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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Friday, January 26, 2007

Amazing Stories

In my most recent piece on dishonesty I compared politicians and used car salesmen. What I was trying to communicate in the piece is that dishonesty is not a “black and white” thing. As Americans we accept the fact that a salesman, regardless of what he or she is selling will put their product in the most favorable light. We know this and accept it as a fact. Putting a product in a favorable light may or may not be deception. And, it may or may not be dishonest. I tried to be clear, but one reader told me that Bill Clinton’s father was a used car salesman. I assume that is a fact, but I don’t know anything about Bill Clinton’s father so I can’t really comment one way or the other.

But, what difference does it make whether Bill Clinton’s father was a used car salesman? I know that the reader didn’t like what I wrote, so I assume that he was trying to point out the fact that I must have liked Bill Clinton, therefore the guy I liked was fathered by someone I didn’t like, namely a used car salesman.

There are many problems with these assumptions. First of all, Bill Clinton was a better president than George W Bush, but it doesn’t mean that Bill Clinton was my favorite president of all time. Both of these guys have enormous flaws, but these are the guys that were able to make it through the political process that we have in this country. One of the main problems we face is the US political process. Perhaps Bill Clinton made it through the political process because he had a father that was a used car salesman. In fact, the point of my essay was how both politicians and used car salesmen use a form of dishonesty in selling their wares. That fact is that even John McCain’s straight talk express ran out of steam because he couldn’t maintain his straight talk amid all the truthiness.

Little did Sammy Cahn or Jimmy Van Huessen realize that Americans are so much in love with the idea of High Hopes. In fact, Americans praise the idea of High Hopes in such an idealized way that it is often viewed as a sin to be realistic about the motives of both our salesmen and our politicians. When a politician comes along and starts to tell us what we want to hear we begin to believe them even more, because we have such High Hopes that we believe that we have finally found that rare beast, the honest politician.

But, the problem is that the politicians and the salesmen have all been singing a different tune. Instead they are listening to Bing Crosby croon out Johnny Mercer and Harold Arlen’s song. They are accentuating the positive and eliminating the negative. It’s all in the eye of the beholder and reality doesn’t matter. And, the real danger happens when we combine the reality of these two philosophies put forth in these two songs.

If we have a public with high hopes looking for a politician to fulfill those hopes they are willing to accept whatever they can find. Then you introduce a politician who is accentuating the positive and hiding the negative the best he can. In this situation we end up with political pretenders who offer only faces that look like what America wants and in which America is willing to accept with those high hopes. Of course none of this is based in reality.

And, this takes us back to the advertisers. When the advertisers tell us about their amazing wares we never believe their claims without skepticism. We all know that most soda is favored carbonated sugar water, but we allow the advertisers tell us about the magically property of this drink. We like the flavor and the hype so we continue to accept the claims of the advertisers, even though most of us have realized long ago that drinking this magic potion doesn’t really change our lives as the advertisers suggest. But advertisers continue to accentuate the positive and eliminate the negative in everything that America sees. How else could we become such an obese nation? When the positive tastes so good, why should we think about the negative of a few hundred extra pounds?

So, what is going on in a soft drink ad? What are the advertisers telling us, and are they being dishonest? Are they using deception or are they committing fraud? And, why do we allow the ads to influence our buying habits?

Advertisers don’t tell us that drinking soda may lead to obesity. But the simple equation of 3500 calories equals one pound of fat and 200 calories per 12 oz. of soda should lead us to some frightening conclusions. One 12 oz. soda per day could lead to 2 pounds extra per month if nothing else changed in your diet or exercise habits. And soft drink advertisers would have you drink many more than one 12 oz. soda per day. There are big gulps of 64 oz. that we are encouraged to drink. Think about it, 3 big gulps are going to become one pound of fat. A big gulp per day is 10 pounds of fat per month. So, is it fraud to leave this information for the buyer to figure out? Obesity doesn’t just come from soft drinks, the soft drink companies may claim. They are not the only ones responsible. Why should they tarnish their accentuation of the positive with that unwanted negative information?

Every company does this. It isn’t just used car salesmen and politicians. But, like your parents said when you told them that, “everyone’s doing it,” “would you jump off a bridge, if everyone was doing it?”

All that I was trying to say with my dishonesty post was that dishonesty is an accepted form of sales technique. Everyone knows that they should be skeptical when the salesmen sound “too good.” Rush Limbaugh might makes “conservative values” sound like a panacea. Al Franken might makes Rush Limbaugh sound like a big fat idiot. But, these political sales people are trying to get their policy across and the policy just isn’t as good as it gets. Political policy has winners and losers in the most general cases. Sometimes the rich win and the poor loose. Sometimes the smart people win and the stupid people loose. Sometimes the government tries to fix the inequality and sometimes they fail miserably. The only way that these policies can be kept in check is for Americans to care about the political policy. Then they can make sure that they don’t get ripped off to badly, or else we’ll just have a government that tells you that they know what’s good for those who do care.


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

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

Tuesday, January 23, 2007


Like most Americans, I detest dishonesty. I don’t like the fact that used car salesmen offer you the idea that the used car they are trying to sell you is in perfect condition. Many people don’t seem to be able to fathom the idea that someone sold that car because it wasn’t perfect and it would most likely cost to much to get it into “very good” condition.

The fact of the matter is that an honest Used Car salesman won’t be able to make a living in the business for very long. He needs a few gullible people to lay down their money every week so he can support his wife and kids. The truth is that some people need to buy used cars and these guys need to sell them. Unfortunately dishonesty often makes the deal happen. And, being aware that you are going to be ripped off in some way doesn’t make you feel any better about the situation.

