Thursday, November 30, 2006

Pope Benedict XVI continues his historic visit to Turkey today and, as you might suspect, the reviews are mixed. The Pope has been generally well-received, although with very tight security, which is necessary to protect him from those who have threatened him because he does not recognize the peaceful nature of Islam.

Benedict has avoided the type of language that caused outrage among Muslims in September when he appeared to equate Islam with violence and unreason. Indeed, he has appeared to reach out to Muslims and seek areas of agreement from which relations between the world's Catholics and Muslims can be improved. It's a worthwhile effort, but I don't think it will bear fruit, at least not soon, and perhaps not in my lifetime.

One problem has been noted often enough: there's no one for Benedict to talk to. The Pope is the acknowledged leader of, and speaks for, the world's Roman Catholics, but there is no single interlocutor within Islam who can speak authoritatively for all Muslims. This makes it very difficult to reach wide-ranging agreement on the topics that divide the religions.

A second problem comes from the differing views of history between the two religions. Islamic commentators constantly thunder about the Crusades, castigating anyone from the West as a "Crusader" and viewing almost everything through the lens of the religious wars that ended nearly a thousand years ago. They don't view the Islamic invasions of Europe in the same way, however...evidently since they were intended to spread Islam, which Muslims seem to view as a good and natural thing.

The third problem is an outgrowth of the first two: most Muslim commentators have their heads in the proverbial sand, ignoring the reality of the violence being committed every day in the name of their religion. While Muslims were outraged at the Pope's characterization of Islam as a religion of violence, I'm hard-pressed to remember the last Catholic...or Jewish...or Buddhist suicide bomber, while suicide bombers and Sunni-vs-Shia violence in Iraq and Palestine claim dozens of lives each month. If Muslim leaders continue to ignore this reality, and to cloak the evil done in their name in justifications rooted in the Koran, I see little hope for the lessening of tensions, reduction of suspicion, and acceptance of Muslims in the Christian West.

I'll continue this thread later today or tomorrow morning. Please come back and continue to follow this discussion - it's probably the most important topic of our time. How it plays out will largely shape the world my grandchildren will inherit. If you agree with me - and especially if you don't - leave a comment on this post...just make it reasonable, courteous, and free of threats and hyperbole.

Have a good day. More thoughts coming.


Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Supplemental post for today, November 29th...

When I wrote my post this morning about responsibility for settling the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, I didn't realize the significance of the date. According to the "Today in History" e-mail that I receive every day from The History Channel online (, it was on this very date in 1947 that the United Nations voted to partition Palestine to create an independent Jewish state.

What is going on today is only the latest chapter in the long, tortured, and very interesting history of the Middle East. Much has been written about it, usually by people who are intensely partisan on one or the other side, but there are some very good and very readable histories for those of you who would like to delve into the subject. One I recommend in particular is David Fromkin's A Peace to End All Peace: The Fall of the Ottoman Empire and the Creation of the Modern Middle East. Another wonderful book dealing with the end of the Second World War and the partition of Palestine is Oh, Jerusalem, by Larry Collins and Dominque LaPierre, which reads like a novel but is a marvelous and even-handed history of a turbulent time, told from the viewpoints of the Arabs and the Israelis who lived it.

It's hard to believe that next year will mark the 60th anniversary of the partition of Palestine and the creation of Israel. And, sadly, the 60th anniversary of the latest round of hatred and bloodshed in what we still call, for some reason, "The Holy Land."

Good night. More thoughts tomorrow.

When President Bush meets with Jordan's King Abdullah today, each man will have a different agenda. Mr Bush wants the King's support in resolving the mess in Iraq, while King Abdullah will press for the United States to take a stronger role in resolving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. As I noted in my blog entry last Sunday, the King believes that a peace agreement between the Israelis and the Palestinians is the most important issue in the Middle East, and wants the United States to focus on achieving that end.

Well, I understand the King's position. Jordan has a very large Palestinian refugee population which he has to placate and he is, of course, concerned about the possibility of an additional influx of Palestinians if the conflict goes on. But I believe the King is very far off base in pressing for the United States to take a larger role in the peace process.

First of all, the United States is not recognized across the region as an honest broker. We have been solidly on the side of Israel for so long that no Arab ruler (and certainly not the "Arab street") really believes we could honestly represent their interests and concerns.

