29 December 2009

Doug & Bob Host the Winter Olympics

Last week, we went to Whistler where the downhill events for the 2010 Winter Olympics will unfold. Shockingly, the road north from Vancouver is only two to four lanes. Think about it. Spectators from around the world all converging on these Olympic events and the road to it has one lane feeding into it. I can only imagine that parking lots in Beijing had more lanes feeding into them.

A family friend lives close to Whistler and she showed us the stage (they are still constructing? have constructed? hard to tell) that will be used for the awards ceremony. Canada does a lovely job of building parks around town and the next day I saw a little pavilion in an obscure park we frequently walk through when visiting my in-laws - a park that never seems to have more than about 4 people in it. This little pavilion seemed about as nice and as big as the Olympic medal stand in Whistler Village.

The folks around Vancouver can see through the hype to the big bill that comes with the event. They are, at best, seemingly ambivalent about it.

Someone needs to do a skit with Doug and Bob hosting the winter Olympics - the symbol of Canadians apparent disinterest in playing host.

Imagine Doug walking you through Whistler's Village, past the medals stand. "Yep, over there is a log you can stand on to get your medal. And, uh, when you're done we can go get a beer to celebrate, eh? And maybe by the time we've had a few beers, eh, all those people who were driving up to watch your event will be here. It's too bad your folks got stuck in traffic. They would have been real proud, yeah."

27 December 2009

The Too Much Information Age

Too much information is as bad as too little.

As it turns out the would-be terrorist Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, who tried to bring down a flight from Amsterdam to Detroit, was on a list of about 550,000 potential suspects who might qualify for the TSA no-fly list.

What the media seems unable to distinguish between is problems from a lack of information vs. problems from no information. Sure Umar was on a list - but he had not been evaluated as yet to determine if he was a real list. Your most powerful tip for 2010 is in the stack of magazines in Barnes & Noble that you have yet to read. Not only have you not yet read them, you have not figured out which of the tips is THE one that will transform your life in 2010. The government has essentially the same problem finding and making sense of the tetra bytes of information that might be relevant to security.

If we had the capacity to turn all noise into signal, we'd have about half the country sifting through information for real vs. imagined threats. Too much information is at least as bad as too little. It would take you years to read every magazine in Barnes and Noble - and when you were done you'd only know about the current week. Too much information is as useless as too little.

If we were to staff properly to evaluate every potential or reported threat in real time, Osama bin Laden would achieve his goal of bankrupting the country and subordinating all travel and commerce to bureaucracy that had to evaluate every package and person entering the country.

It is still not obvious that anything went wrong in the process that allowed Abdulmutallab into the country. If anything, it was simply a reminder that no one is ever completely safe.

People with bad allergies won't die from, say, milk but could die from their reaction to it. Terrorists won't destroy our way of life but our reaction to them could.

18 December 2009

The "Oh Nothing" Decade Is Ending

Last decade was the 90s. The decade before, the 80s. This decade just ending? We ought to give something phonetic to the 00s. I suggest the Oh nothings.

First we had the Y2k bug. Computers would crash! The market would crash! Airplanes would crash! We spent billions converting computers and software. Wait a minute. You mean all the computers are fine? What is it? Oh, nothing.

In 2000 we heard, it's a new millennium! Everything will be different! Everyone will be rich with tech stocks. Robots will bring your slippers. It'll be wonderful! Wait? What is it? Where are my millions? Where are my slippers? What did the new millennium bring? Oh, nothing.

When George W. Bush was sworn in, there was a measure of excitement. We have a new compassionate conservative! We're bringing morality back to the White House. A non-partisan approach. Leadership and wisdom. Wait? What? What is he saying? What is his IQ? Oh, nothing.

9-11! Terror! The world is ending! Lives are in danger! The economy will collapse! Wait. No more attacks? What are is Osama doing now? Oh, nothing.

Invasion of Iraq! Our troops may face fierce resistance. We'll find WMDs! Wait? What? You've found ... oh, nothing.

Blogging was going to give everyone a voice. Make us all famous. Allow the little guy to hold politicians accountable. It was going to change .... oh, nothing.

Rebuilding Iraq. A light of democracy in the middle east. Peace at last. Prosperity for those poor Iraqis. We'll give them ... oh, nothing.

Obama won the election. He was going to get us out of Iraq and Afghanistan. Close GITMO. Get the economy going again. End greed on Wall Street. Change the world as we know it. He was going ... what is that you said? Troop surge? Unemployment in double-digits? What has he changed? Oh, nothing.

This last year, we heard that the economy is going to crash. We'll have a Great Depression! Banks will fail! Everyone will be homeless! Wait. The economy dipped a few points and then started to rise again? What is going to happen? Oh, nothing.

In the end, the events of the decade seemed like those teaser leads the TV news uses to bring you back from break, hoping that by the time the commercials are over and they tell you the actual story you won't realize that it was ... oh, nothing.

Maddie on Men

"There are two kinds of men," Maddie finally offered. Maddie's older brother Bernard and I had been talking about women and relationships and she had been quietly listening. Finally, inevitably, Bernard and I stopped to catch our breath and she was able to talk without interrupting.

"Two?"

"Yes," she nodded. "Men who don't have a clue about women and men who don't have a clue that they don't have a clue about women."

I wanted to respond. I was not sure what to say.

Bernard's confusion did less to silence him. "Oh c'mon, Maddie. That's a cheap shot. There are men who have a clue."

"Really," she raised an eyebrow.

"Sure. There are women happy with the guy they are with. They even say as much."

"They are with men who don't have a clue that they don't have a clue." The way she said this did not seem to allow the least questioning on our part. "Those men are sometimes easier to be with." She paused. "Sometimes."

"What do you mean?"

"Well," she paused, her finger tracing patterns in some spilt salt on the table, "men who don't have a clue tend to give up. They are like deer in the headlights. Or potatoes on the couch. They don't try anymore because they haven't a clue about what does or doesn't work or what to say or what not to say. Men who realize how little they realize might be less delusional, but they are not really better.
"Now men who haven't a clue that they don't have a clue can actually be coaxed into doing certain things. They are easier to engage. They say the wrong things but they can be coached into saying some approximation of the right thing. They do the wrong things but ... well at least they still engage with you. Handled properly, they can be enjoyable company."

Bernard and I sat quietly for the first time all evening. I had suddenly lost all confidence about what I could say.

"Is knowing that there are just these two types of men the first clue," I finally asked.

Maddie laughed. "Oh Ron," she said. "You know, there might be hope for you yet."

"You think there is hope for me to actually get a clue," I asked, my voice betraying my hope more than I had wanted.

Maddie laughed even harder. "No, silly. I'm just saying that there is a chance that you might be one of those men whose sense of delusion could be put to good use." And then she laughed again. I did not.

Facts Just Aren't News Any More

I used to rely on Newsweek for a recap of the week. A way to make sense of the headlines I'd seen in passing. Newsweek has apparently fired their reporters and hired columnists.

Don't get me wrong. The columnists are great - Fareed Zakaria is insightful and Sharon Begley is the kind of science writer who makes us laymen feel a little smarter by the end of her piece.

The good news is that these columnists seem to have opinions that they generally subordinate to facts. The bad news is that it is no longer clear where those facts come from. Apparently investigative journalism is now too boring or expensive or risky. Their opinions may be more balanced and nuanced than that of Rush Limbaugh or Keith Olbermann, but it is still opinion.

In retrospect, this may have been inevitable. Our generation has grown up with the same main stories. Unrest in the Middle East. Celebrity scandal. Questionable American military involvement in [fill in the blank]. Fiscal recklessness. Lots of health care debate but little health care policy. Global competition eroding American industries. The facts, apparently, change little from news cycle to news cycle. Opinions, it would seem, are less constrained by events and easier to tailor for consumption. But even so, once you've taken the news out of Newsweek, it seems a little weak.

Report on the Senate, for the Senate, from within the Senate

After 23 years in the Senate, John McCain made this observation:

"I must say that I don't know what's happening here in this body, but I think it's wrong,"


I think that McCain's comment should be put onto t-shirts and given to freshman senators to wear as they sit through sessions.

16 December 2009

Is the Bottle Half Empty or is That a Frontal Lobotomy?

"I belong to no organized political party. I'm a democrat."
- Will Rogers.

It looks as though the Democrats have failed to pass health care legislation.

As frustrating as I find this, I would rather a party that failed to do the right thing than one that succeeded at doing the wrong thing.

But really, is it too much to ask to have 8 years when we've either got a party that continually fails to do the wrong thing or actually succeeds at doing the right thing?

14 December 2009

Religous Power

Reading again about the atrocities of the medieval church and religious wars and acts of terrorism since, it occurs to me that we ought to have a very simple rule about religious power.

Any religious group is allowed to exercise as much power as they wish - power to damn or kill abortionists, gays, atheists, Anabaptists, Muslims, politicians, people who walk funny or people who reject Joseph Smith. Seriously. Of course, given that it is religious belief we're talking about, it seems only appropriate that there be one catch to this: exercise all the power they want as long as it is supernatural power. If you can direct the wrath of God, you ought to be taken seriously. And further, you don't even need a political process.

10 December 2009

Golfing's Best

Although it is touted as the ultimate in golfing, it seems as though the hole in one was not enough for Tiger Woods.

09 December 2009

Good News for Planning: July 2011 is Firm

In reporting on the new Afghanistan strategy,

"The July 2011 date is firm, Defense Secretary Gates said, but conditions will dictate how many troops would be withdrawn then, and at what pace. Much will depend on the training of Afghan security forces, he said."