Some people deal with the fact that they are most likely to be ripped off by a used car salesman by ignoring the situation. They go into the show room and deal with the guy as if they are being honest and everything is above board. After the purchase when the ignorant new owner begins to discover the problems with the car they often blame “bad luck” as the culprit behind the failing automobile. The salesman gets off and the ignorant person continues to believe in the honesty of humanity.

Other people deal with the fact that they are going to be ripped off by assuming that they are going to be ripped off and trying the best to discover the secrets of the car they want to buy. Some cars are worse than others and they convince themselves that they can learn what they can about a car and only choose the best car from all the bad cars available. Of course this is a wise approach hoping that you can discover the inevitable flaws in the car you end up purchasing. Knowing the problems in advance is certainly desired, but these problems are not given up freely by the salesman. This approach requires work, sleuthing, and deduction and there is always the possibility that you will miss that very expensive flaw. This adversarial approach to buying a used car is never enjoyed by either party, and it is often dreaded before it even begins.

The result of both of these approaches often results in the same thing - a car with some problems and an owner that learns to live with them. So, if one method requires more work than the other and the results are most often the same, why would one choose the more difficult style? The fact is that most people often find themselves somewhere in between the two extremes. Perhaps a person looks at the problems that they know how to discover and they also ignore the problems that they do not know how to discover very easily. The old stereotype of the guy kicking the tires of the car comes to mind. Perhaps one can determine the sturdiness of a car from kicking the tires, but is sturdiness of a modern car a common problem? Of course the wear and tear of the misalignment of a trans-axle may not be determined quite as easily and it may be a bit more important.

Dishonesty is motivated by the needs of the dishonest person. This isn’t a new idea; it is merely an unpleasant fact of life. The used car salesman wants to sell imperfect cars to customers that expect perfection. By avoiding a discussing of the unpleasant facts often results in neither party facing the issue. Calling the salesman on specific issues that may be perfect results in both parties feeling that they did the right thing, offering to discuss the problems of the car. But, the salesman is not required to talk about the problems that were not expressly brought up. After all, his goal is to slip one by so he can make his money and feed his wife and kids.

Of course, used car salesmen are not the only people who are dishonest. In most discussions the next group on the list are the politicians. Normally people do not distinguish between the politics of the politicians. This is because no matter what their party affiliation the job of a politician is to sell his policy. Dishonesty without being caught in a lie is the clever line a politician must follow. This is because a politician needs a majority to get his policy implemented. The politician may actually have a majority of people that agree with him, but the message isn’t always communicated 100%. This means that persuading a portion of people that wouldn’t normally agree with him if they understood what he meant could make up for the people who would agree with him if they understood the policy. Obviously this is the numbers game that we are all familiar with.

Dishonesty in politics centers around telling the people what they want to hear and avoiding what they don’t want to hear. Exaggerating what people desire by making those things sound even more desirable that reality. And, Exaggerating the evils of those things in the alternative policy choice. Politicians tell us that these things are not lies, because each statement is true on it’s own. But, they don’t tell you the parts that they left out.

George W Bush tells us that he is killing terrorists in Iraq. He doesn’t tell you that he threw a party for the terrorists and invited them from all of the countries in the Middle East when he started the Iraq War. He tells us that he won’t raise taxes, but he fails to tell us that he is borrowing the money that he needs for his agenda so that we will have to pay twice as much for it in the future.

The only defense against this dishonesty is to point out the dishonesty. Of course, supporters of the policy will do make every effort to defend the dishonesty in an effort to confuse the public. Someone will point out that at some point we will need to cut our government spending or raise taxes to pay for George W Bush’s spending spree. And, the defenders of the policy will call those who disagree with the spending traitors, or anti-patriotic or scum or something even less appealing. Those who are confused think to themselves, “They didn’t raise my taxes, and I’m patriotic. That sounds good to me.” It often takes years of this deception and argument for the truth to come out. And, often quite a bit of damage is done to the public interest.

In our Democracy we have a tradition of debate and argument in an effort to get to the truth as quickly as possible. We not only tolerate free speech, we encourage it. So, when Nancy Pelosi questioned the dishonesty of George W Bush we should applaud her effort in the American tradition. She told us how George W Bush rushed the additional troops to Iraq so that the Congress would find itself unable to cut funding for troops that are already in harms way. And, Tony Snow accused the Speaker of the House of “playing politics.”

The truth of this may never be known. It is unlikely that George W Bush would ever admit that he sent troops to Iraq without Congress discussing the issue, because he knows that doing that would make him look bad. He might have believed that sending these troops was the best solution, but in doing so he took away the discussion. In the current political climate he knows that no one would support an escalation of a failed policy. Unfortunately he also doesn’t realize that it is failed. He believes that staying the course, killing more people is the best solution. He believed that hanging Saddam Hussein was justice and not revenge. And he believes in the good Fairy of the Iraq War. But the point isn’t what he believes, instead the point is what is good for America.

Well, as we all know, we are not going to get anything that is good for America from this president. We need to wait two years to find out if we will finally get a Commander in Chief that will think about America above his personal interests. And, the problem is that in two years we are not guaranteed to have anyone better in place, just someone different.


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

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

Wednesday, January 17, 2007

The Magic Wand

Abracadabra is the magic word that makes things go your way. Magical thinking means that you believe in the magic word that makes everything all right. We have all seen magicians use their magic words and make the world bend to their whims. So, we all must believe in magic, right?

