The eternal sport of venting spleen ....Comments, corrections, and jousts are welcome.



The opinions expressed on this page have nothing to do with my company, friends, relatives, whatnots.

The Christian Wrong

      I see no reason to associate the word for "correct, true" with these people. I'd be much happier with them if they would actually take the bible seriously. For instance,

     Thou Shalt Not Kill. Let's take this seriously for a second, shall we? Well, for a starter, no death penalty. Killing is right out. Similarly, a huge army is right out. Let's face it, they don't have stealth bombers to goose geese. The Boys get their Toys to rack up body counts. For the rest of us, guns make it a lot easier to kill people, so somebody who took this commandment seriously should be trying to place strong limits on guns. Hence, if we take this commandment seriously we get no death penalty, extremely limited armed forces, and strict gun control. What does the rabid right support? Support for the death penalty, giving the War Department more money than it asks for, and not letting anything get between a gun and somebody who wants to use it.

     An eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth. This passage is usually seen as a call to vengeance, Actually, it is a call for justice and mercy. The usual standard throughout the world was a head for a tooth and a life for an eye. This passage commands us not to hurt any more than we have been hurt. It is an upper limit on punishment, not a lower. Let's take this seriously and try to translate it into policy. This passage calls us to ensure that punishments fit crimes. Of course, what we see from the Right is the exact opposite. In particular, any kind of non-crime such as marijuana use would not be punished at all. The cry is for stiffer sentencing, no paroles, and an excessive use of the RICO statutes to fiscal punish any minor crimes. The command "an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth" has become "Life for a forged check, your home for a reefer".

     It is easier for a camel to pass through the Eye of Needle than for a rich man to get into heaven. The Eye of Needle was a stone passageway outside of the Jerusalem Temple. The tradition was that camels laden for market would pass through this gate. If a camel was too heavily loaded, excess cargo would have to be removed until the camel could fit through. This excess was given to the Temple. In other words, there was an upper limit on how much a camel could carry and get through the Eye of Needle. Let's take this seriously for a second. (Just for the sake of argument. Lord knows nobody takes any of this seriously in real life). This would imply that there is an upper limit on how much money a person can have and get into heaven. At the very least, the aphorism says that you should not have more money than you can use. As Ray Charles said (when asked if he wished he had made more money in his career), "You can only drive one car at a time. You can only eat one meal at a tim e. You can only sleep in one bed at a time." So, if we wanted to translate this passage into legislation, we would have a very strict tax on income above a certain level, say a million dollars a year. However, the actual policy of the Rabid Right is the exact opposite: decrease the taxes on the rich as much as possible, while finding ways of switching the tax burden around.

     Am I my brother's keeper? Cain's cry when fleeing the murder of his brother invites the answer, "Yes, you are". Cain and Able were from completely different socioeconomic backgrounds and in fierce competition over religious preference. Yet, they were still responsible for each other's well being. Translating this into policy, we would have a lot of social programs to help each other, even if the particular other being helped at the moment was rather different from us. Instead, the Religious Right is following the opposite course: cutting aid and programs. Why have self-professed Christians elected to follow the first murderer?

     In Conclusion, if the Christian Right took the Bible seriously, it would support an end to the death penalty, strong reductions in money for warfare, fair sentencing, strong social programs, and a belief in the responsibility of us for each other. Hell, they'd make Christianity look good. Instead, the Right supports the exact opposite in all these areas. This makes me wonder: since they seem to be unclear on this Bible thing,who is their real God? If they are not following the Bible, what are they really following?

     P.S.-- I had a friend point out that these charges have been leveled at Christianity for, oh, the past couple of millennia. Hmph. I wonder why this problem such an integral part of the Christian religion (the problem being acting against their own teachings and being sanctimonious about it).


I don't see why the Republicans are so upset with him. After all, he's a moderate Republican himself. What? He's a Democrat? How can you tell?

America, Inc.

     In a lot of ways, the United States can be viewed as a company. We are an economic entity; as a whole collection, we need to produce, sell, and buy well. I want to take this metaphor and translate it into public policy.