So, when Gates says that the July 2011 date is firm but what they do will depend, is he just saying that the administration is resolved that the actual month of July 2011 will not shift around in time?

I'm sure that it is a comfort to Afghans and Americans alike to know that the Obama administration is committed to the Julian calendar. Now if only we knew whether it is committed to withdrawal.

06 December 2009

The "Done Nothing" Accusations Thrown at Obama

Obama has done nothing. Of course it has not yet been a year, but he has no accomplishments to point to except some arguments about how job loss would have been worse without his stimulus package (a package that included financial industry bailouts that began with the Bush administration).

The truth is, we don't know what Obama has accomplished. Or, rather, won't for some time. And simply judging from my own experience of life, I am actually assured by his apparent lack of progress. For now.

I've been blogging less and reading others' blogs less. The reason for this is simply that I've been diverting my writing energy into a bigger project. For now, it would seem obvious that I'm doing less. I'm not. But what I'm doing is higher risk. No one else may ever see it and it may amount to nothing.

I don't fool myself about my blog postings having any impact, but it is gratifying to hit the "publish post" button and have "done" something. I quite like that. The posts may have little or no consequence but my accomplishments seems obvious.

By contrast, the writing project I've been working on is far less likely to be published and even if it does, it is unlikely to have much more impact than my posts. I am doing something - more, even, then when I was at my peak of blogging. But there is little to report. I'm just working on the project. And will be for months - maybe a year. It doesn't sound very exciting but completing this project will be more exciting than anything I've done in the last decade or two. And it has the potential to have much more impact than the hundred-some posts I could publish in the same time. It will, in any event, be more consequential than a string of unrelated posts. For reasons like this, I believe that invisible progress is often the best progress.

So let's return to our president. He could do things to keep the 24-hour news channels happy, the equivalent of presidential blogging. Lots of little publicity opportunities, legislative initiatives and the like that generate news but probably won't change history.

Or he could take a big risk and put himself into a project like health care reform. He may not get legislation passed. Or it may be bad legislation. This is very high risk. But IF he succeeds, when history is written this will be an accomplishment as big as or bigger than that of any president in decades.

I have found that there is a negative correlation between how much I'm doing in any given week and what I can report at the end of the year. The projects that are worth talking about are few and take a long time. By contrast, if I "stay busy" I seem to inevitably wonder what it was I did later. Things that can be done quickly are generally disposable.

In a similar way, Obama's project is something that will look better at the end of his term than it does on any given news cycle. He's trying to do something big. To judge what he's done now is like a father grousing about how his son - in his second year at university - sure hasn't made as much money as the neighbor's kid who went right into landscaping. You've already given the man four years. Let him use it.

01 December 2009

Chapter Two of Chapter One (Haven't We Read This Sentence Before?)

Bush thought that once he'd toppled the Taliban and Hussein regimes in Afghanistan and Iraq, democratic nation-states would just emerge. Nation-building has proved to be a little more complicated.

I'm not clear that Obama appreciates the difficulty of nation-building either. Given the state of the state in Afghanistan, it seems to me that we have two choices: stay for a generation and massively subsidize education and development to build something akin to a modern nation-state or essentially withdraw from the country and contain its military threat. I think those are wretched choices, but building roads or securing check points into major cities for a year is not the same thing as building a nation or securing its people. Nation-building isn't measured in months but in decades. It has as much to do with reconstructing the minds of people as their towns.

And yet Obama is going to send in a surge of 30,000 more troops but only for one year. Because that is all that Bush got wrong; he was just short by tens of thousands of troops and 10 to 12 months.

It's not even obvious to me that Obama is all that sold on his own plan. His speech lacked the snap of his campaign speeches, sounding like lots of blah blah blah. (Is there a rule that when you send troops to war you talk in platitudes sure to reverse the adrenalin rush of war?) It wasn't obvious to me that he owned this speech.

This is like projecting deficit reduction after this year of deficit increase. I simply don't see how 30,000 troops will change things so much over the course of a year that withdrawal will be any easier. How is war like snorting heroin? It's terribly destructive but hard to quit. Next year at this time, expect a mid-course correction from Obama. Something about the need to keep troops in country just 6 (or 12) more months.

29 November 2009

Central Europe's Disturbing Intolerance

It seems a truism that inland regions are less tolerant. People who live on coasts around ports have been continually exposed to a variety of skin colors, religious persuasions, cultures, and lifestyles. Fewer people come through Nebraska than New York or San Francisco; fewer people come through Serbia than England. Insularity seems to make people intolerant rather than curious.

Which brings us to Switzerland's stunning vote to ban "the construction of minarets, the towers that typically stand adjacent to mosques and serve to issue the Muslim call to prayer."

The Swiss speak four languages and would seem a model of diversity, but it is also worth remembering that it wasn't until 1971 that they granted women the right to vote. These are not progressives.

So I guess one ought not to be surprised that the Swiss felt threatened by the construction of Muslim edifices. Muslims, of course, make up nearly 4% of their population and are obviously a threat to the country's laws and mores.

It seems to me, though, that the Swiss have got it backwards. Rather than ban the construction of minarets, they should insist that every Muslim household build one atop their domicile, making it easy for anyone else to see where they are. And once they've done that, I see no reason why they couldn't require Muslims to wear tattoos on their forearms.

If they want to borrow from the playbook of religious intolerance, Central Europe has plenty of examples to draw from. If they are heading down that path, they should know better than to ban the symbols of religious difference that could, instead, be used to identify minorities.

24 November 2009

I'm Not Unemployed - I'm Running for President

Lou Dobbs has gone from an advocate for the laid-off American to role model.

I've always been a little ambivalent about Lou Dobbs. I can't say that I've followed him closely (although to be fair, I've paid far more attention to him than he has to me), but I admire that he's realized the real economic issue is stagnating wages for the average person. I don't like that he translates this into a protectionist, anti-immigrant platform. He might have the wrong solution but at least he has the right problem. With that said, my ambivalence has changed to admiration.

Two weeks ago, Dobbs was laid off from CNN. Many of his fans could likely relate. And now Dobbs has done something completely inspired: he's announced that he's running for president.

Think about this as a means to cope with the trauma of getting laid off. Imagine yourself at a job interview.

Interviewer: So, you have been laid off for, uh, three months now?
You: Not really. I'm actually in the early phase of announcing my candidacy for president. I'm discussing options with various people.
Interviewer: So you are not laid off?
You: No, not technically.
Interviewer shifts in his seat, scratches his head: Well, are you collecting unemployment?
You: Yes, but only to better understand the economy.

Think about it. No awkward gap in your resume. "Financial Analyst at GE, 2005-7, Project Manager at GE 2007-9, Presidential Candidate 2009-10." It is a bold move that would show that you are goal oriented and willing to think outside the box. And it makes being ignored by dozens of prospective employers seem paltry in comparison to being ignored by millions of prospective voters.

Lou Dobbs may have just gone from spokesperson for the working man to role model. I know that the next time I'm laid off, I'm running for president.

21 November 2009

Arrogance

Arrogance is just nature's way of telling you that you have stalled in the quest to realize your potential. If you've mastered something, it's time to integrate it into some larger goal. If you're not humbled by what you're trying to do, you're not stretching yourself very far.

And Healthcare for All ....

We're on the first step towards turning healthcare into a right rather than something one needs to earn. I should feel wildly enthused about this, but instead I feel a little queasy.

In the last decade, we've committed trillions to foreign occupation, stabilizing our banks, and now, healthcare. We fund doctors, bankers, and soldiers. The lesson is clear: go to college or join the army.

Legislation to provide universal healthcare is both wonderful and awful. Wonderful because we finally say that everyone deserves it. Awful because the bribes needed in order to pass this legislation are going to cost untold billions. As expensive and as uncertain as war is, at least everyone gets excited about it. Congress votes for war to prove their courage and because they are scared to death that they might lose their seat if they don't. By contrast, supporting healthcare has little going for it so the legislators hold out for a series of bribes, the most obvious being the fact that this bill does little to curtail healthcare costs (at the same time that it guarantees that the government will cover the cost) and the fact that even families making 400% of poverty level ($88,200 per family) are eligible for tax credits. (If you have to subsidize nearly everyone in order to afford the legislation, doesn't everyone have to pay for the subsidies?)

Coverage has been expanded but taxpayers aren't paying more and the the healthcare industry is not accepting less revenue. That only means one thing: we're subsidizing the medical market AND the bond market.

Universal healthcare is a wonderful thing - or would be, if only our democratic process weren't so sick. This is the same country that during our invasion of Iraq, for the first time in our history gave a tax cut while going to war. Now, the quiet and seemingly thoughtful Obama may prove himself as reckless as Bush by passing legislation for a tax cut and universal health care in the same year. This kind of fiscal recklessness just seems unhealthy.

15 November 2009

Time for a New Ritual

For all our understanding and tendency to pity "more primitive" civilizations, we don't do particularly well at ritual. And the modern world has seemingly created the necessity for a new one.

Someone told me that that as life expectancies increase, we're going to encounter more cases of dementia. My aunt has just gone through the trauma of being verbally threatened by her husband of 50+ years, a man who has such severe Alzheimer's that he no longer recognizes her and, for her safety, he has just been institutionalized. She says that the man she loved is no longer there. I think she's right. We need a new way to acknowledge the "death" of a person that precedes the time when their heart stops.

I'm not sure what this ritual would look like, but it would probably be somewhat like a funeral. Perhaps a ceremony in which loved ones mourn the lost, shared memories and praise the "dead" personality they once so loved.

