Tuesday, February 22, 2005

Put On a Happy Face!

"I have to admit it's getting better, it's getting better all the time" - The Beatles

Amid the doom and gloom of the daily news something inexplicable is happening in our world. Despite what you might think based on the onslaught of horrifying images of despicable human behaviour and the tragic consequences of one natural disaster after another, life on this shiny pale blue dot is getting better all the time. Yes, you read it right, life is getting better.

I like to think of myself as a glass half-full kind of guy. I prefer optimism, albiet skeptical optimism, over
cynicism and depreciation. Yet, I am human and can not always resist the forces of darkness and despair. Still, I am reminded daily that hopefulness and renewal are ever present in my own life. Just looking at where I came from it is almost unfathomable how far I've come personally and I know my experience is far from unique.

Last August I read a piece by George Melloan in the Wall Street Journal's op-ed page that I clipped and posted prominently in my office. It was entitled, "Forget the Nightly News; Life is getting Better". It serves as a reminder that I (we, us) fail to see the progress of mankind amid the sky is falling barkers all around us.

Speaking of the opening ceremony of the Summer Olympics,
George writes: ... a sampling of the world's 6.3 billion people, some 10,000 of them, from 202 countries. Looking at their happy faces, I thought surely the state of our poor planet can't be as bad as one might gather from the daily diet of doom and gloom dished out by the press and TV.

It isn't. When you go behind the news and look at the a broad array of statistical measures of the state of the world, the clear message is that life is getting better, not worse, for most people. Religious fanatics and junk science get a lot of headlines, but that's only the static that accompanies the improving political, economic and social environment that surrounds all but a relative few of the world's people...

He's right, but don't expect the New York Times, Al Sharpton or Bill Maher to utter these revelations. Tragedy sells. Hatred sells. Violence sells. Most of all, victimology sells. So few people ever take the time to count their blessings (and thank the Lord) that it's no wonder the prevailing wisdom is that we are all going to hell in a handbasket. It's almost comical to try to put yourself back in time a mere 100 years ago when my grandmother was a little girl. No cars, no airplanes, no refrigerators, no central heating, no antibiotics - the list is endless. It's funny to hear my own children marvel at my childhood without VCR's, cable TV, computers, cell phones and Sony Playstations. Cars, I tell them, had cranks for the windows, which we kept open- because - only Cadillacs had air conditioning.

All of this is not to say that gadgets and consumerism are what makes life better, rather our ability to buy and have the time to use these gadgets is indicative of how much better daily life is. The doomers and the gloomers will quickly point out that the price we pay for these goodies of American leisure
is easily offset by what OUR consumerism is doing to the world. Oh, the poor environment, the stress on the planet's resources, the plight of third world slave labor. This doesn't even take into consideration the stressed out, over worked, under paid, day-in day-out drudgery of the average American who only "thinks" his life is better than his fathers. To this I can only say - when in the course of human history did a time exist when our lives were not consumed with drudgery and stress? I also say this - don't let the bastards get you down. Here, as with many aspects of our modern life we find cynical leftists bemoaning everything that hard work and perseverence has afforded those who do the hard work - the drudgery - and create wealth and well being for their own folk. Indeed, don't let the bastards get you down.

The same can be said of some of the far right-wingers too, the ones who find a gay conspiracy under every cartoon rock. We on the right have to face our own demons when they obscure those who genuinely believe in environmental protection, separation of religiosity and statism, or the well being of the downtrodden and try
not to paste everything as a scheme to get more tax money out of us. Yes, some social progress is a result of social programs that actually work.

