30 December 2006

Political Mapping

We don't vote in this country.

But what we have is a lack of good options. So I propose that we force the Crats and Cans to break up their parties into something actually meaningful. When there isn't a clear ideology then it is not a party. And there is no clear picture to say, ok he's a Democrat, that means he'll vote a particular way. Mostly the only clear picture is that in general the two parties will vote against each other on everything for no particular reason except pay raises; which they seem to do quite well on agreement there. So what I'd propose to do is defeat the three major problems by creating a series of coalition parties out of the core issues that actually matter. Sorry flag burning, gay marriage and even abortion are irrelevant; tax policy and social security are a bit higher on the burner for GOVERNMENT.

There are three issues involved. One is the perception that lobbies are bad. They are right now, but we can get around this by having a number of strong parties with solid core values, rather than a FOR SALE sign on the party platform. At that point lobbies would have to instead influence policy through advertising and grassroots campaigns (as they are intended) rather than campaign donations in exchange for access and scandal. It would be pretty clear for example that a Green isn't going to take money from oil companies or vote to support them. The second problem is lack of interest. We aren't interested because there are no good choices. We cannot choose and so feel disinclined to exercise our ability to choose. This is solved when there are parties that speak directly to our values and will actually try to represent them. And lastly, we are concerned with the issue of fair and clear elections. Not because they have been rigged or stolen, but because the elections are basically a joke involving two people who aren't that different. It should instead be a range of choices with often radically different outlooks. Right now because of the way elections and the money involved are set up, very few minor parties have even a sniff of winning, much less creating meaningful and influential change of policy. Meanwhile the two major parties have a range of outlooks so confused as to make it difficult to say what "democrat" or "republican" means. So when I get around to it, I'm going to go down and find out what the top lobby groups are, outline what the core issues of governance are, and what some core ideologies would be and craft around a dozen major parties to compete for our votes in an ideal world.

Religion will have a place at the table. It seems to be trying to get in the back door (considering creationism is still being taught). I'll just set it aside as its own interest and let people vote for it if its that big of an issue (faith-based stuff is almost totally illogical and often irrelevant to the real issues of the day). I'm fairly confident that won't be a constitutional issue, for one, there are a number of minor parties based on some religious context. For another, I don't think enough people in this country will vote purely on some faith-based ideology for it to matter. Politics and God don't meet often enough for that to be a good basis for our votes on the broad range of issues we must deal with.

22 December 2006

Why exactly do these things live still?

I'm not surprised. Chain letters and the variants that it has spawned to in some way inspire a series of unoriginal emails/chat sessions have blown up on the internet. We can't even filter them out as spam, because people we know are now sending them to us. And every once in a while, that someone we know sends us something newsworthy, important or relevant which we would otherwise miss by simply deleting everything.

It has a few differences, but the main source I'm noting that endures and sustains popularity (meaning re-forwarding power) is the quiz show variety. A series of disjointed, even irrelevant, questions, designed in someway to elicit information on someone and their secretive nature or habit. These were ok, when they first began circulating..like say. .8 or 10 years ago. They were amusing for the random sequences of objective data that they could collect. But now they come all the time. And they ask a number of questions which imply certain things, but do not clarify (and thus lack any objectivity or purpose). They are not without value, if one was engaged in either marketing/polling/mass speed dating. But otherwise, I'm not sure that gathering such data on people we don't talk to IRL has much value. If we really suspected from the various bits and pieces of someone's messages and insights that they were a decent human being, perhaps we could be asking direct and insightful questions of our own to determine the value and potential of this rare fellow to be a kindred spirit, unique for their attributes in our personal galaxy of friendships.

Are they amusing? Perhaps. If someone took the time to write one out that was generating embarassing private information or a funny story here or there. Are they pointless? You bet. Do we fill them out and send them on? In droves. We've grown smart enough to realize that those ridiculous 'counter' emails do nothing (well.. some of us) and we've grown smart enough to realize that chain letters are fake. But the concept of the forwarded quiz is a new breed. And it is time this mutant took a fall back to reality.

Iverson trade

'll just empty out my twenty five cents today. But here's my take on this deal.

It wasn't a good deal for either side. Start with Philly

The team that deals off the star player is usually hosed. This is almost always true in basketball. Basketball a star player has a much greater effect than other sports. In baseball a star hitter can be walked, or may not even come up to bat in a key situation. In football a star on a crummy team can't do much and if they don't play QB or RB they must rely on others even more so. In basketball, the star player gets and indeed, demands the ball especially in critical moments. So as a result, trading premier players in basketball is a rare and difficult thing, because the team doing it can't get value on the dollar without another superstar being traded to them.. which doesn't happen. So what did Philly get instead?

A journeyman point guard who can at least run an East team, a washed up #1 pick who is backing up another washed up pick, and two picks. And draft picks.. well, very few teams have a good track record on picks, particularly in late round picks. Basketball drafts aren't quite as bad as football with the drooling over physical skills, but they are still pretty bad. The real value they got was that their pick is probably more valuable. Essentially they are saying; screw it lets blow the savings on lottery tickets and see what happens.