Whatever the actual ritual, I do feel strongly that we need a new designation for those who have "passed over" into a mental confusion and fog so thick that they've lost themselves and everyone they know. Their loved ones need a ritual to deal with the fact that they're "gone."

Without such a ritual, the poor family members have no real way to deal with their loss, or are left to process this without any closure. Perhaps a simple ritual could help.

13 November 2009

Better than Gold

The price of gold has soared as every other market has behaved more erratically. Apparently the thinking is that gold is a safer investment in bad times, even good for a spectacularly post-crash, or even post-apocalyptic world.

I still don't understand the allure of gold. It has value in dentistry, say, and jewelry, but that would probably account for about .1% of the demand for it. Of all the magnets for capital, it seems to me one of the most useless.

If you really do think that markets are going to collapse and society is breaking down and want a hedge against this, don't buy gold. Buy canned goods, bottled water, and toilet paper.

11 November 2009

Freedom's Just Another Word ... Happy Veteran's Day!

Anxiety is the dizziness of freedom.
- Soren Kierkegaard

“The true end of Man … is the highest and most harmonious development of his powers to a complete and consistent whole. Freedom is the first and indispensable condition which the possibility of such a development presupposes; but there is besides another essential – intimately connected with freedom, it is true – a variety of situations. Even the most free and self-reliant of men is hindered in his development, when set in a monotonous situation.”
- Wilhelm von Humboldt

“Why should freedom of speech and freedom of the press be allowed? Why should a government which is doing what it believes to be right allow itself to be criticized? It would not allow opposition by lethal weapons. Ideas are much more fatal things than guns. Why should any man be allowed to buy a printing press and disseminate pernicious opinions calculated to embarrass the government?”
- Vladimir Lenin

“If I were to give liberty to the press, my power could not last three days.”
- Napoleon Bonaparte

“How can knowledgeable, reasonable, pragmatic men work for their own servitude, thinking they're struggling for their freedom? That … is what is called ideology.”
- Bernard-Henri Levy


“The idea that men are created free and equal is both true and misleading: men are created different; they lose their social freedom and their individual autonomy in seeking to become like each other”
- David Riesman, The Lonely Crowd (1950)

“The moral is to not set yourself goals which don’t leave you any freedom to maneuver.”
- Sidney Ross

“If there is anything in the world a person should fight for, it is freedom to pursue his ideal, because in that is his great opportunity for self-expression, for the unfoldment of the greatest thing possible to him.”
- Orison S. Marden

“Nobody can give you freedom. Nobody can give you equality or justice or anything. If you’re a man, you take it.”
- Malcolm X

Most people do not really want freedom, because freedom involves responsibility, and most people are frightened of responsibility.
- Sigmund Freud

I believe we are on an irreversible trend toward more freedom and democracy - but that could change.
- Dan Quayle

“Much of our business culture is infatuated with power – amassing it, holding on to it, using it to vanquish competitors and dominate markets. In contrast, much of Dr. Beyster’s leadership philosophy is about spreading freedom. And freedom, it turns out, packs a bigger wallop than power. Power is about what you can control; freedom is about what you can unleash.”
- William C. Taylor

09 November 2009

Transcending Parenting

Of course the thing that no one admits is that the life of the child transcends our feeble attempts at parenting. Fortunately, the child is not any more limited by our parenting than is our brain by our understanding of it.

We have this conceit that we have to get parenting right or the child will turn out poorly. I don't intend to be glib about the danger of scarring a child, but I do know that the life of any person is more complex, more nuanced, more able than the parenting effort that went into it.

And whether you're a parent or a child, you can take comfort in this thought.

08 November 2009

Partisan Politics

Healthcare made it through the House with only 1 (that is one) Republican vote. This discomfits some and is fuel for pundits who can now criticize the president who promised to be non-partisan.

It escapes me, though, how Obama could ever arrive at a non-partisan approach to legislation that Republicans just don't want. If you are going to war, you aren't going to work out a solution with the pacifists. For them, it is not how you approach the war, it is the very fact of war they oppose. In the same vein, if you are going to offer universal healthcare, you aren't going to work out a solution with Republicans. For them, it is not how you approach universal healthcare, it is the very fact of universal healthcare they oppose. How anyone can reach consensus with someone who simply opposes your goal escapes me.

06 November 2009

My GRE Scores

At first blush, it would seem as though my daughter did considerably better than me in her GRE scores. But then I realized that, given about 20-some years have passed, my inflation-adjusted scores are much higher than hers. My verbal score alone would be worth about 1,700 by now. And that doesn't even take into account compound interest. I'm probably in the 144th percentile by now, and would probably be even higher if they had a special category for self delusion.

05 November 2009

Transformational Education

Wouldn't it be fascinating if education actually gave students practice at transformation?

Imagine that the first two years of high school and last two years of university are roughly what they are now, but the four years in between actually lead students through transformation. Along with - or even more than - the knowledge they gain they'll learn how to change themselves. Let me explain.

Year three of high school - year one of their transformation - students would go through something the equivalent of boot camp - or Navy SEAL training. The emphasis would be on physical transformation, on taking orders, on becoming part of a well oiled machine. Students would be run through grueling routines of rote learning, high-stress problem solving, intense physical conditioning, and experience a radical change in their fitness levels and levels of discipline.

Year four of high school - year two of their transformation - students would go through something equivalent to that of an initiate in a monastery. They'd go through long periods of silence, intense meditation, empty days and days full of manual labor or service, a giving of themselves to something higher, something more ethereal and experience a change in their spiritual and psychological awareness.

Year one of university - year three of their transformational series - students would go through something akin to a reality show make over. They'd be taught the latest in styles, how to negotiate and present themselves, be exposed to motivational speakers, given access to plastic surgeons, and taught how to make a profit, developing their economic and business selves.

Finally, in year two of university - year four of the big transformation - students would be taught musical instruments or art and be seeped in philosophy, taught to be skeptics, smoke unfiltered cigarettes, and have long discussions about the meaning (or lack of meaning) of life and question the system. They'd be made into mad bohemians who know jazz music and abstract art and realize that everything is made up - be in on the secret that the modern world is just a social construct.

Then, in years three and four of university, when they choose a major they will realize that this is way of being they are adopting AND they will be practiced at transformation. Even more importantly, having experienced these very different ways of being, they will actually make a choice about who they will be based on having experienced different ways of being. They will have practice at change and will know how it is done. Some may revert to the bohemian philosopher role or the good soldier role. Some may just create a brand new way of being.

Too much emphasis is put on the information we put into the container of a life and not enough is put on the transformation of the container. New wine into old bottles does little to change the world.

And for those of you who think I am joking, you obviously have not been paying close attention to what I write here. Think about it: rather than prattle on about transforming education, what if we instead emphasized transformational education?

Inerrant Religion

To provide a sense of certainty, the Catholics argued that the Church - most simply represented in the office of the pope - was inerrant and the ultimate source of authority. The Protestants scoffed at this obviously ludicrous claim and pointed instead to the Bible as the source of inerrant truth.

As it turns out, they were wrong. There is nothing inerrant. Typos, errors of judgment, muddled ideas and flat out mistakes and contradictions populate the mouths of popes and the pages of the Bible. The point is not certainty but wonder - not ultimate authority but what inspires - not the absence of mistakes but the courage to make them. Respect for the other would seem to include respect for the other interpretation, the other viewpoint, the other's convictions.

Maybe the humility and caution that comes from an awareness that I might be wrong is what allows anything approximating love for others - particularly if love includes showing something more than token respect for, and listening to, the other.

04 November 2009

What if Free Markets Really Were Free?

“The factory of the future will have only two employees, a man and a dog. The man will be there to feed the dog. The dog will be there to keep the man from touching the equipment.”
- Warren Bennis

Increasingly, the digitized world is making products free: movies, music, articles, books ... even the software that lets "customers" get these products for free.

Perhaps it is no coincidence that as the portion of free goods we consume rises so does unemployment.

Maybe in the future there will be good news and bad news. The good news will be that everything is free. The bad news is that no one will have jobs.

In such a world, conspicuous consumption will take on a new urgency. Economically, there will be little else to distinguish us.

03 November 2009

The Right's Sudden Interest in Deficits

The Obama administration gets the honor of presiding over the biggest deficit in history. This year's deficit is an outrageous amount - $1.4 trillion, or about 10% of GDP. The right pretends to be sincerely outraged at this. They are not. The right could care less about deficits - as their re-election of dubya proves.

Obama inherited a deficit of $1 trillion and added to that another $400 billion to offset what looked to be the worst downturn since 29. Just a few years in, Bush had turned Clinton's last year surplus of $128 billion into a deficit of $377 billion - a reversal of about $500 billion. $400 billion in 2009 vs. $500 billion in 2003? If critics are outraged at Obama today, where were they in 2003?

If Bush had continued with Clinton's fiscally conservative budgets, continuing to run a surplus rather than chronic deficits, two things would have happened. One, the bubble would have been less pronounced. Might not have even happened. George Bush stimulated an already growing economy. It is no surprise that prices of equities and homes ballooned given his one-two punch of tax cuts and spending increases. Two, the government would have had much greater ability to stimulate the economy a year ago when GDP did drop. Imagine deficit spending from a position of surplus rather than huge deficit. How many more options would we have had? And the stimulus would not have been done with the constant worry of currency devaluation, or spending backfiring as government borrowing crowds out private borrowing.

So, next time someone you know starts in about how awful it is that Obama is running up such a huge deficit, just inquire, "Have you flip flopped on deficits? Wasn't a vote to re-elect Bush and Cheney affirmation of Dick's little quip that deficits don't matter? Now they do?"

