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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Tuesday, December 19, 2006

Action in Iraq

No one likes what is going on in Iraq. The soldiers have been telling us that they feel like they are out of control. They have their own ideas of how to solve these problems, but they don’t have the authority to do what needs to be done.

The Department of Defense has been at odds with former Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld for years now, and the new Secretary of Defense Robert Gates has told the Congress that he knows that we are not winning in Iraq. (We aren’t losing either. Don’t get confused. We aren’t winning and we aren’t losing. That is important to understand. Gates will fit into the administration nicely.)

Regardless of what the White House says, they really do care about polls. They care about the polls that are conducted on Election Day. And they didn’t do that well this time around. They understand that Karl Rove was not responsible for the election loss, even if he was responsible for the Republican Party election plan. He has told us that the Republicans didn’t lose as many seats as they would have if he wasn’t driving the bus. (Well, he didn’t really say that, but being the arrogant person that he is he would have said it if he had thought about the situation.) The problem everyone agrees is the War in Iraq.

The Republican Party doesn’t like the effect of the War dragging them down. Many Republicans have come out against the current conduct of the war.

These, of course, are just the people connected with the US government. The American people have continued to voice their opposition to the war. Our European allies, aside from Great Britain, have been opposed to the war for years now. The actual Iraqi people that we are supposedly there to help have said with an 80% majority that we should go home. Maybe some people in the Iraqi government don’t want to be stoned to death, so they appreciate the protection of the American forces around the “Green Zone” in Baghdad.

Even though there are multiple recordings of President George W Bush saying that we are going to “Stay the Course” in Iraq, he has told us recently that he never said that. Of course, after the biased mainstream media played back the excerpts from his speeches he stopped lying about that. But, for him to recant on that famous line means that even “Stay the Course George” is beginning to realize that there is a problem in Iraq.

So, now that everyone has finally come to the agreement that there is a problem in Iraq, even if it should have been realized before we even went there; we need to take some action. But, it is not completely clear to everyone what that action should be. Some people have said that we need to increase how fast we give authority and security to the Iraqis. Some people have said that we need to increase our control over the situation before we hand over authority and security to the Iraqis.

Basically, everyone knows where we are going. And, everyone agrees where we are. So, the question is only how do. We get to where we know we are going. What is the best way to hand over authority and security to the Iraqis?

This seems to be obvious, but it turns out that know one knows the best way to do this. No one wants to admit that there is no “good” way forward. No matter what way we try to go forward there is only pain and suffering to be seen. We will only see more soldiers die and more money wasted on this adventure. The only result that we will end up with will be the Iraqis with control of their country. The only way that stability will happen is when the government either falls to the Iraqi sectarians or the government is able to please everyone. What do you think the obvious outcome will be?


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

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

Friday, December 15, 2006

Review - "The Global War on Terror"

Occasionally it is important to review where we have been in order to determine better where we should go. I thought that I might try to take a step back and look at what has come to be called the “War on Terror.”

Terror, as most of us know is a tactic used to sway public opinion. The idea is to make people fear for their lives and in that fear they will do what the terrorists desire. So, in order to understand this fight we need to know what the terrorists want us to do, so that we are sure not to give into the terrorist’s wishes.

After 9/11/2001 when we suffered that major attack people began to ask this question. Who are these terrorists? What do they want? Why would they do this?

At the time George W Bush and the Republicans told us that it was a weak thing to try and understand the terrorists. Don’t try to understand them, because you are either with us or with the terrorists. We were told that we should go out and go shopping. We were told that we should shop for duct tape and plastic to seal up our windows - just in case.

But, this reaction seems to show that the terrorists actually won the first round. They made us fearful. They especially made our leaders fearful by reacting with such strange recommendations. But, our leaders also knew that such a devastating attack needed a response, in order for that national catharsis to kick in. Beating the shit out of someone always makes you feel better after someone kicks the shit out of you. So, since the Taliban in Afghanistan seemed to be complicit in giving shelter to these guys they seemed to be the likely target. But, since Afghanistan doesn’t actually have anything that we want, we decided to kick them out of power and leave. Well, actually we left a few guys behind to play hide-and-seek with Osama bin Laden.

After getting rid of the regime that allowed al Qaeda to train their members in the art of terrorism, could we declare a victory against “Terror?” Fearlessness 1 - Terror 1 should be written on a scoreboard somewhere, right?

Since we were told not to worry about the details, we didn’t. Americans are like that. It is much easier to not care, not worry and go shopping, like we were told.

We should have known this, but most Americans don’t spend that much time paying attention to world affairs. It turns out that we actually funded to Taliban in the past. We gave them money when the Soviet Union was occupying Afghanistan. We actually did this in an indirect way. We gave the money to Pakistan, and the Pakistanis gave the money to the rebel groups that we liked. We liked the Taliban because they were religious. After all, the Soviets were atheists, that meant that fighting them with religious zealots was a good fit, right?

The problem as we all know is that when the Soviets left Afghanistan there was a huge vacuum of leadership. Chaos ensued for months, and the people were happy when finally a disciplined group like the Taliban took over and quelled the melee. Many Afghanis believed that the Americans desired the Taliban, after all they were funded by the Americans for so many years. Many Afghanis are confused by the whole situation, because now after the Americans have kicked the Taliban out of government they have come back again as a rebel force once again sponsored by Pakistan. Some even believe that the Americans are once again giving money to Pakistan to pay these guys.

The reality of the situation in Afghanistan is not exactly what we thought that it might be. We thought that we were creating a democracy in Afghanistan, and all of their problems would be solved. But, what happened in Afghanistan was not the creation of a democracy. Instead Afghanistan is now a country of War Lords. Laws that are disliked are ignored. Not only rules are created by these warlords. The strength and power of the War Lord is the most important consideration. Bribes are paid to the warlords and they have created their own personal armies. It would be hard to declare that this situation was much better than the situation with the Taliban in control.

