Thursday, May 31, 2007

The Problem with Faith

Regular readers of this blog know that I am a fierce critic of religious dogmatism, and frequently warn of the dangers of blind faith. An event recently in the news highlights my concerns.

In the town of Petersburg, Kentucky, a new multimedia "Creation Museum" opened this week. The museum seeks to convince visitors of the literal truth of the Biblical story of creation as set out in the Book of Genesis. You can visit the museum's website at and form your own opinions, but I would just offer a few thoughts.

The museum's displays, while interesting and appealing, fly in the face of hundreds of years of scientific discovery and scholarship. They ignore or offer bizarre explanations for facts that have been scientifically established and proven.

In short, the museum is a monument to the power of blind faith. Why is this dangerous? Because when people, particularly impressionable young people, rely on faith rather than the evaluation and weighing of evidence, they lose the ability to think critically and make reasoned judgements about the world around them. You don't have to look far to see what happens when faith trumps everything else: the intellectual and moral stagnation of the Islamic nations of the Middle East presents a warning sign that should be obvious to any observer.

Ambrose Bierce once defined faith as "Belief without evidence in what is told by one who speaks without knowledge, of things without parallel." Visit the Creation Museum and see just how accurate his definition is.

And then worry about the future.

Have a good day. More thoughts tomorrow.


Wednesday, May 30, 2007

A Different Look at the Issue of Breastfeeding in the Workplace

Even in the disgusting mess of roiling hatreds that is the Middle East, every so often something happens that is so utterly silly that you just have to stop and laugh. It happened yesterday, when I read an article posted to the Middle East Media Research Institute (MEMRI) website on May 25th. Visit MEMRI by clicking the link in my link list, and then check report number 355: "Al Azhar Lecturer Suspended after Issuing Controversial Fatwa (religious ruling) Recommending Breastfeeding of Men by Women in the Workplace."

Yes, you read correctly.

Dr Izzat Atiyya, the head of the Hadith (sayings of Mohammed) Department of Al Azhar University in Cairo, was attempting to solve a difficult problem for business people: how can two good Muslims, an unmarried man and a woman, have a business relationship which may require them to work together unchaperoned - a situation forbiden within Islam? Dr Atiyya's elegant solution: the woman should breastfeed the man, which would "...transform the bestial relationship between [two people] into a religious relationship based on [religious] duties..." He went on to explain in the interview documented by MEMRI that, "I also insist that the breastfeeding relationship be officially documented in writing...The contract will state that this woman has suckled this man...After this, the woman may remove her hijab and expose her hair in the man's [presence]..."

While I would certainly agree that we in the West could use a little more restraint in sexual relationships between adults, the sexual pendulum has obviously swung far in the other direction in Islamic culture when the need for such a silly fatwa is perceived.

It should be noted that Dr Atiyya's fatwa was not universally supported. In fact, it generated a storm of controversy and resulted in his being suspended from his position at the university.

With all the misery and suffering in the Middle East, with all the religious bigotry and political stupidity that makes the region such a snakepit and threatens the peace of the entire world, it's good to know that responsible Islamic scholars are concerned with critical issues like allowing a man and woman to work together if she documents that she has breastfed him, thereby (according to Islamic law) turning him into a member of her family.

You just have to shake your head at the idiocy.

Have a good day. More thoughts tomorrow.


Tuesday, May 29, 2007


I'm living with a curse.

No, it's not like the curses you see in horror movies, where the victims get strangled in the night by walking corpses, or die in ghastly accidents, or waste away to nothing a la Stephen King. My curse manifests itself in strange and insidious ways:

- If I get into the shortest line at a supermarket, it stops moving...and if I change to another line, that one will stop moving, too.

- If the radio traffic reports say the highway where I'm going is wide open and moving at speed, it will have ground to a standstill before I get there...and the gas tank will contain only thin fumes.

- If I have to fly anywhere, the length of the flight is inversely proportional to the probability of getting a narrow middle seat between two grossly overweight, sweaty, and obnoxious people...and we'll end up sitting on the tarmac for at least an hour waiting to take off...AND we'll circle in a holding pattern at our destination, ensuring that I miss my connecting flight.

- And so on.

I'm firmly convinced that when my remote ancestors lived in Eastern Europe many hundreds of years ago, one of them aggravated an old gypsy who waggled her crooked fingers and muttered words of power that have rumbled down through the centuries to bedevil me today. How else can I explain all the annoying things that happen to me on a regular basis?

But it isn't just my problem. There seem to be a lot of curses making life miserable in the world for people other than myself.

- The curse of utter bullheadedness and stupidity that keeps people in the Middle East from working together to solve their problems and build a better life.

- The curse of religious absolutism that leads to scientific ignorance and cultural stagnation.

- The curse of lack of respect and tolerance for each other.

- And so on.

I suppose that, on the whole, my curse isn't so bad after all.

Have a good day. More thoughts tomorrow.


Monday, May 28, 2007

Memorial Day

For those readers who don't live in the United States, we have two national holidays here that honor the men and women who have served in our military.

Veterans' Day is celebrated on November 11th - the anniversary of the armistice which ended World War I. In fact, it used to be called Armistice Day until after World War II, when the focus of the celebration was changed to honor our service members. Veterans' Day recognizes those who served in the armed forces; in particular, those who actually fought in the nation's wars.

Memorial Day is celebrated on the last Monday in May, and honors those who have died in military service. From the Revolutionary War in the 1700's to Iraq and Afghanistan today, millions of men and women have answered the nation's call to duty and have given their lives in the service of something greater than themselves, and it's only right that we should set aside a day to honor them. They did a terrible job that most of us would rather not do, and paid the ultimate price.

Like most of our national holidays, the essential meaning of Memorial Day has changed over the years. Across the country wreaths will be laid and little flags placed at graves, politicians will intone the right speeches, and families will mourn young lives taken away too soon. And also across the country, car dealerships and other retailers will mark the occasion with sales and promotions to boost their bottom line. Swimming pools will open as the day marks the traditional start of summer. And, unfortunately, this year, Memorial Day will be used by all sides as an opportunity to make political statements in favor of or opposition to the grinding war in Iraq.

And this is wrong.

Paul Morin, the national commander of the American Legion - a wartime veterans organization - wrote an eloquent article the other day in which he urged the separation of politics from the day set aside to honor our dead. The last paragraph of his article is worth quoting:

"Americans need to remember why Memorial Day is special. It's not about picnics or trips to the beach. It's not about making pro- or anti-war statements. It's not about supporting political candidates. it's about honor, duty, and the ultimate sacrifice. It's about people who have decided that the United States is worth dying for."

As you go about your routine on this day, those are good words to keep in mind. I served in the United States Air Force for 23 years, and had the good fortune never to have heard a shot fired in anger. Many others aren't so lucky. It's not asking too much to set aside one day out of 365 to show our appreciation for their sacrifice.

