Dr. Forbush Thinks

Look at the world through the eyes of Dr. Forbush. He leads you through politics, religion and science asking questions and attempting to answer them....

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Location: California, United States

Tuesday, October 31, 2006

The Polarization of America

Politics is confrontational by nature. However, an organized way to deal with this confrontation is the idea behind government.

The simplest form of government is a strongman that tells everyone to behave or else. The strongman decides what will be done and when. In this type of government the strongman tends to get what he wants and whoever pleases the strongman gets most of what they want. Others who do what they are told are promised what they want, but rarely see anything. Everyone else is punished. Most people can see the disadvantage of this type of government. The Strongman depends on his own strength, either political or physical to maintain his power. The people see no fairness in the system. But, this system is better than no system at all.

When the strongman felt weak in this system of government he invoked a religious leader to up the threat that God would hurt those who didn’t honor his rule. Likewise the religious leader was instructed to tell the people that God would reward those would honored the leader’s rule.

Not being stupid the religious leader obtained power in reward for this proclamation. This system evolved into the monarchy and rule by birthright that we are familiar with.

The break with this idea came when a non-royal wealthy class rose up to challenge this system. They demanded some rights mainly to prevent a King from taking all of their cash. And, the result was a wealthy class working with the King to determine what a country should do. Since the wealthy are a small minority of the citizens of the country we still have a minority ruling the country. However, the minority is still a bit larger than just the monarchy and religious leaders.

The problem, however, is that with more people leading there is more controversy among the leadership. As we give more power to more people these leaders make different decisions and country is less able to accomplish tasks. Calls from all sides of government beg for unity behind issues, but as the group of leaders increase in number so does the disunity.

The majority of the people, still remain outside the government. However, we have changed the way we put these leaders into power. We have determined that our leaders need to be determined by the will of larger class of people, those who are 18 and older and live in a specific region. In this way we have elected leaders that represent each of us. But our leaders can not represent what we want on every issue, because our leader would come down with multiple personality disorder. Instead each representative represents a personality that the majority of people agree with. In return we hope that the representative votes the way we see things often enough that we will vote for him again.

Hopefully you can recognize a pattern here. The more people that claim responsibility for governing, the more people there are to argue about the direction of the country. As we empower more people there is going to be more discord in the leaders govern the country. In a perfect world we would like to have harmony. We would like to hold hands and sing to the world and offer them a Coke. But we are individuals and we all have our own ideas about what we should do. Individualism is what made America what it is, so it only makes sense that there should be discord in our government as well.

Conflicts without leaders are just mayhem. But, when leaders take charge then the conflicts either become peaked or snuffed out. When two leaders collect roughly half the population under their wing in conflict we have a serious problem. Each side stokes the issues with rhetoric and sometimes lies. If one side is not annihilated, then the conflict will continue and escalate until one side gives up. People don’t tend to give up easily, so conflict will normally continue to escalate, increase and worsen. The two side will yell more and listen less. In general, half the population will continue to support their own side and hate the other side. People in the middle will be forced to choose sides and the hatred will continue to rise, until one side is destroyed, or gives up.

In America today we continue to move in this direction. And, we will continue to move further from each other until one side is annihilated, or gives up. But, actually there is a third way. The third way is compromise. The two groups agree to disagree with each other and they agree to work together. This is the only win-win situation.

The problem is that the third way requires leaders to work together. The leaders need to agree to disagree. The leaders need to realize that working together will actually benefit the country, even if it does not benefit their political party. But the third way requires that both sides agree to disagree and solve the problems that plague our country.

Think about it for a second and the conclusion is inevitable. Polarization is not productive. Work together for America’s sake.


Don't forget what Stephen Colbert said, "Reality has a well-known liberal bias."

Cross Posted @ Bring It On, tblog, Blogger and BlogSpirit

Monday, October 30, 2006

Predicting the Future

I am currently reading a book on the Future of America. I was wondering how things were going to turn out, so I grabbed the following book from the library. It is called, “Generations: the history of America's future, 1584-2069” by William Strauss and Neil Howe.

This book is quite interesting, because it was written 15 years ago and we can see how well it got these 15 years. But, the point of the book isn’t the exact events of the future, but instead the personalities of the generations that have come since the founding of the American colonies and will come over the next 50-some years.

If you have any doubt about the ability to predict the future please refer to my piece on “Free Will.”

In this piece I show how people tend to do the same thing every day. In principle most people follow routines and when something happens to them they react in predictable ways. People rarely if ever exercise their free will by choosing to do something different or out of the ordinary. If we have a large group of people that are doing things in predictable ways, then it shouldn’t surprise us that we should be able to predict how history might unfold in a predictable way.

Well, exact events on exact dates might be impossible to predict, but more generalized things might be predictable. For example the personality of a generation is predictable. And, this book seems to be able to do just that, predict the personality of the coming generations. One way to describe different generations might be to talk about their upbringing as children first. This book tells us that children in America have actually been brought up in four different ways over the last four hundred years in America. Some children were brought up “protected,” others were brought up “coddled,” others were brought up “disciplined” and the final group was brought up “ignored.” There is actually a fixed pattern of disciplined youth, coddled youth, ignored youth, protected youth, and then disciplined youth again. The cycle lasts about 88 year or about four 22 year generations.

These four different ways in which children are treated actually effects the way in which parents bring up the next generation. And, the way children are brought up results in the way each generation sees itself and the other age groups. These factors result in the way in which each group lives its life. For example, the baby boom generation was actually brought up by parents expecting the children to know discipline but they were coddled from the extremes of discipline. This coddling actually caused these children to be introspective and the result was an outpouring of self-reflection, but this also resulted in the ignoring of the next generation of children. These children were left largely to fend for themselves and learn to deal with the dangers of life very early. This generation actually felt the worst dangers of the drug culture. The baby boomers used drugs in a curious way to further their self-discovery, but the next generation used drugs to escape the lack of caring in their young lives. The boomers realized that drugs were a faulty path and then they criticized the next generation for being stupid and using drugs. Well, the next generation that knows the dangers of the world worries about these dangers and they react by protecting their children and sure enough the current generation of children are protected. This protection continues until the next generation that is disciplined in an effort to force their children to be rational, after seeing the results of their irrational elders. The cycle continues when these disciplined children that coddle their children in an effort to protect them from the discipline they had been subjected to as youths.

The interesting thing is that this cycle continues to this day 15 years after the book was written. The current generation of children have been kept inside away from the dangers of the world around them. They sit playing video games or trying to work on the Internet, if their protective parents allow them to. But, this isn’t the extent of the prediction of the future. It turns out that the 1960s and early 1970s was actually a spiritual awakening that repeats itself every 88 years or so. The dates are not exact, but they are certainly close. This is because every fourth generation groups of introspective youth grow up and realize that their elders don’t know all that there is about life. In general these elders have maximized their externally oriented civic-minded personality to leave spiritual ideas to the wayside. But, the spiritual mind of this boomer generation rebel’s against these ignorant elders. These rebellions repeat every 88 years or so beginning with the Puritans. But, this next spiritual awaken isn’t due until 2055 or so, when everyone has mostly forgotten the 1960s. The event that is the antithesis of this awakening is a crisis. This crisis event is most likely a war, but it could be an economic depression. The point of the crisis is to demonstrate to the coming generation that working together pays off. The Great Depression and World War II was an enormous crisis that taught a generation that working together works. Since a crisis could happen at any time, the idea is more likely created by the elder generation in response to some spiritual awaken awareness. The crisis of the Revolutionary War was created this way, as was the Civil War. It could be argued that if another generation was in control with another personality then World War II might have been left to the Europeans, as it wasn’t really our problem.

Based on what I know the War on Terror might culminate into some crisis. It makes sense, because the current rulers are creating this crisis by the way they have chosen to handle the problem. This is due to the spiritual awakening personality of the generation. It has bred a deep-seated idea of black and white, right and wrong that the majority of this generation has accepted. This black and white idealism was alive during the Revolutionary War and the Civil War and the Great Depression/WWII. And we should expect a crisis in the next few years of this order of magnitude. Unfortunately it looks like we will continue on this cycle for some time, until some of us claims to exercise his free will and break this chain of repetition.


Don't forget what Stephen Colbert said, "Reality has a well-known liberal bias."

Cross Posted @ Bring It On, tblog, Blogger and BlogSpirit

What Do You Want From Life?

In 1975 “The Tubes” recorded a song “What Do You Want From Life?” for their first album. The song was simple minded, but it also made the point that what people commonly strive for seems ridicules when viewed from a different perspective. What Do You Want From Life? Now stand back and look at the world around you. Are the people around you trying to get what you want from life? Look at the people making money and spending it on crazy things that no one needs. No, people act on impulses and spend their money on what the advertisers tell them to buy. Should we listen to the mass marketing message and respond by buying their products? Or, should we actively resist what they sell?

