Wednesday, August 31, 2005

Law & Order

     See - them's two words. In another week or so I'll be back to regular titles.
     Nobody's ever accused New Orleans of being a classy place. New Orleans is the place college kids (and those who act like college kids) go to get wild, shed inhibitions, and do dirty, nasty, and crazy things that would get them arrested or killed or both somewhere else. I've heard people ask in jest if even Hurricane Katrina could clean up Bourbon Street. (Short answer: No. It just brought a soup of sewage and toxic chemicals) But I never in my life thought to see lawlessness and despicable behavior like what is going on in Louisiana in Katrina's aftermath.
     In the middle of an ongoing tragedy that has only yet begun to unfold, looters and bandits own the city where thousands of people who have narrowly escaped death are still trying to get out with their lives. Police, who are desperately needed to help the injured and trapped and elderly and invalid can only step aside for the criminals, who don't even care to shield their faces from AP cameras. One police officer was shot in the head by a looter. What level of depravity do you have to sink to in order to shoot a police officer in the head during a crisis in which hundreds or thousands of people may die?
     Contrast New Orleans, 2005, with New York City, 2001. When the World Trade Center buildings disintegrated, tens of thousands of trapped New Yorkers wandered the streets, unable to get off the island, unable to return home, unable to call loved ones. Their neighbors took them in. Strangers gave them blankets and places to rest and food to eat. While there have been some claims of looting, only 54 arrests were made. Very few, considering that after the towers fell, the police had nobody to save or rescue and could concentrate on catching criminals. Why has New Orleans, which apparently now looks like Hiroshima, 1945, brought out the worst in its residents?
     Apparently some of the looting is related to survival. There are reports of people raiding grocery stores and pharmacies for the things that will keep them alive. One report tells of police officers breaking into a CVS Pharmacy to carry away medicines for hurricane victims. I'll give them the benefit of the doubt. But I cannot give that to the people caught on camera stealing beer, jeans, watches, and cars. I cannot give that to people throwing rocks through windows or to people firing guns or to people rioting around the hospitals. What the hell is the matter with these people? The police can only stand by and watch. The National Guard (the ones not sent to Iraq yet) has been deployed to help control looting, but they cannot cover the entire city.
     I say (and this may come as a shock to some) that looters in New Orleans should be shot on sight. Police and Guardsmen should shoot them first, no questions asked. I know - it seems like a reversal from my attitudes about Jean Charles de Menezes and London subway shootings. But these looters are fundamentally different. 1) They are guilty. For all their talk about saving innocents, my critics on the subway shootings ignore the fact that de Menezes was not caught red-handed doing anything. Shooting him was analogous to walking into a bar and shooting a random person because they might have looted something in the past or might loot something in the future. Shooting someone in the act of looting is a different matter. 2) Looters take advantage of the people who can afford it least. Is it any coincidence that the saying which suggests the ease of a crime is also its most despicable? "Like taking candy from a baby" epitomizes the worst of a criminal. Looters aren't robbing from wealthy people (not that that would make it right). Looters are robbing from the victims of the worst storm of the 21st century - the people who have nothing left to come back to. 3) Looters are murderers. This reason is twofold. A) Looters are distracting police and guardsmen from saving lives. They are endangering the fragile systems designed to get people out of the wrecked city. B) Looters are the primary reason people didn't leave the city in the first place. How many people died because they were scared to leave their belongings unprotected? How many people are huddling in abject conditions in the Superdome because they knew looters would rape them of everything they worked their lives for, whether the hurricane destroyed their home or not? How many people will die soon because they will drown in their own houses? If authorities cannot control looting immediately, how many people do you think will ignore evacuation orders for the next hurricane? I can't tell you how many times, growing up in Florida, we were warned about a powerful hurricane that never landed or that fizzled out. When authorities call for an evacuation, they must ensure that property is protected, or deaths will result.
     The rest of the world is watching Americans act like savages. And I am ashamed.