     People. Read any book on management. The most important resource, the only sustained source of a competitive edge, is the people in a company -- or country. The people must be well-trained and well-motivated, and this applies to all employees at all levels of a company. How this applies to the US:
  • Education. This is painfully obvious. We need an effective education establishment that continues throughout life, available to all members of our country.
  • Morale. In any company, the employees need to believe in their superiors. They need to understand that they will be rewarded for their hard work. For the US, we need leaders we can believe in and a government that we understand is effective and good.
  • Bring in the best people. Companies always actively seek to bring in skilled, highly-motivated people. If there is no slot on the organization chart, one will be created. For the US, this means we should be actively encouraging immigration. If a person wants to be part of our country and has skills and motivation, then we should find a place for them.
Now, look at what the right wing has been espousing.

  • Education. The Republicans have attacked and de-funded education at all levels. From cutting college grants to cutting local school funds, they actively work to restrict educational opportunities.
  • Morale. The Republican Right has made our own government the enemy. The essential message has not been that there are reforms to be made, but rather that this whole government thing (i.e., this whole USA thing) is a bad idea.
  • Bring in the best people. The Republic Right has worked to keep people out of the USA. I admire illegal immigrants. They are willing to break the law and leave their home country behind just for a chance to work like hell and make something better out of their lives. We should be proud to find a place for them in our country.
     Look at it this way: suppose you had a V.P. in your company pushing these policies. Imagine a V.P. that wanted to cut down on your people-capital, that attacked the upper echelons to win popularity, and actively prevented motivated people from getting a job at your company. How long would this person last in management?

     Core Strengths. Another fundamental theme for company management is to build on strengths. A company should identify the things it does well and focus on those core areas, and not attempt to do what it does badly. For the US, our workers are fairly expensive but they are very productive. Additionally, we have a well-developed infrastructure that makes it easy to do business. Hence, we should build on these strengths: we should work to make your workers more productive and we should build up our infrastructure, even if it means increasing taxes. The Right, on the other hand, goes directly against this. Their program is to make American workers cheaper (lower minimum wage, lower benefits, less worker safety regulations) and less productive (less education, less retraining, less infrastructure). They are trying to shift the US from the 'high-quality' market to the 'cut-rate' market.

     Think about this: if your company had a VP that insisted on taking the company from a high-profit market niche to a low-profit market niche -- and one that your company couldn't not compete in -- how long would your company retain that VP?


     When people gamble, what are they buying? They are spending an awful lot of money on it, whatever it is. They can't be buying entertainment: as an entertainment option, gambling is really a lousy deal. Likewise, they can't be buying excitement or competition. There are much better ways of buying more excitement for a whole lot less money. They also can't be trying to increase their income: everybody knows that the games are carefully rigged to make sure that never happens in the long run. What can people possibly be buying with all the money they spend on gambling?

     The only thing I can think of is that they are buying hope. For a brief instant, they have a little hope that they will strike it big and they will have a new life. This sickens me. We are living in a world where country where hope is bought and sold like a drug, and we cheer this industry instead of building a world where hope flows freely.

The Fundamental Tenet

Hear the archetypal Republican President sum up his party's philosophy. Yes, this can be taken two ways.

Why does the Right Want the US to Imitate the Soviet Union?