Ya, Right!

In the real world we all know that magic is based on illusion. Magic is a performance art where the magician deceives the audience by creating an idea that is believable to the viewer, until the trick is performed and the audience sees what it can not believe. And, politics is all about the same thing - deception.

If you have turned on the TV, read the newspaper or listened to the radio in the last week you are aware of the dangerous escalation of the US troops in Iraq. President George W Bush announced this escalation as a surge in troops that is needed to quell the insurgents, bring order to society and help the infant Iraqi government establish legitimacy. We are all aware of the number of troops needed to accomplish this magic. The president himself reached into his hat and pulled out the magic number and told us that 21,500 troops would be the magic word. In the buildup to his now famous talk the number for the troop increase was tossed around. “Maybe 10,000 troops could be added,” one talk show host suggested. At another time I heard a talk show host, suggest that between 10,000 and as high as 20,000 troops could be added in a temporary surge. Well, by the time the president gave his speech we knew that the top end would be around 20,000 troops. So, when George W Bush announced an increase of 21,500 troops we all knew that he was serious about this conflict in Iraq.

But, is this really such a change from the status quo? How have troop levels varied over the course of the war? How do we know if this is such a big deal if we don’t know how much this is changing the “stay the course” strategy that has failed so far?

Well, we know that the current troop levels are at about 132,000 total as of January, 2007. This number has been thrown around so that everyone knows what we are dealing with. But, how have troop levels varied in the course of this war, at least for the US.

In 2003 the troop levels fell off, as we believed that looting and pilaging of the country was an Iraqi police matter and not a concern for the US military.

May 150,000
June 150,000
July 149,000
August 139,00
September 132,000
October 131,000
November 123,000
December 122,000

In 2004 we realized that we needed more troops in Iraq, because we began to fight the insurgents who did not like the idea of their country being occupied by foriegners.

January 122,000
February 115,000
March 130,000
April 137,000
May 138,000
June 138,000
July 140,000
August 140,000
September 138,000
October 138,000
November 138,000
December 148,000

In 2005 the troop numbers continued to rise to their maximum at the end of 2005. This troop increase has been explained as necessary to keep the peace for the Iraqi elections.

January 150,000
February 155,000
March 150,000
April 142, 000
May 138,000
June 135,000
July 138,000
August 138,000
September 138,000
October 152,000
November 160,000
December 160,000

In 2006 the number of troops fell off and surged over the years with amplitude of about 10,000 troops.

January 136,000
February 133,000
March 133,000
April 132,000
May 132,000
June 126,900
July 130,000
August 138,000
September 144,000
October 144,000
November 140,000

So, when George W Bush increases the troops with his 21,500 troops we will have a total of 132 + 21.5 = 153.5 thousand troops. Are 153,500 troops really much different than the number of troops we have had all along? Did the surge to 160,000 troops for two months at the end of 2005 really change very much? How can we expect this similar surge to do much? Isn’t this just another elaborate deception created in order for George W Bush to make us believe that doing the same thing is actually doing something different?

But, if we actually look at the facts here it looks like Bush has painted himself into a corner with this illusion. If you think about this, George W Bush is claiming that doing the same old song and dance is really something new. Now the Democrats and some of the Republicans in congress have taken him up on his illusion suggesting that it is irresponsible to increase the number of troops in such a policy failure. So, the faux choice has now become choose Bush’s plan to escalate troop levels, which really means to keep them the same. And, choose to keep the troop levels the same, which will result in a win for the Doves on this issue, even if the troop levels end up creeping up as they have in the past anyway.

This entire troop level argument illustrates the way the politicians end up doing what they want while they change what they say to the public.


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

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

Tuesday, January 16, 2007


As Americans we pride ourselves on the ability to make choices. When we say that we are fighting for freedom, we are implying that we are fighting for the right to make our own choices. As Americans we do not like the idea of being told what to do. Even if we know what the “right” thing is we often choose to ignore the “right” thing “just this once.

During the Carter administration back in the late 1970s Jimmy Carter gave us a famous “energy conservation” speech. We were told how dangerous it was for the OPEC nations to have control over our lives. We collectively laughed at Jimmy Carter and determined that it was our right as an American to pay the OPEC cartel a little more money so that we could drive our big American cars. No one was going to tell us what we could or could not do. If we wanted to send a little extra money to the Middle East that was our business and not the government’s business.

Maybe Jimmy Carter didn’t want to frighten us, because he didn’t tell us the whole story. He didn’t tell us that some of the extra money that we were sending to the Middle East was going to people who didn’t like the United States. In fact, he didn’t tell us that there were people in the Middle East that didn’t like us because of the things our government had done in the past. He didn’t tell us that the Iranians still remembered that the US had overthrown their Democratically elected leader because we wanted to help the British protect the oil that they had stolen during the building of their empire. Americans were under the false impression that we were loved by all through out the world because of our enormous wealth that we flaunted everywhere we went. Who could hate us for having money?

So, when the Iranian students took revenge by capturing our Embassy in Tehran we ignored their grievances and shouted at their government for not enforcing the International laws. We wouldn’t even acknowledge that we had broken any international laws when we overthrew their government. We, as Americans, don’t like to be told what we don’t already know is a fact. We were innocent and the students had no legitimate reason for doing what they did. That’s the fact!

