Thursday, April 3, 2008

Money, so they say is the root of all evil today-pink floyd

One note about this article. In an effort to be as precise I have taken a page from the book of William F. Buckely. I will employ extremely specific words in an effort to avoid falling into Jejune (his favorite word meaning dull or lacking maturity) arguments.

Sometimes when I stop and think I find it hard to continue on. When I think about how many lives my European ancestors destroyed so that I could live the way I do it hurts. When I think about how my Puritan ancestors (I am a New Englander if you couldn’t tell already) escaped religious intolerance to enforce their own extreme intolerance of everyone except themselves I despise myself. When I think about the butchering of the majority of the indigenous peoples and the few that managed to escape the insatiable appetite of the white man to live in poverty on worthless land or run casinos I want to cry. When I think about how much our society has twisted and destroyed nature to better suit our moods I am so angry I don’t know what to do. When I think about the deep-seated racism and sexism that we have painted over and pretend doesn’t exist anymore I want to seclude myself in a cave. What makes me the angriest though, is that I know on some level it is unproductive for me to get so angry. Should I really carry around the guilt from crimes committed by men long dead before I was born? The answer to this is complicated and depends what I want. If I want a happy and simple life then the answer is a most emphatic ‘no.’ If, however, which is true for now, I want to be able to be part of a tool for change, then the answer is ‘yes.’ Side note here, don’t worry about a political plug here, these problems and their subsequent solutions go far beyond any single individual.

Let me try to use this rage productively. I do not believe that I am the only one with these thoughts. If the American citizens that were on some level guilty of what I mentioned above, which is the majority but not by much, only thought of their guilt, then our economy would be in shambles. Well, our economy is in shambles (one simple fact: 1.4 trillion US treasury debt to China that we can barely manage to pay the interest on.) so that is not a good conclusion to my point. To be serious, the truth is ugly and scary, and so as rational actors we construct our own palatable fantasies. These fantasies are both necessary and useful. Unless someone has served in active combat duty, they have no conception of war. Yet non-veterans still support war, in part because they think they know what it is from Hollywood tripe and other equally meaningless abstractions.

The world is a scary place and people aren’t stupid. If you can’t easily fix a scary think then you avoid it. Who cares if the Kosavars don’t like the Serbs to someone who just bought a new car and is tooling around their suburb where the most dangerous issue is bored teenagers huffing duct sealant? (scary, but not as scary as ethnic cleansing were militias butcher entire families with knives.) If you can choose, why think about bad stuff that you can’t change?

This question gets at the catch 22 of the problem. If you don’t care, then you can’t change it. If you do care then you might be able to change it. But its not as simple as that. By caring you can get so overwhelmed that you can never get to the point where change is possible. This is the trap that many idealists fall into.

Let’s get specific. What is the solution to the Serbia-Kosovo conflict? It sure is not the policy the world’s policeman is pursuing, which in my humble and uniformed opinion seems to be nothing. Kosavars, for good or bad, are practicing limited sovereignty, potentially a viable solution to ethnic cleansing. Perhaps, not. The problem is that they are establishing a precedent and the world’s policeman is having no say in this. I don’t see why the Iraqis can’t say “Hey America, you let the Kosavars separate from the Serbs. You are inconsistent in getting angry at the Shia, Sunni, and Kurds when they try to do the same thing.” Granted there are differences between the two cases. In Iraq we invaded their country on pretexts that turned out to be false and destroyed their political and economic infrastructure with a voracious ferocity that any terrorist group would love. In Serbia Clinton managed to stop the ethnic cleansing with precise military missions. You might call Clinton’s intervention war, but then what term do you use to describe a conflict such as that thing that happened from 1940-1946 known in some circles as World War Two?

I don’t want to criticize the Iraq conflict in this post. What I want to talk about is what we need for meaningful change. We need to convince each person it is important to turn apathy off and compassion on. I have a perhaps misplaced faith in people. I believe when they truly understand how horrible the world is they will no longer be content with their cars, their TVs, and their other cheap Chinese toys that have been loaned them. They will work together to change this world in the little ways they can.