Iraq under Saddam Hussein and Afghanistan under the Taliban had almost nothing in common with each other. The Taliban was a religious group, and Saddam Hussein was a non-religious secular ruler. The Taliban invited terrorists to hang out on the back forty. Saddam Hussein felt that the terrorists were a threat to his power and he avoided them. But, for whatever reasons George W Bush decide that attacking Iraq was the next logical step in his War on Terror. Once Saddam Hussein was deposed and chaos ensued, terrorists from all over the Middle East were attracted to Iraq for the opportunity to hone their terrorist skills. As has been reported the conflict in Iraq has done more to fuel the hatred of the United States than to reduce the numbers of terrorists.

How could this be? We put American troops as bait in the Middle of an uncontrolled country. Terrorists are generally drawn to failed states and those on the verge of failure. So, the terrorists have come from all over the Middle East in order to hurry the process along. Since terror is the technique desired to sway the popular opinion with fear, we still need to ask the question - What do these terrorists want? When we discover that they are spreading fear of chaos through this country so that they will accept any kind of order when things calm down. It looks like the terrorists have scored another point.

George Bush's denial is so pre-November 2006! I think the country already realizes this. (At least the majority.) So, why does George Bush think that the major point of conflict in this war is in Iraq? If he doesn't then why is he spending over 90% of our blood and treasure in Iraq? The BBC announced yesterday that al Qaeda has successfully won control of the strongest militia in Somalia. If al Qaeda is the enemy, then why are we allowing them to establish their own militia? Do we even have any troops fighting them in Somalia? Then, there is Afghanistan. Why do we have so few troops fighting the rising Taliban, the group that allowed al Qaeda to build in strength enough to attack us? To think that Iraq's civil war is the most important part of the War on Terror is being in denial.

I think that the point here isn’t that the Bush administration is doing it all wrong. Most of us agree that he is doing it all wrong. But, the point instead is what issues need to be addressed that are currently too far down on the Bush administration agenda. Failed states like Somalia gives safe havens for those who would do us harm. This isn't a new idea. The US had fought the pirates of the Caribbean and the African coast for many years. And, there are still pirates that occupy these places.

Obviously the agenda needs to be rearranged. If you think about this for one minute one certainly needs to realize that pouring a ton of blood and treasure into one spot on Earth that currently harbors terrorists is never going to solve the problem. The situation is playing out in microcosm in Iraq itself. US troops secure an Iraqi city and free it from anyone that wishes to disrupt the process. The city is calm and the US troops move on to the next hot spot. What happens? Of course, the terrorists go back to the city. Just like the US troops can’t be in every Iraqi city all the time; the US troops can not be occupiers of every Middle East country at the same time either.

So, instead of spending over a trillion dollars on the Iraq War, wouldn’t it make more sense to spend the money on port security, airplane security, and border security? A trillion dollars here could lead much further toward our goal, a victory in the War on Terror. That is, preventing the terrorists from making us fearful of their actions. If we need to help governments take a stand against terrorists, shouldn’t we help the weakest governments to most, and concentrate on the potential failed states the most? Shouldn’t these actions be reflected in the amount of money spent on these problem places? And, even though Somalia does not seem to be high on the administration’s agenda, shouldn’t we make sure that we encourage stability in this country? We know that instability breeds the conditions for terrorism, witnessed 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

Tuesday, December 12, 2006


Denial is to prevent from obtaining something. One could prevent one’s self from obtaining the truth by lying to one’s self. One could prevent prisoners from having freedom. One could prevent one’s self from having luxury, comfort, food, sleep, talking or whatever.

Denial has been a part of religion for as long as there has been religion. We read about John the Baptist in Mark 1:6 “And John was clothed with camel's hair, and with a girdle of a skin about his loins; and he did eat locusts and wild honey” And, Jesus was sent into the wilderness for forty days. In Mark 1:12-13 the Bible says, “At once the Spirit sent him out into the desert, and he was in the desert forty days, being tempted by Satan. He was with the wild animals, and angels attended him.” But, denial is part of the Hebrew symbolic and real journey through the desert with Moses. The denial of the easy life with the journey of forty years in the desert was to be viewed as both a spiritual journey and a cleansing of the material world from God’s chosen people. But this symbolism does not just rise up from anywhere. The people before the time of Moses obviously recognized the importance of denial.

Denial has not only been part of Judeo-Christian religions, but it seems to be part of almost every religion ever practiced. Native Americans sent their boys out into the wilderness to become men. This practice became a ritual incorporated into there religions. The obvious idea was that survival was critical, and the proof of the ability to survive was proof of coming of age. But, what isn’t as obvious is that these young men were thrust out into the wilderness to survive without much. They didn’t have social interaction, food, protection, or shelter. They were forced into self-denial to prove themselves and we can imagine that this ritual often resulted in spiritual experiences. And, the idea that self-denial results in spiritual experiences was born.

New ways to create these spiritual experiences were invented over time. Fasting was popular. Meditation was born out of the denial of interaction with the material world. Alcohol was in a tug of war with denial. Denying brain activity through the use of alcohol was in conflict with the denial of pleasure derived from the use of alcohol. No wonder it became incorporated into religious rites.

Denial has grown into a mystic type of magic over the many years. In our modern day with all of our modern conveniences it is hard to imagine why anyone would without any of these conveniences. In our hedonistic society, why would we choose to give up pleasure? What could we possibly gain from denial? There are people in our society that feel lost and alone. They are searching, because hedonism and convenience seem to ring hollow. They are looking for something spiritual, but they don’t know what form that spiritual experience might take. They search the mainstream religions, and they search the cults but they don’t know what they are looking for until they discover it for themselves.

Some find the answer in commitment to a particular religion. The religion makes demands on them and in doing so it forces a person to deny themselves certain behaviors. Some religions offer multiple additional opportunities to deny themselves. Like I said before, fasting is extremely popular. But there are retreats where a person takes themselves out of the world in order to focus on the spiritual. This is confronting the need for spirituality head on. There are silent retreats where a person denies themselves speech for weeks at a time. And there are community retreats where you focus on working as a community.