Some Americans believe that their country has never been wrong. Many Americans believe that their country has only been wrong on one or two occasions. And, many Americans believe that if you believe that your country is wrong, then you are not an American patriot; you may even be a traitor. But, the truth is that there are always alternatives to every choice and we have human beings choosing between these alternatives. The president of the United States is a human being and he makes mistakes. His advisors are human beings and they make mistakes. And, if we don’t point out those mistakes before they are made we may suffer even worse disasters in the future. The secret plan to overthrow the democratically elected Iranian government resulted in the student uprising in 1979 which brought religious fundamentalist into power. These religious fundamentalists have played their cards right and have begun to spread their influence through out the Middle East. They have used the chaos in Iraq to spread their influence there as well. In fact, the biggest winner from the US invasion of Iraq in 2003 has been the Iranian religious fundamentalists. And, the longer we stay there the greater their power will become.

We have had alternatives all along. We didn’t have to overthrow the Iranians in 1953, just like we didn’t need to attack Iraq in 2003. We always have alternatives to our actions.

The fact that we always have alternatives isn’t always the fact that our leaders would like us to see. It doesn’t matter who the leader is, the leader always wants us to believe that he knows the one and only path we should follow into history. But, our leaders have been wrong and they will always continue to be wrong occasionally no matter who that leader happens to be. A good leader needs to admit when they are wrong, take responsibility, ask for advice and make the right choices as we go forward. It is only prudent!

But, we are not always blessed with leaders that know how to lead. And, of course, George W Bush is an example of a leader who has failed to lead and continues to drag us down the wrong road. George W Bush has alternatives, but he chooses to ignore this fact. In fact, he plays the bully, taunting the opposition as if he knows the truth and everyone else is just to stupid to see it. I am sorry that I am this harsh here, but sometimes a stubborn ass needs to be pushed down the road, because he doesn’t know the danger if he stays put.

I would like to make one point here. WE HAVE ALTERNATIVES! Sorry for the shouting, but sometimes it is appropriate. George W Bush gave his “Stay the Course and Kill Some More” speech last week. He proposed that 145K troops isn’t enough, so we should send some more. He also said we should ask the Iraqis if they didn’t mind pitching in a little. Like we hadn’t done that before. Then, the next day George W Bush got upset that people were criticizing him on this plan. He said that we shouldn’t criticize him with offering an alternative plan. What? What!? What planet is this guy from? He even commented on the Iraq Study Group’s plan in his speech. Wasn’t that an alternative plan? What about Jack Murtha’s plan? There have been at least four separate plans that I am aware of, and I am sure that there must be more. Does George W Bush have some type of disease that makes him deaf to other people’s ideas? There have been many alternatives offered, but just because he refuses to acknowledge them they suddenly don’t count. And, even the ISG’s plan was acknowledged, or didn’t he realize that it was a comprehensive bipartisan plan?

George W Bush seems to be playing that children’s game where the child puts his fingers in his ears and yells “I can’t hear you” repeatedly because he doesn’t want to know the truth. Maybe while he isn’t listening to the alternatives on Iraq he will miss his opportunity to truly mess up our domestic issues in the mean time. At least one can only hope.


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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Friday, January 12, 2007

Early Reactions

Rasmussen Reports is a polling place that keeps track of the President’s approval rating on a very consistent and regular basis. The keep a running poll based on the response from the previous three nights. They also ask the same question in the same way every night. From their web site they explain what they ask, and how it may give different results than other polling places.

At Rasmussen Reports, we ask if people Strongly Approve, Somewhat Approve, Somewhat Disapprove, or Strongly Disapprove of the way the President is performing his job. This approach, in the current political environment, yields results about 3-4 points higher than if we simply ask if people if they approve or disapprove (we have tested this by asking the question both ways on the same night). Presumably, this is because some people who are a bit uncomfortable saying they “Approve” are willing to say they “Somewhat Approve.” It’s worth noting that, with our approach, virtually nobody offers a “Not Sure” response when asked about the President.

Today’s numbers (35% Approval and 61% Disapproval) are not entirely from the polling taken after the president made his famous “escalation” speech. But even with only 2/3 of the data being taken after the president’s speech we see that his slight upward trend from recent days has been arrested in its tracks. The president’s approval at Rasmussen had been hovering at about 40% for many months now with only slight fluctuations. But, in recent days his approval had begun to climb to about 45%. I suspect that this climb had been due to a favorable anticipation of his speech on “What to do next in Iraq.” People had held out hope that George W Bush would finally make a sensible decision and do the right thing. Obviously all hope has been lost and the disillusioned people who had held some hope in what he might say have finally realized that there is no hope.

But an interesting highlight to these numbers is that the number of people who strongly approve of what the president is doing has finally fallen from the impenetrable 20% mark. These were the people who had stuck with the president no matter what he did. Katrina did not effect this number. Nothing had ever moved this number until the speech that he made on Wednesday night. With 2/3 of the polling taken after this speech his “strongly approve” number has fallen to 16%. Tonight’s data will be added to the mix and the true effect of his speech will be seen tomorrow at Rasmussen Reports.

But, the sad thing is that even though so few people respect this guy. Even fewer agree with him. And, there isn’t much that we can do about it. The Democrats have control of Congress and they can finally ask him the questions that most of us would like to have answered. And, most people would be embarrassed when all of their faults and failures are put out there for us all to see. In such an event most people would realize that they need to fix the problems and they would be willing to listen to the experts and correct their failures. Some people do not need the public pressure, but unfortunately some people do. This works for most sane people. The problem here is that we do not have a sane President in the White House. We do not have an administration that listens to the experts and makes rational decisions. Instead we have an administration that is disillusioned with hubris. This administration believes that they know the right answers despite what the experts have told them. So, this means that no one can change the course that we are on despite the efforts that we continue to be made.