The point is that most people want one thing out of life, but their actions continue to lead them another way down another road. For example, most people really honestly want to have a long healthy life where they can participate in their children’s lives, even their grand children’s lives and perhaps their great grand children’s lives. And, most people know that eating healthy and exercising will result in a longer and healthier life. But, when we look around we see that America has become a fat culture of fat people eating unhealthy food wasting time watching hours of TV. (Or, wasting time blogging on the web.) Clearly a large number of people want one thing and they work in the exactly opposite direction with their actions.

If you don’t take the time to sit down and make a list of the things that you want, then you won’t be able to accomplish what you want. You can change your goals as you go along. But, if you do change plans you may change your goals again and again until the day you are on your deathbed and you realize that you will never accomplish your goal.


Don't forget what Stephen Colbert said, "Reality has a well-known liberal bias."

Cross Posted @ Bring It On, tblog, Blogger and BlogSpirit

Friday, October 27, 2006

Republican Dreams

We are currently living in a Republican Dream. Any political party drools at the thought of controlling the entire government. There are no obstacles preventing the Republicans from completing any item on the Republican Party agenda. Republicans have controlled the House of Representatives since 1994 when Newt Gingrich lead the take over of the House by taking out his contract on America. If it wasn’t for his moral and ethical failures he might still be in the House marching down his list of objectives.

At first the Republicans could claim that Democrats were getting in the way of getting the job done. They could claim that the President could veto anything they tried to pass. Instead they thought that investigating the president was a much better issue to pursue. They did shut down the federal government in order to prove that they could cut federal programs, before they restored funding these programs. In their efforts to show the country what Republicans stood for they reformed welfare, by forcing single mothers to find a job and put their kids into day care that they couldn’t afford. But, of course they couldn’t get everything on their list accomplished because the Democrats stood in the way of their most radical ideas.

In 2000 the Republicans took over the Presidency and they controlled the US Senate. They controlled two branches of government, so they could do what they wanted unencumbered. And, in 2000 the priorities of the Republican controlled government was to cut funding to departments that were not needed and to increase funding to departments that were needed. The Star Wars missile defense program was a top priority. Terrorism, was relegated to a lower priority. Retaliation for the bombing of the USS Cole was not taken. George W Bush told us that we were not the world’s policeman. During the election George W Bush told us that he was a compassionate conservative, but his only action on this was to create a White House office on faith-based initiatives, with the promise of funding organizations with 8 billion dollars per year. With the Republicans in total control of government they failed to fund this office with anywhere near the 8 billion promised by a factor of about 100. Actions speak louder than words, and the lack of action to back up the words proves where the Republican leaders actually stand on this issue. The truth is that Republican leaders lied to buy the Christian religious vote. They promised 8 billion dollars for religious programs and they delivered 80 million dollars, which basically went to the loudest religious leaders in an effort to keep their support. The religious voters were deceived -- plain and simple.

If we remember back to 2001 the Senate was tied 50 Democrats and 50 Republicans with Dick Cheney there to break any tie. But, when Jim Jeffords, a Republican from Vermont dropped his Republican Party affiliation in May of 2001 the Democrats held a check on the Republicans, and prevented them from accomplishing the Republican agenda. This status was short lived, because on September 11, 2001 the world changed. The Senate followed the lead of the American people and anything suggested by the Republican leadership was quickly passed into law without any questions asked. It was assumed that the Republicans in control would only act in the interest of the American people. Unfortunately, five years later we know that isn’t the case.

We no longer need to speculate on what the Republicans would do if they managed to take control of our government. They have control. We see the government that they put together and we see the results of their actions. We can see how the executive branch has used the appointment of people to reward them for their political work rather than their expertise in a specific area. The Republicans have placed experts in getting people to make things look like they work on the surface regardless of how they actually work. So, we should expect a fiasco like the response to Hurricane Katrina last year. Of course, FEMA isn’t the only agency that does this, they are the agency that got caught holding the goods.

But, we need to remember that we are living in the Republican dream come true. What we see here is what the Republican Party has hoped and prayed for over the last several decades of Democratic control. They have prayed that they could destroy what the Democrats have built over the years. They want to destroy Social Security. They want to destroy government aid to the poor in all its forms. They want to destroy the infrastructure of our country. But they want to do it slowly so no one will notice and blame them when things don’t work. They want the inefficient ineffective FEMA, but they don’t want to take the blame for it. They want to cut funding without actually cutting the programs themselves. In this way the government programs starve to death, so they can be pruned at a later date. At some future time the Republicans can make the argument, “This program isn’t functioning, so it needs to be cut.” It doesn’t matter that FEMA worked under President Bill Clinton, but it was sabotaged under the Republican leadership. The argument isn’t that the Republican congress and the Republican President destroyed FEMA. Instead the argument has been distorted to say that the local government didn’t do their job. Obviously it is more distortion from the professional politicians that warp the way they want things to be seen.

But, we must learn to realize that we are living in the Republican dream. Republicans have been credited with being strong on National Security. They might be strong, as in they believe that military force is the answer to every question, but they have been weak on diplomacy. They have demanded that North Korea only talk to us through six party talks. They have continued to cut off diplomatic relations with Iran, at this critical time when they may be about to develop a nuclear weapon. We didn’t cut off diplomatic relations with the Soviet Union because they had nuclear weapons. Maybe Iran believes that the only way to get our attention is to detonate a nuclear device? Maybe North Korea believes that selling nuclear weapons and missiles to terrorists is the only way to get enough money to feed their starving people, or keep themselves living in luxury. We can’t know, because we aren’t even talking to these people. We were wrong about Iraq, so I wouldn’t place too much in our ability to read the minds of those we are in confrontation with.

But, this is the power that the Republicans have dreamed. Some of these people believed that Vietnam was lost because the Democrats made us lose that war. The liberals made the media report that we were losing, and the liberals in congress made us lose. So, the Republicans are confident that they can start a war in Iraq and win that war, because they learned the lessons from Vietnam. They know that we didn’t kill enough of enemy. We gave up when we should have plowed ahead and killed more people. That’s how we lost in Vietnam, and that shows us how to win in Iraq. But, we wasted too much money in Vietnam and we wasted too many soldiers in Vietnam. So, we are going to do Iraq better by putting less soldiers there and we are going to spend less money there. In this way we can give tax breaks to the wealthy and show the liberals how to win a war. This will work, because this is a Republican dream.

Unfortunately, the non-Republicans are waking up and finding out that this is not a Republican dream, but a nightmare for the rest of us. We are learning that tax cuts for the wealthy might be a Republican dream, but the money has to come from somewhere. We can't spend hundreds of billions of dollars on a war and expect not to pay the price. Instead of paying for this war up front we are borrowing the money and paying for it on time with interest. Our children are going to be paying on this debt as well. And, we are continuing to through good money after bad. This is certainly a nightmare for the rest of us.

We are destroying the infrastructure of our government a little at a time. And, when we turn and ask our government for help in a time of crisis those agencies will no longer be able to function, just like in the response to Hurricane Katrina. Most of us are still paying the same taxes on what we earn, but we are getting less for those taxes. This is because the wealthy are paying less on the stock dividends. But, our nightmare will get worse as the Republicans continue to cut funding to government programs and show that they can’t function without money. If you don’t have millions of dollars in stock, then you won’t have enough income to retire on as the Republicans gradually destroy Social Security. Or, if they succeed in having Social Security funds transferred into the stock market this new money will artificially inflate stock prices and the wealthy stock owners with their money already in the market will sell their overvalued stock and buy bonds or real estate sucking the real value from those who are too naïve about the supply and demand prices of the market. Then as the wealthy remove their wealth the market will come to more reasonable values and some of those late comers will sell their stock at lower prices, locking in their losses because they fear that the market will fall further. In other words, the middle class newcomers will once again be victimized by the wealthy. And the nightmare will continue.

In the end the only way to stop the prolonged nightmare is to vote the Republicans out of office. Next week will be the next chance to end this nightmare. If it doesn’t end, then we will need to wait until 2008 and the nightmare will only get worse.


Don't forget what Stephen Colbert said, "Reality has a well-known liberal bias."

Cross Posted @ Bring It On, tblog, Blogger and BlogSpirit

Thursday, October 26, 2006

The Long Tail

Yesterday I listened to a talk given by Chris Anderson, the author of the book, “The Long Tail.” He also has a blog over @ The Long Tail.

The idea behind his book is quite simple, yet it is also quite eye opening. Basically Chris tells us that all markets can be described as a power curve. OK, the mathematicians out there know what I’m talking about, but the rest of you are lost. So, imagine a piece of graph paper with an x and a y axis. The x-axis runs across the bottom of the graph and it describes items of different types arranged in order of popularity. The items to the left are the most popular and the items to the right are the least popular. Now, imagine the y-axis representing sales of those items. Obviously the most popular items sells the most and it will be plotted as the highest on the y-axis. So, now if you plot the points on the graph you should find that all the items lie on a curve that has a very long tail to the right.