Have a good day. And on Memorial Day and Veterans' Day, thank a serving or retired Soldier, Sailor, Airman, or Marine for their sacrifices that allow you to have it in peace and freedom.

More thoughts tomorrow.


Sunday, May 27, 2007

Dining in the Dark

Yesterday evening after our dance coaching session, Agnes and I decided to stop at a local restaurant for dinner. One of the things I've long noticed about restaurants (as opposed to more pedestrian eateries like diners, greasy spoons, hamburger joints, etc) is that the lighting is always set very low. This is ostensibly to provide "atmosphere," but I suspect other possible motives:

1. They're attempting to recreate the romantic surroundings of the deepest level of a Chinese coal mine at midnight;

2. The entire wait staff is ugly and their employment contracts specify low lighting to prevent embarassment;

3. The printer made lots of mistakes on the menus and the management wants the lights low enough that you won't be able to see the typos; or

4. The prices are so high that the standard restaurant dodges of spelling out the prices to discourage reading ("twenty-five dollars and ninety-five cents") or simply putting down small, apologetic numbers ("50" instead of "$50.00) aren't considered enough, and they keep the lights low so you won't get your sticker shock until the bill arrives.


I'm getting a little older and my eyes aren't what they used to be, so I always appreciate a little more light. It improves my aim when I'm reduced to biting the waitress's arm when we've waited too long for the entree.

Which reminds's time for breakfast.

Have a good day. More thoughts tomorrow.


Saturday, May 26, 2007

Deterring the Unthinkable

Back on May 8th the New York Times ran an interesting and frightening article titled "U.S. Debates Deterrence for Nuclear Terrorism." (You can read a summary of the article, or buy a copy, at Upsetting as this topic is, it's worth thinking hard about.

We live in a world in which the nuclear genie is out of the bottle for good. Once the property only of major nation states like the United States, Russia, and the U.K., nuclear weapons have proliferated to unstable and dangerous regimes like Pakistan and North Korea, leading to a deadly question: will traditional theories of deterrence (which imply a conventionally rational opponent) work against a foe motivated by religious passions (Iran, Pakistan, or Al Qaeda) or desperation for regime survival (North Korea)?

This is a question of much more than academic interest. The president of Iran has spoken of his desire to "wipe Israel off the map," and it has long been known that Al Qaeda is seeking the technology and materials to build nuclear weapons. Indeed, the belief - right or wrong - that Saddam Hussein was acquiring nuclear weapons was the professed reason for the disastrous invasion of Iraq in 2003. Weapons of mass destruction in the hands of individuals and groups motivated by belief in a paradise beyond this world are a horrifying do you deter the employment of a weapon by someone who believes he is doing God's will by employing it against you, and will be rewarded for it in the next life?

The Times article didn't offer any recommendations for how to achieve this simply teed up the issue and noted that "government experts" are meeting weekly to discuss it. This in itself is frightening, as very few groups representing agencies from across the government ever achieve anything worthwhile. As it happens, I have some ideas on this topic - none of which would probably ever be considered for implementation because they would represent a radically different approach to the problem from the standard government-selected options, which generally fall into two categories: 1 - bomb them; or 2 - create huge programs to throw money at the problem until it recedes into obscurity and can be safely ignored until the next crisis.

In a few months time (assuming we're all still here) I'll share my ideas with you. Until then, rest assured that your government has it's best minds hard at work on the problem.

You may want to practice the old duck-and-cover now.

Have a good weekend. More thoughts tomorrow.


Friday, May 25, 2007

Pay Me Now, or Pay Me Later

Recent news reports about contaminated pet food and toothpaste imported from China have put a spotlight on the downside of the low prices we enjoy on many goods. It is clear now that one reason goods imported from China are so inexpensive is that they are not manufactured to the same standards of safety, environmental protection, and (in the case of foodstuffs) wholesomeness as those produced at higher cost here at home.

You can pay me now, or you can pay me later - it's an old adage, and every bit as true in this case as in any other. We can cut corners to have low prices, but the bill eventually gets paid in terms of health and safety issues. I obviously like saving money and not paying more for my goods than necessary...but if the ultimate cost of that low price is a threat to my or my family's safety, I think I'd rather pay the higher price.

Is it possible to enforce U.S. standards of foodstuff safety on processed foods imported from overseas? Probably yes. Should we do it? Absolutely.

Because you can't put a price tag on safety.

Have a good day and a safe Memorial Day weekend. More thoughts coming.


Tuesday, May 22, 2007

You'd Better Be Sexy...

A CNN report a few days ago was headlined, "If You're A Female Singer, You'd Better Be Sexy" (read it at

Where I come from, this is known as a keen grasp of the obvious.

I've written several times in this blog about our society's obsession with youth and beauty, and I'm certainly neither the only nor the smartest commentator to have made this observation. But the CNN article hits on a significant problem for female singers and actresses - if you aren't beautiful, all the talent in the world won't necessarily help you.

There was a time, not all that long ago, when a talented female singer could get away without being conventionally beautiful - think about Janis Joplin and Mama Cass Elliot. Naturally, good looks are an asset, but when they begin to overshadow talent, something's gone wrong.

The problem is worse today, now that high-definition TV is the coming standard and you can see every acne blemish and count every hair. HDTV magnifies the flaws that older technology helped hide, and so talent tends to be pushed even further to the background by the need to seek out the truly telegenic stars.

When beauty and talent come together in one package, it's great. But it's just a shame that if we have to pick one or the other, we go for the beauty first. This is, of course, why a witty and intelligent, yet plain fellow like myself labors in the relative obscurity of the blog world instead of being a highly-paid television commentator.


Have a good day. More thoughts tomorrow.


Sunday, May 20, 2007

Thinking About Presidents

Former President Jimmy Carter has made headlines by calling President Bush's international relations "the worst in history." I can't argue with him on the disastrous effects of the current president's foreign policy ineptitude, but his own track record on foreign relations could have been more even and given his comments more heft.

Granted, Jimmy Carter had some very hard knocks as president - not the least of which was the Iran hostage crisis that doomed his presidency. But we elect our presidents at least in part on our perceptions of how they will be able to handle world-class crises. In some ways, Carter was a forward-thinking and dynamic president: he brokered the Camp David peace accords between Israel and Egypt that, so far, still keep a peace of self-interest between the two nations. He also orchestrated the transfer of the Panama Canal to Panamanian control, a move bitterly opposed and resented at home, but one which raised the standing of the United States in Latin America. I doubt whether George Bush could have had the capacity to take on these issues (not to mention the interest in doing so).

