Sunday, September 30, 2007

Gender Roles and Competitive Behavior

I'd like to comment directly to Blue Gal's post of Saturday, which was itself a response to two prior related posts.

Who we are attracted to is very closely indebted to our environment during our formative years, and particularly the behavior and demeanor of our parents. My own mother is, among other things, intelligent, sensitive, fragile, highly emotional, nurturing, and silly. The women I have been attracted to and have dated in my life have had similar personalities to hers. Not identical, certainly, but similar.

What separates me from many people is that I'm at least aware of the reasons why. The knowledge of why I am attracted to what I am attracted to has saved me from diving head-first into some ill-fated situations with unhealthy people. I know what to look for as well as what to avoid. I think if more people were self-aware it would save them much heartache, grief, and pain.

However, this knowledge hasn't stopped me from making bad relationship choices, either. I've certainly taken my lumps and learned lessons the hard way, as many of us have to do in life. The quickest thing to raise my ire is when men who have had bad experiences with the opposite sex reduce all women to little more than manipulative bitches, or conversely, when women who have had bad experiences with the opposite sex reduce all men to loutish pigs. This kind of overblown defensive posture transposes blame from self onto someone else. It's neither a mature, nor rational response. Truth is, we usually do it to ourselves. And as Thom Yorke noted, that's what really hurts.

What if a person grows up in a dysfunctional home life with an unreliable, abusive, or unfit parent or parents? These unfortunate souls have it harder than most. They are the kind who often have to take their lumps and suffer through a series of bad relationships before they learn to distinguish between healthy and unhealthy partners. Some of them make a crucial mistake, preferring to settle for unhealthy familiarity, rather than taking the risk to find someone who will best for them. No one said finding a mate was an easy exercise. It takes courage, bravery, persistence, and the tacit understanding that almost no one ends up with a keeper on the first attempt, or even the first several attempts.

Even people who come from relatively stable family lives can go through terribly tumultuous dating experiences. The challenge is, as always, to learn from each in the effort to do better in the next go round. Many take the sour grapes approach, automatically dismissing every member of the opposite sex (or same sex, as attraction may be) as inherently flawed and thus not worth their time. Many others take trust to be a sort of guarded commodity that must be earned. Neither approach is particularly fair or even particularly logical. Clinging to such a tenacious defensive posture effectively turns off many potential dating partners, many of whom could be good matches.

On to competition...

The sort of petty competitiveness that characterizes both genders manifests itself equally, but still in different ways. Men resort to a sort of nauseating pissing contest to show up other men, buying bigger cars, more expensive toys, flashier clothing, and prettier women--just to state a few examples. Their basic aggressive nature rears its ugly head in instances such as these. Men may be lots of things, but they are hardly subtle. Evasive behavior in other men is thought to be cowardly and feminine. The harshest insult possible is for any man to be deemed womanly.

Women do the same thing, but theirs is a much more insidious game. Some men believe that women make an effort to out-dress each other to attract the attention of men. We should be so lucky. Women, by in large, dress to show up other women. Queens of passive-aggressive behavior, they often resort to back-stabbing, false flattery, and coldly manipulative acts. Society teaches women that overt displays of emotion and intent are supremely awkward and few women wish to go against the grain. Being too upfront and too forward violates the unwritten code of womanhood.

To these eyes, the most glaringly obvious observation to gleaned from these radically different approaches is simple: no wonder we don't understand each other! Men and women speak entirely different languages. Those people who we deem successful in the game of romance are often those who are perceptive enough to recognize this fact and make strides to become scholars of the opposite sex, same sex, or both, depending on whom they find sexually attractive. Those who are successful have a good understanding of the societal and environmental factors which have formed the template of what they find attractive, and find a good synthesis between the two. Furthermore, they take into account another crucial variable: personal experience.

The problem with holding rigid, strict gender differences doesn't merely create communication issues and dating disasters--it also, in effect, holds both genders hostage. Women are chronically afraid that they're not feminine enough, and conversely, men are chronically afraid that they're not masculine enough. My generation has tried to explode the current gender binary system, realizing that it is constraining. We feel that if gender ceased to be so rigidly defined that it would be liberating for all.

A peculiar sort of unreality is inherent in conventional gender roles. Women are duped into thinking that some perfect conception of femininity exists. Men are duped into thinking that some perfect conception of masculinity exists. Not only does such a thing exist, they believe, but with enough work it can be achieved. Not so.

That sort of convoluted logic lends itself easily to such ridiculous conceptions as the phallus. The phallus is the penis that is perfect in every way. Ten inches long, it drives a better car, dates the most beautiful women, has the most upper-body strength, wins every fight, and gets better tickets to the football game then any other penis. Naturally, it doesn't exist. It never has existed. It never will exist, either. It's the proverbial great white whale for all men. Yet, it takes quite a bit of self-awareness to realize that it's little more than an impossible fantasy.

All humans can easily confuse illusion with reality. Alpha males, in particular, are experts in disguising their deep insecurity beyond a facade of power and control. In reality, narcissists, ego-maniacs, and con-artists have severely weak conceptions of self. They are highly insecure, due in large part to the fact that they doubt themselves and their own abilities. Not that they would ever admit this to anyone. The worst cases simply aren't capable of allowing themselves the slightest bit of vulnerability, and they're afraid to be introspective. The truth often hurts.

Taken this way, such people are tragic figures, but neither are they worth anyone's time or effort. Woe be unto those who wish to reform them through love and compassion. They will be only wasting their time.

Success in love, as well as life, requires effort. Use all the tools available. Dare to be introspective. Dare to be vulnerable. Take setbacks as experiences for growth, not as dismal failures. Happiness is what you make of it.

Saturday, September 29, 2007

Hillary Clinton is an Android!

This is for those of you who didn't catch The Daily Show earlier this week.

What sticks out most to me about this clip is how Bob Schieffer reacts to Hillary's laughter. His discomfort is very telling. I doubt whomever told Mrs. Clinton that she needed to come across as warm and personable counted on this kind of visceral response. Does this sort of behavior surprise anyone? Here is proof-positive why I don't like Hillary.

I fully expect her to be her party's nominee for President, which would make her another in a long series of robotic Democratic presidential candidates.