If you are still following me, then I can assume that the math I’ve already described wasn’t to complicated so I’ll go on assuming that it isn’t.

The point that Chris makes is that in the last century mass marketing has concentrated on the few items to the left hand side of the graph and it has ignored the items to the right hand side of the graph, even though 80% of the potential market is ignored while 20% of the market is pushed with unrelenting marketing and advertising. This brings up many questions, including: “why is so much marketing money wasted on pushing items that are already popular?” It obviously has to do with what is desired by the business side of the equation, rather than what is desired for the customer side of the equation. The market shape described by Chris is not just hypothetical, it has been observed by the sales of music. The thousands of titles that are now available on line represent a market that is unencumbered by distribution of rare titles. And what is observed is a power curve with a very long tail.

One can imagine that the sales of 1000 individual rare one of type songs costs the same as selling 1000 copies of the most popular title. In the “old days” before the Internet, however it would have been difficult to know where to ship a single copy of some rare song so that the person who wants it would be able to find it on the self of the record store that he frequented. So, the idea of matching a person to a rare infrequently desired item is much easier.

Although music was the example that Chris used, this idea applies to all markets. Amazon.com showed us this with books, and E-Bay shows us this with the diversity of matching even rarer more random types of items. This long tail is the future and many new companies know this and they are acting on their own ideas related to targeting this long tail.

The key to using this information is the method needed to match the people to the items in the long tail. If we think of a plot of “all items transacted” we would start with the most popular item that is bought and sold. I have no idea what it is, but surely someone does. Maybe it is waste. Out in the tail there are cupcakes and coffeecakes sold once a year at the school Christmas fundraiser. Even further out there are even rarer transactions. If someone wants to make money out on the tail there needs to be a way to collect the things together in some way so that one can sell a lot of these rare items. For example, someone could start a business that specializes in selling home baked goods. They could collect a large number of potential bakers together online and they would submit web pages describing their food. The potential business would be a way to match all of these potential bakers with those that appreciate home baked food shipped overnight by FedEx or some other overnight shipping company.

Imagine the problems solved by the collection of all of these potential bakers. A person is not limited to one person or another person, but they could select from thousands of potential dishes or deserts. The person who cooks the meal no longer needs to advertise or search for business. Instead they rely on getting a hit on their item advertised at a place where people who are looking for food are shopping. Assuming that the business creator works out the shipping problem, then this model could offer unlimited diversity of food to a potential customer. Of course this model might not work for all food from anywhere around the world, but it is true that it increases the diversity available to the people that it can reach.

Now, this curve is not static. Items become popular and they become less desirable. This happens for various reasons. Some items just might be better than all other similar items. Word of mouth spreads this information, and the best item is sought by the majority of those looking for that type of item. Another way that an item becomes popular is by forced marketing where an item is advertised so much that people are unaware of any similar items in the market. People who need that type of item will select the only item they believe to be available fitting the desired class.

The point here is that there will be a large number of new potential business opportunities that are available looking for people to start new businesses. The idea is to create new ways to get diverse goods aggregated into groups that people will be able to search for particular rare items. There might be an opportunity for an online model train scenery supplier that collects artists together that will produce specialized pieces on demand. Or, it might be political blogs that aggregate all of the best writing on particular ideologically specific areas. Oh, I guess that’s been done already. Well, there are still phrenology and numerology aggregates that don’t exist yet.



Don't forget what Stephen Colbert said, "Reality has a well-known liberal bias."

Cross Posted @ Bring It On, tblog, Blogger and BlogSpirit

Wednesday, October 25, 2006

What Can Calm The Fears Stoked By The Right?

Here’s a quickie.

Over at The American Spectator Quin Hillyer has written a piece worth reading.

Quin thinks he knows how people on the right are thinking. It might just be speculation, or maybe he has a sensitive finger to the political winds. I don’t know if he draws the correct conclusions, but it seems to me that he might have his finger on the stream of consciousness guy out there think of what to do on election day. If that’s the case, what do Democrats who want to take control of congress tell this average right leaning guy to calm his fears?

The right has built such an edifice of lies portraying the demonic left as seeking to rob you blind and kill your first born for some tribute to the secular gods of socialism. Obviously this is nonsense, but what can be said to calm the fears that the right has been spreading for years?


Don't forget what Stephen Colbert said, "Reality has a well-known liberal bias."

Cross Posted @ Bring It On, tblog, Blogger and BlogSpirit

Free Will

As a physicist I look at nature through the eyes of a scientist. Looking at the galaxies, stars, planets and moons they all have one thing in common. They all behave in one predictable way mainly based on the physics that we understand. They all follow the laws of physics and the motions of these objects can be predicted millions of years into the future, or at least thousands. The Universe is simplified when we think of the motion of the planets, the burning of stars, and even the birth of black holes. Some details are still sought, but these details will most certainly fit into the big picture of the Universe. The point is that we know the basic forces on a mass in the universe then we can predict where it will be in the future and how it will be moving.

Similarly, on the microscopic and subatomic scales we can also predict what will happen to molecules, atoms and particles as they travel through space. And, we can look at biological organisms and at least on a statistical level we can predict what plants and animals will do under certain conditions. We can predict an enormous number of ways in which organisms will react to external stimuli.

Being animals ourselves we also react to certain external stimuli in very predictable ways. For example, if you put food in a room full of hungry teenagers we can certainly predict that the teenagers will eat it. As humans, we know that we have free will. We know that we can choose to do or not do what we want when we want to do it. We know that this “free will” exists, but we also know that we put ourselves on autopilot as well. We wake up in the morning when the alarm goes off, and we do pretty much the same thing each morning. This is our routine and we follow it. If something happens out of the ordinary we react to it, and most often we react to it in a predictable way. Often we react in selfish ways that we view as best for our personal self interest. We also react in predictable ways to protect our family and friends or help them when we see that they are in need. When someone hurts us, we react in predictable ways where we shun the person, verbally abuse the person, or even violently attack the person. These are natural reactions to real problems and these reactions themselves can lead to real problems.

If we didn’t have free will we would react in predictable ways to problems we perceived. Life could certainly exist and our life would play out in a very predictable although perhaps very complicated way. The only thing that we have that can break this predictable and perhaps tragic cascade of events is free will. And, Jesus told us how we could use our free will to break this endless cascade of disharmony. He told us that when someone strikes us we should turn the other cheek. Nature would have us retaliate in some way when we are struck by someone. But retaliation is not the only choice. And Jesus made this succinct often quoted verse a profound statement of Christianity.

Christianity does not begin and end with Jesus’ simple statement on conflict resolution. There are other choices that we all make based on our free will to do something other than the natural reaction. We may choose to help someone in need. We may choose to read the Bible. We may choose to fight for what is right. And we may choose to follow Jesus. All of these choices may be counter to our natural inclination and therefore require us to use our free will.

Let’s think about this for a second. How does this work?

Consider how we live our lives. Most of the things we do are routines. We get up in the morning and do the same routine on school or work days. We finish one routine, and we start the next routine. We encounter problems and we solve the problems with routines that we call on them as they are needed. Some routines may involve learning new things, listening to others and making decisions. Most of the time we deal with particular types of situations in particular ways. With all of this routine in our lives, when do we actually exercise our free will? It comes down to very few actual times, mainly when we change between routines, or when we change the routines themselves.

For example, one routine might be, come home, make dinner, clean up the kitchen, do homework, watch TV, then go to bed. Each piece of this routine involves other routines - like making dinner requires following a recipe, or recalling an easy to make meal. There may be a list of meals that you generally choose from. Day after day you may follow this routine, or some other similar routine. One day instead of watching TV you may decide to read the paper. When you exercise this change in routine then you are exercising free will. Similarly, you may decide to pick another meal to eat that isn’t among the meals you generally choose. Sometimes exercising free will is a “good” thing, and sometimes exercising free will is a “bad” thing. Free will itself is neither good nor bad it is what you decide to do that makes free will good or bad or even neutral. Routines that we have chosen at an earlier time may be “good,” “bad” or “neutral.” So, we may decide to use our free will to make our lives better. We may also choose to use our free will to hurt others or do things that will in the end make our lives worse.

Even though most of the time we choose to run on autopilot and perform routines that we have determined that we enjoy we also need to realize that opportunities to use our free will occur all the time. I the middle of a routine shopping trip we may meet a friend, acquaintance or foe. We may pull out the old routine and behave the way we normally do, or we may choose to use our free will to change the course of events.

Last week I performed an experiment. I split a room of teenagers into two groups. The two groups became teams and competed against each other. The winning team was rewarded with a pizza. I was careful to provide enough pizza to feed everyone in the room one piece each. The winning team however was rewarded with the entire pizza. My son, daughter and wife all correctly predicted that the winning team would eat the pizza themselves and fail to even think of offering any or the remaining pieces to rest of the room. This is an automatic reaction. This is how people react to their environment and the situation that they are put in. There was nothing wrong with their personal choice from our cultural point of view. But, the team missed an opportunity to break from the natural progression of events and offer to share their winnings.