Second, peace can only be achieved if both sides really want it...and it's foolish to think that that's the case. The conflict is being driven by the extremists on both sides - the Israeli hard-liners who believe in their right to the biblical lands of Greater Israel, and the Islamic extremists who are blindly focused on the destruction of Israel, regardless of the cost to the Palestinian population. There are no moderate leaders on either side who are seriously trying to accommodate the legitimate economic, social, political, and religious interests of both sides.

The United States can't impose a peace between people who don't want it. We can't do it in Iraq, and we certainly can't do it in Palestine, no matter how much well-meaning individuals like King Abdullah might wish. Peace between the Israelis and the Palestinians will only come when both sides are ready for it. We can help create the conditions for dialog by applying pressure to the Israelis (to the extent we can, and they accept), but the leaders of the Arab world must apply equal pressure to the Palestinians. The hard-liners on both sides must be forced to lay aside their extreme positions and participate in a true dialog that will result in the first steps toward peace. Compromise will be painful, but is no less necessary between the Israelis and the Palestinians than it is between Democrats and Republicans here at home.

And no less likely.

Have a good day. Tomorrow, some thoughts on Pope Benedict XVI's visit to Turkey.


Sunday, November 26, 2006

Earlier today I was listening to a show on C-Span radio on which Jordan's King Abdullah was being interviewed by Wolf Blitzer of CNN. The king declared that the most important and dangerous problem in the Middle East - more important than the ongoing carnage in Iraq, and more important than the specter of a nuclear-armed Iran - is the endless fight between the Israelis and the Palestinians. He said that the Palestinian issue was one on which all the Arab lands were united, and the one on which the most progress toward a comprehensive Middle East peace might be made. Wolf Blitzer seemed skeptical, but didn't press the King.

With respect to King Abdullah, who is, after all, a man with a large Palestinian population to worry about, I think he's wrong.

Not that the resolution of the Palestinian issue would not be a good thing, for the Palestinians and the Middle East as a whole. To me, though, it looks as if the larger Arab world cares absolutely nothing for the Palestinians except as a useful cudgel with which to beat the Israelis and deflect attention from their own failures.

Consider the Israeli withdrawal from Gaza. One might have thought that the Palestinians would use this event as a platform from which to show their ability to govern themselves and take the first tentative steps toward the eventual goal of a Palestinian state. Instead, in their time-honored tradition of always doing what is in their worst interests, the Palestinians began fighting among themselves and using Gaza as a platform from which to continue attacks against Israel...with predictable results. And far from urging them to act responsibly, the rest of the Arab world encouraged their self-destructive behavior.

When, one wonders, will a leader arise in the Arab world who will for once consider what is in the best interests of his people as a whole? How long will it take for the Arabs to realize that Israel isn't going away, and that all their blind hatred and support of violence, as much as they hurt individual Israelis, are doing more harm to themselves?

As I've said before in this space, I've given up on finding any rational adult leadership in the Arab world. While I'm no apologist for Israel, I think a good case can be made that they have at least built a prosperous nation in a difficult neighborhood, in spite of the unrelenting hatred and stupidity of their neighbors. Do the Palestinians have legitimate grievances? You bet. Are they acting in their best interests to resolve them? Hardly. And are the rest of the Arabs helping them out? Not in the least.

King Abdullah is welcome to his opinion. I respect him and the difficulty of his position. But if he really wants to help the Palestinians, the best thing he could do is exert a little leadership and try to turn the Arab world from a gaggle of squabbling bigots into true partners in a peace process that can only benefit everyone.

But don't hold your breath.

Have a good evening. More thoughts tomorrow.


Saturday, November 25, 2006

In my post on Thanksgiving day, I wrote about some of the myriad things for which I'm thankful, and why I always look forward to Thanksgiving as a day to reflect on them.

But that was then, and this is now. After Thanksgiving comes the weekend after Thanksgiving and the traditional, dreaded Christmas decoration season. Yesterday I rented a truck and made two trips to our rented storage unit to bring back the great mass of storage boxes containing our Christmas tree and all the assorted decorations. The tree is a beautiful artificial one - the most lifelike and realistic I think I've ever seen - but putting it together and getting the lights on it will test the patience and mettle of any human being, much less a cranky old geezer-lite like myself.