Friday, September 28, 2007

A Lesson in Safe Logic

While scouring the paper for my latest blog topic, I must admit that I didn't think I'd find inspiration inside the sports page. A brief, seven paragraph article grabbed my attention. Interesting, it concerns fellow blogger Quaker Dave's alma mater, Rutgers University.

Here, a lesson in safe logic.

A longtime critic of Rutgers University's drive into big-time sports is being criticized over a newspaper article that university officials have branded as racist. The tenured English professor responded to arguments that athletic scholarships provide opportunity to low-income minority students.

"If you were giving the scholarship to an intellectually brilliant kid who happens to play a sport, that's fine," Dowling said. "But they give it to a functional illiterate who can't read a cereal box, and then make him spend 50 hours a week on physical skills. That's not opportunity. If you want to give financial help to minorities, go find the ones who are at the library after school. "

There are racist statements and then there are truthful statements. Professor Dowling's comments fall into the latter category. When I was in undergrad, it used to irk me something terrible to see the sort of concessions paid to scholarship athletes, particularly football players. My senior year, I took a sex ed class full of football players. We were asked to write a series of oral reports.

The articles proportedly written by the players themselves were instead drafted by graduate assistants. This was made painfully evident when these so-called student-athletes mispronounced complex words they had supposedly written themselves. Most faculty members turned a blind eye to this sort of indiscretion. The few faculty members who did stand up to this unfair practice were either let go or were threatened with termination.

The phrase, "student-athlete", is often a misnomer. Those who assert with a straight face that the primary goal of collegiate athletes should be to get an education are obviously smoking something and inhaling. Their primary goal, hands down, is to be successful athletes. College sports have increasingly become a lucrative business. Colleges and Universities can and do make millions of dollars off the backs of successful football programs. I single out college football because it's the highest revenue-producing sport.

Rutgers University, which in a previous life was a perennial doormat, has found itself these days blessed with a successful football program. Naturally, it hasn't thought twice about jumping in with both feet into dubiously ethical means of making boatloads of money.

Unbridled greed is a powerfully motivating factor. Naturally, the more success a team has on the field, the more money is raked in by the university thanks to lucrative bowl games and TV contracts. The reality of college athletics is that a very fortunate few, the cream of the crop, make it to the professional level and reap the benefits of multi-million dollar per year contracts. Most others end up shortchanged. Those who leave college early only to find themselves among the ranks as one of the last drafted, or even worse, undrafted, receive a one-way-trip up shit creek without a paddle. Some of the athletes that don't pass muster in the pro ranks make their way up into the broadcaster's booth. Some start small businesses. Some undergo the indignity of selling cars or insurance.

Most, however, make do as best they can. Deprived of an adequate education due in large part to the whims of greedy administrators, many former student-athletes get a no-cost, all-expenses-paid bucket of ice water to the face. Welcome back to reality, kid. Without cheering crowds to idolize them and feed their egos, a dose of the real world comes as a powerful shock. Having been groomed, coddled, and treated as royalty for years, if not their entire lives, ex-college athletes get a powerful reality check once they have outlived their usefulness. Occasionally, a newspaper story will crop up relating how a former student-athlete has embraced a life of crime, or will detail the tragic tale of a former student-athlete now languishing in a sub-standard job.

John Updike wrote a poem entitled "Ex-Basketball Player" that fits well in the context of this post.

Pearl Avenue runs past the high-school lot,
Bends with the trolley tracks, and stops, cut off
Before it has a chance to go two blocks,
At Colonel McComsky Plaza. Berth’s Garage
Is on the corner facing west, and there,
Most days, you'll find Flick Webb, who helps Berth out.

Flick stands tall among the idiot pumps—
Five on a side, the old bubble-head style,
Their rubber elbows hanging loose and low.
One’s nostrils are two S’s, and his eyes
An E and O. And one is squat, without
A head at all—more of a football type.

Once Flick played for the high-school team, the Wizards.
He was good: in fact, the best. In ’46
He bucketed three hundred ninety points,
A county record still. The ball loved Flick.
I saw him rack up thirty-eight or forty
In one home game. His hands were like wild birds.

He never learned a trade, he just sells gas,
Checks oil, and changes flats. Once in a while,
As a gag, he dribbles an inner tube,
But most of us remember anyway.
His hands are fine and nervous on the lug wrench.
It makes no difference to the lug wrench, though.

Off work, he hangs around Mae’s Luncheonette.
Grease-gray and kind of coiled, he plays pinball,
Smokes those thin cigars, nurses lemon phosphates.
Flick seldom says a word to Mae, just nods
Beyond her face toward bright applauding tiers
Of Necco Wafers, Nibs, and Juju Beads.

If we took Professor Dowling's advice and granted scholarships to minority students based on their educational prowess, rather than their athletic ability, then I do believe that we'd be advancing a worthy cause. As it stands now, colleges and universities unashamedly grant scholarships to little more than paid gladiators. In the days before integration, there were only two avenues by which an African-American could rise to fame: in the entertainment industry and in the sports field. Times have changed, there is better opportunity for minorities, but the inescapable fact remains this: a career in sports still remains a ticket out of poverty and a chance for great fame.

I admit that I enjoy college sports, but I make a point not to reach the level of fanatic when I cheer on my favorite college team. Sports are a pleasant distraction and I never forget that the players on the field are all a bunch of 18-22 year old kids. Many people, however, seem to forget this. They get so easily distracted by the spectacle that they revert into barbarians. I don't think I need to place overmuch emphasis on the fact that we're talking about sports here, not nuclear war.

Allow me to paraphrase Bill Hicks. In this instance, he was speaking in reference to war, but he could have just as easily been talking about sports.

Who are all these people with such low self-esteem that they need a sports program to feel GOOD about themselves?

Instead of a sport program, may I recommend: sit-ups? A Fruit cup? Six to eight glasses of water a day? Prayer and reflection?

I'm not telling you how to live your life. I'm just saying, use your options.

Though its effects may not be as visually thrilling as an improbable over-the-shoulder catch, a game-ending field goal, or a National Championship, if we granted scholarships based on academic merit, we might see some change for the better. As it stands now, a system that reduces minority athletes to pawns in a giant chessboard is true racism. A system that places more worth on a student's ability to suit up on Saturdays--as opposed to making the grade the rest of the week-- is the glaringly real example of institutionalized racism.