So, with two days out of three in polling since the fated speech we can say that the public has not been convinced by the president. But, of course, this will never matter to the man who doesn’t read and doesn’t care what the polls or experts say.


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

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

Thursday, January 11, 2007

Staying the Course Plus 20K

Finally we agree that the mess in Mesopotamia is not getting any better by staying the course. General Shinseki told us that we needed over 350 thousand soldiers in Iraq after the invasion in order to maintain stability of the country. Of course he was encouraged to retire shortly after disagreeing with the Donald Rumsfeld and the Bush administration. The Bush administration tells the public that they listen to their Generals, but they certainly didn’t listen to General Shinseki, and they are currently paying the price.

Of course General Shinseki wasn’t the only General to voice his opinion to the administration and find their opinions ignored and their commands changed to something more suitable. George W Bush has recently rearranged his Iraq team in order to make sure that he had Generals in charge the agreed with his Iraq policy. Instead of using the practical experience from the Generals in the field, George W Bush has chosen to find the Generals that agree with him and appoint them to the top positions in this conflict. With this strategy we will never have a victory in any war let alone the conflict in Iraq. Of course, George W Bush has failed at every business opportunity that he has ever tried, so we shouldn’t be surprised by this at all.

So, we are stuck with George W Bush’s “Stay the Course” strategy. We will continue to send soldiers into the al Qaeda firing range where the terrorists have been traveling to this zone in order to hone their terrorist skills. We offer the targets and al Qaeda offers the troops to be trained. With Bush’s “new” plan he has decided to increase the number of targets to be sent to Iraq. We have not decided as a country to “win” this war, because that would require 350 thousand troops as General Shinseki has estimated. And, if we can’t win, why are we taking on this suicide mission?

The options are clear. We can decide to win, which requires sending over 200 thousand more troops to Iraq. Since we do not have these troops we would require a draft to get these troops. We need to raise the money needed to fight this war. And we need to commit to victory and do whatever it takes. If we do not do this, and there is very little will in the American public to do this we need to figure out how we leave Iraq and keep the country as stable as possible in do so. This is what the Iraq Study Group illustrated in their report.

These are the two valid options. George W Bush has chosen the wimp option. He doesn’t want to pick the winning strategy, because that would cost the Republicans political power for many years to come if it fails. And, he doesn’t want to “cut and run” because he has defined this option as a non-starter and he doesn’t have the integrity to do the right thing. We are stuck with this idiot in the Oval Office, and we will continue to suffer with him in charge. This is “bad.” But the really sad thing is that he has signed the death warrants for a large number of American troops that will pay the ultimate price for his wimpy decision.


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

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

Wednesday, January 10, 2007

Laws and Life

"To retain respect for sausages and laws, one must not watch them in the making."- Otto von Bismarck

With the golden sword in hand the Democrats finally have the power to make the laws that they had wanted to make for the last 12 years or so. But, one often wonders why the minority party has such little influence over making laws. After all, the minority party represents almost half of the voters no matter which election we are discussing, because most votes in most districts are often that close. If Democracy really had anything to do with the will of the people, or establishment of laws for the common good we could imagine the two political parties working together for the common good. Or, we could imagine representatives crossing back and forth across the aisle depending on the issue and how it effects his or her district.

The problem, however, is that many politicians become at first infatuated and then in love with political power. They realize that they can make things happen, or better yet prevent things from happening because of their actions. It isn’t only about voting on laws, it is also about writing the laws.

Imagine an example of a local law funding a way to save little kittens abandoned in the city. How is the law written? First, lawmakers need to define the scope of the law. What about adult cats, do they get assistance? Who pays for the service? Who is allowed to collect the money for providing a service? How much money is the maximum allowed?

Perhaps a simple law is written that mandates that $10,000.00 is allocated from the city’s general fund to be paid to the local veterinarians $25.00 per documented kitten or cat if the vet proves that they had the animal spade or neutered and vaccinated then given to the local animal shelter. Whether this law makes sense in reality is irrelevant for this discussion. The point is that the local lawmakers want to do something to help take care of the ferrule cats in the city. Maybe this law is great as written, but other lawmakers need to determine that. So, the law comes up to be presented before the city council. Now, it could be voted on, or it could be amended.

Suppose a lawmaker does not like the idea of spending money on these cats, but he doesn’t want to be called a cat hater by his constitutes. How can he vote against the law and keep his loyal voters? Well instead of voting against the law at the end he can add an amendment. If he adds an amendment that he does not like he can vote against the law. For example, he might add to this law the provision that dogs that are caught by the public could be brought in and put to death. The person bringing the dog in could also be paid $25.00.

Don’t be surprised by the construction of a law that offers to both saves cats and kills dogs, because lawmakers do things like this all the time, even if they are not as blatant as this example. A lawmaker can concentrate on one aspect of the law and use that reason for justifying a vote for or against the law. If other lawmakers add additional amendments that law may become complex and the result of the law might not be clear. But, also the lawmakers can even use the vote of one lawmaker against him in an upcoming election. A lawmaker intending to save cats and votes for the law might be called a dog killer in the election because of the other aspect of the law. Lawmakers might decide that the provision of paying for the destruction of dogs doesn’t matter, because they have determined that very few dogs would be turned in and many cats would be saved.