01 November 2009

Dithering

It's no so bad to impulsively ask someone on a date but it seems insufficient as a basis for marriage. Dick Cheney has criticized Obama for "dithering" on his decision about what to do in Afghanistan. Assuming that Cheney's disdain is not proof enough that dithering is worth doing, here's something to consider.

Think about the implications of Obama's decision.

If he pulls out, we risk alienating any ally dependent on our commitment to their cause, risk destabilizing Afghanistan AND Pakistan, lose our ability to encourage the humane treatment of girls and women, lose a potential base in a region of the world that could explode into conflict, and provide the Taliban with a safe haven for plotting and launching the kind of attack that turned the date 9-11 into a tragic event.

If we stay, we continue to pump billions into a cause that has little chance of success, we lose more troops and alienate Muslims by continuing to kill both soldiers and civilians in the area, we are distracted from relationships that will do more to define our future (e.g., our relationship with Pakistan or India, for instance), pay an opportunity cost in terms of less money to spend on things like AIDs in Africa, pandemics, health care in the US, and every other single issue or problem or possibility to which the money and attention could be applied.

It is not just that the first order consequences are important and potentially counter intuitive; the second and third order consequences are worth spending time thinking through. I am going to assume that Obama is doing just that and think it is perfectly fine that he takes his time.

Time will tell, but I'd like to think that Obama is playing chess on the same checker board where Cheney was playing bumper cars.

31 October 2009

Rationalizations as Substitute for a Costume

I had been traveling so incessantly that I didn't have time to don the costume I had planned for tonight's party: I was going to be the health careless plan. I didn't have time to get the IV set up with high fructose corn syrup in the bag, cigarettes in the shirt pocket, etc. So instead, I dressed normally, wearing a little flip book around my neck, the cover instructing people to "Lift tabs for costume explanations," something which revealed the following for those patient enough (and as it turns out, comfortable enough in my personal space) to turn through the tabs.

• Oh, I’m wearing a costume. It’ll just take you a couple of generations to realize it.
• As usual, I could not think of what to do – only what to say. I don’t have a costume but I do have a series of implausible excuses.
• I lost my costume in a really elaborate Ponzi scheme. You’re just lucky that I’m still dressed.
• This is not a costume. It’s a disguise. I’m in a federal witness protection plan and no longer answer to the name Vinnie.
• We’re all wearing costumes all the time. It is only on Halloween that anyone realizes what they’re doing.
• I am from the future, wearing a period costume from the early 21st century. Sadly, I cannot prove it simply because my costume is so realistic.
• I am an anthropologist of costumology. I am here to study you and your kind.
• I’M GOING AS MY OWN CELEBRITY. GIVEN THIS DELUSIONAL PREMISE, I DON’T FEEL ANY MORE COMPELLED TO WEAR A COSTUME THAN NIXON WOULD TO WEAR A NIXON MASK.
• I can’t believe that you’re still thumbing through my lame excuses for not wearing a costume.
• Oh please. You don’t think this is what I really look like, do you?
• WHAT DO YOU THINK OF MY NEW, FULL BODY SPORTS JACKET AND JEANS TATTOO?*
• Oh!?! Traditional costume party?! I thought the invitation said traditional customs party. Pity, really, because I had finally decided to learn this culture.**

--------------
* thank you Beth
** thank you Allen

30 October 2009

Big World - Small Brain

Rigorous empiricism eventually wears down any narrative needed to make sense of our world. No theory of the world seems capable of making sense of ALL the data.

The trick of making sense of the world is knowing when to stop paying attention to data and start paying attention to your narrative. If you start too soon, you land in a fantasy world, deluded by your own simple explanation. If you start too late at the game of ignoring data and focusing instead on your narrative, you are never quite able to convince yourself that you - or the world - make sense.

We started down the path of the empirical method with the perhaps naive notion that we could make sense of it all. That might have reflected a conceit that only ignorance can breed. It might just be that reality in all its messy sprawl is simply defiant of any neat theory to explain it. If anything does make sense of the world, it might be music. I'll have to collect more data before I can tell.

Like Dogs Watching Television

It is not just that they don't understand. You can't even begin to get them to understand just how much they don't understand.

28 October 2009

I Hereby Nominate Thomas for Nobel Peace Prize

Today at the client site, I kept walking by a poster promoting a presentation by a Nobel Peace Prize Nominee. It seems to me that this would be a great thing to be able to include on a resume or in introductions. And given the nomination process is so opaque, I don't know why someone can't credibly claim to have been nominated.

In fact, I'm nominating Thomas for the Nobel Peace Prize. Thomas, feel free to casually mention this in conversations. And don't feel obligated to clarify for anyone just who nominated you.

[As a side note - and in no way to suggest that Thomas requested this nomination, much less solicited it - if any of you would like to be nominated for any Nobel Prizes, just let me know. I see no reason why only those who are accomplished or president should get all the glory.]

26 October 2009

What is the Purpose of Teaching Purpose?

Life's purpose is an odd and curious question. It might be the reason that just as we reach a point in human history in which the likelihood of dying from hunger or violence has gone down, we find a rise in the search for therapy and self help books, a susprising persistence of unhappiness.

In less developed communities, the work for food and shelter is enough to busy a person. Years ago, a little friend of ours from Texas, born in the late 1800s, announced to us, "Stress? All this talk about stress? We never had time for stress. We were too busy working."

And without a crush of information that needs to be processed and numerous myths and worldviews competing for our attention and undermining one another, life's purpose is essentially a given.

Here in the 21st century, survival is a given for many. Nor can we expect to duck the question of what overarching purpose to accept or define, defining what matters.

I wonder if taking a job or partner is not too often a substitute for the hard work of defining a life. The unemployed or recently separate are forced into an existential angst that the rest of us would just as soon avoid.

For the most part, there is little in traditional education to deal with this question of who one will be. It's left to the Learning Annex and issues of Oprah magazine.

Given this is hard to grade and harder to prescribe, the process of defining who one will be is likely to stay out of school curriculum in spite of its importance to leading a happy and fulfilled life. Meaning is too hard and too controversial so we'll just keep children focused on polynomials and parenthetical asides rather than purpose. Because if we have learned nothing else about education it is this: if you can't grade it on a standardized test, it ought not to be taught.

22 October 2009

The Dubya is for Wotivation, you wascally wabbit - George Bush's New Speaking Career

George Bush has begun his career as a motivational speaker. Even by charging about what the local cinema charges for tickets to see Zombieland ($19) and adding in speakers like Colin Powell, Zig Ziglar still has tickets left. Apparently the number of people wanting to know how to sell war for all the wrong reasons is not that big. I find this oddly consoling.

-----------
Pat Buchanan reports that white Americans over the age of 30, asked to choose which institution they believe in, say "none." Presumably, this is not belief in the sense of existence, like when someone believes in God. This is belief in the efficacy or intention of institutions.

Not to jump on the racist bandwagon, but one can appreciate whites' frustration with institutions. Believing the propaganda from every side, whites are told they are the privileged and yet there is little sense of control over their lives - even a form of anomie. Blacks and Latinos know that racism explains a great deal of their feelings of alienation; whites are more confused, in the same way that the most popular kid in high school can't understand why he feels lonely. When you are supposed to be the in group, it is disorienting to feel on the outs.

Rather than turn to guns or racism - as Pat would seem to suggest - it seems worth turning to the very institutions towards which the polled expressed such dismay.

There are at least two elements to this. One has to do with better managing systems, actually applying advice from gurus like Peter Drucker, W. Edwards Deming, Russell Ackoff,and Peter Senge. Institutions are, in part, distrusted because they are so poorly managed. Two, creating trust in institutions will require a dispersal of control to the people whose lives are so defined by them. We may not like it that employees want more quality of work life or families want more religion in their children's schools, but local control leads to a sense of ownership, more learning, and greater satisfaction.

Whites are probably more likely to feel disenfranchised by a lack of control but everyone would benefit from it.

------------
And speaking of race and local control, how about allowing a justice of the peace to refuse to marry an inter-racial couple? Or letting a pharmacist refuse to give out morning after drugs?

On first blush, this is almost like allowing conscientious objectors to refuse to fight. But there is a very real difference: no one drafts pharmacists or a justice of the peace. We wouldn't allow a volunteer soldier to join and then become a conscientious objector. If you are a justice of the peace, you marry people. If you are a pharmacist, you dispense prescribed drugs. No one is forcing you to be a pharmacists or justice of the peace. You are free to quit. Meanwhile, it seems absurd to let someone decide whether or not any one person or type of person is deserving of your service.

-----------
A lot of fuss has been made over Obama's receipt of the Nobel Peace Prize. I joined in the chorus of "What? Why?" when he got it, but it is a reminder of just how relieved the world is that Bush is gone. If peace is the absence of war, maybe the Nobel Prize committee felt rushed to reward him before he sent more troops anywhere for any reason - as American Presidents are wont to do. Maybe if one wants to reward American presidents for peaceful tendency it is best to do that in the first few months of their presidency?

20 October 2009

Renaissance Popes (Helping the Protestant Cause)

Bad popes and CEOs, while possibly not a sign of the apocalypse, are a sign that an institution has gone rogue. When the church is about the glorification of the pope, or the corporation is about enriching the CEO, it is an institution in bad need of reform or reinvention. It is hard to imagine three popes who could do more to dissuade Europeans of respect for medieval authority than the 3 Renaissance popes.

Think of the fun Fox and MSNBC would have reporting on these popes. A pope with sword on hip, swearing at his soldiers to urge them on in military campaigns? Another pope who, when a cardinal, was rebuked for hosting orgies?