Thursday, September 27, 2007

Obama's Fallacy, Part 2

In a previous post, I argued that Barack Obama lacks the killer instinct needed to be a success in the dog-eat-dog world of politics. This post is a variation upon the same theme.

Obama has thus far advanced the politics of hope and good sportsmanship, rather than fear and dirty tricks, and for that I do applaud him. It takes courage to dare to be idealistic and optimistic in these cynical days. However, I don't think good intentions alone are sufficient to win elections. Nor do I believe in romanticized notions of clean campaigning.

Not willing to eat the cornbread, nor drink the kool-aid, I have to say that I'm frustrated thus far with the strategy of the Obama campaign. The campaign has decided to focus the lion's share of its efforts primarily in Iowa and South Carolina. It has conceded New Hampshire to Clinton, as well as Nevada. Under that modicum of thinking, Obama may win a primary or two, but the best he can hope for are a series of strong second-places. He can clearly do much better than that.

His current plan is to play nice and to not directly attack Harpy Clinton, even though she has more than ample skeletons in her closet. Directly attacking Mrs. Clinton would be so easy an exercise that it wouldn't require much effort. Nor would it be much of a stretch. The truth itself is damning enough. I don't think anyone would speak out in defense of Poor Hillary if she was taken to task for her failings as eight years as the arguably most powerful first lady since Eleanor Roosevelt.

Obama's current plan is for the gloves to come off in the period between the primaries and the Democratic convention. I believe this is a serious mistake. True, in recent years, the christening of the party's candidate has been a mere formality. He intends to run the table at the convention through the skillful manipulation of delegates and the nominating process. If I thought such a plan was plausible, I'd be all for it. However, it comes across as either delusional or merely wishful thinking.

Some of you may recall the Gary Trudeau/Robert Altman collaboration Tanner '88. In that under-appreciated HBO series, the mythical Democratic candidate Jack Tanner attempted a similar endeavor during the convention. His plan was audacious, bold, and brash. Naturally, it failed.

The sad fact is that Obama wants to sit back and seem above the fray, content let other candidates do the dirty work for him. He believes that John Edwards will launch a series of negative salvos against Clinton in a desperate effort to move out of third place. Obama conventional wisdom also believes that any presumptive GOP nominee will also take Hillary to task. Call me skeptical, but I see none of these things happening for quite some time, if ever.

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

David Brooks Says We're Losing

I have some strong reactions to the latest David Brooks column, which is entitled "Democrats standing firm with centrist attitudes".

Though I agree with some of what Mr. Brooks sets forth in his article, I also see evidence of how the mainstream media, particularly the New York Times, feels threatened by those of us in the netroots. Clearly, the MSM feels the need to justify its existence as it continues to sell increasingly fewer and fewer papers while losing more and more ground to the internet. Thus, such behavior isn't surprising. How better to attack citizen journalists than to reduce them to mere pretenders to the throne?

I take particular offense to Brooks' concluding paragraph, which states: "Both liberals and Republicans have an interest in exaggerating the netroots' influence, but in reality that influence is surprisingly marginal, even among candidates from who you'd think it would be strong."

On one hand, I concede that the blogsphere is not nearly as powerful as some assert. I take a daily dose of humility when I post my daily reflections, knowing grandiose ambitions such as having some actual sway over politics is probably a pipe dream. Still, we bloggers do have some degree of influence, particularly when we inspire others to blog. This effectively adds more voices to the cacophony. Granted, it's not as sexy as something wide, sweeping, and glaringly obvious to all. I doubt we could ever have that sort of power. The system is far too large. Still, we can mobilize others and make an impact to some degree.

Nonetheless, if Mr. Brooks is correct, then count me as another frustrated liberal. I take it as a challenge to impress the role of the blogger upon modern society. I believe we serve a purpose. What concerns me a little is that thus far, blogging has been the domain of the educated elite. Part of me wishes we could extend blogging far beyond those rigid parameters, but again, I don't want to see blogging reduced to mere pseudo-intellectual exercise and fashion. It's one of the the paradoxes of Democracy--how do you maintain the purity of an intellectual exercise from being corrupted by ignorance? The fact is that the very people we need to win an election are those who likely do not share our concerns and don't particularly care to blog, either.

It is admittedly nice to see someone mirror my own views regarding Barack Obama. Brooks notes that Obama attracts educated, affluent liberals. I've noticed this same phenomenon with my own two eyes and have pointed out until I'm blue in the face the crucial fact that securing the votes of the academic elite is not enough to carry the Democratic primary, much less the Presidential election. Hillary Clinton's centrist position has won her a commanding lead. As much as we often don't like to admit it, intellectuals and activists make up only a small fraction of the electorate. Though I see Mrs. Clinton's stance as deplorably deceptive and little more than politics as usual, my hope is that she will prove herself to be more liberal if elected President.

Many of us in the liberal base believed we had finally become a force to be reckoned with in the 2006 elections. The truth is that many of us seem to have overestimated our own power. I make a point to take Daily Kos with several grains of salt--it is an entity nowhere near as powerful as it thinks it is. Most people in America are moderates and I would challenge those of us in the liberal base to not seem out of touch with their concerns. Position statements like the impeachment of President Bush and/or Dick Cheney may be morally correct but they are not shared by the majority of presumptive Democratic voters.

Brooks points out, "[The Netroots] want bold colors and slashing attacks." This much is true. We also want to see our politicians taking strong stances. We ask only for the sort of stubborn resolve to which our latest Presidential failure has held fast. Another Clinton presidency will likely be an exercise in the skillful ability of talking out of both sides of one's mouth. This is why I have been hesitant to embrace her candidacy, though I will probably vote for her if she secures the nomination.

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

The American Mindset

Regular readers may not be aware of the fact that I'm a big movie buff and an amateur film historian. This interest of mine was nurtured when I took a series of film classes in undergrad. One can learn much about national character and mythology by examining the media of a particular society. It's especially important to contemplate the messages we Americans beam out to the rest of the world. Our media is often full of distortion, exaggeration, and caricature. Unfortunately, these grossly inaccurate images are often the only basis by which others conceive of America and Americans. They do not often understand that the unreality we project for the sake of entertainment is not at all an objective picture of the way life really is on these shores.