Were Jimmy Carter still president, I don't believe we would have invaded Iraq, and the United States would almost certainly be much more aggressively engaged in seeking peace between Israel and the Palestinians. I also suspect that he'd have failed, given that neither Israel nor the Palestinians are able or willing to make the sort of compromises necessary to achieve a lasting peace.

I think Jimmy Carter, for all his faults, was a man of principle who was the president we needed at the moment. He projected an image that helped the nation get over the lingering stench of Watergate and enjoyed a few successes in foreign policy; unfortunately, he was undone by the Iranian revolution and hostage crisis that he was unable to deal with effectively. That failure set the stage for the election of Ronald Reagan, the end of the Cold War, and all the events, good and bad, which flowed from it.

As the nation gears up for next year's presidential election, I look around at the field of likely candidates and hope for a button on the voting machine that says "None of the Above." Our ideal president needs the compassion of a Jimmy Carter, the communicative skills of a Ronald Reagan, the intellectual prowess of a Woodrow Wilson, the political wiliness of a Franklin Roosevelt, and the foreign policy skills and - when necessary - pragmatically ruthless power of a Richard Nixon.

Unfortunately, that person's not out there. And that's too bad...for the nation and the world.

Have a good day. More thoughts coming.


Thursday, May 17, 2007

The Triumph of Principle

A current news story reads like something out of a novel by Robert Ludlum: representatives of the President visit a hospital to pressure a sick official to authorize a program of questionable legality. The official's deputy races to the hospital to support his boss, who rallies from his sickbed to face down the President's men and deny his support to their proposal. The President's minions, ignoring the sick man's deputy, stalk from the room...and the President later authorizes the program over the objections of his advisors.

Former Attorney General John Ashcroft, who has suffered his share of criticism over the years, was the hero of this story, rallying in his illness to stand on principle and deny the approval of a questionable program sought by the President's men - Alberto Gonzalez (now the Attorney General) and White House Chief of Staff Andrew Card. The details have been provided in dramatic testimony by the fourth man in the story, then-Acting Attorney General James Comey.

There's a joke that when you enter high government service, you are required to rent a safety deposit box to hold your pride, dignity, integrity, and self-respect until your term of duty is over. It allows you to cringe and be grilled and insulted by grandstanding Congressmen in front of the TV cameras, and to respond to the stupidest of questions and accusations with a game face. But it's good to see that at least one official retained enough of his honor to stand up to the President on a matter of principle.

We may never know, at least, not any time soon, the details of the program to which Mr Ashcroft objected. And we have only the testimony of Mr Comey as to what transpired during the dramatic showdown in the hospital. But I'd like to think that Mr Comey is correct, and that we are served by at least some people whose sense of integrity and moral courage is strong enough to stand up to the highest pressure our government can apply.

There haven't been many recent opportunities to be proud of our government officials, but this is one. Let's hope there are more.

Have a good day. More thoughts tomorrow.


Wednesday, May 16, 2007

The Politics of Hope

If you've read my profile, you know that one of my favorite books is The True Believer, by Eric Hoffer, the so-called "longshoreman philosopher." This is a small, but extremely interesting and important book which, although a little dated, contains important insights into understanding why people become religious or political fanatics and follow mass movements.

One of Hoffer's key insights is his recognition of the role of hope in mass movements. He writes, "It matters not whether it be hope of a heavenly kingdom, of heaven on earth, of plunder and untold riches, of fabulous achievement or world dominion. If the Communists win Europe and a large part of the world, it will not be because they know how to stir up discontent or how to infect people with hatred, but because they know how to preach hope."

Hoffer wrote these words in 1951, when Communism was the prevailing threat in the world. Today, of course, the prevailing threat is radical Islam, but the role of hope is still a key to understanding and combatting the threat.

In the Middle East, the quality most lacking is hope for the future. The Palestinians have little hope that the Israelis will accommodate their desire for an independent homeland. The Israelis have little hope that the Palestinians can become trustworthy and non-threatening neighbors. Islamists lack hope in the temporal world's ability to sufficiently worship and submit to God as they believe God demands. Islam rejects the temporal world and offers the promise of a wonderful paradise in the next world...a compelling message to people without hope for a better future, and one the people are likely to accept unquestioningly for lack of a viable alternative.

Hoffer writes, "When hopes and dreams are loose in the streets, it is well for the timid to lock doors, shutter windows and lie low until the wrath has passed. For there is often a monstrous incongruity between the hopes, however noble and tender, and the action which follows them. It is as if ivied maidens and garlanded youths were to herald the four horsemen of the apocalypse."

If there is any chance for peace in the Middle East, it lies in the politics of hope. We must offer a viable temporal alternative to the sterile and empty promise of paradise in the hereafter peddled by those who would force their religious beliefs on all of us. Hope - real hope for a real future here on earth - is our most potent weapon, if we can avoid the "...monstrous incongruities between the hopes...and the action which follows them," and convince a jaded population that it is better than the false hopes and hatreds of the Islamists.

Have a good day. More thoughts tomorrow.


Tuesday, May 15, 2007

Duty Status, Whereabouts Unknown

Three U.S. soldiers are still missing in Iraq following an attack on their convoy which left four other soldiers and their Iraqi interpreter dead. Credit for capturing the soldiers has been claimed by al Qaeda, which has also threatened the captives with death if attempts to find and rescue them are continued.

As much as I hate to say, or even to think it, I'm afraid these men are dead.

We are fighting a vicious, ruthless, utterly amoral enemy. In times past, even when fighting an enemy as cruel as the Nazis or as culturally indifferent to prisoners as the Viet Cong, national forces recognized rules of war that governed the conditions under which prisoners could be held. The much-maligned Geneva Conventions kept a lid on the savage passions of war and helped many thousands of POWs come home safe when the guns fell silent.

Things are different, now.

Our troops are fighting an enemy that believes God commands him to kill us. The moral depravity of this enemy is demonstrated by beheadings posted on the Internet, bombs which shred marketplaces crowded with innocent civilians, and airliners crashed into towering office buildings crowded with men, women, and children of every race, nation and religion.

While we hope for the return of the three soldiers listed in military bureaucratese as "Duty Status, Whereabouts Unknown," that hope is slim. Our thoughts go out to the families of these brave men.

The disgusting and depraved twisting of outdated religious beliefs fuels the enemy, and few of his coreligionists have the courage and moral fiber to stand up to him.

It's up to us. We've punched the tar baby, and now it's time to stop fooling around. These people hate us no matter what we do, so perhaps it's time to recall the favorite saying of the Roman emperor Caligula - oderint dum metuant: "let them hate as long as they fear."

Let's either take the gloves off or leave. I don't see another choice.

More thoughts tomorrow.