As Christians however Jesus asks us to choose to use our “free will.” We need to decide to break with nature. We have the free will, but we must choose to act, instead of react to the things in our world. The use of free will to change our routines could help us in many ways. We could loose weight, exercise and get physically healthy. We could put down the video game, read a book, and get mentally healthy. And, we could look around us to take the opportunity to share what we have, make our local world a little bit better and get spiritually healthy.


Don't forget what Stephen Colbert said, "Reality has a well-known liberal bias."

Cross Posted @ Bring It On, tblog, Blogger and BlogSpirit


Tuesday, October 24, 2006


George W Bush has a problem. It isn’t anything that he has done, because he never does anything wrong, or make any mistakes. Except for his speech. He has always been ridiculed for his lack of mastery of the English language. And, whether you realize it or not, George W Bush has used this lack of skills to his advantage.

George W Bush has a problem, and it isn’t what he has done, but what he has failed to do. He has failed to properly convey his vision to us. Things are going exactly as planned in Iraq, but George W Bush is no longer going to “stay the course.” It isn’t that he isn’t going to “stay the course,” but he is not going to say that any more. This is because “Staying the course” is a good thing to do, but it isn’t the way he wants to say. Instead, he is telling us that he is “going to get it done.” This is the same thing as “staying the course,” but it’s just saying the same thing with different words. It means the same thing, but it says the same thing in a different way. Or, perhaps he is doing something different and saying something different and hoping that we don’t notice too much.

George W Bush and his press secretary are both telling us that they aren’t doing anything different. They are, however, changing the way they are saying what they are doing. So, are they or are they not doing something different? Well, he is hoping that the Republican congressmen think that he is doing something different. They are loosing in the polls and they might loose one of the houses of congress. They want to be able to tell the voters that they are going to do something different. But, George W Bush has made a big deal out of not changing even when all odds are against him. What else can he do but walk the tight rope by not admitting to doing anything different, but changing the way he talks about doing what he has been doing. Later his action will fall into line with what he was saying and abracadabra George W Bush magically changes course by “staying the course.”

This isn’t the first time the administration has done this. In fact, their entire six years in office is riddled with these changes in vocabulary. Does anyone remember “compassionate conservatism?” This whole idea was based on having religious organizations distribute eight billion dollars a year to the poor and disadvantaged. Well, the idea got many religious people on board and could have been instrumental in getting just the right number of votes in Florida to put him over the top. But, shortly after the creation of this new bureaucratic department the Bush administration ignored the department. The money never came, and those religious groups were left out in the cold. Of course a small number of groups received a small amount of money, but that was measured to be just enough to keep these religious leaders on board until the 2004 elections. And, the creative text - “compassionate conservative” was dropped from the Republican vocabulary.

So, when we look at Iraq and the mess that George W Bush has created for himself we need to listen carefully to the words that are used to describe the debacle there. It isn’t a Quagmire, but the current situation in Baghdad could be compared to the Tet Offensive. Personally I am surprised that he doesn’t compare it to the storming of the Beaches at Normandy. We can compare some things in Iraq to some things in Vietnam, but certainly not “bad” things. Unless the “bad” things show the Bush administration in a positive light. But, the vocabulary used is more complex than just mere comparison.

If anyone was breathing at the time of the Iraq invasion we all know that George W Bush told us that this was going to be a long road. In fact, besides telling us that we were going to stay the course he also told us that there would be no timetable or schedule for when we will be going home. We all know that the Iraqi government could have us leave at any time, but we would stay as long as they wanted us there. So, now we have an Iraqi government that would rather not take responsibility. They would like us to stay until the violence goes away. We don’t have any means to put any pressure on them, because we pledged to stay as long as they want us there. So, why would they want to take up the tough fight if we are doing it for them? The answer is that they want us to stay and there is nothing we can do about it, except change the vocabulary.

So, George W Bush will not even mention the words “deadlines,” “ultimatums,” “timetables,” or “schedules.” Instead George W Bush talks about “milestones” and “benchmarks.” These subtle distinctions in language don’t seem to match the image of an American President that stumbles over every other sentence and barely understands what he is reading himself. And, this is where the truth becomes apparent. George W Bush has used his inability to move his tongue to created the image of a person who can’t string two sentences together. Based on this illusion he has been able to forward his message cloaked in lies and inaccuracy and blame the problematic language on his lack of mastery of the language.

So, when George W Bush uses the subtle language of being willing to change “tactics,” but not being willing to change “strategy” we should realize the this is a “political tactic” that is part of a “political strategy.” The “strategy” is to maintain political power at any cost, and he is unwilling to change it.


Don't forget what Stephen Colbert said, "Reality has a well-known liberal bias."

Cross Posted @ Bring It On, tblog, Blogger and BlogSpirit

Monday, October 23, 2006

Prayer Wars

My wife and I are skeptical. We may not be skeptical about the same things in the same ways, but we certainly have a skeptical outlook on most things. We would both certainly fit in well in Missouri, “The Show Me State.” Questioning what we have been told comes natural, and being a member of any religious faith is difficult in some degree. This difficulty is only in the fact that neither of us completely agrees with any particular religion, so we are certainly being hypocritical in some aspects when we worship, because we don’t take everything that we are told hook line and sinker.

In my opinion and in the true nature of the skeptic I believe that religion has no certain answers, because almost nothing in religion can be proven. And, of course since religious principles are taken on faith instead of observation there is a wide range of what is acceptable religious reasoning. I tend to believe in my own personal understanding of religion, that is ever changing as I learn more about both religions and nature. I am happy with my religious belief and understanding and I have no problem with any disagreement between my own personal religious revelation and what any other religion preaches. My wife has her own personal religious beliefs and understanding which may not agree with my own, but she also has no problem that we disagree and together we disagree with some aspects of other religions. For us these are personal issues.

As I have written before, every religion that exists is guaranteed to have some aspect of that religion in error with reality. It is can be assured that since most every religion disagrees with every other religion on some issues, or else the two religions would simply be one religion and all religions that claimed to be “right” must somehow reconcile their “right” faiths together as “The One True Faith.” Therefore, the probability that any one true faith exists is exceedingly small. And therefore whatever faith one has chosen to worship with is most likely to have errors in its teachings. If there is any possible doubt in this one only needs to recall some of the more famous quotes of Pat Robertson saying "Maybe we need a very small nuke thrown off on Foggy Bottom to shake things up" talking about nuking the State Department. Or, Jerry Falwell saying, “The argument that making contraceptives available to young people would prevent teen pregnancies is ridiculous. That's like offering a cookbook as a cure to people who are trying to lose weight.” So, a personal search for truth, which is also likely to have errors as well, is not likely to be any better than any other religion. At least when one chooses to follow Christ’s teaching without being told what they mean one is free to keep what Jesus said in the forefront. If we have an issue we can be reassured to remember the most important commandment, “Love God above all others and love your neighbor as yourself.”

My wife and I are not shy about sharing our disagreements about religion with each other. And, we are not shy about sharing our view of the issues with any religion with others that are willing to listen. As my readers have witnessed, I have shared my heretical views freely here on the web. And, I have shared my views within “faith groups” and the random “Jehovah Witness” or “Mormon Missionary” on the street. And as happens most often, the people I talk to will disagree with me. And, at the end of the conversation when the person becomes frustrated and doesn’t know what else to say they tell me that they will pray for me. And, I always respond that I’ll pray for them too.

But, what is the point of having a person that disagrees with my views praying for me. It seems to me that they are trying to use some type of subtext in this discussion. Do they believe that since I don’t agree with them then I must need their prayers until I believe what they tell me? Should I agree with everyone that comes to my door or I meet in the parking lot, then I wouldn’t have anyone praying for me? My wife tells me that she has this same problem with people from our own church.

So, lets use the “God as an old man sitting on a cloud watching over us and listening to our prayers” metaphor for a second. One can imagine God sitting up on a cloud hearing a Mormon praying, “Please let Dr. Forbush realize that he is wrong and let him accept the Mormon faith as the one true faith as we all know that it is.” And, one can imagine God sitting up on a cloud hearing a Jehovah Witness praying, “Please let Dr. Forbush realize that he is wrong and let him accept the Jehovah Witness faith as the one true faith as we all know that it is.” And, one can imagine God sitting up on a cloud hearing a Baptist praying, “Please let Dr. Forbush realize that he is wrong and let him accept the Baptist faith as the one true faith as we all know that it is.” And, one can imagine God sitting up on a cloud hearing a Roman Catholic praying, “Please let Dr. Forbush realize that he is wrong and let him accept the Roman Catholic faith as the one true faith as we all know that it is.” I think you get the idea.

Is God really sitting up in Heaven listening to all this and taking any action?