Naysayers on the left or the right need not take my word for it, there have been books written that deal with the evidence conclusively, far better than my feeble attempt. There is Terry Anderson's "You Have to Admit it's getting Better" as he explores the state of the world's environment in relation to the growth free market economies. Then there is the book that opened my eyes to the folly of Kyoto and SUV hatred, "The Skeptical Envronmentalist" by Bjorn Lomborg. Lomborg, a former greenpeace activist, set out to disprove
the late Julian Simon's ( an American economist) contention that the world's management of natural resources was getting better and as a result getting cheaper. After 3 years of research and much to his surprise and the dismay of his fellow greenies, Lomborg concluded that Simon was right. He found that in nearly every aspect of the human condition the state of the world was getting better. He did not stop being an environmentalist, not by any means, but he learned that opposing human and technological development was the worst possible thing for the environment. According to Mr. Lomborg Kyoto is a collossal waste of money and resources that could better be used to make a real difference in the lives of human beings the world over. Lomborg is now universally hated by the left - my advice to him is, Bjorn, don't let the bastards get you down!

I found this interesting tidbit while asking Google - LIFE

Is Life Getting Better?
Quality-of-life in modern society
Ruut Veenhoven, Erasmus University Rotterdam, Netherlands
...the data suggest that societal evolution has worked out differently on the quality of human life, first negatively in the change from hunter-gatherer existence to agriculture and next positively in the recent transformation from agrarian to industrial society. Probably, we live now longer and happier than ever.

And this from Slate.com's Mickey Kaus
Isn't the real test whether life is getting better in America's "underclass" ghettos? Now there is powerful statistical evidence that this is in fact happening. Concentrated poverty (a bad thing, and one of the defining characteristics of the "underclass" as described by sociologist William Julius Wilson) has dropped dramatically in the U.S.--by almost a quarter--after doubling from 1970 to 1990.

I could on and on, Google had much to offer on the subject. The clear consensus was that everywhere, particularly since the fall of Soviet communism, life is getting better for most everyone on the planet. So, again, don't let the bastards get you down. Chin up, smile and smell the roses whenever you can!


Friday, February 18, 2005

Assault by Any Other Name

Sometimes when I read the newspaper I wonder what planet I'm living on. This ultra-sensitive society tests the limits of my patience as I silently scream to gods of common sense. My sensibilities are under assault daily and what used to be thought of as common wisdom has somehow been transformed into brutishness.

Todays episode of "As The World Turns Upside Down" takes us to the quaint hamlet known as Maplewood, Minnesota.

[zoom in on newspaper headline]
headline writer: (screaming) TEACHER RESIGNS; ASSAULT CHARGED

[pan down to first few paragraphs]
narrrator: (soap opera voice) A teacher at Maplewood's Carver Elementary School resigned last week after prosecutors accused him of taking one of his fourth-grade students over his lap and pretending to spank her.

The city's attorney charged David Birkholz, 59, of Woodbury with fifth-degree assault and disorderly conduct — both misdemeanors — on Feb. 3. The alleged incident happened in early January.

Maplewood Police Chief Dave Thomalla said a city employee heard about the accusation and brought it to the attention of authorities. Birkholz allegedly laid the 9-year-old girl over his lap, put the palm of his hand face up over her buttocks and slapped his other hand against his palm.

"Our number one concern in a case like this is the welfare of the victim," Thomalla said. "We take these reports very seriously, especially when a person is in a place of authority over children."

[cut to no nonsense average Joe spitting coffee all over the paper] (startled) Victim! Victim! Victim of what? A fake spanking? You have got to be kidding me?

[fade to black]

You might have guessed that the no nonsense average Joe was me. You'd be right. What is this world coming to when you can be criminally charged for pretending. I suppose my own son could turn me in for the numerous times I've raised my fist at him and said "Why I oughta..." In fact my son and I have faked our martial arts routine so convincingly that we have come away with fake bruises.

All kidding aside, is it just me or is this crazy? The worst part of this story is that I actually know Police Chief Thomalla. He goes to our church. He seems like a fine upstanding law man to me. I suppose being the position he's in he is beholden to political correctness and is forced to say things like "victim" as he inwardly cringes.