In real life lawmakers pass laws that can specifically help one or two companies while regulating an industry in another way. They can give tax breaks, or make it legal to hire non-Americans for specific work. Getting your own personal law made usually costs something. It might be a campaign contribution or the promise of your influence to tell the union to vote for the lawmaker in the next election. In this way laws can become extremely complicated and sometimes incomprehensible. And, most troublesome is the fact that the laws are not written with the “common good” in mind.

The Republicans made a big deal out of Democratic special interests that had influenced the making of laws over their reign in Congress. But, the point is that Republicans gained power and worked for their own special interests. Neither political party seems to have the common good of all Americans at heart when they write the laws. And, both parties want to maintain power, so they don’t like the submission of amendments from the opposing political party. If they did, there would be even more laws like the example above.

This being said, I have to mention that not all lawmakers behave in these ways. In fact, California Governor Schwarzenegger surprised me with his state of the state speech yesterday. Being a Republican I would have expected that he would be pushing the Republican agenda. But, yesterday he decided that the state actually wanted him to solve problems and work with the people. He told us that he will work to pass California Health Care reform, a typical Democratic issue. He told us that he wants to continue the California fight against Global Warming, regardless of what the Bush administration is pontificating. In fact, if the Governor didn’t have a political label on him I would be prone to call him a moderate Democrat instead of a Republican based on his agenda for 2007. Arnold has made the most amazing political turn around of any politician I have ever seen. He has listened to the people of California and responded to their needs. He is actually working for the “common good” of California and it is certainly visible. It is certainly too bad that more Republicans haven’t heard the message.

Tonight George W Bush will make his long awaited Iraq speech. Based on the leaks from the White House and the reactions from those privy to the knowledge I expect that George W Bush is about to embark on his next failure. Even though I am almost certain that President Bush will not learn from Governor Schwarzenegger’s example I can only hope and pray that he does listen. Americans do not want an escalation of the debacle 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

Monday, January 08, 2007

Socialist Education

The current reflection on the fall of the Soviet Union was in inevitable. Anyone that understands human nature could certainly look at the idea that people would work for the common good of society must have a screw or two loose. Even the Socialist government of the Soviet Union knew that people would not work hard if they got the same reward for working at a moderate or relaxed effort. And, a society that works at a 50% effort gets 50% of the reward that a society that puts in a greater effort does. And, of course, if the society is so fearful of military conflict spends these resources on protection from the feared conflict, then the people are going to have even fewer rewards to share at the end of the day. Obviously the only solution for this government which wished to succeed was to use authoritarian force to demand more effort from its lazy workers.

It all looked so clear cut to us after the fall of this once feared empire. That’s right, we feared these folks because it wasn’t really so clear to us when we were actually living the conflict called the “Cold War.” We feared that the Soviets would succeed and really make that system of working for the common good actually work. We feared that wealthy would be forced to start from scratch again and not be able to rely on those vast family fortunes that stretch back generations. We feared that people could actually learn to make society function with the “common good” as a common goal. And, we were so relieved when we saw that they couldn’t do it.

The funny thing is that we don’t completely believe the lessons of the Cold War.

We can look at the education system in the United States and see that it parallels the economic system of the Soviet Union. We all know that the common good of society benefits from a highly educated public. In fact, the more highly educated the public, the more skeptical and questioning the public becomes. A skeptical and questioning public with those questions and assertions backed up with facts and figures leads to a better society with fairer and more efficient laws. A more educated public has better problem solving skills than the uneducated alternative. A more educated public has better reasoning and logic skills that tend to make them less likely to be deceived. A more educated public possesses better communication skills and is able to further spread its ideas to the rest of society in understandable ways. However, even if some of the more educated public is deceived, a larger quantity of educated people leads to others who are able to discover the deceptions and explain them to those who have been deceived. Finally, a more educated public knows that it never understands the world and is always open to a better understanding of the world through debate and discussion that continues to further the education of the public in general.

But, in the United States today we have a very poor education system. Most of us understand that education is the key to a better society. But, we have offered the idea that education is the key to personal success as the capitalist motivation to pursue education. The idea is that if we learn some important skills we will be able to make more money. The skills that we need to learn are the skills that our capitalist economy demands. If computer programmers are needed, then computer programmers are paid more until enough people have acquired the desired skills. If engineers are desired, engineering salaries increase, until the need is met. The point is that education is only valued if the particular type of education is valued by corporations.

This has been known for years. History, English and Sociology majors are in high supply and low demand as far as the major corporations are concerned. Many of these college-educated people make less money than someone who has never been to college. This is because we don’t value education in this country; we value skills. This is important for the wheels of production, but it isn’t important for the working of a Democracy where education is the key to honest truthful and efficient government.

The point is that we can’t even pretend that we value education based on the way we treat our teachers. We treat our teacher as if they are manual labor, rather than professionals. This treatment has forced them to organize into labor unions, which has caused many people to become even more disenchanted with our education system and those running it.

We should take a step back and look at the big picture.
In the ideal world we would like to have the highest educated people teaching our children the secrets of the universe, how to discover new ones and how to communicate those things to the rest of us. We would like to have the most talented teachers with the most effective ideas sparking the young minds of our children. We would want teachers who love to get up in the morning and share their real life experiences with our children. But, with the current system we are sometimes lucky to find warm bodies to sit in the chair in the front of our classrooms and call themselves teacher. We all know this because our most talented people often seek financial reward in other areas instead of teaching.

