Saturday, December 30, 2006

Good and Good Riddance

I am not a huge fan of the death penalty. Sometimes it is justified - this was one of those times. There was not a shadow of a doubt about his guilt. With Arafat dead and now Saddam it is sure to be less lonely in hell for Stalin and Hitler...

Say a new prayer for peace and more justice, this prayer has been answered.


Thursday, December 28, 2006

America: Too Fast, Too Furious?

You often hear people claim that as they age that life – time itself – seems to go faster and faster. In a blink of an eye the kids are grown and you are looking at fewer years left than you’ve already lived. It is a universal phenomenon and frankly it’s a little disconcerting for those of us closer to fifty than we are to forty.

There is a perfectly logical explanation. When you are only ten years old one year is 10% of your life, and at age 50 one year is 2% of your life. It only makes sense that relative perception would make a year seem 80% longer to the ten-year-old as he skips off to school. Face it, you and I won’t even finish paying off Christmas until June (you only have ‘til September before the Christmas decorations start making their appearance at Target).

This topic was a conversation starter at a recent holiday dinner and it really set off an interesting take on our country and our way of life. It begs the question “is our way of life superior or simply insane?”

My opinion? It’s both.

The knee jerk response to the frenetic pace of American life is typical. It goes like this… Because most families need to have dual incomes just to get by a heartless and greedy corporate America is short changing our family life and driving us all to an early grave. Parents have to choose between staying home with a sick child or sending them to day care or school with snot running down their faces. It seems Mommy or Daddy has to be at an important meeting today. People who work at day care centers and at elementary schools will tell you this happens all the time.

So, who is at fault when this happens? It surely isn’t right that a parent should 1.) treat their own child like this 2.) expose all the other children to illness 3.) should feel so compelled to be at work that they would forsake the attention they should be giving to their own kid in favor of a hot project at work. Yes, I would hope that the boss, the company, our society would put the emphasis on the child’s needs in this case. Some companies do and others not so much.

There is a mentality that I have seen at my workplace that really rubs me the wrong way and those who hold it are usually those without any kids. They will say – and I mean literally – “is it the company’s fault you got your wife pregnant? Shouldn’t your wife stay home and take care of your little brats?” This is shortsighted and counter-productive in the long run, but it is a reality.

In other countries, especially in Europe, they have far more liberal worker policies. More paid time off for maternity (and paternity), more vacation (or holiday if you will) and shorter workweeks. The trade off is a less dynamic economy, higher unemployment, less income, far higher taxes and far less buying power. The gain is a slower more leisurely life style with less emphasis on work, work, work.

There is another factor that is really the key to this debate. Our individual wants and desires play the most significant role in our work versus lifestyle choices. It is possible for family to live on one income in this country. It is difficult at times but if you don’t get yourself into too much debt it can be done. Many of us baby-boomers had one parent stay at home while the other worked outside the home. Terrible decisions like the one described above were not needed. There were other decisions like taking vacations and buying a new boat were never made either; there was simply no money for them. Families did without luxuries, families got by on hand-me-downs, and families didn’t get to eat out all the time and buy soda pop, chips and snacks on a whim.

Today we want it all – and we want it all today! Instant gratification requires two incomes. The boat, cable TV, fast Internet, new living room furniture, the tropical cruise, the cell phone plan for all the kids, the surround-sound home theater and the new addition to the house cost a lot of money. Lest we forget that the regular bills like gas and lights and telephone, sewer and water and property taxes, (not to mention gas for the car) keeps creeping up every single year. Thanks to Chinese manufacturing and stores like Target, Wal-Mart and the Family Dollar Store clothing and other non-durable goods are actually cheaper than they used to be.

The point is that there is no scapegoat, no demons here. We can choose the lifestyle we want. If you are working for a company that is so rigid and inflexible that you are forced to make terrible choices when it comes to your child’s health and well being then it is time to look for a different job. There are better companies around. If you want all the goodies and toys then both of you are going to have to go to work. If you are a single parent you may not be able to own your own house right away, or subscribe to cable TV and eat out four nights a week. Choices, my friend. The very fact that you are a single parent is often a matter of choices you made. Oh yeah, you can choose to move to Europe too, that is if you can find a job… Europe – the land of milk and honey, you know the one… Eh, oh that’s America you say?

Is the preferred American go-go lifestyle slightly insane? Yes, Virginia, it is. I’ll be the first to admit it. I too want many of the things I rattled off, but do I expect that I can have it all - and have it all right now? No way. My first tropical vacation may well be after I’ve already turned 50. But I will have me that boat!