Monday, August 29, 2005


     Tired of one-word titles? With over 860,000 English words, I still have a ways to go before I repeat myself. At the very least, it might be fun to write a post with the definition of "Is".
     For those who don't know, Schadenfreude is a German word that means pleasure derived from the misfortune of others. The word came to mind watching the news coverage of Hurricane Katrina slamming into New Orleans. It still remains to be seen whether Katrina represents the demise of the city or not, much to the chagrin of many meteorologists, newscasters, and general unwell-wishers. Unfortunately for me (and you), as a developing story, CNN and Fox and other news outlets are updating their stories instead of writing new ones, meaning that I'm finding it very difficult to find anything from before the hurricane struck to link to and quote. Here are some archived articles from Fox, which is actually very good about keeping access open to old news: Link 1, Link 2. Neither of these have some of the "best" quotes, like one forecaster who said that once the predicted 20-foot flooding starts, there may be no place to go for a trapped resident but to climb up telephone poles. But, he said, the massive number of fire ants (which have an average of 2 mounds per square yard in New Orleans) will follow you up for the same reason. And eventually, "the ants will win". That's the kind of gruesome talk normally reserved for middle-school campfires or for grade-B horror movies. One Parrish President couldn't help himself from being cute when he said, "I'm expecting that some people who are die-hards will die hard."
     I'm really not slamming people following this story. This is real news, unlike missing Alabama Princesses in Aruba or the President "clearing brush" on his estate in Texas. And it has the potential for real tragedy. Plus I know I feel like I'm looking over my shoulder, hoping the storm weakens considerably before it hits Atlanta, which seems to have shared building codes with two of the Three Little Pigs. But you also can't shake the feeling that people are watching this the way they watch NASCAR races - looking for the big accident. Already a number of people who have been warning about New Orleans for decades are coming out to say, "I told you so."
     Why do people enjoy others pain so much? For how many years now have the Right-wing media accused "liberals" of "hoping the US will lose" to the terrorists? This seems like projected schadenfreude, attributing their own personalities onto Democrats. It was Republicans who were gleeful for Clinton's failings in Yugoslavia and Somalia. Check out this article from World Net Daily (an honest to goodness Right-Wing publication - I double-checked this time) calling Clinton a war-criminal in 1999 for: supporting Muslim self-determination, interfering in a region with hundreds of years of complex religious and cultural wars, for starting a war instead of just joining one in progress, for leading troops despite being a "draft dodger". It's not hard to see why they're eager to attribute evil intentions to people against the Iraq War - they did the same thing 6 years ago.
     I guess in some ways, however, we have to feel like parents to these people we see on television. I hope there are very few deaths in Louisiana and Mississippi, but I have to shake my head at the idiots who were windsurfing on the Gulf yesterday. I'd like to smack the morons who decided to stay in their houses 10 feet below sea level and are now calling 911. And unfortunately, near misses only seem to encourage these people. Growing up in Florida, we didn't own storm shutters or plywood boards for the windows. And the house was 60% windows, from floor to ceiling. (Sliding glass doors, if you want to be technical) We rode out hurricanes and tropical storms. I even drove to work one day through a weak tropical storm in 1995 without realizing it. But after Andrew hit in 1992, my family (and thousands of others in Florida) declared that it was foolish to stick around for the next powerful storm. My father declared his intention to evacuate if another Category 4 or 5 storm aimed for South Florida. So perhaps Katrina will save lives in the future. Maybe it's just too bad that bad things have to happen for good people to wake up. Maybe it's too bad people are so eager to watch it.

Thursday, August 25, 2005


     On Tuesday, I started with a definition of blasphemy. Today's word of the day is "apology". Like blasphemy, apology has 3 main definitions: 1) An acknowledgment expressing regret or asking pardon; 2) a formal justification; and 3) an explanation. (The 4th definition, an inferior substitute, applies only to the man who is the subject of this post, and is not related to saying sorry) Headlines today scream, "Robertson Apologizes!"
     Now, being the scientific analysts we are, I'd like to present evidence showing that Robertson really didn't apologize. First, for full disclosure, he did give the mainstream media a written statement saying calling that assassination is not right and that he apologizes. However, since he made the statement on his TV program, let's see how he addressed the situation on his TV show. On his show Wednesday, he said, "I didn't say 'assassination', I said our special force should take him out." He went on to call him a "dictator" multiple times and compared to him to both Saddam Hussein and Adolf Hitler. Oh, by the way, he compared himself to a martyr murdered by Adolf Hitler. Why the different responses? Well, just look at the headlines. He fools CNN (which the Palestinians proved years ago how easy it is to do) and his core audience only hears his lies.
     So the "apology". 1) Did he express regret? Ask for pardon? On the contrary, he defended his stance while pretending he never uttered the worst of the words. 2) Did he justify his call for murder? Well, maybe. If he hadn't lied about not saying "assassination", you might call his words a justification. In fantasyland perhaps, where the Democratically elected President of a sovereign nation who has made his reputation on helping the poor, is compared to Hitler. 3) Did he give an explanation? Again, the lie which destroyed any credibility he may have had also removed any possibility of explanation. Robertson is now shown to be both of low moral quality and a man who can't be trusted.
     I also wipe the noses of some of the whiny Right wingers who are crying that I'm not being fair by lumping them in with Robertson. It's funny that their hate of generalizations don't include them lumping everyone who isn't in love with Bush with Michael Moore, Jane Fonda, and Ted Kennedy. If I support environmental regulations, I'm a terrorist. If I don't believe every Muslim should be killed I'm a limp-wristed Frenchman. If I think gay people shouldn't be persecuted, I hate marriage. You can't have it both ways. You may as well embrace Robertson and his ilk, because when you support the people who benefit from Robertson, you accept the consequences. Next time hitch your wagon to people who aren't psychotic powermongers.