Alexander rather fittingly took his name from the conqueror Alexander the Great rather than some milquetoast saint. Pope Alexander purchased the papacy in 1492. As Columbus was discovering a new world, Alexander was bribing fellow cardinals for their vote, an investment that he and his children would recoup.

Where a modern CEO might think it fun to throw multi-million dollar parties for a child, Alexander’s gifts were more creative. He bought his children lavish wedding parties, private bull fights, political positions and even armies with which to conquer new territory. Alexander had at least 7 known illegitimate children, a natural enough product from a man who seemed so at ease with sex. As pope, he once hosted a party that included a contest matching his guests with prostitutes and then dispensing gifts to the guests who demonstrated the most impressive feats of virility.

Read more ...

17 October 2009

The Game Show Restaurant

Perhaps you need a place to invest your money or want to start a business. In either case, you've come to the right post today because I have an idea that seems sure to succeed: the game show themed restaurant.

There are so many possibilities for the game show restaurant, a place themed in garish colors and loud sounds, but I'll just list a few here. Imagine walking in past food supplies - stacks of canned peas next to the canned laughter and applause.

You can order from the menu or get called up by the emcee of your section to choose between three doors.
"Okay Bob, you picked door # 2. Let's see what was behind door # 1."
Dramatic music ...
"Oh no! You missed the filet mignon for only $4.95!" So, do you want to switch to door # 3 or could I interest you in this thai chicken salad for only $9.50?"
"Go for the tied chicken salad," the studio audience yells.

Every time food comes to your table, the waiter bounds up to your table with your meal and says, "Tell 'em what they won, Bob." And the overhead voice from the kitchen intones, "Our guests have won a lovely grilled chicken sandwich on sourdough, a cheeseburger, and a cup of lentils (I told him he should have chose the thai chicken salad)! And all for a price less than a weekend in New York at the Grand Hotel."

The menu up front will be in board form. One column, Tastes like chicken, has items priced at $5, $7.50, $10 ... etc. and other columns have labels like chef surprise; things we do with beef; once lived underwater; faceless, not tasteless; and food you eat before you eat your food. Ordering would have an element of risk.
"I'll take 'food you eat before you eat your food' for $7.95."
"Okay. The answer is, 'Thousand island on the side.'"
"Uh, 'What would you like on your house salad?"
"Close enough. Anything else?"

You can, of course, fill in other fun-filled activities and ways to spice up the inevitability of eating. And tell me, when is the last time that Newsweek, the New York Times, or Fox so generously offered their readers or viewers an opportunity to make millions? Blogs - because there is just no better bargain than free.

16 October 2009

We Are Financing the Chamber of Commerce to Work Against Us

Read this article to see why I once thought that Elliot Spitzer would be - and should be - our president in the next decade:

The U.S. Chamber of Commerce must be stopped. Here's how to do it.

The intro ...

The U.S. Chamber
of Commerce
—the self-proclaimed voice of business in Washington—has been
wrong on virtually every major public-policy issue of the past decade: financial
deregulation, tax and fiscal policy, global warming and environmental
enforcement, consumer protection, health care reform …

The chamber remains an unabashed voice for the libertarian worldview
that caused the most catastrophic economic meltdown since the Great Depression.
And the chamber's view of social justice would warm Scrooge's heart. It is the
chamber's right to be wrong, and its right to argue its preposterous ideas
aggressively, as it does through vast expenditures on lobbyists and litigation.
Last year alone, the chamber spent more than $91 million on lobbying, and,
according to lobby tracker Opensecrets.org, it has spent more than twice as much on lobbying during the past 12 years as any
other corporation or group.

The problem is, the chamber is doing all this with our money. The chamber
survives financially on the dues and support of its members, which are most of
America's major corporations listed on the stock exchange. ..

How, you might ask, do we own these companies? Public pension funds and
mutual funds are the largest owners of equities in the market. They are the
institutional shareholders that have the capacity to push management—and the
boards of the corporations. Yet the mutual funds and pension funds have failed
to do so.

The Dangers of Outsourcing

The Marriott here in Philadelphia has an interesting wake up call. The woman's voice has only a subtle accent, but her message suggests that she might not be local:

"Good afternoon. This is your wake up call," she says, even at 7 AM.


And to be fair, by planting the suggestion that it is already after noon she does help a person to get out of bed more quickly.

14 October 2009

Why Men Don't Ask for Directions

Wandering the streets of Philadelphia with Beth and Allen today, I shared one of my many (no way to prove it wrong) theories. I realize that I've not shared this with my two other faithful readers, so I will address this oversight.

Men have always been territorial. We crack down on gangs for protecting their turf using the state's monopoly on force to arrest these hooligans. Why does the state have a monopoly on force? To protect our turf. It is like a Russian doll - turf protection in layers. Men claim territory and are prepared to protect it with force.

At various stages of social development, men would have stumbled upon locals who knew the turf. If these men acted as though they belonged, they might be left alone. But if they stopped to inquire with the locals about where they were and where they were going, this would alert the locals to the fact that these interlopers did not belong. The men who had the gene that led them to stop to ask for directions were all killed off. The only male genes that survived were those that gave one a sense of uneasiness about asking for directions.

Women find this frustrating because, genetically, they were received in a manner that, for matters of self censorship, I will simply call the opposite of murder. Women who stopped to ask questions of strange men might actually get some variety into the genetic line rather than abruptly ending it. Men and women are programmed completely differently when it comes to asking strangers for directions.

I'm glad I could clear that up. I now return you to your regularly programmed web cerfing.

11 October 2009

Abstract Notion of the Day - Let Systems Compete and People Cooperate

Competition and cooperation play together in nature. Some like to emphasize the competition that pits the gazelles against each other, the loser becoming lion lunch. Others like to emphasize the cooperation that enables the lions to bring down the gazelle or that prompts the mother to raise the child.


So which should we bring into our social and economic life? Should we emphasize competition or cooperation?


I'd like to offer this suggestion: competition between systems and cooperation between people.


Let companies go bankrupt, political parties, ideologies, and administrations lose power, and educational approaches go out of favor. Let systems compete to win or lose based on how well they do. Meanwhile, ensure cooperation between people, doing what we can to ensure that everyone thrives.


To reverse this - to have no competition between religious or political or educational systems (essentially some kind of a monopoly) while forcing competition between people is to create a system that arrests progress and makes even the winners miserable, worried as they are that they might lose their place.


One of the problems with this goal, though, is that people become the system they are a part of. It is hard to become intimate enough with a system to use it and yet not become defined by it. "I am a Stanford grad ... a mechanical engineer ... a Pentecostal ... a Republican ... a Jungian ..." we say and these systems we've adopted become less our tools than our selves. With such a belief, it is hard to casually accept the failure of systems and not see it as, somehow, a threat to ourselves.

The religious martyr may be the most extreme example of someone who no longer holds the system loosely in hand but, instead, is held tightly by the system. For them, Islam or Christianity or the cult has become more important than life itself and they will die for it.


This might be the biggest challenge we have in our education system: raising children to learn how to use systems without becoming defined by those systems. I'm convinced that we're not going to make much progress with our current definitions of liberal or conservative, for instance, and as long as major swaths of the polity or politicians define themselves this way, progress will be slow. And yet people need some orientation, even if it is one they'll abandon as goals or processes change. As long as people define themselves rigidly by these systems, competition between systems will equal competition between people.

10 October 2009

Brain Wired by Culture

Some parts of a woman's brain change up to 25% through the course of a month. "When I started taking a woman's hormonal state into account as I evaluated her psychiatrically, I discovered the massive neurological effects her hormones have during different stages of life in shaping her desires, her values, and the very way she perceives reality," writes Dr. Louann Brizendine in The Female Brain.

I mention this because I want to make a bold claim. One that I think will be proven in the next decade or two but is not - to the best of my knowledge - yet proven or even claimed by any serious professionals.

It is not just that people in different cultures and points of developmental history have different opinions and beliefs: their brains are wired differently.

To take a simple example, in schools were children don't feel as safe and violence and bullying is common, test scores are lower to reflect, I believe, more time spent in the fight or flight portion of their brain and less time in the frontal lobes.

The brain of a villager living in a rural area of Afghanistan who suffers from hunger, is regularly coerced by threats of violence, and feels as though he has little control over his life will be bathed in a very different set of hormones and chemicals than the brain of a Greenwich villager living in New York who worries about overeating, is regularly persuaded by advertising, and feels like he has no purpose in his life. It is not just that these two people have different beliefs about the world. I would argue that these two have very different brains.

My personal opinion is that a sense of control is the biggest determinant of how the brain is wired and world view formed.

And this matters for policy. Imagine going into Mississippi to "help" the locals to give up on their curious religious beliefs and odd superstitions in order to become more developed and prosperous. It probably would not be long before they had taken up arms to chase you and your BMW-driving friends out of town. It is not as though you can simply offer some new information to change how they think. You would likely have to change the way their brain is wired, the way they make sense of the world. You cannot simply bring new policies into old brains, put new wine into old bottles.

It might just be that the answer is to change conditions for the next generation as much as possible. Alleviating hunger. Adding control and order to the point that people feel less intimidated in their daily lives. Offering choices to the young. These actions might plant the seeds for then introducing policies that will be welcomed rather than repulsed.

I love the idea of psychology, cognitive science, and therapy. I think that happiness and peace of mind is more important than we allow. But as I get older, I am more inclined to believe that social systems do as much to define psychology and cognition as anything we could do with an individual in a particular social milieu. To change the individual, you have to change the social system. Change the world he lives in and you change the individual. I predict that we'll even find that if you change the world he lives in, you change the very composition of his brain.