One popular apathetic response is that “it doesn’t matter, I’m just one person and what I do does not matter.” To this I would say yes and no. While it is true you are one person, you are also part of a larger society. Let me give an example of how powerful Americans can be when they work together. Consider this fact: “The United States, with less than 5 % of the global population, uses about a quarter of the world’s fossil fuel resources—burning up nearly 25 % of the coal, 26 % of the oil, and 27 % of the world’s natural gas.”(from accessed 7:22 AM April 3, 2008)

These impressive numbers did not come about because Americans are bad people, although they act like it a lot. It came about because in the fifties the government was able to convince everyone that owning a house and a car was the American dream. A house and a car are cool things, I have both, but if I didn’t have them would I be less of an American? The sad truth is that yes, I would. Public transportation outside of a few areas is quite poor and in the kind of inflation without growth we are experiencing, (some people call it stagflation) renting is an unattractive option. Through billions of advertising dollars we have become the largest consumers in the world. So here is the problem. Those billions of advertising have created the multi trillion dollar industries that are involved with energy, production, and housing. They would exist anyway, we are talking about hundreds if not thousands of major corporations, but our conspicuous consumption allows them to exist in their current bloated form. They have an incredibly powerful interest in maintaining the status quo. If we drop consumption of oil by 5% that would entail such catastrophic losses to shareholders and executives in oil distribution companies, that they will fight to the death to make sure those consumption numbers go higher. Question: what is an endeavourer that would require a lot of oil and that people feel uncomfortable, at least in the beginning, criticizing? That’s right boys and girls! WAR! It might spawn new terrorist cells, kill hundreds of thousands of innocent civilians and disrupt the lives of millions of others, but if you want to make sure to use a lot of oil, war is your man.

How do we stop this? We need our passion to overcome the immense power of money. This has never happened before in the history of the world. I think now might be a good time to start a new trend.

Wednesday, April 2, 2008

money makes the world go round

To solve the Bear Stearns issue we should find everyone in that investment bank with a salary over $100,000. Granted this is an arbitrary number, but this will be our deciding line of guilt. All those people are on some level guilty of the crime of sub-prime loans on mortgages. We should then take all these people and by virtue of the power of the United States government, force them all into bankruptcy. They lose all their assets. This is their punishment for ruining the lives of millions of Americans.

Sounds like patriotic justice to me. The Federal government then uses that money to bail out the mortgages that are close to foreclosure because it is not the fault of the homeowner that they can't pay a mortgage that they should never have been approved for. Why won't this happen? Because the high level employees, shareholders, and executives at places like Bear Stearns run the world. If we punish one of their own for being so greedy and so selfish that they need the government's help to bail them out, they will unleash their ungodly fury on us, and we will be turned to dust. For however ugly it may feel, money runs the world. These people may lack in a lot of respects, but money is not one of them.

Monday, March 31, 2008

a brave new world

First I want to thank Joe for his kind post. I’m not sure I deserve such high praise but it still inspires me. For one of my classes I constructed the bare bones of a new form of government. Despite my best intentions, it still has some glaring flaws. Here it is:

Winston Churchill once said, "Democracy is the worst form of all governments, except compared with all other forms of government." I am creating a new form of government with some of that thought in mind. Democracy is not the worst form of government, but we can do better. When I look at governments I see waste. I see bloated bureaucracies in democracies, totalitarian governments, authoritarian governments, and many other forms. I see the least waste in true monarchies. There are other aspects of a monarchy that are unappealing, but there is much less waste. With this observation, I want to craft a new government that remedies the problems of monarchies.

There are two moments in history that can help us understand some problems with monarchies. They are the French Revolution and the American Revolution. These two revolutions had some major differences, but their main motivations were similar, they didn’t like what the monarch and his administration were doing, and they didn’t feel like they had a meaningful way to express their dissent. Democracies were seen as remedies to this problem, but they create other problems. If the citizenry is educated and motivated then democracies can work. In countries such as present day America where the majority of citizens are undereducated and understandably apathetic, democracy does not work. America has the highest standard of living in the world. This should mean that her citizens have the most leisure time and the best chance to become politically knowledgeable. If her citizens are unprepared to be effective members of a democracy, how can we expect any other country to have democratically responsible citizens?