Monday, December 25, 2006

The Secret of Our Success: Part 2

Part 2: Good Government

As a firm believer in the old adage “the government that governs least governs best” I think it only fair to examine from time to time the things that government does well. It has become so easy to condemn the impersonal government bureaucracy, as I have been known to do myself on occasion, without a thought to the hard working men a women that make up the “public sector”. While criticism is probably a good thing considering the impact government has on all aspects of our lives, we often fail to see the good that rises above the bad. As with anything in life we tend to complain the loudest when we feel we have been abused. Conversely, when things work well we often to take them for granted. Any parent will recognize this phenomenon. The good things government does become transparent while it’s transgressions are magnified by second and third-hand outrage.

Consider, for a minute, your morning routine: The water coming out of the shower is safe, clean and reliable because a government agency has made it so. The waste water scurries its way down the drain without a second thought from you and yet the government is there routing and cleaning it to make sure it is safe to be reintroduced into the environment. Your hot buttered toast and cold cereal are safe and nutritious because government and industry standards exist to protect your health and well being. The streets that extend from your house to your place of employment are well lit and swept clean of snow without you having to lift a finger. The traffic signals and road signs that guide commuters from here to there work flawlessly day after day.

In cities and towns across the nation we are assured that when we dial 911 someone will be there to answer the call. When we go to the store we know our money will be accepted because we have a standard currency issued and backed by the government. When we buy a widget we know it will fit properly because standards of weights and measures are set up and enforced by the government. When we have been damaged by the actions of another or if we are accused of wrong doing there is a justice system that succeeds in finding the truth far more often than not.

Taking in the bigger picture one cannot overestimate the role of the armed forces in keeping our citizens safe from the terror of a foreign power invading our shores. That may seem like a silly notion, but human history is littered with the bodies of ordinary people slaughtered in their own homes by hostile invaders. It is the projection of a powerful military controlled by a civilian government that has helped make us the most successful nation in history.

Even with the things we complain the about most, and often with good reason; taxes, public schools, public financing of dubious ventures, corporate and social welfare we fail to see the good side first. We all know people in our lives who work in the public sector. Most of them work very hard and do a great job day after day. These are not the bureaucrats we deplore. Those in the positions of power within any government agency are as ambitious and self-absorbed as any of their contemporaries in the private sector. The difference is that they often control and spend our money. When we feel our tax dollars are wasted we get angry, as well we should. However, when we lash out, myself included, as critics of everything that is government we are not making it better. On the other hand those who wish to put the finger of government into every aspect of our lives are only making it worse.

In an ideal world the government would be transparent. When last I looked this is not an ideal world. We should strive for the former, giving the benefit of the doubt to the citizen and not the government, but sometimes we have to accept that the government really does [ try to ] work for the greater good.

The Secret of Our Success: Part 1

Part 1: The Goodness of Free Market Capitalism

Simply put, the market economy has created the prosperity we enjoy today. Year after year, decade after decade legions of innovative, productive, and creative people labor to lay the foundation we build our individual lives on. For those who have chosen to participate and not merely sponge off the largess of the productive among us the capitalist market system has produced previously unheard of wealth and well being. This sort of system has prospered where ever it has been tried and despite what the socialist or the communist would have you believe it has produced the greatest middle class societies the world has ever known.

The astonishing thing is that the forces aligned against the free market include certain capitalists themselves as well as the aforementioned communists and socialists. When this triad coalesces within the government it is a wonder that capitalism thrives at all. But thrive it does. It works because it has as its base the very essence of human nature that has been at the foundation of civilization since the dawn of recorded history. Self interest.

In the past (as well as in the present) kings and dictators, corrupt king-pins and bosses have subverted this self-interest, leaving the powerless in slavery or servitude. It wasn’t until the uniqueness of the United States blossomed did it become clear that the power of the market to serve the individual would impress upon the world what true economic freedom could produce. Make no mistake – it is a work in progress, but what a piece of work it is!

The good news is that humanity has been liberated from endless poverty, sickness, and early death!

It is to the power of free market capitalism we owe everything - our prosperity, our leisure time, our good health and our long lives. Wherever starvation, disease, systemic corruption and a perpetual state of war exist you will not find a free economic system running on capitalistic principles - that is, except in the margins where the black market thrives. The black market is an artificial manifestation in an unfree society that fulfills the unmet need of the individual to trade his goods and services. When the free market is unleashed the black market disappears into the shadows and a new middle class society is born.

There is more than just economic benefits that surface as a result of the miracle of capitalism. It is also an expression of freedom, real freedom – economic freedom. The inherent result is a society where individual rights are respected; businesses, families, and associations are permitted to thrive without intrusive government interference.