Monday, May 14, 2007

The Inter-State Dance Challenge, 2007

Last Saturday, Agnes and I competed as a Pro-Am couple in the 2007 Inter-State Dance Challenge here in Northern Virginia. We danced in 21 heats - Open Gold American Waltz, Tango, and Fox Trot; Open American 3-Dance (Waltz/Tango/Fox Trot); Open Gold American Rumba, Cha-Cha, Swing, and Bolero; Open American 3-Dance (Rumba/Cha-Cha/Swing); Closed Bronze International Waltz, Tango, and Fox Trot; Closed Silver International Viennese Waltz and Quickstep; Open Silver Quickstep; Syllabus Bronze International 2-Dance (Fox Trot/Tango); Closed Bronze International Cha-Cha, Samba, Rumba, and Paso Doble; and Syllabus Bronze International Latin 2-Dance (Cha-Cha/Rumba). The result: 21 first-place finishes! It just goes to show what having a good partner, a good teacher, and a good coach can do for you. The photo above shows a pose from our American Gold Rumba routine...with one of the stern-faced, eagle-eyed judges observing from the left rear.

Agnes also danced 11 heats with one of her students, who also took all first places, so it was a very successful day all around.

If your experience of ballroom dancing is limited to watching "Dancing with the Stars" and saying either "I couldn't do that" or "I wish I could do that," then it's time to get off your wide rear end and sign up for some lessons. Ballroom dancing is enormous fun, good exercise, and one of the last places around where ladies and gentlemen get together and treat each other like ladies and gentlemen. Yes, it takes some work and practice, but what doesn't?

From a man's perspective, there's a lot to be said for a sport that allows you to hold a beautiful, elegantly-dressed lady intimately close for the length of a dance; from the lady's perspective, you get to see your man all cleaned up and looking suave and debonaire. And, for a few minutes, the two of you get to be as suave and elegant as any high-class movie couple.

There's nothing like ballroom dancing to bring a couple together. Try'll like it!

Have a good day. Back to more weighty thoughts tomorrow.


Friday, May 11, 2007

Mickey Mouse Jihad

The moral depravity of Islamists in the Middle East and around the world has been pretty obvious for a long time but, as I noted in this blog a few days ago, you should never doubt their ability to hit rock bottom and dig harder.

News outlets around the world reported a few days ago that a TV station run by militants of the hard-core Islamist Hamas movement had aired "Tomorrow's Pioneers," a children's program that used a character almost identical to Mickey Mouse to urge Palestinian children to hate Israel and work for global Islamic domination. The Mickey Mouse-like character, named Farfour ("Butterfly") preached against the United States and Israel, and was quoted by the Associated Press as saying in one episode, "You and I are laying the foundation for a world led by Islamists. We will return the Islamic community to its former greatness and liberate Jerusalem, God willing, liberate Iraq, God willing, and and liberate all the countries of the Muslims invaded by the murderers." In response, according to the AP report, children called in to the show to sing Hamas songs about fighting Israel.

What sick and disgusting drivel is this? What does it say about the moral fiber of those who would corrupt the minds of children, allowing their mindless hate to poison yet another generation?

Hamas has suspended the program, at least for the moment, partly as a result of its worldwide condemnation, but the twisted and poisonous religious mindset that allows such a depraved show to go on in the first place remains. The chance for real peace in the Middle East is as remote as ever when religious partisans will sink so low as to push a message of hate and intolerance to impressionable children. If you have any human feelings, you have to be utterly disgusted.

There are, to be sure, a few weak and tentative rays of moral light in the whirling cesspool of Arab/Muslim hate. The Middle East Media Research Institute (MEMRI) published a report yesterday with translations of articles by several liberal Arab authors who criticized Arab justification of and support for terrorism.

One author, an Iraqi named Riyadh 'Abd, noted that the family of Virginia Tech murderer Cho Seung-Hui had offered apologies to Cho's victims and expressed grief, embarassment, and shame for their son's terrible crime. He goes on to note that, in contrast, the families of Arab/Islamic suicide murderers glorify their heinous acts and brag of the numbers of infidels killed.

A Saudi writer, Rim Al-Salih, wrote of the Arab view that the Virginia Tech murders proved that terrorism was not a purely Arab/Islamic phenomenon. He wrote, "But without lying to ourselves, can we compare the crime commited by an individual due to madness, mental illness, depression, or even due to the desire to kill and avenge, and the death supported by organizations, fatwas, (TV) stations, websites, funding by the millions, and pledges of allegiance taken in front of the holy Ka'ba?"

You can read this report (number 1580, dated May 10, 2007) on the MEMRI website by following the link in my list at the left.

And you should remember always that those sick and twisted enough to use a beloved children's character like Mickey Mouse to encourage children to intolerance and violence are capable of much more...and much worse.

Have a good day.

I won't be posting tomorrow, as Agnes and I will be participating in a ballroom dance competition that will be occupying my attention as I try to remember our routines and not look like too much of an uncoordinated klutz. But I will be back on Sunday with more thoughts on the world around us. See you then!


Thursday, May 10, 2007

Hyphen the Terrible

Yes, I know it's a terrible pun and yes, I "borrowed" it from the title of a contest in the Washington Post some time ago...but I couldn't pass it up because it so perfectly fits the topic about which I wanted to write.

One of the things that really irritates me is hyphenated Americans. You know what I mean: the people who aren't satisfied to be Americans, citizens of what is arguably the greatest country in the world. They are the people who find it necessary to be hyphenated Americans, stressing a national, geographic, ethnic, or cultural component they believe is more important than simple American citizenship. We find ourselves overrun with Hispanic-Americans, Asian-Americans, Irish-Americans, Italian-Americans, and my personal ubiquitous non-favorite, African-Americans.

What nonsense is this?

There was a time when people came to this country because they wanted to share in the American dream. They sought the equality of opportunity and justice represented by a unique nation. My paternal grandparents came to the United States from Hungary after World War I, learned English, and became Americans. I never heard the modifier Hungarian- attached to it. Pride in one's homeland is not a bad thing. But if you left it to come to America, you became an American.

Today, though, it seems that many people can't accept just being Americans. They use hyphens to make political statements.

I'm tired to death of reading the term African-American a million times a day. Yes, your ancestors many generations back may not have come here by choice. But their tragic misfortune and suffering has allowed you to be Americans, and to enjoy a smorgasbord of freedoms and opportunities you are unlikely to find in many parts of Africa. I find the term African-American offensive.

Many years ago as an undergraduate at Penn State University, I was required to fill out a questionnaire as part of term registration. This questionnaire sought data about my ethnic background, and was required so that the university could prove it was sufficiently ethnically mixed. In reading down the list of various hyphenated combinations of ethnic and geographic backgrounds (including such gems as Afro-American, not Hispanic), I discovered that the category into which I fell was ... Other. Yes, as an American citizen in my own country, I was an Other. The questionnaire helpfully provided a write-in space for those who were not covered in the vast array of possible mix-and-match backgrounds, and so I wrote myself in as Hungarian-surnamed white American. As you might expect, I was accused by the university functionary who collected the questionnaires of failing to take seriously this critically important survey.