09 October 2009

News Warp Up for the Week

I was going to post about the plausible reasons why Obama was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize but my list includes only one item: he got Cheney to leave office without any violence. (It's not hard to imagine a scenario in which Biden would have given his acceptance speech with his skin sprinkled with bird shot.)

Communication major Sarah Palin's comments about the value of the dollar now leap straight from Facebook to the Financial Times. Meanwhile, analysts are scratching their heads about why the traditional media is floundering.

And speaking of journalism that makes you wonder who they have not laid off at these papers, Bloomberg has a headline, U.S. Trade Deficit Unexpectedly Falls as Exports Rise. Given that the trade deficit = Exports - Imports, it would only be unexpected if the trade deficit fell as exports rose. This headline is akin to "Residents Surprised to Find Streets Wet After Latest Rain Storm."

NASA scientists had an interesting idea: turn cameras into high-speed projectiles and aim them at what you want to photograph. Their good idea of smacking two spacecraft into the moon as a means to photograph it did not work too well. Curiously, the crashed cameras have yet to return any pictures. This could still change photography, though. Imagine news conferences in which every photo session looks like the incident in which Muntazer al-Zaidi threw his shoes at Bush. Instead of throwing rice at weddings, guests may just throw disposable cameras at the lucky couple. As if celebrities don't hate paparazzi enough already, just wait until they adopt the latest from NASA.

Rush Limbaugh may buy the St. Louis Rams. [The rich and poor just have different toys, Martina Navratilova says. "The rich guys buy a football team, the poor guys buy a football."] If he does, the team will be easy to defend against. You can hear the defenses they face look at each other before every play, shrug and say, "What do you think? They'll go right again?"

There is a conservative effort to expunge the Bible of its liberal tendencies. In this version, Jesus still heals people but charges for his services.

06 October 2009

Today's Big Idea for Congress

I generally dislike term limits. They seem to me a way to ensure that the lobbyists have all the experience and the legislators are perpetually going - but never getting - up a learning curve. With that said, I'd like to propose term limits of a particular kind.

Here in California, we are about to provide the second recessionary dip courtesy of a mandated balanced budget. California's requirement that budgets be balanced inevitably exacerbate the highs and lows of business cycles. When the economy is booming, the state gets more revenues and floods the economy with some combination of tax cuts and spending. When the economy is faltering, the state gets less revenue and makes things worse by increasing taxes or cutting spending.

Governments need discretion to raise taxes and cut spending during booms and lower taxes and increase spending during recessions. Governments can offset swings in the economy.

But of course, once you give a legislature power to run deficits, there is no stopping them. And, as they did through most of the last administration, they run deficits even during a boom time.

So, how do we allow legislatures the power to offset recessions without enabling them to create chronic deficits? I'd like to propose a "three-deficits and you're out" policy. Members of Congress can vote for deficit spending - but only three times before they are out. They have the tool to offset recessions but not to avoid hard choices regarding spending cuts and tax increases.

This proposal might need one other provision to make sure that the legislature doesn't fail to offset recessions. Not only would they have only 3 deficits, but they'd be allowed nation-wide unemployment of only 10%. Local recall elections would be triggered by the third recession in a congress person's career and nationwide recall elections would be triggered by 10% unemployment rate.

And once we get that in place, I think that we ought to have a similar policy for the declaration of war. Knowing that they are ordering soldiers (and foreign civilians) to death by the declaration of war, a congressperson ought to be able to authorize only one war before hitting his or her quota. "Not only am I willing for our young people to die in this conflict, but I am sacrificing my own seat to authorize it."

I am aware that there are a few details that would need to be worked out, but as a blogger, my work is done.

02 October 2009

in which your humble blogger feels compelled to opine on the day's sex scandal

Apparently, Bush and Clinton are every kind of thrilled to see David Letterman is in trouble, but the two have very different responses. George wants to do some stand up at Dave's expense but aids are trying to convince him that he'll need something more than the one line he's come up with so far. ("Ha! He's so stupid!")

Clinton, by contrast, is trying to use this as an opportunity for healing. He called Dave and told him, "I feel your compulsion."

As it turns out, Jerry Springer was the future of television, but without shame. And that is an important lesson for would-be blackmailers everywhere: only threaten those with a sense of guilt. If you can find them.

Dave makes a good living mocking the sex lives of others. All HR and publicity issues aside, it'll be interesting to see whether becoming the butt of sex jokes will throw him off his game. [Note that the phrase "becoming the butt of sex jokes" sounds dirtier than it actually is. I think.] It has to seem like a trip through the looking glass to have gone from delivering punch lines to being one. "Confucius say, People living in glass houses should turn out the lights before having sex with interns."

But it would seem optimistic to extort $2 million from an unmarried guy who has had sex. You might be able to extort $2 million from an unmarried guy who has not had sex, but only if he thought he had no other alternatives for it.

I just know that if I ever have an awkward confession to make, I'd like to do it before an audience all giggly with laughing gas and the novelty of being on TV.

Watch Dave here.

01 October 2009

It's Not War

The latest Newsweek reports on the length of American wars. By their accounting:

Vietnam War 8 years, 5 months, 21 days
American Revolution 8 years, 4 months, 16 days
War in Afghanistan 7 years, 11 months, 22 days
Iraq War 6 years, 6 months, 9 days
World War II 6 years, 2 days
World War I 4 years, 3 months, 15 days
Gulf War 1 months, 13 days

War is a battle to invade or repel an invasion. It may or may not topple a government when it is over. At its conclusion, either a government has surrendered or two governments have negotiated a peace.

Occupation is a battle to rule a people. There is only one official government. If there is no government change to come, no opposing army to surrender, and no land to conquer or give up, there is no way to "date" the end of that battle.

The War in Afghanistan threatens to become the longest American war because it is an occupation. You can date the fall of Iraq or the Taliban supported government in Afghanistan. By that measure the wars were short. There is no good way to date the end of the occupation - or even a good way to end an occupation.

[It's worth noting that the American Revolution also ended with victory on the side of the lesser power whose chief advantage was that they had no where else to go as they battled an occupying force.]

30 September 2009

Modern Corporation: modeled on the medieval church

In two earlier posts, I concluded that the medieval church became evil. This matters because the medieval church is still a model for institutions who could follow it down the same path. It is difficult to overcome a blueprint at the foundation of Western Civilization, a blueprint referenced in the design of the modern corporation. The medieval church had popes and priests who discerned the will of God and directed the congregants; the modern corporation has CEOs and mangers who discern the will of the market and direct the employees.

The US represents for many the apex of progress yet 84% of people here are unhappy in their jobs.

Job dissatisfaction hardly compares with burning at the stake. In the grand scheme of history, it is a fairly petty and pathetic complaint to be unhappy at work. Yet if one can’t enjoy what one does all day – what defines one’s life – it makes one question the progress up to this point. Is this really the culmination of thousands of generations of genetic and social evolution? Or could it be that the transformation of work and what it means to create value and to be valued is the next personal frontier, the domain for the next revolution?

About a decade ago, I went into GM to do some training and consulting work. I left appalled. The managers were conscientious and the employees seemingly sincere and yet they seemed more like parents and children than consenting adults. The distribution of power constrains employees from acting like adults.

The corporation – GM and nearly every business – could learn something about needed change by looking at the huge transformation of the church over the last half millennia.

Two big changes to come out of the Protestant Revolution were the entrepreneurial approach to religion and the shift in authority to the individual. These two are inextricably linked.

Post- Protestant Revolution religion is wildly entrepreneurial. Luther claimed that we are all priests and the germ of this idea – the notion that individual revelation and conviction ought to be the root of religious belief – continues to spark new denominations. The World Christian Database tracks 9,000 denominations.

In terms of freedoms granted, the church may be the most evolved and modern of our institutions. Churches either meet the need of their congregants or the congregants go elsewhere – or nowhere. It is not just freedom across religions but within. Even people who call themselves Catholic can profess and practice very different things from each other.

If the medieval church is the model for the current corporation, we can hope that the post-Protestant Revolution church is the model for the future corporation.

There is a great deal that will be different in the next version of the corporation, but most of these changes will begin with a shift in the notion about where authority ought to lie: in central authorities or in the individual. It means trusting the individual with true freedom. All the needed design changes for the corporation can follow from this profound shift.

29 September 2009

Processed News in its Purest Form

On a flight home the other day, I put down my book (Michael Connely's Scarecrow) about an investigative reporter losing his job to watch a movie (Russell Crowe and Ben Affleck in State of Play) about an investigative reporter being demoted before coming home to read an article about the death of investigative reporting(The Story Behind the Story by Mark Bowden in this month's Atlantic).

Where the individual was once left to form an opinion about well researched stories, the news outlets have seemed to leap past all that nuance and boring litany of facts and endless prose. Instead, the modern media just provide you with an opinion with minimal time spent investigating or actually reporting.

Well, I've lived on the coast long enough to know that it's easier to ride waves than fight them. So, if investigative journalism is dead, maybe it's time to just go with this trend and offer media 3.0: all opinion, no news.

The point would be to simply provide the reader with their reaction to the news events, without hassling them with all - or any, really - of the facts. Like processed food that skips the actual food to simply provide you with fats and sugars, this news would skip directly to opinions. It might work like this.

Obama's Health Care Plan: you're outraged. (And it's true, really. Whether you can't believe what he is proposing or the opposition he's facing, you're outraged.)

Asian typhoons and tsunami earthquakes: you are so saddened by this.

Iran's plutonium enrichment program: outraged.

Toyota's recall of 3.8 million cars: shocked!

Potential reversal of Jon and Kate's divorce: outraged
.