It has always been this way, ever since the beginning.

Let me address a belief that many hold dear. Falling prey to white-wash and nostalgia, some of us assert that the past is somehow inherently more pure than today. As I examine the historical record, particularly though film, radio, and literature, I find instead the same old archetypes. Fashions may have changed and so have turns of phrase and social mores, but our national character has not.

American cinema, even since the early days, has been obsessed with physical beauty, celebrity, happy endings, and plot-driven narrative. Thus, it's not difficult to see how the rest of the world thinks that Americans are overly effusive, slightly naive, and unforgivably sentimental. We like to paint the world in absolutes. We prefer happy endings where all loose ends are tied up; we show preference to final-reel miracles in which outstanding crises are resolved astonishingly quickly. Even in the more skeptical, cynical times in which we now live, we want our entertainment to be an escape from the real world.

World cinema, by contrast, shows a much more pessimistic perspective. It is far more likely to shun conventional narrative structure as well as to play with the concept of linear time. This is not to say that film doesn't exist for the sake of entertainment in other countries, but rather that it believes it has a higher duty than to be base entertainment alone.

I was reminded of this when I watched two movies back to back. The first was a typically overwrought American silent film of the late 1920s, full of overacting and hyperbole. Entitled The Student Prince in Old Hiedelberg, it utilized a stale plot, expensive theatrics, and grandiose visuals. Very much in line with the star system, it focused most of its attention upon a beautiful woman, a beautiful man, and the interaction between the two. On paper, the film is nothing special, but the manner in which it is presented holds the attention of the audience.

The second was the 1930 German film Westfront 1918. G.W. Pabst's first talkie shuns romanticism for gritty reality. A collection of vignettes with a loose narrative structure, it is no less gorgeously filmed. It does not emphasize any particular standout actor or actress, feeling that the message is more important. Its prevailing viewpoint is that of art for the sake of political statement and social critique.

Should we perceive of the American Mindset as unrefined and immature? Have we not evolved to the extent of other, older societies? Are we a nation of new money pretenders and illusion-dwellers? If others had our same degree of material wealth and excess could they do any better?

Or is it merely all in how one looks at it?

Monday, September 24, 2007

The Art of Rational Discourse

Name-calling, finger-pointing, and demonizing one's opposition have no place in rational discourse. This was made quite evident to me this evening as I was watching television pundits of both political persuasions resort to pointless bickering and childish insults. Such behavior has become the bread and butter of all sorts of talking heads, arm chair philosophers, newspaper columnists, and celebrities.

I could cite a particular instance, but in this post I'm attempting to bring to light a plethora of offenses. These sort of things happen daily: in the street, at the office, in the media, in homes, and pretty much everywhere people congregate.

I often feel compelled to make strong statements against what I feel to be misguided rhetoric set forth by self-righteous right-wingers. So long as I maintain an air of respectability and use cogent, eloquent, and respectful prose I have succeeded. The instant I resort to juvenile tactics, I have forfeited my right to be taken seriously. Losing one's temper is easy to do, particularly in the polarized, highly charged times in which we live, but if anything, civilized debate is needed now more than ever. It's very tempting to wish to attack our opponents with epithets and expletives, but doing so makes us look foolish in the process. Any victories we might win with such an approach will be, at best, Pyrric in nature. What is more likely is that nothing will be accomplished at all; it will only strengthen and entrench both sides in the certainty of their own viewpoint.

We humans have a tendency to want to romanticize and gloss over the past. It has been recently stated that in once upon a time days political discourse was more polite and less abrasive--respectful and not hurtful. From my study of the subject, I have found it to be little more than an exploded myth. Democrats and Republicans, Liberals and Conservatives both have launched invective at each other for years. Resorting to these tactics is boorish, uncouth, and utterly counterproductive. It always was and it always will be.

Last I understood it, the point of a persuasive argument was the change minds. It wasn't to coalesce support amongst ourselves, though that is certainly comforting. Many of us crave our own private Amen Corner and though it might be flattering for our egos, I question to what extent is it helpful. The point of rational discourse is to open minds and hopefully change them for the better out of unselfishness. Rational discourse places itself above evangelism. The point is not take score of the number of converts one wins for his or her side. Neither is it to win for the sake of winning. We ought to be better than that.

We ought to wish for people to be open-minded and to be willing to think critically for themselves. This means we should wish for every person to stand firm in his or her own unique point-of-view. Their beliefs may mirror ours or they may not, but if we have forced a bit of sunlight into previously closed minds, then we have done our job admirably.

Friday, September 21, 2007

A Plea For Critical Thinking

As an addendum from my previous post...

"Common sense is not so common"- Voltaire

It wasn't until I entered grad school that I was taught these nuggets of truth.

  • Critical thinking requires a skeptical eye that accepts no truth as Gospel and attempts to hone one's own unique, independent viewpoint.
  • Critical thinking takes into perspective that there are two (and often more) sides to any issue. Consider both, contemplate both, and seek the inherent truth. Strip away spin, conjecture, smoke and mirrors, filters, and personal prejudice.
  • Know that truth is neither the domain of liberal, nor of conservative points of view. The truth supersedes political allegiance.
  • Don't drink the kool-aid. Don't take anything on faith unless you've carefully weighed every argument, especially your own.
  • Contemplate the argument of your opposition. Don't just dismiss it as contrary to your own and in the process fall prey to a condition know as tunnel vision. Don't walk through life with blinders on.
  • Being skeptical and having a critical eye is not the same thing as being a pessimist.
  • Understand that pessimism and optimism both are two sides of the same coin; furthermore, understand that both are merely different ways to perceive the same reality.
  • Flattery will get you everywhere, but only the the truth will set you free.
I think critical thinking ought to be taught at a very young age in schools. This sort of wisdom, it has been argued, used to be imparted by parents to their children around the dinner table.
I would even go a step forward and argue that this sort of wisdom has never found popular audience at any time in history. Nevertheless, a new generation has grown up bereft of these life lessons. If parents are either unwilling or incapable of doing so, then I think schools need to inform pupils of these very important facts of life.