Recent history is replete with examples of how free markets and free trade has delivered the masses from poverty and servitude. Since World War II we have had a virtual lesson in economics played out with the world’s economy as our classroom. The nations of Japan and West Germany whose reconstruction was managed by the United States saw these two nations become the 2nd and 3rd largest economies in the world. At the same time the communist overlords in the Soviet Union and China continued to see poverty and shortages plague their centrally controlled economies. Even now in the liberated nations of western Europe the stagnation of socialist guided economies is becoming ever more apparent with each passing year. Only after the governments in China and India threw off the economic shackles of their communism and socialism respectively have we seen both nations develop into the most dynamic economies of the day. In contrast Western Europe, Russia and even Canada stubbornly cling to their socialist/oligarchical ways only to watch Southeast Asia leap over them on the world economic stage. Ironically, it is the “capitalistic” elements in all these societies that produce whatever power and wealth they enjoy!

Perhaps the most prescient example of the deficiency of economic freedom is in the Arab/Muslim world. Oil wealth in the region gives an appearance of success when in fact the poverty of peace and freedom is overwhelming. No where in the world is the need for economic reform greater than in the nations of the greater Middle East. Unfortunately without a successful example of an economically free nation in their midst (excluding Israel, of course) it is less and less likely that the region it will ever reform. This makes the resistance by the so-called western allies to the American led regime change in Iraq all the more puzzling. Well, maybe not…

There is a world wide effort to devalue what capitalism has created and it is led by the Europeans, the Chinese government, the UN and certain political groups in the United States itself. Freedom itself is at issue here. The Europeans, the Chinese, the Russians, the Muslims and the American left wing don’t believe in it. Oh, they may say they do, they may even accuse you of slander and, of course, racism if you question their commitment to it, but their actions speak louder than their words.

When a beleaguered President Bush says opposing the tide of Islamic terrorism is the cause of our time he is actually down playing the challenge… Defending the freedom and prosperity that free market capitalism has produced is really at stake. We ignore this challenge at our own peril.


Friday, December 22, 2006

How to Tell the Good Guys From the Bad Guys at the Border

Rule #1
The good guys are the ones representing the border patrol and are American citizens

Rule #2
The bad guys are the illegal drug smugglers

Well, now that we have this straight let's see if the judicial system can figure it out. At the risk of sounding like a cliche I AM OUTRAGED! You see a pair of border patrol agents have been tried and convicted, facing up to 20 years in jail for "violating the civil rights" of an illegal drug smuggling Mexican and for shooting him in the butt. If their appeal fails they will be going to jail for doing their jobs. There is a petition drive to ask the President to pardon them - there's been no word from the White House.

What really stinks to high Heaven is that American authorities went into Mexico tracked down the drug smuggler and gave him immunity to testify against agents Ignacio "Nacho" Ramos and Jose A. Compean. To these officials I say read Rule #1 and Rule #2.

What is wrong with this country?


Wednesday, December 20, 2006

Ban Me Now or Ban Me Later

Government of the People, By the People, For the People - so long, it's been good to know 'ya

The nanny-state clears another hurdle in it's relentless quest to protect us children from ourselves. Instead of actually holding people accountable for their actions and behavior the bureaucratic nannies over at city hall will simply create a ban.

New York City has banned restaurants from selling food made with trans-fat. "It is a dangerous and unnecessary ingredient," claims the NYC health commissioner. It is also the ingredient that gives certain foods the texture and flavor desired by cooks and clients alike. What business is it of New York City to decide what New Yorkers eat?

It wasn't even ten years ago that "experts" and health professionals were urging the use of trans-fats to replace "dangerous" animal fats for cooking. We have all seen the ridiculous use of the media to spread fear of certain foods or drugs (or breast implants) only to see a study years later that totally refute the previous dire claims.

Yes, it is totally possible that trans-fats are dangerous in large amounts. Cigarettes are dangerous too, as well as alcohol and a whole host of perfectly legal products. People have a choice whether to eat, drink or smoke things that may be or may not be dangerous to them. In Japan there is a delicacy called fugu, a fish that aficionados pay hundreds of dollars to eat. It is also potentially deadly if it is not prepared in a precise manner. The flavor, it is said, is really nothing special? A little richer than other white fish but a flavor sensation it is not. So why do diners and cooks risk their lives to serve and eat it? Because they can! It's called freedom!

The nanny-state claims that trans-fat (and cigarette smoking) are costing society billions in health care outlays so this tact of regulating what people do is for the good of all society. Again, this is strictly because society doesn't punish offenders for their actions, instead they punish the law abiding and wise for the actions of a few. Instead of throwing the book at violent criminals who use firearms they want to ban all guns - as if the gun points itself and pulls it's own trigger. Or, the cigarette jumps from the pack, lights itself and forces you to inhale. People make choices and they ought to be held accountable. Smokers perhaps should pay substantially higher insurance costs. Violent gun users should be locked up for good! Obese people perhaps need better mental health care coverage to overcome behaviors that lead to poor eating decisions.