Tuesday, August 23, 2005

Blasphemy! has three definitions for "blasphemy". 1) A contemptuous or profane act or utterance concerning God; 2) The act of claiming for oneself the attributes and rights of God; and 3) An irreverent act or utterance in regard to something considered inviolate or sacrosanct. The warm and fuzzy Pat Robertson of televangelist and Christian Coalition fame recently spoke out on the Family Channel that the democratically elected President of Venezuela, Hugo Chávez, should be assassinated. Chávez's crime? Claiming that the US was trying to have him killed. Talking badly about a country (the US) he doesn't live in and is not a citizen of. Now, I'm no biblical scholar. But I'm pretty sure it's not very Christian to talk about killing someone. And going back to the subject of blasphemy, let's review. 1) On a self-professed "Christian News and Talk" show, he suggests to viewers that someone murder the President of Venezuela. That sounds like a contemptuous or profane act concerning God (even if indirectly). 2) By deciding who should live or die, he claims for himself the attributes and rights of God. 3) Casually talking about the murder of someone is an irreverent utterance in regard to something considered sacrosanct (life).
     Like I said, though, I'm not a biblical scholar. Personally, I couldn't care less about "blasphemy". In my mind, blasphemy is just a polite way of saying, "If you disagree with me, I'll cut you!" But if Pat Robertson is going to set the rules for his game, he should play by his own rules. He is a multimillionaire because people believe he is a devout Christian who is out to save the world. For him to play by different rules goes beyond hypocrisy, it's fraud.
     Hypocrisy is calling your opponent unpatriotic because his war injuries weren't deadly, while you spent the war safe in Alabama. Fraud is when you broke the law and actually just went home to Texas before you finished your service. Fraud is Pat Robertson's game now, and it's unfortunate that his followers can't (or won't) see the distinction between religion and the vitriolic politics he spews on his show. Killing someone because you don't like what they say is not only un-Christian, it's immoral and illegal. Hugo Chávez is a brutal, power-hungry man. But he doesn't starve his people or kill them with chemical weapons. He has created social programs in Venezuela to provide free health care for the poor, to teach them to read and write, and has subsidized food prices so they can afford to eat. You may not agree with his politics, but as much of a jerk as he may be, he's not a monster.
     Unfortunately, knee-jerk apologists for this kind of behavior won't admit that one of their own is off the deep end. They're so far gone into their own rhetoric that they can't tell what's reality and what's not. Living in Georgia is like living in an echo chamber, where people just hear their own biases repeated louder and louder. (I suspect it's similar in places like New York, San Fran, and Texas) The Truth is, Chávez wants to be elected. And the United States and especially Bush are not popular in the rest of the world. It's good politics in other countries to campaign against the US and Bush. Just like it's good politics in Georgia to campaign against abortion and liberals instead of campaigning against your opponent. The candidate who screams loudest wins (except Howard Dean). For the Right to get to the point where they feel that it's acceptable to kill anyone who doesn't agree is chilling.

Friday, August 19, 2005

Victim's (Family's) Rights

     A lot has been made recently about "Victim's Rights" - a Right Wing buzzword that replaced "Tough on Crime", which replaced the previous phrase, "Tough on Blacks". (I'm just kidding. No politician has said that openly in years) Really what Victim's Rights means is "presumption of guilt". Apparently people trust the police so much that they feel like it's coddling criminals when the accused are given state-appointed attorneys. (Maybe it's really more of a case of, If you're poor, you're as good as a criminal mentality) They feel that preventing police from making illegal searches and seizures emboldens criminals and that shooting people in the subway for no reason other than some diaphanous "War on Terror" prevents people from being blown up. Generally we give the victims (of criminals, not of the state) special status and give their opinions special weight. Ashley Smith, the woman who fed Brian Nichols pancakes while she waited for police to collect him, has written a book and has become a motivational speaker. She might have a decent claim to this, though, since she purportedly talked Brian into surrendering peacefully.
     Lately, I've noticed that the families of victims are being given special rights and privileges. The families of the people killed in the September 11th attacks, for example, were on the committee to decide how to rebuild the World Trade Center site. This is land owned by the Port Authority of New York and leased by a private developer. Does the fact that a family member died there give them some sort of partial ownership? Does it make them smarter or more business savvy that they should be heard in business meetings to decide what to do with millions of dollars of prime Manhattan real estate? Surely they have the right to protest and make a fuss, but only a suck-up politician would give them actual power.
     I haven't talked about Cindy Sheehan, mostly because I felt there was no issue there. A woman stood on a public right of way and protested. It's not news, it's not controversial, it's not anything. It has been pretty shameful how the Right-Wing media has been trashing her, saying she has no right to speak for her dead son (funny coming from people who a few months ago said Terri Schiavo's parents had every right to speak for their dead daughter), and trying to discredit her from every angle. Really, why do they care? It's every American's right to protest. Why vilify her? Are red staters so sheltered that they aren't aware there are a lot of Americans opposed to both the Iraq war and Bush? Do they need to be protected from this affront to their fantasy world?
From everything I've read, Cindy Sheehan has been accurately representing her son's attitudes. But even if she was not, she is entitled to her own views and there's no reason for her to be vilified for her actions. For her actions that the first amendment was specifically written to protect.
     That being said, Sheehan's views are a bit kooky. I support what she's doing, but as much as I dislike the Iraq war, I'm not packing a bag to stand by her in Crawford, Texas. She blames a Jewish conspiracy for sending her son to Iraq, claiming that her son signed up to defend the US, not Israel. Not I know that Iraq wasn't BFF with Israel, but the vast majority of Jews in the US still vote Democrat and thus it stands to reason that the majority of Jews also don't support the war. Certainly most of them didn't vote for Bush. (Still, it's kinda nice to be accused of being in some vast conspiracy. It makes me feel important.) Anyway, it's a silly, stupid idea, but it doesn't detract from her right to express it. Forget about her divorce (which is very common among parents who have lost a child) and about what her great-aunt and unnamed cousins have said to the media about her. Let her have her say and if you don't feel it's newsworthy, don't cover her.