The point is that denial is a means to learn to focus on something specific. If one denies themselves everything except the point of focus then progress in this area has a good chance of success. In a way, sending the kids to grandma’s house and taking a romantic weekend with the wife is denial and focusing. So, the real point isn’t the denial, but the focusing. What do you choose to focus on while you are in the wilderness of denial? A member of a prehistoric culture might only have survival to think of, and hence the focus is complete. But in our modern society there are so many things to focus on, even when you deny yourself the world.

Many years ago I went on an eight-day silent retreat. The point of focus for the retreat was the life of Christ. In groups of two days each we were told to focus on one specific aspect of his life. In order to do the retreat properly focus was the key. But, even with all the denial of social interaction, TV, books, music and whatever else I still found it difficult not to wander off topic. I found myself looking at the environment or the retreat center. I found my imagination wandering off on many different paths. I created mental games to play in my head. I took a long hike through the snow thinking about the animals I saw. I ended up doing a very poor job on focus of the retreat. But I learned a lot about myself in the process. I found out that I could easily go without talking for eight days. But I also found out that I had a problem with authority. I liked my personal “exploration of life” retreat better than the prescribed “life of Jesus” retreat. I had a spiritual experience; it just wasn’t the one that was intended by the retreat center.

I hope that I was able to make my point here. I believe that denial may actually be a good thing. But denial itself isn’t the point. The actual point is your focus when you deny yourself. If you want a spiritual experience then deny yourself everything that is keeping you from attaining that spiritual focus. You don’t have to do this for forty years or even eight days. You can easily deny the world around you for a short time and just pray to God. You can ask what you want. You can praise Him and thank Him. You can let your mind wander as you simply think about how special His gift of the Universe and your life to experience it is. If you make a habit of this simple self-denial you’ll be surprised at how your life will change. Some people call this prayer and others call it making time for God.


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

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

Monday, December 11, 2006

The Romantics

Romanticism and Rationalism have butted heads before and they continue to butt heads today. This is essentially the conflict between heart and head, thinking and feeling or art and science. The truth is that these things do not really need to be in conflict. In our culture we recognize the power of emotion and the power of rational thought. We know that people are actually capable of both feeling emotion and rational thought. However, we also know that some people choose careers in which they dedicate themselves to one or the other extreme and these people often lose the understanding of the importance of the other.

We all know that not everyone views these things as equals. Romanticism is embodied in our feelings. We look back on “the old days” with Nostalgic Romanticism. We view our religious idealism with fear and longing. We have extremely high expectations for our marriage, family and future based on the emotional appeals of commercialism. In our politics the candidates appeals to our emotional side when they believe they can’t win the rational arguments. They appeal to our fears and our hopes with rhetoric and not facts.

We also know the stone cold man standing at the ready guarding our country. Emotions could be the downfall for him, if he were to give into his feelings of sympathy for the terrorist disguised to need a helping hand. But, what about the people who really do need his help? Icy cold rationalism allowed us to destroy two cities filled with innocent people in Japan in 1945. Rationalism allows doctors to cut open people and fix the problems that they need to fix without considering the ramifications of a mistake or problem. But cold bedside manners are the extension of that rationalism.

We should all agree that both rationalism and romanticism are important pieces to human existence. To neglect one for the sake of the other makes one slightly less whole. But, in the real world the rewards for being competent in these two areas are completely out of balance. People who excel in art and literature the most romantic of the human disciplines will find their stating wages much lower than the scientist or engineer who excels at the opposite end of the spectrum.

The reason for this seems to be that rational innovation may be measured in rational dollar amounts. But emotional benefits to society are measured in the feelings given from the artist to the observer. These feelings may change the way the observer looks at the world, and change society in unknowable ways, but because they are unknowable the rational remuneration is not figured. People do pay to be made happy, so artists that specialize in that emotion may be paid and paid some more. Happiness through art is often over paid for just as drugs are also over paid for. But, art, music and literature that makes you contemplate the more serious pieces of our lives is often ignored or even avoided. These are often the areas that are problematic in our society and they need to most reflection and deliberation.

Having gone to Catholic Schools I have known quite a few Irish families. I have known both the Irish families coming to the US directly from Ireland and the ones that are of Irish descent from their immigrant forebears of over one hundred years ago. There is one distinction of difference between these two groups that is almost universally true. Both are very proud of their Irish heritage there is no doubt. But, those who have descended from a long line of Americans have an unrealistic romance for the “old country.” The new comers know what the place is like today, and they know both the “good” and the “bad.” The American Irish families have romanced away the “bad” and enhanced the “good” beyond belief.

This is an example of what romance could do with out rational thought to keep it in check. The American Irish families more often than not had never been to modern Ireland. And, those who had often told the best stories of their visits enhancing to ideal with every new story. Irish whiskey has often become the elixir of the Gods, (or the wee folk), and often sought with energy beyond reason.

Politics is often much like the romantic visions of the world. Politics is often about creating an ideal world view much like the romantic vision of Ireland that many American Irish families hold on a pedestal. If only their political party could take complete control of the government, then that ideal American life would be around the corner. This goes for either political party, and extends to other countries and their governments as well. People are willing to work hard for a dream, even if that dream is a romanticized view of the world.
But, political parties are real and they don’t please all of their members. And, as we have seen when a political party holds all the strings of government they can’t please all of the people. And, in fact a surprise to some members, they can’t even please all the members of their own party.

In politics we swing back and forth between the romantic view of the world and how we could change it if only we had the power and the realistic view of practicality. In the practical view we realize that there are going to be people that disagree with us. In the real world we know that the best things often come from compromise and discussion. Sometimes we even realize that even better ideas than our own are born out discussion with the people that we campaign against every few years.

Of course that’s me and maybe it is just my romantic imagination of how I would like the world to be. But we all know that we need both romance and reason to be fully human.


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

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

Friday, December 08, 2006

ROI - Return on Investment

There isn’t anything that could be proclaimed the silver bullet to cure all our ills. There are, however, many things that we should not ignore because they are quite important concepts. One of these things is known as “Return on Investment.”