What a crock.

You are an American, or you are not.

Being an American used to mean something. It meant respect for the rule of law and the separation of church and state. It meant equality of opportunity and concurrent equality of responsibility. It meant the opportunity to succeed as well as the possibility to fail.

Today, it means something less. Today, the hyphenated modifier is often more important than the American. Today, being an American for many people is more about what you can get than what you can give. It's a quest for reward without responsibility.

Hyphens. Leave home without them. Stand tall and be an American, free of what you left behind.

Have a good day. More thoughts tomorrow.


Wednesday, May 09, 2007

We'll Always Have Paris...Unfortunately

One of the reasons Americans seem to be hated in much of the world (not that a reason always seems to be necessary) is that our popular culture is viewed as decadent and immoral. A little decadence isn't necessarily a bad thing, but I think we can all agree that we've managed to go over the top.

Consider Paris Hilton.

Here's a girl who - literally - has everything. She's a beautiful, fabulously rich heiress living a wild, vulgar, partying lifestyle devoid of restraint and responsibility. If she appreciates what she has, or recognizes that, as a celebrity and role model, she has a responsibility to moderate her behavior, I've seen no sign of it. This girl is a social and moral train wreck, and if she's got a Dorian Gray-style portrait tucked away in her attic, I can't imagine how hideous it must be.

Young Ms Hilton may finally spend 45 days in jail for her transgressions, and that's not a bad thing. All of us, even spoiled young heiresses, need to realize that there are consequences for inappropriate behavior. But more importantly, young girls who look up to irresponsible glamourati like Paris Hilton, Britney Spears, and Lindsey Lohan need to understand that they are not appropriate role models.

Who is?

Regular readers of this blog know that I'm a strong advocate of the responsible middle. Extremes are never a good thing. Most young girls won't grow up to be either Mother Teresa or Paris Hilton...they'll probably end up somewhere in the middle as they learn life's lessons, and it's the responsibility of parents to teach those lessons. My daughter went through all the phases of rebellion and outrageous behavior before finally settling down to become a respected professional and - soon - mother. I'd like to think that I had something to do with that, but I know that we all represent the sum total of the influences with which we grow up. My granddaughter will, I think, grow up to be a fine young lady because her parents are doing a fine job of teaching her the right things and making sure she knows what is and isn't appropriate.

The job of parents is always critical, but it's even more critical now than ever.

Because, unfortunately, we'll always have Paris.

Have a good day. Be the right role model.

More thoughts tomorrow.


Tuesday, May 08, 2007

A Pain in the Gas

Unless you've been living in a cave in Outer Mongolia, you have no doubt noticed that gas prices have been inching (actually, more like footing) up for the last few weeks. My local Sunoco station is selling unleaded regular gas for $3.24 per gallon, and that's hardly the most expensive in the area. An article in yesterday predicted that gas prices will hit $4.00 per gallon soon, and cited "refinery problems and strong demand" as the two primary reasons for the rapid rise in prices.

Let's think about this for a minute.

The CNNMoney article quotes an oil analyst who notes that U.S. gasoline refineries are clustered around the Gulf Coast, and were badly damaged during Hurricanes Rita and Katrina in 2005.

It is now 2007. How are the repairs going?

Consider this, also: for the last few years, oil companies have posted record profits, and have scrambled to justify these as the price at the pump has shot up. A website of the Conoco-Phillips company tries to explain why profits have gone up so much, why it's justified, and why it's not their can read it here: If you read this article, you will find that oil company profits are largely eaten up by the costs of exploring for new sources of oil and gas, increasing refining capacity, and constructing pipelines to transport natural gas from Alaska to the Lower 48 states.

What's missing from that explanation? Yes, you guessed it - there's no mention of repairing the refineries that were "badly damaged" during the hurricanes two years ago.

Think about it this way: if you own a business, and your business is damaged in a natural disaster, you have a vested interest in making repairs and getting your business operational again as quickly as possible. Unless, of course, your profits actually go up because the damage to your business allows you to charge higher prices for your product.

Now, I'm not foolish enough to underestimate the complexity of an oil refinery and the amount of work needed to repair it when it's been damaged. But it's been a year and a half since the one-two punch of hurricanes Katrina and Rita, a period during which the oil companies have made record profits in part because of the claimed effects of damage to the refineries. What percentage of those record profits has gone into a major crash program to repair and upgrade the refineries? What's the status of the repairs? When will the damaged refineries be fully operational again? Which government agency is cracking the whip to get the companies to make the necessary repairs as quickly as possible?

If you find any answers to these questions, please let me know.

And in the meantime, check out the May 6th post at the wonderful blog It Is A Numeric Life ( - if gas prices keep shooting up you will, in fact, be walking more...if not faster.

Have a good day. More thoughts tomorrow.


Monday, May 07, 2007

Thinking about Impossible Missions

This past weekend, I finally got around to purchasing and watching the DVD of the film Mission: Impossible III. As I expected, it was brain candy - loud, reasonably enjoyable, and as good a way as any of entertaining myself while folding the laundry. But as a fan of the original 1960's-vintage TV series, I found it as disappointing as I found the first two films.

For me, the beauty of the original Mission: Impossible series was that it didn't rely on wild car chases and huge, theatrical explosions. Instead, it relied on complex and cerebral (if wildly improbable) plans which always ended up outwitting the villain and winning the day. At the end of each show, you knew that the bad guy (and they were always really bad) would end up holding the bag, his plans in ruins, looking around in angry bewilderment and wondering where the train that hit him had come from. And you knew that the good guys would have vanished without a trace to crush another bad guy on another day. I could watch those old shows every day (and I often do, owning the whole first season on DVDs).

But we don't operate that way any more. We've come to expect the over-the-top special effects that rule the big screen - lots of gunfire, explosions, and screaming car chases. The high point of many of the old Mission: Impossible shows came not when the bad guy's hideout blew up and his minions were mown down by gunfire, but when Rollin Hand ("The Man of a Million Faces") slowly peeled away his perfectly-created latex mask to grin at a villain who suddenly realized in helpless anger that he'd been well and truly screwed.

We need an Impossible Missions Force today. Not the frantic, high-energy IMF of Tom Cruise and Ving Rhames, but the minutely-planning, detail-oriented 1960's IMF of Steven Hill, Martin Landau, and Barbara Bain.

We need an Impossible Missions Force that can take on the really impossible missions: creating a fair and affordable health care system in America, reforming the tax system, giving us the world-class education system we need, conquering Alzheimer's disease, or bringing lasting peace to the Middle East.