Moreover, I have long been critical of an education system that doesn't do an adequate job of explaining WHY learning is so important. Oh, it's done an admirable job of rote memorization, teaching to the test, and spilling out a bunch of disconnected facts, dates, and assorted jargon. However, it's never effectively sought to find a sense of commonality between subjects and disciplines. That's doing a grave disservice to the average student, who isn't perceptive enough to connect the dots by himself or herself. It's unfair that only the A students are capable of seeing the big picture, while most other students end up bored and confused.

Furthermore, many young adults leave college with lots of information, but not much wisdom or practical know-how. They can do calculus admirably, but don't know how to balance a checkbook. They can quote passages of philosophy, but aren't sure how to apply those same principles to their own lives. They have learned what has come before them, but don't realize that those who ignore the past are often doomed to repeat the same mistakes. They have an good grasp of English grammar, but don't know how to write a successful resume.

To backtrack a bit--this blog has a primarily liberal conceit but I think it needs to be said that I have gone out on a limb and made some fairly conservative statements. While I do identify as a Progressive, I don't buy into every tenant of the Democratic party nor do I necessarily agree with all so-called liberal issues. I know that it's very easy and tempting to want see the world in monochrome but it greatly benefits a person to be of an analytical bent. The problem is that we give critical thinking lip service but we don't actively foster it amongst ourselves. Truth is not always easy, nor comfortable, but it is the only way to be a well-rounded citizen.

I feel as though it is the duty of all people to look beyond simplistic, knee-jerk, pat answers for complex problems.

We often times can't understand why so many people fall prey to scare tactics and fear. The simple reality is that without a sense of critical thinking, people trust blindly and do not question the one-sided views with which they've been raised. Some may say that critical thought is the domain of the intellectuals and the fortunate, but I disagree. I propose that we teach our children how to think for themselves. This by no means indicates that I'm proposing we encourage rebellion or the destruction of society itself, as some might fear, but rather that we show the world as it is: a complex place which has few easy answers.

Back from the Obama Rally or Pseudo-Intellectualism Abounds

I have now decided that at least one circle of hell should be devoted to pseudo-intellectuals.

I mention this because I wasted six hours of my life by listening to the endless banter of a person who I wished would just.stop.talking. Six hours wasted listening to a pastiche of pithy sayings, urban legends, and cliche: little more than a caricature of liberal thought and academic discourse. Six hours spent in the company of Paris Hilton disguised as an activist. All the precepts one holds dear mangled and reduced to the lowest common denominator. All the time wishing for something, anything, intelligent to spring from her lips.

Perhaps some of you remember Shelly Duvall's character in the Woody Allen film Annie Hall. A rock n' roll columnist, she unknowingly pronounces the word "transcendent" as "transplendant" and finds a deep meaning inside a seemingly prosaic lyric from a Bob Dylan song. Imagine being privy to someone who thinks that the lyrics to the Don McClean song "American Pie" are profound and then you'll understand my pain.

I have always found it most upsetting that "liberal" is the default setting for youth, because that ushers in all sorts of bandwagon jumpers in it strictly for rebellion and for defying the status quo. This was especially true at the Obama rally in Atlanta on Thursday night. Although Barack has a sort of rock star presence and has attracted big crowds just on his own merits alone, I wonder how many people out of the 2000 gathered at the Meeting Hall came to ogle the musician Usher instead.

I hold no sympathy for the irony-deficient. I hold no sympathy for those who think they are much more intelligent than they are in reality. These sorts of people are usually their own downfall--too blinded by their own blind faith in their lackluster abilities to ever see it coming. They are often too trusting of important-sounding slogans and sound-bytes. Perhaps I shouldn't be so quick to judge, but it frustrates me when I come across those who are politically active for all the wrong reasons. They want to thump their chests and proclaim to the heavens just how trendily progressive they are. They come across as dilettantes and posers, about as deep as the shallow end of a pool.

That's what I suppose I find the most upsetting. Liberalism reduced to a brand name. Liberalism as a fashion statement. Shopping at Whole Foods in the same manner in which one shops at department stores. Having no conception of the depths of any subject, but able to repeat verbatim a memorized, prepackaged soliloquy on the virtues of all things organic. Well versed in the evils of capitalism, but just as much a slave to it as the people they criticize.

What concerns me about Obama's campaign, thus far, is that from what I could see, it's is comprised of a heterogenous mixture of true believers, wingnuts, and dabblers. H.L. Mencken said famously that he had rarely met a true believer worth knowing. It is downright trendy to be an Obama supporter these days, but it doesn't surprise me now that he's second in the polls. Rather than attracting the base, he has thus far attracted the fringes. He's cool, sure, but he's also not attracting followers of much substance other than starry-eyed optimists and the star-struck.

This will have to change if he holds any chance of catching Hillary.

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

In Honor of Talk Like a Pirate Day

Our own favorite Lesbian Pirate Queen....

Free Speech?

I admit that this event disturbs me deeply. And that I feel deeply ambivalent towards the behavior of the police in this incident. As the video shows, University of Florida student Andrew Meyer jumps to the front of the line to ask John Kerry a variety of questions. As you can see, the questioning quickly swells to a rant.

I think there's a proper, dignified way to ask questions and clearly Meyer did not adhere to this. In fact, I'm tempted to see his behavior as little more than a publicity stunt. Still, did a lapse in good judgment justify his receiving 50,000 volts with a Taser? If this was, in fact, a publicity stunt--did not the behavior of the police officers play right into Meyer's hands?

Clearly, I think a lot of us out there would have liked to put John Kerry on the spot regarding the dubious results of the 2004 election but I tend to think that this over-the-top banter has no place. To me, preserving a sense of decorum is much sexier than this sort of hysteria.

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Bad Ideas Abound

Here's one.

Here's another.

And still another.

Monday, September 17, 2007

State of the Union

My local paper tries its best to balance liberal and conservative political commentary, which is much to its credit. Seeking to understand where the opposition is coming from, I will even often read the conservative columns from time to time. The best way, in my opinion, to counter an contrary argument is to have a clear understanding of the opposing viewpoint.

Thus it was much to my surprise to read an article written by a conservative writer accusing Republican congressmen and women of being spineless and ineffectual. This is the sort of behavior we lefties have continually criticized in our own representatives. These days, it seems like the bases of both parties are outraged. I find it immensely ironic. Apparently, the only person who holds fast to any sort of conviction these days is Warlord Bush.