What America needs is a system that doesn’t have a wasteful bureaucracy but also that doesn’t require its citizens to care about government to have a successful government. What we need is a government that creates “super leaders.” These leaders will come of age when they reach the age of 40. People will put blind faith in these “super leaders” because they will be the best form that the flawed human can attain. They will make mistakes, but they will do a better job than anyone else. In this system we will not be led by “regular” people in leadership roles, we will be lead by “super” people in leadership roles.

Let me take a moment to explain how we will create these “super” leaders. There will be infant IQ testing throughout the country, and 10,000 four year olds will be assembled. The parents will be told that their children will go through a grueling and challenging program, and that the vast majority will fail. But the top five will lead their country to reach levels of peace and prosperity the likes of which have never been seen in the history of the world.
Before the age of fifteen the children will be taught the languages of the world, the histories of the world, and the thoughts of the world. When they turn fifteen they will be placed in a poor ghetto with the amount of money that a worker in a ghetto makes in a month, and nothing more. They will be observed by a surveillance team for their own safety and to make sure that they truly live in the ghetto. They will then work in the emergency room of a hospital for a year, they will be a teacher’s assistant in a poor school district, and they will go to a rich suburban high school for a year.

When they turn eighteen they will choose whether or not they want to go on, with the understanding that it will be much more intense, and some of them will not survive. They will travel the world, and live in other countries in the same variations in which they lived in America. When they turn thirty-nine they will serve one year of active combat duty in squads of five. If no one in the squad of five dies in the course of the year, unbeknownst to the participants, a sniper from the program will kill one of them. In this way they will know the true cost of war. Not many will finish the program, but more than five will. A committee will have a file on each participant; it will contain their entire life, except for their name to avoid destructive politicking. Based on how well the participants completed the various challenges, a group of five will emerge, they will create a minimal bureaucracy to oversee their decrees, but all decisions will rest solely with them. The one area of the country they have no control over will be the program that created them. It will be treated like a foreign embassy, and the chosen five shall have no jurisdiction over it. Also the chosen five’s offspring will not be eligible for the program.

The immediate concern with this system is how is the committee that chooses the leaders is created. Perhaps the citizens can elect them, although then we won’t be much better off than we were before. The whole issue is that politically motivated citizens are an endangered species. Perhaps the committee has to pass some sort of test themselves to avoid corruption, but the problem of authority is just pushed back one level; who will administer that testing? I can’t come up with a solution to the problem, but I do enjoy the theoretical exercise of imagining a better future. Perhaps someone else has a solution to the dilemma of removing politics from selecting the group of five. I would love to hear some comments.

Thursday, March 20, 2008

the media

I watched the documentary one Bright Shining Moment about George McGovern in 1972. It made me realize that the feelings I have now are not different from what the college generation was feeling 26 years ago. The next day I was reading the NYT and felt like writing them a letter. They didn't publish it so I'm going to publish it in cyberspace now.
Here it is:
Dear Editor,
I read the article "Obama in Senate: Star Power, Minor Role" by Kate
Zernike and Jeff Zeleny that appeared in the March 9th New York Times with
great interest. I was apprehensive of the critical start of the article,
which i detected by the choice of words such as "self-parody"
"ticked""exploited" and"naive"(a word used in a quote.) I am not trying to
say that Obama is perfect, I don't believe that word can apply to a single
human being on this planet. I am becoming increasingly aware of media
spin and I felt it through those words.
The article then became much more positive. It made an important
point, that political experience, the kind that HRC brags about, is
not necessarily that valuable in bringing about meaningful change.
What horrified me was the way the article ended. It ended with a
quote by Mr. Daschle which said that he might not get another chance
to run. Is that the way the greatest newspaper in the world is going
to end the most poignant political article it has published this year?
With a quote from a politician? Where is the voice of the
journalists? As I was reading this article I felt like the
journalists were forced to concede that Obama is a remarkable
politician. I was waiting for a HRC plug at the end. What the end
was, a bailout, was worse.
I will still read the New York Times, but for this 20 something
political idealist, I will never look up to it as a beacon of
liberalism. It might be the best newspaper in the world. In a world
as twisted as ours, that isn't saying much.
To those of you who were once like me, who once believed that change
might be possible, who at some level believed in the innate goodness
of others, I want you to take a hard look at yourselves. If your 20
year old self could see you, would they be able to reconcile what
they believe with the way you have lived your life? Would you be
able to convince them that being responsible and raising a family
justifies selling out a little? Would they understand that as you
get older its okay to be more cynical, to be more conservative?
Maybe you could convince your 20 year old self, but can you convince
yourself that you could?