These would not be headlines that are followed by stories. These would be the stories.

You get the idea. The one real weakness, of course, is that people may begin to realize that they have a fifty percent chance of not needing the service if they simply choose to be outraged at all the news. But for those readers who want to spend 30 seconds finding out just what ought to outrage them today, it would be an invaluable service.

This might just be the future of journalism. [Oh, and for the record? You should be outraged.]

27 September 2009

Maddie on Socialist Networking Sites and Bernard on Republican Drug Dealers

It had been too long since I'd met my favorite senior citizen siblings for lunch. Maddie was the closest thing I knew to an idiot savant in the social realm: she seemed profoundly insightful about love and tragically misinformed about politics. Bernard, by contrast, was a deep (if sometimes unorthodox) thinker when it came to politics but seemed perpetually baffled by relationships. And yet they were delightfully fond of each other, and I of them.

Maddie shook her head, “And now these socialist networking sites are all over the Internets.”

“What?”

“These sites like myface,” she said. “I heard Glen Beck call them socialist networking sites.”

“Um,” I began, hardly knowing where to begin. “You mean facebook and my space?”

“Whatever,” Maddie said. “I just think it’s awful. They’re indoctrinating all these young kids who spend so much time on the computer.”

Bernard scoffed. “Maddie, you have to stop watching nut jobs like Bleck.”

“You mean Beck,” Maddie corrected him.

“Yes,” Bernard said unrepentantly. “Bleck.”

“So you think that Obama is a socialist,” I asked.

“Don’t,” Bernard rose his hand at me, looking disgusted, “get her started” he finished in a whisper.

Fortunately, Maddie did not say much. She just touched my arm and leaned in to say, “Oh honey. Everybody knows that.”

“If only Joe McCarthy had known is was so easy to spot a socialist," Bernard shook his head. "The new definition of socialist is someone who wants to increase government spending on something other than aircraft carriers. You know what’s really wrong with this country,” he asked.

“Country music station in every town and not a single folk station to be found anywhere,” I asked.

“What does he mean by that,” Maddie asked, turning to Bernard with a look of confusion.

“Nothing Maddie. He’s just talking nonsense.”

I almost protested but realized that until the waiter came with his food, Bernard was going to be cantankerous. His blood sugar was low.

“What’s wrong with this country, Bernard?”

“Politics have been hijacked by the drug dealers.”

“What?”

“Nobody can raise taxes. Not Obama and certainly no Republican will do it.”

“As if Republicans want to raise taxes.”

“You’re too young to remember that under Eisenhower, a Republican president, marginal income tax rates were 91%. Republicans didn’t use to be just about lower taxes. We liked balanced budgets and social responsibility too.”

“We?” I was shocked. “You were a Republican?”

“Well, sure. Any thinking person was. But now Republicans don’t even have an ideology. They just have a mantra. And it’s worked to hypnotize the masses. Nobody even questions the inane premise behind it now.”

“Republicans are not ideological?” This threw me even more than his claim to have been a Republican.

“They don’t have an ideology. They have a chant: lower taxes! Lower taxes!” Bernard pounded the table like a soccer hooligan as he chanted.

“Finally,” Maddie said, “you are on board.”

Without missing a beat, Bernard asked, “So Maddie, what level of taxes would be ideal?”

“Well you just said it, Bernie: lower.”

“And there you have it,” Bernard announced with a flourish. “Chanting ‘lower taxes’ regardless of whether your marginal rate is 91% like it was under Eisenhower or 28% like it was under Reagan – without regard for policy needs or deficits – is not an ideology. It is political Tourette’s – a vocal tic that means nothing.”

“I’m lost, Bernard.” And I really was lost. I was trying to make sense of the jump from drug dealers hijacking politics to the lower taxes mantra. “What does this have to do with drug dealers?”

“Well, who benefits if we underfund government to the point that it can’t be sustained? Where else do we see low taxes and weak government?”

“Well, there is Mexico just over the border.”

“Exactly!” Bernard jumped up. He always seemed so relieved when I caught up to him. “Taxes there are about 18% of GDP – about half of ours. And the government is, like Colombia’s, essentially at the mercy of drug dealers. They own the country. And the government is too weak to fight back.”

“So you think that the guys behind the anti-tax movement are the drug dealers?”

“Yes! With a weak government, the drug dealers are like Machiavellian princes. They live in luxury and without constraints.”

I paused. “That’s a crazy idea, Bernard.” He waited me out. “But I have to admit it makes sense.”

Bernard was looking more calm now, halfway through his turkey and avocado sandwich. “And really, what better example of the ideal of unregulated markets than the drug trade,” he asked.

“So you think that the Republican Party has been hijacked by drug dealers?”

“Who better to hypnotize a population past the point of thinking?” Bernard shook his head. “This is not your grandfather’s GOP.”

Republican Recalcitrance

As Obama tries to win over the Republicans on his health care reform, it is worth remembering how the votes in Congress fell when Clinton passed the legislation that reversed decades of deficits. Not a single Republican voted for his plan. Gingrich led opposition in the House and Dole in the Senate, where the vote was 50-50 (Gore broke the tie).

Clinton was not, as the Republicans would now want you to believe, forced into deficit reduction by Newt. Advised to lower interest rates, he was instead reducing the deficit in order to win over the Fed (Greenspan could lower short term rates) and bond traders (who could lower long term rates). His strategy worked and helped to stimulate the greatest expansion of the last century.

When Clinton left office, the projection for the surplus through 2015 was $4 trillion. In what now seems almost comical, Greenspan was worried about what would happen when there were no T bills as an investment option. By the time Bush left office, the projection for the same period was a deficit of nearly $4 trillion, a reversal of about $8 trillion (which would fund Obama's health care plan for 80 years - an entire lifetime).

Newt's biggest play for spending reduction was to make drastic cuts to Medicare in the wake of Republicans winning the midterm election in 94. Clinton called his bluff on this, defending health care for the elderly to the point of a government shut down. The result was a rise in the polls for Clinton and a drop for Gingrich and the Republicans.

It is lovely that Obama is inclined towards including the Republicans in the formulation of a health care plan. The lesson from Clinton's presidency,though, may be that the Republicans will simply be an obstructionist party and Obama has to give them a deadline by which they should either come along or stay behind.

25 September 2009

Lute's Law for Changing the Status Quo

Reading In Search of Bill Clinton: a psychological biography, there is an account of how he helped facilitate the peace process in Northern Ireland. One of his aids gave him some really fascinating advice.

Clinton is debating whether to give Gerry Adams, head of Sinn Fein, a visa for entry to the US. Every president before him has denied it. Sinn Fein, the political arm of the IRA, is considered a terrorist organization and not only would the British and the Republicans be outraged at this, so would members of his own cabinet. Yet Clinton's’ advisers in Northern Ireland thought it was key to moving forward in the peace negotiations. (The Prime Minister of Ireland essentially reached the same conclusion months earlier. The Irish PM ditched his bodyguards to meet with the paramilitary groups on both sides. Everyone said that he should not meet with them because they were terrorist groups but he said they were the ones with the power and if he wanted to make anything happen, he needed to meet with them.) When Clinton asked one adviser why she thought he should grant Adams a visa, she had a really provocative answer.

“Because no one expects you to,” Jane Holl Lute told Clinton. “Not even Adams. Everyone expects you to say no. So there’s a card you have to play. And if you say yes, everyone will have to recalculate, including Adams.”
To change the status quo Lute believes that you have to do the unexpected. “People make plans based on expectations. If you fulfill their expectations, their plans don’t change. But when you do the unexpected, you force everyone to alter their plans, including yourself, by the way. And that’s OK.” The other person who agreed with this analysis was Adams, who said of his visa: “It was a change that now everyone had to react to. It shook up the status quo.”

Lots of other factors came into play, but today, in Northern Ireland, Clinton is widely lauded for his role in ending “the troubles.” Many analysts think that without this one move, the process might have de-railed.

How would I state Lute's Law? The status quo is supported by expectations. To change it, do the unexpected.

24 September 2009

Curious Fact About the Antichrist

Recent poll reported: 18 percent of self described conservatives believe Obama is the Antichrist.

It is hard to imagine this sort of opinion popping up in other realms, like music or the office. Imagine Simon of American Idol being able to tell 18% of the contestants, "Your singing is positively awful. I think that you are the Antichrist."

Or worse, this actually showing up as a box on your annual performance review. Your boss would not even have to check the box - just its mere inclusion would be enough to intimidate a person. Can you imagine the lunch room conversations as employees speculated madly about which employee prompted management to add this? Or even worse, being that employee. "We're going to have to let you go, Carl. We suspect that you're the Antichrist." How would you answer the next employer who asked, "Why did you leave your last job?"

23 September 2009

Why the Medieval Church Became Evil

The medieval church may have been a necessary evil in the progress of the West, but it was still evil. It’s worth reviewing how that happened, because it represents a pattern. Quite simply, when individuals are forced to conform to the institution, rather than the institution to the individual, the institution starts down the path toward evil.

The Roman Empire was formed atop of many nations and the Romans often just incorporated the local god into their pantheon of gods. Religious tolerance was a given and variation expected.

We now know that in the centuries after Christ, a great number of gospels and letters emerged. Some of these, like the Gospels of Thomas and Judas, had disappeared completely until discoveries just last century.

But this variation that was a part of the ancient world was squelched. Forcefully. The Inquisition was instituted in 1233 and by 1252 the church had authorized the use of torture to impose conformity of thought. As late as 1600, Giordano Bruno was burned alive for sharing his beliefs about moving atoms, an infinite cosmos, memory, and imagination. The goal was to crush heresy, defined as any dissent or deviation from Church teachings, and the Church was not squeamish about the use of force to protect its dogma. Over the centuries, the treatment of heretics included the rack (being stretched until every joint in the body had dislocated), burning at the stake, and being skinned alive.

