     There are more, but it's 5:00 and time to start my weekend of lawn work and bill paying and replacing the mailbox that some punks have knocked down. To recap: Republican values are Their own Religious Beliefs, Homophobia, and Money. I know the temptation will be there for Republican apologists to try to come up with a list of Democratic "values", but unfortunately Democrats never campaigned on values to begin with. Democrats never claimed to be the party of values. Luckily for the Republicans, so many middle Americans support these three values that they've been swept to power. Good luck to them. Me, I'm just waiting for some of that Individual Liberty.

Thursday, June 02, 2005

It Felt like Deep Throat

     I suppose by now everybody has heard about the true identity of Deep Throat, the erstwhile anonymous imformant who helped bring Nixon's Watergate coverup to light 20 years ago. Frankly, the outing of W. Mark Felt, a top FBI official at the time, is anticlimactic. It would have been much more exciting had it been Gerald Ford or George Bush or Al Haig or Ben Stein. That would have added a lot of drama to the story. Diane Sawyer, Pat Buchanan, William Rehnquist, and Pope John Paul II were candidates, albeit unlikely ones. They all would have added a level of drama and intrigue to the case. With Felt, it's just your average disgruntled employee whistleblower case.
     Given that, I'm surprised by the the amount of vitriol being spewed in his direction by the Right. They call him a traitor and trash him for not being more loyal to his President. Besides, they say, it was only a little break-in and bugging of a rival Presidential candidate's party headquarters. It's not like Nixon got a BJ out of the deal. (Now that's an impeachable offense!) They also say that he doesn't deserve to be held up as a hero because he personally had issues with Nixon.
     Well, if the only whistleblowers that were allowed to tell the truth were ones that liked the people they were ratting out, no corruption would ever be uncovered. But I guess that's the point, huh? Felt was in line to replace J. Edgar Hoover as the FBI chief, but a Nixon loyalist was promoted instead. For all of Hoover's faults, (and there were many - Hoover was not a good man) he kept the FBI independent of the executive and legislative branches. It was the nation's police force, and it was not a private eye hired to the White House, even if it did have a corrupt sherrif. When Hoover died, Felt, like the rest of the FBI, feared that Nixon would politicize the agency. This plus his being passed over for promotion may have spurred him to reveal secrets to Woodward and Bernstein. Of couse, Felt wasn't exactly wrong about that - L. Patrick Gray, the Nixon loyalist in charge of the FBI, was leaking FBI info to the White House so they could avoid prosecution. He himself was implicated in Watergate.
     As to giving FBI secrets to the public, that's an echo of the Bushies primary complaint about Abu Ghraib. Forget the wrongdoing, they say, attack the messenger! Its a repeat of elementary schoo, where the biggest lesson we learned on the playground was that tattletales were the worst sort of evildoers and that bullies were just doing what bullies do. Felt worked for the FBI, true, but he also worked for the United States, and when the head of the FBI was engaging in not only illegal activity but activity coutnerproductive to the United States, where else was Felt to go? I have to note that Felt was not proud of being Deep Throat. In a 1999 interview, Felt revealed that he disliked what Deep Throat did even as he felt it necessary. Also keep in mind that Felt didn't singlehandedly "bring down the President." He just kept two reporters informed of the progress of the FBI investigation - progress that would never otherwise be reported because Nixon's buddy was running the show. Eventually, other sources proved more damaging, including Nixon's own tape recordings. Woodward and Bernstein, and by extension Felt, managed to keep the scandal in the spotlight long enough for the police to do their jobs. It's tempting to blame Felt for "bringing down a sitting President", but it's criminally negligent to ignore the complicity of his boss. Had Gray not supressed evidence and illegally fed information to the White House, the conspiracy would have been uncovered earlier.
     Interestingly, the day after Felt outed himself, a story appeared in the Atlanta Journal Constitution about a Georgia prison guard whistleblowing about prison abuse. Tommy Cardell, a devout Christian in his own words, is risking alientation and personal harm to speak out against fellow law enforcement officers about criminal abuse.
"[The Code of Silence is] for street gangs and criminals," he said. "That's not something for the police officer to uphold." "If an officer makes a mistake and you can help him get back on the right road ? you don't run out and blow the whistle," he said. "But if you have a group of people and they're doing illegal stuff, and they're trying to involve you in it ? I wouldn't want to be part of a group of people who are breaking the law."
If it makes sense for a rural prison officer, doesn't it also make sense for our national police force? I'm not calling Felt a hero. But I'm not calling him a criminal, either. He did what he felt he had to do. And history has shown that he probably did the right thing, as unpopular as it was (and is). It's just a little disappointing that the mystery ends this way. At least we have the 18 1/2 minute gap on Nixon's tapes....