People that have capital spend a lot of time thinking about ROI. Some people make ROI the most important thing to consider when they determine what stocks to buy or what efforts they should promote. This is not evil, this is part of the American way. However, ROI is not the only issue that one should consider when they think about investing. For example, a loan shark certainly has a huge ROI when he loans money to an addicted gambler. If the loan shark is also the bookmaker, then he can’t lose. The guy will bet in hopes of paying back his loan. If the sucker loses the loan shark gets the money bet, plus he can hold the debt over the sucker’s head. If the sucker should win he still gets paid back, and he gets the high interest rate to boot. This is known as a low risk high ROI deal. And, it is illegal precisely because of this.

It turns out that the goal of most people is to spend the least amount of money and get the highest ROI.

But, there is a problem with this when we talk about government. The idea behind government is that we all contribute to an effort to provide something that we can not have on the individual level. There are many examples of things that the government can provide, but individuals can not provide. One of these is law enforcement. From a practical point of view law enforcement needs to be controlled by everyone in an agreed upon way. This is because if a small group determines law enforcement priority on their own they will be certain not to enforce any of the laws that they personally break. If the entire community has oversight, then we should be confident that law enforcement is being applied uniformly to everyone. So, as a community we all agree to contribute to the effort of law enforcement in the belief that the safety and security that they provide will be worth the expense of the project. This safety and security is the ROI in this effort.

We should keep in mind that this safety and security allows us to participate in other activities that could be impossible without this safety and security.

Return on Investment is not only about money as was illustrated in the example above. Safety and security are intangible returns that allow us as a community to improve our lives. And, government does not make money for us, instead it helps us to make a better life by doing the things that we can not do on our own. We can not be our own personal security system, unless we live in a shack in the mountains of Montana. But we can contribute to the community so that we can have both safety and security.

There are other ways in which the government can provide a good ROI. One system is the US patent laws that not only protect inventors when they come up with a new invention, but it also allows us to distribute that information to others once the patent runs out. Maintaining this system encourages the sharing of technology, which is a good return on investment for us as a community.

There are many examples of positive effects on our society from a community effort.

Of course there are risks with every investment. In fact, ROI is usually higher when there is more risk. For example, one of the highest risk adventures that the United States ever took on was John Kennedy’s risky effort to land a man on the moon. “We do not do these things because they are easy, we do them because the are hard,” he had said and it continues to echo into our time. The success of that mission was not guaranteed, in fact it had a high probability of failure. But, the ROI on that effort was to thrust America far above the Soviet Union in the eyes of the world. America regained what it had lost when sputnik shocked the world as it sailed over our heads.

In recent years, however, those in favor of small government have condemned many government projects as being too risky or unrealistic. These people have some strange idea that hard work without risk will yield an America rightly placed at the top of the food chain. But, unfortunately these people do not understand the concept of risk and ROI. Somehow these people believe that private enterprise is enough to triumph over everyone else. Somehow people with money will figure out how to spend their money and succeed without the aid of everyone pitching in together. This is the same mentality that has us thinking that we don’t need to sacrifice anything and we can still win the war on terror.

I was listening to a talk by Rajiv Chandrasekaran about Iraq. He has written a book entitled, “Imperial Life in the Emerald City: Inside Iraq’s Green Zone.” We already know what a debacle Iraq is, but Rajiv gives us some additional insight into why we are having such horrendous trouble in Iraq. The key to many of the problems is that the Bush administration did not look for the best and the brightest to go to Iraq and build the new democracy. Instead, they hired Republican ideologues to build Iraq in the blueprint of their own views of and ideal nation. This was a giant experiment in nation building where the blue print was the same plan that Republics envisioned for the rest of us in the United States. They believed that a 15% flat tax was the solution to all their problems, so they implemented it in Iraq. They believed that health care could be solved by creating the proper formulary. They spent months writing an Iraq formulary where drugs would be provided by US companies while people died of infections because they couldn't get antibiotics. The bureaucrats in the Green Zone spent an enormous amount of time writing intellectual property rights laws while they bought black market DVDs because their DVD players provided by Haliburton wouldn’t play the DVDs sold legally in the PX. The issue here is that these ideologues had no idea what the ROI for their efforts would be. They lost sight of the reality of the situation. Instead they came to believe in the ideology without the thinking about the reasons that these ideas were proposed.

We still have this problem in this country. We see it everywhere that people don’t think about the ROI. What is the return on investment in Iraq? What do we hope to gain, and is it worth the $400 billion plus we have spent in Iraq? We hear about how much it would cost to retool the American automobile industry to cut back on green house gases, but we don’t think about the return on that investment. How much will the change in climate cost us if we do nothing? Then there are obvious things that cost so little, but we don’t realize the ROI. It would cost $30 billion, one tenth of the cost of the Iraq effort so far to preserve most of the bio-diversity in the world today, but some say that the cost is too high. There are thousands of potential drugs that could be isolated from these rare organisms.

Unfortunately the bottom line does have to do with return on investment. But the return is not the public’s profit, but instead the leaders, corporate power and the capitalists that benefit. They believe that their personal return on investment is the most important issue. Those with the money buy the politicians who seek the power. The money spent requires a return on that investment, or the politician won’t see the any more money. The politicians don’t care about the public’s ROI, because they get theirs in the way of the power that they seek. The only way to keep these people in check is to continue to ask the right question; what is the return on investment?


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

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

Wednesday, December 06, 2006

Staying the Course

A common military affliction is the desire to fight the previous war. Soldiers learn what they did wrong and the want to improve the chances for success in the new conflict. This is a common desire for all of us in everything that we do. But in the military we also need to take account of the changes that have happened since the last war.

Sometimes these changes are obvious. The British lost the American Revolutionary War despite have a superior military force because the Americans adapted and the British didn’t. The ability to recognize how to adapt are based on the results of old conflicts as well as the changes in military developments. Sometimes, however, people have personal beliefs that cloud the true picture of a situation. And, in the case of Iraq the leaders in the Bush administration have been clouded with the smoke from Vietnam.