The kind of gridlock that exists for the most part these days might not necessarily be a bad thing. When the President had both houses of Congress at his disposal, it rubber stamped ever reactionary proposal the White House set forth. Many people, including moderate Republicans, elected a Democratic congress in an effort to provide a check on the broadly expanded powers of the previous six years.

Wall Street loves gridlock because when nothing gets accomplished in Congress, it means that regulatory laws don't get passed. Those who argue for strict lassiez faire capitalism delight in these times of stalemate. Business more or less continues about its merry way, knowing full well it won't have to deal with anything unexpected for quite some time.

Maybe we ought to embrace gridlock, because that's all we're going to get for the remainder of Bush's term. Don't get me wrong, we'll get passionate rhetoric, showdown, and partisan bickering from now until January 2009. If political theatre is what you crave, you'll certainly get your fill of it in the months to come.

But don't expect much to be ticked off on you political wish list.

Saturday, September 15, 2007

W's Stubborn Faith

Many of us in the left-wing blogsophere take great pains to intellectualize our conception of religion. We have pulled it apart and analyzed it critically in an effort to seek the most correct, most perfect interpretation. There's nothing wrong with doing this, per se, but those of us who take a critical eye towards religion may need to be reminded of how many people there are in this world who don't question. I probably don't need to remind any of you of how powerful a force religion is and I daresay you are also likely very aware of the fact people will fight to the death to defend it.

I see President George W. Bush as a prime example of a recovered alcoholic, born-again Christian. Having conquered the demons of addiction as well as a period of young adulthood characterized by aimlessness, hedonism, and irresponsibility he used the Christian faith as a means to get back on the straight-and-narrow. Many people do this. This is one of the great strengths of Christianity.

I must admit that I am a Christian for many of the same reasons. One of the great strengths of the faith is that salvation is promised to everyone, provided they confess their sins, accept Jesus into their hearts, and resolve to do better. All prior sins are washed away if any human repents with contrition.

However, the problem with many who converts is that, having put aside their personal problems, they often move from one extreme to the other, exchanging the fluidity of past viewpoints for a one-sided, black-and-white view of reality. In doing so, they compartmentalize their lives neatly in two: before and after. As we all know, thinking critically is an often lonely, confusing experience which reveals no cut-and-dry answers. Many former alcoholics have a tendency to overcompensate, believing that doubt was a product of their lives before they came to sobriety. These people had prior problems setting boundaries for themselves, and thus they often delight in a cut-and-dry philosophy which defines things concretely. Good is good and bad and bad. No overlap exists. If doubts do creep into the mind, they can easily be explained away as merely a manifestation of Satan's temptation.

Thus, it comes as no surprise to me that President Bush has taken such a firm, unwavering stance in Iraq. I really do believe that he sees the conflict as a struggle between absolute good and absolute evil and he will not allow himself to think otherwise. Unfortunately, it also means that his actions are effectively defying the will of the American people, who have long since grown weary of this conflict.

Friday, September 14, 2007

Advice for Today

Listening to President Bush's address last night brought this to mind.

Thursday, September 13, 2007

Obama's Fallacy

The strategy of the Obama campaign thus far has been to stake claim to the moral high ground. The junior senator from Illinois has refused to resort to negative campaigning or to launch pre-emptive strikes on its opposition unless it finds itself directly challenged. What concerns me about this attitude is that it's all well and good to play fair except when one considers that there's no such thing as a fair fight. This is particularly true in politics.

In saying this, let me assert that I am firmly in Senator Obama's camp and consider him the most qualified candidate currently running. But let me also counter that statement of support by stating my concern that Obama will be effectively smeared by the Clinton machine and not respond to the inevitable negative allegations in time. Leo Durocher famously stated that nice guys finish last. I'd hate for Barack Obama to be the latest example.

Obama is trying to run a spotless campaign from now until the primaries begin but concedes that after the primaries conclude that the gloves will come off. I heartily disagree with this philosophy because my instinct is to go for the jugular as quickly as possible. This does not imply that I wish to sling unfounded suppositions and mean-spirited gossip in Rovian fashion. The reality is that in addition to being unethical, this sort of behavior is totally unnecessary. The record of the Clinton White House is ammunition enough.

I propose that the campaign strip off the veneer of fantasy and reveal the reality behind its most formidable competition. The Obama campaign is not willing to go on the record as such, which I believe to be a great mistake. Nor have I heard of any other Democratic candidate willing to reveal the truth. To wit, Bill Clinton is not the messiah that he is often perceived to be. This sentiment is often heard within the African-American community, which thus far has been hesitant to embrace Senator Obama as one of its own. Among many of African-Americans, the name Clinton by itself holds a vast amount of credibility and name recognition. The irony is that, in many ways, Bill Clinton was no friend to the Black community.

I never heard anyone refer to him as "the first black President" until the time of the Monica Lewinsky scandal. Another major irony is inherent in the fact that everyone accepts that statement as gospel, but no one seems to have defined any uniform interpretation of what is meant by it. I've informally canvassed a large cross-section of African-Americans, asking for their own definition, and everyone I've questioned has a different answer.

Bill ran to the black community and was embraced with open arms. Perhaps an racial group all-too-familiar being vilified based on ignorance and fear felt that they could relate well to Bill's philandering. Among a few arch-conservative commentators, I heard another, more sinister interpretation which suggested that many African-American men cheated on their spouses and wives and that this made Bill's behavior that much more understandable. Naturally, this line of logic is in the same tired, racist school of thought that stereotypes Black men as amoral and sub-human.

Bill Clinton was one of the most conservative Democrats ever to hold the office of President. His eight-year tenure included passage of the 1996 Welfare Reform Act as well as the draconian three-strikes-and-you're-out legislation. Granted, both of these bills were passed under a hostile GOP-controlled Congress, but this did not obligate Clinton to play ball and acquiesce to the demands of an unfriendly legislative body. After all, has not our current President made a career out of taking a stand on often unpopular issues?

The incompetence and abuses of powers committed by the current administration have many of us yearning for the past. I think this is a particularly dangerous fantasy, especially when one considers that the placidity of those times disguised major problems that had yet to fully foment. We went through a robust period of growth in the 1990s, but if the collapse of Enron and the dot.coms have shown us anything, it has illustrated well that much of that wealth existed only on paper.