But what about Denver? Surely getting a premier player in his early 30s is a valuable commodity toward building a championship caliber team, isn't it? Well perhaps not. I'm not convinced AI will coexist, not because of his attitude, but because of Melo's. They did do at least something right by dishing the only other person who needs the ball on the team (Miller). But having two alpha dogs, with nobody to ride shotgun isn't a proven strategy for victory. We think it worked last year because of Shaq-Wade, but Shaq is old and battered. He only needs to dominate for brief periods. I'm not convinced that the same thing can work here.

But I'm still going to go catch Denver the next time they're nearby (March I think). Just to see how the experiment pans out.

(It panned out poorly, both were out extended periods and they still had no defense besides Camby)

Americans Disenfranchisement

Reading through something like an editorial, an indictment really, on America's youth today. What the breadth of the letter says is that the current generation (that I am sometimes saddened to be a part of) is disinclined to politics. Duh. And oh yeah, that this is a bad thing.

But why? On both counts really. We as a nation do not vote in the massive numbers that say France or other Europeans do. Its fact. We barely turn out 40% for Congressional elections which determine the fate of national policy on all manner of issues for at least the next two years. These policies and the debates that spark up around them are capable of and often do affect millions (billions?) of lives here in America and around the world. But we instead cast votes for American Idol. Why? Because we feel like those votes matter. They meant something and determined something. And they produced results, tangible or otherwise that we could live by.

Its not that politics don't matter. In fact they are infinitely more important than some doofus from Alabama singing so he can get a record deal. No, its really coming down to two things:

1) We don't care because we don't feel we have real options, no choice = no vote. This is a stupid argument, but it bears some real weight on a national level (not for local matters though).

2) We don't care because we haven't been educated enough to understand politics and the premise of the great debate that they invite us to. Our country seems to depend on the obsequious masses instead of the inquistive ones. And our press does a good job of not being terribly inquisitive enough when it matters and too inquisitive on matters that entertain us. Everyone is trying to break the next Watergate or the next Katrina. It doesn't happen everyday. Sorry CNN, ask real questions until you get real answers instead of soundbytes. And show the debate. We might care if our media wasn't a recording.

The solution. Well its not too terribly difficult for intelligent people to simply start looking around and find parties with real positions on a few key issues. This is the nature of European politics (and perhaps the reason there is more involvement in voting over there). Most meaningful parties crystallize around a few central core matters and have vague stances on others. In a highly diverse country such as this, I believe its better ruled by the unruly mob struggling for coalitions than a mandate supplied by 50.1% of the population, or less in some cases. The problem will be kick-starting generations of people who have been educated that politics is a dirty, nasty business with dirty, distrustful people in it. Some of them are. Maybe most. Who's fault is that? Wait.. we the people. Oh yeah. That's in one of those dusty old parchments in DC somewhere. We didn't care enough to punish corruption through our votes. (we should do so by execution, its really a treasonable offence, but that's another matter). We didn't care enough to learn and read the reasoned debates and seek real facts to support them. We instead seek to be spoonfed, as we were as children in school, and to feel victorious by picking the "right answer", the one that wins, instead of voting reasonably and with good conscience. We have only ourselves to blame. I seek to correct this problem. People must become involved, or at least aware. And I will try harder to be more annoying until they do.

19 December 2006

fighting and spitting

We're easily horrified it seems. Too often we forget that people are human, and all the while its staring us right in the face. Bubbling under the surface is a seething mass of messy human emotion that just needs a little fire to boil over. Lately it seems, its not very pretty when it does.

Spitting in someone's face is in fact quite hideous, a repugnant act that proclaims the victim of this atrocity to be worthy only of our most vile fluids. But I am reminded of the late 'list' of the top 100 movie heroes. Numero Uno wasn't an action hero, wasn't a brawler, gunner and didn't even save anyone from a fire. It was Atticus Finch. When he gets spat on, he steps toward the offending 'man', who is perhaps a full head shorter than he and doubtless expects a savage beating. And then he proceeds to towel off the vile substance with his kerchief without a word, without a punch and with the greatest restraint. We have somehow forgotten this to be a sign not of weakness, but of dignity. Control and temperance over our sometimes feeble emotions is a sign of character beyond measure. It is precisely this dignity that would not lower and demean ourselves to have spat on someone in the first place, to say nothing of pummeling the person who does so to us. I fail to see why this sort of response is somehow impossible or at least why it might be heralded as a sign of weakness or poor resolve. Too bad.