First of all, the branches each have a colored dot on them which matches a colored dot on the tree trunk so that one knows where each branch goes. That's fine for those with normal color vision and brilliant lighting in the room where they're working...neither of which I have. And so our tree-erection ritual always begins with Agnes sorting out the branches by color, after which I assemble the tree and fluff it up from it's crushed-down storage state.

And then come the lights. Can someone tell me why the lunatics who design strings of Christmas tree lights don't make them with a plug on one end and a socket on the other to facilitate stringing the individual strands together? These stupid things have a combination plug-and-socket at one end, so that all the strands have to start from the same point. It takes about eight strands of lights for our tree, and so I not only have to work the individual strands around the tree, I have also to position a power strip behind the tree in such a way that it hides the vast tangle of cables that all start from the same place.

Scrooge would be proud of me by the time I'm done.

Of course, the end result is always wonderful - Agnes (a.k.a., Mother Christmas) always makes the house look beautiful for the holidays. But as for me, by the time the tree is up and all the lights strung, I'm reminded of the old cartoon that shows a neighborhood awash in gorgeous Christmas displays of lights, animated reindeer, and brilliantly lit manger scenes. You are looking at this scene from above and behind one house, around the front door of which a circle of angry neighbors confronts a fellow with a scowl on his face and his arms crossed over his chest. The caption reads, "We're from the decoration committee...". And the only decoration on the house in question is a row of lighted letters across the crest of the roof which spell out, "Aw, #%@# it!"

Somehow, I can understand.

Have a good day, and get into the holiday spirit. It's easier once the decorations are up. More thoughts tomorrow.


Friday, November 24, 2006

A reader of my blog offered this comment in response to my post on November 21st:

Why does CNN, a national news outlet, find some silly law about flags in the town of Pahrump, NV population ~24,000 newsworthy? Reading this essay I get some idea. They are trying to provoke patriotic feeling about what it means to be an American, noble and forgiving, as opposed to some inferior, misguided, constitution-less immigrant.

With respect to reader Lanzdale, I think he missed my point. All Americans (yes, American Indians, too) are immigrants from somewhere else. Not inferior, not necessarily misguided, and perhaps not constitution-less - just from somewhere else. The point I keep trying to drive home is that what separates America from much of the rest of the world is that we are a nation built by immigrants working together and based on the rule of law. Over the centuries, uncounted millions of immigrants have come to the United States in search of opportunities and freedoms denied them at home. Until relatively recently, most of these arrived in America legally, settled into their new lives, and assimilated into an America that didn't always welcome them warmly, but at least grudgingly accepted them while they built their new lives.

Now, however, we face the problem of our own success. For all its faults, America remains the gold standard of the world for desirable places to live. How many people risk their lives and break national laws trying to get into Sudan? Or Afghanistan? Or Myanmar? People want to come to America because their own countries can't meet their needs and aspirations. Unfortunately, many immigrants don't want to assimilate into American society as immigrants (including both sides of my own family) have over the years. Instead, they want to have it both ways - they want what America has to offer them, but they don't want to be Americans. They expect to be educated and served in their own languages, to retain their own cultural practices, and even to follow their own laws (consider Muslims insisting on primacy of Sharia law).

I've said it before, and I'll keep saying it: America is what it is because people of every race, color, and religion tacitly agreed to minimize their differences and be Americans, working together to build something that no other nation in the world could offer them. If we allow (even encourage) people to come here illegally, if we allow them to build their own separate and insular religious and cultural enclaves, if we allow (even encourage) the development of separate linguistic communities, we lose that spirit of ... for want of a better term ... American-ness that has made us the envy of the world.

If you want to live in America, and if you want to keep the society and the opportunities you came to America for, you need to do two things: obey the laws, and become an American - not a Mexican or an Ethiopian or a Greek or a Muslim who happens to live in America, but an American.

If all you want to do is come here to recreate the society you fled, what's the point?

Have a good day. More thoughts later.