Thursday, August 18, 2005

Updates & Apologies

     First the apologies: Sorry for my prolonged absence. We were hit by the stupid internet worm, and once it was cleaned out of our network, work was predictably hectic for a few days while we caught up. There are also unrelated "stuffs" happening at work, so my blogging schedule might be erratic (not to be confused with erotic) for a while.
     And now the updates. One of the downsides about blogging about current events is that the known facts change very quickly. For instance, I wrote about Natalee Holloway (Still my #1 searched keyword for my blog) being lost in Aruba. Well, now she's..... Well, she's still lost in Aruba. But other things have changed, and in ways that I feel greatly impact their stories. (None of which had a fraction of the airtime the Aruba case had)
     Update #1: Jean Charles de Menezes was even more innocent than I thought. I wrote about this on July 26. Then, the police had admitted his killing was a mistake, but that he had been running through the subway station, evading police, and wearing a bulky, heavy jacket on a warm summer day. Well, video from the subway station has been released which shows that not only did the police kill an innocent man, but that they lied about him and defamed his character. He was not running through the subway station - he walked leisurely. He stopped to buy a newspaper. He didn't jump over the turnstiles, as the police reported - he paid and walked through. And his suspicious "bulky" jacket? It was a light denim jacket. Commenters, who admittedly did not know these new facts, laid blame at de Menezes' feet, saying he should have known better than to run and evade police in these scary times when terrorism is all around us. Now it seems his only crime was living in the same apartment complex that terrorists chose to hide in. In London, they chose to hide in a poor immigrant neighborhood. In the US, the 9/11 terrorists chose to hide in upper-middle class neighborhoods, including the town in Florida where my parents live and a neighborhood in Atlanta near where I live.
     So here's the issue, again: Are we safer because de Menezes is dead? People said better one innocent than dozens in a terrorist attack. But his killing didn't help prevent others. The terrorists have likely moved on to new targets. Nervous police are still prowling the subways, and not just in London. The house next door to me was for rent recently. What if a prospective terrorist decided to rent there? Can I expect the next time I'm on MARTA to go to a Braves game the APD will gun me down? Why couldn't it happen to you too?
     Update #2: High School students who have limited English skills can't get diplomas. This is nothing earth-shattering, but it's an article I wish had come out before I wrote about Hispanic issues on Monday. My question is, if students can't speak English, do they deserve a high-school diploma? It's hard to find a job without one. (It's hard to find a job with one) But if they can't speak English, how well will they function in jobs that require diplomas anyway? The report did say that students are failing math tests because of their lack of English skills, and fairness should say that's not right. Math is international - the only reason an educated Spanish speaker would fail the math portion is because of an overreliance on word problems or complicated instructions. Either way, it highlights some of the struggles new immigrants have to cope with upon arrival.

Monday, August 15, 2005

Minority Report

     If the Angry White Male revolution started in 1996, it had better hurry up and finish remaking the world in its 1950's image. It's about to become a minority. Last week, Texas became the fourth state where the majority of people are not White. California, New Mexico, and Hawaii are the other three, and in all of these states (except Hawaii), the majority is Hispanic. (Hawaii is, predictably, Asian) This, of course, is not a surprise. Hispanic population is up sharply, and by 2050 we should expect to see the US as majority Hispanic. What's interesting is that this is happening in such a pivotal state. Texas is about as Republican as states get, and in addition, happens to hold more electoral votes than any other state except California. Hispanics (with the exception of Cubans), traditionally have voted Democrat. In 2004, they voted somewhere like 60%-65% for Kerry.
     So as absurd as it might sound, we might in the near future see Texas vote Democrat. Except for one thing: Hispanics don't vote. Well, some vote. The census bureau estimated that while 58% of the US population at large voted in the 2004 election, only 28% of Hispanics voted. So maybe Texas is safely in Republican hands for the foreseeable future after all. Don't hold your breath expecting Hillary to win the Lone Star State in 2008. But what we are looking at is the potential of a strange kind of apartheid-like system, where Whites hold power despite having a diminishing minority status.
     I'm not suggesting that Texas would degenerate into a repressive regime with anti-Hispanic laws. But for a number of reasons, the will of the people wouldn't be the will of the state. Hispanics don't vote for a number of reasons. The most basic is that a large percent are not US citizens. In 2004, over 40% of Hispanic legal residents were not citizens of the US. These people live in the US, work in the US, pay taxes in the US, but don't get to participate in representative government. Many are trying to become citizens, but that is a long, difficult process that has grown more red tape since 9/11. The second reason is that many Hispanics are poor. For example, the households of only 0.4% of all Americans over 18 have an income under $10,000/year. But 6.5% of Hispanic households make less than that. Poor people in this country don't tend to vote - they have more pressing issues, like working 90 hours a week to be able to afford bread and rent. Even legal residents aren't protected by minimum wage laws in many cases - when you speak only broken English, you'll take the job that's available whether it pays a living wage or not.
     Speaking of English, a third reason many Hispanics don't vote is because they are not tuned in to the language of national politics. George Bush may throw in a few Spanish words here and there to prove he's not a high-school dropout, but by and large, national politics takes place in English. I'm not saying it shouldn't - we can argue English-only policies some other time. But until Hispanics get a generation or two into this country, they will remain isolated linguistically. Which brings us to fourth - the Hispanic community is becoming more and more segregated away from mainstream America. Partially because new immigrants do this for comfort, but also because of the three reasons listed above, Hispanic communities generally don't have a lot of interaction with middle-class White communities. And so they're not as involved in the national dialogue and voting becomes something that belongs to another world.
     In any event, it will be interesting to see how politics progress in Texas, and in America. When the next generation of English-speaking Hispanic Americans grows up to voting age, we my see a radical shift in how Texas votes. But not before some major ethnic conflict, if my guess is correct.