It would be satisfying to see vicious, ugly villains like Osama bin Laden and the Latin American drug barons stand there gaping while George W. Bush peeled away his latex mask to reveal the real leader who had left their evil schemes in ruins...or a Congress interested only in partisan bickering suddenly realize that they'd been outwitted by a real team that could work together to solve an impossible problem.

But somehow, I think that's a really impossible mission.

Have a good day. More thoughts tomorrow.


Sunday, May 06, 2007

Ten Times Every Hundred Years...

No, I'm not referring to the sex life of the over-50 crowd.

Early this morning, I slept right through something that happens only ten times every century, and it steered me into several lines of thought.

Shortly after two o'clock this morning, if you had a digital clock and calendar you would have seen the time and date represented as 02:03:04, 05/06/07 - an interesting numerical lineup. Such a juxtaposition of numbers can only occur ten times every hundred years, since there are only twelve months in a year and twelve usable hours on the digital clock face (European or military style time, in which 2:00 PM = 1400, won't work because it exceeds the number of months available).

I checked one of my favorite blogs this morning, It Is A Numeric Life (see the link in my list at the left), and was surprised to see that he hadn't picked up on this interesting bit of numeric trivia. But it did get me thinking about something else: the meaning and use of the terms clockwise and counterclockwise.

Some years ago, I read an article in which the author hypothesized that the terms clockwise and counterclockwise would eventually disappear from our vocabulary as digital clocks replaced the standard dial faces, with nothing obvious to replace them.

This is a potential catastrophe!

As a ballroom dancer, I know that the line of dance which keeps traffic order on the dance floor runs counterclockwise around the room. As a linguist, I have to wonder how to explain the concept if I can't relate it to the movement of hands around a clock face. Somehow "keep your right side toward the outer edge of the floor" just doesn't have the same simple elegance as "move counterclockwise around the room."

It's just one more simple example of things we lose with the relentless onward march of technology.

But for now, if you want to see that marvelous digital lineup with which I started this entry, you'll have to wait until just past 3:00 AM on June 7th of next year.

But don't call to let me know, because I don't plan to wake up for the celebration.

Have a good day. More thoughts tomorrow.


Saturday, May 05, 2007

The Middle East: Hitting Rock Bottom, and Still Digging

If you've been reading this blog for any length of time, you know that I hold all sides in the political and religious cesspool of the Middle East in complete contempt. Almost every day brings some new example of the depths of depravity to which someone is willing to go because his God told him it was the thing to do. But just when I thought things couldn't get much worse, two things came to light yesterday that left even me shaking my head.

The first was the appearance on the internet of a horrifying video from the Kurdish region of northern Iraq which showed a 17-year old Kurdish girl being stoned to death for the crime of having a relationship with a Sunni Muslim boy. Now, we've been conditioned to think that the Kurdish region is "the Iraq that works," the place which is relatively progressive, peaceful and prosperous, especially when compared with the horrendous violence wracking the rest of the country. The Kurds are the "good guys," or as close to "good guys" as anyone in Iraq gets. And yet we see the spectacle of eight men dragging a young girl from her home and stoning her to death - in front of a supportive crowd - for the crime of shaming her family by loving the wrong boy.

And, by the way, if you haven't seen the video yet, you won't find it on YouTube any more - in its place is a note that says "This video has been removed for terms of use violation." Translation: it's not politically correct for anyone in the West to post a video which shows the utter depravity of fundamentalist Muslims, although it's perfectly okay for the hard core jihadists to post videos showing the torture and murder of their enemies.

The other event that left me speechless (yes, it does happen, but not often) took place at the conference at the resort city of Sharm el Sheikh in which representatives of 50 nations were trying to help resolve the ongoing conflict in Iraq. The Iranian representative, Manuchehr Mottaki, walked out of a dinner at which he was to be seated across from U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice. The reason: his Muslim sensibilities were offended by the too-revealing red dress being worn by a female violinist playing for the event.

Think about that for a minute. The United States and Iran have had terrible relations since the fall of the Shah in 1979. Iran is a key player in fueling the violence which takes dozens of lives in Iraq every day and keeps that unhappy nation in a state of fear and misery. This dinner offered a suitably low-key way for the U.S. and Iran to try to make some headway in resolving issues.

And the Iranian walks out because his sense of Muslim propriety is offended more by the sight of a woman in an evening dress than by the specacle of hundreds of Muslims (and Americans) being murdered every week in Iraq.

If you needed any more proof of the utter moral depravity of some of the people in the Middle East, this ought to give it to you.

One of the curses of modern liberal thinking is the concept of moral relativism - that all cultures and religions are equal and that none has any moral basis on which to criticize any other. I find it hard to believe that anyone can accept that hogwash. A religion and a culture which condone the brutal murder of a young woman as an "honor killing" are beyond contempt. And a religion which places more importance on women dressing modestly than on helping to bring peace to a suffering region is beneath contempt.

I'm just about at the point where I could believe that no one in this festering cesspool is worth the life of another American soldier. We are fighting on behalf of people unwilling to rise above religious rules and hatreds that haven't evolved since the seventh century.

Yes, we opened an unfortunate Pandora's box with the invasion of Iraq. But it's time to stop helping all the people who are working hard to keep that box open, who are unwilling to accept that the world is larger than their hatreds.

My personal view: they can all go to Hell. They're working hard to create it, anyhow.

More thoughts tomorrow.


Friday, May 04, 2007

A Poem for Nostalgia

As I get older and more crotchety, I find myself more and more frequently looking backward to times that I imagine were better. Most of us call this nostalgia; die-hard conservatives call it the 1950's; hard-core Islamists call it the seventh century. In any case, I think it's normal for us to remember good times and gloss over bad ones; in general, I suppose we think of the times of childhood and early adolescence with fondness because they were the times when we could enjoy life with a minimum of responsibility.

The other day, one of my old college friends sent me a poem about nostalgia that I really enjoyed. A little Internet research revealed the author of the poem (and the correct title), and I'd like to share it with you as a clever and entertaining look at nostalgia for bygone days. Here is The Land of Sandra Dee, by Leland Waldrip...

Long ago and far away,
In a land that time forgot,
Before the days of Dylan,
Or the dawn of Camelot

There lived a race of innocents,
And they were you and me,
Long ago and far away
In the Land Of Sandra Dee.

Oh, there was truth and goodness
In that land where we were born,
Where navels were for oranges,
And Peyton Place was porn.

For Ike was in the White House,
And Hoss was on TV,
And God was in His heaven
In the Land Of Sandra Dee.

We learned to gut a muffler,
We washed our hair at dawn,
We spread our crinolines to dry
In circles on the lawn.

And they could hear us coming
All the way to Tennessee,
All starched and sprayed and rumbling
In the Land Of Sandra Dee.

We longed for love and romance,
And waited for the prince,
And Eddie Fisher married Liz,
And no one’s seen him since.