Because we saw also this weekend in sports what happens when there is no restraint. Such weakness is in fact more disrespectful to ourselves and others than to act within restraint and reason. There are times where perhaps a violent or forceful response may be appropriate. Where time and logic must be abandoned to come to the aid and defense of others or ourselves. The fight in MSG was not one of these. Having played basketball, and having had moments of aggression and weakness, I can say that such aggression is best used to do this: play harder. Use the intensity to focus with a masterful confidence that you will do what you set out to do and nothing will stop you. That's what it's good for. What it is not good for is horse-tackling an opposing player for being successful and "showing you up". If someone is that much better skilled or talented, hey, that's the way it fell. It's also not good for tackling those players with a hit likely to impress an NFL scout into the first row of seats. The same goes for sucker-punching one, even if he may have deserved a fistacuff. Yes there is a use for all that excess of physical energy and courage that is assembled out of frustration and anger. But it was not that. Play better defense, chase out loose balls, etc. Basketball is not boxing or football where a good hit is a laudable achievement. It is a physical game where elbows and hip checks can be painful and seemingly omnipresent. Restraint is necessary because those minor blows can add up in a hurry if you're not used to taking them. Perhaps we're not sophisicated enough to remember the power of restraint. But I hope this can change. Otherwise we should expect lots of ugly scenes in our sports for years to come.

05 December 2006

response to Qo'ran swearing in debate

Please note that I'm an atheist before we continue. I don't care one way or the other and therefore am a detached observer of this firestorm over Keith Ellison. I'm not all that happy he was elected, not because of his Islamic faith, but because his past suggests the delightful arrogance of an Islamic order incompatible with a Western-secular democracy (read: Nation of Islam). But as he was elected, I'll instead deal with the 'problems' people see with him ceremonially swearing in on the Qor'an instead. This is to be taken as a response to a worldnetdaily column (dennis prager, who appears to be an idiot posing as an advocate for Judeo-Christians) and its remarks on this issue by which I was much put off what with its lack of coherent logic.

"And that Creator and those inalienable rights emanate from the Bible"

I would challenge you to prove this statement before presenting it as factual. The mythology behind the Bible and other canonical texts (like the Qor'an) are generally shared, and in fact show a similar idealized figure of God in all forms. Therefore, presenting the Bible ahead of that 'shared' God is ridiculous. God is recognized by peoples of many different faiths in different manners, and the Bible happens to be the manner in which many here in this country have chosen to see and share in. But to presume that without the Bible we would not have these "unalienable rights " or even a "creator" is patently absurd. If we believe in God, then the presentation of that God is merely that which we practice and refer to as religious dogma and canon; not somehow a vital and required documentation of our belief. Neither should it be brandished as a replacement for actual faithful attendance to our moral conduct. As unsavory as it sounds, what Mr Ellison has attempted to do is demonstrate his moral commitment and I salute this at least. The firestorm it has caused is natural and his intentions were perhaps mixed with a more volatile substance in order to foment this disturbing debate. Or it could simply be a pretense of religious observance, which should and will go unchallenged. His personal past is of course, something of a question mark, but a seperate issue.

Secondly, as you skirted around, the official swearing in does not require any religious testimonial or the use of a Bible (or other texts) for the official occupation of the seat in Congress. It requires instead a faithful execution of the duties and standards of the US Constitution, a secular document. "Constitution. It derives its values from the Bible." While there are indeed religious overtones, to refer to this document as religious in nature and value is likewise an unfounded statement. It is philosophical in nature, an inspiring and powerful document of the rights and powers of a republican government. But as now, the Christians who inhabit this broad land could not agree on the varieties and vagaries of their practices anymore than Muslims and Christians can today. As such, any claim that presupposes the Constitution to represent solely the values of a Christian society is likewise ridiculous (as those values would be considerably confused). Was there some holy exposure that crafted its wordings and just accommodations for law and order? Or was it a gathering of influential men; men who doubtless had a shared moral-religious background, but men nonetheless?

"cannot name any Western European country that does not have a document similar to the American Constitution and something akin to our Bill of Rights."
In fact this is false. Most European nations do have customary rights and laws, but England for example has no written Constitution. There is no one document to point to with anything resembling our Bill of Rights (go read the Magna Carta). There is rather a complex weaving of case law and customary practices of the Parliamentary authority. British authorities do not have search and seizure warrant requirements for example. The current French constitution was not written until post WW2, perhaps indicating it was based on something less divine, and on this goes. What we are seeing is not a Christian code of laws, but the spread of our republican ideals in a more secular logic.

"let everyone choose their own text at swearings-in" - This 'slippery slope' logic is also patently absurd. As it is a ceremonial gesture and not officially required, who cares? It is their right to take an oath to whatever document they believe with most fervently. If they were to take "Dianetics" seriously, I seriously doubt they would get elected anyway (anyone planning on voting for that lunatic jumping on a couch?). I see no reason to standardize the ceremonial oath. Is there for example a standard required for the ceremony of marriage? Do we recognize marriages as legal regardless of how and where the ceremony occurs so long as legal rights are attended to? I believe we do. The ceremony is a personally important moment, but actually irrevelant in legal terms. Does this premise in fact give us any civic religion or even legitimize any one religion over others? Or does that religion flow from a secular nature that allows us the freedom to explore our deepest personal beliefs on these matters? I believe it is the second question that has an answer. We have a secular society that is permeated with religious interference, sometimes a good and healthy thing. In your case I fear, it is unhealthy.

Please invest in an iota of logic and a modicum of history before making future ridiculous claims.