     I'm still working on this one, but the basic theme is that the basic policies of the Rabid Right are designed to make the US a whole lot like the old USSR. High points:
  • Hope and Fear. If fear was what makes people tick, then the KGB would rule the world. It's isn't fear but hope that makes people go. The Rabid Right is working to increase the fear and decrease the hope in the US.
  • Environmental Concerns. Both the USSR and the American Right completely discount environmental concerns. The Soviet Union's list of disasters just starts with Chernobyl; the Right wants us to end the policies that prevent more Love canals.
  • Over-emphasis on military spending. A major reason the USSR went putz is that they dumped all their money into the military and neglected other sectors of their economy. In the current budget battles, everything is getting gutted and the military is getting more money than they ask for.
  • Opportunity restricted to a small class. In the USSR, real opportunity was based on political connections -- about 20% of the population had some kind of pull, enough to get them into the upper class. In America, we have a broadening gap between the upper 20% and the lower 80%, with real prosperity restricted to the upper 20%.
  • Educational restrictions. The USSR had very restricted educational opportunities. In theory, there was universal education; in practice, the well-connected had myriad opportunities to make sure their children got the best deal. In the US, we are headed to that same system. In theory, anybody can get into any college; in practice, only the well-off can afford the best colleges.
  • Art. In the Soviet Union, the only art that was produced passed strict government censorship. In the US, we see the Right attacking the funding sources of art at the NEA, based on their particular sensibilities.

What's Wrong with Libertarianism

     Mostly a kind of annoying and usually sanctimonious naivete. The basic Libertarian tenet is that government is a bad idea, but they don't give very coherent notions of what to replace it with nor do they understand how they directly benefit from it.

     Take the FDA, for instance. Suppose we got rid of that agency. Experience has shown that the corporate sector will happily sell us carcinogens and toxins, so we will need a way of figuring out what foods, shampoos, make-up, etc are safe to use. It is far too large a task for each of us to do individually, so we will need to have clearing houses of information. It won't be enough to keep track of what happens to the people who use the products ("Aunt Millie used Scud Shampoo for 20 years and she got brain cancer!"). First, would you want to make yourself an experimental subject every time you go to the grocery? Second, unless the effect is immediate it will be impossible to figure out what product contributed to which disease to whom. So, these clearing houses will have to do extensive laboratory testing.

     Let's think about this testing for a bit. Who pays for it? Experience has shown that there are some scientists that will prove anything about any product. Likewise, experience has shown that news sources will happily publish pretty much anything that an advertiser wants. Hence, if our only source of information about products is company-funded studies we will hardly be any better off than if we have no information at all.

     So, we will need to have foundations that draw their support from the public. Even voluntary contributions won't do -- those voluntary contributions will become contingent on happy product results real quick. These foundations will have to have boards of directors that will be publicly accountable, to protect the foundations from corruption. Lastly, there will have to be only a handful of them, to make sure that each one of these foundations have a lot of clout. Otherwise, the corporate sector will trumpet the results of the most corporate-friendly foundations, and bury the results of the rest.

     In other words, as soon as we got rid of the FDA we would have to re-invent the FDA. That's why I get the feeling Libertarians haven't thought through their ideas all that well.

Problems with the Warrior Code

     I don't really understand why so many people are so anxious to take up the warrior's mantle. For instance, go to any S-F con and you'll see a whole bunch of people pretending to be space warriors. Attila the Therapist of Common Ground is another example of a person taking on a warriors mantle. The warrior's mantle has heavy weights and I am not entirely sure why people want to carry those weights.

     Warriors make war, by definition. By definition, war is organized killing with some ultimate objective. War is about destruction and pillage, it is cruelty and nothing can refine it. I do not understand why people want to mold their lives on creatures of destruction.

     War is dehumanizing. First, in order to become a warrior you must be part of any army (solitary soldiers aren't warriors, they're KIAs). In order to become part of an army, you subsume part of your own identity into that of the whole. Second, you have to dehumanize any who oppose you. I do not understand why people want to choose to dehumanize themselves.

     War is amoral. When people want to justify the warrior's path, they cite chivalry and "might in the service of right". Take a good look at history. The Nazi SS and the Bosnian warriors are just as good examples of warriors as the European knights. Even when an army is not itself infamous, too often armies fight in the name of wrong. The Confederate armies and the US army in Vietnam come to mind. Essentially to being a warrior is not caring if you are in the right or wrong as long as your side is winning. I do not understand why people want to choose a path that denies right and wrong.