Why would anyone be so adamant about “staying the course” when the course continues to look gloomier than ever imagined? My guess is that this psychology is rooted in the Vietnam War.

Most of us know that the majority of the members of the Bush administration never served in Vietnam. They found ways to avoid service in that war, even though many of them did contribute to public service. It wasn’t that they felt that the Vietnam War wasn’t worth fighting; they collectively had the belief that it was an important effort for someone else to do. The War was about Communism, and the members of the privileged class had the most to lose if Communism were to succeed. But, likewise, being members of the privileged class they felt that others should pay the price to preserve their wealth.

Having absolutely no physical connection with Vietnam they sat in their arm chairs and witnessed the progress of the war through the eye of the television camera. This remote observation took the suffering, and frustration out of the equation. And, as Monday morning quarterbacks they second guessed every failure and created their own solutions to these problems. And, after the War was over most of these people shared a minority sentiment about the situation, “We could have won if we had stayed the course.”

I still hear and read this sentiment from conservatives today. They have the feeling that the failure in Vietnam was due to the failure of the will of the American people. They blame the media for turning against the war. They blame the soldiers for their lack of commitment. They blame the American people for loosing faith. And, they blame the American leaders for not staying the course.

So it seems obvious to me that the Bush administration is fighting the last war here by their undying, unchanging, unmovable dedication to stay the course in Iraq no matter how grim it looks. In this unwavering steadfastness the Bush administration has put all its eggs in one basket. It is an all or none risk that the administration has taken us on, and there is no compromise. This is not a conservative plan, because a true conservative would not risk everything for some unproven idea. No, this is a radical idea and a radical course. The further we go into the weeds the bigger the problems become. At some point we are halfway in and going forward is the only solution. Unfortunately we never know for sure when we are halfway in. And, the road back is always getting more and more difficult to travel.

It has been said that George W Bush has beaten alcoholism by perseverance. For an alcoholic moderation does not exist. One drink leads to many more and often to quickly. The first drink leads to less control, and less control leads to more drinking. And, when some succeeds by using a method they tend to use the same method again. The method here is resilient perseverance to stay the course. Every event becomes a potential dent in the armor and staying the course is the best solution. And, when you have such an effective tool in your toolbox you tend to use it again and again. If you have a hammer, then everything begins to look like a nail.

So, the common belief that Vietnam was lost because of lack of will power fits nicely into the idea that combating alcoholism is solved with will power. And, George W Bush knows that the use of will power works, because it worked for him. So, we shouldn’t be surprised that “Stay the Course” has become this administration’s mantra.


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

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

Tuesday, December 05, 2006


First we had disagreement over the definition of “Civil War.” If we could agree on a definition of “Civil War” then we could determine if the War in Iraq is a Civil War, or a basic run of the mill war, or a mere sectarian violence.

But, now we have a new problem. Our future Secretary of Defense, Robert Gates, and the Acting President of the United States, George W Bush can’t agree on whether we are winning in Iraq. Maybe if we had a clean definition of “winning” we would be able to use the definition to determine whether the situation in Iraq fits.

During his confirmation hearings today Robert Gates told us that we were not winning in Iraq. That seems like a straightforward observation. Loosing control of the areas that we once controlled is a good hint at the definition. It was nice to hear a refreshing view from the potentially new member of the administration. But, we shouldn’t get too hopeful all at once. We need to remember that Colon Powell was a member of the administration that was ignored when George W Bush pushed to begin this insanity back in 2003. And, I’m not all that sure that he has the backbone that first appeared in the morning. When he got back from lunch, the future Secretary of Defense told us that we may not be winning in Iraq, but we’re not loosing either.

But don’t worry, Tony Snow came back to tell us that indeed we are winning in Iraq.

(Don’t pay attention to the man behind the curtain.)


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

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


I would be lying if I were to say that I never thought about a person’s race. In our current culture, in the culture in which I was raised and in the history of our culture we have certainly attributed aspects of a person’s character to the race they are a member of. As I have learned through experience this is not how we should react to people, but it happens sometimes on a subconscious level that we are not even aware of from time to time.

I grew up in Cleveland, Ohio during the 1960s and 1970s. During those years there were racial tensions, as there were across the country. Those tensions made there way into our family and into my psyche in a way that I am not proud of. During those years the indirect message was that Blacks were dangerous. We called African Americans “Blacks” in those days. We also learned that “Pollocks” were stupid. Italians were associated with organized crime. Russians were communists. We learned to look at the nationality or race of a person in order to understand how to deal with that person. This is commonly known as prejudice, where you pre-judge a person before you get to know them.

So, before I was in High School I knew what “Black” people were like, before I had actually met one.

The strange thing is that my parents believed that they never taught me this. They were careful not to say anything about a specific group at any time. I have heard my mother tell her friends proudly that they never raised us to be prejudiced in any way. But, the truth is that they taught me these things by the way they reacted. We were careful not to drive through the dangerous part of town. And, the dangerous part of town was the part of town that was mainly occupied by the “Blacks.” They would tell me about something stupid that someone at work had done, and they would make the comment that their name did end in -ski. And, my great-grandfather’s name ended in -sky, so we certainly weren’t Polish. The funny thing is that we now know that he at least lived in Poland, but they still say that he was of German descent.

So, I got mixed messages in a way. I was told not to worry about race, because it didn’t matter. And, I was told that certain people behaved in certain ways, and we should be aware of those things. I don’t blame my parents, because they really thought that they were doing the right thing. The problem is that when you are raised too close to something like prejudice it is really hard to see the entire problem.

I was about ten years old when I met my first black person. It was a summer camp, and several “disadvantaged” children were brought to the summer camp. I tried to talk to a couple of the kids, but I feared them as well because of my prejudice. I didn’t know what to expect, so I listened to them more than actually interacting with them. I found the particular kids at the camp to be very boisterous. They ran around, pushed each other, used obscene language and were very annoying. I basically didn’t understand them, or what they thought was important. But, even at that young age I didn’t think that the problem had anything to do with their race, but with the way they were brought up. They told stories around the campfire one night after the councilors went to bed. And I found the stories littered with foul language, but also littered with impossible situations and a basic misunderstanding of the world the way I understood it. Those few stories stuck with me for quite some time.