It seems to me that if any of these true believers are actually praying these prayers they are praying out of their own personal guilt or maybe something deeper. God certainly would not like the sound of all this discord. This type of shouting and yelling about who is right and who is wrong is the type of arguing that must happen before a “religious war” breaks out. Each side of the conflict prays that the side of “right” will win out over the side of “wrong.” They are praying that the other side will change their minds and come to their senses. But, it is also true that each side is also praying that their own side will not change their minds, because they know that they are right. How can any rational human being step back and look at these two groups at war with each other over religion and not see the tragic irony in this. Similarly, but only slightly less tragic is the effort that people take to try to convince someone that their own faith is the flawless truth.

It seems obvious to me that the only true way forward is to listen to one another and begin to agree with one another that there is not one true faith that is “right.” This faith does not exist. Instead, there are aspects of all religions that are helpful in ones personal spiritual growth. Each person is different and each person requires different types of spiritual needs. Different religions offer different spiritual tools to meet these different spiritual needs. But, the only way that one can make progress is for each person to learn as much as they can and take personal responsibility for their own spiritual growth.

God’s grace and good luck on your spiritual journey!


Don't forget what Stephen Colbert said, "Reality has a well-known liberal bias."

Cross Posted @ Bring It On, tblog, Blogger and BlogSpirit

Friday, October 20, 2006

Violence Begets Violence

The general idea behind war is that might makes right. The army with the most force uses its force to change the minds of those they oppose. But somewhere nestled in this “might makes right” mentality is the argument that tells us that if we are doing the right thing, then we will win the war. We never ask the question, “what if our enemy is doing the right thing?” They are our enemy because they are doing the wrong thing, by default. We wouldn’t be in a war against someone who is doing the right thing. We never ask the question, “why is the enemy so persistent in doing the wrong thing?”

What we never seem to learn is that war is not always about good vs. evil. We never seem to learn that might does not always make good prevail over evil. We never seem to be able to understand what the enemy is think, and why do they believe that they are right. We never seem to learn the lessons from everything that we know about human nature and war.

Unfortunately, war has acquired a romantic illusion of justification necessary to right the wrongs of the world. The reality, on the other hand, war costs money, and human life so anyone who makes war needs to weigh the result sought with the costs. And, even though leaders will claim that they have weighed these things, the romantic illusion of war always wins out. The vision of victory over the axis of evil outweighs that number of dead and the expenditure of national treasure. In the end, emotions triumph over logic, and we all loose.

It had been estimated that 60,000 Iraqis have been killed since the US invaded Iraq. However, a new study was published recently that took a much more detailed look by interviewing Iraqis throughout Iraq and this study has claimed that over 650,000 Iraqis have died as result of the US invasion of Iraq. It is easy to imagine that journalists that did not have access to the entire country might miss a few people. When one lives in a place like Baghdad it might be easy to assume that most of the violence is happening around you. Even though these two numbers differ by an order of magnitude, does 60,000 dead justify the war while 650,000 dead does not? Every one of those Iraqi lives was precious. If we are the “culture of life” how can we justify this many deaths? Even if US forces did not kill all these people, should the US take responsibility for the destruction of order that caused the chaos that resulted in these deaths? Or, is that chain of events just too complex for the average American to fathom?

The truth of the matter is that the US’s reckless behavior has caused more death and destruction than would have happened without this action. And, unfortunately the US now has a responsibility to fix the mess that they have created. So, how can the US fix this mess?

Well, last month the Bush administration decided that their policy of “might makes right” was working well enough, but they just didn’t have enough might to fix the problem. So, they decided to increase the troop strength in the capital of Iraq, Baghdad. And, not only were they going to pull forces from other areas of the country to bolster their efforts in Baghdad, they were going to increase patrols and hunt down the enemy. In a micro-metaphor they were going to invade Baghdad and repeat the invasion of Iraq on a smaller scale. And, in a repeat of this effort the micro-invasion created the same results once more. The insurgent attacks increased and more Americans and Iraqis lost their lives. And, the Bush administration still hasn’t learned its lesson.

The interesting thing is that troop increases in Baghdad means less troops for the rest of the country. And, with fewer American troops around the Iraqis have been able to take over other towns and cities. Back in August we pulled troops out of Mosul, and the city was in chaos. The chaos is still going on there, and the United States is not in control. The United States is merely trying to subdue the violence around the capital city. But Mosul isn’t the only problem. Areas of Iraq that were once calm are no longer tranquil. Even Kurdistan and Southern Iraq have come under attack. It was reported today that Shiite Militia have taken over the southern city of Amarah. Last Sunday, in Kirkuk, in Kurdistan there were a couple of suicide bombings. One was at a school, and it killed 10 people.

The violence in Iraq is spinning out of control, and the United States set this entire process into motion with the attack of Iraq back in March 2003. And, even if America claims no responsibility for the actions of the enemy, we must admit that before the invasion we had peace. In other words, violence begets violence.

The irony of this entire misadventure seems to emerge from the lips of George W Bush himself. Somehow this poor leader tells us that our mission is to “stay the course.” If we continue to inflict violence and aggression on the Iraqis then they will finally be subdued. But in the very same speech that he makes these points he tells us, “They believe that if they can create enough chaos, the American people will grow sick and tired of the Iraqi effort.”

I’m a bit confused here, who has created the chaos in Iraq?


Don't forget what Stephen Colbert said, "Reality has a well-known liberal bias."

Cross Posted @ Bring It On, tblog, Blogger and BlogSpirit

Wednesday, October 18, 2006


The people of the United States of America believe in fairness. There are great platitudes that offer the illusion of fairness to the people of the United States. We have heard about our freedom and justice for years. But, how many Americans know where the limits of their freedoms are? How many people know how unfairly American justice is served? Since most people never press the limits, most people just believe that they have justice and freedom as far as they can see. But, maybe Americans need to pick their heads up, put their glasses on and look around.

We do have considerable freedom in the United States. However, we also lack freedoms as well. We pass laws that limit our freedom, and other people’s freedom. For example, we become adults at age 18 or 21 depending on the state we live in. This law limits the freedoms of those below the age of adulthood. We have limits on the medication we can purchase, and the food we can sell. We have limitations on the services we are allowed to provide and limitations on the activities that we are allowed to take part in. We have limitations on just about every aspect of our lives. These limitations are reductions of our freedom, like it or not.

If our freedoms are all limited in the same way, then we can still say that the government may limit freedom, but at least they are fair about it. Another freedom that is important to Americans is property rights. People in the United States are allowed to own land, buildings, companies as well as personal property. With this ownership comes both freedom and responsibility. Even without explicit laws stated it must be apparent that one person’s freedom to use their property may certainly effect another person, whether intentional or unintentional.

For example, if a person owns an acre of land and decides to dump rusty old cars on his land, that pile of broken old cars is bound to effect his neighbors. Is it fair to the people around him that he decides to do this? It is his land, but he is changing the environment by the pollution that leaks from the cars into the water table, the eyesore that it creates, and the vermin that a pile of old cars attracts. In this case many cities have passed local ordinances that restrict the use of private land in this way. However, if you live in a rural area where less people are effected there is often less proclivity to pass or enforce these types of laws. Does that mean that the person who decides to turn his land into an eyesore is doing any less damage to the environment because of his location or the local law? Of course not, but Americans have come to believe that following the legal statutes implies some type of “fairness.”

The truth is that freedom and fairness can not exist in the same universe. The universe is inherently unfair. People are born into wealthy or poor family and they are not given the same chance to succeed. People are born into families of different cultural and racial backgrounds with different cultural biases that don’t change easily. If a person is free to use all of the resources that he is given by the chance of his birth, then it is impossible for the person who is born into a situation without these resources to have an equal chance of success. If we are ever going to advance beyond where we are today we need to acknowledge as a country that we do not believe in fairness as a cultural ideal. The world is not fair, and there is nothing that we can do as a society to make things fair. It will never happen.

That being said, we still need to also acknowledge that there is some minimal level of existence, below which we will not tolerate as a society. This poverty level should be a function of some real numbers, not some random numbers that can be arbitrarily changed as the political mood changes. These numbers need to reflect the changes in economic situation, like cost of living and availability of employment. We also need to recognize the reality of the challenge of raising a child and the reality of a need for education in order to drive a society as well as an individual. In other words, there needs to be some recognition and agreement on the minimal level for a person to function and be productive in our society. It may not be fair that people fall into this category from time to time, but it should be recognized as a societal disgrace to allow a member of our society to fall below this level as we realize the cost to society in crime, wasted lives, health, and motivation for allowing this to happen. These simple standards should be agreed upon, but unfortunately we continue to argue about these things.

However, even if we agree that there is no fairness in our economic status, health status or social status we often believe that we have some order of fairness in the justice under our system of government. But, we need to realize that justice in America is not as fair as we would like. One only need examine the OJ Simpson murder case from a non-emotional point of view to realize that justice is not fair. OJ Simpson had the ability to hire a huge legal team to fight every aspect of his murder case and was able to convince a jury to ignore DNA evidence that should have convicted him easily. Compare this to an average poor man with no means to fund even one lawyer and needs to try his case with a lawyer fresh out of law school or worse. The number of defense tactics used alone shows the unfairness of the justice system to favor who ever has the money to spend on his or her defense.