Monday, March 10, 2008

history and canvassing

So I went up to Rhode Island and had a fantastic time canvassing. The other volunteers were all smart, motivated, nice people. They were nice enough to listen to me spout off on all of my political views. With a growing political interest I find myself becoming somewhat cynical, the more you learn about politics, the uglier the game appears. I am reminded of what a friend told me, that it is much easier to be a cynic than to find solutions. While I would not be so arrogant as to believe that I personally could come up with any meaningful solutions, I do feel that in participating in the Barack Obama campaign I am part of a solution.

I went canvassing for most of the day, and like any canvasser knows, must of the time people weren’t home and I just left fliers. I did meet one Obama supporter who said she liked him but that she was reticent about voting for him in the primary because she had heard he refuses to say the pledge of allegiance because he cant say the word “god.” I was shocked, not at the rumor, which is a small part of a vast media misinformation campaign that stretches back to the 60’s, but that a supporter of Obama would have just taken this at face value, that they would not have tried to investigate this claim. Any digging would show that Obama is in fact a Christian and not only will he say the word “god” but that also he actually has a profound personal faith.

I didn’t correct the woman, because I was only a volunteer and not an official spokesman for Obama, but I did urge her to do some research on her own and be careful of any outrageous comments like that, not just directed at Obama, but at HRC or even at McCain. I also helped another person who wanted to vote but didn’t know where her voting precinct was located.
I think that talking is the lifeblood of democracy, and I didn’t get to do much of it in my door-to-door activities. When I encountered HRC supporters, every last one of them was negative about Obama. They ranged from dismissive to outright hostile, but none of them were at all interested in why I was interested in Obama. Maybe it is presumptuous of me to expect people to engage in a dialogue. We should talk about why we can’t talk.

I don’t expect people to talk to me when I walk down the street, and I’m pretty sure they don’t feel that much different. This “fear of the other” stretches to politics. The conversations between supporters of various candidates are hardly ever constructive. I’m not an expert in constitutional law and I don’t know as much as I would like about the founding fathers, but I feel like meaningful political conversation was central to their creation of our new political system.

In my understanding of their views, they resented the fact that Britain didn’t respect them, that they couldn’t meaningfully have a political conversation with the motherland. England would listen to them when it was economically advantageous to her, but when the colonists chafed at the intolerable acts, which essentially prevented foreign trade, things started getting out of hand. Granted this is a glib interpretation of a much more complicated issue, but it is sill germane to our argument. Democracies are built with the idea that people with different views can get along peacefully and use their different perspectives to make a better world. A monarchy is where everyone thinks the same way, and the modern world decided that elevating the nobility and the king to godlike status wasn’t okay. The French had a revolution, the British parliament shifted its power slowly to the House of Commons, and other western European countries cast off the yolk of authoritarian regimes in other ways. I see us having an authoritarian democracy, where dissent is seen as unpatriotic and anti-American. Nonsense, dissent is the quintessential American act.

Based on my experiences, and the way I myself think, political dissent from one’s own views is not looked upon as a valuable contribution to political discourse. HRC people don’t like McCain people or Obama people, and the same can be said about McCain people. I am sure that some Obama people (myself for one) don’t like HRC and McCain, but that is not Obama’s message, he want to start talking with each other earnestly. In his books he talks about how sociable and interesting politicians are in person. I haven’t read all of what democrats write, but I don’t think there are many who would publicly say that Trent Lott tells a good story. Maybe Obama can’t legitimize dissent, but he’s trying to, and none of the other candidates can say that. If the founding fathers could get over the idea of a black man running for president, I posit that they would endorse him, because he has the best shot of bringing America back to the fantastic ideas of our founding fathers. Lets try out this democracy idea of theirs, in my humble opinion its got a lot of potential

cant we all just get along?

