Wednesday, April 25, 2007

A Day of Analogies

I had a weird day. I woke up and decided I needed to start my day with a doughnut. I went to the doughnut shop, but they didn't have any doughnuts. They explained to me that they no longer believed that frying was ideologically sound. They said doughnuts were good, but they believed that if a doughnut really wanted to exist it would. Frying was a process that gave dough a crutch, and kept it from becoming a doughnut on its own.

I shook off my disappointment and headed to my doctor's office. I have had knee trouble, and I was suppose to be getting a final check-up before some reconstructive surgery. Much to my surprise, my doctor explained to me that he could not perform surgery because it went against his beliefs. As I wondered why he hadn't disclosed this fact to me before, he explained that surgery was an inefficient way to heal the body. If the body needed to be healed, an invisible hand would come in and help facilitate the recovery.

I wasn't sure how to respond to my doctor's revelation, so I headed off to work. I have been working on next year's budget, and I needed to get some clarification from the CFO. I went to the CFO's office and explained my situation. Without so much as a whiff of irony, the CFO explained that budgeting no longer fit within his philosophy of accounting. He explained that budgeting was a command and control version of business wherein the accounting office had to police individual departments who would use their money much more efficiently if left to their own devices. He showed me an elaborate graph in which money is spent much more efficiently with no controls on how or why. I must admit, it seemed a little confusing.

I went back to the office with my mind spinning. The doughnut shop doesn't believe in frying, the doctor doesn't believe in surgery, and the CFO doesn't believe in budgeting. It was all a little much, so I elected to get on the web and read something of interest. It just so happened that the first article I came to was about the leader of our government. It seems he is someone called a "conservative," and anyone of this political persuasion believes that government isn't helpful but harmful to our country.

Suddenly it all made sense. I mean, if you can't use your president as an example...

Friday, April 20, 2007

Alternate Reality

A lot has been said about the right-wing spin machine and its ability to create an alternate reality. This week has brought that point home one more time. The entire episode with the Attorney General has been astounding to witness. Only now, many of the Republicans who have kept one foot firmly planted in regular reality have started to turn on the ones who are fully immersed in the alternate reality.

Which is how you get this:

Several other Republicans made plain their unhappiness.

Specter told Gonzales his description of events was "significantly if not totally at variance with the facts."

"Why is your story changing?" Charles Grassley (news, bio, voting record) of Iowa asked at one point, citing differences between an earlier explanation and the hearing testimony.

Lindsey Graham (news, bio, voting record) of South Carolina, after hearing the attorney general's account of the case, said, "Most of this is a stretch," and added it seemed to him that some of those dismissed "just had personality conflicts with people in your office or the White House and (officials) just made up reasons to fire them."

Sen. Jeff Sessions (news, bio, voting record) of Alabama expressed concern with Gonzales' memory at the hearing. In an interview later, he went further. "I think it's going to be difficult for him to be an effective leader," he said.

"At this point, I think (Gonzales) should be given a chance to think it through and talk to the president about what his future should be."

And at the same time this:

At the White House on Friday, Perino lavished praise on Gonzales. "He has done a fantastic job at the Department of Justice. He is our No. 1 crime fighter. He has done so much to help keep this country safe from terrorists."

The real question is how many people it requires to maintain an alternate reality. If it gets down to like 5 people telling each other that it is defintely the other 300 million people in the nation who are wrong, then I would think it might be tough to hang in there. If, on the other hand, you could still turn on the radio and hear that you are 100% right, then you might just have the courage to soldier on.

Fortunately for the president, there are still hacks like the morning talk radio host here in KC who are willing to stick it out. Despite Republican Senator after Republican Senator reaming the Attorney General and despite apparently being familiar enough with English to comprehend the questions and answers during testimony, the 710 stooge argued that it was patently ridiculous that the AG was being put in this situation. He actually claimed that it looked increasingly like the AG had done nothing wrong. It also... no wait... go back and read the last sentence again.

If you don't understand why I don't even need to continue, please teach me a little about your universe.

Thursday, April 19, 2007

Simple Things Can Improve Your View of the World

There has been a lot of bad stuff going on lately. Of course, it almost isn't possible to say that without making a major understatement. If you get sucked in to the world of news reports and commentary it can cause you to hold a pretty dim view of the world.