     War is greedy and wasteful. Let's go back to the chivalrous knights. Those knights neither sowed nor reaped. They contributed nothing to the welfare of the country except insofar as they stayed inside and did not bother people to much. Unfortunately, the usual record of warriors is to take as much as they can get their hands on.

     Can anybody out there tell me why people are so hot on the "Warrior's Path"? From what I can tell, people like the directness are forthrightness. There is an aspect of unwavering dedication to goals (i.e., blind faith) to it that people find attractive. I don't thing they have thought through all the extra baggage they are taking on. Then again, not thinking things through too clearly is rather a hallmark of mythic warriors (oh, say Paris, or Coriolanus for example).

The Vision of America's Founding Fathers

     A classic line of argument: saying such-and-so is against the vision that the Founding Fathers had for America, with the basic assumption that anything that goes against the original vision is a crime against nature. I don't quite see this. For one thing, how do they know what the Founding Fathers had in their collective heart of hearts? Do they channel them? "I'm getting Thom Jefferson on the telephone now ....".
     Moreover, I don't think there is a single person that really wants the US to be true to it's original vision. To wit:
  • Slavery. Slavery was implicitly recognized in the constitution (the 'Three-Fifths Compromise') and explicitly practiced by many of the FF's. You want their vision, bring back slavery. I know the Jefferson and Washington didn't like the idea of slavery, but if they really thought it was such a bad idea they could have done away with it.
  • Women's Suffrage. Originally, women were not even allowed to vote, much less run for office. Does anybody really want to take away this right?
  • Senators. Do you like voting for your Senator? Wasn't that way in the beginning. Originally, they were appointed by the state Legislatures. Perhaps a small point, but it still proves the issue: we can (and should try to) do better that the original version the Founding Fathers came up with.
  • Income Tax. I imagine this is what people really want to get rid of. But think about it a second. Without income tax, we wouldn't be able to afford that bloated war machine and massive of nuclear missiles that protect us from Bolivia. Hmph... maybe the right has a point here.

     It could be worse. I've run across periodic dwezels that insist that the US would be better off sticking to the original vision of the Articles of Confederation -- conveniently forgetting that the Articles were so wretched that they were quickly junked by the same people that thought them up in the first place.
     I've got a challenge to anybody who actually winds up reading this. Find me anybody in the US that really, truly wants a return to the original vision and practice of the original thirteen colonies. Anybody. I just want to see if there is one in the whole country.

Why I am not a Christian

(with apologies to B. Russell)
      A good long time ago, I was about eleven at the time, I was listening to a televangelist preach that Jesus had died for my sins. My reaction was "Why did he do that? I didn't ask him." Christianity and I parted ways right then and there. I want to explore the issue a bit. I feel this is a genuinely valid point to judge Christianity on; if this point is so problematical as to be untenable, then the whole edifice is troubled. The basic issues revolve around guilt.

      Jesus died . I hate to say this, but I wasn't there at the time. I neither erected the cross nor drove the spear. However, part of the clear import of this slogan "Jesus had died for my sins" is that is should in fact feel terribly guilt about his death, and that my sins are so great that they required a brutal death to pay for them. I don't buy this. I was not there, my sins had not happened, I am not guilty for Jesus's death.

      For my sins . My sins are my sins. I have done many cruel and stupid things in my life, but if there is a weregild that must be paid then I will pay it. If I make mistakes, I accept the cost, but I also demand the right to learn from my mistakes. If I am born again without sin, then I have lost that right. If I allow another to suffer in my place, then I have lost that right.

      The death of Jesus was a crime and a tragedy. But it was not my crime and it is not my tragedy. I have quite enough of my own, thank you.

      I have really never understood much about the whole Christian notion of sin and punishment. Consider: the basic set-up is that God has created a hell for the vast majority of the human race, and that the only way anybody can be saved from this hell is through the brutal death of his own son. How can Christians tolerate the basic unjustness of this? The image I have is of a father in an alcoholic stupor whipping his children. Why do we worship this image?