Reading Obama’s book he talks about how easily the media can spin any event. The media, left, center, and right, sets up a false polarizing battle between “intellectuals” and “anti-intellectuals.”

Let me construct an example for you. Who’s smarter, an east coast atheist who reads books all day and can talk about them, or someone on the bible belt who has profound faith in god because they realize in the grand scheme of things they are quite insignificant and they look to a higher power for meaning? From this example we can see that “smart” is an arbitrary and completely useless term. Coming from the east coast I feel compelled to defend this argument, especially our bible belt person, from potential attacks. One could say that by reading the east coast person is opened up to a whole new world of ideas. To this I would say true, but profound religious faith opens one up to a whole set of ideas as well. Type religion in on Google and you will get 324,000,000 hits. Type in academia and you will only get 32,600,000 hits. The Google measure might not be perfect, but the information superhighway has ten times more about religion than academia, that has to mean something.

Another argument someone might make is that it’s just stupid to believe in god, we don’t need him anymore, we have science. To this I would say you need to be more up to date on your science. Current scientific thinking is struggling to explain the origin of life and existence and struggling very hard. They have theories independent of the God explanation, but the improbability of these theories is so high, so many factors need to line up just so, that the most likely explanation for the creation of the universe right now, in 2008, is God. This doesn’t mean its right or wrong, this is a dialogue people much smarter than myself have been having for many years. From all their discussion and debate God, not necessarily the Judeo-Christian God, some think it might be more of a Platonian God, is the best answer to the difficult question of existence.

So the word “smart” is stupid. I want to replace it with the phrase “makes sense.” If you are lucky enough to live a life of privilege, which I was, then it “makes sense” to read books and get to use big words and play with ideas. If, like the majority of Americans, you didn’t get to live a life of privilege, if instead you were oppressed in some degree by our system that favors the wealthy, then it doesn’t “make sense” for you to read books and all that other jazz. You don’t have the time, you have to worry about surviving, about supporting your family, so much energy is spent fighting for a life that America is reluctant to give you, that you don’t have time for much else. It “makes sense” for someone not to pick up a book for a month if they’re working two jobs trying to support a family and have to live in constant fear that they might lose one or both of those jobs.

Once I meet the other 299,999,999 citizens of America then I have the right to generalize about the cognitive capacities of the rest of my country. Until then I’m going to be positive. I’m going to say Americans are like everybody else, they have their faults, but they’re good people just trying to get by in this crazy world. I can tell Texas, Ohio, Rhode Island, and Vermont what would be smart to do next Tuesday though, and that’s vote for Obama!

new slant

“We’re doing pretty well for ourselves, sure we have some problems, but hey, who doesn’t have them. I mean after all we’re just human.” An average American might say. To this I respond that while yes, we are human, America has some issues that were raised by the founding fathers that have never been resolved. Right now I want to set the tone for the conversation and flow of this blog.
I propose a minimal use of examples, I am more interested in discussing theory. Now examples are necessary, they need to be part of a conversation or there would be nothing but air, there does need to be structure, but I want to avoid uses examples as the crutch of an argument.
To prove how silly examples are here is an extreme example. Lets think about two people, each who have radically different views, the only thing they can agree on is that examples are the only significant way to form a point. They argue for days each finding examples to prove the other wrong, the other concedes his point because the example proved him wrong, then proposes a new point that disproves the point that just disproved his old point, again because of his of an example. Finally one of them cannot come up with another example and so concedes to the other that he was wrong. So in this world the definition of being right is being the most well read. Maybe that is the case, being well read is important, but what if one just reads a lot of garbage written by crazies, I don’t think that makes them right. Plus I’ve been in many political discussions where people start throwing out examples right and left, and I’m left with not being able to share my ideas. So lets use examples to embellish our arguments, but not as their founding principles.