I am not saying that good teachers don’t exist. There are many very good teachers. My wife was a very good teacher. She didn’t need the money, and she no longer teaches. There are not many people out there that do not care about the money. A lot of the good teachers that don’t care about the money are working in religious schools. Perhaps the financial sacrifice is part of their religious calling. But, for most people money motivates them. After all, America claims to be a capitalist society where money is the major motivating factor. Unless, of course, we can get away with spending less of it.

The problem as I wrote before is that we don’t value education. Children are taught to hate education, just like the Soviet workers were taught to hate work. There is little reward and much punishment for both of these groups. Children who are taught to hate education will grow up to hate it, not to value it. After all, these children who become education-hating adults will concede that the skills are helpful even if the education is pointless. Some of these people even resort to training their workers, in order to give them the needed skills regardless of their education. And, in the end our society suffers, just like the inevitable failure of the Soviet Union.

Of course, the solution to this problem isn’t easy, but it is simple. People need to be rewarded for education. However, the reward for education isn’t money, it is knowledge. But, knowledge isn’t something that everyone values. Some knowledge is valued, like the whereabouts of Katie Holmes, Tom Cruise, or Brittany Spears. But good teachers can and often do not only teach our children the facts, but they also teach them how to understand and use those facts so that they are valued. Teachers not only teach a student to read, but they also teach them to enjoy reading. They don’t only teach a person to communicate, but they also teach them the value of “good” communication. And, we should learn to value these “good” teachers with “good” rewards.


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

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

Thursday, January 04, 2007

Quit Whining

When the Republicans took over the US House of Representatives in 1994 they decided to shut out the Democrats at every possible level. This didn’t surprise anyone, because the Democrats had done the same over their reign as Kings of the House. As the Republicans maintained power they opted to strengthen their power in many different ways. Republicans claimed they had a mandate to do this because the voters chose to put them in power.

One of the ways that they did this were by gerrymandering congressional districts to give them a better chance of maintaining a majority in the House of Representatives. They did this recently in Texas where they claimed an off cycle redistricting in order to strengthen their hold on congress. Of course the Democrats had done similar things in the past, but many have argued that these “sure win” districts resulted in the polarization that we currently have in congress, because winning the Republican primary by going to the extreme right or winning the Democrat primary by going to the extreme left often left the winning with no competition in the general election - the district would vote one way or the other regardless of the extreme nature of the candidate.

Another way the Republicans increased their power was by dominating the lobbyists on K Street. The demanded that no Republican would be allowed to deal with a lobbyist that also dealt with a Democrat. This resulted in more perks flowing to the party in charge and less perks flowing to the minority party. Of course this backfired in the Abramoff scandal when very few Democrats had even met with Jack Abramoff compared to the huge number of Republicans that did.

But, the most notorious way that the Republicans controlled the Democrats was by killing any bill that the Republicans didn’t like in committee. Democrats didn’t have a voice in the House of Representatives in any practical way. Democrats could not even get their ideas into the public discourse if they didn’t match the predetermined Republican agenda. Only politically expedient bills could make it through committee, like the life threatening “flag burning” bill. Or the dangerous “gay marriage” bills. The only controversial bill that was introduced was the “immigration” legislation that was forced onto the public stage by the far right extremists who claimed to want to protect our country. And, the more moderate Republicans finely grew a spine and stood up to the xenophobic proposals.

So, I find it quite strange that the Republicans are sending up the political balloon about the Democrats wishing to silence the Republicans. Sure, we are going to get less “flag burning” and “gay bashing” bills introduced into the legislative debate. This is a good thing, because these bills were only meant to polarize the country even further than it has already become. Any action of the Democrats to move toward a less polarizing government could easily be viewed by extremists as an attempt to silence the minority. But, hopefully the Democrats will be able to define the debate and pull the country together. If they want this president to sign any of their bills into law they have no choice but to move to the center.

Finally, I just need to make one strong statement on this issue: Quit your whining Republicans and get on with the job of government!


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

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

Tuesday, January 02, 2007

Empathy vs. Selfishness

Nature has given us these two emotions for two slightly different reasons that both aid the species in the ultimate effort to survive. Empathy motivates us to assist others in need. If we are the member of a family or tribe the species tends to stand a better chance if we help each other survive. Selfishness motivates ourselves to survive without regard for anyone else.

A tribe of completely selfish people will not cooperate, and the tribe will no longer even remain a collection of people at all. Each individual will wander off on his own and eventually just come back and kill each member and take their stuff. A world of complete selfishness is an extremely unpleasant one.

On the other hand, complete empathy with disregard for the self will result in selfless sacrifices that could result in only the weakest surviving and the strongest dying off and eventually the end of the species as well.

So, nature has evolved with both of these characteristics in various degrees. Most individuals have some empathy and some selfishness and the combination leads to an internal conflict within each individual. When people feel these emotional conflicts they begin to question what is right and what is wrong. When a person without any cultural influence sees a person with something they want, they experience two emotions. They want what the other person has, and they also have empathy that the person would not want their item stolen from them.

Culture, the Bible and religious folks included, tend to place positive feedback on acting in a socially desirable way. They also place negative feedback on selfish behaviors. The goal is an effective balance between a society that functions and freedom of the individual to be selfish to some degree.

It is quite obvious that a completely selfish person will seek to take advantage of those who are naïve, stupid or empathetic with others. So, society has learned to make laws in which society is protected by punishing those who desire to be selfish with a punishment that a selfish person would chose against. A large number of people prefer to follow laws because of selfish fear of punishment rather than empathy for those who might be harmed. But, these selfish people can be shown that their actions will harm someone and then their empathy responds to the injustice, because everyone has some degree of empathy. Hence, these people are taught “right” and “wrong.” However, if this person were to allow themselves to be empathetic they would never have chosen the selfish behavior in the first place.