Wednesday, June 01, 2005

Republican = Socialist

     I write this with great pleasure because as many of you are aware, the right-wing PR machine has long equated the word "liberal" with "socialist", "communist", and "Satan". Communism isn't a particularly good government system, but then again, neither is dictatorship or monarchy. Communism has such a bad rap in the US because of the Cold War and the fact that our #1 rival for the 50 years following WWII was Communist Russia. I think it's pretty obvious that if Americans were given the choice between Communism, Dictatorship, or Monarchy, the latter two would be leading the race easily. That's probably why Socialism gets the same reaction - Communism is a radical branch of Socialism. The Right has accused the Left of being socialist for years, with their programs like Social Security, Welfare, Medicare, etc. Barring any relative benefits or detriments of the programs, the fact that the USSR was Communist was enough to turn these accusations into smears.
     In a Socialist society, you wouldn't have factory owners and factory workers. The workers would be the owners. Americans find this idea highly repugnant for some reason, and many of the greatest critics of Socialism tend to be Objectivists and Libertarians. Of course, controlling your own destiny is about as Objectivist and Libertarian an ideal as I can imagine, but I digress. They actually criticize central planning more than pure Socialism. The point is, Socialism basically means everything is up for a vote. Ownership is limited to one's self only and a single person cannot exert control over another. (That's why Soviets called each other "Comrade" - to make themselves believe they were all equal.)
     Socialism has, over the years, evolved and when people talk about socialized medicine, for example, they basically refer to centralized control over medical distribution. But the core concept remains that no individual can withhold or dispense medicine at his or her will - it is available for all equally. Social Security, of course, is administered by the government, but its core premise is that every American deserves a retirement whether they made the choices necessary to save for one or not. And conservatives have been against these programs, basically arguing that because they made the right choices (or plan to), they should reap rewards that are different than those who did not or will not.
     The funny thing is that Republicans have become Socialist over the past 5 years. Forget the Medicare prescription drug plan, which many are uncomfortable with - that was a political move. Some basic tenets of 21st century Republicanism are inherently Socialist. Take the FCC's battle against indecency. No matter how you feel about nudity or sex or violence on TV (although who really cares about violence on TV anymore? It's all about the nippleage today), Republicans want the government to act on behalf of the citizenry to tell owners of media companies that they cannot produce "indecent" programming. Forget that there are owners of these companies who feel that they are the ones who should make the decisions. Citizens (Comrades) want their products to conform to their standards. Normally the Republican position is that the market takes care of deviant behavior. Unpopular products don't make money, so unpopular behavior should go away. But sex sells and Republicans don't like that so they embrace Socialist behavior.
     But why stop there? The owners of Eckerd and CVS pharmacies want to run their businesses as they see fit, allowing anyone who comes in to get their prescriptions filled. But Republican legislation in South Dakota and Arkansas allow pharmacists to ignore their employers wishes and act on their own behalf, while acting in the employ of aforementioned owners. Legislation under consideration elsewhere, including in Illinois, deny pharmacies the right to even ask prospective pharmacists their views on the matter. If Republicans should ever be taken seriously again when complaining about government regulation over business and about Socialist legislation, they can hardly expect the rest of us not to notice when they turn around and do the same thing.
     By the way, the Democratic position is not in favor of Socialism. However, it does favor some Socialist programs because it feels those programs are worthwhile. Endorsement of those programs does not imply endorsement of Republican Socialist programs. Democrats are not Socialists any more than Republicans are. Interpret that as you like.