Thursday, November 23, 2006

Happy Thanksgiving!
Today is my favorite holiday, because it gives me a chance to reflect on all the things in my life for which I'm thankful. I think about this all the time, because I consider myself an extraordinarily lucky man, but Thanksgiving Day provides a time to focus. The full list of things I'm thankful for would take days to write, so I'll just list my Top 10 (with apologies to David Letterman):

* A happy marriage to a wonderful lady.
* Three wonderful children.

* Three fabulous grandchildren.

* Wise and loving parents.

* Ballroom dancing.

* Good friends.

* A steady job.

* A nice home to live in.

* Books and music (yes, I know that counts as two, but it's my list!).

* Glorious sunrises and sunsets.

On this Thanksgiving Day, don't just shovel down the turkey and trimmings and watch back-to-back football games - remember what the day is really for, and think about all the things for which you can be thankful. The list is probably long.

Have a safe and happy Thanksgiving. More thoughts tomorrow.


Wednesday, November 22, 2006

I don't watch much television, and I especially don't watch the political talk shows. Most of them are long on shouting, short on thought, and not worth my time. But it doesn't have to be that way, does it?

Political and social discourse in America today consists largely of ad hominem attacks and thunderous denunciation of an opponent's position without offering reasonable alternatives. During the recent election season, attack ads reduced political dialog to cheap, vituperative bumper stickers bereft of context and clarity - some of the professional attack ad recorders can draw out the word "lib-er-al" so that you can just visualize the scorn dripping from the individual letters like smelly green ooze...but never explain just why "lib-er-al" ideas are so bad.

Now, contrary to what my good friend Jake would have you believe, and contrary to how it may sometimes sound in this space, I'm not a liberal Democrat. I like to think of myself as a socially liberal, fiscally conservative Independent, equally scornful of pie-in-the-sky Democrats and smugly self-assured Republicans. I'd just like to see some honest discussion of the problems and issues that face the country, along with some thoughtful debate about how to solve them. The country is never going to get anywhere until we can move away from the "I'm right, you're wrong, go to hell" school of political attack to a realization that reasonable people can have differing views of the right way to address our problems. What we have lost is the ability to recognize that principled compromise is not the same as "selling out," which is what the shouting, gesticulating talking heads on TV and radio would have you believe.

For some good, thoughtful discussion of how our ability to hold reasonable dialog has gone off the rails, and what to do about it, I recommend you read Deborah Tannen's superb book, The Argument Culture. But don't just read it...think about what it says. Professor Tannen is well worth listening to, and her basic idea can be summed up in one sentence - "If you're looking for a fight, you will get heat, not light."

And right now, we need light a lot more than we need more heat.

Have a good day. More thoughts coming.


Tuesday, November 21, 2006

According to a story on CNN, it is now illegal in the town of Pahrump, Nevada, to fly any foreign flag unless the Stars and Stripes is flown above it. The reason for the law, evidently, is revulsion over the sight earlier this year of crowds waving Mexican flags while demonstrating in favor of rights for illegal immigrants.

Let's ignore for the moment that it's monumentally stupid to demand rights and benefits for people who willfully break the law, and that it's even more stupid to spit in the face of your host country by waving another country's flag while doing it. Sadly, I have to admit that I think Pahrump's law is short-sighted and mean-spirited.

I consider myself a patriotic American. I am a veteran of 23 years of military service. I vote and pay taxes. But I also believe in freedom of speech and expression as guaranteed by the Constitution. Of course, as I have said in this space before, freedom of speech and expression is not the same as freedom of smart, and all too many people trumpet free speech without engaging their brains first.


If you want to demand rights for illegal immigrants while waving a Mexican, or any other nation's flag, go right ahead. You're being doubly stupid. But if you're on the other side of the debate, don't limit the right of those people to act like idiots - it just proves the moral and political bankruptcy of their demands.

Have a good day. More thoughts coming.


Sunday, November 19, 2006

There's a joke about a baseball team's hapless right-fielder who has had a terrible inning, allowing the other team to score several runs because of a string of errors. At the end of the inning he returns to the dugout, where the manager loudly chews him out, then grabs a glove and shouts, "Now watch and see how it's done!" The manager takes the right field position in the next inning, and proceeds to commit numerous errors which allow the other team to score still more runs. At the end of the inning, the manager storms back into the dugout, throws his glove at the right-fielder, and thunders, "You idiot! You've got right field so screwed up nobody can play it!"