Continuing on through the rest of the article it reads like a glowing biography of a terriffic teacher and human being. It would be shame that this seemingly great teacher would be remembered for this. Growing up in the 60's and 70's I had my share of teachers for whom the real acts of "abuse" were considered normal. More than once I was hauled down to office by the short hairs. I remember old Mr. Thompson making the boys do push-ups with his foot on their backs for acting up during recess no less. No one ever once went home to their mommy and demanded she get him fired and charged for cruel and unusal punishment. I sure hope Mr. Thompson is out of the teaching business by now or the poor bloke will find himself behind bars some day.

Tuesday, February 15, 2005

Hi Ho, Hi Ho It's Off To Work She Goes...

'If you don't take a job as a prostitute, we can stop your benefits'

I thought this was so precious when I heard it on TV while napping on the couch over the weekend that I just had to share. The news reader was droning on about this and that (excellent white noise for napping on the couch). When she started on a story of a young German woman who was being threatened with losing her unemployment benefits for refusing to take a job as a sex worker at a German brothel I was roused from my slumber. It seems that our enlightened friends across the big pond have legalized prostitution and endowed sex trade workers with all the rights and priviledges accorded to any legal profession. With an unemployment rate of nearly 11% it seems all the jobs that require one to maintain an upright position had been taken.

I did an Internet search and found that the source of the story was an article in the London Telegraph published on Jan 30th. There were no shortage of followup stories and forums where commentators sounded off on the moral and ethical decline of Germany's socialist society (and this was news to whom?).

This story had all the earmarks of urban legend and there is one source I rely on for the definitive take on such things - snopes.com. Yes, indeed, it was there alright, and yes, it was thoroughly debunked. Still, even snopes pointed out that a scenario existed for such a case based on the letter of the law.

One of my heros, the legendary Thomas Sowell used the story as an opportunity to illustrate the absurdity of socialist solutions to problems created by socialist solutions. The whole thing would be terribly funny if it weren't so sickening. God help this great country if it ever falls back in the hands of the European Party we fondly call Democrats.

Monday, February 14, 2005

Easing Eason Out

Enough will be said and written about this man and his mouth that adding one more voice to the chorus won't make it sound any sweeter to those of us who are pleased by this turn of events. I do, however, think that revisiting one of the most despicable events in modern journalism is in order. I speak, of course, of the now infamous letter penned by one Mr. Eason Jordan following the fall of Saddam Hussein in the spring of 2003...

Entitled, "The News We Kept to Ourselves", was an admission of utter and complete journalistic negligence. I'm not sure if I was more shocked by what I had read or by the near silence from the major news media outlets regarding the implications of this journalistic sell out. Only Talk Radio really explored this with the outrage it deserved - and we all know how talk radio is viewed by the main stream news media. In my mind Jordan is a criminal for the decisions he made, decisions that were motivated by personal pride and corporate greed, decisions that cost people their lives.

Perhaps the most galling part of this episode was the anti-war drumbeat coming out of CNN during the 13 month long "rush to war". Knowing what he knew Jordan should have steered CNN to neutral position if cared one whit for the Iraqi people.

See 'ya Eason - and as my father used to say "don't let the door hit you in the ass on your way out."

Friday, February 11, 2005

Paint By Numbers

My sweet wife gave me a painters starter kit for Christmas. It had 5 or 6 colors, a slew of brushes and a real nice easel. I thought I'd give it a go. The inspiration for this piece was a snapshot from a friends vacation in the Rocky Mountains. I call it "Summer Melt Off". I listened to Radiohead's "The Bends" CD while dabbling: Have a look, tell me what you think!

Summer Melt Off
by Craig Willms (c) 2005

Unfortunately my digital camera sucks, so it is a little dull and blurry... I particularly like the little Bush in the lower right-hand corner - I call it Dubya. You can almost see the glacier melting and the water winding it's way through the mountains before it spills into the lake in a series of spectacular waterfalls.