I didn’t really meet any blacks for quite some time after that experience. When I got my driver’s license I traveled in larger circles and I found myself in the downtown area more often. While I was in High School I became interested in photography and I thought that I might find some interesting subjects in the city. I took a friend and we went on a “photo safari” one day. I was still a bit fearful of being robbed, or running into the “wrong” people so I remained cautious. And as I was walking down the street looking for potential subjects I caught a young black individual come a bit to close for comfort, so I quickly reacted by grabbing my camera, thinking that the expensive object might be the intent of the individual. To my surprise the young man jumped away from me and said, “Don’t hit me!” Obviously there was more underlying tension on the street than I had realized. These people were just as frightened of me as I was of them. I was a bit sad about this revelation, and I thought about it for some time.

It wasn’t until I went to college that I actually met and befriended a wide array of people from different backgrounds. My freshman year I met a black guy that was extremely obnoxious, but as time went on I realized that he was acting out because he was fearful himself. And, as time went by he lost his fear and his obnoxiousness. I wish that it had not taken me so long to realize these things. I learned little by little over a long time that race wasn’t really a real issue. I believe that the culture in which a person is raised causes more problems than the race or nationality of a person. But, in many cases people pass the traditions of how to raise their children down from their parents and grandparents. And for the most part these methods are locked within a family and the family is generally locked within a race or nationality. But some families adopt other methods and ideas.

Some family traditions are “good” and some traditions are “bad.” For example, the prejudice that my family passed down to me through their actions is certainly a “bad” tradition. I know some families that believe that a college education is only for the males in the family. This is another “bad” tradition. These ideas are not race based, but that get passed down through the family much like the genes that are passed through the family. There are “good” traditions as well. Some of my friends had family traditions of playing Scrabble, charades or other games that lead to developing education oriented skills. And, there are certainly traditions that are neither “good” nor “bad.” One of the problems we face is that it isn’t clear which traditions are “good” and which traditions are “bad.”

Families pick and choose what traditions are important. They make these decisions based on many different factors. First, each parent uses the experience of the traditions from their upbringing. When the traditions of the mother and the father come from similar backgrounds then it is likely that both parents have experienced similar traditions and it isn’t a problem to decide which traditions they will keep. If they live near to their parents, then the grandparents will have a larger influence on the traditions that are followed. These are the general reasons for following the status quo traditions. But, when parents come from different backgrounds each parent brings different traditions to the table, and the two parents will determine which traditions to follow and perhaps create new traditions. If the parents come from different religions, some tradition of how to unify the idea of religion in the minds of children needs to be considered. If the parents come from families that have different ideas about education, then some compromise needs to be made. Parents with poor experience with regard to education may determine that education is a waste of time. Parents with a good experience will encourage the children by pointing out the importance of education. These differences play out on a daily basis when the family is making time for after school activities and homework. Should a child miss homework or a game when the two come into conflict?

Even beyond this the personality of a family is sometimes passed on to the next generation. When politeness is highly valued the children are demanded to be polite. When humor is rewarded the children desire a need to be humorous. When “children should be seen and not heard” is the family motto, then children grow up to be quite and perhaps shy. These attitudes go to school with the children and some of these personalities do better in school than others. Families that listen to each are bound to demand that the children listen to each other. And, the value of listening is apparent in the school environment.

If you think about all these possibilities, then it becomes obvious that some races might actually do better in school than other races. But, it isn’t because of the race that they do better. Instead it is because of the tradition that is passed down from their parents. The tradition might have a lot to do with the culture in which the family exists, but the traditions followed in the raising of the children are actually the key. If you start with a tradition of slavery 150 years ago, there are about 5 generations in which slave traditions could change to other family traditions. That would be assuming that suddenly former slaves would suddenly realize that they had freedom and they chose to use it to make life for their family better. The traditions might be to begin a tradition of amassing capital, making sure that the youth are educated and understanding what rights they are entitled to. The reality of the situation was that there was only a short time that African Americans had the opportunity to begin any of these traditions before segregation began to take hold in the South. Segregation was the systematic denial of these things to the former slaves and their offspring. Segregation forced the African Americans to continue traditions of staying quiet and ignoring the oppression of the former slave owners and other whites mainly in the Southern United States.

Another hundred years, or about 3 generations passed before the civil rights marches of the 1960s broke many of the laws put in place to continue to oppress the descendents of the slaves. This continued oppression managed to maintain the family traditions formerly passed down through these families. There wasn’t any tradition of education, creating and maintaining wealth or even voting and public service. Without a tradition in place it is hard to imagine how the tradition might spring to life on its own. And, even if the tradition would spring to life spontaneously in some places, it would certainly be the minority of families. And in the forty-five years since the civil rights movement we should be amazed at the progress that we have made as a country. But, we also need to realize that these ideas are certainly not as firmly grounded in family culture as it is in other segments of our society. But, it continues to be encouraging. But, on some level it could be seen as discouraging as well.

It turns out that as more and more African Americans are getting college education the usefulness of the degree is becoming less important in some areas. For non-science degrees the opportunities for furthering ones self is in decline. The pay for people with these degrees is certainly quite low. Considering the amount of money borrowed for this education and the return on that investment is very discouraging. The lesson learned and passed down to the next generation might be, “Don’t bother with a college education, it doesn’t help.” The seeds for the future are being sown by these experiences.

There is hope for the future though.

My personal experience with being raised in prejudice and hopefully shedding that weight is hopeful. I don’t know for certain whether I have shed my programmed prejudice. When I see people like Mel Gibson or Michael Richards racially lashing out, I have to ask myself if I might do the very same thing if I were to get angry at some idiots. I need to remember that all races and nationalities have idiots. It isn’t because they are a member of a race that makes them an idiot. Instead they are an idiot that happens to be a member of a particular race. There are some “bad” traditions that are passed down and learned, but it certainly has nothing to do with the race or nationality that they belong to. It does have to do with what these people are taught as children by their parents, grandparents or even neighborhood friends. If all of these people happen to have common experiences and common ideas it still has nothing to do with what nationality or race they happen to be a member of.