That's sort of how I feel as I read the news analyses and listen to the pontification as Robert Gates gets ready to take over as Secretary of Defense from the unceremoniously ejected Donald Rumsfeld. Mr Gates is taking on a job that must certainly rank as the most thankless in history, at least at this point in time. He has to figure out a way to extract us from the Iraq quagmire that Messrs Bush and Rumsfeld have gotten us into, and all he can do at this point is try to figure out the best bad option. He'll be hampered by the almost-certain fact that the President will keep trying to salvage something from the wreckage of his plans, and will likely not want to take measures that will reflect poorly on his original judgments and actions. And he's facing a world in which American leadership and honor has reached what may be a historic low point.

Yep, right field is pretty screwed up. I hope Mr Gates can play it better than his predecessor, and that the rest of his team gets its act together to help him. We'll see.

Have a good day. More thoughts later.


Saturday, November 11, 2006

Today is one of two days each year on which we honor those who have served the United States of America in her Armed Forces. Veterans' Day honors all who have served; Memorial Day particularly honors those who lost their lives in the performance of that service. Unless you are utterly ignorant of history, you know that Veterans' Day, formerly known as Armistice Day, originally commemorates the Armistice which ended World War I at 11:00 AM on the 11th day of the 11th month of 1918.

On Veterans' Day and Memorial Day, politicians say the right things, newspapers and magazines run the right articles, and pundits bloviate about the courage and fortitude of the American fighting men and women and the nobility of service.

And it's all a crock.

The sad truth is that many Americans today, particularly those in the upper classes, have no desire to serve in the military. Even our current Vice President has admitted that he had better things to do. While I think it's a gross oversimplification to say that the Services are drawn mainly from the poor and disadvantaged, it's not wrong to say that people in those socioeconomic groups are those who are most likely to see military service as a way of getting an education and a steady job and getting out of small-town America. Many of those with the right names or the family money or the higher education think military service is a waste of their valuable time and talents.

Where is the sense of duty and obligation that motivated Americans in the past? My father, and millions of others, answered the nation's call during World War II. I spent 23 years in the Air Force, retiring from the service in 1996. One of my brothers spent more than 20 years in the Navy, and the other served in the Army. I believe that we all have an obligation to serve the country that gives us so much. I only regret that more people don't believe the same thing.

It may sound trite, but I really believe in the saying that we can sleep well in our beds because there are rough men who stay awake in the night to protect us from those who would do us harm.

And it's too bad that we only remember it two days a year.

Thank a Veteran, particularly if he (or she) is doing the job you think is beneath your dignity or not worth your time.

Have a good day. More thoughts tomorrow.


Friday, November 10, 2006

Just a short note today to share something great with you...

I recently stumbled on a wonderful website: Head Butler ( It's described as "A plugged-in cultural concierge who will tell you about books, music and movies," and it's a great source of reviews of cultural offerings for those of us who enjoy them but are too busy to follow too many things too closely. Head Butler has tipped me off to authors I didn't know or appreciate, movies I've enjoyed, and music that I might never otherwise have heard.

Somewhere, many years ago, I read an essay in which the author estimated the last year in which a well-educated man (women didn't count that far back, of course) could - literally - know everything there was to know. Sadly, I no longer remember the source or the date, but it's a fascinating idea: to be able to know everything. Obviously, nowadays no one - not even the most puffed up pundit - can know all there is to know, but Head Butler is a great place to start on the cultural parts.

Highly recommended...check it out, and let me know what you think.

Have a good day. If you're off today (as I am), enjoy your long weekend. More thoughts tomorrow.


Thursday, November 09, 2006

Back on November 6th I wrote in this blog about "diversity," noting that it can be either good or bad: good when it encourages us to a higher level of understanding and cooperation, and bad when it encourages a Balkanization (don't you just love that word?) of racial, ethnic, or religious groups.

It can also be taken to silly and wasteful organizational extremes. Almost every major business, and certainly every government agency, has an office of substantial size dedicated to ensuring that the business or agency is properly "diverse," whether or not that diversity has any particular impact on its operations and efficiency. I found what may be the ultimate example of this not long ago as I was cruising down a Pentagon hallway and spotted a sign on an office door: "Deputy Assistant Secretary of the Air Force for Strategic Diversity Integration (Research Assistant)."