Fortunately, there are almost always events in our own lives that let us see humanity in a more personal way and restores our faith in each other. Tuesday was such a night for me. My wife and I were the fortunate recipients of an invite from some friends to have dinner with them and a guest from India. The Indian woman had come all the way around the world to learn something about her profession, her luggage had been lost, and she must have been feeling the time change. Yet, she was excited to cook for a group of people she had known for a couple of days and share her culture with us. She taught us about Indian cooking. She taught us a bit about meditation. She was even willing to take seriously questions I had that must have seemed completely naive and stupid.

More importantly she proved, as most people I meet do, that there are far more examples of great humanity than awful humanity. They are everywhere, and there are great numbers of them. It can be easy to forget that when we hear about all the problems in the world. But I'm glad there are so many opportunities to be reminded.

Thursday, April 12, 2007

Mad as Hell About Anything and Everything

That seems to be the unofficial motto of right-wing radio. Possibly because I have some sort of vendetta against myself, I fairly regularly scan what is getting people riled on 710 or 980. I have become quite used to hearing how upset people are about how we coddle criminals, about how no one is patriotic enough, about how they got onions on their hamburgers when they specifically asked not to, etc. But last night on my way home, and again this morning, I heard hosts taking it to the next level.

Last night on 980 the argument had turned to the drinking age. How that became the topic I have no idea. Nevertheless one host was staking out the position that the U.S. has a ridiculously low drinking age compared to the rest of the world, and that it was all caused by the federal government (naturally). He was hitting the point pretty hard when he took himself down a road he knew he needed to get off. He was talking about how kids go out and drink in unsafe situations, and that the only alternative would be to let kids drink at home.

I think a small alarm then went off in his head warning him that he had just indirectly endorsed parents allowing their kids to drink to a crowd of people who would rather enlist their children in a stoning than allow them near alcohol. So the deft and cunning orator turned on a dime and said "Of course most parents don't do that. Some moronic ones do." He said it, of course, in that indignant and blustery way that such people talk about everything that outrages them.

I think I can paraphrase his argument. I am outraged that the government would presume to set a law about the drinking age that results in kids drinking in unsafe environments. I am also outraged by "moronic" parents who challenge the laws of our government by providing a controlled environment in which kids can drink. If I am to take both arguments as his true beliefs, I must conclude that being incredulous is far more important than any rational argument.

And this morning there was more. On 710 the subject had turned to ethanol. The radio host had a guest on who was describing why ethanol production won't affect the prices of other consumer goods. It is probably worth mentioning that the guest happened to be the head of an ethanol production plant, but that is beside the point. The point is that the host managed to attack the ever-insidious they for both being concerned about our oil dependence and for worrying about the effects of consumer prices for the American people.

Granted, both of his complaints are stupid. But what is amazing is the ability to have them simultaneously and attribute them to the same vague villain. The host clearly cared for nothing other than the "gotcha" effect of two seemingly disparate concerns.

I'm outraged.

Wisdom of the Masses

Is there such a thing? Today's Top Ten Searches on Yahoo! makes a pretty strong argument against:

Today's Top Searches
Larry Birkhead
Manchester United
Johnny Cash
Tasmanian Devil
28 Weeks Later
Drew Barrymore
Friday Night Lights
Prom Hairstyles

Not in my wildest dreams could I begin to imagine how this list becomes reality.

Vonnegut 1922-2007

Still one of the the most powerful comments on war I have ever read:

The formation flew over a German city that was in flames.
The bombers opened their bomb bay doors, exerted a
miraculous magnetism which shrunk the fires, gathered them
into cylindrical steel containers and lifted the containers
into the bellies of the planes. The containers were stored
neatly in racks. When the bombers got back to their base,
the steel cylinders were shipped to factories where
operating night and day, dismantling the cylinders,
separating the dangerous they would never
hurt anybody again. (Vonnegut 64)

Monday, April 9, 2007

The More Things Change...

I've been a consistent critic of "Christian Rock" since growing up in an environment rife with it in '90's Southwest Missouri. My problem has always been that since it is about religion first and the music second, the music is almost by default second-rate. I wouldn't want to go to church and listen to a professional musician do the sermon (although a funeral presided over by Keith Richards would be fun), so why would I want to go to a show and listen to a minister try to play rock music.