Torture was consistent with the teachings of St. Augustine, who felt that the “main point was ‘not whether anyone is being forced to do something, but what sort of thing he is being forced to do, whether it is good or bad.’” Punishment was justified “because ‘the unrighteous man’s grief in his punishment is more appropriate than his rejoicing in sin.’” Torture was of little consequence in comparison to an eternity in hell: if pain caused one to recant from heresy, it was a gift. Once a community accepts the notion of one truth about eternal salvation and one authority entrusted with its revelation, every kind of coercion and evil naturally follow.

How did the church become evil? By suppressing variation and oppressing the individual. This is always the surest route to evil, no matter how petty the path. It is possible that it was a necessary evil but it bears repeating that it was, in any case, an evil. Any institution able to seize one's property or children and torture or kill to coerce thought and belief can hardly be given any other label.

The evil crept into the church in small steps. It wasn't evil for individuals to say, "I believe the gospel of Matthew but not the gospel of Thomas." It didn't seem particularly evil for a group of individuals to get together in a council to reach an agreement about which books to include and which to exclude to promote a "right" way. And once that was in place, it did not seem so evil to urge conformity on the congregation, or to resort to expulsion or even violence to spare the congregation from the influence of a heretic (simply someone whose beliefs are not orthodox). Over centuries, though, the cumulative effect of these little steps became clear.

And this meant that before real progress could begin in the West, the church had to be radically changed. The revolution that overturned its monopoly on thought and action would prove even bloodier than its oppression. Encompassed in the Protestant Revolution and Reformation, this challenge to the medieval church gave birth to a new world with new rules, one that offered the individual opportunities never before given to the common man.

22 September 2009

The Medieval Church: a necessary evil

I’ve taken my shots at the medieval church. Anyone who knows history has read of the atrocities. Heretics were burned at the stake, scientists were muzzled, and suspected witches were stretched out on the rack, forced to confess to the impossible. Where the church had a firmer grip on the community – in places like Spain and Italy – business and science fell behind the places – like the Netherlands and England – where there was more religious freedom. It was a wonderful thing to emerge from the control of the church. This is, however, a very different statement than saying that it was an awful thing for the West to come under the control of the church.

It’s worth remembering the condition of the West when Christianity became ascendant. I would argue that the church, however evil we now consider it, was an improvement on what came before.

The Roman Empire was powerful and made life comfortable – for a few. The economy and quality of life depended on slaves, conquest, and exploitation. Whatever one might say of the animating beliefs, it is not obvious that one could ascribe the golden rule to Rome: slave holders and colonizers hardly did onto others what they wanted done to themselves. (And this disinterest in the other is a major obstacle to the emergence of markets.)

Tribes like the Huns, Visigoths, and Vandals who gradually dismantled and conquered the Western part of the Roman Empire knew more about conquest than creating and sustaining a society as complex as the Roman Empire. Europe descended into the Dark Ages as Rome disappeared.

So this is the world as it was found by a medieval church with growing authority and influence. This world was awful. It is one thing for armies to know how to raid a village to take the food and women – it is another to know how to raise crops and children. Life was brutal and short and reliant on force. By our standards, the medieval church may have seemed oppressive, but its emphasis on caring for the weak and its insistence on order in thought and deed must have saved many a life.

It was from this starting point that freedom of thought slowly emerged. Order was created by the authority of the church. (In medieval times, the majority of the issues that the pope had to address involved property rights.) Imagine that each landlord or land owner was his own little government and you can begin to imagine the confusion surrounding even the disputation of the smallest conflicts. The church’s generally accepted authority saved many conflicts from becoming violent.
Obviously the religious wars fought in Europe to wrest control from the medieval church (and, initially, put it in the hands of a Protestant church that was typically just as dogmatic and violent) were atrocious. But again, the baseline of comparison was not the level of violence in Berlin or Paris today.

Was the medieval church evil? Only if it was compared to the community that evolved after its rule. But looking at it in the context of what preceded it, it might well be that the West had no better path to progress.

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The golden rule might be at the heart of a market economy. “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you,” puts one in the frame of mind of the other. It encourages a kind of empathy that can also be used for commercial gain. “People want a cheaper or better …” involves thinking about the perspective of the other, the consumer, and is the first step in developing a business plan. Concern with – and response to - the other is essential to markets.

NO LIE! Joe Wilson is my new hero

"You lie!" Joe Wilson hollered out in the middle of Barack Obama's address to Congress. Talk of racism quickly emerged. People who hate Obama or were frightened by the thought that everyone might get health care all ran to Joe's defense. But even the Republican Party elders rebuked Joe, who then called Obama to apologize.

I hope that Joe's outburst is a harbinger of things to come. I say this for two reasons: one, presidents need to be treated more like regular people and it is time for some face to face debate.

I thought that President Clinton was great, thought President Bush was awful, and am hopeful for President Obama. But one thing they all had in common was this incredible swagger once they'd been in office for any length of time. It's hard to remember that you're just a guy when you are the leader of the free world. But Clinton screwed up (and I don't just mean with Monica), Obama is stumbling and Bush had his moments when he did the right thing. Nobody is the simple label we affix and it does no one any good to sustain the odd tendency towards deification or vilification. (After World War II, more than half of the Japanese thought that their Emperor was descended from God, or gods. An even higher percentage of Brits thought the same thing about their queen. Think we're smarter than that? The painting in the Capitol dome is of George Washington transforming into a god, titled The Apotheosis of Washington. Some part of the reptilian brain loves to deify victims and heroes. It might be the same part of the brain that loves parades.) I loved that Joe Wilson basically said, "Look, you might be president but that doesn't mean we have to applaud every inane thing you say."

And that brings me to my next point. A president makes a statement to Congress and he gets applauded throughout. Even for the most gratuitous comments. And then once the speech is over, the Republicans group over in one corner, the Democrats in another, (and Independent Bernie Sanders, presumably, goes off to play solitaire on his computer) and they reinforce the views they came in with. What's lost is the opportunity for real dialogue, for exploring alternate views while sitting face to face with each other.

After Joe Wilson's little outburst, some commentators said, "It was like British Parliament." Well, other than the wigs, I think that the spirited debate in Parliament would be the one thing that I would most want to import from Britain. Done right, spirited discussion can actually bring people together. It is one thing to disagree. It is something else entirely to not even understand or hear others.

Sadly, Joe Wilson's little outburst didn't further the idea of debate between opposing worldviews. Rather, it just led to more firmly defined lines of battle. I'm just a lowly blogger, Joe, but let me say, from the other side of the debate, that I like what you tried to do.

15 September 2009

Learning Obesity

My wife Sandi teaches second graders in one of the poorer parts of San Diego County. To demonstrate their serious approach to academics, the school focuses the children all day on classwork. Once a day they get 15 minutes to play outside. Once a week they get 45 minutes for PE. At least they have video games to play when they get home.

It's a good thing they'll be literate. It'll help them to decipher those complicated forms they make you fill out when they begin to treat you for conditions like heart disease, type 2 diabetes, and high blood pressure.

What are You Feeding Those Kids?

I recently read Erik Larson's Devil in the White City, a wonderful account of the Chicago World's Fair in 1893. The World's Fair buildings were astounding, huge and distinctively beautiful. This fair was the first to have a midway and a Ferris wheel (a massive structure that stood higher than the Eiffel Tower, the Americans' effort to outdo the French and their World's Fair from just a few years' prior).

One of the men who worked to create this magical, happy place was to tell his son all about it years later. The worker was Eli Disney, Walt's dad.

Today I heard Dan Brown interviewed as he is promoting his new book, The Lost Symbol. He said that his father teaches math and when Dan was young, his father would construct puzzles for the children to solve that led to clues that would point them to the presents. Christmas morning was a treasure hunt - which Dan Brown admitted is essentially what he recreates in his books.

Makes a person wonder what we're feeding the kids. What possibilities and dreams are we waking? What aspirations are we provoking?

I'd explore this more, but I'm going to watch Sponge Bob.

11 September 2009

The Deification of the Dead

Those of you offended by irreverence may want to skip this post, but I'm starting to get seriously annoyed at the deification of the dead from 9-11.

Today family and volunteers read the names of the victims of 9-11 in New York. Obama went to the Pentagon and said, "In pursuit of Al Qaeda and its extremist allies, we will never falter."

Nonsense. All of it. Every year, about 2.5 million Americans die. Some violently. Some in stupid accidents. Some gracefully of old age. Some from treatable diseases and some of bad treatment. There are two things true of this: deaths usually leave grief in their wake and over time people move beyond that grief.

If you lost a loved one on 9-10 in an auto accident or to cancer or homicide, your grief is private and you have the option to dwell on their death or to move on each year as the anniversary comes. You are not forced to engage in the pageant of national mourning for cameras each year, as you would be if you had lost a loved one on 9-11 to a terrorist attack.

The people who died in those buildings were no different in character than the roughly 20 million Americans who have died since that event. Some were rich and some poor. Some were annoying and some calming. Their families have already received an inordinate amount of money from Congress for having had the wisdom to lose their loved one in a national tragedy rather than something less outrageous.

I flew today on 9-11 and pulled into the gate in San Diego at 9:11 east coast time. Maybe I just had too much 9 11 today. I now return you to the mainstream media and people like Rush Limbaugh and Keith Olbermann, suave media experts who are smart enough to save their outrage for easy targets, like politicians.