I was amazed. First of all, by the sheer size of the signature block, which must certainly occupy the lower third of the page of an average letter. Second, by the bombastic magnificence of the title itself, which sounds positively imperial. And third, just by the sheer silliness of having such an individual...who, of course, is no doubt handsomely paid and has a staff of eight people to help ensure "strategic diversity integration," whatever that is. I did a Google search and found this article, which offers some explanation - But I find myself still hugely unimpressed.

At a time when the Air Force is at war, when it is shedding people in order to pay for aircraft, weapons, and operating expenses, I think it's amazing that the service has chosen to spend scarce dollars on a nine-person office dedicated to the feel-good goal of ensuring "strategic diversity integration" of the force that remains. Somehow, I doubt that the Soldier or Marine who calls for air support to help get him out of a tough firefight will be very concerned that someone on the Air Staff in Washington made sure that the pilot who comes to his aid was carefully selected to represent a particular demographic slice of America...he cares that the person can fly the airplane to the right place and drop fire and iron on the heads of the people who are trying to kill him.

Yes, diversity per se is a worthy thing. We grow and learn through our contact with people whose backgrounds, experiences, and cultures are different from our own. But I scarcely think that the Air Force needs a Deputy Assistant Secretary and staff to encourage this.

If someone has a good explanation of why this is a good investment of my tax dollars, I'm willing to listen and consider it...but you've got a tough job ahead of you.

Have a good day. More thoughts tomorrow.


Wednesday, November 08, 2006

One of my favorite quotations is attributed to Mark Twain who, commenting on the disappointing results of an election, is supposed to have said, "The people have spoken, the bastards!"

I'm sure that many Republicans, particularly the President, are saying that today in the wake of yesterday's midterm elections which gave Democrats clear control of the House of Representatives and, possibly, control of the Senate (two states are still in contention as I write this, one of them being my adopted home state of Virginia).

So what does it all mean? In my view, not very much.

I would hope that the stinging rebuke given to the Republicans in the House and Governors' races will be a wake-up call that they have lost America's confidence and need to spend more time building bridges and less time being arrogantly dismissive of the concerns of the opposition. I would also hope that the Democrats take the opportunity to pursue the moderate agenda that the nation seems to want, and not use their big wins to take revenge (however well earned) on the Republicans. Unfortunately, though, I don't think this will be the case. The stubbornly and poisonously partisan, take-no-prisoners style of politics now in vogue seems to me to guarantee a Congress which will continue to be stymied by a lack of willingness to compromise on issues in order to move forward on the nation's problems.

And that's the issue: the current political tendency to equate principled compromise with craven selling out. Where are the statesmen? Where are the leaders with the vision and the moral courage to reach out to their opponents, find the areas of common ground, and build on them to realize the dream of a better future?

Time will tell whether or not the Democrats can be good winners and the Republicans good losers, working together for the benefit of America as a whole, rather than the partisan interests of their parties. I guess I'll be cautiously hopeful, even though the odds are long.

But I'll keep my fingers crossed.

Have a good day. More thoughts tomorrow.


Tuesday, November 07, 2006

Happy Birthday to Me!!

Yes, today is my birthday...I've made it through another year, added another growth ring, whatever. I'm steadily marching toward being an officially old guy, but I don't feel old (at least, most of the time). What are some of the things that help keep me young?

* Three grown, successful children, of whom I'm enormously proud.

* The world's three most beautiful grandchildren (although I tend to feel about three times my age after they've spent a day playing with grandpa).

* A beautiful and loving wife.

* The joy of good friends.

* New opportunities every day to learn new things.

* Books, books and more books. If the world's authors stopped publishing tomorrow, I'd still be set for life trying to read through everything we have on the endless shelves at home...but I sure hope they don't stop!

* Glorious sunrises and sunsets.

* (Of course) Ballroom dancing...the world's most underappreciated sport. But that's just as well...if more men understood the pleasure of a sport you play holding beautiful ladies in elegant clothes close to your body, I'd have a lot more competition!