We can only come to the conclusion that fairness might be an objective, but in the real world fairness does not exist. So, how should a reasonable person address this issue?

Should we as a society use the government to assist getting closer to the goal of fairness? Should philanthropy be considered the main means in dealing with this issue? Are there other means that could be used to address this issue? Or, should we just learn to live with the truth of this situation and have a policy of letting everyone deal with the inherent unfairness in the world?


Don't forget what Stephen Colbert said, "Reality has a well-known liberal bias."

Cross Posted @ Bring It On, tblog, Blogger and BlogSpirit

Monday, October 16, 2006

Richard Pombo -- National Disgrace

I have read a lot of editorial endorsements in my time. In general an editorial board of a newspaper looks at two candidates and determines that one candidate is slightly better than the other. They normally don’t go into the mudslinging from either candidate. They don’t fall for the ploys that voters may be tempted to believe when they watch the mudslinging advertisements day after day during the election season.

Today however, in the San Jose Mercury News the editorial board comes right out and tells us in no uncertain terms to drop Richard Pombo. They tell us that this Republican goes beyond the normal agenda of the Republican party like selling off our National Parks and drilling for oil off the coast of California. He wants to do these things, but he goes further with his desire to do away with the endangered species act and put a highway through his personal property so he can build a truck stop or some other development. In fact money seems to buy his vote fairly easily, he was determined to be one of the top 13 most corrupt congressmen of either political party.

Pombo is such a “black eye” for California Republicans that Pete McCloskey, Pombo’s primary challenger, says that he would rather vote for Democrat Jerry McNerney than his fellow Republican. And the San Jose Mercury News editorial board tells us that Richard Pombo is a National disgrace for California’s 11th Congressional District.

The San Jose Mercury News editorial can be found here.


Don't forget what Stephen Colbert said, "Reality has a well-known liberal bias."

Cross Posted @ Bring It On, tblog, Blogger and BlogSpirit

Friday, October 13, 2006

Dick Armey Speaks Up

I can't say that I agree with a lot of what Dick Armey has said in the past, but this little piece makes a lot of sense.

Christians and Big Government


Don't forget what Stephen Colbert said, "Reality has a well-known liberal bias."

Cross Posted @ Bring It On, tblog, Blogger and BlogSpirit


Living in the wilds of California we occasionally have a problem with hornets. They like to build their nests in the eves of our house, and forage for food and water. They buzz around our heads as if they are egging you on to swat them. We all know that swat a hornet generally leads to getting stung, even though the urge to swat them tends to always be there.

For the most part we can co-exist with the hornets. They do their thing and we do ours. They build their nests in the eves of our house and we spray poison on them and kill them. No one wants to be stung, and the hornets can move on and find another place to live.

Now, it would be impossible to find every hornets nest in our town and kill all the hornets. We could try to find the hornets that live in our yard, because we know that they will eventually begin to build a nest in the eves of our house again. But, we don’t venture off into the field behind our house to kill the hornets there. I don’t go to our neighbor’s house and kill their hornets for them. I don’t walk around the neighborhood trying to encourage the neighbors to fight the hornets.

Now, occasionally a hornet will sting someone and the sting can be very painful. And, if a person is allergic to the hornet’s venom the sting can even be deadly. There was a case when I was growing up when a little girl was stung by a hornet, and had a terrible allergic reaction. Her throat swelled up, and she couldn’t breath. She suffocated to death. It was horribly sad, and we talked about it for days.

Hornets have even attacked me myself. When I lived in The Woodlands, Texas we had bike paths through the wooded areas and golf courses. I used to bike to and from work every day, even with the 99% humidity and the 99-degree heat. On my way home from work one day I was minding my own business riding my bike down the path. I noticed a hornet seem to chase me down the path. It was a crazy idea, hornets don’t do anything if you don’t bother them I told the other guys that were riding with me. However, on the next day as I passed through the same area a hornet flew out of the woods circled around my friend, and stung me on the head. Actually it stung me multiple times, and each sting felt like a sledge hammer hitting me in the head. I fell off my bike, got up and ran away. What could I do? Later we found that the type of hornet that attacked me was a particularly hostile hornet that didn’t loose its stinger. We reported it to the authorities, but they laughed at me. Needless to say I didn’t ride my bike through that area for quite some time.

Hornets can be hostile. And, for the most part hornets are not particularly beneficial. They can cause damage and even kill people. It seems to me that hornets are a good metaphor for the terrorists that cause us trouble today.

Imagine the family of that little girl that died from a hornet’s sting. The family was surely devastated, much like our country after September 11, 2001. I am sure the family must have reacted to this death in a particularly predictable way. They must have gone around their yard and exterminated every hornets nest in the area. They must have taken precautionary steps to make sure that other family members were not allergic to hornets. After all, these things are often hereditary. They might have hung fly paper and sprayed insecticide around the house. They might have even hired a pest control firm to come out to the house every month to remove nests and spray. These are certainly akin to the things that our country should do in light of our attack. We should protect our country by securing the ports, and borders of our country like the family in the metaphor protected his house.

But, the question comes down to how far should you go. Is it possible to eradicate every hornet on the planet? If not, then where do you stop the eradication? Is protecting the house adequate enough, or should you talk to the neighbors? Talking to the neighbors would be like talking to our allies, Europe, Canada, Mexico and the rest. We are certainly doing that.

But, the problem I have is with Iraq. I am sure anyone that reads my posts already knew this. So, I have to write this. Iraq is like the hornets nest in the field behind the house. Does it make any sense to go out in the field and poke that hornet’s nest with a pole? Then stand around and complain about being stung. If that does make sense, does it make any sense to poke it again and again and get stung again and again and complain again and again? There are two solutions, return to the house, or kill the nest. Unfortunately in our real world situation the population of Iraq are the hornets. Killing the nest virtually means killing the entire population of Iraq. This has moral and ethical problems that most of us agree are not the example that the United States would like to set for the world.

I anticipate that some of my critics would suggest that the hornets in Iraq are not the entire population of Iraq, but only a small fraction of the population. And, to this I would say that you should read the National Intelligence Estimate that tells you that our presence in Iraq is the catalyst that converts the population into hornets. Poking the stick into the nest makes them angry and converts the docile into the aggressive.

It is certainly going to take a while for the agitation in Iraq to settle down, but we certainly need to stop poking the nest with a stick!


Don't forget what Stephen Colbert said, "Reality has a well-known liberal bias."

Cross Posted @ Bring It On, tblog, Blogger and BlogSpirit

Thursday, October 12, 2006

The Black and White World

In a comment I read today it was pointed out that the word liberal has been distorted and expanded. This ploy is a rather clever but dishonest reality in our current world. Conservatives have claimed that there is a black and white world of those who agree with them and everyone else. This line in the sand attempts to make confuse people more than honestly describe the reality of the world.

So, lets look at what the conservatives have done here, and why they are wrong.

First of all, conservatives will take a position on an issue. They tell us what their position is, for example, on abortion, they believe that killing a fetus is wrong. They stake out this position as the “right” position and everyone else is “wrong.” Then they don’t stop there, but they exaggerate, misinform and demonize everyone associated with opposition to this issue. The issue for them is “black and white.” And, perhaps for some people the issue is black and white. However, for the great number of people in the middle, the moderates, the issue is not so black and white. There is the question of whether the regulation of abortion is even an issue that the government should address. Many libertarians believe that health issues should remain between a patient and their doctor. The question of when life legally begins is also another issue that stays out of the debate under these conditions. Then, the mother and father’s ownership rights are completely ignored. One may say that a human being can not be owned, but when does a fertilized egg become a human being not subject to ownership under the legal definition. Then, there are the mother’s right to life and health that may be in jeopardy if she is forced to give birth. Then there are the practical problems that the mother faces that are rarely considered in these debates. To the conservative there is no debate, because the issue is “black and white.”

By making the issue “black and white” one might think that this limits those who would support your position. But, the reality of the situation is not that clear cut. People do not say, “The conservatives will only accept me if I am 100% against abortion in all cases,” which is the “black and white” stance. Instead people are likely to say that there might be some cases that abortion should not be done and they find themselves agreeing with the conservatives on those points. And, conservatives are able to use this leverage by there “black and white” argument. They say, “Liberals support this abhorrent exception to abortion. Isn’t that disgusting? You’re not disgusting, therefore you’re not a liberal.” After hearing this definition of liberal, people come to believe that the term is extremist. Unfortunately the extremists on the right are the ones that created this false definition.