To conclude, I think it behooves any candidate currently running to explode the mythology of the Clinton years, else we will see Hillary take the Democratic nomination in a cakewalk.

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

End the War, Now

Count me as another disgruntled Democrat who simply cannot understand why.

  • Why haven't plans been enacted to withdraw our troops from a no win war?
  • Why haven't Democratic leaders made more of an effort to stand up to a President with approval ratings in the basement?
  • Why do we continue to fund a conflict that has spiraled rapidly out of control--a conflict that continues to kill our men and women in uniform?
I admit that I misspoke some months ago. I believed all of Dubya's posturing about staying the course was merely window dressing to an inevitable withdrawal. Unfortunately, I was wrong. And what is most frustrating is that the Democratic congress elected last November seems content to play politics with this conflict and has apparently taken the viewpoint that until a Democratic president is elected, they are not willing to put their necks out on the line.

Having analyzed and theorized about this issue for months, I find myself without any decent hypothesis to explain why nothing substantial has been accomplished. Bush himself made the comparison to Vietnam in a speech a few weeks back. If this conflict is anything like THAT conflict, then our troop presence in Iraq will last for several more years. The Tet Offensive in 1968 signaled to the U.S. that even with superior numbers they were fighting a foe who would fight to the last man. Yet we remained in Vietnam in great numbers for the next five years.

Part of the problem is that this country doesn't admit defeat very well. Our whole national mythology is based on the ridiculous premise that the U.S.A. will always win and that our national character is such that any problem will find a sufficient answer with enough ingenuity. This war is not like a disease in search of a cure or a mechanical issue in need of improvement. The hard truth is that no matter how much money and manpower we pump into Iraq, it will never be enough. Most Americans don't even realize the complexity of the situation that is the Middle East and our ignorance has contributed to the problems we have faced as well as created in the region.

I'm not saying anything that hasn't already been stated many times before. I've read a variety of left-wing blogs over the past several months and we all seem to be saying the same thing. Frustration and anger reigns supreme amongst the blogroots and we all get the feeling that we are being ignored and that our concerns are being given a massive dose of lip service.

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

The Return of Comrade Kevin

A combination of health issues and malfunctioning internet momentarily sent me to the sidelines.

However, I am back and have every intention of blogging once a day like usual.

Today, as you're aware, is the sixth anniversary of the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. I've taken the time to reflect upon how far I've come in six years, to say nothing of how far in this country we've come regarding preparedness. I wish I could say that I'm firmly convinced that we're a safer nation because of the attacks, but I admit to being skeptical.

I on occasion will read The Futurist magazine and I'm reminded of how scarily accurate some of the predictions set forth over the years have come true. The periodical predicted a major terrorist attack on U.S. soil some ten years ago. It proclaimed that we had entered a forty-year period of terrorism that would continue unabated until it had run its course. That in itself is not that unusual, nor thought-provoking. The fallout from the attack I find to be much more pertinent.

What concerns me more than a little is the viewpoint on the right which states that we're in a struggle for the future of the Civilized World. This end times philosophy reads like something out of the book of Revelations. My fear is that the leaders of Western Democracy will take the opportunity to fulfill this doom-laden prophecy which predicts the end of the world. I remember after 11 September, this was certainly a prevailing viewpoint among many. Would our nations leaders make that awful scenario come true in a desire to fulfill Biblical prophecy?

The retaliation if we are attacked here again I fear may result in the detonation of nuclear weapons. It certainly is a tempting response--to reduce the Middle East to little more than a gaping, smoky hole in the ground. Aside from the ethics and morality involved in such an endeavor, I wonder if we would not create a much greater problem. Certainly an undertaking so severe would disrupt, to say nothing of destroy the crude oil supplies the rest of the world depends upon. I worry that we would end up creating more enemies, particularly the Russians and Chinese, who have become our economic rivals and dubious allies.

Would a nuclear attack end up bankrupting the world's economy? I remind you that we are the most powerful, most wealthy country in the world and that upon our economic success or failure rests the future of the rest of the world. We increasingly find ourselves beholden to playing the "what if?" game with no satisfactory conclusions. Humans don't do well with abstractions and theories. We crave something concrete to sink our teeth into.

During the Cold War, the idea of mutual assured destruction which kept us extremely hesitant to launch nuclear warheads at Russia. The Right does a good job of spreading fear by perpetuating the idea that we could be slaves of Islamic Fundamentalism, but it does not touch upon a much more likely scenario. The problem with the terrorist threat is, I believe, not that we would be overtaken by Islamic radicals, but that we could end up destroying the human race through a massive global conflict. If that were to be the case, then the stated objective of these Muslim radicals would not be secured. They wish for the world to ascribe to their brand of perverse ideology but instead they would ensure the destruction of the world itself.

I for one would like to know some concrete facts about how far we've come that aren't tainted by either a pro-war or anti-war bias. These days, the Right and Left have become so polarized by the conflict that I don't feel as though I'm getting an objective picture either way. As John Lennon said, All I want is the truth. Just gimme some truth.

Has Iraq truly become a haven for jihadists? Is another attack imminent? What is the next incarnation of terrorism? What steps have we taken to ward off another invasion? Are we truly safer?

So many questions and so few answers.

Friday, September 07, 2007

Norah's Page

This is just in case you're feeling maternal or stressed out. Don't say I never did anything for you.

Daddy Drank

Thursday, September 06, 2007


Remember when you were young?
How the hero was never hung

Always got away

Remember how the man
Used to leave you empty handed?
Always, always let you down

If you ever change your mind
About leaving it all behind
Remember, remember, today

And don't feel sorry
The way it's gone
And don't you worry
'Bout what you've done

Just remember when you were small
How people seemed so tall
Always had their way

Do you remember your Ma and Pa
Just wishing for movie stardom
Always, always playing a part

If you ever feel so sad
And the whole world is driving you mad
Remember, remember, today

And don't feel sorry
'Bout the way it's gone
And don't you worry
'Bout what you've done

Tuesday, September 04, 2007

I Had Forgotten This


Thanks to my stat counter, I can see the particular keywords that lead people to my page.