Perhaps the problem is that so many churches deem all other rock music to be evil, and consequently these young bands haven't heard enough good music from which to build. Or maybe the bands just can't shake the guilty thoughts that their own music might be riding the line, and they may be playing their way to hell.

At any rate, this weekend I read an essay by George Bernard Shaw called "Solemnity and Triviality." The entire essay is best summed up by this quote:

My sole object in submitting to the unspeakable boredom of listening to St. Paul on Saturday afternoon was to gain an opening for an assault on the waste of our artistic resources -- slender enough, in all conscience, even with the strictest economy -- caused in England every year by the performance and publication of sham religious works called oratorios. In so far as these are not dull imitations of Handel, they are unstaged operettas on scriptural themes, written in a style in which solemnity and triviality are blended in the the right proportions for boring an atheist out of his senses or shocking a sincerely religious person into utter repudiation of any possible union between art and religion.

Perhaps it is depressing that 117 years later things are pretty much the same. I would prefer to consider it as a comfort, however. People aren't better and they aren't worse. They are just people, and that takes a lot of the mystery out of it.

Sunday, April 1, 2007

Great Moments in Sunday Morning TV

Meet the Press had Pat Leahy and Orrin Hatch on this morning debating the prosecutor replacements and whether or not the Attorney General should resign. It followed the usual Meet the Press storyline. Russert asks leading questions, guests answer whatever they want, and opposing sides get blustery before declaring that the opponent is their lifelong soul mate.

But this morning had a great moment. Hatch had spent considerable time arguing that the president and his staff should be able to replace the prosecutors at their discretion. Then Russert pointed out that in 2005 (I think) Bush had tried to replace the prosecutor in Utah, and Orrin Hatch had raised hell about it.

Hatch explained. The difference was that the prosecutor in Utah was going to be replaced because he was a Clinton appointment, but what the administration didn't know was that Clinton had worked with Hatch to place that prosecutor. I think it is worth repeating that Clinton had worked with Hatch to place the prosecutor. Something about that statement seems unfamiliar in today's landscape.

Why I Wouldn't Want to be Muslim

I am currently reading a very interesting book called A History of the World in Six Glasses by Tom Standage (and recommended by a man that knows both how to read and how to drink). As the title suggests, the book tells the history of the world through the lens of the important drinks during world history. The six that made the cut (in order of appearance) were beer, wine, spirits, coffee, tea, and cola.

I have learned a great many things in the book including the distinct possibility that one of my favorite Irish drinking songs may, in fact, actually be a pirate shanty (long story). I've also learned the importance of alcohol to the creation of civilization, the spread of the Roman Empire, and the subjugation of the American Indians.

Today, however, I made it through the liquor sections and into coffee. In this chapter I learned that Muslims have long been hardcore about everything. As told in the book, Muslim leaders on several occasions banned coffee by equating it to alcohol. The bans never held, primarily because alcohol and coffee have almost completely opposite effects on the consumer. Still, the bans usually lasted for a short time and included beatings of vendors and customers. It seems the point was simply to ban something that anyone at anytime could take any pleasure in.

I know what you're going to say. Christianity also has a long history of trying to ban anything people might construe as fun. Well, I agree. Growing up in a small town where some of the churches were still worked up over dancing tends to make one aware of such things. But that doesn't change my perception that Muslims (despite losing the coffee issue) have been infinitely more successful at ruining a good time.


I can certainly understand why people claimed that this final four would be one of the great ones. Two top seeds and two second seeds would suggest that the competition would be great. Yet the games this year have been no better (and possibly worse) than any of the last several years.

Maybe it is the perpetual hype from the commentators whose job it is to sell us the game. Maybe it is our yearly hope to see something better than we've ever seen before. Whatever the cause, a night spent watching Ohio State beat Georgetown and Florida beat UCLA was a night of feeling like you could have done something more interesting with your time.

I can live with games that don't contain last second drama (although that does help). As a huge fan of the game of basketball, all I ask is that the games are well-played by both teams. Neither of these games were that. Maybe Monday night will turn things around for this Final Four. I hope so, but I'm not taking anyone's word for it.

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