Wednesday, February 09, 2005

Anti-smoking Nazi: Weyco Inc.

Where will this outrageous zealotry end?

As much as I dislike throwing around the n-word [nazi] I just can't help myself on this one. Weyco Inc. has literally fired a number of employees for cigarette smoking. You may say that they have every right to regulate what goes on in their offices, and I agree with that, but, wait, these people have been fired for smoking in their own homes!

Let me preface these remarks by stating I am a non-smoker and don't really enjoy breathing cigarette smoke if I don't have to. But I will expend my very last breath in defense of every Americans right to smoke in the privacy of their own homes. This is maddness and it opens the door for all sorts of "company requirements" on personal behavior of employees. I personally have had it with the anti-smoking crowd. These self-rightous, santimonious finger waggers have gone too far with this one.

Weyco President Howard Weyers says simply:
"You work for me; this is what I expect. You don't like it? Go someplace else." Fine, I wouldn't work for this Nazi (there I go again with the n-word) anyway. The company sites rising health care costs as justification. Then why not just charge smokers a higher premium? Why not? Because Weyco knows what's best for you, that's why. So why stop with smoking? Why not ban sky diving, unprotected sex, riding on the back of motorcycles, McDonalds cheeseburgers and Jim Beam?

There are a number of states that have laws on the books that prevent just this sort of discrimination, Minnesota being one of them. Michigan, the home state of Weyco, does not. The idea of employers regulating what their employees can and can't do in their off hours is not new - star football running backs are often prohibited from downhill skiing, pilots can't drink alcohol within so many hours of a scheduled flight - but these behaviors have a direct impact on the employees' ability to perform the task. Weyco processes health claims, hardly lung related. On their website they vigorously defend this policy by citing statistics of smoking related carnage on Michigan's society. It is possible to smoke cigarettes or what have you, and live to a ripe old age. My dear Grandma Rose died at 94 years old having smoked for 70 of those years. She quit smoking at 90 not because she worried about her health, but rather because they quit making Tareyton cigarettes. This is not to say that I think there are not real health issues related to smoking cigarettes, only a fool would say that, but it is a legal product and these are adults we are talking about.

In the end the smoking nazis will win this one; to this I am resigned. We, who value personal liberty and freedom, must make a stand on every hill, even this one. So, I say to you while I still can: "Smoke 'em if you got 'em."


Sunday, February 06, 2005

One Week Later: The Iraq Elections

I am pleased to announce the publication of my letter to the editor in the St. Paul Pioneer Press on Sunday Feb 7th. The topic was the Iraqi elections. Since the paper usually does not archive these letters much past the day of publication I'll post it here solely for the purpose of discussion:

Isn't it time to stop the hate? Must we hear another word from Ted Kennedy and Michael Moore about the Iraqi "freedom fighters" that the rest of us call "terrorists"? Isn't it clear that Kennedy and Moore and their Bush-hating ilk have been aiding and abetting the real enemy of freedom?

They are so blinded by their need to see George W. Bush fail that they can't see the damage their rhetoric is doing to the cause of Arab democracy. Isn't it time for all Americans to unite in this cause, the way the Iraqi people have?

President Bush has been saying since the beginning that all people yearn for freedom, which includes Arab people living in the valley of the Tigris and the Euphrates. Bush and the military coalition did not force democracy on Iraq; they released it.


St. Paul

I am also pleased that the new editor (okay, he's been there for several years now) does not edit these submissions beyond recognition, this was not always the case...


Friday, February 04, 2005

Congratulations Mr. President...

on a job well done. I tip my hat to you.

The state of the union speech was excellent. Your passion is evident - and it's real passion, inspiring passion. Your ideas are bold and your energy abundant. While being buffeted about by huricanne-sized forces you walk straight and tall, unwavering. Despite what those braying asses say, questioning your every move with cynicism and spite, I hear sincerity in your voice, and it's comforting.

Thank you Mr. President