The best idea is that one should get to know the people one to one and not rely on a stereotype or racial profile.

Last weekend I was meeting with a group of students. I was helping them come up with ideas for their science fair projects. I met with each of them one by one, asking them what ideas they had and if they needed any help. Afterward, my wife asked me about what some of the students had selected. And, I didn’t know the names of several students, so she had to describe them to me. When she asked me what one of the students that was African American had selected I was completely lost. I didn’t remember an African American student at the event. Now, this either means that I am blind to race, or I just don’t pay attention very well. I am hopeful for the first.


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

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

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Monday, December 04, 2006

Texas Sweat

When I lived in Texas I had a 1966 Ford Mustang without air conditioning. I loved the car, but I was almost permanently sweat soaked whenever I went anywhere. This, of course, was because the weather in Houston is almost always 99 degrees and 99 percent humidity, or at least that is how it felt. This is the way I remember it, but I also remember being 100 miles from home and realizing that I was going to freeze to death unless I went to Sears and bought a coat or a sweater. The weather in Texas wasn’t always predictable. My first year there I was caught in a sudden downpour and soaked to the bone as I tried to walk from the classroom to the car to drive home. It must have taken me a couple of years to realize that I needed to be wary of the weather.

The weather is one thing, but it isn’t the only thing when one thinks about Texas in comparison to the rest of the country. Or, from my perspective I was comparing Texas to my most recent experience with life in Ohio. In Ohio I could drive on the freeway and never be more than a mile from the next gas station. Or, at least in the Urban areas of Ohio where I spent most of my time I found this to be the case.

By having a 1966 Ford Mustang in Ohio I was not normally at any great risk if my car suddenly decided not to go. I had coasted off the freeway and into a gas station several times before, and it wasn’t such a big deal. The worst case I had had in Ohio was when I hadn’t quite made it into the gas station and I needed to jump out of the car and push it into the gas station. The car had a heater, and I never needed air conditioning in Ohio.

In Texas, I still loved my car. It was a fun little ride, but it also provided me with some unexpected adventure. Now “unexpected adventure” is a euphemism for an unplanned unexpected undesired unwanted unpleasant experience that sometime later, perhaps twenty years or so, one can laugh at when the story is re-told. And, my car certainly brought me quite a few “unexpected adventures” before it was stolen and most likely taken to a chop shop and distributed to other Mustang owners around the country. I like to think that the spirit of my car is still alive and well in someone’s car somewhere.

One weekend when my car was working my future wife at the time and me took a trip from Houston to Dallas. For those of you who are unfamiliar with this trip, it takes about four hours along a major freeway. This means that the typical problems of Texas driving through small town speed traps and the like are not so problematic. The trip is relatively simple, but a bit longer than most of the trips I had taken when I lived in Ohio. But, by this time I had made this trip a number of times and it was “old hat.” By this time we normally stopped at the same places on the way there or the way back and the whole trip was almost automatic. In fact it was so automatic that I actually forgot to fill up for gasoline for the trip home. By this point in the life of my car the fuel gage no longer worked properly, so I normally needed to remember to fill up the tank on a regular basis based on the number of miles driven rather than the position of the needle on a gage.

Well, you guessed it, we ran out of gas at night in the middle of nowhere on a Texas freeway. There were plenty of cars around, but neither me nor my future wife had ever hitchhiked before. We knew that we were nearly 10 miles in either direction from a freeway exit and we believed that a truck stop was the next exit further down the road.

Being stuck in the middle of nowhere creates an exaggerated sense of fear and hopelessness. First, one fears that some unknown person may descend upon you and take advantage of your situation. And, second the you look at the long walk ahead of you as a hopeless task taking an enormous amount of time only to result in buying the sought after fuel and then in carrying that enormous weight back the same distance again. Then there is the fear of the alternative plan where you risk hitchhiking and being picked up by some unsavory person who could take advantage of your plight and make matters even worse for you. And, finally there is the fear that by leaving your car unattended for some length of time it just won’t be there when you return. And, as these fears and hopelessness take hold you begin to imagine some things that are in the extreme category of unreasonable fear.

So, as we began to long walk to the truck stop that we believed existed a few miles down the road we were caught completely off guard when a truck pulled over and motioned us to hop into his cab. Both fear and thankful gratitude bubbled to the surface. Was this just some Good Samaritan, or did he have an evil intent?

We took the risk and jumped into the cab. And, it was a very nice truck indeed. The cab was less than a year old. It was spacious and the seating was as comfortable as a living room sofa. I could have ridden for hours in this cab without even knowing that the time had passed. The cab was nice, and the driver was nice as well. He was friendly and kind, and he dropped us off at the truck stop without a hassle.

That trip was unexpectedly easy. The truck stop was a good place to get gas, but unfortunately we didn’t have a gas can and the truck stop unexpectedly didn’t sell gas cans. Of course, even in the state of Texas it was illegal to put gasoline in an unauthorized container, but it was late and we were willing to take the risk. But, was the attendant willing to take the risk and sell us the gasoline? Fortunately we found an old anti-freeze container and we were able to fill it with gasoline. The attendant didn’t seem to care what we put it in. With our gas in hand we wondered how we were going to get back up the freeway to our car. We asked a couple of the truckers at the truck stop, but they were headed in the wrong direction, so we thought it might be more productive to just walk to the freeway and hopefully catch a ride with a trucker already headed in our direction.

My future wife became delirious with our good fortune. She knew for certain that the first truck by would pull over for us, and we would be on our way to our transportation. But, I’d been through this type of thing before (maybe not hitchhiking exactly, but hoping for the kindness of a stranger in general) and it didn’t always work out the way we hoped. But instead of becoming disappointed when the first truck passed us by she came to the conclusion that the trucker didn’t see us. So, when we saw the next truck coming down the freeway she jumped out into the road and waved her hands to make sure that this guy saw us. And as he got closer to us she moved over to the side of the road. And, to my surprise the truck pulled over on the side of the road.