When you let someone else define your classification, you loose your political power. In this case the right sets up the definition as the extremist furthest to the left as the definition of the “other side.” Moderates do not come into the discussion in a black and white world. You are either with us or against us is the cry of these extremists. And, unfortunately some of the moderates have been goaded into following the crowd and accepted some of the fear mongering of the extremists.

Of course, abortion is only one example of how the extremists have shaped the debate by creating a false choice and telling us that this is a “black and white” world. The truth is that we do not live in a “black and white” world. We live in a world of colors and hues, bright and dark, as well as shades of grey. If we don’t realize this then we will be condemned to “stay the course” without questioning the “supreme leader.” And, when a country has a leader that calls himself “the decider” and a culture that calls those who disagree, “against us,” we have a problem. We don’t call this paradigm a democracy; we call it a dictatorship.

When we look at a world that has the conservative viewpoint and the other viewpoint we find ourselves in this “black and white” world. But, how can we fight this phenomenon? In a true democracy where all the citizens have a reasonable understanding of the political world this problem would never arise. But, as I am often reminded, we have a representative democracy where many of the citizens are uninformed. This situation lends itself to the possibility of abuse. Voters are asked to support a candidate based on black and white politics. Are you with us or against us? Then, the elected representatives are continually looking for money to run these misinformation campaigns, and the money comes from organizations with some strings attached. These strings influence the representatives to vote on the issues in a black and white manner.

The evidence that we are in this “black and white” culture shows itself in the block voting of the congress over the last several years.

The antidote to this problematic “black and white” culture is education and thinking. The more educated a person is, the less likely they will accept “black and white” solutions, and the more they will question these proposed solutions. We should have real political debates where participants actually involve themselves in the process. The current situation in the US Senate where no one listens during the debates shows us just how far we have come from a working representative democracy. And, all Americans should be ashamed of this.


Don't forget what Stephen Colbert said, "Reality has a well-known liberal bias."

Cross Posted @ Bring It On, tblog, Blogger and BlogSpirit

Wednesday, October 11, 2006


Many Americans have never been to Mexico. In fact, many Americans have never even been out of the country. But, I won’t get into that in this piece. Instead I’d like to just talk about my minor experiences in Mexico. I say minor, because I never lived there and of course living in a place helps one to understand the place better than just a few visits. But, the point is that travel always opens your eyes.

More than twenty years ago I had the crazy notion that I would travel from Texas to California to visit a friend whom had moved there. I decided that I’d simply drive the 22 hours from College Station, TX to San Diego, CA over my spring break from graduate school. I loaded up my 1966 Ford Mustang with a cooler, some snacks and a week’s worth of clothes and took off on the highway. I pointed my car west and started to drive.

It took me nearly eight hours before I actually found a freeway, instead of the Texas Farm to Market roads that litter the state. The Farm to Market roads aren’t so bad, as long as you are certain to slow down below the speed limit when they pass through a small town. The city law enforcement likes to bust out-of-towners for a sure source of revenue. Out-of-towners aren’t likely to argue a ticket, they’d just as soon pay the ticket and be out of town as quickly as possible. However, once I was on the Interstate there was no looking back, “California here I come.”

It wasn’t my first trip to California, and my friend wanted to show me a good time. So, after driving 22 hours, without out any time out for sleep I found my self in the back seat of someone’s car with a load of kids heading for Tijuana. We drove to the boarder, parked the car and walked across the boarder. We walked past the little kids selling Chicklets on the street. We walked past the vendors and panhandlers and we found the taxi stand. My host had been here before, and they knew exactly where they wanted to go. We piled into the taxi and I soon found myself, in a groggy state entering a Mexican Bar by the name of “el Tunnel.” Or, the English translation “The Tunnel.” The gimmick was that everyone needed to walk over a suspension bridge through a dark tunnel to get into the bar, hence the name.

One might wonder why these college students wanted to go to a foreign country just to go to a bar. After all, my friend and I were over 21 by that time, although I don’t know the ages of my other hosts. Many college kids from San Diego had flocked to Tijuana to go drinking, because of the lower drinking age. Of course this was twenty years ago, so I don’t know what the laws are today. But, besides the drinking age issue, there were certainly many cultural reasons to go to Tijuana, or Mexico in general. However, Tijuana might not be the best place to witness Mexican culture.

In fact border towns are based on the tourist industry. The people who run the businesses in the border towns will concentrate on what they can “sell” to tourists. And, when the people come across the border to buy the things that they can’t get in the United States, then that is what you are most likely to find in the border town. Currently seniors go across the border to get prescription drugs that happen to be much cheaper than those sold in the United States. Law enforcement is present, but they certainly look the other way if it is in their interest to do so. For example, it might be easier to purchase illicit drugs, or even automatic weapons if that is what you are looking for. And, for this reason it might be a tad bit easier to get yourself into trouble in a border town as well.

But Mexico isn’t just a collection of border towns. Mexico certainly has its tourist spots, but it also has its charm and culture. A few years after this visit to Mexico I had taken a series of trips Leon, Mexico. This huge city of more than a million people, is dead center in the middle of Mexico. Its major industry is not tourism, but leather among other things. My reason for visiting this city in the middle of Mexico was a scientific collaboration with a group of physicists from the Universidad de Guanajuato.

Leon, Mexico has an airport and at the time they had fights from Houston in and out of Leon on Tuesdays and Thursdays. If you wanted to come or go on another day you would be required to create another itinerary. Sometimes we could fly into Mexico City and drive up to Leon. On other trips we could fly into Guadalajara and drive down to Leon. I certainly preferred to fly into Guadalajara and drive down, because there was much less traffic than driving out of Mexico City, even though the trip was about the same length of time. And, driving around the countryside offered an interesting opportunity to stop at places out in the middle of nowhere and see how the people are trying to earn a living, or just trying to survive.

The flavor of Mexico comes through in its contrast to what you would expect to see in America. For example, on my first flight into Leon I flew from Houston to Monterrey Mexico and then from Monterrey to Leon. Of course when we landed in Monterrey some passengers got off the plane and others bordered. I noticed as they were loading and unloading the cargo that four crates of roosters were being loaded onto the plane. The crates were large barred crates with plenty of room for these roosters to walk around. I saw the guy pick up his roosters when we got to Leon and wheel them out to the taxi stand. I thought this was a bit unexpected, but I promptly forgot about it. We had flown in on a Thursday for the long weekend, and we would return the following Tuesday. The interesting thing was that the same guy was back on Tuesday for the return trip. He had his four crates, but only one rooster. I am guessing that he flew into Leon for a weekend of cock fighting and only one of his four roosters had been successful.

On another trip we flew into Guadalajara, rented a car and drove to Leon. This might have been my second trip to Leon. I remembered approximately where I was trying to go, but I had only been driven around the city on my previous trip. This time I was trying to remember landmarks and navigate a relatively unfamiliar city. At one juncture I recognized a landmark and quickly decided to turn at the last moment in the belief that I should need to turn down the street. Unfortunately I quickly realized that I was going the wrong way down a one way street. (I really hate when that happens. I am sure the other drivers on the street don’t like it either.) As quickly as I could I did a U-turn in order to be heading in the correct direction, but it was too late. The flashing lights were the first clue. Of course the police had to tell me what I already knew, I was heading the wrong direction on a one way street. Of course they did this in Spanish and I did my best to apologize. But, I used the opportunity to attempt to ask directions. I asked, “Donde esta Universidad de Guanajuato?”

I didn’t explain before that the Universidad de Guanajuato is a major university in Guanajuato, a town about 20 miles from Leon. But, being such a large university they also had groups and institutes through out the Mexican state of Guanajuato, the state in which Leon is located. There was an institute of physics and an institute of psychology that shared a building in central Leon, and there was also a major research center that the institute of physics was building at the time just outside of the city of Leon. I was looking for the Physics institute in the center of the city, but the policeman had no idea that this place even existed so he answered with the logical answer, “la Universidad de Guanajuato esta en Guanajuato,” or whatever the proper Spanish equivalent is. I got the point, but my Spanish wasn’t good enough at the time to go into the details. In the end we just got a warning and we decided to find the hotel instead, and then we could use the phone to get directions. This was before the cell phone age.

I told this story, because I remember it whenever I meet someone who doesn’t speak English as well as I would like. I remember when I was on the other side of the language divide trying to communicate. Even the simplest things are difficult to do even if you know a bit of the language. The policeman most likely thought that we knew nothing at all, we weren’t even in the right city. He was probably thinking to himself, “idiot tourists, don’t even speak the language, don’t even know where they are, sheesh,” or whatever the equivalent Spanish is.

The area of central Mexico is so nice. You could believe that you were plucked down in the middle of Europe or even some American city, if you didn’t try to read the Spanish signs. The climate every time that I have been there was virtually perfect, dry room temperature during the daytime, slightly cooler at night. The people are nice as well. Everyone I met was friendly. I met people from the physics and psychology institutes and also people who were not from the institutes. The entire atmosphere differed greatly from the tourist areas of Mexico’s borders, or beaches.