But this year, there's a downside to my birthday - it happens to coincide with Election Day. And while I look forward to performing my duty as a citizen of this great nation to cast my vote, it's been tough getting through the last few weeks of hysterical, information-free political ads on TV and radio. And those in addition to the bales of printed attack ads that have choked my mailbox, the automated phone calls that I (automatically and immediately) hang up on, and the herds of earnest young political workers who pass out flyers door-to-door and at the Metro station...few of whom really appear to be able to answer detailed questions about where their candidates stand on particular issues. When I finally push the big, red VOTE button on the machine in an hour or so, it will be with a sense of duty completed, mixed with happiness that the hoopla is over.

At least until 2008, when it will be worse.

But so much for that - I'm going to enjoy this birthday and look forward to many more in the future!

Have a good day. More thoughts tomorrow.


Monday, November 06, 2006

Is "diversity" a good thing?

Everywhere you turn nowadays, we celebrate the "diversity" of America as a good thing. We look at our government, our political parties, our businesses, and many other parts of our community life and evaluate them on their "diversity" - that is, the degree to which they represent the myriad ethnic, religious, and racial groups that make up America.

I will allow that "diversity," in the sense of many different groups contributing to a unified whole, is a good thing. But I don't think that's the sense that most groups think of diversity today. If you are black, Catholic, Hispanic, Jewish, Asian, Muslim, or whatever, "diversity" seems to mean the degree to which your particular ethnic, racial, or religious group' interests are protected above those of other groups. Does your business employ the proper percentage mix of minority groups? If so, you have passed the diversity test.

America is what it is because many people of many backgrounds chose to work together to build a nation very different from what they left behind. They chose to be "Americans," rather than Muslims living in America, or Italians who opted to live somewhere other than Italy. When I was in grade school and high school, we were required to take a subject called "Civics," which taught us what it meant to be an American, how our government worked, and what our responsibilities as citizens are. This is a subject that, sadly, appears to have disappeared from our schools, because it somehow offends the sense of "diversity" that is the mantra of many groups today.

On October 30th of this year, Thomas Sowell published a very thoughtful article in The Wall Street Journal titled "Diversity's Oppressions." The key quote from his article is this: "Despite much gushing about how we should 'celebrate diversity,' America's great achievement has not been in having diversity, but in taming its dangers that have run amok in many other countries. Americans have by no means escaped diversity's oppressions and violence, but we have reined them in."

Diversity is both good and bad. To the extent that it encourages each of us to give the best of what our group has to offer for the benefit of the nation, it's good. To the extent that it divides us into groups interested only in preserving our interests and individual cultural mores, it's bad.

So consider what you mean when you "celebrate diversity." You may be working to undermine the greatest achievement of many generations of Americans - a melting pot of marvelous ingredients that have given us the most dynamic and free nation on earth.

Don't give it up.

Have a good day. More thoughts tomorrow.


Sunday, November 05, 2006

Some thoughts about ballroom dancing...

Yes, I know that the midterm election is coming up, that illegal immigration is still an unresolved (and politically ignored) issue, that gun violence continues to claim innocent lives, and that global warming is (maybe) a critical topic. Yes, all these things are important. But sometimes, it's also important to think about the things that bring joy to our lives, instead of problems.

At a dinner conversation this evening, I talked about what I've gained from my training in and love of ballroom dancing...and I think it was an important enough conversation to share with you.

Those who knew me when I was in grade school, high school, and college remember me as the premiere geek...the bookish, average-looking, marginally athletic fellow that was always in the shadow of the jocks, admiring the "hot babes" from a distance, but always intimidated by them. Amazingly enough, I managed to find a nice lady and get married...get divorced...find another nice lady...and remain married for the last 24 years. But at heart, I was always still the shy geek...until Agnes dragged me, kicking and screaming, into the world of ballroom dancing.

To all you guys out there who scoff, I would just say this: there's nothing in the world like walking onto a dance floor and being recognized for your skill at making the ladies feel beautiful and appreciated. There's no feeling quite like being the recovering geek who has women approaching him to ask for a dance. And, even though I'm as happily married as a man can be, there's just something awesome about knowing that there are ladies out there who want me to take them in my arms for three minutes of no-fault, no-committment bliss on the dance floor.

So, you jocks can go ahead and scoff. And you guys who think dancing is for sissies can go right ahead and spend your time at the gym with all the other hairy, sweaty men...I'll take care of making your ladies feel like sophisticated and desirable women, three minutes at a time.