We danced to “Little Darlin’”,
And Sang to “Stagger Lee”
And cried for Buddy Holly
In the Land Of Sandra Dee.

Only girls wore earrings then,
And three was one too many,
And only boys wore flat-top cuts,
Except for Jean McKinney.

And only in our wildest dreams
Did we expect to see
A boy named George with lipstick
In the Land Of Sandra Dee.

We fell for Frankie Avalon,
Annette was oh, so nice,
And when they made a movie,
They never made it twice.

We didn’t have a Star Trek Five,
Or Psycho Two and Three,
Or Rocky-Rambo Twenty
In the Land Of Sandra Dee.

Miss Kitty had a heart of gold,
And Chester had a limp,
And Reagan was a Democrat
Whose co-star was a chimp.

We had a Mr Wizard,
But not a Mr T,
And Oprah couldn’t talk, yet
In the Land Of Sandra Dee.

We had our share of heroes,
We never thought they’d go,
At least not Bobby Darin,
Or Marilyn Monroe.

For youth was still eternal,
And life was yet to be,
And Elvis was forever,
In the Land Of Sandra Dee.

We’d never seen the rock band
That was Grateful to be Dead,
And Airplanes weren’t named Jefferson,
And Zeppelins weren’t Led.

And Beatles lived in gardens then,
And Monkees in a tree,
Madonna was a virgin
In the Land Of Sandra Dee.

We’d never heard of Microwaves,
Or telephones in cars,
And babies might be bottle-fed,
But they weren’t grown in jars.

And pumping iron got wrinkles out,
And “gay” meant fancy-free,
And dorms were never coed
In the Land Of Sandra Dee.

We hadn’t seen enough of jets
To talk about the lag,
And microchips were what was left
At the bottom of the bag.

And hardware was a box of nails,
And bytes came from a flea,
And rocket ships were fiction
In the Land Of Sandra Dee.

Buicks came with portholes,
A side show came with freaks,
And bathing suits came big enough
To cover both your cheeks.

And Coke came just in bottles,
And skirts came to the knee,
And Castro came to power
In the Land Of Sandra Dee.

We had no Crest with Fluoride,
We had no Hill Street Blues,
We all wore superstructure bras
Designed by Howard Hughes.

We had no patterned pantyhose
Or Lipton herbal tea
Or prime-time ads for condoms
In the Land Of Sandra Dee.

There were no golden arches,
No Perriers to chill,
And fish were not called Wanda,
And cats were not called Bill.

And middle-aged was thirty-five
And old was forty-three,
And ancient was our parents
In the Land Of Sandra Dee.

But all things have a season,
Or so we’ve heard them say,
And now instead of Maybelline
We swear by Retin-A.

And they send us invitations
To join AARP,
We’ve come a long way, baby,
From the Land Of Sandra Dee.

So now we face a brave new world
In slightly larger jeans,
And wonder why they’re using
Smaller print in magazines.

And we tell our children’s children
Of the way it used to be,
Long ago and far away
In the Land Of Sandra Dee.

I hope you enjoyed this poem as much as I did. Sometimes, thinking about the days we imagine were better helps us to live through the sad and hate-filled days we have now.

Have a good day. More thoughts tomorrow.


Thursday, May 03, 2007

The Value of a Smile

Peter Singer, a professor of bioethics at Princeton University, published an article not long ago in which he reported an informal study in the city of Port Phillip, Australia, to find out how often people smile at those who pass them in the street. Australians are famous for being open and friendly, but even so, the study reported that over the last year and a half, the proportion of people who would smile at you on the Port Phillip streets had risen by two percent (from 8% to 10%). You can read the article on the Project Syndicate website - click the link in my list at the left, and look for the article titled "No Smile Limit."

I always try to be pleasant to people (even when they don't particularly deserve it), and my experience over the last 56 years has been that people will almost always respond positively to a smile and a friendly greeting. We have, sadly, become a relatively suspicious population (Why are you smiling? Are you a psycho? Are you hiding some dark secret?), but nevertheless, smiles tend to be contagious. There are, of course, the die-hard thugs who take pride in their threatening scowls, but they are just shutting themselves off from what others might offer.

We live in a time of suspicions, hatreds, and a daily rush that often makes us forget the importance of getting along with each other. If a simple smile makes a difference, why not do it?

Offer not applicable in the Middle East.

Have a good day. More thoughts tomorrow.


Wednesday, May 02, 2007

Bilbo's Immigration Reform Plan

As I promised in my post this morning, here is my proposed plan for comprehensive immigration reform for America. It's already been duly ignored by the President, my Senators, and my is your chance to look at it again and see if you think it has merit. Here it is:

First, Congress passes legislation to create a new category of immigration status: the “Provisional Resident Alien” and designate the status with a new form of ID card – let’s call it a “Blue Card.” Anyone who is in the United States illegally as of the date of enactment will have a grace period (say, six months) to register for PRA status without fear of arrest, imprisonment, or deportation UNLESS they are wanted on criminal charges unrelated to their immigrant status. A person registering as a PRA must pay a fee of $100 per person or $500 per family (whichever is less) for the privilege of obtaining that status. This fee does two things: it makes the illegal immigrant pay a fine for having willfully broken the law in the first place, and it partially funds the cost of the new program. I can foresee that many churches and immigrant rights organizations will object to the fine…they’ll say it’s too much for poor immigrants to pay, or that it’s unfair. Well, too bad. It beats being chased, arrested, and deported, and it’s considerably less than I paid in various costs to bring my wife and daughter to the United States legally in 1982. And if the money bothers you, then do something useful – pay the fine for those who can’t pay it themselves.

Once a person has been granted PRA status, they will be required to obtain a legal social security number, and will be entitled to the same rights, privileges, and social services as other immigrants; in exchange, they will be expected to obey the laws, pay all taxes, learn basic English, and otherwise act as responsible members of American society. They will have the protection of labor laws which require payment of the minimum wage, and with a legal status, will no longer be subject to exploitation by shady employers.

PRA status will be good for five years. At the end of the provisional status, the individual must report to the immigration authorities with proof of employment and proof that taxes have been paid. If these conditions are met, the individual may either extend the PRA status for another five years, or apply for citizenship. Citizenship is not automatic on completion of PRA status – it will still have to be earned through the same naturalization process completed by many millions of legal immigrants throughout our history.

On the date the grace period for seeking PRA status ends, anyone still present illegally in the country will be arrested and deported.

Second, on the date the law is enacted, most immigration enforcement agents immediately transfer to border security duty to crack down on new illegal immigration. Border security will be severely stiffened and those caught attempting illegal entry to the country will be summarily deported. Those who facilitate illegal immigration will be arrested and treated as criminals.

Third, on the date the grace period for PRA registration ends, a set of very steep fines goes into effect for businesses and individuals hiring persons who are in the country illegally (without a Green or Blue Card). This will help to remove the economic incentive for businesses to support illegal immigration.