We also went to visit other towns and cities in the area. We went to the city of Guanajuato, which is a very unusual city built in a crater. I assume the volcano is dormant, but it wouldn’t surprise me if it were to come to life one day causing all of the inhabitants to evacuate the very beautiful and unusual city. And, this city also has a very unusual “Museum of the dead.” This “museum” has a collection of dead bodies that have been petrified in some nearby cemetery. The bodies are not extremely old, there clothing seems to be from the 1800s, although I could certainly be wrong. When I first visited the “museum” the bodies were propped up against the walls with a velvet rope separating them from the viewers. The last time I visited it the bodies were contained in Plexiglas boxes reminiscent of Sleeping Beauty. The entire experience is so surreal and so contrary to American culture that on every visit I had to take other Americans to experience this weird “museum.”

Many Americans who have never been to Mexico, or maybe have only been to the tourist areas of Mexico have created a vision of Mexico in their minds. This vision of this nation is not always flattering to the country, and they lead to preconceived ideas. Some preconceived ideas are based on some reality, such as the violence or illegal activity in the border towns. But these views are not the reality in all of Mexico. But, so many people are still motivated to cross the border into the United States. Does that mean that these people are attracted to the American lifestyle, or are they just attracted to American jobs?

Even with Mexico being a much better place than what many Americans imagine, there are still many poor jobless Mexicans. Many of these Mexicans come from groups that are considered lower class than the rest of Mexico. These people might be from the large native population, or just the lower class poor, or even the rural areas of the country. The point is that not every Mexican finds themselves wanted to move to America to make money harvesting crops or working as a nanny. Many Mexicans are happy living and working where they work. The problem is that number of poor and unemployed in Mexico seek to make a living and they can’t find work in Mexico. And, if we don’t want these people to do our menial labor, then the obvious solution is to help Mexico create jobs in Mexico. The methodology is irrelevant for this discussion, but since we have this perceived problem, the problem with the poor in Mexico is our problem as well, because it effects us.


Don't forget what Stephen Colbert said, "Reality has a well-known liberal bias."

Cross Posted @ Bring It On, tblog, Blogger and BlogSpirit

Monday, October 09, 2006

Arrogance and Greed

Arrogance and greed drive some individuals. In fact, conservatives pride themselves on these two motivating factors. One needs to be arrogant enough to “stay the course” and greedy enough to devise ways to make money or obtain power. Being clever might mean figuring out how to take advantage of people without breaking the law. Being arrogant might mean having the ability to deny ever knowing about a law being potentially broken. Put your story out there and “stay the course.” Never give up, never admit you were wrong, never admit to anything.

The Republicans have praised these attributes for years. The greedier you are and the more arrogant you are the higher that likelihood that you will find a place in the top leadership of the Republican Party. Greed will get you money for your campaign and greed will get you the political power that you seek. Arrogance will be your ticket to putting the underlings in there place in order to maintain your status in the Republican Party hierarchy.

But, this time this very same Republican greed and arrogance is beginning to chip away at the Republican leadership. The Republican leadership had been able to fend off the query of questioning reporters with the feign of ignorance or the bravado of arrogance. Keeping unseemly pieces of information out of the public eye with the arrogance of justifying the ends with the means had been a long Republican tradition. The fact that Mark Foley was a predator searching for naïve children to take advantage of was quickly swept under the rug with the arrogance and belief that all is right on our side of the political aisle. Unfortunately this is not the case and this arrogance has actually harmed some children. If the Republican leadership had less arrogance and more humility they would have considered the probability of Mark Foley harming these innocent children.

But, it isn’t only about arrogance; it is about greed as well. The Republican leadership had won both houses of government. They control all three branches of government. But, instead of making the world a better place the Republican leadership used their power to consolidate their power in the hopes of having even more power. They raised quite a bit of money to gerrymander the districts in Texas. In fact they broke the law in their efforts to raise this money. And they still weren’t happy with having the new control and power they won. They even went to the extreme of selling some of their votes in congress to win more money for their campaigns in order to get even more political power. In other words, they have used their political capital to gain even more political power. How do the American people get anything out of this?

Well, the answer is that they don’t. Republicans are famous for pushing the free market system. The point of the free market is to remove restrictions in favor having greed drive the market. People want more stuff, so they will pay more money to buy more stuff. The people that make the stuff will find the most efficient way to make the stuff so that they will make more money selling the stuff.

And, the free market in politics works the same way. Without restrictions the politicians will use any means to get more political power for the cheapest political price. This means that less information about the process should escape to the public, the source of any political power. Deception and lies, if left undiscovered, are the cheapest way to persuade people to give you their political power. The free market ensures that those who lie and deceive will rise to the top.

It shouldn’t be any wonder that Jack Abramoff was able to buy favors from politicians that have this mindset from the start. If the politician is more concerned about gaining more political power than leading America into a bright new future, then this method of free market politics is certainly “bad” for America. But, this is what you would expect from a group that puts all their eggs in the extreme free market philosophy. It proves the point that some government regulations are needed to keep an eye on those that are just a bit too greedy and arrogant for the good of America.


Don't forget what Stephen Colbert said, "Reality has a well-known liberal bias."

Cross Posted @ Bring It On, tblog, Blogger and BlogSpirit

Why Blog?

First of all, I don’t really have a clear answer to the question: “Why Blog?” When I write I search my mind for the information that I know, believe or understand from my personal experience and observations of the world. I make no claim that I have done any painstaking research on any particular topic. I write in response to what I read or hear or see. So, the question becomes, “Is what I do worthwhile if I don’t do research on every little fact or opinion that I write about?”

I know for certain that I don’t think that my opinion is above anyone else’s opinion, when it is opinion. My opinion is based on observations, which have my personal perspective and could possibly be in error or a distortion of reality, as anyone does. And, my opinions also have some basis is fact and other people’s observations. I try to point all of these things out and if someone calls me on any of these things I gladly provide facts, data or point out that it is my opinion and why I believe what I do. Hopefully this makes me informed or knowledgeable, but not high and mighty. Please differ with me where you see this differently. I am certainly willing to talk with anyone and I respect other people opinions and thinking on all issues.

But, even if my opinion is not a fact I find value in it for two reasons. The first is that when I construct and explain my point of view I pull together thoughts and ideas that have floating around with no certain anchor point in my mind. In the act of pulling these things together I clarify how I understand these things in new contexts, which hopefully strengthens my overall understanding of the world we live in. The second reason I find value in blogging is that I believe that my personal view of things is not the same as everyone else’s. It might not be the one and only view of life the universe and everything, but it is another point of view. It makes sense to me and it sometimes makes sense to others that read what I write. The sharing of my point of view hopefully draws questions and comments from my readers and that interactions helps me to grow further in my understanding of the world as others point out some things that I have most likely missed. And, because of that I welcome anyone’s point of view, especially if his or her point of view differs with my own. It doesn’t mean that I am going to change my opinion, but if someone’s different outlook causes me to think I grow as a person.

Of course what I dislike are parrots. I know when I hear parrots, because I hear the exact same story reprinted again and again. A recent example is the Mark Foley scandal. Republicans simultaneously began to bring up Democrat pedophiles from 20 years ago. Chances are that these people are simply parroting back something that they read at “Little Green Footballs” or some other conservative blog. Obviously the people parroting this back in the great Republican echo chamber of the Internet felt that justification for not doing anything about a sexual predator in Congress was to be found in the same disgusting behavior on the Democrat side of the aisle. Its hard to imagine that so many people would come up with such a lame justification based on events that happened so long ago.

And, the same echo chamber plays its part in spreading the lies of the Bush administration. When the truth comes out, sometimes many months or years after all of this misinformation is spread around the net honest people realize that what they once knew is no longer true. And, when they realize this over and over again they must come to the logical conclusion that they have been lied to. If this is the obvious case and people don’t admit that they have been lied to, then there must be some other explanation for “staying the course.”

If my writing makes you feel uneasy then I hope that it is because it makes you question what I am saying. I also hope that you question your other sources as well, because no one person has a monopoly on truth. The problem is that every person has their observations clouded by their personal opinions and experiences. Sometimes these experiences thrust you to have extreme reactions and become disillusioned or enamored with a “new” idea. But, the key is always to take everything with a grain of salt. Nothing is the answer to every question no matter how much we wish that it were.

The idealist inside me hopes that the act of blogging is a conversation with the world. I don’t claim to have all the answers, and I don’t expect to get all the answers either. Instead bringing up topics, observations and political issues offers people to read what someone different than themselves thinks about the issues. They may perhaps strengthen their own point of view or change their point of view in relatively minor ways. In the long run we all have these conversations with each other in a web of interactions and perhaps out of this mess we understand the world around us a little better and this understanding will spread to everyone. (Or at least maybe it will spread to a few more people.)


Don't forget what Stephen Colbert said, "Reality has a well-known liberal bias."

Cross Posted @ Bring It On, tblog, Blogger and BlogSpirit