Friday, August 12, 2005

Recipe for Divorce

     It seems like such a minor thing, and not at all what I was originally going to write about. Originally I was going to write about the impact of Hispanics in Texas. But as exciting as that might have been, the Living section of my local newspaper caught my eye. A "human interest" story, it was highlighting a recent trend of married couples having separate finances (Free Login).
     Let me just say, "Worst. Idea. Ever." (Except maybe for putting Ewoks in Return of the Jedi. You suck, Lucas.) I know I may get trashed for saying this. There are, of course, a lot of different types of marriages. But some things remain true across all of them. For example, having sex with people other than your spouse is bound to cause problems. Selling the house and moving while your spouse is out of town (and unaware) is bound to cause problems. And pretending like you are two separate financial entities is bound to cause problems.
     This being said, there are good reasons to keep some property separated. When one spouse comes in with significantly more assets, for example. Or when there are kids from a previous marriage involved, they need to stay protected. But there needs to be community property, and that pool needs to be large enough to cover regular expenses, unanticipated expenses, and preparing for the future. Otherwise you're not married - you're leading separate lives going in different directions.
     Last summer on a business trip, I was in the hotel hot tub with other people from my company, drinking rum and talking. (Don't ask. It was business during the day and like being back in college at night.) One guy was agonizing about whether to ask his girlfriend of 8 years to marry him. I think everyone else was married - most for 5-20 years. I had been married all of 2 months. They were almost unanimously trying to convince him not to get married - what they had was good, so why change it? They dismissed my protestations as those of a newlywed in love. But when I brought up the financial perspective, they all got quiet. Who pays when you go out for dinner? Who makes more money? When you have kids, how will it work if she stops working or goes on leave? Who will pay for the kids? One of the most liberating things about being married, for me, is not having to wonder who will pick up the check at dinner or whose turn it is to buy groceries. Maybe it sounds petty. But it's a big deal, because it means we're on the same team. We have the same goals. What's good for me is literally good for her. Suddenly, gifts from the heart have more meaning than gifts from the pocketbook. No matter how much you think you've gotten past money issues, it's always there in the back of your mind.
     In the article, 24 year old Lekeisha Massey, who will be demanding separate checking accounts when she gets married, says, "I don't care if I have a dusty duffel bag when I start; I want it back when it ends." When it ends. It doesn't take a rocket scientist to figure she's on a self-destructive course. She's got "Future Divorcee" written all over her. I guess maybe I should be happy that she at least has some idea of financial responsibility, unlike my next-door neighbor. But if you can't trust the person you're marrying, what's the point of marrying? I've always said love isn't enough to justify a marriage. There has to be a whole lot more. I mean, I love my parents, my sisters, my cat. I love me some ice cream. I'm not marrying any of them (with the possible exception of the ice cream). But I love my wife, who's my best friend that I trust with my life (including my wallet). If you can't say that, maybe worrying about joint checking accounts should take a back seat to not getting married in the first place.

Thursday, August 11, 2005

Look Out – There’s a Pig on the Interstate!