Now, this takes care of those who are in the country illegally today. But comprehensive immigration reform must also address the need for a responsive program to allow unskilled, low-wage workers to enter the country to take jobs that might otherwise go unfilled. I propose to use the PRA status for these persons, too. Businesses would project their labor requirements, and the State Department would make an appropriate number of PRA visas available to meet the need. Immigrants would then apply at the US embassy or consulate in their home country for PRA status covering any period of time from six months to five years, and need only maintain a job and pay taxes in order to maintain their status. At the end of five years, they would also have the opportunity to apply for citizenship.

That’s my plan. I know it won’t please everyone, but that’s the nature of a compromise, and the ability to compromise is what has been missing from political discourse in this country for too long. The advantages of my plan are:

1. It offers a way to legitimize the persons already here illegally, but imposes a fine on them as a condition of legalizing their status (i.e., no reward for having broken the law in the first place).

2. It funds itself, in part, through the fines collected from those applying for PRA status.

3. It provides resources for increased border security by freeing up immigration agents who otherwise spend their days fruitlessly hunting down illegals.

4. It provides a pathway for low-wage workers to legally enter the country and take advantage of economic opportunities not available to them at home, while contributing to the US economy in taxes.

5. It removes the incentive for businesses to hire and exploit illegal immigrants who cannot seek their rights for fear of exposure and deportation.

The downside of my plan is, of course, that prices on some goods will rise. We’ll pay more for the produce picked by immigrants who are finally being paid a decent wage. But I believe that in the long run, this plan represents a good start toward a stronger America and a better life for those who would share in its dream.

If anyone in Congress is interested, you can have this plan at no charge. It’s obvious you can’t come up with a plan yourselves.

Have a good day. Let me know what you think of my plan...constructive comments only, please!

More thoughts tomorrow.


The Arrogance of the Illegal Immigrant Rights Advocates

It's been a while since I've commented on the absurd arrogance of those who advocate citizenship and benefits for illegal immigrants, but yesterday's proliferation of demonstrations across the country in support of illegals has gotten my blood heated up again. We have once again been treated to the despicable spectacle of illegal immigration supporters demanding rights in America while waving the flag of Mexcio.

What kind of ridiculous hogwash is this?

Consider these quotes from CNN's online coverage of the events of yesterday, along with my editorial comments...

"Most of the undocumented people come here as a necessity of survival. For them, it's the only choice." - Rosendo Delgado of "Latinos United." Yes, I suppose it's easier to come to America and demand what your own country is too lazy or corrupt to give you.

"We worry deportations are leaving too many young people without parents." - Thomas Rodriguez, an illegal immigrant working in Chicago. Might it not be better to be here legally so you don't have to worry about being deported and leaving your children in the lurch?

"Now it's become so wrapped up with issues of racism and identity, even Puerto Ricans and Cubans care about immigration." - Joe Garcia, head of the Miami-Dade County chapter of the Democratic Party. Ah, yes...when all else fails, call those who advocate the other position 'racists'...that's a good solution!

"The raids are intended to terrorize people and make President Bush look tough, but they are not a solution." - Joshua Hoyt, executive director of the Illinois Coalition for Immigrant and Refugee Rights. Perhaps the raids are simply intended to arrest people who have broken the law, eh?

"Us immigrants aren't pieces of trash, we're human beings. To be treated as less than human is a travesty." - Melissa Woo, an American citizen originally from South Korea. America is a nation founded by immigrants. The issue isn't that immigrants are 'pieces of trash,' but that they have an obligation to obey the laws of the country they expect to take them in.

These and similar comments from the advocates of rights for illegals are designed to appeal to the emotions and ignore the fundamental issue: we are not talking about undocumented immigrants. We are talking about people who have willfully broken the law, and now expect not only to be forgiven outright, but to receive the rewards of citizenship and legal status.

Maybe it's just me, but I think this is outrageous and insufferably arrogant. There is, at root, no difference between the person who enters this country illegally and demands benefits to which he is not entitled, and the person who breaks into your home, takes up residence in one of your rooms, and demands that you adopt him and provide for his needs and those of his family, which he intends to raise in your home as well.

Every plan to fix the immigration mess which involves any sacrifice or acknowledgement of fault on the part of the illegals is severely criticized. Why? They have broken the law. In a democracy, we do not pick and choose the laws we want to obey - why should we give blatant lawbreakers a free pass to do so?

Last year, I published in this blog my plan for immigration reform. It offered a way to normalize treatment of illegals already in this country, provided for increased border enforcement, and even partially funded itself. I sent copies of this plan to my elected state and federal representatives, and to the President. I eventually received nearly identical replies which amounted to agreement that there's a problem, but didn't offer any concrete plans to correct it. I would have expected as much, since our elected officials tremble at the thought of irritating millions of Hispanic voters.

Tomorrow, I will repost my plan so that everyone can have another chance to complain that it's racist and unfair.

But until someone offers something better, I'm sticking with it.

Have a good day. More thoughts on the arrogance of illegal immigration tomorrow.


Tuesday, May 01, 2007

The 65 Million Dollar Pants

Everyone hates lawyers, at least until they want to sue somebody. One of the reasons we hate lawyers can be found in a story reported in the Washington Post last week ( a local attorney was upset with a dry cleaner who lost his pants and, not satisfied with the $150 check the cleaner offered him, opted to sue, seeking $1,150 to buy a whole new suit. After two changes of lawyers and numerous exchanges of letters, the dry cleaner offered him $3,000, then $4,600 and, finally, according to their attorney, $12,000 to make the case go away.

But our intrepid "hero" pressed on. Citing a provision of the District of Columbia's consumer protection law that provides for damages of $1,500 per violation per day, he started punching his calculator: 12 violations over 1,200 days (the whole thing began back in 2002), times three defendants (the owners of the dry cleaners). The total demand now: $65 million.

Let's break for a reality check, here.

Most Americans have faith in the essential fairness of our justice system. Yes, you can get Platinum Plus Justice if you can afford the right lawyers, but for the most part, our system is about as fair and blind as it's likely to be. It's the utterly ridiculous abuses of the system like this that turn people against lawyers as a class and sour them on the ability to receive real justice. I have a fantasy (actually, I have a lot of fantasies, but this one is among the safest) that a moron like this attorney will go to court and sue a cleaner $65 million dollars for a lost pair of pants...and the judge will come down from the bench, slap him silly, grab him by the scruff of his neck and the seat of his pants, and throw him bodily out of the courthouse and into the street. And then fine him - oh - about $50,000 per hour for wasting the court's time.

Like most of my other fantasies, this one isn't likely ever to be realized. But a man can dream, can't he?

Have a good day. More thoughts later.