      C.S. Lewis wrote a series of radio lectures during WWII to increase the faith of those fighting. His Fundamental image during this lecture series was that Christians were guerrillas. At birth we parachute into hostile enemy territory and fight a life-long struggle against the enemy around us. I cannot believe that Lewis never understood the implications of his beliefs. If we are to take this metaphor seriously, then the enemy has to be the creator of this world: God. C.S. Lewis is demanding that Christians carry on a life-long struggle against the God that created them.

      The basic Christian set-up is that God has created a hell for the vast majority of the human race, and that the only way anybody can be saved from this hell is through the brutal death of his own son. This world-view is wrong. It presupposes a God without justice, without mercy, and without a great deal of competence. In this case, the only morally right option is to not co-operate. The only morally correct action Jesus could have taken is to rebel against the plan of God-the-jailer and refuse to be killed.

Liberalism R.I.P

     Despite my intense dislike of the current political climate, I can't say I miss the 70's - style liberalism that it replaced. Despite a certain nostalgia for the politics I grew up with, I can't say I would want it back. That political philosophy was very elitist.

      In the 70's, I was growing up in Michigan. Times there were so bad that even MacDonald's wasn't hiring. (I know -- I applied there). Now, the state had tremendous intellectual and infrastructural resources at the time. Michigan in the mid-70's would have been an ideal situation for seed capital to start new businesses and new ventures. Instead, throughout this whole period money was flowing out of the state. Michigan was paying more in Federal taxes that it received.

     This was the time of the sunbelt / rust belt national division. The theory was that the industrialized north was dying of natural causes. Now, let me poke at this a bit more. 1) The industrial states were going through a tremendous re-alignment. 2) This re-alignment was causing a great deal of pain to people who did not deserve it. People who had worked hard all their life to build an economy that had built the whole nation were losing their jobs and their lives through no fault of their own. 3) Everybody knew what was going on, and what the cost of this re-alignment. 4) The nation made a conscious decision to blame the victims and ignore this crisis, when a small investment could have reaped great rewards.

      If the liberal spirit had really meant it -- using the resources of the whole to help out those in need, and by doing so improve the health and vitality of the whole -- then in the late 70's we would have seen a plethora of programs aimed at rebuilding the industrial economy. Instead, the industrial states were bled white to support the rich southern states of California and Texas.

Seven Heros of Capitalism

      It's now about two weeks since Diana's death. During that time, we have heard unrelenting denunciations of the photographers that followed her to her last bloody gasps, the publishers that pay top dollar for these photographs, and the public maw that makes these practices a good business decision. I feel it is high time that we recognized these people for what they are: exemplars of our capitalistic society, the distilled essence of what makes our society unique.

      What the paparazzi do: they recognize an opportunity, and pursue that opportunity with tremendous zeal, energy, and imagination. They know what they want and just do it. This focus allows them to be all that they can be. Moreover, their profession truly exemplifies the most unique points of capitalism:
  • They produce nothing useful. Like the best of capitalistic enterprises, the paparazzi produce something that we would really all be better off without.
  • They cause human distress. Not only do they produce nothing useful, their production method causes a great deal of human grief.

      Once the Seven are cleared of any legal annoyances, I feel certain they can take their positive attitude and understand of the capitalist spirit into any number of industries:
  • Tobacco
  • Arms
  • Casinos
to mention a few. They have destroyed one life with their efforts; now it is time for them to graduate to the wholesale carnage practiced by these typically American businesses.

The McCaughey Septuplets

      The McCaughey septuplets are doing well. I wish them and their parents all the best. They have a difficult road ahead of them; fortunately, their town and our nation have come together to support them.

      I started thinking about this. We've all acknowledged that raising children is a difficult task, and that parents need help doing this. Why don't we take this seriously? Effective child health care for everybody, effective daycare, and well-funded schools are the least we can do -- but we aren't doing that.

      When I'm 70 or so, I'm going to be supported by the children that are just being born. It only seems fair that I help support them, now. In fact, I like the idea of supporting them a whole lot, so they have the education to go out and get really good jobs so they can support me in style.