     Oh wait, that's just highway pork. This should come as no surprise. The term "Pork Barrel" originated 150 years ago to refer to highway spending 200 years ago based more on politics than need. I'm not really against the nearly $300 billion highway bill. I recognize that it costs a lot of money to maintain 46,000 miles of interstate highway, plus 115,000 miles of US highways. I used to be extremely pro-highway. When I first moved to Atlanta, I was fascinated by how the interstate highways shaped this city, which grew around them like vines or weeds after they were built in the 1960's and 1970's. I hoped for more, like the ill-fated outer perimeter. Now I'm a little wiser, having lived here for some time and recognizing how sprawl has damaged Atlanta and how centralized cities, though hurt by White Flight in the 70's, are much healthier.
     Anyway, my point is I'm not against the highway bill per se. I'm a little disappointed, but not shocked, at the $24 billion in special projects allocated. What's interesting is how the Republicans' true colors are emerging. For years, the Right has pilloried the Democrats as "Tax and Spend". Vote Republican, they said, if you think government should be responsible with your money. I know $24 billion at the same time seems like a lot of money and is also one of those vague numbers thrown about. I mean, my mortgage is barely 4-digits - how can I comprehend financing at the national level?
     In 1998, Bill Clinton almost vetoed a $218 billion highway bill because it contained $7 billion of "special projects". Almost vetoed by a Democrat for being too wasteful! Today, "special projects" amount to almost 3 times as much! And while our Republican President says he wishes it were less, it sails through his office more smoothly than a used car salesman at an Alzheimers nursing home. And where is this money going? Ashamedly, some of the pork is going to Blue states. But I can understand that Democratic leaders aren't willing to impoverish their people on principle while paying for Red-Staters' pork. The most egregious offense? A $231 million bridge in Alaska which will be named, by law, the "Don Young Way". Don Young is the Republican House Transportation Committee Chairman. (In 1998, Republican Committee Chairman Bud Shuster wrote the Bud Shuster Byway or I-99 into law in his home state.) Now, call me crazy, but isn't the definition of corruption using public office to profit personally? I mean, I know Don Young isn't personally charging tolls on this bridge, but I'd call writing a law to name a bridge after yourself is pretty close. How much money would it cost me to do the same? What's the monetary value of getting a bridge named after you? At UCLA, it costs $10 million to get your name on a building. Keep in mind that it wasn't the grateful voters or even the state legislators that were so proud of Young that they named the bridge for him. Young named the quarter-billion dollar bridge for himself.
     It just goes to show that at the very least, Republicans like to spend money at least as much as or more than Democrats. All those years they spent telling voters that it was Dems who were going to steal their money, and all along the fox was already in the henhouse. I wonder what all those non-religious, fiscally conservative Republicans are thinking right now. I wonder what they think they've gained. Do they even exist anymore? Are there even Republicans who believe in a balanced budget anymore? $24 billion is a lot of money. Cutting that out of the budget would help Bush balance it better than cutting out the $1.2 billion that Amtrak gets. A lot more people ride Amtrak than will drive over the $223 million dollar bridge (another one, not the Don Young Way) in Alaska going to an island with 50 inhabitants. That works out to.... $4.46 million per person. They have an airport there - we could buy each person their own Cessna for less! (Actually, we could buy them each 22 high-end Cessna Skyplanes) Anyway, for the rest of us 279,999,950 Americans, just consider the "special projects" $85 well-spent. If you ever visit Alaska.

Monday, August 08, 2005


     Trust is an interesting concept. In some ways, it's the glue that holds together modern society. We trust that the money in our bank accounts will be there when we ask for it. We trust that the water we drink isn't full of poisons and toxins. We trust that the toys we buy our children won't blow up in their faces. Of course, we don't really trust the companies that provide these things, but we do trust the government agencies assigned to check up on and regulate these companies. Of course we do - otherwise you'd be carrying all your money in cash instead of on a bank card. For that matter, you'd be carrying around gold pieces instead of promisary notes from the US Treasury. Maybe you've lost faith in your municipal water supply, but you still trust that Deer Park is safe. Without trust, we'd be primitive, hunting our own food, building our own homes, battling our neighbors.
     In 2000, George Bush ran for President on a platform of trust. The American people could trust him, he said. There would be no chubby intern sex in his White House. The American electorate bought it, of course, and Bush began his mission to restore the Presidency to its glory days before Nixon tarnished its reputation. But though this might mean increased transparency for another President, for Bush it meant increased secrecy. Meetings were held behind closed doors with unnamed people. Press conferences were held less and less frequently. The public was told that it just had to trust the President. This probably would not have worked with the suspicious press. This was not 1940 when the press was complicit in the coverup of Republican nominee Wendell Wilkie's affair or 1960 when the press ignored Democrat President John F. Kennedy's affairs. Who knows what would have happened if terrorists had not attacked in 2001. But when they did, Americans put their faith in Bush because they had to.
     It actually came as a surprise to Bush's opponents that he squandered this goodwill. Personally, I didn't expect the bitter partisanship that followed. I didn't expect him to use the opportunity to roll back environmental laws, privacy laws, church-and-state laws. But more importantly, I didn't expect him to blatantly tell falsehoods and not come clean when they were revealed to be untrue. And still Americans trusted the man, despite howls from frustrated Democrats that the lying was too obvious to ignore. Yet ignore they did. Why? My guess is that "trust" had nothing to do with lying or even perjury in front of a grand jury, as Republicans had proclaimed. "Trust" had to do with a promise Bush made to the social Right wing of the country - that he would restore their place of glory within America. That the churches and the libertarians and the downtrodden would once again sit on the top of the social ladder.
     Today's "news" is that the majority of Americans polled distrust Bush (Free Login required). The article attributes it to the quagmire of Iraq. But I think there's more going on. Democrats clearly lost faith with Bush years ago. Independents probably broke off in 2003 amid lies about Iraq. Plame-gate surely didn't help. But any Republicans losing their trust of Bush are probably doing so because of Bush's unkeepable "promise" made in 2000. After five years, the disaffecteds who helped push him into office still don't see the respect and admiration they crave. Dems have wondered aloud for years how the alliance between wealthy economic conservatives and poor social conservatives stood so solidly. Well, for years they have believed in the "promise", first made by Ronald Reagan. (It's interesting to note in "Christianity Today"'s article on Reagan, they commented how he "rarely delivered on [evangelicals'] issues) For 25 years Republicans have made this deal with the social conservatives, but were excused for failing to deliver because they never held enough power. Now Republicans solidly hold all three branches of government, and they've run out of excuses. Now we are starting to see some cracks in the alliance. Now the evangelicals are starting to realize that they've been used, to an extent. Oh sure, they may get some public funding for Christian schools. Sure, they could potentially get Roe v. Wade overturned. But those are longshots, and it's becoming clear to evangelicals that Bush and his Congress are not rushing to satisfy them.
     Will Trust be the thing that will sink this unflappable golden boy? Unless something changes in his favor between now and 2008, he probably won't see the love that he's used to. Bush is a lame duck, while members of Congress have re-elections to prepare for. Bush is finding out that getting to power and staying in power are two different beasts. And yet... it will be interesting to see how he responds to this challenge.