This showed up as a google search.

robin, edgar, and, unitarians, who, make, fun, other, peoples, religious, beliefs

I try to curb my hypercritical attitudes but there are certain religious beliefs that I feel to be a little wacky. By this I mean fundamentalist Christianity and Mormonism. I wasn't aware that Unitarianism lends itself to mocking other peoples' religious beliefs. Though I am no longer a Unitarian, I do have a certain history with the faith and I made an attempt to not come across as scathingly condemning when I broke ranks.

I don't know why this bothers me, but it does.

Lazy Day Postings

I'm still feeling pretty crappy, but I wanted to slap at least something up here today.

You are allowed to laugh at this.

Monday, September 03, 2007

Sleep is Golden

I got no sleep last night, so I don't have the mental aptitude to write much of anything today.

Instead, I will post a youtube clip that is one of my recent favorites. Those of you who are Beatles fans will appreciate the sentiment.

Sunday, September 02, 2007

A Bit of A Game

Only do this if you're exceptionally bored.

A bit of a game for those of you who want to play.

These quotes can be found from any number of television shows or movies. Most of them are comedic by nature. I'll provide the quote; you provide the show or movie

1. My GOD it stinks in here. It stinks of stupid women wondering about Tony. Wondering where he could be, who he is with, what he's thinking, whether he's thinking of you, and whether he'll ever return someday.

2. I didn't know you were supposed to follow up a good idea with loads other little good ideas! I'm going to go sleep in the spare room!

3. I do wish you'd listen, Wymer. It's perfectly simple. If you're not getting your hair cut, you don't have to move your brother's clothes down to the lower peg.

You simply collect his note before lunch, after you've done your scripture prep, when you've written your letter home, before rest, move your own clothes onto the lower peg, greet the visitors, and report to Mr. Viney that you've had your chit signed.

4. You smell like dead bunnies. I ate the blue ones. They taste like burning!

5. But, ladies and gentlemen of this supposed jury, I have one final thing I want you to consider. Ladies and gentlemen, this is Chewbacca.

Chewbacca is a Wookie from the planet Kashyyk. But Chewbacca lives on the planet Endor. Now think about it; that does not make sense!

6. Last week you took the coffee machine away and now we can't wank in the office?

7. It's a JUMP to conclusions mat!

8. They only ask you one question. They say "Who are you? And I got 75 percent for that."

9. "Gentlemen, you can't fight in here! This is the War Room!

10. "Is it a boy or a girl?

Don't you think it's a bit early to be imposing roles on it?"

A Very Human Struggle

As some of you may recall, the diaries of Mother Teresa were published this past week. The most shocking revelation: that the holiest of holies questioned her purpose in life and even doubted the existence of God himself. The implication seemed to be that we should think twice before we heap platitudes upon any human being, particularly one for whom canonization as a Saint by the Vatican seems to be a fait accompli.

In contrast, I don't look upon Mother Teresa's internal struggles with her faith as proof that she was somehow less pious, somehow less than. Instead it proves that there are times in all of our lives where we question our faith and feel utterly disconnected from our higher power. The fact that such a person as Mother Teresa had deep internal struggles should come across as a relief rather than shake our very devotion to the core. Crises of faith are common place to each and every human being, it appears.

After all, did not Jesus of Nazareth call out on the cross: "My God, why have you forgotten me?"

God prefers to work subliminally rather than overtly. To act otherwise would interfere with our own free will. But I add my name to the chorus of believers who wish we could receive direct communication from him. As for me, I've been privy to no burning bushes and no direct revelations though I have wished for them.

The side of me that is very much indebted to comparative religion still retains a touch of cynicism regarding Mother Teresa. Her stances against abortion and divorce are sticking points. In addition, she took a missionary's zeal towards Christianity which left no room for other religions. I've never believed that the vast majority of the world who are non-Christians ought to be automatically doomed for the Lake of Fire. I never will.

Yet, this fact shouldn't at all detract from the good work that Mother Teresa accomplished in her lifetime. That she revealed her inherent humanity ought to give us a great deal of faith. I think often times people don't strive for Godliness because they feel so intimidated by those who live lives of decency and unselfishness. They think, How could I possibly ever be that good?

If even our stars prove themselves to be prone to the same kind of soul-searching as the rest of us, then there must be something about humanity that is constantly searching and probing for meaning.

Saturday, September 01, 2007

A Public Service Announcement from Comrade Kevin

See, this is

and this is

So, once more...


There IS a difference!

A Nearly Forgotten Anniversary

Comrade Kevin has approximately 1.5 degrees in history and as my friend Lizzi famously puts it: contrary to popular belief, history is not a useless major. So the next person who tells me that I wasted my money and time will answer to the pair of hedge clippers that I have stored in the black abyss that is the trunk of my car.

Today's headlines are full of the dying embers of yet another GOP sex scandal, continuing chaos in Iraq, and the kickoff to another glorious College Football season. Gone nearly unrecognized is an anniversary that shaped to a very large degree the world we live in today.

On this day, sixty-eight years ago, the German blitzkrieg pummeled its way through Poland, officially starting World War II. Without this significant event, the History Channel would effectively lose 75% of its original programming. Without the rise of Fascism in Western Europe, we wouldn't have the ability to hang the term, Nazi, on people whose viewpoints with whom we strongly disagree. Without the world wide conflict that kept our grandparents and great-grandparents committed to fighting overseas for four long years, aging Baby Boomers couldn't wax nostalgic about the Greatest Generation.

Jesting aside, I doubt we can comprehend just how dramatically World War II changed everything around. I doubt we can comprehend tragedy, sacrifice, and struggle on such a grand scale. My generation and the generation of my parents have never had to seriously contemplate the abject destruction of Democracy as we know it. Though there were many number of Americans who preferred we stay out of the conflict and preferred an isolationist stance, once committed to the conflict, they pulled together as one. They had no other choice.

My grandparents talked about the War as though it had just ended. As they aged, their short-term memory was decidedly worse for wear but their recollections of World War II never faded. I can't even contemplate an event that powerful, that intense, that indelible. World War II reached into the lives and directly impacted all who were alive then.

Aside from a brief moment after 11 September, I can't think of any time in my life where an event has had such resonance in the lives of everyone.

In an Ideal World...

Notice that at the end of this, everyone screams "Who Cares?".

I thought I might make another Larry Craig post just for good measure, to celebrate his resignation.