If we think about “right” and “wrong” in these terms, can anyone say that there is such a thing as “right” and “wrong?”

The religious community on one hand says that there is a bright line dividing between what God approves of and what God disapproves of. If we consider the Old Testament, we have a long list of “don’t.” Even though taking care of widows and orphans might be praised in an abstract way, there are no laws that say you must take care of every widow or orphan you meet. Empathy on the other hand might persuade one to lend a helping hand. The major augmentation to the Old Testament by Jesus was his law of love: “Love one another as you would love yourself.” We are no longer told “don’t,” but we are given an order to assist those in need if we would desire help when we are in need. We are told that we need to be empathetic with our neighbors! We knew this all along as a society, but we ignored it because it was inconvenient. The leaders made laws to force people to live in an orderly society, which people desired anyway.

But, Christianity isn’t the only religion that mentions empathy. In fact, the Old Testament preaches empathy in the Palms and Proverbs. Ancient societies told stories that demonstrated the advantage of empathy. In fact, the stories themselves helped develop a way to practice empathizing with the characters in the stories. Plays, songs, pictures, sculptures and poems are all devices used to help people empathize with each other. And, when people empathize with each other they don’t even seek to come to the edge where a law forces us to behave in a less selfish way.


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

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

Vacation Opportunities

Some vacations are dedicated to travel. Some vacations are dedicated to visiting family or entertaining family. Some vacations are dedicated to celebrations. Some vacations are dedicated to doing nothing at all, but my most recent vacation was different.

I tend to be a very reflective person. People don’t generally tend to share their personal reflections, mainly because truthful personal reflections tend to reveals flaws in the way a person is living their life. People don’t like to admit to flaws, personal flaws, character flaws, family flaws or national identity flaws. Admitting to a flaw requires change, and change requires work. People generally don’t like making more work for themselves than they already have. Admitting to a flaw requires making a difficult change that may be more difficult than is expected, and committing to that change may result in another failure - the failure to change an admitted flaw. This is all tough stuff and it can too easily reveal weakness.

Reflection does not always needs to be so difficult. Some reflections are much easier. Obvious reflections often result in obvious resolutions. New Years is the traditional time in our culture to pledge the obvious changes. We don’t need deep reflections to pledge to lose weight or eat healthier. Surface reflections in a wall mirror are often enough to show these flaws. Since these flaws are also shown publicly, they can not be hidden, so people find it much easier to pledge to reform these flaws, and accept failure to reform as well.

My recent vacation was a reflective vacation. I looked at myself, my family and my nation. What was different than my normal reflective actions was that I didn’t immediately write down my reflections at every thought. Instead, I thought and reflected without an immediate response. The only writing that I did over my entire vacation was in response to a blog on one’s innate ability to distinguish between “good” and “evil.”

What was strange was that I didn’t jump to conclusions or come to an immediate opinion on some of the big news stories over the last two weeks. And, there were several interesting events that deserved comments: The death of President Ford, the death of Saddam Hussein, the changes in laws that went into effect on January 1, 2007 and several other important events. The problem is that I have “hard wired” responses to ingrained in my psyche to these events, and I believe that some of these events might deserve more than a “hard wired” reflexive response. I began to think about why my reflective response was the way that it was. Why did I respond the way that I did on an emotional level? And, most importantly, was my reflexive response a fair response, or should I have considered something else that I hadn’t considered?

It isn’t like I was going to change my whole political outlook by reflecting on these major political events. But, I also know that it is quite dangerous to have an automatic response to any major event of any kind. After all, we should be well aware that the automatic response of our politicians after 9/11/2001 has damaged the reputation of the United States in the view of the wider world. Perhaps if our politicians had not been so automatic we wouldn’t be in the mess we are in today. Perhaps the lack of reflection of our politicians should be a lesson for us to keep at heart. And, perhaps I need to continue to reflect on why I think about the world the way I do.

I hope that I will eventually write about the presidency of Gerald Ford and the revenge killing of Saddam Hussein. I certainly have a piece in mind about the minimum wage increase here in California, and some of the stupid laws that just went into effect on January 1, 2007. I still have my opinions, which my reflections have re-affirmed. I have also begun thinking about the problems we face in Iraq regardless of whether we should be there or not. I can’t really say that my mind has changed much, even though I believe that I have honestly reflected on many of the facts, opinions and ideas that others have about these things. I have read and reflected on many of the conservative writings on these things that I may not have dealt with as fairly as I should have in the past. I watched and interesting round table debate last night on what it means to be an American that included the Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia. I can’t say that I was comforted by his opinion on this subject, but at least I know how this very important person feels about this very important subject. In fact, I wasn’t comforted by many of the things I read by those on the right side of the political spectrum.
The interesting thing about this reflection was that I realized that some of my opinions may have been a bit exaggerated. I have found that there are conservatives that I have disagreed with in the past who are not as crazy as I once thought. These people have voiced sanity in the face of the extremes of some of the lunatics out there. I found that there are moderates on the right side of the political spectrum. I also found that there are also extremists on the left side of the political spectrum. I had known this, but after spending the last three years fighting the extremists on the right it is important to remember this fact.

The most important thing about my personal refection is that I need to remember the perils of not reflecting on what people are saying before constructing an automatic response. These automatic responses may be used against us as they have been in the past. And, these automatic responses may be one of the fearsome dangers that we all face and ironically all have the power to control.


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

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