Thursday, August 04, 2005

Stay At Home Rambling

     I was listening to some of my coworkers talk today. The wife of one had undergone surgery and he was filling in for her household duties, including grocery shopping, driving the kids to soccer practice, making dinner, etc. He commented on how hard it was, and then turned to me and said, "When you get to the point where your wife is a stay at home mother, don't ever tell her what she does isn't hard work!"
     Let me say a few things as background. A) I'm going to get fired for this. Really this time. B) All of my coworkers, and this is not an exaggeration of any sort, are White men between the ages of 48 and 53. C) Of the ones who have children, the wife of every single one is a stay at home mother. In fairness, they have all also relocated with work multiple times, which makes it difficult for a spouse to have a career. D) Every single one of them is Republican, Christian, and yearns for a return to 1950.
     Of course the assumption for them is that when we have kids, my wife will quit her job and stay home to take care of them. Now, I won't say this won't happen. Our baby-making days are still decently in the future, so anything is possible. But considering that she already makes more than I do and she's been working a third of the time I have, it's not something you'd want to bet the farm on. (If you have a farm. Lucky you with all the subsidies you get.) Stay at Home Moms are the Right-wing ideal, along with 23-year old virgin daughters and Bible study in public school. I'm not disparaging what they do. It's a tough life, eschewing adult contact, spending your hours chasing after toddlers or spending 10 hours a day driving kids to school, from school, to swimming, to soccer, to ballet, to the mall. It's not a job, though, unless you're a nanny or a au pair. It's a lifestyle.
     I don't really understand why people think SAHM must be a job. If you firmly believe that you're doing the best thing for your family and your children, why would you be ashamed for not having a job? Why is having a "job" more important than your core values? Of course, if you're only staying at home because of financial necessity or because you don't know what else to do, then I guess it makes you feel a little better saying you're "working". I'm reminded of the insurance commercial that shows people getting ready for work that says, "Why do we work? Why do we get up and go to work every day?" For me, it's so I have enough money that one day I don't have to work. I wouldn't be ashamed to retire are 45 or 35. I don't exactly volunteer here at the job. I do it for the money. When I have kids, it will be for the love. Not the money. So taking care of my kids won't be a "job", even if it's the hardest thing I ever do.
     I also don't understand why the assumption is that it will be my wife that stays at home. Is that because she has a vagina? I have to go fight traffic and wear a tie and talk to strangers all day because I have a penis? The Truth is, we both want to be stay at home parents. Why have kids if you can't enjoy them? My coworkers don't understand. They don't even really know their kids. They spent their kids' childhoods working 10-12 hour days or more. Their kids were their wives' "jobs", not theirs. Someday, my company is going to ask me to relocate, and we're going to have to decide where our priorities are. I think it's telling that my company is already having extreme difficulty finding people willing to relocate. 2-income households aren't exactly rare these days.
     The conventional wisdom is that it takes a lifetime of work to be able to retire comfortably. "Idle Hands are the Devil's Tools" - a phrase that I feel sums up the Protestant work ethic. But when I visited Costa Rica and St. Thomas, poor people were living lives that the wealthy American tourists envied. How many people work 40 years so they can have a little house on the beach? One of my managers is preparing for retirement now. A multi-millionaire many times over, he bought a ranch in Texas and a double-wide trailer and will live there, 90 miles from the nearest town, shooting deer and squirrels. Now really, how many years did he have to work to achieve that? Was it worth not being home with his children when they were growing up?
     We work so much more now than we ever have before. If raising children is important (and it is), why do we still assume this is the sole province of women? Why in a workplace where people wouldn't dream of asking you about your sex life or how you pray, it's taken for granted that the woman will give up her career for her children while the man will give up his children for his career?