As we walked to the idling truck I yelled to my future wife, “What the Hell are you thinking?” And, she replied, “I thought that if he saw us he’d pull over, and he did.” And we both trotted down the road to our next ride carrying our open topped make shift fuel container.

“Could you give us a ride up the road to our car?” we asked the guy. He motioned us into the cab that was almost exactly the opposite of our previous ride. It was a dirty, smelly old cab. I wasn’t quite sure what he might be hauling, but I thought that it might have been something to do with agriculture. The guy talked to us, but I suspected that he might have had some mind-altering substance in his circulatory system. He grabbed his cigarettes and pulled one out. I placed my hand over the open fuel container. He told my future wife to put the window down and pass the pack of cigarettes to his brother who was driving along side. Caught in a bit of shock and dumbfoundedness, she hesitated in taking the cigarettes from our driver. I interrupted saying that our car was not very far from where we were. And, in a couple of minutes we saw our car and told him to pull over so we could get to our car. For a moment I believe that we both thought that the trucker might not be so obliging as to drop us off, but as we got our message across to him he pulled over and we were dropped off only slightly past our car.

For a short moment it seemed a bit hotter there in Texas. We didn’t know if our “idiot” driver was going to blow us up with his ignorance about the combustibility of gasoline. Or, perhaps his attention might have been distracted by his antic of passing his cigarettes between trucks at 65 MPH. Or, maybe he just wanted to take us along on his trip for “company.” Maybe, just maybe, it did matter who picked us up. Maybe, just maybe we shouldn’t have forced the trucker to “see” us when we were looking for a ride.

In fact, I was thinking about this after the event. The first trucker reacted out of his sympathy for our plight. He saw that we were starting out on a ten-mile hike and he felt empathy. That empathy resulted in his offer of a ride. The second driving saw a crazy person flagging him down. Perhaps he was in the mood for some crazy fun and he stopped for us expecting some crazy people. If we had acted crazy, would the first driver have stopped? Or, if we looked like we had just begun a long trek would the second driver have stopped? I’m guessing no to both questions, but then again you never know.
It turns out that our “unexpected adventure” resulted in a happy ending. But it also made us think about the possible unhappy endings that could have happened. Most of the time most of the strangers that we meet turn out to be quite nice. However, I have also met some strange people as well that have questionable moods and questionable motives. Risks can be interesting, risks can be fun but risks are risks no matter what else they are.


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

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

Friday, December 01, 2006


I am not a medical doctor, so I certainly don’t know the intricacies of what happens in my body. But, I am a scientist and I do make observations for a living. This being the case I often wonder why my body reacts the way it does. For example, when I get sick I observe the symptoms and note how they correspond to the symptoms that my family members had days earlier when they were inflicted with the same virus. By knowing how a virus developed I begin to anticipate what I am in for.

Over the last few years I have gradually increased my stamina, lost weight and become generally more healthy. So, when I think about the changes in my body over these last few years I still have memory of what life was like before this happened. I remember the struggle I had trying to climb the cinder cone at Lassen National Park, which in my mind was the initial event that sent me in this direction.

One of the striking changes in my body is how it responds to temperature. Four years ago I sat outside on a cool fall night here in California to listen to a concert. The outdoor temperature was in the low 50s, and I was unfazed by the temperature. Some of my friends were also there and were obviously quite cold in their buttoned up jackets, but I remained comfortable through the concert. One of my friends commented about how the temperature didn’t seem to bother me. I told them that I had effective insulation.

On another day a few years later I found myself struck in traffic in the Texas summer heat without air conditioning. I sat there praying for the traffic to break up so I could get back to my apartment to cool off. And, while I sat there I remembered my first trip to Texas where the high heat and high humidity weren’t quite as uncomfortable. At the time I wondered why I had become less accustomed to the heat. But, today I realize that I had also put on some extra weight between those two events. Insulation is a good thing when you want to keep the heat inside, but it is a bad thing when you want to get rid of the excess heat. My body certainly works this way.

But I also know that body heat is more than just insulation. It is also about metabolism. Metabolism has to do with how a body uses energy. For example, when a body burns calories it generates heat. This happens during exercise, but it also happens in an effort to maintain body temperature. And, when a body has an excess layer of insulation it doesn’t need to generate as much heat to maintain body temperature. And, so the body learns to conserve energy and slow metabolism. Or, at least that’s what I’ve observed in my body. The ramifications of this is that as someone puts on body fat they increase insulation and no longer need to burn as many calories to maintain body heat. If one eats the same amount and exercises the same amount, then they are likely to produce less heat and have a lower metabolism rate. Of course there are certainly other factors here and I am not making a blanket statement, but this seems to be the case with my personal experience. But, the interesting thing is that by exercising one increases their metabolism for not only the period during the exercise but for some time afterward.

This is something that I personally noticed. When I started exercising I did not exercise regularly at first. But I did go to work everyday regardless of whether I exercised or not. So, I woke up, exercised then went to work or I woke up did not exercise and then went to work. I noticed that on days that I exercised I was much warmer in my office than on days that I did not exercise. My office temperature was basically the same temperature, so my warmth was related to whether I exercised or not. I made this observation over many days and thought about whether I ate differently on different days at breakfast or at lunch or during the day. The fact that I exercised in the morning had the most important effect, until I lost quite a bit of weight. So, the fact that I exercised and burned calories in the morning was part of my weight loss equation. I also boosted my metabolism so that I continued to burn more calories during the day as well.

When my body fat percentage dropped, I became more sensitive to temperature. Of course I had less insulation, or fat to burn. So, at this point it didn’t matter if I exercised or not I was still cold in my office. As I thought about this I wondered what would happen if I ate something for lunch. I soon found that by eating a high calorie snack I began to feel warmer. Putting the sugar in my blood stream tended to increase my generation of body heat. Of course, this made quite a bit of sense.

Any way, those are just a few observations on my personal physiology…


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

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