      I applaud our country's decision to help support a loving family that needs it, and I look forward to the time when our country will extend this support to all out children.

Why Term Limits are a bad idea.

      I've noticed that since Republicans have actually gotten into office the noise about term limits has really died down. This isn't surprising; I always thought the term limits noise was a smokescreen. Think about it -- would you want a term limit for doctors? Or dentists? I want a profession doctor, a professional dentist, and I want a professional government. Perhaps a long time ago government could have been handled on the sly, but not any longer. We have a complex world and it requires complex government.

      I understand the desire for term limits; I can see many problems with our current political system. However, term limits will make all of these problems worse.

  •      Money. It takes a lot of money to launch a successful political campaign. That, I believe, is one of the biggest problems with our political system. Political incumbents can usually raise much more than non-incumbents. In theory, term limits would remove this barrier by removing incumbents. However, let's think through the actual effects of term limits and limited incumbency.

          First: Money is valuable because it can be used to gain name recognition and to make people understand (or misunderstand, depending) your position. Now, incumbents have another source of name recognition: their history. Their own incumbency provides a strong, non-monetary source of publicity. By removing this factor from political races, we make money that much more dominant.

          Second: the money has to come from someplace. A candidate either needs a political machine to find donations, or needs to accept donations from organizations with a great deal of money.

  •      Political Machines. Incumbents spend a lot of their energy building a political machine to win campaigns. In theory, if we take away incumbency we will take away the overpowering political machines, making for a leveler playing field.

          In practice, political machines will always be needed to win a political campaign. This machine will have to come from someplace. In practice, the political parties will need to supply the machines. What this means is that any candidate that wants to win will have to have the explicit approval of the top bosses of their political party. Pat Buchanan is an excellent example of this phenomenon. In his campaigns, he had name recognition and substantial backing -- but lacked the political organization to carry his campaign beyond New Hampshire. He was not able to develop his machine on the fly, and was denied any organizational support from his own party because he disagreed with the leadership.

          The individual political machines of incumbents allows them a certain amount of independence from their party. For instance, in 1968 Eugene McCarthy was able to mount a substantial challenge to the heads of his own party -- because he was able to build and use his own political machine. Without incumbency, there would have been no organization and no challenge.

  •      Career Politicians. In theory, career politicians are a bad thing and term limits would eliminate career politicians. Leaving aside the issue of the desirability of career politicians, term limits would not end politics as a career but just transform it in some unpleasant ways.

          First: term limits are only going to apply to a particular office. A person can still be a career official, by moving from one office to the next. In order to do this, they will need the full backing of the party hierarchy in order to move from level to level. This will re-enforce the dependency politicians have on their party bosses.

          Second: there will still be long-term political positions: they just won't be elected positions. The real political power will come from political operatives in the party hierarchy. They will be the ones with long-term security. Because they will control the campaign organizations, the party hierarchies will be making the real decisions about who can be elected. If you'll notice, this is exactly the position Newt Gingrich is putting himself in -- his real power has nothing to do with his elected position, but is a function of his control over money sources

  •      Responsiveness. In theory, term limits will make government more responsive to the people. Officials will not be able to spend decades away from their home districts. However, I don't think it's going to work that way.

          As we've seen, term limits will make politicians much more dependent on the top party hierarchy. We've seen this effect with the Republican party; Representatives are voting down funding for their own district while they vote more money for Gingrich's. Also, officials will be very beholden to their funding sources.

          Moreover, it takes time to become an effective legislature. It takes time to understand who to draft legislation and how to think through the effects of legislation. It takes time to learn about the issues and how to take action. Without this time, officials are forced to rely on outside sources of information. The biggest resource that lobbyists have right now is information; they know a whole lot about their subject matter.

      So, (1) if you want governments that work for party hierarchies and for money sources instead of for their electorate, (2) if you want government officials that are ignorant of the issues and let lobbyists write legislation, (3) if you want money to determine elections, then you should support term limits.

      We already have a term-limit process. It's called elections.

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