Wednesday, August 03, 2005

Tough on Crime

     It's good to know that Fresno, California is tough on crime. If I ever visit there, I won't have to worry about getting hit on the head with a rock, like Rafael Diaz, Jr. in Atlanta or like Elijah Vang in Fresno. In April, Fresno police arrested Elijah's assailant, Maribel Cuevas, for assault with a deadly weapon. A hardened criminal despite no prior record, Maribel spent 5 days in jail for resisting arrest and scratching the arresting officer. Some America-hating, feel-good liberals would have liked to talk to Miss Cuevas, maybe see what her feelings were. Some weak on crime, "everything goes" Lefties probably wouldn't have even let her spend most of a week in jail, even though she's only 11 years old.
     That's right. Eleven. (In case you, you know, needed it spelled out) But don't let her age fool you. Elijah Vang threw a water balloon at her, a harmless prank. Haha, boys will be boys, after all! To respond with a rock is criminal, however, and poor Elijah had to have stitches! Fresno's Republican mayor, Alan Autry (of Heat of the Night fame) feels the police action is appropriate. And you can't accuse Mr. Autry of being hypocritical. While he's fairly moderate, as Republicans go, he's made his reputation on being tough on crime. In 1998, he made a video for Fresnoans (?) and Californians about a new 10-20 law that sends kids 14 years and older to jail for an extra 10-20 years if a gun was involved.
     What this boils down to, of course, is Zero Tolerance. Zero Tolerance has about as positive a reputation these days as "Politically Correct" and "Liberals". But zero tolerance is fundamentally a conservative, tough-on-crime concept. No exceptions - breaking the law is breaking the law. (Unless you're rich. That's different because you're valuable to society.) "Tough on Crime" is a phrase that needs to get attached to a Republican candidate to get elected. (See Willie Horton) Typically, the buzz-words and key phrases these politicians say at election time mean very little. But sometimes they're trapped by their words.
     I'm a 7-month veteran of blogging. I know what most of the comments will be like, "This girl should never be sent to jail. She should have been spanked." "I agree." But this isn't about Maribel. Her arrest was a direct result of the very things Americans have been asking for during election after election. Forget the neighborhood watch. I want the people I elect to protect me from everything and everybody. And the people running for office are just as quick to promise it to a gullible public. Of course they can't really protect you from everything if you don't protect yourself. If you don't know your neighbors or help keep an eye on the neighborhood or help keep your neighborhood clean, no politician will protect you. But we keep electing people who say things that sound good. We keep electing people who make promises we know they'll never keep. And it's our children who will pay for it. Maribel Cuevas was not the first. Nor will she be the last.

Monday, August 01, 2005

The "Very Special" Truth Episode #100

     According to Blogger, this is post #100. (I haven't counted, so I'm going to trust it) In the great American tradition of the Sitcom, I'd like to dedicate what should be a groundbreaking, must-read post into a flashback post of the greatest hits of the past 7 months. Also, because we're apparently in the summer blogging doldrums, it's not exactly sweeps time, so consider this filler (but still with great taste).

Flashback #1) (Jan 14) Urgent Newsflash - President has epiphany!
This was my first (and only) attempt at breaking news. I'll leave making fun of Bushisms to the experts.

Flashback #2) (Feb 1) Why Should We Care if we Torture Some Terrorists?
I thought I made a good attempt at reasoning with the Bush worshippers with this post and with Why I Don't Like the Iraq War. I've come to learn the hard way that their boy can do no wrong, especially when he does wrong.

Flashback #3) (Mar 14) Hebrew National Shortage
This one still hits very close to home. Let me just say that my family still hurts from this painful episode, although as the temperature flirts with triple-digits, we've moved away from homemade chili and Franks & Beans.

Flashback #4) (Apr 18) Pharmacist, Restrain Thyself
This still boils my blood. As a person with very little extended family because many of my relatives were murdered for being Jewish, I understand that "religious freedom" means the freedom to worship as I please. I understand that it means I can't be (shouldn't be) denied a job because of my religion, that the government won't shut down my shul because the president believes something else. It does not mean that I can force my religion on other people or that I can force my employer to observe my religious laws. The religiots just don't get it.

Flashback #5) (May 10) Hello, My Name is Scott and I'll Be Your Waiter
The way certain institutions work in this country piss me off. Here I discussed the counter-productivity of tipping. I can't remember if I've discussed how corrupt real-estate commisions are.

Flashback #6) (May 22) Yes, but what does Benedict say about Viagra?
My first ever guest-post, by the esteemed Oh Really Factor. If I'm lucky, there will be more. Also if I'm lucky, I'll go on vacation again someday.

Flashback #7) (Jun 13) Mawwiage is What Bwings us Togever Today
I love this topic. This post was actually a response to the question I asked the previous Friday. I loved all the comments I got, and I was especially touched by the sincerity of many of the commenters.

Flashback #8) (Jun 29) Are People Smarter in Cold Weather?
Holy corny controversy, Batman! This just goes to show how little I know about what pushes peoples buttons. Forget abortion or dead wives. Give a little love to the neigbors up north and the world erupts. I got 38 comments on... I'm still not sure what the big controversy was

Flashback #9) (Jul 25) Are We Too Rich? (Take 3)
Third in the series, this is the reason I started my blog. I have this great sense that we're mismanaging our great wealth, both as a nation and as individuals. And I believe it's corrupting everything that made us great in the first place. I don't believe in complete wealth distribution and I'm not a socialist (or Communist), but I've had the worst time trying to explain this without people jumping down my throat to tell me that it's the Paris Hiltons of the world that made this country great. When people care at all, that is. It seems money abuse doesn't rank up there with dead blond women.

     Well, there you have it! Feel free to post comments in those respective Flashbacks if I've stirred something within you. I really don't want to have 9 separate discussions going on in this post. And don't be too hard on me for not having any original ideas today.