Have a good evening, and a good week. More thoughts coming.


Saturday, November 04, 2006

According to a number of recent news articles, the total cost of media advertising by both political parties and assorted issue groups for Tuesday's midterm elections will amount to approximately 2.6 billion dollars. Yes, that's billion, with a capital B.

This is a disgrace.

Comedians joke about the United States having the best government money can buy, but this is the sort of thing that proves it. Politicians and their supporters are spending tens of millions of dollars per day to buy their way into office, and most of that money is being spent on slick, expensive media advertisements that combine hysteria with rank mudslinging and outright falsehoods. The website "," which I have cited here before, has carefully documented literally dozens of outrageous political ads ranging from incomplete or intentionally distorted claims about an opponent to complete lies...and the worst part is that most of those lies will be swallowed whole by voters to busy, lazy, or apathetic to check them out for themselves. Check out the latest summary, titled "The Whoppers of 2006," at for examples of the low points in political muckraking.

Both the Republicans and the Democrats are guilty of gross disregard for the truth, but I give the Republicans an edge for the most shrill and over-the-top accusations and attacks against not only the Democrats, but even against the average citizen who dares consider voting against them. It's little wonder that people don't vote any more, when all you hear day in and day out is candidates telling you not why you should vote for them, but why their opponents are horned, fork-tailed, cloven-hoofed demons.

Before you cast your vote, think about all the good that could have been done with that $2.6 billion that's been squandered on political ads.

Have a good evening. More thoughts coming.


Friday, November 03, 2006

We're less than a week away from this year's midterm elections, and the mudslinging and bloviation are in full force. This is one of the very few downsides of living in a democracy, but I'll put up with it in order to have my voice heard, small though it may be.

One of the interesting things about this year's campaign season is the level of hysteria over the security of electronic voting machines. The manufacturers, obviously, tell us that they are safe and secure as long as reasonable physical and procedural security precautions are taken; opponents, on the other hand, are very concerned about the potential for hacking, tampering, vote fraud, and all the other nefarious things politicians tend to accuse each other of. The latest idea for ensuring the security and honesty of the electronic machines is to have them print a paper record of each person's vote.

I think all this discussion is healthy, but fundamentally stupid.

First of all, let's face the fact that there is likely no form of balloting that can't be rigged somehow. To me, the only issue is this: which type of balloting best combines accuracy, security, and ease of use? And to me, the answer is simple: the good, old, time-tested, paper ballot that the voter actually fills in with indelible ink.

The advantages of the paper ballot are clear: each voter can be issued one ballot as he signs in, making it difficult to vote twice. The ballot has all the candidates and issues clearly printed with a big, empty box next to each choice, making it difficult to misinterpret or mark erroneously. The voter uses a Sharpie or similar indelible ink pen to fill in the right blocks (or to write in his alternative choice). The ballot is easy to count, either by hand or by optical scanning. And if - in spite of our best efforts to design an idiot-proof ballot - the voter makes a mistake, he can exchange the ballot for a blank one and the spoiled ballot can be destroyed on the spot under the eagle eyes of the election monitors using a common shredder. A paper ballot doesn't need power to be operated, won't lose its memory, and can't be hacked.

There are, of course, disadvantages. Crooked poll workers can always obtain extra blank ballots, mark them as desired, and insert them into the hopper. But good ballot accounting can, in my view, prevent this. If the results show that more ballots have been cast than there are registered voters who were issued ballots, the excess number is simply divided in half, with half of the excess deleted from the count for each party. Ballots, especially absentee ballots, can be lost or misplaced. But again, good planning, accounting, and poll security can minimize the chance of this happening.

On the whole, I believe that the basic paper ballot, combined with sound planning, thorough training of poll workers, good accounting procedures, continuous oversight, and good security, is the best option for ensuring an election as free of fraud and criminality as we can make it.

But I do have to say that the electronic voting machines have one advantage: because you only need one finger to cast your vote, they leave you with a hand free to hold your nose to protect yourself from the stench of poisonous partisan politics.

No matter how you vote, paper or electronic, be sure to turn out on November 7th. Voting is your most fundamental civic responsibility, and if you don't vote, you have no right to criticize the actions of your government.

Have a good day. More thoughts tomorrow.