I am diabetic and have many restrictions on what (and the amount) I should eat. Donuts are out, can't eat them. Should I demand that donuts and pastry be banned - they are clearly dangerous to me if I eat them in large amounts. No, I just shouldn't eat them. Why should I or the city on my behalf ban donuts for the millions who love them and can eat them without consequence?

A colleague at work looks upon the the trans-fat ban with an "oh well, it really isn't good for you, and face it too many Americans are overweight" as he pats his substantial belly. He is essentially saying that I can't control myself so it is good that my nanny watch what I eat. This is a 40 something adult man with a decent head on his shoulders. This "what can you do about it" attitude towards the creeping nanny-state is exactly what got Europe in the state it is in.

It is so much easier to just let our nanny force us into healthy and compliant behavior - why fight it? Because you are a free person, an individual with a free will. We are not a collective, but a community of individuals. We are not a hive serving one queen (or nanny). Yes, we need each other, I know that better than most, we need to look out for each other and help when it's needed or asked for. But as I am learning as a father and a husband (not a nanny) I have to let them face the consequences of their actions... So should the government.

My colleague at work may think it is just OK that the government regulates what we can and cannot do until the day they come after something he likes and holds dear!


Thursday, December 14, 2006

World's Shortest Book

"Everything Men Understand About the Female Mind"

Obviously this is not an original concept on my part since every male stand-up comedian has made this topic his bread and butter since the invention of the microphone. In fact, for men, it is as hard a question as there is. Frankly, women are too complicated for us. Men in contrast are pretty easy to figure out, nothing too complicated about what goes on in our skulls - mainly sex and sports. Pretty much all we do is aimed at building a comfortable place to have sex and play our games.

I define sports widely - it can be anything from actual physical athletic exertion to building model airplanes. In the modern workplace when a group of men get together at the proverbial water cooler the discussion of the two "G's" inevitably comes up. Girls and Golf. Like I said - it's sex and sports. In all honesty men talk about these two things a lot more than they do these two things, but it hardly matters since the the phrase "it's all in your head" has never been more true.

Women, on the other hand, think about a lot of things, too many things for their own good actually. When I watched that Mel Gibson movie a few years ago "What Women Want" I was struck by one thing over and over. I wasn't sure if what I detected was true or not since I really don't know if the movie was written and produced by females or males. It seems that women - or a lot of women lack confidence in themselves in comparison to men.

What struck me about this revelation was an article I read on one of my favorite blogs and a conversation I had with my dear mother.

Christopher Chantrill's "Road to The Middle Class" blog posted an article called Men Are Funnier Than Women. Discuss where he cites Christopher Hitchens perplexity on the subject. The one quote cited that really got me was this:

Men have to pretend, to themselves as well as to women, that they are not the servants and supplicants. Women, cunning minxes that they are, have to affect not to be the potentates.

This I believe all men in committed relationships know to be true. Men at some level are here to serve women. Women hold tremendous power over the men in their lives even if they don't know it. Men for the most part are only truly happy when their women are. "If Momma aint happy nobody's happy!"

So, what makes women happy? Are you kidding me? I have no idea, I'm a man!

As women's roles have evolved over the last thirty years to where they now have some of the same opportunities men have had along I think they are finding that the more complicated (and cluttered) their minds are the more difficult it is to be happy. For men, heck, it's just sex and sports - happiness should be just that easy!

The key to the difference is self assuredness and confidence. Whether a man is discussing the effectiveness of the quarterback of his favorite team or the best route to get from here to there he is extremely confident about it. He may be full of it but it doesn't matter, he knows he's right.

For women it is, as always, a double-edged sword in the swaggering self-confidence department. If a woman is just too damn sure of herself and pushes it she is a dragon lady or a bitch whereas a man is viewed as man's man and respected for his strong opinion. This is what my mother was talking about. When it comes to things like driving directions (a car or a golf club) and how things ought to be done we men think we are right and we are damn confident about it. "Do it my way!" The bottom line is that men doubt themselves far less than women do.

Seriously, it is a huge problem and the popular culture of portraying the woman as constant victim of male domination fosters a large part of the destruction of her confidence. As a result many women fall apart and the whole society suffers. Men get confused and since we have a proclivity to fix things we end up make it worse. By fixing "everything" we only reinforce the notion that led to her crisis of confidence in the first place.

The problems that arise from this are just to numerous to discuss here - books have been written - and the solution is not going to be simple. We can be certain that as society evolves the worst thing we can do is continue to trumpet victimhood because we can see what that has done for black Americans. Women do have power, they always have, now they need the confidence to go along with it.